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Liverpool’s Crisis at Christmas

How, in five weeks, have Liverpool turned a seven-point advantage at the top of the Premiership into a four-point deficit?

Ask that question to most Liverpool fans and they will criticise anyone but manager Gerard Houllier. You could set them off, go away for 10 minutes and they would still be talking when you come back, but at no stage would they have a truly disparaging word for the Frenchman. And woe betide anyone that has.

In a sense replica prada shoulder bags, their unreserved support for their manager is refreshing – but is it misguided? And for how long will their patience be tested?

In the book ‘Bobby Robson: A Year at Barcelona’, Robson Black Prada Chain Bag makes the point that coaches are only ever three games away from a crisis in Spain. Ditto Italy. And it’s now getting that way in Authentic Prada Nylon Messenger Bag England. With just a point from the last five league games, the c-word (behave, it’s “crisis”) is now being used by some to describe the current state at Liverpool. Even by Houllier himself.

The expectations of the fans, who have gone 12 years without a title, are “difficult to live with”, Houllier admitted recently. “They forget there are other contenders. At the beginning of the season Black Prada Bag With Gold everybody was saying it was only Arsenal, then they lost four games and had their crisis. When we lose one game Best Prada Outlet In Florence it’s a crisis. That’s the way it is at big clubs.”

There is no doubt that Houllier has worked wonders in his time at Anfield; a sleeping giant has had a bucket of ice-cold water tipped over its head. But the club has not made any progress this season. In fact, it has stepped backwards, and that is what the fans will not put up with.

The cracks in the foundations were evident well before Liverpool lost to Middlesbrough in the Premiership and then crashed out of the Champions League last month to kick off their miserable run. They were top of the league but it was a false position. In a sense, playing they way they have done, it is remarkable that Liverpool are still very much in touch at this stage. Lucky late goals against the likes of Bolton, Chelsea and Tottenham kept Liverpool top, but it was not sustainable football, and the slide was inevitable. ‘It’s the hallmark of Champions,’ they said. ‘You have to be able to win when you’re not playing well,’ they said. ‘To grind out victories and enjoy a bit of luck.’ Rubbish.

Rubbish. Aside Best Prada Outlet Italy from the home game against a woeful Spartak Moscow, and the second half against a Swiss-poor Basle, that’s exactly what Liverpool have Black Prada Doctor Bag been this season. All teams go through bad patches, of course. Arsenal also lost to Charlton last season, and until 10 days ago, Manchester United were a heavily-spent force. But perhaps their squads have a greater hunger and togetherness. They certainly have more belief in themselves. And they have managers who know what to do when things go wrong. Does Houllier?

The only crisis Liverpool are definitely suffering at the moment is one of confidence. And despite his protestations to the contrary, Houllier is clearly not immune to that. He’s wary and weary and mistakes have been made.

The legendary ‘bootroom’ engine that powered the successes of the 70s and 80s which Houllier’s ‘bunker’ has retuned is beginning to misfire on all cylinders. The bunker contains more doctors per square foot than Alder Hey, but all the club’s French football philosophers are stumped by this one. Houllier has tried all sorts of different treatments. There was the short, sharp shock of public criticism for Steven Gerrard. There was the ruthless amputation of Jerzy Dudek. But neither tactic has worked. All it has done is make nervous players even more nervous.

Right. So, erm, what now? Houllier seems to be trying out the softly, softly, fatherly approach. “When you go through a crisis, (he said it!) you need to show you’re among them,” he there-thered after Saturday’s loss to Charlton. “There’s no point in shouting at them. This is a period where, if you throw cups, it would be wrong.” They’ve been through that stage and it’s time for something new.

There is absolutely no danger of Houllier being sacked, of course. Such a suggestion is preposterous and reactionary. His side are only four points off the top and still in three cup competitions. But this sudden volte-face in approach Authentic Prada Shoes Outlet smacks of desperation. With the side that he built at considerable expense over a considerable amount of time now in freefall, this challenge is arguably Houllier’s biggest since he arrived at Anfield in 1998.

Liverpool seem somehow to have become a bad team overnight. Dudek was the best keeper in the Premiership last season. Now he is a jittery wreck, washed up on a tide of in-house criticism. Michael Owen cannot score from the spot. Or with his left foot. Gerrard is beginning to make schoolboy errors to match his haircut, and the pin-point 50-yard defence-splitters are now just hopeful punts. Even Sammi Hyypia is looking shaky in a porous back four which has begun to concede soft goals. And seemingly, there is nothing that Houllier and his team can do to rectify it.

All the attention has been focused on the goalkeeper, and true, Dudek’s mistakes have seen the composure drain out of the 10 players in front of him quicker than you can say “Diego Forlan”. He had to be dropped. However, the main problem is in the midfield. Didi Hamann has been Liverpool’s best player this season, but he Agata Ruiz De La Prada Shop On Line can’t carry the team on his own. There’s no cover for the leaky defence and no support for the lame attack. It’s just one Authentic Prada Shoes For Sale big vacuum which is sucking the creativity and calm out of the team and highlights problems elsewhere.

The case for the defence? The injury to Hyypia’s able assistant Stephane Henchoz was telling. When Liverpool won five trophies in a calendar year, it was founded on this So-Solid Two. Before Henchoz was injured, Liverpool were unbeaten in all domestic competitions. Without him they started losing. Djimi Traore is no replacement. He’s young and he’s learning but it’s patently obvious that he is not comfortable enough on the ball. He’s little better (although less exposed) at left-back. What was wrong with playing John-Arne Riise there? On the other side, Markus Babbel is not yet back to full attacking full-back form, and Abel Xavier and Jamie Carragher will never get there.

Upfront, Emile Heskey does not get the goals his size, effort and ability in the air demand he must. Owen does not get the service he needs and Milan Baros, who can create his own opportunities, does not get enough starts. Plenty is made of the fact that Liverpool lack width, but as Houllier points out, it’s not as if they are struggling to create chances; against Sunderland they had 24 of them. They just can’t convert any. And that’s down principally to a lack of confidence within the squad which is now beginning to infect the management team. And as a certain Frenchman might say himself, diffidence is a cancer.

Houllier has given up throwing cups. Liverpool fans think they should be winning them. But their season is in parlous danger of being over by Christmas, and unless Houllier can somehow turn it round in the next 10 days, it will be.

In that time they have three games in three different competitions: at home to Vitesse Arnhem in the Uefa Cup tonight, they then host Sunderland in the league before going away to Villa in the Worthington Cup.

They need a run of wins there to give them enough Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Online Shop momentum to survive the Christmas rush against Everton, Blackburn, Arsenal and Newcastle. Otherwise Nicolas Anelka will knock them out of the FA Cup too, come January.

Last season Houllier brought himself and his team back to full health and now Liverpool’s fans and players are looking to him to do it again. He can and he must, but the next three matches are absolutely crucial must-win games. Just don’t tell that to the Liverpool players.

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