25 April 2007

Liverpool 0-1 Chelsea

Well, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s certainly an unwelcome result. The main redemption, sadly, is it could have been a lot worse.

Unfortunately, and it kills me to say it, but Chelsea was the better side the entire game. Although I’m obviously not thrilled with the performance, and parts of the first half were dire, Liverpool didn’t truly play badly. Chelsea just played better. While they would have wanted at least another goal, it was Mourinho’s game plan that won out.

Lining up in a standard 4-4-2, Kuyt and Bellamy led the line with Zenden on the left flank and Stevie staying fairly wide on the right. It was fairly obvious that Liverpool’s main focus in attack would be Zenden on the left, trying to take advantage of Ferreira and trying to get crosses into Gerrard cutting in from the right. Unfortunately, Ferreira was more than up to the task, and Liverpool was fairly well deprived of service. In fact, all of Chelsea’s defenders were up for it today.

The home side started out more dangerous. Reina was forced into a fantastic save on Lampard after 7 minutes and a couple of other attempts were sent wide, but as the game went on, Liverpool established more possession and got what seemed to be a better grip on the game. But after 29 minutes Chelsea caught them on the counter. Carvalho sent a superb ball up Chelsea’s right to Drogba, who got around Agger to deliver a centering pass that Joe Cole stuck away, his fourth against Liverpool since Benitez and Mourinho took over their respective clubs.

And despite better intentions in the second half, Liverpool could not get that precious away goal. Cech made an incredible save from a Gerrard volley, and Kuyt, Gerrard, and Riise carved out a couple of half-chances, but other than that, it was tough work for the visitors to create anything.

Liverpool really missed Steve Finnan today. With Arbeloa playing at such a high (surprisingly high) level, we hadn’t really noticed Finnan’s absence with a neck injury. It wasn’t the best time for Arbeloa to have his worst performance in a Liverpool shirt. He was at the most fault for the goal, but credit to Joe Cole for getting into a better position. Arbeloa didn’t have the same confidence at either end of the pitch, and had Chelsea been more threatening down their left, it could have been an even longer evening. Sad to say it because Arbeloa has been such a revelation, but it’s the first game that Liverpool has truly missed Finnan.

Finnan’s absence forced Arbeloa in at right back, and had Finn been healthy, I do think Arbeloa would have slotted in on the left. But this change forced Riise in at left back and Benitez went with Zenden’s experience over Gonzalez’s speed. Rafa is infinitely smarter than I am, which makes me hesitant to question anything, but post-match, I’m left wondering about that decision.

As said, credit to Ferreira for playing his part, but Bolo didn’t have the speed to create enough space on the left to get the cross in that Liverpool was desperately searching for, and Riise was unable to do enough in support from defense. I want to reiterate that although Bolo will be an obvious scapegoat in the media, Ferreira did very well, and quickness down the flanks doesn’t seem to be the strongest part of Zenden’s game.

Bellamy was off the pace as well. It was a bit surprising to see him included, but it wasn’t surprising to see him pulled off for Crouch after 50+ minutes. He was fairly anonymous, and again (sadly), credit to Chelsea for doing their jobs.

I’m focusing on the disappointing performances because I’m upset with the result, but some did have decent games. Reina came up with some jaw-dropping saves, and can’t at all be blamed for the goal. There can’t be any complaints about Kuyt’s touch after this game; despite not creating any real chances (more the team’s fault than his own), he looked threatening and worked very hard in trying to create when given the opportunity. Gerrard came up with much of Liverpool’s best play, had Liverpool’s best scoring chance (were it not for the brilliance of Cech) and if he could have gotten the ball more often (mainly due to Chelsea’s good defense), Liverpool might have gotten something. Drogba and Joe Cole continually threatened, but Carra and Agger’s resolute defense kept the margin at one. Alonso’s range of passing was at times breathtaking. Liverpool looked better with Crouch, and once again, European refs have no idea how to play him, with Merk calling a foul on Peter at every opportunity. But at the end of the day, Chelsea did more, and has the goal advantage.

It is however, only halftime. And Liverpool could be going back to Anfield with a greater deficit. A 1-0 scoreline on Merseyside certainly isn’t out of the question, and Liverpool did win 2-0, admittedly against a different Chelsea team, in January. And the Kop will be out of this world. But the team will have to play better. It shouldn’t be as much of a problem at home, but Liverpool will need to deliver much more of a goal threat, which looks a tough ask against a stingy Chelsea side.

Chelsea may still end up ruing not putting more distances between the sides in a game they were better in. Anfield on a Champions League semi-final night is going to be absolutely rocking.

Roll on Tuesday.


Ace Cowboy said...

Well, I'm kinda drunk, and I watched the match in a bar after playing hookey from work, with mostly Chelsea supporters. So I wasn't exactly happy with the result. BUT, it's only halftime right now, and even though Chelsea is a much more confident club, Liverpool did hand it to them 2-0 at Anfield just three months ago. Just do that again, no? Let's.

I'll tell you, Arbeloa is getting a ton of shit for Joe Cole's goal, but Agger is just as much to blame. You wanna talk about the physicality of the English game, there it is right there. Drogba just owned him down the pitch, and cut back like he wasn't even there. Sure, Arbeloa was out of position, and probably out-muscled himself down the pitch, but Agger could have stopped that counterattack from becoming a goal if he made a better play on Drogba. I like these kids very much, but they got taught a lesson today. Hopefully they learn.

By the same token, Finnan changes that whole match. Riise needs to be out on the left wing for this side to be sucessful. The Emperor Fabio Aurelio was improving, but with him out, the options are scarce. Where are you now Harry Kewell?

I can't question the Zenden decision any more. I can't stand his presence. Can't stand it. I do not understand what he offers besides grief.

Anyway, two nil at Anfield. I'm out of gas.

nate said...

Drogba's been doing that to defenders all year. He is nearly unmarkable. Agger could have done better, I'll give you that, but even with a goal resulting from that play, Dan didn't do much wrong, and I'll tell you, when he was in that position against Martins at Newcastle in February, he looked a lot worse.

Carra and Agger did admirable dealing with Drogba, who looked up for it today and has been one of the most on-form strikers in the world.

being sven said...

Frustrating stuff indeed. But, we're fortunate it was only 1-0. Credit to Reina for some great saves, but the rest of the defense looked pedestrian in the first half.

No, I take that back. They were absolute TOLIET. Shocking. The whole back line is to blame for the goal. Riise is standing there, watching the ball go by in the middle of the park. Agger runs with Drogba, does well not to make a rash tackle, but cancels that out by letting him cut the ball back in and across the box. Carra's momentum is taking him towards goal so he can't even stick a leg out as the ball passes two feet from his foot. Then, Arbeloa inexplicably lets Cole get inside him, leaving Reina D.O.A.

Completely shocking that such a usually solid backline should have such a poor half all at the same time.

I will say I wasn't pleased to see Zenden in the starting line-up, but he did as well as he could. Granted, none of the crosses he got in found an eventual home in the net, but that's not (mostly) on his head. I will ALSO say, though, that some real speed on that flank could have made a difference, especially as much possesion as Bolo had over there. I understand taking the experience of Bolo over the youth of Gonzo, but his limitations are obvious.

I think putting Gerrard out on the wing, despite his liscense to roam in, is dangerous. He needs to be in the middle so he can go touchline to touchline and have a complete impact. Putting him on the right decreases his potential touches by at least 40%.

As for Bellamy? I like speed. Pace is important. But his arguing with everybody instead of scoring goals routine has worn thin with me. I'd be alright if Rafa flushed him this summer.

Gerrard's volley was restaurant quality and well as Lampard's. Both were victimized by great saves.

The second half was remarkedly better but I still never got the feeling we were actually going to produce anything.

I really thought we were going to steal a result before this game kicked off. The return leg at Anfield is going to be hard work. Not that we're not capable, but Rafa needs to bring out the knives.

Ace Cowboy said...

Agreed on almost everything Being Sven...well said on the backline, seems we're in lockstep on that one. Carra just needed to point his toe out, but alas, was not to be. Momentum is a dangerous thing.

The left side of this club has been fucked up all season. That's why Finnan is so important -- he allows Arbeloa to live on the left, which frees up Riise to not play defense, where personally, I think he's a bit suspect.

As for Bellamy, rumor yesterday puts Gamst in Red and Bellamy back to his Welsh manager at Blackburn. I'll take that any day of the week and twice on Saturdays. Gives us a left wing presence and a guy that can lead set pieces.

Meanwhile, Cech's save on Gerrard was silly. WOW.

Two-nil at Anfield, gents, two-nil at Anfield.

nate said...

Maybe I'm just giving the central defenders too much credit then, because I expect Drogba to do that much damage if not more, I expected Agger to make that rash tackle Sven mentioned, and other players (Masch and Riise stick out) put them under pressure with lazy back passes too often.

Offside trap didn't work like it usually does, either.

I'm still most upset about Arbeloa though. He had to have a bad game one of these days, we'd gotten too confident over him, but this one hurts and he simply wasn't good.

Also, I don't want to wreck your hopes, Ace, but I don't know how much faith I'd put in the Bellamy <--> MGP story. Should be noted I don't believe any transfer stories this early before the window, though. The longer the season goes on, however, the more I'm coming around to the belief that Bellers will be gone. Too bad, because I thought he'd make a good pairing with either Kuyt or Crouch, but it hasn't worked out at all.

Anonymous said...

The passing was indeed shockingly below-par. Besides the majority of them simply not finding their mark, I've never seen so many hospital balls (outside of my own play) in one half.

And, yes, as much fun as the reckless transfer speculation is, it is just that, reckless speculation.

Not that Rafa wouldn't be afraid to pull the plug on Bellamy if he feels he hasn't panned out. Not to look past Tuesday (or even Saturday's match vs. Pompey), but this summer's moves should prove interesting. Like, what happens to Cisse is Marseille doesn't pick up the option, which it doesn't look like they will. Rafa certainly is not going to bring him back into the fold long-term. But, that's an essay for another time (but soon enough).

Anyhow, if we can have such a stinker, there's no reason Chelsea can't do the same Tuesday. Plus, one can only imagine a lot of players get rested Saturday and should be chomping at the bit to rectify mistakes made in the first leg.