After watching Liverpool’s anaemic display in Liege last night, I rather wished I’d been watching the full-blooded Slav derby discussed below. Leaving aside a creditable performance from the Belgian champions, Benitez’s side were truly appalling. It is difficult to name one player who emerged with credit, with the notable exception of goalkeeper Pepe Reina. The Spanish keeper was called upon to save a dubious first half penalty and otherwise dealt well with spirited Liege attacks.
Liverpool’s tactical deficiencies were worrying enough. The midfield was overrun whilst Kuyt and Benayoun somehow managed neither to tuck in and prevent their central colleagues becoming out-numbered nor to provide any meaningful width. Alonso was particularly isolated alongside Plessi who looked like a deer caught in a truck’s headlights. Consequently the totality of service provided to Keane and Torres consisted of hopeful long balls struck by the left foot of Agger or flighted from 30-40 yards toward the edge of the 18 yard line.
The most worrying and embarrassing aspect of this performance however, was the sheer gutlessness of Liverpool’s display and their abject failure to provide any answer when faced with a team who were prepared to get stuck in. The Premiership prima donnas were bullied and harried by Standard Liege (quite rightly too) and responded with aggrieved spells on the floor clasping various bruises. Liverpool were entirely unable to step up and engage a physical side on their terms. Instead they battened down the hatches in order to escape with a scoreless draw.
Obviously key players were missing last night. Mescherano in particular would likely have flourished in an attritional battle with Liege’s midfield. But any 11 players from a Liverpool squad should have had the spirit and ability to do better than the team did last night. Liverpool’s Premiership opponents will hardly be concerned if they were watching this inept display. In fact Alex Ferguson may well have been sniggering into the expensive glass of red, with which the popular imagination always furnishes him.