AWAY supporters never miss a chance to mock fans in the grounds they visit and the Chelsea followers who crammed into the Anfield Road end yesterday were no exception.
But while most of their singing was typically banal, turgid and witless, one chant which started just before the end of possibly the most soul destroying 90 minutes of the season summed up the direction in which Liverpool are headed.
“You’re ancient history,” they crowed, over and over again. In many ways, they are right. While folk dressed in Blue celebrated the victory that effectively clinched their third Premier League title, all those in Red had nothing to console them.
The days when Liverpool ruled the roost, collected trophies at will and dwarfed their rivals are long gone, nothing but a distant memory; today they stand as far away from being crowned champions of England as they have ever been since 1990.
Liverpool, you see, is a club on its knees. Torn apart by internal civil war – step forward, for starters, Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett – crippled by debt and possessing too many players who are not good enough to help drag it off the canvas, they are headed in one direction.
Such words do not come easy to compose but, then again, watching Liverpool has been anything but a walk in the park during the past nine months and, astonishingly, a new nadir was reached here against Chelsea.
All talk, of course, before Carlo Ancelotti brought his team to Merseyside centred around the number ‘19’, a reference to the fact that Manchester United are within an ace of overtaking Liverpool as the most successful club in the country.
Fittingly, all talk after Ancelotti and Co had departed also centred around the number ‘19’ but that was only because Chelsea had won to inflict Liverpool’s nineteenth defeat of the campaign without coming out of a hack canter.
Truly, truly demoralising. While Rafa Benitez’s men made a bright start to this contest, the highlight being Albert Aquilani skimming the bar with a 25-yard drive, by the final whistle they had been contemptuously swept aside.
Unable to conjure a shot on target or a tackle in anger, the only defiance showed was when Jamie Carragher’s son, James, waved an arm at the away section on the players’ lap of gratitude – some would call it a lap of dishonour – as if to say ‘We are Liverpool!’
That was, perhaps, the only heart warming sight of a miserable afternoon, one that exposed Liverpool’s myriad problems in gory detail; no wonder many were wondering how or from where a Red revival will come.
On the evidence that was presented yesterday, it might be more pertinent to ask ‘if’ recovery is possible; with little money for signings, the manager’s future under a cloud and players perhaps contemplating moves away, the situation is exceptionally fraught.
Mind you, it says everything about the farcical state of the club at present that the current Liverpool chairman could not attend a Liverpool game because of his lifelong allegiances to Chelsea.
Martin Broughton, it must be stressed, is blameless for all the current ills but on a day when a show of unity was needed, his failure to attend – and his quotes ahead of the match – did not send out the right message, in any shape or form.
Yes, some players had done their best to make the right noises in the build up – most notably Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger and Steven Gerrard – promising there would be no surrender but their words ultimately fell on deaf ears.
Haunted by everything that has happened since last August, Anfield – the visiting section apart – was like a morgue during the opening half hour, with many numb from so many chastening experiences. Others, evidently, were completely disinterested.
How has it come to this? Games with Chelsea in recent years have guaranteed a fabulous atmosphere, the mutual apathy between the clubs ensuring there was always a buzz inside this famous old ground at the prospect of a bitter scrap for three points.
It made the tone here all the more unpalatable. No matter how bad things are, never should a logical Red turn up to a game and want their team to lose; the ‘spirit of Shankly’ has been much spoken lately, so we ask – is wanting to lose a Shankly ideology?
You all know the answer to that. Yet the fact that subject has even been debated is another, painful indictment on this lamentable campaign; wanting to lose to the side that has been barracked for years about having no history? Come on.
True, a title triumph for Chelsea is absolutely the lesser of two evils but you get the point; emotions yesterday were borne of frustration, the fact that Liverpool were again forced to watch others fight for the ultimate prize too much to handle.
We can only speculate quite what would have happened if Liverpool’s bright start had yielded a goal – Chelsea hardly showed themselves to be a side of the highest calibre – but once Gerrard’s stray back-pass was seized upon by Didier Drogba, the game was up.
Frank Lampard put the gloss on the victory for Chelsea early in the second half and from that point the action resembled a training match, with both sides desperate to hear the final whistle for wildly differing reasons.
Chelsea’s players, predictably, revelled in their success, Liverpool’s players skulked off, disappearing down the tunnel before emerging shortly after with their families, to walk around the pitch, some appearing almost embarrassed by the ordeal.
Were some waving apologies? Were others waving goodbye? You get the impression that when the time comes to do something similar in 12 months, the squad will have a different look to it.
Will Benitez be at the helm? Again, that is to be decided. Clearly some fans will be happy for him to go to Juventus or wherever, fearing that his project has gone stale, others – the majority – still believe he is the man to take Liverpool forward.
Whatever happens, there is an enormous job to be done over the summer, the most important being to sort the financial mess out; this is something Broughton and Christian Purslow dare not get wrong
If they do, crowing fans in the corner of Anfield will become commonplace – and the notion of Liverpool being a successful club will be ancient history.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina: Mascherano, Carragher (Ayala 57), Kyrgiakos, Agger: Lucas, Gerrard: Benayoun, Aquilani (Ngog 77), Rodriguez (Babel 43): Kuyt. SUBS: Cavalieri (GK), Degen, El Zhar, Ayala, Pacheco.
Bookings – Mascherano (87)
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech: Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, A Cole: Ballack, Lampard, Malouda: Kalou (Zhirkov 88), Drogba, Anelka (J Cole 90). SUBS: Hilario (GK), Ferreira, Deco, Sturridge, Belleti.
Goals – Drogba (33), Lampard (55) Bookings – Malouda (26), Ballack (40)
Attendance – 44,375
Referee – Alan Wiley
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