With five minutes left on the clock in northern France, Lille were awarded a free kick wide on their left hand side, and suddenly everyone could see what was coming. Never mind the two world class saves that home goalkeeper Mickael Landreau had had to make to deny Ryan Babel and Fernando Torres in the first half. Never mind the fact that Liverpool’s defence had looked pretty comfortable against the top scorers in Ligue 1 for 85 minutes of what was shaping up to be a typical first leg of European football away from home. Never mind that the difficult pitch had made the act of playing football a tough one, when supporters saw a Lille midfielder standing over the ball, particularly one with a name like Eden Hazard – open season for lazy headline writers – then it was time for a collective ‘flash forward.’ Everyone could see what was coming. For the umpteenth time this season, a goal was inevitable, and suddenly the Reds are up against it heading into the second leg. This isn’t to say that Liverpool’s performance was a good one last night, far from it. There are still deep flaws within Rafael Benitez’s systems, his players, and the man himself, but going over them is neither useful nor original in a season when everyone has had their say on the Reds – and this writer has got a word count to stick to anyway.
Last night, the blinking of an eye saw a task that was beginning to look somewhat straightforward become one that was a lot more difficult. Lille aren’t as good as Liverpool. Don’t let last night fool you about that. There would only have been one winner had the French side come to Anfield with the tie still level, but now that they have something to hold on to things become a lot different. We’ve all seen how tough the Reds have found breaking down overly negative sides this season, and seeing as putting the ball in the back of the net appears to be the toughest thing for this current Liverpool side to do, scoring two goals to beat the French team at home now looks a tough proposition.
But now it’s time for the predictable ‘big European nights at Anfield’ bit. Everyone knows how the Kop (and the other three stands for that matter) get whenever their beloved Reds are up against the odds, and the Frenchmen will be feeling the supporters’ wrath when they visit Merseyside in six days time, only this time it will be a bit different.
A year ago it was Real Madrid and Chelsea who were visiting Anfield in continental competition – now it’s Lille, and they’re 1-0 up. As a measure of how far the Reds have slipped in the last twelve months it’s a good one, and there is a lot of anger amongst supporters at the moment, anger at many things. They are angry at the owners, the team, the manager – at themselves a lot of the time – but they have a happy knack of coming together when it matters most. If a raucous full house at Anfield can’t inspire Liverpool to put on a performance next week – two performances in fact, for Portsmouth visit on Monday night (now there is a club with problems) – then nothing will shake them out of this apparently endless malaise.
Just as the Lille goal was inevitable last night, so it is inevitable that the supporters will get behind their team in a bid to get them out of this latest hole that they’ve dug for themselves. It is do-able, of course it is. It is only one goal after all, and Liverpool were in control for long enough periods last night to suggest that they’ll at least have the chances to overturn the deficit next Thursday. Whether or not they’ll take them is a different matter, but one thing is for sure, they won’t be lacking in support.
For the majority of Liverpool’s season, whatever can go wrong has gone wrong, but it’s surely time for the players to stand up and prove that enough is enough. A European night at Anfield, a deficit to overcome – these have been the types of situations on which the club has thrived in the past. Supporters found comebacks inevitable. There has been a different kind of inevitability this season. The task now is to change that.