In his weekly Liverpool blog, Dave Tindall says now the gloom of Wembley is lifting, there is plenty still to fight for this season.
There’s no getting away from it, defeat in last Sunday’s Capital One Cup final was horrible.
The split second Yaya Toure’s winning spot-kick hit the back of the net, I stormed out of the room, the idea of watching my team sat on the Wembley turf looking utterly dejected simply too much to contemplate.
So what a fantastic effort by the Liverpool players to pick themselves up off the floor and blast away the same opposition 3-0 just three days later at a bouncing Anfield. “Boom!” as Jurgen Klopp said post-match on Wednesday night and that’s why I’m writing this latest Red Letter in a surprisingly upbeat mood.
Let’s start with the Wembley clash though as it does require a bit of a post-mortem.
To be honest, I don’t really have any real complaints. When it comes to penalties, you live by the sword and die by the sword.
Two days after we’d fluffed our lines in the shootout, a Stoke fan stopped me in the corridor and said mischievously, “how does it feel, Dave?”
I could only offer a resigned laugh. “It’s sh*t, isn’t it,” I replied and, of course, my Stoke-supporting colleague would know after we’d beaten them on penalties to get to the final.
In the aftermath of Sunday, there was some criticism aimed at Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson for not stepping up to take one but I didn’t agree at all. Getting involved in the blame game after a lost penalty shootout is a bit pointless.
Sturridge had been dead on his feet throughout extra-time and if you were there to see him blaze a spot-kick over the bar when on a hat-trick against Everton you’d have hardly been filled with confidence anyway.
Not hitting the target is the biggest crime from the spot and all our penalties were goal-bound. It just so happened that City goalkeeper Willy Caballero had his moment in the sun, guessed right and made some excellent saves.
If I was nit-picking, I’d have said maybe James Milner, our best penalty taker, should have gone second and hopefully put us 2-0 up in the shootout. But I guess the order had already been decided and to start switching it about could have been unsettling.
To be honest, City deserved it anyway. They could have put us to bed long before penalties and were the better team on the day.
Vincent Kompany ran their defence superbly, catching Firmino offside about 20 times and, as time ticked away, the frustration building up inside me reached ludicrous proportions. We’d done okay up to a point but not managing a single attempt at goal with 82 minutes gone? Come on, what’s that about?
So when Philippe Coutinho fired home that late equaliser, I went absolutely beserk. Playing in a cup final and not getting the chance to roar home a significant goal is an empty and hollow experience. So thanks Philippe, you gave me a moment I won’t forget. Good for the bank balance too as I’d backed him at 3/1 to score anytime.
League Cup lessons
There were other useful lessons to come out of the Wembley loss that could have a big effect on Klopp’s thinking in the transfer market this summer.
How good was Lucas at centre-back?! Not only did he read the game superbly, he was magnificent in the air too. Forget trying to scour Europe for another footballing defender as we have one right under our noses.
Alberto Moreno. Sorry mate, it’s time to move on this summer. At the back he’s a liability; going forward he flatters to deceive. The totally half-arsed, stick-your-back-leg-out tackle on Sergio Aguero belonged to a five-a-side kick-about not a Wembley final and should have been punished with a penalty.
Simon Mignolet. I’d been giving him the benefit of the doubt but the crime sheet is too long now. True, he made some great saves later on but the first goal in a cup final is always massive and he should not have let in Fernandinho’s low strike which gave City the lead. Divock Origi tried a similar shot from an angle in the 3-0 win on Wednesday and Joe Hart got down quickly to push it away as you’d expect from a good goalkeeper.
I was still troubled by the Wembley loss ahead of the Premier League clash on Wednesday and, indeed, didn’t pursue the chance of getting a ticket due to being in a right old hump.
Pre-match, my feelings were that the Premier League campaign is gone anyway so it seemed a lot of effort to rearrange work plans and travel to a cold and windy Anfield and be made to feel even more dreadful as City turned us over again.
But the vibes were good from the start. Reports from the ground said the atmosphere was superb in the build-up and the team, already fuelled by a desire to make amends, picked up on it and thrived.
Local lad Jon Flanagan put in a crunching tackle on boo-boy Raheem Sterling within the first minute and it set the tone for what some said later was Liverpool’s best home display for two years.
Not sure what's better, Flanno's tackle or Hendo's reaction! ???? pic.twitter.com/tZGhzZXxcs
— Sunil Raithatha (@ScouseTrouble) March 2, 2016
Fantastic stuff although I do confess to shouting “why didn’t you do that on Sunday?!!” when the third one went in.
Flanagan, by the way, must surely be the long-term future at full-back ahead of Moreno.
There are also signs further up the field that things are coming together. After wondering where the end product was, Adam Lallana now has three goals in his last six games and also set up the third on Wednesday.
James Milner has netted three in his last five (and four in 10) to prove he can provide goals as well as endless energy from midfield.
And Firmino? Make that six goals in 11 games after just one in his first 24 for the club. He’s starting to become a big player. Note also that Firmino and Milner are also our leading assist makers with seven each.
All top teams need good back-up strikers and in Origi we have one. Lots of pace, enthusiasm and raw talent make him an ideal man for that role.
Imagine where we’d be if we had a striker with 15 goals to his name this season? I got blasted for saying in this column that we should sell Christian Benteke in the January transfer window but it’s emerged that he was offered to a team in China but turned it down.
Being an unused substitute at Wembley must have sent the alarm bells ringing though and I’d expect him to be moved on in the summer.
The next big question is what can Liverpool achieve between now and the end of the season? As Wednesday night proved, this rollercoaster campaign didn’t end at Wembley on Sunday evening. There is still much to play for.
Top four in the Premier League? You can dismiss it as far-fetched but if you want an assessment from the bookies, it’s 8/1. In other words, we’re hardly talking miracle territory.
For the record, Liverpool are six points off fourth place and have a game in hand over most.
In terms of the betting, a top-four finish in the Premier League is considered the most likely route to the Champions League.
We could also achieve that dream by winning the Europa League but the odds for that are higher at 11/1. Again, though, it’s a price that says you’re not away with the fairies for thinking it might happen.
Those odds would come down a fair chunk if we get past Manchester United and the first leg of that last 16 clash takes place at Anfield next Thursday night.
Four straight defeats to our bitterest of rivals needs readdressing and, admittedly, they’ve picked up too. But European nights at Anfield are special and, as in the City game on Wednesday, if the crowd and team feed off each other it’s a pretty potent cocktail.
Far from Sunday’s loss at Wembley signalling the death-knell on Liverpool’s 2015/16 season, it could actually provide the catalyst and inspiration for something big to come.
Don’t look back in anger; things could be about to get better.