07 February 2009

Liverpool 3-2 Portsmouth

--------------Reina
----Skrtel Carragher Agger
Arbeloa------------------Dossena
----Mascherano---Aurelio
Benayoun---------------Babel
--------------Ngog

Goals:
Nugent 62’
Aurelio 69’
Hreiddarsson 78’
Kuyt 85’
Torres 90+1’

So are we going to let another late win – another late winner from that man Torres – gloss over the performance as a whole? Is Benitez still an idiot or a genius? The starting formation got nowhere, but the substitutions sure won the game.

We knew Gerrard and Lucas would be out, and that Torres, Alonso, and Kuyt were all fatigued. And we know the emphasis Benitez puts on fitness – and in my opinion, rightfully so. Despite what the pundits say, there’s a difference between being fit for the bench and being fit enough to start, and there are a lot of games left.

There isn’t much else the manager could do with the team selection with those five players out. The 3-4-3, 3-4-2-1, whatever you want to call it, was pretty much the only formation possible with that many midfielders and the star striker missing. And given that Liverpool hadn’t used this shape all season, I thought it worked reasonably well, even considering the two goals conceded.

For about 25 minutes, the team played well and had Pompey off balance. In the 8th, Benayoun slipped when in space on the right, shooting into the side netting, before Aurelio put a free kick off the outside of the post and later shot wide after one of Liverpool’s best passing moves. In the 26th, Mascherano forced a great save from James on a shot from distance, but that was pretty much the last sniff of the half as Pompey settled.

The fact that the game passed over the midfield, with Mascherano and Aurelio unable to establish the sort of possession Liverpool’s had in the past, didn’t help matters, but Ngog was often isolated as Benayoun and Babel dropped back more often. The backline of Skrtel, Carragher, and Agger held firm, limiting the home side to a couple of shots from distance, the best from Crouch in the 38th.

The possession and tempo was better in the second half, even as Liverpool still failed to find the final ball to unlock another stingy defense. Ngog didn’t have the best of games, but at 19 and often battling both Campbell and Distin, it was understandable. He showed a bit of potential in holding up play and trying to turn, but wasn’t making much headway, with Kuyt coming on the 56th. And the substitute almost provided the opener three minutes later, putting a perfect centered pass across the box for Babel after Benayoun beat two defenders, but somehow Babel couldn’t make contact, summing up his day. Today was a big opportunity for the Dutchman, and although I doubt it’ll be his last, he didn’t have a game to remember.

It didn’t take long for Liverpool to pay the price. Crouch put Nugent (who looked offside) through in the 62nd, and he was able to slide a left-footer past Reina. Five minutes later, Liverpool made another game-changing substitution (but to the commentators’ dismay, it wasn’t Torres) in Alonso, and two minutes after that it was level. It was partly thanks to Crouch, whose back pass (which Kuyt smartly read) led to James’ handling. Alonso laid the indirect free kick off for Aurelio, and his venomous shot from 12 yards beat Kranjcar at the near post.

The goal, along with the subs, brought Liverpool back into the game, and it looked as if Kuyt put them ahead in the 76th, only to be ruled offside. If Nugent was onside, so was Kuyt, and it seemed like the decision would haunt Liverpool as Pompey went back ahead. Johnson won a free kick on Liverpool’s left, Belhadj sent in a dangerous ball, and Hreidarsson somehow got a free header, which bounced awkwardly in front of Reina. Another set piece goal, after Liverpool had one pulled back, and I was ready to slit my wrists. Little did I know what was to come.

In the 85th minute, a mistake from Distin, similar to Ashley Cole’s last week, let Torres (who came on for Babel in the 76th) in. At a narrow angle, the Spaniard cut back for Kuyt, who took a touch and looked to have lost the chance before smashing a point-blank rocket past James at the near post.

At this point, it was starting to feel like the comebacks against Boro and City, and we weren’t disappointed. And it was that man again. In the first minute of added time, Mascherano charged forward and fed Benayoun, who crossed perfectly for Torres to smash and grab at the near post, just like the winner against Chelsea. 2-1 down, 3-2 up. Who cares if United has two games in hand? For now, Liverpool’s top of the table.

I wrote it for a reason at the top of this post – the win can’t completely gloss over a shaky performance, where Liverpool had to produce another brilliant comeback against a team that’s taken two points from the previous eight matches. But, given the starting line-up (which again, Benitez is responsible for, but was understandable with fitness issues, upcoming games, and suspensions), it’s a great result. Substitutions and fortitude won the game, two things you love to see.

And at the end of the day, all that matters is the three points. But the morale boost from a win like this can’t hurt.

11 comments:

Steel said...

Great result. I feel a bit bad for N'Gog, considering his age and the fact that he had Campbell and Distin to contend with. But he looked sharp on the ball with his back to goal.

Same goes for Babel. He'll still get a spot as a starter (considering our injuries and suspensions), even though that looked like a sitter that he missed.

Mike Anton said...

If Babel just used his left foot, if he just planted it in the ground and let the ball careen off of his limp leg he had a goal. It's one thing if he's a striker and doesn't know a thing about ball distribution if he can score. At this point, he's just a waste. I'm eagerly anticipating his turn towards a great player. I selfishly want it sooner than later...if it happens at all.

Funny how for 80 minutes this match was a microcosm of the entire season, possibly the death knell for the title hopes, and then the last 10 showed exactly how champions win these sorts of games. Maddening and magnificent, LiverpoolFC.

McrRed said...

Maddening and magnificent, LiverpoolFC.

Anonymous said...

na na na na na na na na na na, na na
na na na na na na na na na na, na na
Fernando Torres, Liverpool's #9.

Delighted with the opening lineup - you'll notice we didn't just fire senseless cross after cross in, we attacked the heart of their defense and had a few opportunities on goal, as well as a nicely positioned free kick. That being said, the players just weren't playing that well - lots of terrible touches. Perhaps that's expected with a different lineup/formation, but sloppiness was very evident, especially Babel.

Had it been Torres instead of N'Gog and Gerrard instead of Babel...I could have seen LFC tearing them apart.

Perfect logical substitutions. Pleased with everything Rafa did today. Top of the league and it feels so good.

-jp2

Ibracadabra said...

Benayoun was the man of the match for me.

Bobby said...

Ib,
Couldn't agree more, I feel like Yossi is playing with Kuyt's motor lately, only with increased skill.

And speaking of the homely Dutchman, what a strike down 2-1! We've been desperate for someone not named Gerrard or Torres to find the scoring touch, and it couldn't have happened at a better time for Dirk.

What can you say about the winner that hasn't been said? He's a game-changer, a team-changer, a season-changer, and we're gonna be in the title hunt to the end as long as he's healthy (and the skip heals up fast).

Just finished watching the game on DVR, so I apologize if this is a bit breathless. I had to work midday, so I left it at 0-0 in the 50th minute, just hoping I wouldn't come home to another scoreless draw.

Well, say what you want about it, but it wasn't a scoreless draw!

Soccer Blogger said...

That game could have so easily ended up going Pompey's way.

Another disappointing performance from Babel, and if there is one reason why I think United, and not Liverpool, will end up champions at the end of this season, it is their squad depth.

steven. said...

not sure how Babel missed that one .. had it touched any part of his body, it would have been in the net ..

Anonymous said...

I though Rafa's formation was brilliant. Torres and Xabi were obviously not fit to play the whole game. Rafa is going to have to continue to use creative formations to get us through these Gerrardless weeks. Obviously everyone watching the game was screaming for Torres earlier but i respect Rafa's discipline. Hes not there to be liked.

and can we be serious RYAN BABEL SUCKS. I don't care what anyone says, he is not good. He lacks any sort of composure, when he gets the ball he freaks out. He reminds me of a chipmunk playing with a ping pong ball.

We need you Stevie.

Anonymous said...

and Yossi seems to be the only bit of offensive creativity we have. I hope we continue to see a lot of him. He really adds a spark when he's on the pitch.

john said...

I was pleased to see Mascherano take slightly more of an attacking role. I think there is a lot of potential in his going forward against more defensive minded teams. We saw a glimmer of his potential against Man U and are going to see more until Stevie returns.