It's Bold Trafford for Liverpool
Published 12/03/2009 | 02:07
It was the question on most football minds when a new day dawned yesterday and Liverpool's players awoke, pinched themselves and realised that their first half blitzkrieg really had seen off one of the great European sides, 4-0.
What kind of complexion would the Premier League currently take if only Liverpool had managed that kind of performance domestically?
The league title, Ryan Babel reflected in the aftermath of delivering Real Madrid's heaviest Champions League defeat, has been all but "given away" by Liverpool, the inference from that being that Manchester United's seven-point supremacy at the summit is about their challengers' failings rather than the Champions' own performances. Some would agree.
Arsene Wenger pointed out only last week that he didn't feel "performance wise there was a gap between United and the rest this year, only that they managed to win 1-0 when other teams draw."
There is no better way of Liverpool demonstrating that by adding to their 2-1 defeat of United at Anfield and taking all three points when the sides meet at Old Trafford this Saturday lunchtime.
"Maybe things can change and we can win," Babel said, though his prognosis was not hugely positive. We've made a lot of mistakes and we've almost given the title away."
But the manner of Liverpool's demolition of Real has sent a declaration of intent to Sir Alex Ferguson and taught Liverpool the rewards of starting a game with enough intensity to score early on, something they have too often been incapable of this season. Before last night's early assault on Iker Casillas' goal, Liverpool had failed to score in the first 40 minutes for 11 consecutive games.
Benitez has been talking for weeks about the importance of rectifying this and his instructions on Tuesday night - "go for the first 20 minutes on top of them and see what happens," as Babel described it - translated into that extraordinary, almost impossibly high intensity level when the game began.
Babel believes that approach can be replicated at Old Trafford, despite Liverpool's maddening ability to follow up a win in the Bernabeu with defeat at the Riverside.
"Yes there is new belief we can beat them and it gives us a buzz to go to Old Trafford with the same preparation. Winning any game is possible," he said.
From 12.45pm on Saturday we will also know a little more about whether Benitez's "facts" oratory will come back to bite him.
The latest "Rafa's cracking up" chants sounded from the Anfield Road end, embued with irony on Tuesday night, but for those who feel that the Liverpool manger only heaped more pressure on is players with his dissection of Sir Alex Ferguson, there was evidence yesterday about how his players can benefit from a sense of injustice.