As I left the JJB stadium this afternoon, I was unclear as to the eventual focal point of this week’s article.
After all, most angles regarding Rafa Benitez’s rotations, particularly with respect to Fernando Torres, have been thoroughly exhausted.
The news that Manchester United had come away from St. Andrews with a 1-0 victory, though, brought everything into focus.
Alex Ferguson’s side have made a stuttering start according to several experts, scoring just seven goals in eight games. Today, they were by all accounts given the runaround by Birmingham for much of the match.
Still, they've now won four on the bounce, all but one by the score...ONE – NIL.
It would surely be music to the ears of George Graham, who's Arsenal sides made a habit of winning games by the same scoreline!
For all the special performances at Old Trafford during Ferguson’s tenure, Sir Alex's teams have always excelled at winning games that, on balance, they had no right to. And it's not just a matter of luck — successful sides have the skill and resolve that gets them through even the most dire circumstances.
This brings us back to the subject of Liverpool Football Club.
After two goal-less draws, a victory was essential this afternoon—and to the relief of the Koppites in attendance, a victory was achieved ... eventually.
This was no vintage performance, but it didn't matter. As with Ferguson's championship sides at United, or the great Liverpool sides of the 70s and 80s, the club got by with a combination of professionalism, guts, and no small amount of good fortune.
After the commotion regarding Torres' omission from previous Premiership fixtures, the Spanish striker missed a string of chances that he would have expected to score. However, his pace and movement were a constant problem for Bramble and Emerson Boyce, and constantly created space for his strike partner Dirk Kuyt.
At the other end, Jamie Carragher will be the first to admit that he had one of his rare off days, and were it not for an offside flag he would have been the perpetrator of another penalty—remembering that Liverpool are yet to concede from open play in the Premiership this season.
Wigan also missed an exceptional opportunity in injury time, which suggests that, on another day, Liverpool could have walked away with one point—or less.
But a piece of individual skill by Yossi Benayoun made the difference this weekend. And that, of course, is what makes this such an important result for Liverpool.
Under Benitez’s watch, there are countless examples of turgid displays away from Anfield against inferior sides, with few resulting in victories.
It's not that clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea don't post their own poor performances — it's just that they find ways to win. I recall United being battered at Craven Cottage in February, only for Ronaldo to score a winner in injury time. And Liverpool fans will need no reminding of the "smash-and-grab" that United performed at Anfield in March!
The victory will hopefully give Liverpool the confidence to win close contests when they aren't at their best. In a title race which threatens to be tighter than most in recent years, as few as three victories snatched from the jaws of defeat could make a vital difference. In fact, the two points gained from what could have been a draw today might be significant come May.
Champions find ways to win. Whether it's Tiger Woods saving par from the bunker or a heavyweight champion rising from the canvas to land a knockout, the great competitors often make a mockery of the "balance of play."
Style and substance are sufficient to overcome most challenges. However, there's no substitute for winning 1-0—and doing it "lucky and ugly" away from home.
Just ask the league leaders—I’m sure those in the vicinity of Upton Park heard a vaguely familiar chant this afternoon. 1-0 to the Arsenal...
See you next week.