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(2010-10-03 19:56:01)








分类: 足球

Liverpool  versus Blackpool tomorrow is a great, perhaps even an archetypal, Premier League fixture. A world famous club with five European Cups and 18 titles against a town chiefly famous for a tower, a tangerine strip and a 57-year-old Cup final. There are mismatches in most leagues and plenty of teams more celebrated for their quirkiness than their achievements but surely the Premier League has the outright monopoly on arranging matters so that the plucky underdogs, the alleged jokers, the side whose summer transfer dealings were compromised by the chairman's refusal to pay anyone more than £10,000 per week, travel to Anfield one place in the table above their illustrious opponents.

Maybe it should not really count as a mismatch. Liverpool's midweek trip to Utrecht was billed as a mismatch by some but did not turn out that way, and Blackpool's Merseyside-born midfielder Gary Taylor-Fletcher, in the forthright manner that comes naturally to those brought up by the Irish Sea, has talked up his own team's chances. "Liverpool are not having the best of spells," he said, referring almost lightly to their worst start to a league campaign for half a century. "We're going there thinking it's a good time to be playing Liverpool."

It is still only early October, yet surely no one would have predicted at the start of the season that Liverpool would start this game below their opponents. Blackpool's initial resilience might have been guessed at, given the splendid examples set by other supposed no-hopers such as Hull and Wigan in recent seasons: it is the threadbare nature of Liverpool's performances that has come as a shock. Scouse traditionalists may insert a joke at this point, to the effect that as long as Everton are even lower in the table Liverpool will never feel the situation is intolerable, but no one is laughing at that one now. Everton are a strong side with a mighty team spirit and will delight their fans more often than they will displease them this season. No one is calling for David Moyes to be sacked. Everton will be all right.

These are not the sort of things being said about Liverpool. What is being said, often by their own supporters, is that Liverpool have yet to put together a convincing display over 90 minutes in any of their 13 games to date, against opponents as diverse as Manchester United, Utrecht and Northampton Town. Roy Hodgson may be a sound bloke and a thoroughly competent manager but he is under pressure as never before in his distinguished career. Unlike Moyes, he does not have credit in the bank from previous seasons. While it was said at the time of Hodgson's appointment that it was merely a stalling gesture, a pragmatic way to keep the club running until the ownership issues are resolved, few envisaged Liverpool themselves doing the stalling.

Hodgson probably appreciates the difference between managing Fulham and managing Liverpool, despite what his detractors say, and it is hardly his fault that the Fernando Torres he inherited has turned out so far to be a pale shadow of the star that burned so brightly for Rafa Benítez. Yet little of that matters next to tomorrow's result. A win would bring a small amount of respite, without amounting to a corner turned. A draw would not go down well anywhere except on the Fylde coast. A defeat could have seismic repercussions.

This is not simply because Hodgson would do well to survive such an unthinkable outcome, so soon after the Carling Cup humiliation, but because Liverpool can hardly countenance such an unthinkable outcome. No one is suggesting relegation would loom were Liverpool to lose, or that Torres will take himself off in a huff when the next transfer window opens, but once it begins to be said that a club are in decline the next thing to look for is the watershed moment when the process becomes both recognisable and irreversible. Losing at home to Blackpool has a certain ring about it in that respect.

Blackpool have a conspicuous team spirit and a charismatic manager and at the moment Liverpool cannot say the same. Blackpool are under no particular pressure when they step out at Anfield. Liverpool definitely cannot say the same. As Premier League mismatches go, this could be one to remember.


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