Football FanCast columnist Ed Jeffery reflects on Liverpool’s victory, over the old enemy.
Games against Man Utd are never run of the mill, but if our victory is to mean anything in the long term, then that’s exactly how yesterday’s match must be treated. Having seen Sky and the increasingly sensationalist broadsheets bill the game as “make or break” for Liverpool and for Benitez – conveniently forgetting that his position has been under threat every season since he joined us – it was vital that we took something away from it.
In the end of course we took everything we possibly could. Torres’ goal was another reminder (as if one were needed) that there is no better striker in the world, while the back four, led superbly by the indomitable Jamie Carragher, showed us that the art of good defending is not as distant a memory to them as we had initially feared.
So now the dust has settled, where does it leave us? Apart from the obvious fact that we are now three points better off than we were on Sunday morning, the win doesn’t actually change a great deal (although try telling that to the radio phone-in and internet prophets). In terms of performance, there wasn’t a massive difference between this game and the trip to Chelsea at the beginning of this month. In both games the first goal was always going to be crucial, and the feeling remains that had United got it yesterday, the world would be a much gloomier place today.
I’d guess the main impact that the win will have is in terms of breathing space. No sensible Liverpool fans have been calling for Rafa’s head since Tuesday – something the media were unsurprisingly ignorant of in their efforts to shift papers during the week – and so to suggest that this win buys him more credit with the Kop is not entirely true. But what it does do is give the players and the manager (not that I think he needs it) something to hold onto. The key thing was to make sure the rot was stopped, and we have done that. What we need to do now is follow it up. We showed last season that we are capable of going unbeaten for long periods, and the whole team (especially those at the back) need to use this win as a springboard for the kind of run that will genuinely launch us back into contention.
In playing terms, the best aspect of the game for me was in the fact that, for the first time this season, players such as Carragher and Mascherano looked something like their old selves. It only goes to back up what I’ve thought all season – that good players do not become bad overnight. At the same time, though, average players do not become good overnight – to pick an obvious example, Lucas is still not worthy of a place in our starting line up if we are to have title-winning ambitions this season, despite his the fact that yesterday he showed flashes of quality alongside the usual unwavering commitment. Of course, Lucas will not be in the starting line up all that often once Aquilani is fit, but that is part of a wider debate.
Beating United is always nice, and the circumstances surrounding yesterday’s win – the return of Michael Owen, our bad run of form, and yet more bleating about the referee from Fergie – made it all the sweeter. But we cannot judge ourselves entirely on one game a season. Not only would we be in danger of resembling Everton, a team who care more about their biggest rivals than they care about themselves, but we would also lose sight of the bigger picture. And the bigger picture begins again at the weekend. Arsenal in the Carling Cup will provide a nice distraction (and hopefully a chance for the youngsters to show what they can do), but for now we must focus on Fulham. It may be a cliché, but there is no point in winning the battle if we move further away from winning the war.