I don’t know what’s worse. The fact that Liverpool dominated possession but were unable to carve out enough serious chances, which is all too familiar, or the fact that this is an improvement upon recent away games.
The first quarter of the match was unsteady at best. Middlesbrough looked the better side, and Boro nearly opened up Liverpool twice. First, sloppy defending led to Carragher barely tackling the ball away from Yabuku in the box, leading to Boro shouts for a penalty (which it wasn’t). Then, Agger misplayed the offside trap to let Jason Euell in, but he was unable to take advantage.
For basically the rest of the game, Liverpool was far and away superior. Unfortunately, the only thing missing was still the goal. As you'll hear over and over again this week, Liverpool has now gone over 9 hours, since the first game of the season at Sheffield, since scoring away.
Kuyt had the best chance early on, steering the ball wide after Bellamy’s chest down, but like Liverpool, Dirk seems only at his best at Anfield. As usual, he worked his socks off, running after every ball, but the flicks and passes didn’t come off as they usually do, he wasn’t as threatening in front of goal, and it seemed he was too quick to pass the ball back into midfield when he received it with his back to goal.
Crouch came on for Kuyt in the 78th minute, and immediately threatened, with Woodgate’s clearance off the line the sole reason the scoreline ended at 0-0. Which begs the question as to why Benitez didn’t bring him on sooner. My guess is that in the past when Crouch has been brought on as a sub, Liverpool ended up playing Route 1 football, relying solely on long passes to Crouch that finish fruitless, and Benitez wanted to use this only as a last resort. But Peter’s immediate impact, and the trouble that he caused Boro’s backline will lead to a lot of questioning. Especially given that Crouch was so influential in away games last season, and the theory that he was brought to help Liverpool retain possession on the road.
Steven Gerrard made his much ballyhooed return to the center of the park, with little effect. There were flashes of brilliance; most memorable was the picture perfect pass to Bellamy leading to Kuyt’s shot, which really should have led to a goal, but it seemed that he was too deep in midfield to really influence play and was getting the ball too early in the attack.
Right now, Liverpool’s attack is toothless away from home. They were unable to break through Boro’s packed midfield much of the time. When the ball did get out onto the flanks, it seemed that far too often, the crosses were misplayed, especially from Mark Gonzalez. Liverpool had 12 corners (12!), and I can’t remember one decent shot on goal resulting from them. There is too much lateral passing and not enough incisiveness when teams pack the midfield against them, which they always seem to do when Liverpool is away. Too frequently they saw no outlet pass, and sent it back to Reina or a central defender instead of moving up the field.
In addition, Boro did an excellent job defending from the front. Liverpool prefers to build its attack from the back, with the central defenders or Alonso starting the play from their own half, but the Boro front line hassled and harried, and didn’t give the time to carve out openings.
I’ve done more than a fair share of complaining, but there was progress. A clean sheet is progress. Fewer defensive mistakes are progress. But it’s all wiped away when you cannot score. I honestly do not know what the answer is. I’m tempted to believe it’s mostly a lack of confidence, and when the first one goes in it will make a world of difference, but that can’t be the sole factor. The play on the flanks today was not good enough, it’s where a lot of attacks went to die today, and it’s been a problem all year. Gonzalez could not get a decent cross in to save his life, and seemed too quick to fire off an unsuccessful shot instead, but Pennant didn’t have much better luck beating his man on the right. It’s telling that I both yearn for a healthy Harry Kewell, and think that Liverpool could have gotten more out of the right flank with Stevie’s crossing instead of Jermaine’s, but Stevie on the right this year hasn’t been the same as last season’s. Hopefully the far more intelligent football minds on the staff have answers to these problems, because I’ve none.
So yes, all in all, frustrating sums it up nicely.