It’s not that Liverpool lost to United that angers me so. It’s the fact that United were mediocre, and Liverpool did absolutely nothing to take advantage of it. Liverpool needs a big win badly, and today was a great opportunity for that. And it did not happen.
Don’t get me wrong, United was better in basically every regard. But they were beatable, if Liverpool wasn’t so disjointed, mistake-prone, and uninspired. Maybe if Kuyt was cleverer with his header in the 30th minute, instead of shooting straight at Van der Sar, the game goes differently. Liverpool had started fairly well. But, Liverpool failed to grasp the opportunity, while United took their chance through Paul Scholes less than 10 minutes later. It’s always difficult to play from behind at Old Trafford, and once Ferdinand put in a second midway through the second half, the game was finished.
Players seem to be questioning themselves and the team, and the last thing Liverpool needs now is a loss of spirit with the form the team’s in. Once again, Stevie proved he’s the heartbeat in a way. Gerrard was noticeably unhappy, and he’s been prone to sulking his way out of games in the past. It was especially evident today when Gonzales was substituted for Pennant, but Stevie stayed out on the right. Even at his worst, he’s one of Liverpool’s best, and his workrate was still very good today. It just doesn’t appear that the captain and the manager are on the same page, despite Benitez’s increased efforts to praise the player in public (which Rafa is not wont to do). I will continue to state that despite what the media will have us believe, Liverpool is not a one-man team dependent solely on Gerrard, but he is the captain, he is the best player, and he needs to be playing to his full potential. It’s no coincidence Liverpool is struggling for goals and Stevie, who had 23 last season, has yet to score.
The lack of goals is also going to lead to questions over why Crouch, who is Liverpool’s leading goalscorer by a mile (mostly because of European goals), did not start, once again, in the league. I understand the decision to play 4-5-1, even if I don’t agree with it, and believe that Kuyt is probably better at playing as the lone striker. But when the team isn’t scoring when Crouch is, questions are going to be asked and rightfully so. Liverpool still hasn’t scored an away goal since August, and hasn’t scored an away goal in open play all season long. It might be different if the defense was playing as well as they did last season, but once again, there were lapses in concentration that led to United’s goals.
Until the team improves, in every single area, they’ll be no more discussions of 'title contenders' and ‘best squad since whenever.’ Early in the season, the league table often lies, but right now, Liverpool is playing like a mid-table side. I still firmly believe there’s loads of talent in the squad, and they can and will be a very good team. They just need to start showing it.