Carragher Skrtel Hyypia Aurelio
Benayoun Gerrard Riera
Well fuck. I hope Stoke get relegated – not out of spite, but because they’ve evidently become one of those lower table clubs that frustrates Liverpool every time out. It looked a lot like last time these two met, and even with the differences in line-up, it’s the same result. Super.
I try not to armchair manage, but this is why I didn’t want to see a similar attack as against Newcastle, despite Liverpool scoring five goals in the last league game. Stoke does not play like Newcastle. At St. James’ Park, Liverpool was always going to have space, even at 0-0, and midfielders like Gerrard, Riera, and Benayoun got the opportunities and space to bomb forward in support of the deep-dropping striker.
But against Stoke, space was always going to be at a premium. Today, they made it nearly impossible for Liverpool to break through. Man-marking Gerrard into invisibility for almost 80 minutes and cramming as many men behind the ball as possible, Liverpool struggled create chances or make it into the final third. This was one of those games that's crying out for crafty strikers who can create that space or get that beautiful touch from nowhere. Players like Torres and Keane. And honestly, Stoke could have been 2-0 up at halftime, although 0-0 was the rightful scoreline.
The match started off as expected. For the first 10-15 minutes, Liverpool had something like 80% of the possession, but with only a mishit Kuyt header wide to show for it. But Stoke started to threaten on occasion, and could have had the opener in the 17th minute, when Delap ended up with the ball in the box (after the linesman ignored three Stoke players offside), but slammed his effort against the crossbar, and Cresswell could only chest the rebound wide.
Kuyt tested Sorenson in the 23rd with a close-range shot at the near post, but that would be the last time Liverpool worked the keeper in the half. And eight minutes later, Shawcross headed the ball in the net for Stoke, only to be rightfully ruled offside. Although it was their only clear-cut effort of the spell, Stoke looked the better side for about 20 minutes, which was another worrying sign.
I don’t know about other fans, but when the team’s struggling, I’m often rooting for halftime changes. And it felt like this game was crying out for it – with Torres or Keane replacing Benayoun or Riera. But Benitez doesn’t work that way.
Again, I’d take Benitez’s word over mine, but it seems like he’s become formulaic with his substitutions when it’s 0-0, and it’s detrimental. To win the league, you have to win these games, and Benitez can’t always hope that the team he’s put out will come good. It’s become routine: Riera or Benayoun (usually Riera) will come off around the hour mark, another change will happen around the 75th, and maybe the final last gasp after the 85th. And again, that’s what happened: Torres came on for Riera in the 61st and Babel for Benayoun in the 76th, while Keane was left head in hands on the bench.
Accordingly, until the last ten minutes or so, Stoke had the better chances. A poor clearance by Reina put the ball at Kitson’s feet five minutes after the restart, but the striker gave himself a narrow angle trying to get around the keeper and could only shoot into the side netting.
Liverpool’s best chance until Gerrard popped up at the end of the match came in the 67th, but Lucas headed across to an offside Hyypia instead of going for goal from the tight angle. Stoke almost took advantage off one of Delap many long throws through Kitson in the 74th, but his header sailed just over, and Whelan’s 78th minute free kick was narrowly wide of the post.
As often happens in these frustratingly tight games, Liverpool got their best chances in the final ten minutes, and both came through the man who often creates the late magic. First, Gerrard hit the crossbar with a free kick from the left edge of the box in the 84th, and then hit the post in injury time running onto Torres’ flicked header. But no luck this time. And once again, Liverpool’s ruing a draw against a team in the bottom half of the table, and we’re hoping United and Chelsea continue to drop points (here’s wishing for a draw tomorrow!).
I don’t know what else to say. Liverpool were sloppy all over the pitch, misplacing passes, especially those in the final third - but I'm unwilling to place all the blame on Alonso's absence. But be certain, none of the front six played well.
It’s odd – Liverpool has their highest points total in a Premier League campaign to this point, and yet I can’t remember being so frustrated by these 0-0 draws, even though I know that there have been less at this point than in the past two seasons. It’s just that we’re watching Liverpool lose precious points. And when they’re competing for their first league championship in 19 years, it’s that much harder to take.
A win in the Merseyside derby in nine days time would wash a bit of that taste out of the mouth, though.