Kelly Skrtel Wilson Aurelio
Jovanovic Poulsen Shelvey Cole
Just change the players' names and it's the exact same review as when these sides met in Utrecht. At least that match had the built-in excuse of being away from home, even if the side was far stronger.
I can hear Hodgson's justifications now. Liverpool used an inexperienced, young side. They topped the group and are unbeaten through ten games in this competition. They worked hard. There's some truth in all of those statements, but this was still incredibly difficult, and incredibly boring, viewing. Liverpool had the chance to build confidence and momentum, but showed absolutely zero desire to do so.
Utrecht were there for the taking throughout. They've been the weakest side in the group and their star player went off injured just before half-time with a broken collarbone. But even at home, Liverpool were content to sit in their own half, concede possession, and allow the opposition to build from the back. Defenders passed the ball amongst themselves completely uncontested as Liverpool's forwards retreated to midfield instead of pressing.
Neither side registered a shot on target in the first half, although Jovanovic nearly scored against the run of play in the 8th, storming in-field from the right and unleashing a 25-yard bullet off the crossbar. But that was one of few moments of excitement. Both Babel and Cole massively disappointed, each failing to take the opportunity presented to them.
The game's first shot on target came from the opposition five minutes after the interval, a tame effort from Mertens momentarily spilled by Jones. Liverpool soon improved with the entrance of Pacheco for Eccleston – with Cole playing off Babel and the Spaniard manning the left flank – but only slightly, and it couldn't have gotten much worse. Although Liverpool started to push forward, we didn't see the results until the final ten minutes, when Cole spurned two clear-cut chances. In the 83rd, Aurelio's delicious cross was partially cleared straight to Cole, who steadied himself, giving Keller time to dive across to block the close range shot. Six minutes later, a deflected cross found Cole at the near post, only to be clumsily half-volleyed straight at the keeper. Cole may have been the worst offender, but the entire attack was feeble throughout, and it's hard to argue this wasn't a fair result.
The positives were few and far between other than the excuses listed above. Aurelio was the best player on the pitch, and it's a crime that Konchesky continues to be preferred at the position. Shelvey and Wilson both showed signs of their potential, as did Pacheco in his cameo off the bench. Kelly also did well, but defense wasn't the issue today; Liverpool were rarely under threat, which seemed to be the plan. The entire plan, in fact.
It's beyond depressing seeing so little ambition from the team. Cautious in a game with nothing to lose sums up Hodgson perfectly. Even with an unfamiliar squad and the group locked up, Liverpool is better than this. The tactics are not only embarrassing, they're holding players back. It's hard to describe how boring this match was, and I didn't think that possible after some of the snooze-fests we've seen this season.