In terms of slow-seeming weeks, this one couldn't have come at a worse time. Saturday's debacle at Old Trafford, the self-righteous moral crusades it inspired, and Sunday's apology avalanche from Luis Suarez, Ian Ayre, and Kenny Dalglish made for a miserable 24 hours. We were desperate for a break from all that, and then nothing happened. Then more nothing. And in the midst of all this nothingness, more of it kept happening. So turning the attention to Brighton and the weekend is welcome, and in a paradoxical sort of way, so is news that apparently the phantom injury isn't solely an Aurelian phenomenon.
* There's been plenty of nervous glances at recent team sheets when it comes to Maxi---he's been omitted regularly over the past few weeks, and as Noel noted yesterday, it's contributed to the general acceptance that he's headed elsewhere in the summer.
So today's news that his omission has been down to fitness rather than gradual alienation from the squad is nice to hear, even if it only gives us temporary relief from the notion that he might not be a Liverpool player for too long beyond the end of the current season. Despite lingering on the fringes for most of the fall, he was integral in the two Chelsea wins at Stamford Bridge in the span of a week, and his ability to link play and position himself smartly about the forward areas left many wanting more.
That desire's only going to increase now that he's fit and Stewart Downing's still Stewart Downing, but it doesn't guarantee a spot in the starting eleven. That he should play over Downing is a no-brainer, although it's less clear who could or should make way for the recently-recalled Argentine. Perhaps an argument could be made for Andy Carroll making way, allowing a Suarez-Bellamy-Maxi contingent with Steven Gerrard in support. No easy choices for Kenny Dalglish, but with all parties seemingly fit and match-ready, it's at least a preferred discussion to basically anything last weekend produced.
* On the topic of Dalglish, it's been clear from the outset that he's placed a heavy emphasis on the domestic cups this season, and with a place in the League Cup final assured and a chance to move into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup with a win over Brighton, he's rightly pleased with the commitment the squad has shown.
"The players deserve every credit. They've had a relatively successful season, they've put themselves in a good position. This time last year we weren't in both cup competitions and we weren't as close as four points off fourth spot. We're pleased with what we've done so far but we want to push on and improve where we are."
Comparisons to last season are always going to cause some nervous giggling, but at least in the case of the domestic cups, it's fairly easy to identify the club are miles ahead of where they were at this point a year ago---out of both in their first action in each competition, first falling to Northampton Town at Anfield in the League Cup, and in Dalglish's first match in charge at Old Trafford in the 3rd round of the FA Cup.
Progress in terms of results and standing in league is less clear, despite a general shift in optimism about the longer-term prospects for the club's standing. Certainly anything's possible from now until the end of the season in terms of Champions League qualification, and some sort of European action seems more than reachable, but with mixed performances from those intended to "improve" the squad over the summer, there apparently needs to be a bit of patience in the discussion of progress, as we'd otherwise be left with more nervousness and less giggling.
* Finally, thanks to all who participated in the Liverpool Tees giveaway competition, which got a surprisingly large number of responses and continually tricked me into thinking that people were actually emailing me because they like me. The questions, along with the correct responses, are below. The winners will get an email from me shortly with the contact info to cash in.
1) In the 1907-1908 season, Liverpool and Brighton drew 1-1 in the 2nd round of the FA Cup, with the Reds winning the replay 3-0. Who were the two Liverpool players responsible for Liverpool’s four goals? Jack Cox and James Bradley, each with two.
2) Two former Liverpool men were involved on the Brighton side when they beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield in the 1982-1983 season. Who were they? Jimmy Melia and Jimmy Case.
3) A year later Brighton knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup again, this time with a 2-0 victory at the Goldstone Ground in the 1983-1984 season. Who is the other club to have put Liverpool out of the competition in two straight seasons? Everton
4) How many times have the two sides met in all competitions, and what’s the overall record? 24, with 12 Liverpool wins, 8 draws, and 4 Brighton wins.
5) When Liverpool last won the FA Cup in the 2005-2006 season, they faced Manchester United in the 5th round and won 1-0 on a Peter Crouch header. Name the players involved that day that are still with their respective clubs. For Liverpool: Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, and Jamie Carragher. For United: Wayne Rooney, Ji Sung Park, Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher, and Nemanja Vidic. As many noted, Rio Ferdinand was with United at the time but not in the squad.
Back late tonight or early tomorrow with the preview for Sunday's match with Brighton, so in the meantime you can be thankful that Pepe Reina is far better in goal than he is at acting.
Thanks to Khaine for the tip. This is just like winning a free shirt, right?