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If all good things must come to an end, then by definition all bad things must too, it just seems as though they take a lot longer. As Liverpool finally, mercifully, stagger into the final week of their season battered, bruised and having taken far too many shuddering blows to their collective egos, they can at least rest in the knowledge that it is nearly over.
The final bell will ring at Hull City’s KC Stadium on Sunday, and Liverpool’s nightmare campaign can be put to bed. The club’s staff, players and supporters would probably want to immediately forget about the last nine months, but the harsh lessons that those months have taught them should be remembered for the seasons and the years to come. It should never be allowed to get this bad again. The 2009/10 campaign isn’t going away quietly either. After Saturday afternoon wins for Tottenham and Manchester City, Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League – formerly their ‘minimal acceptable requirement’ – were over, and so they would surely have liked a couple of winnable fixtures against fellow mid-table sides with which to wind down their season. How typical of the campaign then, that the fates would send a title-chasing Chelsea to Anfield.
With Manchester United chasing league glory for a 19th time – putting them one ahead of Liverpool – many thought that Anfield would welcome Chelsea with open arms on Sunday, but any notion that the red carpet would be rolled out for the Blues disappeared with the vociferous first minute barracking of the ever popular John Terry, while Didier Drogba’s theatrics received the reception that they usually get at away grounds across the country. Alberto Aquilani – probably the one Red who doesn’t want the season to end – was inches away from giving his side an early lead with a stunning effort, and in truth if Liverpool were going to score at all then it probably had to come in the game’s initial stages, as minds and bodies were still shattered from the heart-breaking Europa League semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid less than 63 hours earlier. Quite how shattered they were was about to become startlingly apparent.
Steven Gerrard hasn’t had much luck with backpasses. He once set up Thierry Henry to win a penalty for France at Euro 2004, and perfectly assisted an Henry goal at Highbury in a Premier League game less than two years later. Clearly not a fan of pantomimes, he often does not know what is behind him, and his pinpoint pass to Drogba was sadly indicative of a campaign in which the Reds have all too frequently shot themselves in the foot. It was an awful mistake, but to believe that it was anything more than that – as some conspiracy theorists are doing – is stupidity of the highest order. No, Gerrard probably doesn’t want Manchester United to win the league, but he’s not going to ruin his reputation by deliberately sabotaging their chances. The people who believe that he would are probably the same people who believe the latest set of scandalous, vile and horrible rumours about the Liverpool captain. They are completely untrue, by the way. Not that that matters to some people.
Back in the real world, Drogba’s goal had floored the Reds, and in truth there was never likely to be a way back for a dizzied, punch-drunk home side. Chelsea deservedly strolled to a 2-0 win, and look like strolling to a deserved Premier League title next Sunday afternoon. With that in mind, many at Anfield applauded the champions-elect off the pitch – some visiting fans responded by aiming more sick taunts at Gerrard – while for the first time the traditional end of season ‘walkabout’ seemed more about the players thanking the fans than vice versa. The support has been consistent for Liverpool this season, even if little else has. Rafael Benitez was part of that walking party. We’ll talk more about his future next time, but what is clear is that the manager’s reputation in this country has never been lower, but he enjoys a greater standing on the continent.
Also clear was the look on supporters’ faces as they left Anfield on Sunday. It wasn’t one of anger, depression or annoyance, it was more a look of relief. Relief that this most disappointing of seasons is close to concluding, relief that there’s just one more game to go, relief that their nightmare is nearly over. Just one more game – Hull has never looked so good.