20 October 2009

Liverpool 1-2 Lyon

Reina
Kelly Carragher Agger Insua
Lucas Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
Ngog

Goals:
Benayoun 41’
Gonalons 72’
Delgado 90+1’

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.

12 comments:

Raatzie said...

We have met Leeds United, and they are us.

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark

Effing owners are cheap
And they would not buy
And now fourth in the Prem is no lark.

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

10th place in the Prem
No Europe next year
And they can't finance their loan.
Their "Big Four" days are blown.

Brink said...

"The owners have shafted this club by limiting the purse strings. "

I totally disagree. Not to suggest the owners are blameless, but I for one am pleased with the amount of money they have invested in players. Call me crazy, but I don't want LFC to be the next Chelsea , ManCity, or Real. I'm all for upgrading our talent, but we don't have to join the trend of writing blank checks to do so. I don't want to buy trophies. Liverpool should be more concerned with making sound investments (like Torres) than always bickering about limited funds.

There is a lot of money invested in the players at Anfield. Top 10 in the world I assume. That doesn't suggest tight purse strings.

Rafa, not the owners, has to shoulder the blame for being outplayed by Fiorentina, Sunderland, and Lyon. They didn't beat us with money.

extrafattyliver said...

Brink, I am sure you are just as disappointed after today's game as I am, but i totally disagree with what you said. Rafa's job is to construct a team capable of challenge in Europe and the league. He has done that over 5 years. We knocked Chelsea out twice in Europe and last season we tallied more points than Chelsea. You can't achieve that with bad management given what Chelsea have in their disposal. We did doubles over United, Chelsea and Real Madrid last season. Our best 11 can compete with anyone in the world. When most Chelsea fans cannot honestly tell a Liverpool fan they have been a better team than us for the past 5 years, you should know where your own team stands.

Who wouldn't want the likes of Keane, Crouch, Bellamy in a game like today as a back up? Or the likes of Silva or Ribery replacing Alonso? The problem for us is we cannot afford the wage or the transfer to keep a bench as thick as Chelsea or United's. Thin the bench down at Chelsea or United, then compound that with injury to Drogba&Anelka or Rooney&Giggs, they would struggle as well. While Lyon, Fiorentina and Sunderland didn't beat us with money, we are not getting beat by them in the big picture. We are getting beat in a season long race by our main rivals, who themselves have off days and losses (don't forget it was almost 2:1 for Sunderland in Old Trafford if not for some typical United luck, and Chelsea has lost twice this season too).

The team and the manager need more support now than any other time in the last 5 years. You should know the club you support. This is the situation at our beloved club and i will be very interested to see you back up your evidence of our spending being top 10 in the world.

Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, and you will never walk alone. What do you say??

extrafattyliver said...

The last two group stages when we left qualification till the last game, we made it to the finals of the champions league, winning one of them.

Fast forward December 9th, our last game home to Fiorentina. Lyon has qualified. We need to overturn a 2 goal difference to qualify in the expense of Fiorentina, and time is running out. with one sweet strike from his talented right foot.... CL knockout stage, here we come!!

Anonymous said...

i hate to say it but that performance and the three previous to this have been shocking, i have never felt so dissapointed since houlliers last season, i am rafas biggest fan and have always tried to stick up for him but i feel he is actually losing the dressing room and once that happens there is no going back, our transfers in the summer were not good mainly down to us not having any money

Mike Georger said...

:(

That's all I've got.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the mess we find ourselves in can be attributed to Rafa.

First of all, it seems we've only played well the last few years in a certain formation, with certain personnel. The formation being 4-2-3-1 and the personnel being Xabi and Masch as the "2", Gerrard and Kuyt as 2 of the 3 in the "3", and Torres as the "1".

Take out any of the players I've mentioned and it's almost always been a struggle. And without Xabi this season we look totally rudderless. We've had a scratch and claw for every point we've got, with the only comfortable games coming against sides that were promoted in the last 2 seasons (Stoke, Burnley and Hull).

We were lucky to beat Bolton, lucky to beat Debrecen, lucky to beat West Ham and lucky to beat Leeds. And it's embarrassing that the Leeds match was our last win. Nearly a month ago! And that was against a side 2 divisions below us. Pathetic.

Good teams can interchange players and formations and still get results consistently. We can't. Period.

Secondly, what young player has developed into a solid member of the squad in the last 2 years? Lucas? No. Babel? No. N'gog? No. El Zhar? No. Spearing? Plessis? LOL!!!! At some point we have to hold Rafa accountable for the fact that he has failed to turn a single young squad member into a valuable asset for the club.

And finally, we bitch about the owners not shelling out the cash, but it's not like Rafa's spent wisely when he's had the chance. Keane, Babel, Lucas, Dossena have all been failures. As for this past summer's big signings, I'm sorry, I love Glen Johnson, but spending 18 million quid on a full back is ludicrous. I don't care if he's English, full backs don't win you the league. It's too early to say anything about Aquilani, but why spend so much on a guy who is never fit to begin with?

I think it's going to be a real struggle to finish in the top 4. The sad reality is that clubs like Spurs and City (and arguably Villa, Everton and Sunderland) have better squads than we do, not to mention United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Forget the title. That dream is gone. We blew that chance last season.

We have to hope we can advance to the Champions League group stages and somehow keep our top 4 status for next year's Champions League. If we fail to do either of those things that could spell disaster.

I hope I'm way off and they turn things around, starting by thrashing United on Sunday, but I'm not holding my breath. I see that Rooney, Evra and Giggs (aka United's 3 best players) are sitting out their CL match in Moscow today. No doubt they're being rested so they can be fresh for their trip to Anfield this weekend. Perfect. Just perfect.

Marlon said...

When people do the "Rafa sucks with youth players!" rant they seem to forget that Emiliano Insua is pretty much our first choice leftback at 20 years old. That and Martin Kelly looked very good last night.

All that said, as much I've supported him in the past I think I'm done with Rafa. I'm also done with the owner. I'm also done with a good amount of the players.

Steve said...

Nowhere near good enough. It's not just that we're losing - it's the manner of the defeats also.

We could have pushed on and got another goal or two. Instead, we let Lyon back in the game. If you keep defending one goal leads like that, you're bound to come unstuck at some point.

Last night highlighted the lack of depth too. There may be players who are showing promise, but that's not enough.

Rafa's failings are all coming to a head now. One game shouldn't be pivotal, but Sunday's could well be. Even if we lose, we need to at least put in a better performance than we've managed over the last month.

But if we sack Rafa, what are realistically the options?

Neel said...

Rafa's ability to bring young players into the squad is very poor. Period.

Other than Insua, who is still very much a work in progress as we saw against Lyon (Govou played with him), Rafa can't take credit for any other developments.

If Kelly was considered a promising talent, then Rafa wouldn't have bought Johnson and would have blooded him more often like United had done with Fabio/Rafael. Kelly got a chance only because Johnson was injured and Rafa lacks faith in the young kids to really give them a run.

But I don't blame his lack of faith, its his poor ability to spot potential thats the real worry. Babel never got a run of 5-6 games to show what he's got & look at him now. N'Gog, El Zhar and so many others got the odd game but they showed absolutely no promise whatsoever.

5-6 years is time enough to make a squad. Rafa has made far too many expensive mistakes starting with Morientes, Sissoko (though we got the money back), Keane, Dossena, Riera, Babel, Voronin (though bought on free).

When you have a squad which contains only 2 players from a CL winning team 4-years ago, you expect a better team!

1 defeat can be down to bad luck. 2 defeats can be down to injury. 3? 4?

nate said...

Don't think it's fair to criticize Benitez over the Academy.

Fabio and Rafael only played because of United's injury concerns last season. Combined, they have one appearance this season - and Fabio drew a red card after 30 minutes.

In addition to Insua, Kelly, Darby, Spearing, and Ayala have made 1st team appearances. Gulasci will in the next year or two. Similar goes for Pacheco, Nemeth, and possibly Amoo and Ecclestone. Youth academies aren't built overnight. Benitez gave chances to Guthrie, Walsh, Peltier, Warnock, Raven, and more, and Warnock's the only one still in the PL. Given those names, I think it's safe to say the Academy's improved since Benitez arrived.

Babel has been Benitez's biggest disappointment. Name me one game he played well in when starting. One. You've got 45 games over the last 3 seasons to pick from.

Babel and Keane were Benitez's only "mistakes" that cost more than £10m. Every other big money deal (over £9-10m) - Torres, Alonso, Mascherano, Johnson, Kuyt - has turned out alright so far. Sissoko, Bellamy, and Crouch were all sold for a profit.

He could have spent better for sure, but when you're buying on a budget, you're buying quantity over quality nine times out of ten.

Plus, there are no realistic replacements. Dalglish is as close as it gets.

Neel said...

@nate

who do you think deserves a longer leash and more chances? an old war-horse who has played 100+ pro games or a kid who is just learning at this level?

Thats why I feel that Babel, if given the confidence vote, that he "is going to play for 4-5 games in a row come what may - now prove that you can play." would definitely work better than how Benitez has gone about him.

He played a couple of great games as a sub and scored some great goals, and instead of giving him a run and letting him settle he has (in many cases) been kept a late sub or (in most cases) not even been in the squad.

Your list of young footballers is woefully wrong.
Raven played but 1 cup game.
Kelly (19) has played 1 game.
Darby (21)has come on as a sub in 1 cup game and a dead rubber European game.
Spearing(20) is being given a bit of playing time, but at this age you should be playing every week!
Ayala played a couple of games because of our massive injury crisis. he didn't distinguish himself.

There are 2 things to notice here. Firstly, all of these talents are defensive.
Secondly, None of them seem like they will be capable to hold down a regular first team place anytime in the near (or far) future.