Finnan Carragher Hyypia Arbeloa
Pennant Gerrard Mascherano Babel
Porto: Lucho Gonzalez 8’ (pen)
Liverpool: Kuyt 17’
In a game where Liverpool didn’t get out of their own half for the first five minutes, gave up a penalty after eight (their 4th in 8 games), and played over half an hour with 10 men, a point doesn’t seem such a bad result. Then why am I so angry?
Liverpool lined up as thought, with possibly the strongest XI (outside of Hyypia for Agger), but the game certainly didn’t begin as hoped. As said, Porto, with Ricardo Quaresma outstanding, kept Liverpool penned in until Reina’s goal kick just before the clock hit five minutes. Porto had an excellent opportunity to score within two, when Finnan’s clearance deflected to Lisandro in front of goal, but Reina made a smart save.
Liverpool didn’t hold out long. Reina brought down Sektioui in the box after Hyypia was beaten for pace (I will say that contact looked minimal, but it appeared to be a penalty nonetheless), and Lucho Gonzalez scored the resulting spot kick. It’s the third time a team has scored from the spot against Liverpool this season; I might be wrong, but I don’t think Liverpool had three penalties scored against them through all of last season.
To their credit, Liverpool played their best stretch following Porto’s goal, although that’s not saying much. They did settle, and Kuyt got the equalizer in the 17th minute from a Hyypia header across goal after a Finnan free kick. That would be Liverpool’s lone shot on target all game. Yes, you read that right.
To be fair, neither team had any real chances, but Porto was clearly better. They never again dominated as they did to start the game, but absolutely nothing was coming off for Liverpool.
The game had been chippy from the start and was even more so after the goals. Both Pennant and Boswinga picked up yellow cards in the first half, and the way that Lubos Michel was calling the game, more always looked likely.
Pennant’s second card, for a completely needless foul on Fucile at Porto’s back line after 58 minutes, seemed a long time coming. He kept committing fouls after his first booking, and kept complaining about them as well. Many had to be surprised (a friend of mine was utterly livid) that Pennant was still on to get the second yellow. I know Benitez can be a hands-off manager, lets players play their games, and expects them to be smart about it, but there are games where Pennant can’t be treated like that. Unfortunately, this was one of them. He’s shown less and less of those flashes of immaturity as he’s improved at Liverpool, but they still linger.
And when all’s said and done, Liverpool were lucky not to pay for Pennant’s error. Other than a moment where Reina was caught in no-man’s land and Hyypia had to make a smart clearance on Quaresma’s goal-bound shot, they defended admirably and even carved out a chance in the dying minutes, with Quaresma getting back to intercept the ball in front of Kuyt on goal after some lovely work from Gerrard.
That the most encouraging part of the game for Liverpool came after they were reduced to ten men is not a good thing. Even though the point’s welcomed, especially after the way the game played out, there are far more negatives than positives in my mind. The pluses I can think of are the point gained, the fortitude shown, an Aurelio sighting, and Kuyt’s superhuman effort everywhere on the field, especially when Liverpool needed it. That’s about it.
But the negatives. Liverpool looked disjointed and incoherent. They couldn’t pass to save their lives. Again, there was one shot on target (albeit, they took advantage of it), and the only other shot I can remember was Babel’s deflected effort after a Gerrard free kick on the stroke of halftime. All too often, players were caught on the ball and Porto quickly regained possession. It was a pretty needless foul, and a play where both Hyypia and Reina should have done better, which led to the penalty. And while he had little end product to show for it, Quaresma absolutely embarrassed people at times, Pennant and Finnan most frequently. I know I should watch games on ESPN on mute, but if I hear Tommy Smyth bring up the speculation about Quaresma joining Liverpool over the summer one more time, all bets are off.
Meanwhile, the two stars noticeable in their absence against Portsmouth did little today. Torres was isolated and marked out of the game, even more so (naturally) after Liverpool went down to 10 men. Voronin certainly seemed the better outlet for that style of play after he came on. Gerrard was invisible for much of the match, although the few times he was on the ball he made a decent move or pass. I hope it’s a sign of tiredness following the internationals and a lack of match-fitness prior to that, and not a recurrence of injury.
But I will calm down. I know Liverpool is better than they played today. And it’s a point earned, when they might not have deserved it, from what’s probably the toughest away game. Benitez will make sure that players learn from today, hopefully none more than Jermaine Pennant.
And there are less than four days until Liverpool gets to make amends for today’s performance.