Alonso 32 og, Tuncay 63.
So that’s it then? The title flames that burned so brightly in the run up to Christmas which were left untended to leave a few embers are now all but extinguished? Rafa’s left with just one match and some damp kindling! Who are we kidding? Comebacks of Istanbul proportions don’t usually happen to any club let alone twice?
Of course one will keep on hoping and believing and, if we do turn it around and overhaul the Mancs, it will be even sweeter? However looking at the table now, and the way we are playing, we are in grave danger coming third (or worse?) in what was regarded by most as a two horse race?
It would be easy to criticise Rafa over Saturday’s game. The weakened line up, resting players after Madrid, and playing players out of position, Srktel at right back in preference to Carragher who normally fills in there when there’s problem. For all Srktel’s undoubted strengthens he has never struck as the most versatile of players but there are other wider, long standing issues that did their usual, occasional trick of coming out of the woodwork. Our lack of strength in depth, our lack of flexibility and, here we go again, again and again, our ability to take chances. This time El Zhar and Kuyt ballooned over the bar horribly. When we sold Robbie Keane and didn’t replace him were we asking for trouble by placing all our eggs in the Torres basket? Wednesday was great but there was pay off on Saturday for the injury to Torres’ ankle? Perhaps the predicament was summed up in one move? Gerrard picked up the ball and managed, through sheer hard work and tenacity, to fashion a cross for Dirk Kuyt who was a foot shy of prodding the ball home into an open goal. What price Torres converting the chance? However to address these issues now would seem like an end of season review and how do you square all this with a man who has just become only the second manager of an English club to achieve victory at the Bernabéu?
It’s perhaps ironic that in a week when it appears Rafa has won a significant “victory” in his off field battle to secure control over transfers that so many players we have been linked with have seen fit to play a part in his on field struggles. Gabriel Heinze, who we tried, and failed, to snaffle from under Fergie’s nose was responsible for giving away the free kick in Madrid that lead to our goal. However, on Saturday it was Stewart Downing, a player we have been constantly linked with, that unhinged us by exploiting the out of position Srktel making him look a shadow of the player that has done so well for us in the centre. It was Downings’ corner which Xabi Alonso, a player who Rafa openly let it be known he would be prepared to sell, stuck it into his own net.
After that one had a feeling that a second would come bourn out Middlesbrough’s increased confidence and our desperate realisation that nothing lass than a victory would do. Sure enough it happened, O’Neil to Aliadiere, cross to Tuncay, goal. The Bernabéu seemed miles away. Particularly when King missed a relatively easy chance to make it three.
That would have been it and we have to ask is that it? Surely the minimum requirement would be to be going to Old Trafford in a few weeks time with a hope of beating the Mancs to keep things alive? As things go the game is looking increasingly like a dead rubber.
After the game Rafa said
“In the first 30 minutes we had around five chances and we did not take them. If before this game it was going to be difficult to win the league then it is clearly now going to be even harder. We have to think about Sunderland next before preparing to face Real Madrid in the Champions League.”
Surely now, in his heart of hearts, when it comes to trophies, Rafa will be thinking only of Madrid?
Middlesbrough: Jones, Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz, O’Neil, Bates, Arca (Walker 88), Downing, Tuncay (Adam Johnson 79), Aliadiere (King 68).
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Taylor, Emnes, Alves.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher (Benayoun 71), Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Alonso, Mascherano, Kuyt, Gerrard (Lucas 76), Babel, El Zhar (Ngog 68).
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Riera, Darby.