United we stand, United we stumble
I'm reminded of 2005. Remember when Liverpool fans, officials, in fact just about everyone was saying that Liverpool should get back into the Champions League if they win it, regardless of league position. And the rest of Europe was saying 'Hold on a minute, you're 5th in the league, you've been playing the sort of football that would shame a boys club, and you are seriously saying you might win the biggest tournament on the continent?' To coin a phrase 'calm down, will ya? Calm down!'
That was in the days before Waldorf and Stadler took over, in the days when Rafa had no beard and little prospects, having succeeded the somewhat wild-eyed Houllier and realised what a hotch-potch he'd inherited.
It still beggars belief that they beat Milan from three goals down, but overhauling Man U from where they were will rank as a mightier achievement. I still don't think it'll happen, but after this there'll be so many bums a-squeaking at OT it'll sound like a squeegee-salesman's convention.
I heard an Irish Liverpool fan on 606 on Sunday - I've not been so jealous since my school-mate George Hodgson got his T-shirt signed by Stuart Boam and Willie Maddren and Jack Charlton - he'd had the Irish Grand Slam and watched United, Everton and Chelsea get beat, then seen his lads destroy the team in fifth. I mean I'd stop watching sport there and then if I was him. That's just perfection.
Rafa has got what he wants at Anfield now, save for a settled front two (the owners I mean). There's no more excuses and if it doesn't happen this year then you sense that, if they can avoid a Keane-ian economics, they should really make it happen in 2010. Benitez's whole mindset seems to have changed too. When they were fluffing goalless draws at home earlier in the season he was bemoaning his luck. Now they're tonking really quite good sides, he's complaining that they're not taking their chances. Heady days indeed.
The greatest encouragement will come from United's performance - and not so much the manner of their defeat, but the way they took it. Ronaldo stropped and smarted like he was auditioning for the new flamenco musical 'El Tumblero Gellaro'. And Rooney clearly has even less time for 2-0 defeats than he does for Liverpool FC. I'm not sure what's been more pathetic from Wayne just recently - the 'I hate Liverpool' remark or the way he tried to take out a defenceless corner-stick. Tim Cahill take note - it's not big or clever.
Riding to the rescue for United is the international break. You can hear the Torres hamstring tensing up as we speak. In fact it'll be fascinating to see how many of these late season niggles become full-grown 'strains' for Saturday's friendly. It'll be ironic if Rio and Gerrard feel a bit the worse for wear but One-Leg Ledley manages to turn out. I doubt Capello will be giving anyone a 'there, there' come the Wednesday night, mind.
Apart from, perhaps, Stewart Downing. Even the most optimistic Boro supporter (which some wag described as an oxymoron and nearly had me swinging for him like a Geordie centre-back until he explained himself) can't see an escape route now. If you knocked the last ten minutes of each of our games this season and we'd have eleven more points. We'd be 11th, dammit. But that's just dreaming and all I'm having is nightmares. In last might's I kept seeing Rory Delap pelting my house with medicine balls.
Big Four fans can skip this paragraph but it is pretty bleak this facing the drop malarkey. It's like hanging off a precipice and having your fingertips forcibly removed, one by inevitable one, by some gurning billionaire with neither heart nor soul.
In fact the only cheery note in the Bell was the fact that Newcastle look almost as ropy and Sunderland were the victim of a really poor decision at Eastlands. McCartney had to take the long and winding road to the dressing-room, which reminded us that on 7 March, when the Black Cats played Spurs, Lennon was up against McCartney. I'm sure footy fans everywhere, outside of our boozer recognised this, but have you also realised that when Man City play Liverpool corner-kicks are often competed for by Agger and Richards? If Pompey go down they'll play Watford which will see the managers Rodgers and Hart up against each other. To really stretch a point, should Sheffield United get into Europe and play Roma we might even see Danny Underemp-Lloyd Webber up against Riise. Sadly there are no creative midfielders called Ulvaeus who might take on United's Anderson. And much scorn was poured on Tony Thompson's insistence that England played many games with Peters and Lee in the same first eleven. After someone mentioned that double-act Hoddle and Waddle sounded like a couple of footballers, it was decided to that we should drop it on the grounds that the whole pub was turning into Danny Baker.
Still it takes your mind off honest Gareth's post-match comments. Sigh.