Finnan Carragher Agger Arbeloa
Pennant Sissoko Alonso Benayoun
The game against Derby raised hopes so high now it’s bound to be all doom and gloom after a draw at Portsmouth. I’m not thrilled by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not the end of the world either.
The game saw Finnan and Carragher return from injury, but post-internationals, Gerrard and Torres started on the bench. Liverpool started the game brightly, but after keeping them out for the first 20 minutes of pressure Portsmouth grew into the game, and Liverpool missed the cutting edge those two bring.
30 minutes in, Pompey were awarded a penalty when Arbeloa pulled Kanu’s shirt in the box. If we’re being technical, shirt-pulling is a penalty, but I’ve seen them not called more often than called, especially when the defender’s going to make the clearance regardless. Not to mention that it looked like Kanu was offside and the actual shirt-pulling began outside the box. And that’s the second penalty Riley’s given against Liverpool in the two games he’s officiated.
Thankfully Reina came to the rescue. Kanu went for placement to his left, Reina guessed correctly, justice done. Third time lucky as saving penalties goes for Reina this season.
The second half saw both sides carve out chances, but neither side able to make the most of them. Voronin clipped the bar with a clever chip and Torres shot over when open on the left, but Pompey probably had the better opportunities; Utaka missed one-on-one with Reina and Muntari volleyed wide, among others.
Portsmouth had a fair bit more possession in the second half and Liverpool was willing to soak up the pressure and look to attack on the counter, and it showed in the chances. It didn’t help that Liverpool often resorted to the long ball and Campbell and Distin were imperious in defense for Portsmouth. Torres (63rd) and Gerrard (67th) came on in an attempt to get the elusive goal, with Babel on for Alonso ten minutes later, but nothing was coming.
Even though it didn't show as much as hoped after they came on, I think today’s result would have been different had Gerrard and Torres been on from the start. I understand having one eye on the future, especially with the internationals last week and a Champions League game on Tuesday, but this was always going to be a tough match, and those two players are a class apart. I’m a bit surprised that Crouch/Voronin started today and Torres/Kuyt probably will on Tuesday instead of vice versa, but Rafa obviously has his reasons.
And at the end of the day, Benitez’s gambit was understandable. Liverpool had enough quality on the field to win. Players did not play to their full potential; it’s happened before, and it’ll probably happen again.
Crouch did nothing to further his claim for a regular start, Voronin spurned too many opportunities, Pennant didn’t equal his previous performances, Benayoun went invisible in the second half, and Alonso looked out of sorts (and went off with a knock). Too often, Liverpool failed to take advantage of free kicks. They had 5 or 6 in dangerous positions in the first half alone, and at least 3 were sent into the wall. All this annoys me far more than the fact Liverpool only got a point.
What’s also disappointing is both United and Arsenal scored winners after 80 minutes in their games, while Liverpool continued to play the long ball as if Crouch was still in. Long ball from Reina or a defender, Portsmouth wins possession, Liverpool invites them on, and eventually reclaims the ball. Then repeat. Much bypassed Gerrard and Babel, and it didn’t play to Torres’ strengths either, negating the substitutions Liverpool made.
But I have to reiterate, it’s not the end of the world.
It was the first game that Liverpool’s failed to score in this season. Fratton Park is always a tough place to go, with Pompey showing why they’re fancied for a European place this season, and it’s a point more than was gained there last season. Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin were outstanding. It’s the 4th straight clean sheet, and Liverpool’s yet to concede a goal from open play. And 7 points from 9 in three away games is a marked improvement over last season.
To be fair, this is a game that Liverpool probably would have lost last season. And they almost did today; Reina’s penalty save earned Liverpool a point, and Portsmouth did have the better opportunities.
Now, for all that was said about the league being the priority, a stronger line-up should play at Porto on Tuesday. Let’s hope for a hammering.