Over recent months, the damage wrought by migraine-related afflictions has prevented this Irishman from engaging with screens for any appreciable length of time. My gracious colleagues here at TLO Towers heroically took up the slack and filled in with pieces of far more guile and purpose than would have been crafted in the bowels of my battered laptop. Whilst it has been a delight to get back to the nebulous thoughts and dubious postulations of this column, the timing of it has coincided with what, for some, has been the most trying period of Liverpool's season.
If the current campaign is ultimately consigned to the file marked Failure, then without question, its downfall will have been the frankly abysmal opening four months, as opposed to the two most recent wretchedly insipid displays against Manchester United and Arsenal. However, so impressive had the recovery from those early woes been, that we had begun to dream of a glorious conclusion to proceedings. We're a romantic lot, you see, given to reverie. There is a kind of muscle memory in Liverpool fans, a native familiarity with the club's grand tradition of success and there seemed to be a return to something of the strut and swagger that had brought the club so close to a coveted title.
All of this has made the last two defeats so much more unpalatable and difficult to bear. Allowing not one, but both of our chief top 4 rivals to surge a further 3 points ahead has left even the unrelentingly upbeat Brendan Rodgers quietly admitting that the comforting Champions League dream may be evaporating in the rudely awakening reality of mathematics. There is little solace in number-crunching just now and so, ironically, the trophy many have derided and marginalised in their priorities looms large on the horizon as a source of potential glory and partial redemption.
Recently, the manager has spoken of his frustration at the lack of goals in his side and these paragraphs are not the place for a discussion about the underemployed and underwhelming likes of Fabio Borini, Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli. That's simply inviting a migraine relapse. After conceding 6 goals in two games, Rodgers is now more perturbed about his defence. Having been the major contributor to the woes of the opening months, the rearguard had been altered and reinvigorated by the manager but now, with the FA Cup quarter final tonight, the Antrim schemer must plan without the suspended Martin Skrtel and Emre Can. He is honest enough to admit that there cannot be a repeat of the defensive chaos that led to the defeat to Arsenal.
"We didn’t defend," he offered bluntly. "First of all we didn’t defend the ball well enough, we gave the ball away in poor areas for two of the four goals. Over the last few months we have defended really well, we had six clean sheets against good opponents and defended very well away from home. The minute you come off it, and if you come off it against good players you can get punished and that is what happened."
This is admirable sentiment and one is encouraged well enough by Rodgers' recognition of what needs to be done until one considers that it must be attained in the absence of two of the club's best performers and that their potential deputies include the bafflingly underwhelming Dejan Lovren, the bafflingly detached Glen Johnson and the just plain baffling José Enrique. Compounding this unfortunate scenario is the fact that Steven Gerrard stamped himself out of the Get Gerrard To Wembley movement, Adam Lallana is struggling with injury and the man who should be our chief threat, Daniel Sturridge, remains a pale shadow of himself.
Despite these less than encouraging factors and whilst not actually saying that the FA Cup would be a tremendous way to salvage a fractured campaign, Rodgers manages to sound hopeful. as is his wont, he is sure to mention the mitigating factor of the youth of the team and it remains a valid observation. He is NOT, however, saying that the FA Cup would be the saving of the season. Definitely not. Well, maybe a little.
"I don’t want to go down the route of saying that," he insists. "Our objective was to win a trophy. I think if we didn’t get in the top four and we didn’t have a trophy this year, we ourselves would be disappointed. (US TOO, CHIEF!) I think the FA Cup would give us a great boost as a team with lots of young players and players coming into the club. That’s the expectancy we want. We want to be able to be challenging every year. That was the key thing, to get the group challenging at the top end of the league and for trophies. The FA Cup would mark a good step forward.
"The last two results and performances have been disappointing but there is still so much left in the season for us," he continued. "The seven league games we have left offer 21 points and you never know -- the teams above us still have difficult games to play but the mathematics of it show it will be difficult -- but it can be done. Our attitude and our mindset is to get to the FA Cup final and win it and we will be fighting to the very end in the league. There is everything still to play for and we can still make it a really successful season. The important thing is to remain calm and get over Saturday’s defeat. We have analysed the performance and that allows us to do that and to move forward."
Forward then, to tonight's clash with Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park and Monday night's Premier League game with Newcastle United at Anfield. So random and undivinable have been the events of the season to date that a pair of wins in those two fixtures could well see a swing back towards a potentially glorious conclusion to the campaign's labours. Frankly, it is little wonder that excitable unfortunates like your scribbler have had headaches in the contemplation of it, but many of us would smilingly endure another bout of noggin torment if it conculded with the Redmen winning another pot for the Anfield cupboard.