17 September 2006

Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea

Since I started this blog, I haven’t been able to do a review of a Liverpool win. This streak is probably my fault.

Today wasn’t much different from the last few meetings between Chelsea and Liverpool in the league. Liverpool was the dominant team for the majority of the first half. They were doing all the things I had hoped in my preview: Stevie, Momo, and Xabi were in control of the midfield, Kuyt was up top (and he played very well, again, without scoring a goal), Liverpool had the majority of possession, and Chelsea had no width, while Liverpool was getting the ball outside through Pennant. And then Chelsea goes and nicks a goal out of nowhere. Although fair credit to Drogba, that was a hell of a goal.

That usually sets us up for a second half where Liverpool is forced to open up, and Chelsea ends up picking up another goal (or 3) on the counter. This didn’t happen thanks to Ballack’s rashness, but Liverpool’s inability to take advantage of the situation is worrisome. Although, Chelsea handled the dismissal well; bringing Robben on allowed them an outlet to hoof the ball out to and he could run and keep possession, all while they lost nothing defensively. Ballack was having a poor game anyway, and he’s been wholly underwhelming since his transfer. £130,000 per week well spent, Roman.

As usual, Mike Riley was ineffectual and erratic. Yes, Ballack was a straight red, even Mourinho admitted it post-match. As much as I seem to come away from every Chelsea match complaining about possible penalties, Lampard clearly pushed Gerrard over in the box. Bellamy was flagged for a couple of offsides that weren’t offsides, but that’s Riley’s crew’s fault. And he was inconsistent with his yellows and fouls; Warnock’s wasn’t even a foul (in the 4th minute to boot!), Momo didn’t deserve his first, but definitely did for his second tackle that would have sent him off, Bolo could have seen yellow in the second half, Cech’s was marginal for time-wasting (I’ve seen much worse without punishment), but Boulahrouz and Drogba deserved theirs.

What ended up deciding the match was Liverpool’s inability to break Chelsea down even though they were a man up. Not only was Liverpool wasteful in the final third, Chelsea defended very well. Pennant got open well and beat his defender effectively, but his poor crossing killed potential moves numerous times today. The final ball, regardless of who it came from, was disappointing today. But Liverpool had chances too. Kuyt was unlucky to hit the bar with a rocket, Stevie should have finished past Cech, Crouch headed right at Cech, and Kuyt skied a late chance into Row Z.

There are positives, and there is a team here to build from, but they are of little consolation at the moment. Aside from a wonder striker from Drogba, Chelsea had few chances, and I have no complaints about the defense. Carra’s coming back to form, Warnock and Finnan were steady (Finnan overlapped with Pennant very well too), and Agger continues to impress with every outing. Liverpool played well in the middle of the park; Xabi’s still misplaying more passes than usual, but he, Gerrard, and Sissoko broke up play, controlled the ball, and were quite effective in the middle. Kuyt and Bellamy continue to improve as a pairing, although it feels like were getting near a drought of Crouch-like proportions (yes, I realize it’s been 3 games). But the finishing has to get better, right now Liverpool does not score nearly enough to be considered a true title contender. This is starting to feel way too much like last season, and with the money that’s been spent and the additional experience, progress has to be made this season.

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