08 December 2007

Liverpool 1-3 Reading

Arbeloa Carragher Hobbs Riise
Sissoko Mascherano Gerrard
Voronin Torres Crouch

Hunt 17’ (pen)
Gerrard 28’
Doyle 60’
Harper 67’

Now we get to see the character of this team.

Games like this happen. The scoreline isn’t representative of the match, and Liverpool will rightfully have grievances with Andre Marriner’s performance, but Reading had a plan and took their chances.

It could have been a lot different. Reading’s penalty was questionable, Liverpool had two clear penalties denied, a tackle on Sissoko on the stroke of halftime could have earned one as well, and Liverpool hit the woodwork twice.

It’s hard to complain about Reading’s opener; Carragher’s foul did take place outside the box, but when Gerrard’s gotten penalties for continuation in the past, it’s still open for discussion until the laws are clearer.

And Liverpool’s reply -- Torres controlling a long ball and centering for Gerrard, who took a step forward and fired past Hahnemann -- was well deserved, and looked to steady the side. But as Liverpool looked to take control and get a second, Marriner’s stamp was imprinted on the outcome.

Torres was denied two clear penalties today, one in each half, before Reading’s two second half strikes. The second, which saw Torres hacked down in the box, led to him coming off after 60 minutes right after Reading scored their second. Besides the non-calls, every 50/50 ball today went Reading’s way, and Liverpool’s luck had vanished as well.

Nothing seemed to come off for Liverpool after Gerrard’s goal -- not the bounce of the ball nor any of the referee’s decisions. It’s tough to draw parallels to matches in previous seasons, but this feels a lot like the loss at Bolton last year.

And like that match, at the end of the day, it’s hard to argue Reading wasn’t worth their win, although I’ll continue to be aggrieved over it. Doyle’s goal was soft (and reminiscent of Alonso’s free kick against Derby), while the third, seven minutes later, came on a counter attack where Reading cut Liverpool apart because so many players were forward in search of an equalizer.

Some of Liverpool’s tactics today were questionable, but when all’s said and done, Reading won the game. They may have had some help from the referee, but Liverpool’s tactics didn’t lose it for them.

Benitez seemingly sent out a 4-3-3 to pack the middle and soak up Reading’s pressure, with Torres and Crouch the outlets on the counter. But Reading was able to get the first goal. Yes, it was a questionable decision, but Reading had spread the field well and were causing Liverpool problems from the off.

And Liverpool’s tactics worked with the equalizer, and sustained pressure for the rest of the half. Reading never truly let Liverpool play their game, but for stretches of the first half and until Reading’s second, Liverpool looked the better team. Then, clear penalties were ignored, Liverpool conceded a soft second and had to send even more men forward, and they paid the price.

Another point of criticism may be the substitutions of Torres and Gerrard (minutes after Reading’s 3rd). I know Torres suffered that knock, and I'm worried sick over its seriousness, but it didn’t look great taking off the biggest goal threat as soon as Liverpool went behind. After the Reading’s 3rd and with the points in the bag, Gerrard was taken off as well.

Both substitutions were understandable with the upcoming week, even though Gerrard and Torres were probably the only two who had good performances today. But, and it’s becoming an annoying excuse when Liverpool slip up, they should have been able to win with the players deployed. And if I hear one negative word about rotation, I take no responsibilities for my actions. You didn’t hear a peep about rotation, which still took place, when Liverpool had won their last 5 while scoring 21.

Obviously one eye was on the upcoming week. And games like this happen. Losing your first game of the season on December 8th, with some arguably extenuating circumstances, isn’t the worth thing in the world. But this performance cannot be repeated in the next two games.

I firmly believe this team is mentally and physically strong enough to pick themselves up from this loss and make Marseille pay for it.

Now let’s see it.

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