21 December 2011

Liverpool 0-0 Wigan

Remember that perverse, pervasive sense of impending doom that followed the club around throughout 2009-10? Not the dreadful, soul-killing horribleness that was the Hodgson era, but the perpetual Sword of Damocles which hung over Benitez's final campaign, where we fearfully waited to see what could go wrong next. Yeah, this week has brought back that feeling. Even this trip to Wigan paralleled that season's, Benitez's nail in the coffin, in its overwhelming disappointment. At least Liverpool held on for the point here? Regardless, feeling that feeling probably isn't good.

Instead of this week's perceived injustices catalyzing the side, we saw the most-comprehensive team failure since the 0-4 thrashing at Spurs, a failure marginally more excusable because of Adam's early red card. It is no exaggeration to suggest that every player save Reina disappointed today. Another match where Liverpool started well, missed chances, and ended the worse side probably makes the Swansea contest the closest comparison, not to mention the equivalent results, but that didn't come with the same stomach punch. It's been that sort of week.

Yes, Liverpool would have won had they taken advantage of its excellent pressing start, with a handful of chances in the opening 25 minutes. Yes, Liverpool would have won had they converted a gifted penalty soon after the restart when Caldwell handballed Suarez's bicycle, only to miss the fourth spot kick in this season's five attempts. But Wigan were simply better – at least more threatening – for long stretches after that initial promise, with 19 shots to Liverpool's 21, 45% possession to Liverpool's 55% (after something in the region of 68-32% possession in the first half of the first half), and tested Reina from in and outside the box. The consistently steady back line became stretched with Liverpool haphazardly piling players forward, and both Skrtel and Johnson committed frightening errors reminiscent of bad memories from previous campaigns.

But with another clean sheet, the full scapegoat glare will fall on Liverpool's chronic inability to put the damned ball into the damned net, whether because of poor finishing, excellent keeping, or intangible luck. The woodwork wasn't involved this time. Al Habsi did well to stop Henderson, Kuyt, and Johnson's smart first half shots, and did even better to stop Adam's 51st-minute spot kick, a harder-hit copy of the one Carroll had saved in the league cup. Despite a couple of half-chances as the match went on, mostly through set plays, Liverpool got notably worse after the penalty miss, with the frustration evident from across the ocean. Meanwhile, Wigan continued to sporadically petrify when breaking out of its nine-at-the-back defense.

Tactically, full credit goes to Roberto Martinez. Wigan's five-man back line, a replica of the formation deployed against Chelsea, blanketed Liverpool's 4-2-3-1. No space plus mounting frustration is rarely a productive combination. The away side used the same XI as against QPR, with Maxi and Kuyt replacing Shelvey and Bellamy, but kept the same formation as at Villa Park on Sunday. Most likely rattled by events on and off the pitch, Liverpool pushed harder and harder but not smarter and smarter, which allowed Wigan to expose the defense on the counter. After two solid performances, the Henderson-Adam pairing simply did not work, and like Fulham, it's a result I'm tempted to credit most to Lucas' absence, no matter Liverpool's never-ending profligacy.

I probably can't get away without writing about Suarez, off-form and often isolated. Maxi dropped deeper than Shelvey on Sunday, and never looked the magic goal-scorer he's been from the flanks. Blaming Suarez's woes on yesterday's FA verdict and his subsequent ostracism by the great and good English media is simplistic but unavoidable, trudging off miserably when replaced by Carroll in the 87th. Not that he had much help. Sadly, off-field events do matter.

With Liverpool more open than a pervert's trench-coat when Wigan counter-attacked, it'll be interesting to see if Spearing comes straight back into the side with his suspension over. And then there's the small matter of Steven Gerrard imminent return.

Things do not look good at the moment. After 17 games, Liverpool have eight wins, six (!!!) draws, and three losses. Right now, Liverpool deserve to be in sixth, and Dalglish has multiple plates to spin and problems to solve. But the season isn't half over yet, and there are many more twists and turns to come despite current, obvious faults. We'll have more than enough time to wring hands and cry woe over falling skies if need be. Hope is dwindling, but hope isn't lost because of an away draw in a venue where Liverpool haven't won in five seasons.

1 comment:

robbie said...

just downloaded it. not pleased. i really dont see how were going to qualify for the champions league in any sense.

we have 1 game against all the top 5 left, about half away and half at home. they come thick and fast in february, with tottenham man united international merseyside arsenal. on current form, we could easily lose 4 of those. suarez misses the man city pl game as well as both the carling cup games, but the larger issue is will he really be match fit enough to dive right in against tottenham after ~2 months off?

in the meantime, where in the world are the goals coming from? can we expect glen johnson to score five more? will carroll bag more than three more this season? bellamy is good for a couple, but less so from the wing, downing is about as threatening to the opposition net as reina. Adam will get them only when Lescott or Roger Johnson are playing with him.

We need a new striker desperately, and we still have no goal scorers on the wings. All we ever talked about under rafa and hodgson was more depth, more depth. and now we've sold "dead wood" in an attempt to leave the past behind.

And now where is the depth? Am I the only one wishing to have Babel and jesus maybe even N'gog back at this point? I trust David to fit in this system more than Carroll. We play with Carroll we are a glorified Blackburn with Chris Samba up at striker. Bullying our way down the pitch and maybe squeezing out 1-0's.

How badly could we use bombing runs from Meireles right now? I don't understand the transfer strategy. Even the vaunted midfield depth we had is wearing thin. We now need Adam to fill a deeper role, who is no great shakes defensively, if not, Spearing, who simply doesn't have the class for top 5 sides. so then where is the # 10 magic coming from? Hendo doesn't seem that type of player. When is Gerrard getting back? ever? The man hasn't been the same in two years, he is still absolute quality, but the pace, the stamina and the fitness are behind him. We must prepare for the future without him immediately, because its coming sooner rather than later, no matter what he or KD say.

Bottom Line: LFC is in trouble, possibly not much better off than Rafa's departure. I hope the owners will not have their hand forced by this season. The expectation of champions league funds must have factored into their business model, no?