Fiorentina 2-0 Liverpool. The result is hard to think about, much less talk about.
Given the chance to build their confidence against bad teams the last few weeks, Liverpool did so in style. Given the chance to capitalize on that confidence against a tough opponent, Liverpool shat themselves. After the first half, the players managed to wipe themselves off, and they seemed quite pleased after the game that they’d managed to look slightly more respectable in the second. My first reaction to their reaction was shock, and I chased it with a shot of anger. How can Liverpool be pleased with a goal-less second half behind 2-0 in a Champs group stage game?
But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this team still doesn’t understand what they are. They used to be a tough-minded counter-attacking team that played 4 strong defenders behind a physical central midfield with excellent long-range passing abilities. Now they’re a free-wheeling attack that pushes upfield with excellent movement/passing from the wings to set up oodles of scoring that makes up for a slow, leaky defense.
Liverpool is +12 in goal differential, tops in the EPL. But that’s because they’ve blasted home a whopping 22 goals — nobody else in the league even has a whiff of 20. They’ve also conceded 10 goals, almost entirely from set pieces, putting them closer to Wolves and Portsmouth than Chelsea and Man U in the defense department. It’d be great to expect them to revert to a more stout defensive form, but the pieces don’t seem to be there. Unless Danny Agger’s the second coming of Franz Beckenbaur, nothing can compensate for Carragher’s lack of pace and Skrtel’s inconsistency. And while Rafa has kept Glen Johnson back in defense more the last couple games, that 1) doesn’t play to his strengths, especially as he looked like our best player going forward the first few weeks), and 2) hasn’t stopped the bleeding one bit. While Benayoun is a joy to watch in the attacking half, he’s also a defensive liability that makes Insua’s life on the left very difficult. Aquilani could be more of the same. To top it all off, Mascherano looks unfocused and has been mistake-prone — don’t be shocked when he’s transferred in January.
So Liverpool’s top 11 features a ton of firepower, even from the midfield and backfield. The defense is bad, could be getting worse, and will almost always be giving up a couple of goals per game. This is not the Liverpool of 2008. But the 2009 model can score on anybody, and if Benitez and the squad commit to a wide open fast-break mentality, they can also beat anybody. What they can’t do is keep trying to stuff themselves into the shoes of recent seasons. Unfortunately, they seem to be the last to realize it.