Comment: Familiar failings leave ’Pool scrambling

"Our season starts here," said Brendan Rodgers boldly before kickoff in Bulgaria, but it was more of the same as familiar failings came back to haunt his side.

Liverpool were hoping for the sort of victory that could kickstart their season, the way Manchester City’s comeback against Bayern Munich may finally get their Champions League campaign underway.

And on a freezing night in Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium, Rodgers could dare to dream of progress at last — until they came unstuck in the closing stages.

Liverpool are not yet out of the competition that they used to consider their own, but they face a nervous 90 minutes at Anfield next month knowing they must beat Basle to reach the next phase, where they will be up against group winners of the quality of Bayern Munich and the two Madrid giants.

If they cannot beat modest opposition like Ludogorets, what hope against Europe’s elite?

This, remember, is nothing like the Liverpool of old, the well-drilled red machine of the 1970s and 1980s sweeping all before them en route to four European Cups.

No, this was scruffy, scrappy and ultimately they could not scramble across the line.

In the great days of Shankly, Paisley and Fagan, the mantra for tricky away days in Europe was to keep it tight from the start, frustrate the opponents and then go for the killer blow.

Rodgers may well have said the same to the class of 2014, but the message clearly did not get through as his men went behind to the softest of goals with barely two minutes on the clock.

They lost the ball in attack, failed to track back, and then put a scoring opportunity on a plate. Simon Mignolet was most at fault, failing to hold Marcelinho’s long-range shot and spilling the ball into the path of Dani Abalo for the simplest of finishes.

Mignolet was not the only one to put his head in his hands, as Liverpool fans watching in Sofia and on television must have all had the same thought: “Here we go again.”

Bruce Grobbelaar articulated what many fans have been saying — the Belgian looked good in a poor Sunderland side, but has been found wanting at the highest level.

Never mind that back-up keeper Brad Jones appeared to be dozing on the subs’ bench at Crystal Palace on Sunday. Here the main man was caught napping, and his team-mates suffered.

But at least the players showed the stomach for a fight, which was the minimum required by Shankly. Not since 1953, long before his reign, had Liverpool lost five games in a row, and Steven Gerrard and his men did not fancy creating the wrong sort of history.

Rickie Lambert, a fellow Scouser who served his apprenticeship in the muck-and-bullets environment of England’s lower divisions, hustled a quick equaliser. It wasn’t pretty, a header that looped into the net at the second attempt. Lambert rushed to get the ball out of the net so play could be restarted as quickly as possible. Rodgers sat stone-faced on the bench. But it was enough to get Liverpool back into the game.

On a bumpy pitch the football was never likely to flow so the goal that put Liverpool ahead was a rare ray of light, a reminder of what we saw from the Reds last season.

Raheem Sterling broke quickly, curled in a delicious cross and Jordan Henderson sprinted from midfield to finish at the far post. So far, so good. With Basel losing, Liverpool looked to be moving level with the Swiss team on six points each, with Ludogorets bottom of the group.

But three minutes from the end, another weak link re-emerged as Liverpool failed to deal with a corner, and Georgi Terziev nodded home the equaliser.

Now it is win or bust for Liverpool at Anfield on Tuesday week — and who can say which way it will go?


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