Carragher Skrtel Kyrgiakos Insua
Rodriguez Gerrard Riera
Another false dawn after beating Spurs or the due result from playing poorly against a resilient side, one that didn’t concede at Anfield until going a man down when Liverpool had a far stronger line-up?
It was a blunt, boring, ugly first half in which Liverpool had all the possession, but Wolves had the two best chances, which were two more than the away side tallied in 45 minutes. And Wolves posed 15 minutes of solid questions in the second half before both sides returned to insipid mediocrity. Like last season, Liverpool looked better pressing at the end, but minus the quality needed to grab a winner. It was all very depressingly familiar. And probably would have ended 0-0 if they added another 90 minutes.
The only bright spot was Mascherano’s ability mopping up. That, Skrtel and Kyrgiakos doing ‘just enough,’ and Wolves’ lack of ambition were probably what kept a “better” Liverpool from going behind. Two minutes of early pressure, with Riera flashing a header wide of the far post from a corner the highlight, succumbed to continuing Liverpool possession but complete incoherence in the final third, as the move either broke down or provided Hahnemann with catching practice.
The aforementioned Mascherano and Lucas were fairly dominant in midfield, even if neither created anything as almost everyone looked to hoof, which Wolves ate up. And the four-man attack of Kuyt, Gerrard, Maxi, and Riera simply wasn’t anywhere near the same page. Of course, three of the four are lacking in match fitness and the fourth is a striker who often drops deeper than the others.
And Wolves created the first hearts-in-mouths moment in the 33rd, breaking from an awful deep free kick where Liverpool surprisingly sent men forward. Jarvis sped down Liverpool’s right for the second or third time so far and centered for Doyle, who got there ahead of Insua but could only poke wide of the near post. Ten minutes later – ten minutes that saw Wolves improve as they grew in confidence – Kevin Foley should have scored as Jarvis again crossed from the left, only to see Foley try to head across goal, allowing Reina to gratefully claim.
Unsurprisingly, Liverpool put it together for a moment in injury time, with the impressive Craddock doing well to beat Maxi to Gerrard’s layoff after Liverpool’s best move before clearing the subsequent corner with Skrtel right behind him. Replicating the start of the first half, Riera had an excellent chance, spooning a clever volley that Hahnemann struggled to claw away within two minutes of the restart.
But it started to get frightening around the 53rd. First, Insua luckily blocked a dangerous Henry shot. Doyle had two chances four minutes later, shooting over from 20 yards and heading comfortably at Reina, while Reina had to be alert to smother when Foley nearly got on the end of Doyle’s flick-on after shrugging off Insua. Finally, Liverpool were able to break in the 63rd, Gerrard to Riera to Kuyt, but the Dutchman’s shot from the top of the box curled wide.
Ngog came on for Riera in the 67th, with Maxi going out to the left, as Liverpool were crying out for a substitution. It’d be the only change the team made. The young striker’s pace at least posed a different question, and it tilted the game in the other direction, with Wolves' last chance coming in the 70th when Doyle easily turned Skrtel but shot well wide when Kyrgiakos forced him into a narrow angle. But Liverpool still never did enough, pressing with no end product, poor crosses easily claimed by Hahnemann and heavy first touches allowing Wolves’ rigid defense to tackle clear. And despite the “pressure,” I can’t even come up with any half-chances worth describing.
I hate second-guessing, but this was my biggest fear with Gerrard starting. Even lacking in fitness, the manager is never taking him off with Liverpool in search of a winner (not since that Derby more than two years ago). Had we seen a repeat of last match’s line-up, Gerrard could have given fresh legs around the hour mark. Instead, the captain struggled to influence the game and clearly looked a yard off, while Aquilani never took off his tracksuit.
Even for Benitez, it was surprising. I don’t know why he changed a winning line-up and I don’t get the lack of subs. Aquilani or Babel – or even Pacheco – could have made a difference, and I’ve made clear my little use for Babel. But why even put him on the bench if you’re not going to entertain the possibility? Pace seemed to be the only thing that put Wolves off.
At least Liverpool didn’t lose, which I’ve written far too often this season. Undefeated in five straight league games! The team certainly could have shipped a soft goal as has happened so frequently. A point feels of no use, but hopefully it’ll provide motivation and demonstrate how to fix the continuing weaknesses. And yes, I know how much I’m stretching.