Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Benayoun Lucas Alonso Babel
That can’t be described as anything other than comical.
How often has Liverpool failed to learn a simple lesson? No matter how dominant you are in possession, no matter how many half-chances you get at goal, if you can’t get a second, this can always happen. Especially if the defense is as slow and nervy as Liverpool’s has been of late. And again, it happens at Fortress Anfield.
In a sick sort of way I’m almost glad Barnsley scored at the death. Maybe it’ll hammer home the point, and at least a replay’s been avoided.
I wasn’t kidding a few weeks ago when I said I could come up with a template for Liverpool’s matches this season. Liverpool started the brighter, but always had a shakiness in defense, shown in the first two minutes when DeVaney ran at Riise on the wing and forced an interception by Carragher in the six-yard box.
Liverpool’s pressure paid off when they finally got the ball in the net in the 32nd minute. Babel, who was easily Liverpool’s most-threatening player, beat Hassell down the left, got to the byline and delivered the perfect cut-back for Kuyt, who had all the time in the world to slot it past Steele.
It looked like it was going to go Liverpool’s way from there. Kuyt, whose goal drought prior to this match has been much noted, had broken the deadlock. Liverpool continued to press, and Barnsley continued to spend most of the time defending, although there were still shaky moments at Liverpool’s end, most notably when Hyypia gave the ball away in the 37th minute, forcing Itandje to make an excellent save.
But despite the possession, despite the tempo, despite the pressure, Liverpool still couldn’t get the second goal, and there were chances. As said before, Babel was dangerous throughout running at the right-back Hassell, while Crouch, Kuyt, Alonso, and Benayoun were all getting opportunities. But Barnsley contested every shot and Steele began making some excellent saves.
Barnsley was clearly heartened by being just a goal down at halftime, and started pressing more in the second. Howard began pushing forward from central midfield more often, including one notable run past Lucas. Minutes later, Hyypia was forced to head a corner out with Ferenczi lurking behind him in acres of space.
And then Foster struck in the 57th. DeVaney, who tortured Riise when he got the opportunity, should have never been allowed to get a cross off. But the one he got off was perfect for Foster to head past Itandje, who changed him mind in coming out with the ball in flight. Earlier on in the play it was Itandje’s shaky punching, when he ran a long way to not get a fist to the ball, which led to DeVaney receiving the ball on the flank.
Unsurprisingly, it spurred Liverpool into action. A goalmouth scramble at the other end came less than a minute after Barnsley’s equalizer, with three blocks and a clearance on Benayoun, Kuyt, and Crouch respectively. And similar occurred for the next 15 minutes or so. Hyypia had three cracks at goal following a corner, Steele got a hand to Lucas’s header, and a Benayoun run into the box from a short corner was again saved by the debutant keeper at the near post.
In the 70th minute the game changed, and not for the better.
I rarely criticize Benitez’s substitutions. But unless there was an injury I’m unaware of (he looked to run off the knock he picked up in the first half), I have no clue why Babel was taken off for Kewell.
Babel was Liverpool’s most threatening. He set up Liverpool’s goal, and although still has a tendency to linger on the ball trying to carve out an opportunity, I thought he was outstanding.
That it was Kewell who came on probably leads to even more questioning, as Harry hasn’t looked anywhere near his best since returning from injury. Kewell also sits deeper and is less likely to run past defenders. And it showed with the number of times Kewell’s shots ricocheted helplessly away off his marker, although he did come up with one lovely volley which Steele was lucky to see go off the crossbar.
The entrance of Gerrard in the 75th didn’t help much either, but I’m not sure how much blame falls on Stevie. Gerrard as a sub has taken on too much of a “here he comes to save the day” aura, which doesn’t help the team where they’re pressing for a goal, as Liverpool looks for him to create and has the tendency to stand around and wait for something to happen. This and long balls up to Crouch seemed to make up the totality of Liverpool’s attack for the last 15 minutes.
And when the 90th minute struck and Liverpool had failed to get the winner, heads seemed to drop. After getting little more than a sniff in Liverpool’s half for over a quarter of an hour, Barnsley pressed during injury time. And more casual defending by everyone involved nearly gave away a penalty (and probably should have) before Howard was allowed the space to shoot past Itandje in the 93rd minute. It looked like Liverpool had rectified this problem with Skrtel’s performances in the last two matches, but he gets injured, and the defense returns to old ways.
Yes, anything can happen in cup competition, especially the FA Cup. But I have no idea where Liverpool goes from here. I am literally afraid to read the post-match reviews and the various forums for the reaction.
So much stock is put in the cup competitions, where we’ve come to expect a different (and better) performance than the failings in the league. Despite the players injured and rested, there was still a massive gulf in class between the sides, and it’s not as if the XI Liverpool lined up with were unfamiliar with each other or the tactics.
But again, Liverpool underperforms, and again, it’s because of casual defending and a failure to get the second goal. There are so many times the same script can repeat itself before you look past the players to the staff.
Benitez is seemingly doing great things revitalizing the under-18s and reserve team, with all the young talent from around the world brought in, but when Liverpool’s not playing free-flowing football, as they were at times earlier this season, there are still the same problems. And that has to be reconciled.
There are still all sorts of excuses, whether its off-field problems, injuries, or whatever. But they were tiresome months ago, and little has changed.
Lady luck’s long been absent this season, but this was just absurd. I said I was glad there won’t be a replay and that Barnsley sealed it at the death, because maybe it’ll provide the requisite kick in the pants before Inter on Tuesday. But that’s been said before too.