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Curb Your Enthusiasm

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Liverpool were given a harsh lesson in ruthless exploitation of chances as Manchester City defeated Brendan Rodgers' young side at the Etihad. It was a demoralising loss but perhaps it may prove a timely and sobering bucket of ice over our collective heads.

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I wear infinity scarves. Infinity scarves are cool. Mario proves this. No, YOU shut up.
I wear infinity scarves. Infinity scarves are cool. Mario proves this. No, YOU shut up.
Laurence Griffiths

Having been encumbered of late by a vexatious amount of life's more unpalatable travails, your scribbler was inordinately delighted to find himself stood in a queue with the sole intention of buying a large vat of coffee and frittering away a couple of carefree hours pondering inconsequential trivialities and actively eschewing reality. There's very little as satisfying for an afflicted soul as giving pesky reality a damn good eschewing. Ahead of me in the line was a gent whose spatial awareness turned out to be catastrophically impaired. So little regard did this corpulent fellow have for anything outside of his own ample orbit that, apropos of nothing in particular, he took a dramatic step backwards and placed his leaden foot squarely on mine, whilst simultaneously treating my horrified face to an unfortunate degree of familiarity with his sweaty back.

Reaching instinctively for the crushed metatarsals inside my boot, I was stunned to see this hulking behemoth of a human look apathetically down at the damage his rotundity had wrought and simply sniff, a look of utter vacuity on his bovine face, before waddling forward to buy a cream-laden beverage. What had been an eagerly anticipated afternoon of escapism was marred by the rudest of interventions and yet, so insignificant was this unpleasantness in the greater scheme of things that the aforementioned coffee and a hefty slice of carrot cake were all that were required to focus my thoughts away from the murderous and back to the blithe insouciance more suited to one enjoying a rare treat.

You see, dear reader, it's all about expectations. Buoyed by a quite wonderful and almost dream-like eight months as supporters of the Redmen, in which our beloved club has scaled delightful and unexpected heights before gathering no fewer than nine promising new players to swell the ranks, we have been drunk on hope, intoxicated by the beautiful dewy-eyed optimism that has become acceptable once more amongst our ranks. There will be no warning in these paragraphs about the need to temper expectations or rein-in yearning aspirations. Such naysaying is best left to the hysterically screeching denizens of the radio phone-ins and the dour Twitter coroners, whose post-mortems of any given defeat are enough to crush the spirit of even the most ebullient enthusiast. No, hope and optimism are to be encouraged but perhaps the degree to which some of us have allowed ourselves to be carried away needs to be tweaked a little.

For the first forty minutes of last night's encounter at the Etihad stadium, Liverpool were easily the more polished of the two sides, poised in possession and comfortable when facing up to the apparently awesome attacking potency of the Mancunian side. With Raheem Sterling a permanently motile threat to the champions and the likes of Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson industrious and lively, it is not unfair to say that Brendan Rodgers' side were looking the more likely victors, albeit without baring their teeth in the way we know they can.

This opening period was a little strange, as a result, with fans simultaneously uneasy and confident on the back of the measured display. There was little of the spirit-shocking wonder that has become this side's trademark -- a distinct lack of the urgency and off-the-cuff brilliance that has characterised so many of the great wins of recent times. Instead, playing their tidy football, Brendan Rodgers' team looked competent, unfussy and, well, fine. It was all a touch sterile and uninspired and when the de rigeur defensive errors occurred, it was in no way inevitable that Liverpool would bite back in the way that had been so emphatically the case last season.

In a debut which was generally solid and promising Alberto Moreno shared the blame with Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren for the opening goal, but it was the youngster who got most of the unimaginative flak. The half ended with City in the ascendancy but when the second period started it was notable that Liverpool were not exactly flying out of the traps. The uninspired solidity continued but so, alas, did the rearguard lapses for Jovetic's second strike and it was only after Sergio Aguero threatened a humiliation with a third within seconds of his introduction that the Anfield men looked roused. The bulky presence of Rickie Lambert combined with some muscular inventiveness from Sturridge led to a goal before the ex-Southampton man had a glorious opportunity to grab a second with ten minutes left. His tentative effort to pick out his England mucker instead of taking on the shot was a perfect microcosm of all that was not quite right about Liverpool on the night.

Leaving aside a worrying series of injuries that saw his team finish the match with ten men, Brendan Rodgers was admirably phlegmatic in the wake of the setback and spoke a lot of sense about how the match had panned out, whilst putting the defeat in context. These are early days, he suggested, and we have much to be enthused about in the performances and potential of our new aspirant superstars.

"Up until they scored, we were arguably the better side," he told the assembled media afterwards. "We looked a threat going forward, we had good possession of the ball and tactically we were very good, but we switched off just before half-time and Jovetic finished it very well. We started the second half reasonably brightly, but we gave away two poor goals, really. They worked the ball well for the second one, but for the third one you've got to get tighter - you've got to get up to the ball and stop the winger turning. In fairness to the players, it's still very early on in the season and we're still looking for our fitness and to get up to our level, but they kept going. We got it to 3-1 and maybe could have got to 3-2, but then Glen Johnson went off and it killed our momentum a little bit. 11 versus 10 in the last few minutes was difficult for us because they've got the quality and experience to keep the ball.

"We didn't play so well in the second half tonight, but it's not going to hurt us - we'll just re-focus and look to the weekend now. For the younger players we've brought in, there is a period of adaptation for them coming in," continued Rodgers. "We've still got the core of our squad from last season - and the players that have come in will have the opportunity to develop and adapt. Of course, if you come in from a different country and culture, it will take that little bit of time. Young Alberto Moreno tonight showed flashes of his quality. He'll learn. He wasn't the finished article when we brought him in, we knew there were certain areas we needed to work on, but that's something our eyes are wide open to. Lazar came on and showed his pace and quality. It's very early for this squad - we've had to make changes to improve the depth, but as the season goes on we'll become better and better."

There should be no despair following a defeat to the finest side in the Premier League. That hope you had felt before kick-off is still perfectly apposite. It may be almost impossible when one contemplates Mario Balotelli partnering Sturridge in the weeks to come, but for your own mental health, simply curb your enthusiasm. As Rodgers' young side finds its feet, it behooves Liverpool's fans to display a modicum of restraint and patience. Phillipe Coutinho will once again, run matches, Raheem Sterling will continue to terrify opposition defenders and Daniel Sturridge will regularly score the goals that he plunders so naturally. Slowly too, the likes of Moreno, Markovic, Javier Manquillo, Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Balotelli will impose their undoubted talents on both domestic and Champions League matches. It may not happen right now but it will happen. Have a coffee and some carrot cake. Everything's going to be fine.