WHAT A difference a goal makes. The first half against Blackburn last Saturday was woeful – truly woeful. We were lethargic, too narrow, out-fought and out-paced.
Although we improved in the second half, Blackburn could think themselves very unlucky not to be 3-1 up before Ivanovic struck the winner. But that winning goal reclassified the match into one of grit and determination – a manifestation of our never say die attitude and another example of the old adage “class will out”. Well that’s what the papers said anyway.
But although it produced enough of a high among supporters to dismiss the first half we won’t always be able to rely on our opposition to miss gilt edged chances as Blackburn did.
I’m not sure how we find ourselves at a game where the great majority of players all have a stinker at the same time. No European game midweek and an early Carling Cup exit ensured that our players had a free week yet they looked battle-weary – not good considering we have barely hit November.
I also continue to be troubled by JT’s lack of on-field demonstrative encouragement. He may be doing the necessary at half time but I like to see a Captain giving instructions on the pitch, delivering a communal rollicking where necessary and dictating the tempo should it fall below what is needed — he used to do all those things, but we don’t see it anymore.
He still leads by example but that sometimes just isn’t enough. Perhaps he feels that with so many big characters and experienced players, he doesn’t need to be that sort of captain anymore, but I think all teams need some of that sometimes. And with a Double currently under our belts and the kind of smash and grab victories like the one at Ewood, perhaps that is the case. But it would be nice to see the old gladiator now and again, as a rallying call to the supporters if nothing else.
Of course not all of the players last Saturday could be accused of a poor show. Yuri Zhirkov is beginning to prove his doubters (of which I was one) wrong by putting in intelligent performances and contributing in a number of decisive ways.
I had him down as nothing more than a squad player and a weak one at that, and the fact that he cost us €20 million smarted a bit considering our recent rather frugal buying policy. But a run in the team has shown us that he is more than a bench warmer and Lampard’s return may produce a headache for Ancelotti , although it may not be Zhirkov that gives way, but a recently under par Essien.
My man of the match last Saturday was Ivanovic, one of the very few who adapted to the tempo that Rovers set right from the off and who was also willing to match them physically. Many of our boys backed off and gave them time and space on the ball, where as the Serbian careered around the pitch like a rabid terrier wanting to mix it with anyone that showed a mind to. Perhaps not the most elegant of performances, but certainly one that stirs the supporters and worries the opposition – he is now firmly a fans’ favourite.
This week we rock up to the soap opera that is Anfield. Many people I spoke to on Saturday believe it would be just typical for us to have had such a great start to the season, then to go up there and lose, and I have to admit being a tad nervous myself. They have no pressure on them as they aren’t expected to win and the Blackburn result, as welcome as it was, could have bred a little complacency – a crime we have often been guilty of in the past. A victory against us could herald a Scouse renaissance and no one wants that, but then a resounding loss could see Liverpool and Hodgson parting company, which I would also be loathe to see.
It’s not that I think Woy is a bad manager; he is just the wrong fit for Liverpool, and sorely out of his depth. I would like to see the mismatch continue for a while longer at least.
Meanwhile Carlo is finding this Premier League management lark a piece of cake and must surely be one of the most secure men job-wise in football. Or is he?
I was dumb-struck to read a story linking Guardiola with the manager’s job at Chelsea for next season. Of course reason and results make the story preposterous, however where Abramovich and his obsession with Barcelona is concerned nothing would surprise me.
These days where success is so inextricably linked to money, profit, brand etc could we really afford another couple of years in the wilderness if he got it wrong again? I’m not so sure. Let’s hope that this is someone’s idea of mischief making, probably Guardiola’s agent in the face of the Mourinho juggernaut.
In the meantime let’s hope the team further enhance Carlo’s reputation by putting the Red Sox to the sword this weekend.
Come on Chelsea!