Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Kewell
Aurelio (og) 72’
Oh goody, another draw.
It could have been worse. I’m well aware that’s little consolation, but when it’s 1-2 in the 87th minute, you’ll take whatever positives you can get.
But once again, Liverpool’s unable to get a second goal when they’re dominant, and once again, Liverpool’s ended up with a draw at Anfield, the sixth time that’s happened at home in the league this season. And that’s unacceptable.
Pick your analogy to past performances. The Tottenham game, with the 2-2 scoreline, two opposition goals in a short period, and a late equalizer at Anfield to save a point, is probably the closest, but the recent Wigan match, with Liverpool in control and unable to get a second, only to ship a soft goal, also springs to mind. Either way, it’s not a pretty picture.
I could make a template out of my recent match reports. Liverpool started better. Liverpool were dominant in possession, set the tempo, and went ahead one-nil, earlier than usual with Benayoun’s goal in the 19th minute, getting to the rebound of his own shot first after an outstanding reverse pass from Kuyt. And although Liverpool was unable to get the second goal, Villa rarely looked like threatening throughout the first half.
Fast forward to the 69th minute. The second half started with more of the same, with Liverpool still in charge until Villa earned a free kick in Liverpool’s half after Arbeloa fouled Petrov (he was injured beforehand and it showed in his challenge, and he was subbed off for Skrtel moments later). Laursen won the header, and Harewood (of all people) sent an overhead kick straight into the net. Just like that, back to square one. And then it all went to shambles.
To compound matters, Villa scored from another needless free kick three minutes later, and brought back memories of that spat of freak own goals from earlier in the season. Liverpool again failed to clear the danger, and Mellberg attempted to head back across the box, only to be directed into the net by Aurelio.
Villa is known for their prowess on set plays. Not only does Liverpool fail to get a second goal, but giving up two goals from free kicks in the space of three minutes is absurd. It’s just sloppy, and it makes me wonder if Benitez is getting through to the players above the din of off-field matters.
I can’t remember any season where Liverpool’s drawn this many games after going ahead, especially at Anfield: Villa, Wigan, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea. I do not understand it. This team has such potential, but also the potential to under-perform and piss away all the good work done earlier in the season. Everything about this season has been Jekyll and Hyde so far.
Thankfully, Crouch was there to save a point in the 88th minute, and it was a goal that Villa will rue as Liverpool rue the two they let in. Laursen missed a header attempting to clear Liverpool’s free kick, allowing Carra to direct the ball towards Crouch, who made no mistake with a lovely shot.
And once again, my relief at Liverpool getting the point has probably softened my criticism. To be fair, Liverpool wasn’t that bad before Villa’s goal, but “wasn’t that bad” isn’t cutting it. Yes, the team was sloppy at times, but the problem was that Liverpool just can’t kill games off. Someone has to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and get that second goal when Liverpool’s in front; neither Torres nor Gerrard could provide it today, and no one else looks likely.
There’s not much else to be said. There’s only so many ways to say that Liverpool should have won and didn’t because they can’t kill off games.
What bothers me the most is how this is going to feed into the off-field nonsense. Benitez is not at fault for players’ inability to get a second goal. The XI that lined up should have put the game to bed by the 60th minute, if not the 45th. I realize the manager not only picks the team but also devises the tactics and motivates the players, but I can’t bring myself to criticize Benitez with the position he’s in. He’s had his legs cut out from under him by the owners and the media.
The only thing that will end this is improvement on the field. I don’t believe that Gillet and Hicks are selling out to DIC, but I’ve been wrong before (most notably in trusting the new owners). And Gillet and Hicks could put out statements until they’re out of paper in support of Benitez, and it wouldn’t change the media’s narrative or the fans opinions. What will change the bad feelings is players responding to the adversity, responding to their manager, and giving everyone something else (something positive!) to write about.
Players. Need. To. Perform. On. The. Pitch.