Finnan Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Benayoun Sissoko Gerrard Leto
I know I’m stating the obvious, given that it’s Liverpool’s first loss of the season, but that was far and away Liverpool’s worst performance. Today couldn’t have been more frustrating. Liverpool was second best for nearly the entire match, lacked any sort of fluency, looked apathetic in the process, against a team that had been dire so far this season, and it all happened at Anfield.
Until Marseille scored in the 77th minute, with the move starting from yet another Sissoko giveaway and capped off by an amazing Valbuena strike from the top of the box that curled in off the crossbar, it looked like Portsmouth without the penalty save, Birmingham but with Torres in the line-up, and the first 75 minutes of the Wigan match. If only Liverpool were so lucky.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a brilliant goal, one that deserves to win a match, but also one that Valbuena would find hard to replicate. He could have easily spurned the chance and sent it into the stands, and we’d be talking about another frustrating but surmountable draw. Instead, it’s Marseille that took the opportunity, and Liverpool sits third in Group A, behind Marseille on 6 points and Porto on 4.
Just as infuriating is the fact that Liverpool came to life in stoppage time. The team that was so futile for 90 minutes managed to carve out three excellent chances in four minutes, only to see all three go begging. First, Hyypia missed with his second free header from a corner (up until that point, a Hyypia header from a corner was Liverpool’s best opportunity). Then, Benayoun’s header at the back post deflected out off a defender (it wasn’t handball). Finally, after a scramble where Gerrard was almost through on goal, Torres hits the post. Ugh.
I think very little of the blame can be placed on Benitez’s shoulders. Yes, the manager picks the team, and the manager is ultimately responsible for the team’s result. But players, all the players, are not doing their jobs. If not for some of Carragher’s defending and Reina’s save in the 13th minute, Marseille could have won by more. That’s about the only the positive that comes to mind.
Meanwhile, Torres was isolated and invisible. Crouch played better than in previous games, but wasn’t linking up with his strike partner and too often looked to head the ball back into midfield, where the play was congested and Liverpool was losing possession. Sissoko was probably the worst offender, giving the ball away more often than I can count, and what’s worse was that many of the turnovers came because he dallied in possession. It may be unfair to single him out because of his youth, but Leto was in over his head from the start, and that Benitez took him off before 50 minutes shows how frustrated he was with his performance. Gerrard’s still not playing to his best, and was bypassed by a lot of long-balls coming out of defense. None of the substitutes (Riise for Leto, Voronin for Aurelio, and Kuyt for Crouch) added much attacking drive. I mean, I don’t like to criticize player’s performances, but when everyone’s underperforming, I just can’t hold back.
It’s also odd that it’s Liverpool’s home form that’s deserted them. The draws at Portsmouth and Porto weren’t great, but Birmingham and today are the far worse results. The Derby and Toulouse matches aside (where Liverpool clearly outclassed lesser opposition), the team has not been good enough at Anfield.
I know, it’s one match, and there are still four group games left to be played. But this is the fifth game in a row, not counting Reading, where Liverpool has underperformed, and even worse, been absolutely abysmal in front of goal and in creating chances. This result has been coming.
We saw in the last 5 or so minutes of the game what Liverpool’s capable of when they’re pressing forward in desperation for a goal. Three clear chances were created in about as many minutes, and maybe it’s just that kind of night and they’re just not going in. But if Liverpool plays with that impetus and put teams under pressure like that earlier in the match, we’re not having this discussion.
I’m sick of saying that I know Liverpool can play better. I’m sick of saying that Liverpool clearly misses Alonso and Agger, because all teams have to deal with injuries. I’m sick of excuses over the amount of shots on target with the attackers in this squad. This was one of the worst Liverpool performances I can think of in the last couple of years from start to finish.
All I can say is that I hope this ends up being a lesson. Liverpool has Tottenham, Everton, Arsenal and a trip to Turkey coming up this month, with another despised international break in the middle of it, and they need to be better.