Johnson Carragher Skrtel Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Gerrard 56’ (pen)
The only “big four” side to drop points, let alone lose, and my sole riposte is that it’s the same result as last year’s fixture. Sigh. Liverpool again paid the price for their defending on two set plays. Double sigh. Get the daggers out…
I’ll get it out of the way now. Yes, I think Assou-Ekotto’s shove on Voronin in the 86th was a crystal clear penalty. So did Sammy Lee, who was sent to the stands for complaining. But it wasn’t given. Phil Dowd may have been awful today, but that’s football, and nowhere near enough of an excuse.
Liverpool’s modus operandi was revealed when Babel got the nod over both Benayoun and Riera (who didn’t even make the squad). The team would set out in the standard 4-2-3-1 and look to counter-attack with pace, allowing the home side more possession in the hopes of unlocking the defense on the break. Needless to say, it didn’t work in the slightest.
The first third of the game was utterly devoid of chances. Liverpool’s first effort came in the 29th, when Gerrard shot wide from distance after a ball lumped forward from defense. The only moment of note prior was a frightening 18th minute collision between Carragher and Skrtel that saw both bloodied and Carra bandaged, although both stayed on – at least until Skrtel finally went off in the 75th, replaced by Ayala. I suspect the lingering effects of that accident didn’t help the defending.
Following Gerrard’s effort, Spurs came to life, and only Reina’s heroics kept Keane from scoring. First, Reina saved the Irishman’s point blank header after Modric’s cross in the 30th. Four minutes later, the former Liverpool striker was denied after beating the offside trap, while Defoe – all 5'7" of him – headed wide from the subsequent corner. In the 42nd, Keane tallied a hat-trick of misses, shooting wildly when open from 15 yards.
Meanwhile, Liverpool struggled to respond. Hopeful punts from defense, usually in the direction of Kuyt or Torres, found the players isolated and Spurs soon regained possession. Huddlestone and Palacios, both deep-lying midfielders, stopped Liverpool from launching any breaks. Torres couldn’t get into the game, while Babel was often invisible. Gerrard and Kuyt both put in the effort to try and win the ball, as did Mascherano in his own half (as usual), but it was frequently futile, and honestly, everyone except Reina was sub par.
The dam finally burst in the 44th. A free kick from Huddlestone ricocheted right to Assou-Ekotto, and the left back thumped a thunderbolt into the far corner from something like 30 yards. Despite Spurs’ superiority, it took a wonder goal to break the deadlock. Right before halftime, when Liverpool would have had the chance to regroup. Awesome.
11 minutes after the restart, after Liverpool had marginally upped the tempo to begin the half, the £17m signing brought his team back into the game. Finally delivering one of those trademark runs forward, Johnson broke into the box, sidestepped Gomes, and forced the keeper into a penalty. Gerrard duly tallied it, straight down the middle over a despairing keeper.
Three minutes later, Liverpool gave it all away. Modric’s free kick after Carragher’s foul found debutant Bassong between two defenders, and he smashed a header past Reina. Easy come, easy go. From there, Liverpool huffed and puffed as Tottenham was increasingly happy to protect the 2-1 lead.
The away side were limited to half chances – a Torres header under pressure sent wide and a Benayoun shot deflected for a corner after the Israeli jerked into space were the two most memorable – before the aforementioned no-call in the 86th. Voronin was clearly pushed off the ball, and while Gomes was charging, the Ukrainian could have gotten a shot off. Maybe Dowd was hesitant after giving the previous penalty. Maybe Dowd, who had brandished at least six yellows by my count, had just lost control of the game because he’s a shitty referee. Either way, it shouldn’t have come to that.
I love that we get the chance to write the eulogy after the first game of the season. And I really have no defense. The team was as out of sorts as during preseason. Liverpool (gulp) missed Alonso’s metronomic presence in midfield. The defense was sketchy, especially after the collision between Skrtel and Carragher, both already carrying knocks. The Babel gambit was a complete failure, to put it bluntly, and even a sub par Liverpool were clearly better after Benayoun came on. Today highlighted why I was so insistent Liverpool should buy a left-sided attacker, although I derive zero joy in writing that given the result. There’s still time if Hicks and Gillett can find some spare change under the sofa cushions.
You can never write anyone off after the first month, let alone the first game. But Liverpool showed absolutely none of the potential that made me think this could be a title-winning team.
Stoke on Wednesday, and it’s not on TV in the States.