Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Liverpool still on course
BBC Sport Online chief football writer Phil McNulty reflects on the aftermath of Liverpool's dramatic Champions League exit against Bayer Leverkusen.
Gerard Houllier has been able to place total faith in two key elements of his Liverpool revolution - the safety of his defence and the marksmanship of Michael Owen.
It will be to Houllier and Liverpool's eternal regret that these reliable parts in Liverpool's machinery developed faults in the Champions League quarter-final against Bayer Leverkusen.
The previously impregnable Liverpool rearguard sprung leaks in a variety of places in the face of Bayer's imaginative attack.
And the normally lethal Owen found his radar off beam at a point when just one more goal would have sealed Liverpool's place in the Champions League semi-finals.
It was a night of bitter disappointment for Liverpool as hey lost 4-2 to Leverkusen, but not one which should deflect Houllier from his belief that his team have made massive strides in the past three seasons.
Houllier rightly pointed out that on another night Owen would have had a hat-trick, adding that lack of protection for defenders rom midfield led to the uncharacteristic sight of Sami Hyypia and Stephane Henchoz in desperate straits.
All the more surprising then, that Houllier removed his most effective defensive screen in Dietmar Hamann with the score at 1-1 and Bayer needing two more goals to qualify.
A puzzling decision maybe, but it should still be remembered that after it was taken Liverpool were only six minutes away from winning the tie.
Houllier will analyse that decision, as he does all decisions, and maybe if he had his night again he would do things differently, but he was clearly dissatisfield with Hamann's contribution.
Liverpool, in brutal truth, probably fulfilled their potential in reaching the last eight of the Champions League.
It is a true reflection of their current standing in Europe - on the fringe of the elite but not quite ready to gatecrash it completely.
This in itself is a tribute to the work Houllir has done at Liverpool since he took sole charge.
Liverpool have made more progress than Arsenal and Manchester United in the last three seasons - and that is because they had to.
Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson were able to add to established squads, whereas Houllier had a massive rebuilding job on his hands.
Houllier inherited a talented but wayward squad, "The Spice Boys" as they were known.
He removed free spirits such as Steve McManaman and David James and simply shoved Paul Ince out of the door.
He set about establishing a reliability, consistency and discipline which has flourished in the shape of men like Hyypia, Henchoz and Hamman.
It is a policy that has continued successfully with the addition of Jerzy Dudek as replacement for Sander Westerveld.
It has led to the constant cry that Liverpool are boring, but the simply reality is that Houllier's side had to learn to walk before they could run.
True, their desire to play the percentages in Europe may have been an accident waiting to happen if, as in Leverkusen, they were caught out defensively.
But once the disappointment has subsided, it will become clear Liverpool are steering the correct course under Houllier.
And when he makes further additions this summer, which he will with his usual ruthless approach, Houllier's Liverpool may well be ready to run.
When it comes to writing about Liverpool, I usually do not come to cut-and-paste actions. But this article is too good to be missed and I hope that everyone can enjoy what the analysis means to all.
To Barlinek and other doubters out there (there are, no matter how well we do), all I wish for is for you to judge GH and the team fairly. When Liverpool wins, GH is a hero. When Liverpool loses, GH is a thoughtless frog (or any unkind remarks to that state). Surely, the fickle mind of football world hopefully does not imprint such thoughts on one's mind. But it does. We win as a team, we lose as one. YNWA epitomises that spirit. We would never have gotten here if we had stayed on with Evans. The transformation is not complete yet, but we have at least smelled the sweet success that comes with it. The next thing (logical, I must add), is to get our hands on greater things next season.