23 September 2010

Liverpool 2-2 Northampton

Liverpool lose 2-4 on penalties

Jones
Kelly Kyrgiakos Agger Wilson
Pacheco Lucas Spearing Jovanovic
Babel
Ngog

Goals:
Jovanovic 9'
McKay 56'
Jacobs 98'
Ngog 115'

This won't be a standard review, because of its tardiness and as I'd imagine everyone's seen the wrist-slitting/condemnation/schadenfreude by now. I completely missed this match – either on radio or via stream – because of a seven-hour power outage yesterday. Evidently Liverpool had one too. But I still felt the need to watch this fiasco, in the hopes of deducing just why the side were so comprehensively awful. The short version is "shit rolls downhill," but bear with me anyway.

Let me start by saying that Northampton – the 17th-placed side in League Two – deserved to win. At Anfield. If I didn't know better, I'd suggest the Liverpool players had never met each other before. The home side started brightly enough, with Agger's excellent deep throughball allowing Jovanovic to slot in his first goal before 10 minutes were up, once again demonstrating the benefit of playing the ball out of defense. But with Liverpool unable to take the game to their opponents, Northampton grew in confidence. The Reds resorted to hoofs in the direction of the ineffective Babel and Ngog, once again bypassing midfield, and were frequently crowded out by the six men guarding the edge of the box. Only one shot – a tame Lucas effort from distance – tested Northampton's keeper in the first half. Meanwhile, the away side increasingly threatened, especially on crosses (as per usual), with chances in the 25th and 37th coming far too close for comfort.

It's long been established that Liverpool's never safe with a one-goal lead, even when in-form. They clearly weren't in-form today, and McKay punished them soon after the interval: Liverpool didn't close down after a throw-in, giving time and space for a left-wing cross, Kyrgiakos – probably the tallest player on the pitch – couldn't prevent the flick-on, and McKay stole in behind Agger and Kelly. Despicable. Yet again. So much for past as precedent; the team "improved" after the break for less than 10 minutes and Northampton deservedly equalized against the run of play. From there, the Cobblers were simply better, full of confidence, with Liverpool unable to rebound and drained of what little belief they might have had. It was nearly impossible to tell which was the Premiership team. Around the 75th minute, the traveling fans saw fit to rub salts in Anfield's wounds with a chorus of "olés" as Liverpool were unable to reclaim possession. I don't think the home side had a shot on goal in the entire second half.

Unsurprisingly, Hodgson again waited until late to make changes – Northampton made all three substitutions before Liverpool made their first. That it took until extra time seemingly means that the manager either expected the added 30 minutes or somehow hoped that the team would pull itself together despite any evidence of doing so. Neither's a heartening prospect. And Northampton were first on the score-sheet in extra time, with Wilson absolutely bamboozled by Herbert before Jacobs tapped-in after a blocked first shot and Jones save on the second.

The League Two side finally tired enough for Liverpool to get a last-ditch equalizer – Ngog heading in Kyrgiakos' flick-on from Shelvey's corner four minutes from full time – but it proved another false dawn: first, Kelly had to make an unbelievable clearance off the line when Jones flapped at a cross, then Ngog and Eccleston missed their spot kicks while Northampton converted four of their five to deservedly win the lottery. And here we are, yet again wondering if this is as low as the sky can fall. More than 12 hours after the fact, and it's still hard to keep the acidic taste of bile out of my mouth.

At times 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1, with Babel coming from deeper, Liverpool were 4-4-2 for longer stretches. That sort of fluidity can be a benefit, with defenders unsure who's attacking from where, but it was a sign of the total lack of cohesion and the lack of tactics yesterday. Liverpool does not have the players for that formation, especially on the flanks, and it's baffling to see Hodgson continue with it. Players like Jovanovic and Pacheco (as well as Cole and Kuyt for that matter) are not 4-4-2 wingers. They are attacking midfielders/forwards who can threaten from wide positions, which is why the 4-2-3-1 (or even 4-3-3 if Liverpool becomes bold at some point) should be preferred.

Self-belief is crucial in this sport, and only one side had it yesterday. And that's the side that won. There's no easy answers for Liverpool's array of problems, especially when there are so many culprits. The majority of Liverpool players were dire yesterday. Pick your metaphor – the team looked like horny teenagers fumbling with a bra, fish flopping around on dry land, a blind squirrel foraging for a nut, whatever.

Showing far more awareness than we're used to, Ryan Babel perfectly assessed his own performance on Twitter this morning: No excuses for last nite .. We weren't good enough.. And I #failed personally .. Haven't lost faith, so I keep working. His strike partner also had one of his worst performances in a Liverpool shirt, but at least notched another goal. While it's somewhat unfair to pick on an 18-year-old on his debut, Danny Wilson also had a forgettable debut, especially when beaten all-ends-up on Northampton's second. Spearing was useless, Pacheco was often invisible relegated to the right flank (and deeper than he's used to, as is Roy's style), and Kyrgiakos – wearing the armband – barely looked bothered. The list is endless. It's easier to name the players who didn't disappoint: Shelvey. In a 20-minute cameo. And maybe Agger other than his defending on Northampton's equalizer.

And once again, the manager's liable for an awful lot. I want to give Hodgson a pass because of off-field drama and the brevity of his tenure, but results are making that incredibly difficult. It's doesn't help that he threw his players under the bus in the post-match interview, after bigging-up Manchester United following a game where the players did well and Liverpool could have taken at least a point. You stay classy, San Diego. A masterclass in how to win friends and influence people.

For how happy the players supposedly are, as stated in multiple interviews, you couldn't tell it from the match. Liverpool looked tactically inept, to say the absolute least, and there was no Plan B when Plan A inevitably failed. And when Hodgson finally made substitutions, they made little sense: Jovanovic for Eccleston is understandable, but Shelvey for Babel, with the central midfielder playing on the right, and then Ince for Pacheco, moving Shelvey central but putting a left-winger on the right, only increased the discontinuity. And at 1-2 down, Hodgson's solution was to send Kyrgiakos forward, which led to Liverpool's "most threatening" play. Words fail me.

Comparisons to Liverpool's recent Cup disgraces, such as the loss to Burnley in Benitez's first season, don't seem valid. Yesterday's starting XI contained six full internationals (one retired), three players capped at the u21 level, and one highly-regarded u19 international; only Spearing has never played for his country at any level. The majority of them have played together at some point. The 04-05 team that lost in the FA Cup contained the likes of Zak Whitbread, David Raven, John Welsh, Darren Potter, and Antonio Nuñez, among others. Burnley was in the Championship; Northampton's currently struggling in the lowest tier of the Football League. And yesterday's match was at Anfield, which is the height of embarrassment.

Yes, this was an unfamiliar side despite the inclusion of Agger, Kyrgiakos, Lucas, Babel, and Ngog, with eleven changes from Sunday's match. But it was also a side that led to optimism prior to kickoff; we wanted to see most of these names on the team sheet. And when the same old problems persist, you can't help but question the manager, as well worry as to what this bodes for the future. This team, from top to bottom, has become a bungling mess; they've forgotten what "pressing the ball" even means, there's been no pretense of the promised 'pass and move,' and "disjointed" doesn't even come close to summarizing yesterday's debacle. And I can't find enough scapegoats to blame for it.

7 comments:

Marc said...

Today I am madder than I was yesterday, honestly. And I think we're all starting to point to the same reason for our ire -- that Hodgson looks permanently out of his depth.

A one-off disaster would be one thing, but did anyone think we really outclassed West Brom in our one EPL win this season? Do you remember the feeling after Man City got their first goal, like we were already out of the game? I realize we had 6 minutes of activity against Man U, but even that required 2 whistles -- we cannot generate any build-up play that leads to goals at all.

I hate playing not to lose; I think that unless you have objectively worse players than your opponent across the board, you will never collect as many points as if you go out to win. And this season's call-ups have proven the point -- Blackpool, Newcastle, and West Brom are all going after wins, and they are all ahead of us in the table. The first two have had huge blowout wins, including Newcastle's over a team that finished ahead of us last year.

But we have an ancient manager who has never managed with a go-for-the win style in any major league (maybe the little ones, but not in the EPL or Serie A). Nor has he even managed a Champs birth once in his 800 years of coaching. He's too old to change, meaning that even against NORTHAMPTON we run out two defensive midfielders in Spearing and Lucas. What. The. Hell.

But you know what, even though I hate that style, I could live with it if Liverpool displayed the single most important quality to enjoying watching your team play: heart. It can come in the form of ruthless defense, or surging offense. It can be a physical tackle or a brilliant strike. Regardless of your approach, all I ask of the team I watch is that they play with heart most of the time.

This team needs a heart transplant, unfortunately. They looked dejected last year, and this year they've taken it to a new level. And even though this started under Rafa, we have to point the finger at Roy when both the first and second teams go out with the same gutless approach. Especially when the tactics are so nonsensical.

The real reason I am so angry today is that I am terrified we have at least a full season of this disjointed, passionless, bad-at-both-ends football ahead of us.

New owners or full effort on the pitch. Liverpool need to come up with one of those pretty quickly.

Anonymous said...

Dear Nate

Fuck this

I just don't understand anymore.

Honestly

I'm angry, annoyed, etc, but I just don't get football sometimes. I know clubs go through up and downs, but it seems Liverpool keeps on going down.

At least win this weekend.

Come on lads

Carlos

drew said...

First things first: let's not lose sight of the real and immediate danger facing Liverpool, which is not league position or cup exits, it's the owners, and the possibility of Tom Hicks getting refinanced. Everyone who can needs to log onto Red and White Kop, or The Liverpool Way, and get involved in the campaigns to politely but firmly make our case to the banks, and get Hicks the fuck off Merseyside.

That said, this is a bitter blow, and I'm crushed for the youngsters who actually could've used these cup matches--Shelvey, obviously (who should never again be left on the bench for Spearing), but also Kelly, Pacheco (if he's ever given a chance in his natural role), Wilson, Ecclestone, Amoo, Ince, the lot. Honestly I'd rather have sent a "pure" reserve squad out there today than the half-and-half mix we got; have a feeling the youngsters would've been up for it far more than the fringe first-teamers.

Bit worried about Jones, from the highlights he doesn't look half the keeper Cavalieri was. Can't really judge a keeper for one shaky day though.

Roy--honestly this last week he has been nightmarish, and it was a low-down dirty thing to blame the players for today's debacle. Given the ownership situation, and the unsettling of pretty much the entire team, he deserves more time before the knives really come out; a good run in the League (entirely possible) and this will be well in the rearview.

One last thing I can't quite resist: with Rafa's humiliating CC exit, at least we got a comedy own-goal for the ages. Whereas yesterday we just got whipped by a fourth-tier side.

Marc said...

Drew,

I feel you that the owners are priority one, but we can also be sending emails and doing our part while stating unequivocally that this is beyond the pale. The Texas Rangers are leading their division despite Hick-caused bankruptcy, so it's possible to be f***ed by Tom Hick and still care enough to play the game well. We have enough good players to rattle most cages, even if top 4 might be out of reach. No amount of ownership instability can explain away everything we've seen out there this season.

How on earth do you see a good run in the league as "entirely possible?" This team barely beat West Brom at home, and that's the highlight of the season! I would love to believe you're right, and I applaud you for staying positive, but I have never seen nor heard of anything like this loss. I'm not the most studied of football historians, but it's a pretty epic low. And the worst part is, it fits in with everything we've seen from this team. There have been almost ZERO rays of hope this year, and the one's we've seen came from Masch (the 2nd half v Arse, which he inspired and created our goal) and 6 minutes of foul generation at Man U. One is gone, and the other still required 2 whistles.

The one thing I am certain of is that if we have a good run in the league it will be entirely out of nowhere because this team looks utterly hopeless.

drew said...

@Marc:

You mistake my tone: this is more desperation than optimism. Here's what we've got coming up: Sunderland H, Blackpool H, a reeling Everton A, Blackburn H, Bolton A. No matter how bad we're playing, that's points for the taking; if we don't take them, we are in way more serious trouble than now by the time Chelsea come calling 7 Nov.

Of course by that time 15 Oct and the apparent refinance deadline will have come and gone--so what I'm saying is, with a couple good results and the confirmation that Hicks will be forced to sell, we could all be feeling much better by this time next month. Alternately, with a few more disasters and a bank stupid or greedy enough to take on Hicks as a client, we could be feeling much, much worse.

Ken said...

Frankly, until Roy changes his inept mentality, godforsaken tactic, irregardless of good ambitious players in the book or the owners problem, Liverpool would continue to play on the back foot and hope for a lucky strike like in WBA match. To blame the players who are gung-ho to prove their worth is illogical as we all could see that they have all shackled and stifled by Roy hard-to-play-more-hard-to-win defensive, bus parking tactic. 2 meaningful shots against this type of opposition you would think disgraceful, you haven't seen what is coming if the sick-of-Roy-tactic big guns are back, WBA or Birmingham matches would be replicated. Did Roy know fortune favors the brave? Or is he too coward to shoulder any responsibility at all? The latter seem to be current theme hope he would be a man to seek out the former.

nate said...

Wow, harsh, Ken. Especially "coward." But I'll also note that I'm not disagreeing with any of it. I can't help but nod along with your and Marc's rage.

Still, as I wrote in the above preview, Drew has a point – albeit an optimistic one that doesn't fit with what we've seen so far – in saying that the upcoming run could see fortunes change if Liverpool's bold enough to take victories from those five matches.

Also, now that there are matters on the pitch, I've mentioned the ownership debacle less – I'm here to write about the football – but that doesn't mean it's not a crucial factor. Just because I don't post links doesn't mean I don't wholeheartedly agree with Drew's sentiment about logging onto RAWK or TLW, and joining up with the email campaigns. Recent articles, especially in regards to Hicks in NYC and Liverpool fans' response (such as this from the WSJ) show that fans can make a difference and get the mainstream media, whether stateside or in the UK, to take notice.