"I'm not gonna talk about the rest of the European games, as we all know that the group stages have become a pointless, predictable prelude to the real business of the knockout rounds."
September 17th 2009.
Another gem from the prophet who stated a matter of weeks ago that Liverpool would win this season's Premiership.
Arsenal's progress in Europe looks set to continue unabated, after a 4-1 spanking of the rotten AZ, yet for some of Europe's other big guns, some nervous nights lie ahead.
Barcelona and Inter, along with the less illusstrious Dynamo Kiev and the largely unknown Rubin Kazan, have contrived to produce an unexpected Group of Death. In yesterday's afternoon kick-off, the Russians defended doggedly to hold the possession-hogging catalan giants to a goalless draw, proving their win at the Nou camp was no fluke. Later, in Kiev, it looked like Inter were heading for an early exit. Trailing 1-0 to a goal by Shevchenko, and with a daunting trip to Barca on the horizon, even the ultra-confident Mourinho must surely have been shellshocked. But his team conjured two goals in the final minutes to send themselves from bottom to top of the group table.
This leaves us with an unlikely scenario. The heretofore imperious Spanish and European champions could, if they are beaten by Inter and Rubin beat Kiev, exit the competition in the next round of group games. While most neutrals will be hoping that Barca pull through, the high stakes that have been added to the remaining games certainly add some needed early lustre to a competition whose format has been relentlessly criticised of late.
And for Liverpool, the situation is much more grave. It briefly looked, after Ryan Babel's long-range strike, as if Benitez had inspired another Liverpool triumph in adversity. But in the end, the inadequacies of his squad proved decisive. Kyrgiakos' slip allowed Lisandro an opportunity he did not pass up, and in the dying seconds ignomy was snatched from the jaws of victory, and the fortunes of a great but struggling club took another downward swing. Now, with Lyon qualified, Liverpool need them to go to Italy and beat or draw with Fiorentina, or it's hello Europa League. Even a draw in that game, ASSUMING Liverpool beat Debrecen, leaves the Reds needing a win by three goals at Anfield against the Italians. As unlikely as that sounds now though, I wouldn't be altogether surprised if it panned out that way. Benitez' reign has been riddled with bizarre, do-or-die nights like that. But we'll see.