26 January 2008

More thoughts on the Havant match

Having finally seen the match, and still with many of the same feelings I elucidated earlier, I thought I would just add some thoughts that struck during the match.

• Benayoun was the only one who could be satisfied with his performance after the first half. He was pressing the opposition, moving about the pitch, and trying to create, while many of Liverpool’s players were walking about even after going a goal down. Yossi was even unlucky not to bag a fourth in the 62nd minute thanks to a fantastic save from Scriven before going off for Kuyt in the 72nd.

• Lucas’ equalizer in the 27th minute was a goal of utter class. Compared to many others in the side, he didn’t make many mistakes either, showed a nice range of passing, and an ability to play from box to box. As Liverpool improved as the game went on, Lucas grew more influential in the middle. He’s going to be a wonderful player.

• The defense was awful for both goals, with Finnan taking most of the blame for both, which is surprising given his usual consistency. He lost Paquette on the corner for the first and misplayed an easy ball that put Potter in for the second. I’m more forgiving of Skrtel’s role; it’s his debut, and it was just unlucky that Potter’s shot deflected off him for Havant’s second. The backpass that gave up the corner for Havant’s first was a bigger error, and he improved in the second half.

• Despite the clumsiness of the first half performance, I’m still glad that Benitez made no changes during the break. It was up to the starting XI to fix the trouble they’d gotten themselves into, which they did. Plus, bringing on either Gerrard or Torres would have fed into the narrative that Liverpool is a two-man team, and showing the need for one of those two could have hurt the morale more than it helped the play.

• I don’t know whether it was unfamiliarity with playing as a striker for Liverpool or something tactical, but Babel was often deeper or wider than I expected (almost as if he was playing in the role of Kuyt/Voronin). At times it looked as if Liverpool was playing a non-league side at home with one up top, although Babel, Benayoun, Pennant, Mascherano, and Lucas all supported the attack when Liverpool was pressing, and Liverpool was getting men forward, mainly in the second half. During the spell when he tallied his second and third goals Benayoun played more centrally with Babel moving out to the left, but Babel, Pennant, and Benayoun interchanged often.

• It didn’t help Babel that Crouch didn’t play well either. I can find fault with every player’s game today, but Crouch was one who stood out, and it was a game in which he needed to do well for confidence’s sake. The goal in the 90th, where he was offside, covers up the fact he rarely looked like scoring otherwise and was kept under wraps by the Havant defense throughout. The play of the strikers outside of Torres (Kuyt didn’t cover himself in glory after coming on either) is one of the few things that does have me worried.

• Itandje was another who had a forgettable game, not commanding his area or communicating with his defense at times, epitomized in the 22nd minute when Liverpool was lucky not to go two goals down as Itandje flapped thrice at the ball, Liverpool failed to clear, and center-back Neil Sharp narrowly shot over. He did come up with a marvelous reaction save in the 87th from Jordan’s header to keep it at 4-2, but it was still probably his worst outing in a Liverpool shirt.

• 19 year-old Alfie Potter was much of the reason Finnan had such a poor game. Out of anyone in the Havant side, he has to be the one to watch to move up a few divisions. The five goals given up by Kevin Scriven don’t do him justice either, as he made a number of very good saves and came out to patrol his area well.

• I feel like any time fans of one club praise the other after winning a match it comes off as patronizing, especially when it’s a big club vis-à-vis a smaller one, but I really do want to give credit to Havant and Waterlooville. They came to play football and have a go, and kept going forward after going two goals down in the second half. Ignoring my overwhelming bias for Liverpool and the need for them to play well today, Havant and Waterlooville were an absolute pleasure to watch.

• As said before, it’s the FA Cup. It’s always good for a surprise, but Liverpool’s talent won out in the end. I’ll be a lot less forgiving if performances repeat themselves in the match against West Ham on Wednesday.

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