It's always hard to quite believe that cup draws are completely random, isn't it? I mean, everybody knew Barcelona was going to face Arsenal in the Champions League this year, and low and behold they faced each other in the first knock-out round. It was rather like the way Chelsea would always always always face Liverpool if both sides made it past the last sixteen, when rules to prevent facing an opponent from one's own federation lifted.
In the same way, when the quarter finals of the FA Cup came to light and the games began to roll along, everybody with the slightest interest in Liverpool just knew that United and City would meet in the semi-finals, guaranteeing that Liverpool would need to manage fifth or an Europa League triumph to get back into Europe at all as a result.
Some might say, "Noel, that's silly, you can find narrative and a whiff of paranoid delusion anywhere if you look hard enough," and, "Noel, wouldn't the FA rather have the hype and pomp and television audience of a United-City final?" and, "Noel, none of this would be an issue if that nice man Christian Purslow had made a competent hire back in July." And I would say balderdash! It's perfectly obvious that somebody at the FA was pissed off when Liverpool held back players from the last set of international friendlies in retaliation for the FA playing Gerrard longer than had been agreed on and getting him injured in the set before that, and that conspiring to keep Liverpool out of Europe is simply the latest escalation. Or, in short, the FA must be made to pay for this injustice...
* To start things off, A Liverpool Thing looks at the potential positives of the FA Youth Cup defeat, which may seem to be just another log on the fire that is people looking for silver linings in unfortunate situations of late, but in this case I find myself fully agreeing with the silver linings. Not that dropping out is a good thing, of course, but in a run out against the highest level of competition the Liverpool youth had yet faced there was a distinct disjointedness to proceedings to remind that these dominant pass and move masters against Southend might not quite be ready to grab Premier League competition by the scruff of its neck and drag a team full of Carraghers kicking and screaming towards silverware:
This is why it is so difficult to judge players of this age. Or, rather, why it is always wise not to rush into judgments. Many were disappointed when Raheem Sterling wasn’t given some playing time in the Europa League after he had helped tear Southend apart in the previous round of this competition. Others would have picked the Spanish midfielder Suso for the first team within the first month of his joining the club, so impressive was he whenever he played for the reserves.
The reality is that there is a huge gap between the level of football they are used to playing and that which they would be facing in the first team. The strength of players they would be playing against, their experience and the speed with which they would punish any mistake or hesitation is far greater than what they’ve ever come against.
No reason for them to all be crap now, of course, but perhaps a needed reminder that these are young kids and realistically we're looking at years before they can make a real impact instead of weeks.
* Meanwhile, despite that reality might suggest otherwise, Kenny Dalglish says he's perfectly happy with the current squad's depth, thank you very much. Which of course is what a manager should say, rather than blaming b-teams and scrubs who are hardly going out there trying not to measure up to expectations:
The depth of the squad has been tested with Liverpool's involvement in the Europa League and although the stand-ins have not always impressed--Thursday's 1-0 first-leg defeat in Braga a case in point--Dalglish recognises the importance of being able to call on those fringe players.
"Everyone in the squad is capable of playing in the first team," he said. "Those that haven't played as much are very important to us and their attitude in the games they have played in the past has been superb."
Though it doesn't seem to have registered amongst those who simply put Europa League right next to Cole, Poulsen, and Spearing and draw a conclusion or three, the squad that faced Braga was hardly an intentionally weakened one. One can only hope that Dalglish's public faith in the fringe players who will play no matter how large or small a priority he puts on the competition, combined with a lively Anfield crowd, can somehow get the team through at home against Braga.
* And speaking of depth and the upcoming match against Braga, The Tomkins Times takes the time to preach patience on the Andy Carroll front:
Carroll’s presence is about making Liverpool a stronger unit, not wowing the fans in quite the same way that prime-years Torres did; I don’t expect our jaws to drop quite as often. Also, the crux of the deal is that Liverpool got two young strikers for little more than the price of a single older, injury-prone one.
Right now, based on the evidence of the first handful of matches the pair have played for their new clubs, I’d have happily swapped Torres for Suarez. Straight swap, with both valued at £20m, £35m or £50m.
The little Uruguayan has already done things worthy of Torres at his best, whereas at Chelsea, Torres continues to look like the moody, relatively mediocre player who’d failed to spark into full life for Liverpool for 18 months
A good reminder all around, as one would expect. Still, given the difference he made in his brief appearance against Braga, it's hard not to hope that he can make a similar difference against them at Anfield, and that doing so for the entire match and with the home support will be enough to see Liverpool through.
In the meantime, while you try to wrap you head around rules stating that if the winner of the FA Cup is in the Champions League already the loser gets the Europa berth, which wouldn't be an issue if Arsenal hadn't choked on their own two feet in the Carling Cup but they did and now they're also out of the Champions League and out of the FA cup and only managing unimpressive draws against Sunderland to help Manchester United through their troubled stretch atop the league...