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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

After two demoralizing defeats in a row, Liverpool's bright new year has gotten a lot more murky. Where do they go from here?

Julian Finney/Getty Images

In the last post I wrote, I laid out the rest of the Premier League schedule for the teams in the top seven spots. I said, at the time, that thanks to the fact that Liverpool still have seven games to play after the double hit of United and Arsenal, losing both would be a blow, but it may not be a fatal one. Now, on the other side of that very situation, with two weeks to stew over a galling defeat to United, followed by an embarrassing performance against a tough Arsenal side, it's hard to remember my cautiously optimistic words from just two weeks back.

I suppose the crux of the issue is that when I said Liverpool could afford to lose the next two difficult games, I meant lose and not, you know, catastrophically meltdown, like someone fired a proton torpedo into their thermal exhaust port. The old adage is one step forward, two steps back, but in the case of this Liverpool team, after they managed to drag themselves out of the wreckage of a terrible first half of the season, come up with a formation that played to the considerable strengths of the side, and string together some wins, it's now more like one step forward, two ‘The Matrix' style slow-mo, gravity-defying backflips back.

Their collapse in just under two weeks has been impressive, for certain nihilistic definitions of the word. Everything that could possibly go wrong has gone wrong, ping-ping-ping, like dominoes getting knocked over. Gerrard humiliating himself forty seconds after coming on for his last ever Liverpool-Man United game - ping. Skrtel hit with a three-game retroactive ban - ping. Sturridge, still not even at his best, injured again - ping. Lallana injured too, because why not? - ping. Sterling's attention diverted by dragging contract negotiations, and oh hey, he's nursing an injury too - ping. Emre Can shown a second yellow after a stupid challenge on Danny Welbeck - ping.

This week, Liverpool take on Blackburn away, and the defensive spine that had propelled the team's tentative resurgence (I had thought to use the word ‘resurrection' - but even I'm not that cheesy) has been all but obliterated. They'll have three important players serving bans, and out of that tremendous backline, only Mamadou Sakho has remained standing. Playing a back three on Wednesday would entail some combination of Toure, Sakho, Johnson and Lovren, and just try to imagine that. Go ahead. Okay, okay, now stop crying - I'm talking to you, Simon, calm down. That's unlikely to happen, though Rodgers has been known to stick to his guns and insist on playing a formation even when aliens from outer space just being introduced to the game of football could tell that they didn't have the right personnel for it. ("Bleet bloot beep. Captain, our scans have indicated that the tattooed human on the left is consistently out of position.")

Suddenly Liverpool's once-frightening side seems incapable of going toe-to-toe with a Championship team, one that held them to a goalless draw at Anfield a month ago at the height of their power. All of the positives that had fans gushing for the first three months of 2015 have been stripped away. The writing has been on the wall for some time. The victory over Swansea was the definition of a lucky break, and the draw against Blackburn that followed won't be inspiring any songs on the Kop any time soon.

Philippe Coutinho, a man on fire in February and March, can't impress in a vacuum. He needs protection in the midfield in order to perform his trickery unimpeded. Lazar Markovic, standing in for the injured Lallana, has not even begun to live up to expectations. A man with the words ‘lazar' and ‘mark' in his name should not be missing the goal so often. It's a shameful waste of available puns, and as an occasional writer, I'm offended. The twenty-one year old Emre Can has been run ragged, and if there's one slight silver lining to the mess of yesterday's game, it's that maybe he'll finally get some rest.

It's not all bad, of course, but even the noblest of defeats brings out my inner pessimist. A pair of losses like we've just endured has me quoting Dostoevsky and wondering about the meaning of it all, so don't mind me.

Skrtel, Can and Gerrard will be back soon. The team is still one win away from making it to Wembley. Manchester United and Arsenal really were the biggest roadblocks left in the season. Now there's a stretch of four theoretically winnable league games before Liverpool face off against Chelsea again. Sturridge, in a fun twist, is back from his injury layoff ahead of schedule, and Lallana is set to follow him.

So. Try to relax for the next couple of days. Celebrate and eat disturbing cakes designed to look like fluffy barnyard animals, if that's your thing. I've drowned my sadness by spending an inadvisable amount of money on Etsy; we all have our vices. Find your happy place. Turn on your comfort movie. Hang out with your kids. At this point, all we can do is wait and hope for some luck to come our way.

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