The otiose vacuum of a so called moral victory is infinitely worse than the uncomplicated sting of deserved defeat and don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise. It's far better to have had one's posterior handed to one on a glinting silver platter than to have the acrid taste of defeat exacerbated by the gnawing certainty that said vanquishment has come when victory was deserved. Of course, only a joyless pedant could fail to see some positive signs in Liverpool's semi-final exit over two legs but to make those glimmers of hope the chief take-away from the tie is a the kind of hard sell that even Gordon Gekko would flinch at.
Don't misread me, dear reader, there'll be no morose caterwauling in the paragraphs of this column. The denizens of Twitterland had that lugubrious angle covered more than adequately last night as the Liverpool corner of that particular universe became a mélange of rancorous sniping and self-righteous posturing. Similarly, despite the temptation to be belligerently upbeat, it is impossible to see only the good in the wake of such a galling loss at the hands of a rival. Realism then, is our only recourse, and objectively speaking, Liverpool played better football over two legs but failed to score the goals to reflect that. Similarly, whilst Chelsea should have been a man down for much of last night's game, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva could have also seen red. This realism malarkey isn't much fun either, now I've started.
One man who's endured the harsher side of reality this season has been Simon Mignolet. Being forced to cope with the absolute clowncars behaviour of his defence pre-Christmas was less than helpful for the Belgian but his own wretched form over that period added to a perfect storm of defensive collapse. So abysmal had the unfortunate custodian's performances become that he was dropped in favour of the likeable but limited Brad Jones and only reinstated when the spectacularly coiffed Australian was injured. Since his return, Mignolet has climbed slowly out of the morass and his recent showings, behind some defenders worthy of the name, have been solid, even occasionally impressive. Not unsurprisingly, the mild mannered number 22 is balanced in his view of last night's proceedings, if a little too reliant on a much-abused catchphrase of his captain's from the tail-end of last campaign.
"Everybody is disappointed when you go out of a competition that you want to win, and especially with the effort and performances that we put in over the two legs," said the Belgian. "We definitely deserved more than we got. But we have to accept it and move on, and make sure that we go again in the other competitions that we're still playing in. The performances over the two games we played were excellent, and I don't think anybody can be disappointed with their own individual performance. But, obviously, when you go out, straight after the game everybody is disappointed --because you want to win the competition and go to the final. That didn't happen, unfortunately.
"We've got a young group -- everybody wants to win competitions and trophies. We'll make sure that we go again in the competitions that we're still featuring in. It's difficult at this moment in time. I wanted to go through and win the competition. In the next couple of days, I'll analyse the game and take the positives and negatives out of it, like I've always done. The most important thing is that we have to go again on Saturday in the Premier League and then the FA Cup after that. We have to pick ourselves up and go again."
If they are indeed to 'go again' Mignolet and Liverpool now have the FA Cup, The Europa League and the fight for Champions League places as their remaining goals for the season to come. Over the space of eleven days, an FA Cup replay against Bolton Wanderers next Tuesday is sandwiched between Premier League fixtures at home to West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur and away to local rivals Everton. These games will be a true measure of the progress and development many insisted were on display at Stamford Bridge.
One is rightly wary of placing too much hope in the imminent return of Daniel Sturridge, but the availability of the club's one true striking threat is a source of genuine excitement. How his presence was missed in last night's tie. When Sturridge finally does return to the fold, fans will hold their breath every time he breaks into that pacy stride of his and wince at every challenge. If Brendan Rodgers has any sense, he will designate the imperious Emre Can as the striker's personal minder when faced with the kind of thuggish and snide antics displayed by Chelsea's Diego Costa.
Now, let's be very clear. For a Liverpool fan, who reveled in the snarling, needly presence of Luis Suarez, to come on all holier-than-thou when deriding Costa is utterly laughable but his deliberate stamping on two occasions is indefensible and when even Sky's fitted-suit model, Jamie Redknapp got his excessively tight trousers in a knot about the Spaniard's nastiness, insisting that it was "a blatant red card" and that "he's put his studs in and "he's bang out of order," you knew that something truly egregious had transpired. Brendan Rodgers was equally clear in his articulation of displeasure, but inevitably more garrulous in his expression.
"It was poor from him," Rodgers insisted. "He doesn't need to do it. It wasn't good for the game. He's an outstanding player, an outstanding footballer. He has this edge to him. With Emre Can, that was poor, I felt. He could easily hurdle over the young player and he directs his studs right on to his ankle, which could've been nasty. And again the one with Martin Skrtel. There's no need to do it. That's the sad thing of it. He's a top-class player and he's clever enough that the officials don't see it. The referee didn't see it. When you see it afterwards, it's disappointing."
Victorious Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, never one to display an excess of grace in victory, was hilariously dismissive of Redknapp's assessment, referring to him as "nuts" and refusing to acknowlege him directly because he didn't "know his name" and turns off the television whenever the waistcoat fancier appears. For the spiky and myopic Chelsea boss, there was no offence in his player's actions and only evidence of a "campaign" being waged against his unimpeachable and chaste charges.
"In such a game of emotions, I think this is football," Mourinho offered. "Speak about Costa and the penalty that he had and was not given. No, no. Let Costa play his football. I don't know what you understand by stamp. I think maybe you are already influenced by... I'm going to use a word which put me in trouble, but I think this time I cannot be punished to say that there is a campaign on the television with a certain pundit that is saying Diego Costa 'crimes'.
"This guy must be nuts. I saw the incidents. About the penalty, I don't speak. I prefer not to speak. If I comment I will be in trouble and I don't want to be. What you call stamps and Sky calls crimes, I have to say absolutely accidental. He goes to the ball, he chases the ball, as the opponent is on the floor, they have a contact, he puts his foot there when he's looking to the ball. Great campaign."
Jose Mourinho will never change and that is in itself an odd comfort. On a childishly simplistic level, we all want a pantomime villain to hiss at. So, cheers Jose and, y'know, boooooooo! Liverpool, however, have shown signs that they are beginning to change and that is of even more solace. The permanently pressing, quick tempo, possession based football that Brendan Rodgers' side have played consistently of late will beat more teams than not. If there had been even a modicum of striking threat on the bench last night, the tie might well have swung in the Redmen's favour. Alas, only the limited threat of Rickie Lambert and the unrecognisably ineffective presence of Mario Balotelli could be called upon. No pressure then, Daniel.