Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Dossena
Have I said that you can’t make this shit up recently? What a fucking nightmare.
A slick, frozen pitch paved the way for a disjointed game, hampering both teams at the start. Liverpool’s early ball retention was far better than Wednesday, let alone in recent losses, but opportunities on goal blossomed far too infrequently as passing broke down in the final third. Pompey grew into the game by the 25th minute, and it didn’t take long for the home side to make Liverpool pay. It rarely has this season. Being the “better team” counts for absolutely nothing without something to show for it.
The good opening spell – as is usually the case with Liverpool – only resulted in two half-chances: Kuyt unable to make close-range contact with Gerrard’s knockdown in the 16th and Torres’ curler inches over four minutes later. From there, Pompey found their way, with a smattering of dangerous free kicks from O’Hara and a break at speed which Agger did well to clear for a corner. But in the 33rd, Yebda beat Insua down the flank and Liverpool couldn’t clear his cross. Reina parried the resulting shot back in, but Johnson’s attempted clearance only found Belhadj at the near post. Lord knows how he smashed the impossibly-angled volley past Pepe.
The unsurprising subsequent confusion and frustration, in which Liverpool still nearly leveled against the run of play (only to see Agger spurn a free header from Gerrard’s free kick for the second-straight game), soon saw Mascherano sent off for a bad one-footed tackle on Ben-Haim. The straight leg challenge deserved a card, but it’s yellow much more often than red. Which is a three-match ban. And to compound matters, Masch looked like he’d injured the same knee he’s had problems with. It was like the Fulham loss all over again, and it’d get a lot more like that game. Andy Kaufman isn’t writing this season’s script; Satan is.
10-man Liverpool, lining up 4-4-1, had to be content with containing a home side growing in confidence while trying to counter. And the team’s bewilderment and obvious irritation boiled over in the second half – three players (Lucas, Torres, and Johnson) picked up dubious yellows in the first fifteen minutes, adequately illustrating the team’s composure.
This is the most faith I’ve ever lost in Benitez. Ever. Bad breaks and decisions are only so much of an excuse. Despite the setbacks, Liverpool had a chance to regroup at halftime and utterly failed. No real chance in tactics other Benayoun replacing Dossena in the 53rd (which didn’t make that much of a difference) and Gerrard dropping deeper, no siege mentality, and little fight-back. Just petulance giving way to weary acceptance after Liverpool couldn’t convert two excellent chances in the 67th and 68th.
First, Liverpool finally broke at pace thanks to Lucas’ tackle in the middle of the pitch. Gerrard found Kuyt on the right, and although his tame cross was cleared, the captain still had a shot in space outside the box. Two deflections looked to wrong-foot Begovic, but the keeper somehow got a hand on the ball despite sprawling in the opposite direction. And when Boateng’s clearance of the subsequent corner just eluded the near post, it regressed to Liverpool on the back foot, hoping the ball would somehow bounce their way.
Torres almost danced his way through the box in the 77th, but he was blocked off and Begovic beat Kuyt to the loose ball. Five minutes later, Pompey put what little hope there was to bed. Agger failed to keep Boateng from crossing, Piquionne’s touch bounced perfectly to turn Carragher, and the striker scored from an acute angle akin to the first goal. The two chances Pompey converted, both aided by the bounce of the ball, were harder than at least five of Liverpool’s. But they were on target. Gerrard’s attempt at a consolation after lovely control in the 89th, which bobbled just wide of the far post, sums up today’s accuracy.
There are only so many times one can write ‘what else can go wrong?’ Liverpool’s dropped points to lower-placed opposition after every single league win since the end of September (all four of them). Damn little’s gone Liverpool’s way, but they’ve done damn little to right the ship themselves.
For the second time this season, I’ll write that Benitez would probably be gone if the owners could afford to buy him out. Last time, I was vehemently opposed. This time, I can’t be anything but less so. I’m just baffled by this team and this season’s results. I want to believe in Benitez so much – you’ve all seen my praise and defense of the manager, and the squad’s improved in every season but this one – but the comparisons to the end of Houllier are unavoidable.
Something is rotten at the core of this club. The morale is so far gone it’s unfathomable. I’m far more inclined to lay it at the feet of the owners, and at the end of the day, they’ve the most to do with it by not allowing squad investment. But results are at the feet of the players and manager. They’re the ones devising the tactics and out on the pitch. And outside of two or three games, Liverpool has been utterly insipid on the pitch for three months now.
Burn it down and start all over.