Early Doors

Crisis? What crisis?

Early Doors

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A 1-0
defeat away from home
against a crack continental outfit in a top European
competition would not normally constitute a disastrous result.

But this is
Liverpool. And this is the Europa League. And the opposition were Lille (currently
sixth in Ligue 1).

Cue panic
in the tabloids, horribly forced puns in their headlines (Lille savage, Lille
the stink, Rafa feeling Lille bit sick etc) and a contrastingly upbeat
assessment from the ever-more beleaguered Rafa Benitez.

The
Spaniard said after the game he was pleased with his players' performance and still
confident of beating anyone at Anfield, although wisely he was quick to add
"on our day".

Trouble is,
it has not been Liverpool's day for quite some time. In times gone by, Benitez
would look to Steven Gerrard to haul his side out of a mess, but at the moment the
formerly inspirational captain seems incapable of repeating past glories.

Yet Benitez
does have a point - this tie is far from over and Liverpool were much better in
northern France than they had been at Wigan on Monday. Admittedly, it would
have taken quite something to put in a worse performance, but his harsh words
after the debacle at the DW Stadium appeared to have done the trick.

There was at
least some fire in his players' bellies at the Stade Lille Metropole and most
of them appeared to be up for the fight, if not capable of finding an end
product that would have delivered a crucial away goal.

And Benitez
must also have been encouraged by the sight of Fernando Torres looking his
sharpest for ages. The striker failed to find the back of the net in Lille, but
who would bet against him doing so in next week's return leg if he can continue
his path towards full fitness in next Monday's game against Portsmouth?

A 1-0
deficit is, as Rafa said, easily turned around, especially at home and in front
of a partisan crowd. Maybe ED is just in an optimistic mood this morning -
either that, or simply attempting to spark debate - but it has a gut feeling that
Liverpool will score next Thursday.

Unfortunately,
given their defensive frailties they are equally likely to concede at the other
end and in Eden Hazard (apparently no relation to Micky) Lille have a player
who is capable of turning a game with one flash of brilliance.

But forget
about talented Belgian midfielders, confidence, or a lack of it, seems to be
the biggest threat to Liverpool at the moment. It is so dangerously frail that
Hazard's late winner could well have inflicted serious further damage; the
slumped shoulders at full-time told their own story. Hence Benitez's words of
encouragement after the game.

He knows
only too well that this is a Liverpool team teetering on the edge. But with his
words of encouragement, the backing of the Anfield crowd and a little more
ruthlessness in front of goal next week, their hopes of winning some silverware
this season may not yet be over.

ED apologises for this uncharacteristic outbreak of cheerfulness, and would like to say it will be
back to its usual grumpy, cynical self after the weekend.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It was a good cover-up by Rafa because
he knows how bad his side were and that was repeated against Wigan on Monday
night. He's got personal with it for many, many years now. That's why I don't
like him and the feeling is probably mutual." Sam Allardyce confirms Benitez
does not feature on his Christmas card list
.

FOREIGN VIEW I: "While certain players like Jamie Carragher
put into practice the wishes of their coach, that was not true for everyone. Certainly
not Steven Gerrard. The captain of the English club played out the game like a
phantom. He was transparent, had little or no concern for the fight and was a
shadow of himself." L'Equipe were not too impressed by Gerrard's ghostly
performance in northern France.

FOREIGN VIEW II: Twenty-five per cent of the Malaysian
population support Manchester United. Really. Alex Ferguson says so.

COMING UP: Paul Parker will be previewing the upcoming
action and Jim White will also be filing ahead of this weekend's action. We'll
have everything you need to know about the Fantasy game with Choose 'em or lose
'em
, while this evening there is a selection of live action to enjoy - Lincoln
v Hereford
, Catania v Internazionale and Schalke v Stuttgart.

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