Kelly Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
And you thought Saturday was a low. Ha. It got worse. It can always get worse.
In addition to Torres, Johnson, and Riera, it seems Gerrard should have been ruled out as well. He only lasted 25 minutes, and now he’s probably a doubt for Sunday. Super.
There were two notable incidents before Gerrard’s injury: Reina’s wonderful point-blank 10th-minute save on Lisandro’s header after Cissokho sent in an inch-perfect cross, and Kuyt’s “goal” chalked off five minutes later for a push on Toulalan. To be fair, there were few complaints from Liverpool, but if Torres’ opener against Real stood last year, this one could have counted.
I don’t know whether it was Aurelio’s introduction for Gerrard – which saw Kuyt take over Gerrard’s role and Benayoun shift to the right – or Cris’ injury seven minutes later, but Liverpool finally began to look like a real team. Kuyt and Ngog asked the first questions, with Kuyt’s laser blocked and Ngog’s rebound saved by Lloris in the 36th. But Liverpool kept up the pressure, and in the 41st, Benayoun finally broke the deadlock. Aurelio’s deep cross flummoxed the defense, Cris could only flick it on, and while Kelly missed a chance for a debut goal, Benayoun was there to dig it out and slam home, ending 312 minutes of scoreless football. I’m not sure how long it’s been since Liverpool was that impotent, but it hasn’t happened since I started this blog in September ‘06. Today was a day of records, I guess, seeing as Liverpool hadn't lost four in a row since April 1987.
Three minutes later, it should have been 2-0, and it would have been game over. Lyon has Hugo Lloris to thank, and again, Aurelio was at the center of it. Kelly worked his way into space and delivered a brilliant cross to Aurelio at the back post. The header was strong, but Lloris got a flying hand out to tip it over. Probably the save of the season, the best I’ve seen so far.
Liverpool couldn’t come close to replicating that form after the break. Lyon sent on 20-year-old defensive midfielder Gonalons to pair midfielder Toulalan in central defense, but Liverpool rarely tested the makeshift backline. Benayoun headed wide, Ngog chested down Kelly’s cross well but could only shin a shot the wrong side of the post, and Lloris smartly saved Kuyt’s header over a five-minute span, but the visitors took over around the hour mark.
It only took them 10 minutes to break through, and it came on yet another set play. Reina could only punch Kallstrom’s corner out to Toulalan, and while he saved Toulalan's shot and Makoun’s rebound, he couldn’t keep out Gonalons’ (yep, the substitute), as his header beat Kelly at the near post as the three other defenders stood and watched – reminiscent of Davies’ embarrassing goal for Bolton. To make matters worse, Kelly – who had been impressive in his debut – was injured during the debacle, with Skrtel coming on.
Liverpool, who had been patient, cagey, and resilient for 72 minutes, couldn’t step up the pressure, and rarely looked like getting the late winner they thrived on last season. The best chance came in the 85th, when Kuyt headed down Aurelio’s corner, but it was Skrtel in space, and the defender blasted well over.
And in keeping with Liverpool’s disastrous season, Lyon tore them apart on the counter attack in the first minute of injury time, making the humiliation complete. Govou again beat Insua, opening up the attack down Liverpool’s left, and got the return ball near the byline, able to center across the six-yard box. The second substitute, Gomis, couldn’t make contact, but the wide open third, Cesar Delgado, who lost Carra at the back post, could.
1-2, game over. Three points and third place in the group at the halfway mark. It’s not as bad as the '07-08 group stage, when Liverpool drew one and lost two at this point, but it’s not far off. There’s no question the team will have to win their last three, and unlike in ’07-08, two of them are away from Anfield.
Football’s a game of what if’s, but you can’t help but look back to Lloris’ save on the stroke of halftime. If Aurelio scores, I can’t see how Lyon comes back. At the same time, another stomach punch loss might be deserved after that insipid final thirty minutes, even though on the whole that performance doesn't merit a loss. Liverpool is missing a lot of players – the four out (Torres, Johnson, Aquilani, and Riera) cost more than the starting line-up. And a 1-0 win felt deserved at the hour mark. But Liverpool was put under increasing pressure, and finally gave away two soft goals. It seems every goal seems to come from a mistake.
I don’t put much fault in Ngog, but the attack obviously wasn’t good enough. Benayoun scored a smart goal, and he, Kuyt, and Ngog worked hard, but hard work obviously gets you only so far. Voronin replacing Benayoun with 10 minutes to go was just confusing. Lucas and Mascherano were diligent, but the pairing continues to lack creativity, which is only exacerbated by an injured Gerrard. Aquilani is going to have so much pressure on his shoulders in the coming weeks, but he has to be the solution, because there’s little else in the cupboard.
It’s clear I was too optimistic, and the squad far too limited. Things aren’t going Liverpool’s way, and injuries (more than just Gerrard and Torres, but obviously those two have the most impact) haven't helped, but the players aren’t doing themselves any favors. I want to make it clear I don’t fault Benitez. Losing him would be the death knell, and that's no exaggeration. The owners have shafted this club by limiting the purse strings. Johnson will be a good buy, even at £18m, but Rafa had to gamble on an injured, and therefore cheaper, Aquilani as a replacement for Alonso (whose sale was at least £10m more than Aquilani cost). Voronin had to come back from loan and Babel stayed instead of buying a back-up for Torres. And it hasn’t worked.
All we can do is hope that those players injured will return soon, and this loss will catalyze the squad before the Most Important October League Game in World History™ – at Anfield against United on Sunday. Hope is all I’ve got at this point.