IF liverpool’s agonising wait for the title is to end this season, their allergic response to being top of the table requires urgent treatment.
When the club last made a blistering start to a campaign and led the rest in 2001-02, Gerard Houllier’s side played a watershed game in Middlesbrough.
Houllier’s team selection shunned the popular vote and favoured caution, dismantling the balance of a confident line-up and baring no resemblance to that which had performed so well before.
Liverpool lost that day at The Riverside, were soon caught by Arsenal and never recovered.
The former manager spoke of the importance of resting key men and how one poor performance wouldn’t define a season.
In fact, the long-term impact was far greater than a single defeat.
While it’s stupidly premature to suggest this far better Liverpool team will suffer the same fate, there are times when warnings from the past are useful.
Liverpool didn’t lose at Fratton Park on Saturday, but there was an undeniable sense of negativity in the air from the moment the team was announced.
Rather than signal a desire to grasp the initiative, building on the momentum of a thrilling start to the campaign, Liverpool limped their way to a point on the south coast.
A grand opportunity to consolidate their advantage as league leaders was squandered as a direct result of simmering contempt against the fixture schedulers.
Rafa Benitez has won the moral high ground in his argument against the Premier League regarding the timing of these games. The unfavourable contrast with the demands on Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal is too definite for him to ignore, but there’s nothing he can do about it this season.
The ferocious vocal campaign should reap its reward next summer if the club as a whole is stubborn enough in its opposition to illogical, disadvantageous kick-off times.
For now, making the point in Press conferences is more favourable than doing so in team selections, which the manager certainly did here.
None of the starters played a full 90 minutes for their country in midweek. Sadly, there are certain games when freshness is no substitute for quality, and this tricky away clash proved such an occasion.
There was a sense of a self-fulfilling prophecy at work. Liverpool expected to suffer a post-international hangover and so it proved.
Whether analysing how a fixture will go with the benefit of foresight rather than hindsight is the way to galvanise the troops is a matter of debate. The Premier League fixture list will only ‘sabotage’ an Anfield title bid if Liverpool allow it to.
The absence of Fernando Torres served only to underline his importance in transforming Liverpool from a good team to a potential championship winner.
Without him, there was no punch, threat or pace in attack.
This was especially frustrating during the opening 25 minutes when Portsmouth were still sleeping, regularly losing possession in dangerous areas, but able to do so without suffering the necessary punishment.
Andriy Voronin’s application means he’s always a menace, but the recalled Peter Crouch had no joy against Sol Campbell.
And without the speed of Torres as an easy target, the midfield which had coped so admirably in recent times without Steven Gerrard had no idea how to penetrate the home defence.
The swift conclusion was reached Liverpool may be able to survive the loss of Gerrard for a couple weeks, and indeed Torres for a game or two, but it won’t achieve much when both are absent at the same time.Disappointingly, a draw became an increasingly good result as the game progressed