Finnan Arbeloa Carragher Aurelio
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Kewell
Well, I’ll be having nightmares about Richard Dunne for the next couple of nights.
There’s usually very little between the sides when City and Liverpool play. Even when City was going through a tough spell last season, it was 0-0 at Eastlands and a narrow 1-0 win at Anfield.
But Liverpool should have won the game in the second half, and probably would have were it not for Dunne’s frequent intervention, and two excellent opportunities in quick succession spurned by Torres early in the second half.
There was little between the sides in the first 45. City threatened a couple of times when Liverpool’s defense looked unsteady, while Liverpool was limited to mainly long range opportunities, with Aurelio coming the closest, although last-ditch tackles by Richards and Dunne, and Carragher and Aurelio on the other end, prevented a couple of other chances.
But Liverpool should have broken the mark within 5 minutes of the restart. Games like this in previous seasons are why Torres’ arrival was so welcomed; a player of his class can be the difference in tight matches. But in the 48th minute, Torres let two excellent chances go begging. First, Kuyt dummied Aurelio’s cross into his path, only to see a tame shot sent straight at Hart. Seconds later, Gerrard put Torres through, and he got by Hart, but rolled the ball wide of the post.
It set the tone for the rest of the half, both in Liverpool’s growing supremacy and missed opportunities. The picture below says enough:
That graphic (from ESPN’s Gamecast) shows Liverpool’s 20 shots (11 on target) compared to City’s 4. 11 of those came in the second half.
I wrote earlier about Liverpool getting more late goals this season, and the effort was there today, but no end product. Outside of Torres’ 2 chances, the majority of Liverpool’s opportunities came as the game closed, with the home side under a mountain of pressure. Probably the best chance came in the 86th minute, when Dunne cleared off the goal-line after Hart saved Kuyt’s close-range header. But despite said pressure, a winner wasn't coming.
I give a lot of credit to Dunne, but Hamann was also excellent today shutting down Liverpool in City’s half and breaking up the play, while City's entire defense played well and Hart made the saves he had to.
As said, it wasn’t a bad performance, except in the final third. Carragher was immense in defense with some crucial tackles. Mascherano kept Elano silent all game and was excellent all-around. Aurelio showed that when fit he’s far and away the best left back in the squad. Although Kuyt will probably get some underserved stick for not putting away the header in the 86th and Liverpool’s inability to score, I thought it was one of his best performances of late. Gerrard was clearly fatigued, and didn’t get forward enough in the first hour or so, but displayed some outstanding long-range passing in a role similar to Alonso’s. Outside of Torres’ misses and a couple of scary moments for Arbeloa at center-back, there’s little to complain about over player’s performances.
I want to be positive. On face value, a draw at the Eastlands given past history between the sides and City’s home record isn’t awful. 7 points from 9 over the festive period isn’t either. It wasn’t a bad performance against a team in good form. And if it wasn’t for Richard Dunne, I’m fairly certain Liverpool would leave with all 3 points.
But once again, Liverpool’s unable to break down a cagey side seemingly content with a draw when they’re dominant, and it’s league points dropped when United’s already lost this weekend.
Halfway through the season, Liverpool’s got 37 points from 19 games. That’s only a 3-point improvement from the first 19 games last season (which is surprising, and I had to triple check my math to believe it). Halfway through the season, you can’t say that the table lies. Liverpool’s 10 points behind Arsenal, albeit with that game in hand. On form, Liverpool is probably 4th best in the league right now.
And frankly, that’s not good enough.
Yes, Liverpool is better from top to bottom this year, and I don’t think I have to reiterate my faith in Benitez, but I think it’s safe to say we all expected more of an improvement.
I’ll assuredly have more to say later in the week about the season so far, and some will probably contradict the frustration I’m venting now. I don’t know whether or not it’ll be before Wigan on Wednesday.
Happy New Year.