Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Benayoun Sissoko Mascherano Babel
Liverpool was lucky in the first half that Blackburn hit the post on two occasions, while Liverpool was only able to fashion 1 shot on target. But after the second half, it’s Blackburn who was lucky to come away with a point.
In the last 15 minutes, after an ugly game with few opportunities and Blackburn looking the more threatening (which isn’t all that surprising for Liverpool at Blackburn), Liverpool carved out 5 excellent chances, all of which went begging. Twice Gerrard was denied by Friedel (who had an excellent game, as all former keepers do against Liverpool), twice Kuyt missed the target in the penalty area, and Bentley cleared Crouch’s header off the line.
Until those chances, Liverpool offered little in attack despite a similar formation to that against Arsenal last Saturday. Babel and Benayoun replaced Kuyt and Voronin on the wings, Kuyt replaced Torres up top, and Sissoko came in for Alonso. But Liverpool was unable to get forward as they did against Arsenal, and all too often play broke down in the final third.
As said earlier, Babel’s effort on target in the 42nd minute was Liverpool’s first and lone sight of goal in the half. Liverpool was far too content to pass backward and prod for an opening, which didn’t look like coming the way Blackburn defended. Liverpool’s front six sat deeper than they did against Arsenal, especially the wingers, which limited the possibilities going forward.
Even when chances came in, Liverpool still didn’t get past Blackburn’s back line, and played with defenders in front of them and/or back to goal, while Blackburn carved out two good opportunities where Liverpool looked shaky -- Bentley got by Riise in the 35th minute only to send it off the outside of the post and Dunn’s volley rattled the crossbar with Reina beaten in added time.
What changed the game was the introduction of Crouch and Kewell in the second half, for Benayoun and Babel respectively. Crouch is much better suited to play the target man in this type of formation (although he’s best with another striker around him to pick up the knock-downs) and Kewell looked more of a live-wire and more likely to beat his man than either Babel or Benayoun did. But Liverpool was still unable to get the goal.
A lot of the blame for Liverpool failing to score will fall on the shoulders of Kuyt. Only some will be warranted. Again, I’m a bit surprised Kuyt played as the lone striker. We saw this tactic in last year’s Champions League final -- it works for controlling the tempo and possession, but there’s nowhere near enough attacking impetus. Neither Babel nor Benayoun were able to chip in as hoped from the flanks, and while it’s harsh to put too much weight into because of his age, Babel too often lost possession running down dead ends.
Kuyt will also be blamed for the two late misses. One of which was tough to swallow, when he spooned a shot over the bar in the 88th minute after Kewell’s persistence won possession. The second, shooting wide in injury time, was from a difficult angle at full speed, and was one of those chances Kuyt creates through his hard work.
He did not do himself justice today, and yes, some of the criticism will be warranted, but the way the team played today didn’t do his talents justice either. He drops too deep to be a lone striker, has also started looking to play down the flanks more often this season, and needs someone to play off of when he gets possession in the final third. And as always, even if the end product wasn’t there, Kuyt was still the hardest worker on the field today.
Had one of Liverpool’s chances gone in, it’d be an entirely different match report and entirely different emotions. Ewood Park is never an easy place to play, and a draw isn’t an unfair result. Blackburn must be given their due -- they defended very well, looked to take advantage of Liverpool on the break, and didn’t crack under the late pressure. But they were there for the taking by the end of the match, and Liverpool failed to take advantage. Considering that while realizing both Manchester United and Arsenal scored in the last 10 minutes of their game today isn’t reassuring.
I don’t want to come off as a complete apologist, even though I frequently do, but a draw isn’t the end of the world. Liverpool could have won, Liverpool should have won, and it’s incredibly demoralizing they didn’t, but Blackburn’s a team in form, and Liverpool’s still missing 3 key players.
Results will improve. As pissed as I am, I’m almost certain the post-match reaction that slams the performance, players, and manager will infuriate me more. The team did not play badly outside of the late-game wastefulness, and Blackburn proved why they’re a point ahead of Liverpool and unbeaten in 8 games. This past month was a very tough stretch of games, and was played without part of the spine of the team in Alonso, Torres, and Agger. And they’ve gotten through it unbeaten.
I’m not happy with the result, but I’m still optimistic things are and will be better than many make it seem.