25 November 2006

Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City

Teams have realized the best way to play Liverpool at Anfield is to park the bus in front of the goal, put 10 men behind the ball, and play for the 0-0 draw, with maybe a hope to nick one on the counter. City did just that today, and if not for Kuyt’s awareness and opportunism, and a moment of brilliance from Gerrard, the plan would have worked. Stuart Pearce and his side will rue the goal as a mistake by Joey Barton, but there was still much to do by both Gerrard and Kuyt, and Liverpool merited the win.

Despite having the worst away record in the Premiership, City made Liverpool work for it today. There were chances to go ahead, with Garcia, Gerrard and Crouch all going wide, but Liverpool never looked comfortable, or even fully into the game until Gerrard’s goal (first in the league, and a second straight game with a goal) in the 67th minute. Many of the frequent complaints applied. Liverpool wasn’t doing enough to break down the other side, who were clearly content with a draw. They were wasteful from corners, with too many short ones resulting in squat. They weren’t taking the few chances they got.

For some reason, Liverpool always looks a better side after a goal. At home, the crowd gets more into it to be sure, but it usually settles the team as well, and it seems as if a goal frequently prompts smarter play. Reina was forced to make a couple of good saves, but it never felt like City was getting back into it.

Surprised to see the lineup I thought would play on the team sheet name for name, but it didn’t come off. Liverpool was far more effective after Crouch and Garcia were substituted, and the formation looked more like Liverpool usually plays. Even though the side was supposedly playing with wing backs, Pennant’s arrival for Garcia added width; not long after Gerrard’s goal, I remember him earning a free kick because of his willingness to get to the byline.

The substitutions were actually quite important today. Neither Crouch nor Garcia were up to their usual standards today, and both changes improved the overall play. I mentioned Pennant’s influence, but also City’s big center backs, Distin and Dunne, were able to keep Crouch mostly contained, and Fowler’s entrance led to less long balls that City quickly cleared.

In a way, it’s gratifying to see Liverpool win, even if only 1-0, when the team’s not at it best. In other games, especially away from Anfield, this would have ended 0-0 or with City stealing one of the few chances they got. Winning games you don’t necessarily deserve to is a quality that saw Chelsea become ever so successful the past two seasons. Also, this is the third successive clean sheet the defense has registered and the fourth successive at Anfield, which makes me hope that the shaky moments and liabilities that plagued earlier in the season might be a thing of the past.

Roll on Pompey.

MOM: Gerrard

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