Not all is lost for ailing Liverpool
Liverpool has endured a string of injuries to star players like Steven Gerrard
Recent signings also got injured and media clearly don't like manager Rafa Benítez
Despite its struggles, the club is a spot away from fourth in the Premier League
If you're a Liverpool fan, you're probably pretty angry right now. You've won one game since September (albeit a pretty important one, against Manchester United), qualification to the knockout stage of the Champions League seems extremely improbable right now and you're sixth in the English Premier League, after finishing second last year.
Your captain and best player (Steven Gerrard) is injured. In fact, he's played only 24 minutes since Oct. 4. Your star striker (Fernando Torres) has been on painkillers for the three weeks. Yes, he still plays despite his injured groin and, yes, he scores as well, but that's because he's a freak of nature. The fact is that you know he'll either need surgery or time off. Shooting up just so you can step on the pitch is not generally a good idea when you're a world-class athlete.
Your big summer signing at right back (Glen Johnson) is also injured and, annoyingly, he went down just as he was finding some consistency and the media was holding off on its "great-going-forward-but-can- he-defend?" litany. In his place, you've had to play either a 19-year-old central defender (Martin Kelly) who had never before played for the club, a guy who missed all of last season through injury and wasn't even registered for the Champions League (Philipp Degen) or your aging lionhearted stopper (Jamie Carragher), who looks about as comfortable on the right flank these days as Yao Ming does in a Smart Car.
But there's more. Your other big summer signing (Alberto Aquilani) was injured when he arrived and then, just after making his debut, developed a virus. You still have no idea if he was worth the $35 million you paid for him or how he fits into the team, but you've heard all the stories about how he's 25 and has started more than 14 top-flight games just once in his career and you've been told that, whatever else he may be, he's not a natural substitute for Xabi Alonso (God, how you miss him!).
One of your central defenders (Daniel Agger) who, in theory, is the best of the bunch if he ever lives up to his potential, has an injury record that's equally as bad. He has started barely more than a third of your games since 2006. Another one (Martin Sktrel) is big and strong, but recently has developed a tendency to play like a man half his size and he's backed up by a Greek journeyman (Sotiris Kyrgiakos) who looks like a professional wrestler. Your left back (Emiliano Insúa) is just 20 years old and in his first season as a regular, your left winger (Albert Riera) is once again injured and his backup (Ryan Babel) is viewed by most as a bust, though he did score an outrageously good goal against Lyon on Wednesday.
You do have a superstar anchoring the midfield (Javier Mascherano), except the media is obsessed with the idea that he wants to leave for Barcelona (which may or may not be true but, if it is, in your heart of hearts, you probably can't fault him too much). With Gerrard out, your creativity has come from a journeyman Israeli midfielder (Yossi Benayoun) who, before this season, hadn't been able to hold down a regular job at the club.
On the right, you have a striker (Dirk Kuyt) who recycled himself as a winger after it became painfully apparent that he has trouble scoring in the Premier League. Your other attacking options include a Ukrainian who everybody laughed at before you were forced to ship him out on loan (Andriy Voronin) and a 20-year-old French center forward (David N'Gog) who had scored a grand total of five goals in his entire career. And we haven't even mentioned Lucas Leiva.
Those are just the players. You have a manager (Rafa Benítez) who the media and punditocracy clearly do not like and, to be fair, because he has the communication skills of a bramble bush, he's unlikely to change their minds even if he wins. Actually, he has won -- the Champions League and FA Cup, no less -- but still he's regarded as some kind of interloper. To make matters worse, firing him would be a very painful step because he signed a new contract which makes him virtually omnipotent at Anfield. Plus, it could cost you as much as $30 million if you get rid of him.
You have two owners -- one small (George Gillett Jr.) and one big (Tom Hicks) -- who seem to dislike each other as much as the Liverpool supporters dislike them. These two guys were supposed to build a new stadium, generate heaps of revenue, bring financial stability, compete with Manchester United, blah, blah, blah. Instead, you have some $400 million of debt and two guys who are barely on speaking terms deciding the club's future.
That's the bad news. But guess what? There is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Yes, you will probably get knocked out of the Champions League. And that will be a big financial hit. But you can make some of that back in the Europa League. And, in fact, getting another trophy under your belt would be a boost to both the club and the manager.
Sixth place in the Premier League isn't good, but you're one spot away from fourth. And you've already played Tottenham and Chelsea away. You can make up the ground. Heck, Arsenal, in third isn't that far away either (four points, although it has played one fewer game).
Johnson and Insúa are only going to get better. Agger might actually stay fit this year. If Mascherano wants to move, he'll need to turn in a top-drawer season. Torres, even with the pain-killing injections, was showing the kind of form that suggests he's the best center forward in the world. (Or, at least, the best European center forward). Aquilani may not be a Xabi Alonso clone, but he's a gifted, creative passer from midfield and the simple fact of the matter is, you don't have one, apart form Gerrard.
Oh, yeah, Gerrard. That guy's superhuman. He'll be back soon. He has carried you on his back before, he can do it again.
Liverpool's down. But it is most definitely not out. Not yet.
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