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Fit For Purpose?

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As the Merseyside derby looms, two of the squad's older members, who have struggled to get playing time, have been having speaking rather philosophically about the team and the role they hope to play as the season progresses.

"It's okay José. I've got this under con...no...wait...oh. Yeah. Sorry."
"It's okay José. I've got this under con...no...wait...oh. Yeah. Sorry."
Alex Livesey

As one eases into that bittersweet phase of life where one's body sneers dismissively at the earnest entreaties one makes of it, there is a period of slow dawning that impacts upon folk differently. Slowly, it becomes tragically apparent that the well of speed and stamina, from which one has heedlessly drawn over three decades, has been drained by the enfeebling transcience of time. One is no longer bulletproof and irksome strains and aches become constant unwanted companions.

That realisation can either be the catalyst for a new era of personal acceptance and zen self-awareness or it may instead usher in a frenzied period of denial-fuelled attempts at halting the inevitable. In the case of your scribbler, forbearance of the cruelty of the aging process has been the healthiest option. The once proud mane has been replaced by a defiantly shaven pate and the marathon has replaced the on-pitch sprint -- a compromise perhaps, but surely a more dignified response than an execrable Rooney-esque skull carpet and a sad descent into angry, pot-bellied middle age.

Two of Liverpool's current squad are on the cusp of this unfortunate cognizance of their own mortality and the attitude of both men is as admirable as one can expect in the circumstances. Both Rickie Lambert and Kolo Touré, for it is they, still have an unspecified shadowy period of continuing relevance ahead of them at the top level but the signs are there, for the men themselves and for those of us who cheer their efforts for Liverpool, that like Steven Gerrard, they will have to adjust their expectations of what their bodies can do.

Having been made captain for the night against Middlesbrough, the kind of sentimental gesture that Brendan Rodgers' has proved surprisingly prone to, Lambert went on to have a nightmare of an evening, his every touch seemingly heavy or ineffective. Labouring gamely around his beloved Anfield, the veteran's legs refused to take him to the pitch of the action. He was hopelessly adrift, maddeningly peripheral and not at all what we hoped we had signed when the media reveled in the mawkish schmaltz of his fairytale move.

Of course, it would be a remarkably judgemental sort who would write off a notoriously slow starter who has spent an entire summer being Hodgsoned whilst at the World Cup. Such twitchy types would do well to remember that it was the ex-Southampton legend's excellence over two top flight campaigns which resulted in his being part of the Two-Yearly England Tournament Fiasco. Lambert is a fine footballer, possessed of an adroitness that one does not readily associate with a man of his formidable bulk. To date, however, Liverpool fans have seen but the most fleeting of glimpses of what our new number nine can do. The frustration in his voice was apparent as he reflected on his first start and the months to come.

"It was a nice surprise being made captain, but forgetting about that, it was a strange game," the impressively bearded striker ruminated. "I wasn’t happy with my own performance, so that overshadowed the honour of being captain a little bit. It was just things, touches. I didn’t feel as sharp as I want to feel. That’s the main thing I want to look at going back into training. I want to get my match fitness up because obviously everyone knows I’m not playing every game so I have to adapt myself now. I think I’m going to have to do more so my fitness is up to the same level as everybody else.

"I do work, push myself to the limit, but maybe I’m going to have to go to the fitness coach and see if I can do more. Obviously that’s probably an aspect as well, which I’ve got to take into consideration and not let it affect me. But that’s just the way it is, and the situation I’m in. I’m more than confident I can get myself right and start contributing the way I know I can contribute. Hopefully we can get one over on them. It’s always a special day against Everton and I can’t wait for it. It would be a dream to play in the derby, but I want to stay away from stuff like that now and focus on my performance and fitness."

Lambert's admirable attitude should endear him further to those more tolerant fans whose reaction to his travails has not been knee-jerk dismissal but rather pity for an earnest and talented footballer struggling to find form. When it comes to impressively upbeat attitudes, Lambert's fellow hoary old-stager, Kolo Touré, is hard to surpass. The Ivorian defender, whose undoubted class is always on the verge of being undermined by something incongruously comical, has also been seeing precious little pitch time of late.

Like the England forward, Touré arrived at Anfield not expecting to be a starter. Last season, however, fate intervened and he found himself a first team regular as Rodgers' side began the campaign with a series of fine results. Injury then took Touré out of contention and he has been purely a squad player since. The immensely likable centre half is not quite as quick to critique his own contribution as Lambert and he preferred to focus on the team as a whole.

"We controlled the game well (against Middlesbrough) but we conceded a goal from a set-piece again when we could have done better," the amiable defender offered. "At the end of extra time we gave the ball away and I was late (with the tackle for the penalty). I could have come across more quickly but that’s part of the game. We showed a lot of character. We fought and as long as you fight on the pitch and you give everything for the team then no-one can say anything.

"It’s going to be a tough game against Everton but we will give our all again and we’re confident. We’ll focus on that one and try to do as well we did against them here last season. I was so happy to play. We have a good squad and the manager has to pick the players. For sure I want to play more but it’s up to the manager to put the right players into the team at the right time. I think with that performance we showed that Liverpool have a good squad. Anyone can come in and do well. The bench is going to be really important this season because there are so many games with the Champions League as well as the other competitions."

Having endured the most deflating and sobering of starts to this current campaign, Brendan Rodgers and his side will hope to rediscover the kind of consistency of form that marked out last season's efforts. One of the contributing factors to the galling patchiness thus far has been the constant changing of personnel. Rickie Lambert and Kolo Touré will sense that there may be further opportunities for them as long as this period of flux continues. Let us hope that both men seize those chances more forcefully the next time they present themselves.