Liverpool face make or break Merseyside derby

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Little more than two years ago, it was a red beach ball that did for Liverpool as Sunderland recorded a memorable victory against Rafa Benitez’s men.


There was nothing odd about Sunderland’s win over the Reds this time round however as Nicklas Bendtner helped move the Black Cats to within two points of their illustrious opponents.


Perhaps it says something about the two team’s respective strengths and where they are currently at the result was just that; nothing odd.


Liverpool have endured, and enjoyed for brief periods, a turbulent campaign that has been beset by distractions on and off the field, but salvation appeared to have come in the form of Carling Cup success.


Victory over Cardiff was meant to be the turning point of their season; the pivot from which the potential demonstrated under manager Kenny Dalglish was realised.


However since then, and in truth even before then, their league form has betrayed a club unsure of their next step as they saw their feint hopes of returning to the Champions League for the first time since 2009 go up in smoke.


“If we get fourth spot it would be fantastic,” Dalglish suggested after the game, somewhat understatedly.


In 2012 Liverpool have picked up just one Premier League victory, a 3-0 win over Wolves back in January – form that, if the league had begun on January 1 2012, would leave them struggling in the relegation zone.


Perhaps more worrying for Dalglish and his increasingly maligned squad is the disastrous tail off in performance against Sunderland that leaves them ten points off Arsenal in top four place that appears to disappeared over the horizon.


Before Dalglish could rightly point to his side’s performances against Tottenham and Arsenal for instance as proof that there was something to take from each game, something to build upon amidst the first whispers of discontent at his reign.


But on Saturday there was little or nothing to take from the game. Charlie Adam’s sharp decline from a player who looked capable of making the step up in class from Blackpool to a spent force continued.


Without Daniel Agger present to continue his assured partnership with Martin Skrtel they looked vulnerable at the back, in part down to the burly presence and sporadic finesse Nicklas Bendtner, in part down to inexperience of Sebastian Coates.


The hope remains on Merseyside that this goes down as a bad day in the office, but there were plenty of reasons to cause concern amongst the Anfield faithful.


Where they would be without Craig Bellamy, the only player seemingly capable of injecting pace into a game, is anyone’s guess.


Luis Suarez has cut an increasingly disinterested figure since his return from suspension amidst rumours of interest from across the channel.


Much has been made of Liverpool’s prolificacy in front of goal this campaign, and Suarez himself has been perhaps the most guilty of passing up on goals coring chances, but there was even less comfort to be found in the Uruguay’s laconic stroll throughout the game at the Stadium of Light


Now, cut adrift from the leading pack and with the rest of the league, namely Everton and Sunderland, bearing down on them, they face a make or break Merseyside derby and an F.A Cup tie that could add shape to a season in real danger of listing badly.


Having spent so lavishly over the past 18 months or so, to finish outside of the top six and potentially below Everton would be a real blow to Dalglish’s aura.


Of course Dalglish will view the Merseyside derby as the perfect shot in the arm for his troops, but the consequence of defeat, a very real possibility given Everton’s recent form, could be disastrous.


Just ask Spurs, who have just lost three games on the bounce for the first time since 2008 following defeat in the north London derby as their grip on third place significantly weakened.

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