Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. And frustrating.
Frequently in away games where Liverpool disappoint, they still get the requisite shots on goal. Not here, with 3 on target in the entire game.
The best, and only real chance didn’t come until in the 89th minute, with Fowler forcing a save from Sorensen at the near post. That says enough. Kuyt’s mistimed header, a Gerrard shot wide, and Riise’s strike straight at Sorensen are the only other “opportunities” that come to mind.
Unforced errors that gave away possession defined this game. That and the lackadaisical pace with which the game was played. When Liverpool were in possession, they passed along the backline and midfield looking for an opening, only to give the ball away to Villa with an opportunity to counter. It’s a credit to Carra and Agger, the only players that stood out for me, that Liverpool weren’t caught out by the pace of Young and Agbonlahor in these situations.
I’m always hesitant to question tactics. Rafa Benitez is certainly a lot smarter than I am. But I do not understand Liverpool’s line-up, tempo, or substitutions today. With Villa always likely to play with 9 or 10 men behind the ball and rely on the counter-attack, I do not know why both Sissoko and Mascherano started in the center of a four-man midfield. The only thing I can think of is it was to give Alonso rest with important games against PSV and Arsenal upcoming, but as Liverpool haven’t played since the 6th and won’t again until Arsenal on the 31st (international games do not count!), I don’t understand that either. It didn’t seem as big a problem in the first ten minutes when Liverpool looked dangerous playing over the top to Bellamy bypassing the center of the pitch, but once Villa gave up defending with a high line and let Liverpool play in front of them, the pairing was never going to offer enough in attack.
The substitutions, Alonso, Pennant, and Fowler, all helped to open up the game to some degree, but it was a little odd to see whom they came on for. Alonso for Sissoko was obvious, but Pennant on for Bellamy and Fowler for Gerrard left me questioning. Bellamy had to have been protected because of his yellow, but even when less influential, he was still one of the better players on the pitch. And while Gerrard could probably use all the rest he can get, the commentators seemed correct to point out that Fowler links up with Gerrard better than anyone else on the team.
In keeping with the tone of the game, Lee Mason certainly had a stinker today as well. In place of Mark Halsay, he broke up Liverpool possession twice by getting in the way of play within 20 minutes, swallowed his whistle at points and gave harsh yellows (to Bellamy, Mascherano, and Petrov) at others. And Villa fans won’t be happy with him for ignoring what admittedly looked to be a penalty on Stilian Petrov right before halftime.
Credit where due, Villa did what was asked of them and defended doggedly. You always want to see a little more invention from opposition teams, especially when they’re the ones playing at home, but it’s not all that unusual or surprising. And you can’t real criticize the strikers when there are so few chances. The blame today falls in midfield, where nothing was created and possession was given away far too often when Villa defenders were sitting 3 yards off Liverpool players.
Past is past, and the team has to play better. A Champions League place is still more then there for the taking, and 3rd place is still readily achievable. Arsenal have a game in hand, and are 0-0 with Everton in the background as I write this, but do have a marginally more difficult run in. A lot will be decided in the next game, and it’s against a team that has already beaten Liverpool 3 times this year, twice at Anfield. If today’s performance isn’t enough motivation, that should be.