13 August 2008

Liverpool 0-0 Standard de Liege

Arbeloa Carragher Agger Dossena
Alonso Plessis
Kuyt Keane Benayoun

Let’s hope it can’t go anywhere but up.

I understand it’s the first competitive game of the season. I understand Gerrard was out, that it was Keane and Dossena’s first game, that Plessis is still a youngster, and that Agger is like a new signing. I understand it’s away against a team that won their league last season and is amped up because they’re aggrieved they’re matched up with Liverpool.

But that was the worst performance since last season’s abortion at Anfield against Marseille, a performance I preferred to never see again.

Liverpool can consider themselves lucky they weren’t behind within 12 minutes. In the 7th, Fellaini’s header from a free kick hit the bar and spun backwards on the line, allowing Reina to palm it away at the last second. In the 11th, Dossena was unfairly judged to have handled in the box (it was clearly outside it and arguably incidental, having rolled up off his leg), but Reina saved Dante’s poor penalty.

From there, it was a catalogue of errors and poor displays, although Standard rarely threatened as they did early on. The midfield was congested, Alonso and Plessis were losing out to Defour and DeCamargo, and neither Dossena nor Arbeloa provided the needed width in attack from fullback. It resulted in long balls forward from Carra, Agger, Plessis and Xabi when Liverpool actually had possession, which is clearly the way to take advantage of Torres and Keane’s individual strengths. Liverpool’s best, and probably only “chance” in the first 45 came on Alonso’s speculative free kick from about 35 yards out 37 minutes in.

It didn’t get any better after the break. I don’t remember Torres getting a shot off until somewhere around the hour mark, and again, Liverpool’s best chance was probably from a free kick, when Gerrard didn’t miss the top left corner by much in the 72nd. The captain and Nabil El Zhar came on off the bench (in the 68th for Keane and the 83rd for Kuyt respectively), but it didn’t do much to change matters.

I’m not trying to take credit away from Standard. Aside from getting a goal, they did exactly what they wanted to. They had a game plan, hassled and harried well, and showed why they were angry to be paired with Liverpool in qualification. The midfield was excellent, putting Liverpool’s to shame, and Fellaini was the standout, making excellent runs into the box (and getting headers). And the defense rarely gave Liverpool time and space or either Torres or Keane a sniff of the ball.

At times, Liverpool played in a 4-2-3-1, at others a 4-4-1-1, but Keane was usually behind Torres trying to link play and he didn’t have the space to operate. Liverpool just couldn’t get anything going in attack. Again, some to that was because of Standard’s play, but Liverpool was also sloppy and uncohesive. What’s most frustrating was the long-ball after long-ball, which was a strategy that failed more than it succeeded even when Crouch was in the line-up.

It’s almost easier to list the players who didn’t disappoint rather than those who did. But I was most unhappy with Dossena, Kuyt and Alonso. I understand it was the Italian’s debut (and that Skrtel frightened on his against Havant), but defensive errors combined with not much going forward wasn’t pleasing to see. This was also a game that all the Kuyt-bashers can point to. He was erratic on the right and frequently lost possession. My lone defense is that he tracked back well and cut off a potential break nicely a couple of times, but admittedly that’s not enough of an excuse.

Finally, it was a return to the ‘bad old days’ for Alonso. What I wrote over the summer still stands – he’s a classy player that can bring a ton to the team – but today he was happy to try and ping those long passes even when it wasn’t working, was rash in the tackle (picking up a needless yellow in the 26th), and Liverpool was pushed around in the center of midfield.

0-0 isn’t the end of the world, and it’s almost less frustrating when it’s ‘not a bad result,’ as opposed to when a team simply parks the bus in front of goal and Liverpool go away empty-handed despite something like 25 shots. But now the team needs a win at Anfield. A score draw, let alone a loss, would mean a drop down to the UEFA Cup, and all the financial repercussions that come with it.

I don't need to say that a repeat performance against Sunderland on Saturday would be unacceptable.


Mike Georger said...

when central midfield is getting bitched around is when this team is going to get their ass handed to them because they have only one real winger in pennant, and hes just awful.

im still optimistic about this season, but if they dont win their first league game and god fucking forbid manage to not make the champions league, rafa is fucking fired theres no doubt in my mind.

a crushing victory saturday erases this. a stuttering start like two years ago and the knifes are out.

Anonymous said...

God, that 90 minutes aged me about 2 years. Outplayed, outclassed, out hustled - we lost in every aspect. 90 minutes with not a serious challenge to their keeper.

I was really looking forward to the season, and of course still am, but this was such a damper on things. For 52 million dollars (!), Keane and Dossena played at a level below my rec league. Seriously.

Kuyt was pointless and I look forward to Babel's return. (The damn Dutch advanced in the Olympics today) I'm hoping Babel takes that starting spot. Carragher looked frazzled and tired in the 12th minute. Ugh. I could go on. But much love to Pepe, who is of course the MOtM.

Look forward to another year of your great writing, Nate.


J Wall said...

I think the most comical part of the game was the fact that Gerrard had what I'd consider our best and only shot on goal. The worst part was he came on at the very end of the match. The way we played was unacceptable.

ManchesterRed said...

Glad to have an early wake-up call...

We were poor & still in pre-season mode, particularly in first touch and of course the passing.

Pinging long cross-field balls can be a weakness of ours - & it cetainly was against Liege.

I'm one of those who DOES want Barry (though it looks like next year now, if at all). Xabi is a good player but Liege worked like a strong, stubborn Premiership side and Xabi just isn't up for those kind of games, which is why I think Rafa was prepared to sacrifice him. I thought we improved once Gerrard came on and had a bit more attacking threat.

The only way is up.

Love the site, Nate, many thanks!
All you need is love.