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On Lazio, Liverpool, and the BPL Title Race

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In Europe yesterday, there were two teams whose names start with the letter L, and both of them had an extreme dilemma heading to their respective title decider matches. The first team is the Italian team Lazio, who was up against the Italian defending champions Internazionale. At that time, (even until now, mathematically at least) Lazio had yet secured their survival status in Serie A, and thus logically they would have needed to be at their 100% for this match, just like any other matches to collect the maximum number of points on offer from the match.

However, Lazio really faced two tough choices, whether to win against Inter and secure their survival in the league, but effectively handing the Serie A title to their despised city rivals AS Roma or just lose this match, fight another day or hoping that the surrounding teams also drop points and prevent Roma from clinching their 4th Serie A title. A poll on Lazio fans across Italy suggested that around 70% would rather see Lazio lose yesterday than handing the title to AS Roma, while around 20% declared it would depend on Roma’s match against Parma, while 10% would want survival secured regardless of whether Roma wins the title or not. Since Roma won against Parma, it would have meant that 90% of the Lazio fans polled would be happy to see Lazio surrender to Inter. It turned to be just that. Lazio were defeated 2-0 by Inter and now Inter has effectively as good as retaining their title as the last matches for both Inter and Roma are just the kind of match they will undoubtedly win.

The second team with dilemma, another team with the letter L at the beginning of their name, is none other than the Barclays Premier League’s Liverpool. They were up against champions elect Chelsea, and the dilemma that they had was that it’s either Liverpool securing a win here and still having a remotest of chances to secure the 4th place and thus retaining their elite status of one of the Big Four and also leapfrogging 5th placed Aston Villa but effectively handing the League title to defending champions Manchester United, Liverpool’s sworn arch-enemies. Not only they would have handed the title to the Red Devils (who as expected won against Sunderland) but also they would have allowed Man Utd to leapfrog them in the all time number of English titles won as this will be Man Utd’s 19th English title. If this happens, the very last bastion of excuses and a tool to counter any criticisms for Liverpool fans for their shortcomings in the League in the past two decades will effectively be swept off them in an instant. The second option was just like Lazio, simply surrender to Chelsea and even if they effectively have no chance to secure the 4th place and qualify to the Champions League, they have at least successfully prevented Man Utd from winning the 19th title.

Actually, we can’t just say that there was a conspiracy theory or anything like that. Probably Lazio really gave their 110% but they were not good enough to defeat Inter and the same thing goes to Liverpool as Liverpool were also defeated 2-0. I know there are so many similarities by now, same L, same scoreline, same dilemma, and also same conspiracy theory brewing over them. But let’s just look at this in an objective manner and not try to guess and/or “investigate” in a futile manner whether there was really a conspiracy. Thus, I will just look at the Liverpool defeat in a completely objective manner.

The first reason is perhaps a tongue in cheek reason, but it might make sense. The sharper ones among us who watched the match last night would have noticed something different on Liverpool’s proud red shirt. The usual “Carlsberg” text was emblazoned in the Chinese characters. From this, someone quipped last night to me that due to that fact, it was perhaps that Liverpool indeed “surrendered” to Chelsea by sending a “Made in China” cheap imitation Liverpool FC instead of the “Proudly made in Britain” Liverpool FC. Well, it does make some sense at least just by looking at how Steven Gerrard did his backpass. Or perhaps it wasn’t a backpass, it was indeed an assist to Didier Drogba, as an expression of regret that he didn’t decide to join Chelsea long time ago when they almost signed him up… OK, I will stop here since I am starting to talk about conspiracy theories myself when I have promised to be objective. So yeah,

The second reason is perhaps more obvious. It’s an old debate actually which has surfaced over and over again since there has been no change in the Liverpool team since then until now anyways, and that’s the fact that Liverpool is extremely over-reliant and dependent on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, and that Liverpool will only be functional if both men are playing and are at 100%! Last night, we were able to see how Torres was consigned to watch the agonizing match in the stands, and his facial expression spoke volumes about his agonizing experience. Nevertheless, Gerrard played, and he has saved Liverpool “oh so many times” over the years and even without Torres, “Captain Marvel” wold just save the day with one of his 30 meter strikes somewhere between the 87th and 96th minute or so. Yeah right, even if Gerrard did play, it was either a “Made in China” imitation Gerrard (see above paragraph) or more obviously the real Gerrard at far less than 100%. Just one look at his clumsy way of playing last night told a lot about how the Liverpool number 8 was an extremely jaded player. Seems that all these years of shouldering the whole of Liverpool FC over the years, just like how Atlas supports the whole world has taken a toll on the Captain. Also, partly, this match came right after that morale sapping and disappointing loss against Atletico Madrid which effectively dumped them out from the Europa League, the only chance of salvaging anything from the wreck of their season.

Even the other fringe players such as Ryan Babel, David N’gog and the rest again only indicated how poor Liverpool’s squad depth is, and Liverpool never looked like doing anything which harmed Chelsea with those players. There was simply no way that Liverpool, in their current state to harm Chelsea in any way. In fact, Chelsea was so rampant last night that not only it looked like the match was played at Stamford Bridge instead of Anfield, but also if not because of Pepe Reina’s heroics between the goalposts, perhaps the scoreline would not be too far with Chelsea’s recent 7-0 mauling of Stoke City.

Yet another reason for Chelsea’s victory was something which they owed and are still owing to a certain “Special” person. Yes, if the quoted word conjured the image of Jose Mourinho, then that’s the correct answer. To be fair to Liverpool, they did threaten Chelsea especially in the last 10 minutes or so. Well, this is to be expected from how traditionally Liverpool would perform throughout a match, which is they will only be on the highest gear at the last minutes. However, Chelsea stood tall, although their defence looked shaky at times and Liverpool looked like scoring. But, this is where the ethos that has been ingrained by Mourinho, firmly entrenched in the Chelsea players’ mind during his marvelous stint at Chelsea came in. In the last minutes, Chelsea simply performed various time wasting antics such as when Ashley Cole caused a stoppage in the match by refusing to get up not because he was injured, but he “needed” to adjust his shoelaces, and he certainly took his time to do that. Also, during substitutions, most apparent when Kalou was substituted by Zhirkov, Kalou really took his time to walk at a snail’s pace from one end of the pitch all the way to the dugout. They performed the time wasting antics and causing stoppages to break Liverpool’s momentum which started to build up rapidly in a so expert manner that for a moment, it seemed that the one in the dugout is Mourinho and Steve Clarke, not Ancelotti and Ray Wilkins!

Now, Chelsea only needs to lift their other hand towards the trophy to snatch it from Man Utd’s relentless and seemingly eternal grasps on it since 2007. They are one home match away against Wigan from the league title victory at Stamford Bridge, but they have to notch a routine win against Roberto Martinez’s side first, which Chelsea is very very very likely to do, in an explosive fashion like the one against Stoke. Meanwhile, everyone associated with Man Utd will certainly become Wigan’s fans for that day when Chelsea hosts Wigan, while Man Utd is certainly on their way to get another three points against Stoke at Old Trafford. All they need, badly, is for Chelsea to drop points against Wigan. But unless this match is in the tricky DW Stadium, don’t expect that to happen. The title race is done and dusted, but yet again, we have to keep our eyes open as Mourinho himself, and countless other managers after that have said, “Anything can happen in football!”

Written by cp

03/05/2010 at 16:33

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