Diego Maradona was not at Anfield, after all, to see his future Argentina charges Javier Mascherano and the Atletico Madrid prodigy Sergio Aguero on Tuesday night. But the spirit of the man was there in the penalty decision which, as injustices go, had something of the Hand of God about it.
Mascherano, already identified by Maradona as his future captain, expressed a desire yesterday to bring his new international manager to his club's Melwood training ground when he does finally show up on Merseyside, so "all the players can meet him". Maradona is, Mascherano explained, "like God, because he gave the country a lot. It's good now that he has a chance to manage the team. We'll see."
Perhaps some of Maradona's celestial presence will rub off in L4 because, let's face it, Liverpool are hardly a side playing with his giddying lack of inhibition at present, despite their second position in the Premier League table. When the dust settled on Martin Hansson's extraordinary 90th minute penalty decision yesterday, talk turned again to their collective ability to fashion goals when Fernando Torres is wrapped up in the stand. "It's not something we should be worried about," Mascherano insisted. "The main thing is just to play well and we are. Two weeks ago people were talking of us as being contenders because we'd beaten Chelsea, so we know things can change quickly in football, but it's not something to worry about."
Yet huge psychological boost though beating Chelsea was to Liverpool, it was fashioned through determination, not invention. The creative deficit between last season's two Champions League finalists and Liverpool is there for all to see. Witness Liverpool and Chelsea's respective efforts against Sunderland.
"Sometimes it's like this: if you score quickly you kill the match and it's a different match, but [Atletico] scored and they tried only to defend and to close our passing and it was very difficult," left winger Albert Riera said. It was a pretty accurate description of much of Liverpool's domestic season. It took another Steven Gerrard penalty to knock down Portsmouth a week ago and the question is: how much longer can toil and luck keep Liverpool up among the challengers?
Mascherano talked down suggestions that Torres, absent in the wins against Chelsea and United, was the be-all and end-all for Liverpool. "Of course we have others who can score, like Keane, Gerrard and sometimes players like Riera." But his case lacked conviction. Robbie Keane's frustrated reaction to substitution on Tuesday was one of a man who knows he is still yet to shake the monkey from his back – despite declaring that he had. Riera has one Liverpool goal to his name.
That Keane was replaced by a nervous 19-year-old, David N'Gog, revealed Liverpool's thin resources. They are more dependent than Benitez would like on Dirk Kuyt – a blue-collar worker whom he admitted only this week has a touch which is simply "not bad".
Mascherano has reasons for excitement about his international future. "I've not spoken to Maradona yet and at the moment we have a captain in [Javier] Zanetti, who has played for Argentina for 14 years and won 125 caps, so we need to respect that. Now we need to help [Maradona] as players too and help him take Argentina to the top of the world," he said.
Though Torres – "the main one for us," as Mascherano described him – is expected to be in the team to face West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, Liverpool's immediate goals are more prosaic than Argentina's. As Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina put it yesterday: "Sometimes goals don't come so you have to keep fighting and keep improving."
Results: PSV Eindhoven 0 Atletico Madrid 3; Marseilles 1 Liverpool 2; Liverpool 3 PSV 0; Atletico Madrid 2 Marseilles 1; Atletico Madrid 1 Liverpool 1; PSV 2 Marseilles 0; Liverpool 1 Atletico Madrid 1; Marseilles 3 PSV 0.
Liverpool's remaining group stage fixtures: 26 Nov: Marseilles (h); 9 Dec: PSV Eindhoven (a).Reuse content