HOW fitting. On the day when Rafa Benitez reached the lowest point of his Anfield reign, it was darkly appropriate a man named ‘Nadir’ should end up on the scoresheet.
There have been some wretched days during this abomination of a season but at Fratton Park on Saturday, Liverpool plummeted to a new depressing depth, one that has left many supporters asking the question: where do we go from here?
The answer, if this sort of woeful form continues, can only be backwards; lifeless and abject from start to finish, the Reds were stripped bare by a Portsmouth side that has spent the campaign propping up the Premier League. It made for harrowing viewing.
But, in all honesty, were you actually surprised? Did it come as a shock that a team which can play as regally as princes in certain games were made to look like paupers in a contest they should have won in a stroll?
Sadly, the vast majority will reply ‘no’ – since losing to Fiorentina on September 29, there has always been the feeling that Liverpool were on the brink of a truly abysmal performance and so it proved. That they should produce it on the south coast during a lunchtime kick-off, when supporters were up at an ungodly hour to make a 550-mile round trip six days before Christmas, was perhaps the biggest affront of all.
Of course you can point a finger at referee Lee Mason for his erratic efforts, sending off Javier Mascherano and making any number of puzzling decisions, yet there would be no credence in that.
Liverpool, quite simply, were desperate and the big concern going into the festive period is that the rot which has set in – there is no other way to describe a sequence of four victories in 17 games – is now terminal.
Never mind trying to work out how far Liverpool are off the top of the table, the only deficit that should be looked at is the gap between themselves and fourth place; today it stands at eight yawning points.
Problem is, however, by the time 2010 is upon us, it could be considerably more and not even their ardent supporters would back Liverpool to get maximum points from their next two games, especially as one test comes against an Aston Villa side in rampant form.
Confidence, clearly, is shot to pieces and that goes some way to explaining how they have stopped passing the ball with any conviction or why they are failing to regularly make opposition goalkeepers earn their match fees.
Daniel Agger fluffed one clear headed opportunity, while David James’ deputy Asmir Begovic made an acrobatic stop to keep out a deflected Steven Gerrard shot but, other than that, Portsmouth barely had to break sweat.
What alarms most of all, however, is that the Reds appear to have lost their fighting spirit and no longer look capable of retrieving bleak situations; not once after Nadir Belhadj smashed a volley past Pepe Reina did Liverpool convince they would storm back.
Should the vast majority continue to show so little backbone, any dreams Benitez and Company have of competing in the Champions League next season will be blown apart before spring is sprung – make no mistake, the situation really is that desperate.
Yet what more should you expect from a club that is being torn apart by a lack of leadership from owners who are unwilling to back their manager with hard cash and are too busy quarrelling with each other?
When clubs are suffering from problems behind the scenes, as sure as night follows day, results on the field inevitably suffer; look how Portsmouth have fallen asunder, think about West Ham United, cower at the thought of Leeds United and Newcastle.
Now we are not suggesting for a moment that this slide will end with Liverpool facing up to the Championship rather than the Champions League, but the worry is the internal strife engulfing Anfield will set them back years.
Should they miss out on the top four, a situation that is becoming all the more realistic with each stuttering week that passes, the ramifications will send shivers down the spine faster than the icy zephyrs which whistled into Fratton Park off the Solent.
For starters, can you imagine what world class performers such as Gerrard, Reina and Fernando Torres will think about either having to showcase their talents in the Europa League or not having European football to play at all?
It was difficult not to feel sorry for Torres on Saturday; aside from one half chance that went just over the bar, he spent the 90 minutes being cynically chopped down by Michael Brown or bundled over by Younes Kaboul or Tal Ben Haim.
From an early stage it was apparent he was losing his cool and he was perhaps fortunate Mason did not see his elbow connect with Ben Haim’s face when they went for an aerial ball midway through the second period, given he had been booked only moments before.
This is not condoning such an act for one moment but it is easy to see why Torres was so enraged; forced to pick off scraps and hunt lost causes, one of Anthony Gormley’s Iron Men would have had just as much success in front of goal as the Spaniard.
He, surely, is being driven to distraction by the lack of chemistry in the Liverpool side right now, in the same way Jamie Carragher will be tearing his hair out, studying the table and wondering if this desperate situation can be salvaged.
On the day he made his 600th Liverpool appearance, Carragher should have had something to celebrate but instead the vice-captain was ashen-faced as he headed for the team bus, scarcely able to comprehend such a chastening experience.
This , after all, should have been the game when they took another step forward but all they could do was stumble three steps back.
The festive period is supposed to be a time for happiness and peaceful reflection but this year the only thing hanging in Anfield’s halls will be apprehension; Benitez could do with a Christmas miracle like never before.
PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): Begovic; Finnan, Kaboul, Ben Haim, Hreidarsson; Boateng (Mullins 89), Yebda, Brown, O’Hara; Belhadj, Piquionne (Kanu 90 +3). Goals: Belhadj (33), Piquionne (82)
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua (Aurelio 67); Lucas (Spearing 88), Mascherano; Kuyt, Gerrard, Dossena (Benayoun 53); Torres. Bookings : Lucas (47), Torres (56), Johnson (60) Sending-off: Mascherano (45).
Referee: Lee Mason
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