Remember that perverse, pervasive sense of impending doom that followed the club around throughout 2009-10? Not the dreadful, soul-killing horribleness that was the Hodgson era, but the perpetual Sword of Damocles which hung over Benitez's final campaign, where we fearfully waited to see what could go wrong next. Yeah, this week has brought back that feeling. Even this trip to Wigan paralleled that season's, Benitez's nail in the coffin, in its overwhelming disappointment. At least Liverpool held on for the point here? Regardless, feeling that feeling probably isn't good.
Instead of this week's perceived injustices catalyzing the side, we saw the most-comprehensive team failure since the 0-4 thrashing at Spurs, a failure marginally more excusable because of Adam's early red card. It is no exaggeration to suggest that every player save Reina disappointed today. Another match where Liverpool started well, missed chances, and ended the worse side probably makes the Swansea contest the closest comparison, not to mention the equivalent results, but that didn't come with the same stomach punch. It's been that sort of week.
Yes, Liverpool would have won had they taken advantage of its excellent pressing start, with a handful of chances in the opening 25 minutes. Yes, Liverpool would have won had they converted a gifted penalty soon after the restart when Caldwell handballed Suarez's bicycle, only to miss the fourth spot kick in this season's five attempts. But Wigan were simply better – at least more threatening – for long stretches after that initial promise, with 19 shots to Liverpool's 21, 45% possession to Liverpool's 55% (after something in the region of 68-32% possession in the first half of the first half), and tested Reina from in and outside the box. The consistently steady back line became stretched with Liverpool haphazardly piling players forward, and both Skrtel and Johnson committed frightening errors reminiscent of bad memories from previous campaigns.
But with another clean sheet, the full scapegoat glare will fall on Liverpool's chronic inability to put the damned ball into the damned net, whether because of poor finishing, excellent keeping, or intangible luck. The woodwork wasn't involved this time. Al Habsi did well to stop Henderson, Kuyt, and Johnson's smart first half shots, and did even better to stop Adam's 51st-minute spot kick, a harder-hit copy of the one Carroll had saved in the league cup. Despite a couple of half-chances as the match went on, mostly through set plays, Liverpool got notably worse after the penalty miss, with the frustration evident from across the ocean. Meanwhile, Wigan continued to sporadically petrify when breaking out of its nine-at-the-back defense.
Tactically, full credit goes to Roberto Martinez. Wigan's five-man back line, a replica of the formation deployed against Chelsea, blanketed Liverpool's 4-2-3-1. No space plus mounting frustration is rarely a productive combination. The away side used the same XI as against QPR, with Maxi and Kuyt replacing Shelvey and Bellamy, but kept the same formation as at Villa Park on Sunday. Most likely rattled by events on and off the pitch, Liverpool pushed harder and harder but not smarter and smarter, which allowed Wigan to expose the defense on the counter. After two solid performances, the Henderson-Adam pairing simply did not work, and like Fulham, it's a result I'm tempted to credit most to Lucas' absence, no matter Liverpool's never-ending profligacy.
I probably can't get away without writing about Suarez, off-form and often isolated. Maxi dropped deeper than Shelvey on Sunday, and never looked the magic goal-scorer he's been from the flanks. Blaming Suarez's woes on yesterday's FA verdict and his subsequent ostracism by the great and good English media is simplistic but unavoidable, trudging off miserably when replaced by Carroll in the 87th. Not that he had much help. Sadly, off-field events do matter.
With Liverpool more open than a pervert's trench-coat when Wigan counter-attacked, it'll be interesting to see if Spearing comes straight back into the side with his suspension over. And then there's the small matter of Steven Gerrard imminent return.
Things do not look good at the moment. After 17 games, Liverpool have eight wins, six (!!!) draws, and three losses. Right now, Liverpool deserve to be in sixth, and Dalglish has multiple plates to spin and problems to solve. But the season isn't half over yet, and there are many more twists and turns to come despite current, obvious faults. We'll have more than enough time to wring hands and cry woe over falling skies if need be. Hope is dwindling, but hope isn't lost because of an away draw in a venue where Liverpool haven't won in five seasons.