Tony Barrett's verdict
FOR almost two decades history has been Liverpool’s friend, acting as a crutch that propped the club up and a shield which protected it from the slings and arrows of football failure. So much so that the daring deeds of the days gone by were proudly presented, being flown in banner form and chanted defiantly in song, whenever the Reds went into battle with their biggest rivals. All of a sudden though, those 18+5 flags have been made almost as redundant as a Westminster politician’s reputation as the superiority such statements once represented has been all but wiped away.
Glorifying the past because the future has dried up is no longer an option because history has turned against Liverpool in the cruellest of fashions and issued the Anfield giants with a wake up call which must be heeded if their status as the peerless kings of English football is to be restored.
In years gone by – those halcyon days when the league championship trophy would be paraded in front of the Kop with such regular monotony it seemed as if it was owned, not merely on annual lease – a total of 86 points would often have been more than enough to deliver the title. In every season since the football league began in 1888, keeping the number of defeats down to just two came with a guarantee that your fans would be chanting “Champions” by the time the campaign drew to a close.
If they didn’t already know, Liverpool have now discovered that such certainties no longer apply. Not in an age when standards have been raised to a hitherto unseen level and the top tier of English football become as unforgiving as the wife of an adulterous husband. The fact is that unforced errors have to be all but eradicated if the title is to be delivered. In Benitez-speak you must be “perfect”. Home games that should be won must be and matches in which you are the dominant force must yield three points not one, or even worse none.
The arrival of flaky, unpredictable, under-performing Spurs at Anfield yesterday gave Liverpool another nudge for it was they who inflicted the first major flesh wound on their title hopes back in the autumn with a logic defying victory at White Hart Lane in a fixture in which they were pummelled from start to finish.
A failure to land the killer blow that day cost Liverpool dear and the three points that went begging were to prove increasingly costly as the season went on.
It was ill fortune as much as profligacy that was the enemy of the Reds on that occasion but at other times Liverpool have been the architects of their own downfall, particularly in the case of those seven deadly sins, a septet of home draws which ultimately undermined them fatally.
But just as the past has provided Liverpool with a refuge in recent seasons so the future is beginning to look as bright as it has for some time.
The winning formula which was struck upon in the latter stages of the campaign has created a genuine and tangible cause for hope that the good times could be just around the corner.
An analysis of the Liverpool team from back to front suggests that it stands comparison with even Europe’s strongest sides, a clear indication of the progress that has been made in the years since Benitez traded paella for Scouse.
There are those in the current squad whose future lies away from Anfield though, some because father time has caught up with them and others because they are simply not good enough to be part of a title challenging set-up.
Sami Hyypia, of course, falls into the former category rather than the latter and the poignancy of the legendary Finn’s departure was reflected in the fittingly emotional and deservedly rapturous send off he was given by the Anfield crowd.
The fact that Hyypia departs Merseyside for a new adventure in Germany without ever having been an English league champion is a crying shame and it also serves as a warning to the players he is leaving behind that even the very best do not always got what they deserve.
If a similar fate was to befall the likes of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina and Xabi Alonso it would be almost obscene such is the quality they add to the English game.
Torres’ ongoing impact was again apparent against a Spurs side who would be anyone and everyone’s perfect last day opponents as he notched the 50th goal of his Liverpool career with a well taken far post header from Dirk Kuyt’s inch perfect cross.
Kuyt himself added the second with the aid of a sizeable deflection before Robbie Keane narrowed the deficit with a well taken strike.
To his credit the Irishman refused to celebrate getting on the scoresheet against his former club and his consideration was rewarded with a stirring round of applause from the Liverpool fans.
It was left to Yossi Benayoun to round off the scoring after being put through by Steven Gerrard but by then the only thing the crowd had on their mind was seeing Hyypia emerge from the bench.
Typically, Benitez, a man who treats sentiment as an unnecessary extravagance in the cut throat world of top level football, waited until the points were in the bag before bowing to their wishes.
The Reds boss has never been one to allow emotion to obstruct his decision making process and though it may have seemed a trifle harsh to delay Hyypia’s entrance until there were just six minutes remaining Liverpool’s caused will be well served this summer if he displays a similar ruthless approach.
Hyypia’s tears after the final whistle spoke volumes for the affection he holds for Liverpool and the way he was hoisted onto his team mates shoulders provided a telling indication of the esteem in which he is held at Anfield.
Sadly, Sami Hyypia’s time with Liverpool has drawn to a close. Now the Reds must do everything in their power to ensure that their time of waiting for the league title they crave so much also comes to an end.
The time has come for this Liverpool side to make history of its own.
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