10 January 2009

Liverpool 0-0 Stoke

Carragher Skrtel Hyypia Aurelio
Lucas Mascherano
Benayoun Gerrard Riera

Well fuck. I hope Stoke get relegated – not out of spite, but because they’ve evidently become one of those lower table clubs that frustrates Liverpool every time out. It looked a lot like last time these two met, and even with the differences in line-up, it’s the same result. Super.

I try not to armchair manage, but this is why I didn’t want to see a similar attack as against Newcastle, despite Liverpool scoring five goals in the last league game. Stoke does not play like Newcastle. At St. James’ Park, Liverpool was always going to have space, even at 0-0, and midfielders like Gerrard, Riera, and Benayoun got the opportunities and space to bomb forward in support of the deep-dropping striker.

But against Stoke, space was always going to be at a premium. Today, they made it nearly impossible for Liverpool to break through. Man-marking Gerrard into invisibility for almost 80 minutes and cramming as many men behind the ball as possible, Liverpool struggled create chances or make it into the final third. This was one of those games that's crying out for crafty strikers who can create that space or get that beautiful touch from nowhere. Players like Torres and Keane. And honestly, Stoke could have been 2-0 up at halftime, although 0-0 was the rightful scoreline.

The match started off as expected. For the first 10-15 minutes, Liverpool had something like 80% of the possession, but with only a mishit Kuyt header wide to show for it. But Stoke started to threaten on occasion, and could have had the opener in the 17th minute, when Delap ended up with the ball in the box (after the linesman ignored three Stoke players offside), but slammed his effort against the crossbar, and Cresswell could only chest the rebound wide.

Kuyt tested Sorenson in the 23rd with a close-range shot at the near post, but that would be the last time Liverpool worked the keeper in the half. And eight minutes later, Shawcross headed the ball in the net for Stoke, only to be rightfully ruled offside. Although it was their only clear-cut effort of the spell, Stoke looked the better side for about 20 minutes, which was another worrying sign.

I don’t know about other fans, but when the team’s struggling, I’m often rooting for halftime changes. And it felt like this game was crying out for it – with Torres or Keane replacing Benayoun or Riera. But Benitez doesn’t work that way.

Again, I’d take Benitez’s word over mine, but it seems like he’s become formulaic with his substitutions when it’s 0-0, and it’s detrimental. To win the league, you have to win these games, and Benitez can’t always hope that the team he’s put out will come good. It’s become routine: Riera or Benayoun (usually Riera) will come off around the hour mark, another change will happen around the 75th, and maybe the final last gasp after the 85th. And again, that’s what happened: Torres came on for Riera in the 61st and Babel for Benayoun in the 76th, while Keane was left head in hands on the bench.

Accordingly, until the last ten minutes or so, Stoke had the better chances. A poor clearance by Reina put the ball at Kitson’s feet five minutes after the restart, but the striker gave himself a narrow angle trying to get around the keeper and could only shoot into the side netting.

Liverpool’s best chance until Gerrard popped up at the end of the match came in the 67th, but Lucas headed across to an offside Hyypia instead of going for goal from the tight angle. Stoke almost took advantage off one of Delap many long throws through Kitson in the 74th, but his header sailed just over, and Whelan’s 78th minute free kick was narrowly wide of the post.

As often happens in these frustratingly tight games, Liverpool got their best chances in the final ten minutes, and both came through the man who often creates the late magic. First, Gerrard hit the crossbar with a free kick from the left edge of the box in the 84th, and then hit the post in injury time running onto Torres’ flicked header. But no luck this time. And once again, Liverpool’s ruing a draw against a team in the bottom half of the table, and we’re hoping United and Chelsea continue to drop points (here’s wishing for a draw tomorrow!).

I don’t know what else to say. Liverpool were sloppy all over the pitch, misplacing passes, especially those in the final third - but I'm unwilling to place all the blame on Alonso's absence. But be certain, none of the front six played well.

It’s odd – Liverpool has their highest points total in a Premier League campaign to this point, and yet I can’t remember being so frustrated by these 0-0 draws, even though I know that there have been less at this point than in the past two seasons. It’s just that we’re watching Liverpool lose precious points. And when they’re competing for their first league championship in 19 years, it’s that much harder to take.

A win in the Merseyside derby in nine days time would wash a bit of that taste out of the mouth, though.


Anthony said...

I don't think missing Alonso was a major factor to today's draw. Lucas' passing was horrible! And Stevie G must had been planning his court appearance with his lawyer during the entire first half!

Anthony said...

Sorry, I meant I "DO" think missing Alonso was a factor.

Bobby said...

I figured that was a typo in your initial comment, Lucas was shit today. It's a given that Alonso is one of the top three most important players with Gerrard and Torres, but with his pre-injury form he might be No. 1 right now.

Django said...

I hope Pennant shanks Lucas in the shower in training this week. Terrible passing, clumsy challenges, ratty chin hair...Honestly, that challenge on Kitson that led to Whelan's free kick was fucking atrocious. He always seems to be a step behind in the challenge sticking his leg out or, in this case, trying to get a piggyback ride. Fucking Lucas.

steven. said...

what a rotten performance .. not our worst of the season but pretty damn close .. seriously hoping for a draw between Chel$ki and ManYoo tommorow ..

Tobin said...

Steven, what would you say the worst performance has this been? This one was absolutely god awful. I've never been more frustrated with a draw than this one.

iskoppa said...

La, what a bloody shambles that was! I have to agree about the "Missing Alonso factor" and Insua is away for the next four weeks on international duty!

Juggernaut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juggernaut said...

I have to say...No offence..but u r biased towards Lucas who was utterly horrible throught the match.......
giving away freekicks near the box....poor passes..losing out on an unbearable simple chance to score..

Torres was a lone figure who barely had the ball for half an hour he came out..
The problem was focused on the midfield.........
Alonso is a pivot that liverpool cant survive without....the sooner he comes back the better.....

nate said...

just because i didn't single him out doesn't mean i didn't think lucas had an awful game. because he sure did, and it was one of the most disappointing performances given the progress we'd seen in previous matches.

Django said...

For what it's worth, "Well fuck" was the perfect opening sentence for this recap. Perfect sentiment, this game was a "well fuck" game if I've ever seen one, worse than every draw this season at Anfield in my mind. Really worried that Rafa thinks Kuyt by himself is the solution up top.

Anonymous said...

Lucas is a young player. Some weeks, like against Newcastle, he'll show is potential and some weeks, like against Stoke City, he will show his inexperience and lack of confidence. He played terrible, but he's not a terrible player and I don't see how anyone who'd seen the last three or four games could think that. Babel has been on shitform all season (other than his Man U goal) and asking to be loaned to Ajax yet you lot are all on about Lucas, a player who's been loyal to the club.

To the future, if we don't get that Chelsea - Man U draw... I don't know what to think about our chances.

vinnie said...

marlon, lucas is good but again, he's not world class and like nate said, space is not a luxury against stoke, this is when we need alonso's cool head to control the midfield

i blame it all on rafa:

first of all, why on earth did he fielded a full team against preston? even though the full team barely made it against them. by doing so, alonso's injury costs us a lot.

ok, what's done is done. without alonso, rafa should be good enough to understand that stoke will put every body behind the ball and cram the midfield. i dont know every team in the EPL to understand stoke's strength but at least i realise that by half time and would have make tactical changes. he could have replace lucas w/ keane, torres or babel and play gerard deeper. that way gerard could take over alonso's duty and let either of these fast strikers to tear the defence on the break

i'd like to add to nate's rant on how rafa always make ineffective changes towards the end of the game. stoke is more than happy with a point against us and obviously they are gonna sit back and defend for the last 10 minutes, that means they are not as vulnerable to counter attacks. that gives what, torres and babel 20 and 5 mins respectively to exploit that weakness?

yes, this is one of our best season but we will never win the league under rafe


Django said...

True, Lucas is young, and true, he is loyal to the club. And Babel's indifference is maddening-his appearance a few weeks ago (can't remember who it was against) in which he proceeded to come on late in the game and give away possession after possession was a joke, and to make matters worse he looked like he couldn't care less.

I guess my biggest beef with Lucas is that now is not the time for growing pains. These are must wins, and his inconsistencies have been glaring. Maybe it stems back more to Rafa's decision-making; his loyalty to players like Kuyt and Lucas through performances like yesterday's makes no sense to me. So hoping he gets shanked prison-style by Pennant may have been harsh, but there are 90 minutes in a match, and I don't understand letting someone like Lucas see all 90 when he gives away possession, makes clumsy tackles, and provides no forward movement when we need a goal. In that case I'd take my chances with 20 million pounds of inconsistent striker.

steven. said...

Tobin--> worst performance of the season would have to be Stoke the first time around .. at least this time we had 4-5 chances to miss the net!

CSD said...

Of course everyone's always quick to hang the manager. If Gerrard or Kuyt had scored one of their opportunities, no one would say a peep. Rafa's won more trophies than I have, so I'll trust in his decisions.

It's more frustrating than ever before because we've never been in this situation. It's stressful being on top because you know any slip up could send you sliding back down the table. There's still many games to be played though, so let's not all tear out our hair just yet. Have to leave a few strands for April.

vinnie said...

rafa's decision not to change player too early on is because he wanted to give the starting players more time to gel together, i remember reading this from some interview. if the team is playing well, obviously it is a good move; but when the team is not, would you keep repeating carbon copies of ineffective tactic/moves?

my opinion might not be as creditable but a friend of mine who always get his reviews and prediction spot on says the same

if either gerrard or kuyt's effort resulted in the winning goal, i would still bitch about rafa's lack of balls to make changes. that would mean he won the game by luck, not his effort. best example, does anyone remember champions league final 05? rafa made just 1 change at half time, hamman for finnan, and it saw instant result

Django said...

I'm always bitching about Kuyt, regardless of the result. Even when he scores, I'm cursing him for scoring because then it makes me feel like I can't curse him. One or two taken chances couldn't mask the fact that players underperformed the other day. I feel okay criticizing decisions regardless of the trophies I've won, which could fill a matchbox. No panic yet, just a slightly concerning inability to make needed adjustments in matches in which we struggle to create any sort of attack.

Abhiram said...

I guess every one is beating on the Lucas bandwagon again. How did Mascherano, the senior partner do in the game? IMHO he was worse than Lucas. I have said it before and i'll say it again, Lucas and Mascher cannot play well together. We lost lot of loose balls and we didn't deserve to win. We just came to know the importance of Alonso in out team setup.

I don't agree with the slagging of the Gaffer either. We could not deliver the magic pass thru out the game. If Kuyt, who has excellent running off the ball capabilities could not see the ball for most of the time he was in front, it would be the same even in Torres' case. Just check the 30 minutes Torres was on the pitch and how much ball he got. Gerrard was out of the game for like 75 minutes. One tactic cud have been used though, substituting Mascher with Keane and Gerrard going central. But the attacking capabilities of Gerrard would have been nullified. Seeing Keane from the Preston game, that too might not have worked. Boxing it all, nothing worked. Not many worked hard or as hard as they usually do and we missed Alonso.

Anonymous said...

I agree, with Kuyt retreating deep to retrieve balls and no other forward, Gerrard was forced to play way too high and clearly just didn't get enough touches. Would have liked to see Keane up top with Kuyt behind him and Gerrard in front of Masch. Lucas was just nowhere near good enough.

Django said...

After rewatching most of the match, most of my opinions hold firm. Good point that Abhiram brought up about Masch...he was pretty anonymous throughout most of the match. One thing I noticed was that Kuyt and Benayoun were on top of each other for almost the entire first half. They had short, tentative roll-offs to each other or Gerrard. The right side of the field was a cluster more often than not in the first half. Not sure why this happened so much--could be Kuyt being used to his peripheral role or Benayoun's usual tendency to slash in creating problems--but it was pretty obvious there was no meshing going on. The next month is a great time to be a Liverpool fan--Two derbies in a week, Chelsea at Anfield, two tricky away fixtures (Wigan & Portsmouth), and a trip to the Bernabeu.

nate said...

Holy crap, over 20 comments in 2 days. That's indicative of Liverpool's performance in and of itself.

While this has been beaten to death (along with the rafa v fergie nonsense, which even the BBC has built up into some royal rumble-type pay-per-view, which is why I've avoided writing about it), I guess I'll add/clarify a few points.

- If you want to count them, I thought the Standard Liege match in Belgium and the Carling Cup loss to Spurs were worse displays. And the first 65 minutes of the Fulham 0-0 draw shades it in the league for me. Funny how the Fulham match improved after Alonso came on, and he was missing on Saturday.

- But I try to avoid blaming losses or draws on players missing through injury. Every team loses players at some time and have to cope, even players as important as Alonso. Who's been the player of the season by a country mile (with Hyypia 2nd).

- And similarly, I that's why I didn't singularly blame Lucas, Masch, Kuyt, or Yossi either. There were other players on the field, and they weren't up to snuff either. Which is why it was one of Liverpool's worst games. It happens. The fervor of an actual title race over halfway through the season exacerbates results like this, which we had many more of in previous seasons.

- I think everyone's in agreement that the tactics sucked hard. That's a rarity.

- Liverpool can win the league with Rafa.

Bobby said...

Well done wrapping what has been a heated few days. I think we're all a little crazed because the title seems like a real possibility this year. I for one am very excited for the next few weeks.

Also, go Wigan!

Abhiram said...

Hey Nate, a new post with Liverpool transfer rumors and Alonso injury update will help now. There seems to be a lull created here after a hectic discussion in the aftermath of the Stoke game :) .

Ibracadabra said...

any insight on Skrtel vs Hyypia now that Agger looks (almost positively) on his way to Milan?

Will the big Slovak get the spot to himself alongside Carragher or will Hyypia still do his best to get the games on a regular basis?