30 September 2006

Liverpool 0-2 Bolton

I sure love when referee mistakes seemingly cost Liverpool the game. Granted, Liverpool deserved nothing out of this game by the end of it – after 90 minutes, they were thoroughly beaten - but in the 30th minute it was still up in the air and until then, Liverpool had been the better side. But Reina was adjudged to have handled outside the box, even though on replay he clearly released the ball before leaving the area, and Gary Speed nailed the free kick. The linesman should be embarrassed and should be disciplined, but that’s soccer.

Then Bolton did what Bolton does best. They tightened up, put 9 or 10 men behind the ball, and shut up shop. Liverpool was frustrated out of the game, and once Campo got Bolton a second, it was over. Full credit to Bolton, they did exactly what they set out to do.

I hate to question Benitez’s line-ups or tactics. Not only has Rafa repeatedly proved himself, it’s easy to be smart in hindsight. But I do not understand leaving out Crouch, and I'm saying that after all the touting of Kuyt I've done. Maybe Rafa was afraid it would lead to too much hit-and-hope route 1 football, but Liverpool ended up going in that direction in the second half anyway. Maybe there was the fear that Crouch would pick up a lot of fouls battling with Bolton’s back line, which is a justified concern. But he is the in-form striker. I want to see Kuyt and Bellamy succeed as a pairing as much as anyone, but I do not understand how Crouch is left on the bench here. And I think Liverpool paid for it.

I am concerned about the midfield as well. For some reason, it feels far more unsettled than it was last season. Maybe it’s due to bedding in the new players; Aurelio and Gonzalez are still getting used to English football and Pennant has been disappointingly inconsistent. But last year, Gerrard, Alonso, and Sissoko knew their roles, blended well, and played nearly every game. Now, Gerrard’s been played on the left at times, Alonso’s still finding his best form, Zenden is getting games in central midfield despite being substandard, and the left wing is a question mark.

Liverpool had chances to score in this game, mostly in the first half. Alonso hit the post and Jaaskelainen made excellent saves on Gerrard and Kuyt. But once again, they were too ineffective on attack. I don’t know whether it’s down to Bolton’s defense or a regression to two weeks ago. I’m inclined to believe it’s a little bit of both, more from column A than column B, but more importantly, if results don’t improve Liverpool could be out of title race by November. That’s not an overreaction to a tough loss, it’s the reality of the modern Premiership. I’m not one to stand and shout that the emperor has no clothes, especially when the emperor’s in a much better position than I am to judge his attire, but something doesn’t seem right.

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