Before last night, the last time that Liverpool lost a Premier League game by three goals to nil they did so in Manchester two and a half years ago. It was March 2008, and Javier Mascherano talked himself into being sent off as the Reds were beaten 3-0 by Manchester United at Old Trafford. This time around, the Argentinean wasn’t around to do even that. It is fair to say that Mascherano lost a lot of respect amongst Liverpool fans for his refusal to play at Manchester City last night. After 90 minutes of stark reality at Eastlands, his importance to his team has never been more apparent, but perhaps he knew what he would be letting himself in for if he did play.
Manchester City are everything that Liverpool are not at the moment. Backed by a limitless amount of cash, and with a feelgood factor currently coursing through the club – as opposed to the wave of cautious optimism that greeted new Reds boss Roy Hodgson – City are the new challengers to the thrones previously held by members of the ‘old guard’ such as Liverpool. This was ‘new money’ versus no money, and how poor Liverpool looked in comparison to their rich rivals, not in terms of their general play – the Reds did have more shots – but more in terms of how clinical they were. If ever a match underlined Liverpool’s chronic need for investment in their playing staff, then this was it. Not investment of the City kind – that is unlikely to be seen again anywhere in world football – but certainly investment in players who know how to get jobs done such as the one that the Reds faced last night. City took their chances, Liverpool did not – although Joe Hart had something to do with that – and so lessons will need to be learned from the loss, and none should be more obvious than the need to improve upon the quality available to Hodgson.
He’ll be one quality defensive midfielder down soon though, as Mascherano edges closer to the Anfield exit door. Most supporters had long since accepted his departure, but all would have been disappointed by his actions last night, with Hodgson somewhat diplomatically claiming that the Argentina captain was ‘not in the right frame of mind’ to play, amidst yet another transfer saga involving Barcelona, a Premier League midfielder and a bid of far less than a player is worth. The Catalans certainly are ‘more than a club’; they appear to be business-like masters of mergers and acquisitions.
While the Liverpool takeover saga continues to rumble on – Kenny Huang’s decision to pull out of the process might not be the last we hear of the Chinese tycoon – it would now appear to be pure fantasy to believe that any deal, with any interested party, will be done in time for Hodgson to splash some of their considerable cash before the first ever high definition transfer window shuts a week today (presumably with a smash of crystal clear glass). It would surely now make sense for Liverpool to attempt to do as quick a deal as possible with Barca, allowing Hodgson enough time to bring in new reinforcements.
Looking at the Reds last night, they arguably need around three, four, or maybe even five fresh faces, especially following the somewhat surprising decision to allow the flawed, but slowly improving Alberto Aquilani to go out on loan to Juventus. You can use stats to prove anything – 100% of you will know that – but the fact that the former Roma man had the lowest minutes played to assists ratio in any of the top five leagues in Europe last season surely counts for something. He seemed to be judged solely on the admittedly large price tag dangling from his notoriously weak ankle, but he didn’t put that there, and the fact that he has set up a goal in every one and a half Premier League matches that he’s ever played had led many to hope that this would be a campaign of progression for him, but he’ll step up his search for fitness back in Serie A this season, while one of his team-mates heads for Spain’s La Liga.
The identities of some of those they’ll leave behind remain unknown, but what last night must have proved to Hodgson, Liverpool’s players, their supporters and most importantly the Reds board is that money needs to be injected into the club sooner rather than later if they want to compete with the best. Without that money they can continue to put a brave face on things, but reverses like last night’s will become more and more commonplace, and they won’t have to wait two and a half years for the next one.