As a fan, I hate seeing any Liverpool loss, but Rafa Benitez is a very pragmatic man, and this result isn’t entirely unexpected, even if it is unwelcome.
Given the game on Tuesday, the squad wasn’t that much of a surprise, although a start for Emiliano Insua and Bellamy relegated to the right wing for the first hour was a bit shocking. However, for the first half an hour or so, the game went pretty much as expected. Liverpool had more possession and Fowler had the ball in the net after 12 minutes, but it was rightfully ruled offside, and for the most part, Liverpool was unable to maintain any fluency with all the changes in the side.
After 27 minutes though, the game was turned on its head. Benjani was released over the top thanks to Paletta out of line with the offside trap, he got between Paletta and Dudek, chipped the ball over the keeper, and slotted it in the net. Less than five minutes later, the offside trap was again blown (this time it looked to be Hyypia), and Kranjcar, who came on for an injured Matty Taylor, gave Dudek no chance. 32 minutes in, and the reserves looked to be in trouble. Right before the stroke of halftime, Zenden hit the bar with a beautiful dipping volley, but that was all of Liverpool’s first half response.
However, the team came out better in the second half, cemented more possession, and looked marginally more flowing. On 59 minutes, with the increased pressure starting to pay dividends, Liverpool pulled one back through a Hyypia header from a Fowler corner. After the goal, Bellamy, who had been fairly anonymous on the right, came through the middle, and Liverpool looked more threatening.
But Portsmouth held on. Pennant came on for Gonzalez, and played on the left to offer Liverpool a different option going forward, and Nabil El Zhar also saw his second Premier League game, coming on for Sissoko in the 80th minute, but Liverpool carved out very few chances in the last quarter of the game. Fowler had a weak shot on goal that was saved by James and Paletta put a header wide from a corner in the final minute of injury time, but that was about it, and by the end of the game, Pompey again looked the better side.
I will never forget Dudek for his heroics in Istanbul, he’ll forever be a legend for that, but I will also be happy to see the back of him. He made an excellent save to keep Pompey from getting a third before Liverpool’s first, but was almost completely at fault for the first goal, caught in no man’s land even more than Filan was for Wigan against Liverpool last week. He’s more a confidence keeper than Reina, but he’s not getting any real playing time (and rightfully so). The time for him to go has long passed. I’d rather Padelli, who’s never seen first team action before, gotten the start, and it’s essential Scott Carson returns as back up next year.
Yes, it was nice to see Paletta start today and given more time to adjust to English play, but he was poor today. He looked lost at times, and inspired fear every time Benjani, Kanu, or LuaLua was running at him. I’m always hesitant to criticize a young player, and given the situation, I’m glad he got playing time, but he hasn’t looked up for it in his appearances so far this season. In theory, I’d like to see him loaned out to get first-team time next season, but given his nationality and youth, I don’t know how well he’d cope.
I’d also like the body-snatching alien who has replaced Alonso to give us our Xabi back. I’ve never seen him look this disillusioned. Portsmouth should be given credit for keeping a man in front of him at all times, severely limiting his options, and crowding the midfield throughout, but he truly didn’t look the same player today, summed up by the complaining and petulance which earned him an unnecessary yellow near the end of the first half.
There was one main bright spot in my mind though. From now on, you will all have to deal with my gigantic man crush on Insua. It might end up being a problem, so I’m apologizing for it now. He’s only 18, made mistakes today and will almost certainly make more, but I am in love with the glimpses he showed of speed and a footballing brain, which was even more heartening because of his youth. He likes to get forward, but always seemed to have his head up and made smart runs, but still got back the majority of the time. I immensely look forward to seeing more of him.
I’ve done a fair bit of complaining, rightfully so in my opinion, and I could probably keep going on about things that irked me today. But credit to Portsmouth, who did what they had to, hassling Liverpool players immediately, packing the midfield, and creating opportunities over the top. And honestly, this is a game that could be lost (I know, heresy). I don’t want to be accused of downplaying a defeat or of being an apologist for the team, but I can’t help but think that Rafa’s not all that displeased. Champions League football is secured for next season. Young and reserve players got time today, and the staff got more on an idea of what they and the team in general is capable of. Plus, there’s the matter of the game on Tuesday, and key players were able to be rested today.
74 hours (or so) until Chelsea.