19 January 2009

Liverpool 1-1 Everton

Carragher Skrtel Hyypia Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Alonso Riera
Keane Torres

Gerrard 68’
Cahill 87’

Draws at home. Draws at home. Draws at home.

There. I wrote the season review. And it’s January 19th.

And it’s Everton, on a late goal, on a set play, in the dying minutes, that’s made me contemplate getting out the razor blades. Splendid.

Merseyside derbies almost always play to the same pattern – contentious, tight, with few chances and the home side marginally on top. Each carved out a couple of openings, but Liverpool easily had the best of the first half, and should have gone one up in the 28th. And it was Torres missing the kind of chance he thrives on: receiving a wonderful throughball from Hyypia and outpacing both Jagielka and Lescott, but he dinked his shot over Howard off the post. When he’s match-fit, he doesn’t miss those, so maybe that’s a ray of optimism.

The second half was more akin to the recent games where Liverpool’s stuttered. Other than a contentious penalty not given in the 48th (I truly think it was, with Jagielka clipping Torres, but I’m obviously biased), and Howard’s save on Gerrard followed up by Baines making a tremendous tackle on Hyypia’s attempted rebound eight minutes later, the home side found it harder to get through despite increased possession.

It was the unfortunate same old until Gerrard popped up in the 68th, receiving the ball from Riera in the middle of the pitch, striding forward, and unleashing a trademark effort past Howard for his fourth in a derby. He hasn’t had his most consistent season, but he’s got at least double the goals of everyone else in the team. And those goals have been needed.

But then, with Everton in need of an equalizer and more willing to press forward, Liverpool invited them on. Instead of fortifying the defense, the substitutions of Benayoun for Keane (which happened before the goal) and Lucas for Torres seemed to help the visitors by removing two attacking outlets.

And in the 87th minute, it happened. Benayoun dove into a poor tackle near the byline, Arteta accordingly sent in a dangerous free kick, and there was Tim Cahill. Of course.

For once, the media has a right to complain about the zonal marking, which absolutely broke down. Cahill drifted in unnoticed behind Hyypia, with Skrtel unwilling to follow the Australian, while Riera didn’t step forward enough to clear before the ball got through.

And with defense substitutions already made, only Kuyt as a striker, and already on the back foot, there wasn’t going to be any late heroics. Babel came on in the 90th minute in a clear case of too little, too late.

And the sad thing is, this was Liverpool’s strongest “attacking” line-up. 4-4-2, Torres and Keane up top, and Mascherano left out for Gerrard and Alonso in midfield. It was pretty much the same line-up as at Goodison, with only changes in defense (Hyypia and Aurelio for Arbeloa and Dossena). But Liverpool still could only register one goal, Torres and Keane again struggled to link up, and a late goal from a set piece means yet another draw.

Reiterating earlier worries feels like a bad case of Monday morning quarterbacking after a result like this. But this game only brings more questions about whether Torres and Keane can work together, and I worry that the £20m spent over the summer – money that’s desperately needed – is actually what’s going to keep Liverpool from winning the title.

Today, long balls forward for Torres were aimed with the intent of the Spaniard flicking on for Keane. The throughball from Hyypia sending Torres on a run, which led to Liverpool’s best chance, was the exception rather than the rule. That isn’t playing to Torres’ strengths, and Keane, so dangerous in similar positions playing with Berbatov last season, was no great shakes feeding off those balls.

There are lots of qualifiers. Torres is just back from a long-term injury. The two have only had something like six games together as a pairing. And Keane, already under pressure, has been in and out of the squad himself – although that’s down to Rafa’s selection.

But history’s seemingly shown Torres is best as a lone striker running through the middle with the ball at his feet, and shown that he and Gerrard do well with the captain playing further forward. And with the team on a poor run and a title chance slowly slipping out of the fingers, I’m losing faith in a Torres/Keane pairing at an alarming rate.

Admittedly, matches against Everton that end like this make me even more pessimistic than I usually am. Level on points with United, although the rivals have a better goal difference and game in hand, it’s nowhere near over mathematically. Liverpool have to do four points better than United over the next 16 matches. That’s not unheard of.

But other than the two games between Christmas and New Year’s Day, this team has shown damn little over the past month. League winners don’t draw four matches out of six, against teams in 9th, 5th, 19th, and 6th. League winners don’t draw five out of eleven home matches. League winners don’t give up a goal like this in the dying minutes of such an important match.

And that it’s Everton that seemingly put the foot on the throat with a draw at Anfield earned in the 87th minute is an added kick to the nuts, to say the very least. But some semblance of revenge can be reaped in six days.


Danny Bagucci said...

Precisely my tots man -- U've captured them excellently.... I'm also beginning to get the jitters anytime Lucas is on the pitch...Not panic time yet, but i fear the Manc will just drive this down -- we've had our chances to be clear away but are not....

Mike Georger said...

Season is over.

1) All the 'they aren't even playing at their best!' talk was dead wrong. They were playing above their talent level and getting wins they had no business getting (City, United)

2) The presence of Kuyt guarantees zero chances created from the right. And while Pennant is not the answer, he is literally the only right winger at the club and is being shipped out, if that isn't an indication that the club is poorly run I don't know what is.

3) Marking on set pieces is crap. Bad coaching and bad execution.

4) Rafa is Crouching both Babel and Agger and I don't think either will feature much the rest of the year.

5) Rafa's substitution policy is horrible and has made the last ten minutes of each game a foregone conclusion the past six weeks.

6) United are playing incredibly well and will be six points clear of Pool (more likely, Chelsea) after the game at OT.

Frankly, I like Villa's chances at finishing second because at least that team can score some fucking goals.

Ace Cowboy said...

I've still got hope. But that hope is fading FAST.

Anonymous said...

Depressing and very predictable. My points:

-Keane did not play one above average ball today. Not one.

-Our #1 and only strategy of getting the ball to the byline or corners and crossing clearly has not worked for the last 20 games or so. How many set piece/corner goals have we scored? Goals on crosses? Incredibly few. Let's try something else.

-Cahill. Someone should watch out for him next game when the ball is in the air. Just a thought.



Django said...

Our substitutions really are shit, I just don't get it. I think Benayoun could have been useful earlier on in this game, coming on for Kuyt instead of Keane, as I think Benayoun has been better the past few weeks out wide. I thought the color commentator on Setanta today (not sure of his name) put it perfectly regarding the situation on the right--Kuyt needs to stay put to create chances from the wing and to give space to the middle men. He does not and has not done that lately. Don't know what the answer is, but Kuyt is not it. Great workrate, scored some really big goals for the club, but I'm starting to think he disrupts our attack more often than he compliments it. Disappointing to see the result today, and for it to happen late against Everton makes it worse. It looked like Hyypia glanced at Cahill initially, but paid no more attention after he saw that he was right in front of Reina. Trying to stay optimistic...but it's getting tougher.

steven. said...

Rafa might have a hardon for Kuyt cause he runs around alot but he's not a winger .. he's got no pace, he's got no tricks, he can rarely get a cross in and he looks like a a guy from the Goonies ..

scapegoating, i know....

Anonymous said...

I watched the last 15 minutes of the Chelsea match, and I couldn't shake the feeling that we could never pull something like that off this year.

vinnie said...

rafa's substitution has again strongly makes me doubt that we can win the league under him =/

surprisingly, kuyt hasn't been as effective as last season

nate said...

I watched the last 15 minutes of the Chelsea match, and I couldn't shake the feeling that we could never pull something like that off this year.

v Middlesbrough, @ City, v Wigan.

Luck is a funny thing, and swings in shifts as the season goes on.

Juggernaut said...

Agreed with you Nate on that one..
and added to that is the game against Manu...which Liverpool were in Total control..

Juggernaut said...

And about the game...
Whenever you try to put some faith in Keane he makes sure to blow it all to smithereens..
I even started wondering wwhether Torres and Keane play together...They had not a single understood pass between them...
I have started thinking its better for the Gerrard-Torres to click than him come in the way...
Keane will be tied to the bench for a few more games..
(It would be dream come true if we could swap keane for Owen right now...)
I feel insua and agger are a big miss this time around.
Agger has a calf injury,I expect his return in the next game against Everton.

We need to kick start a a dream run to reignite our hopes..

Abhiram said...

I don't want to discuss the game any more... We did not play well. End of.

About the rumored Heskey move to Villa, i feel he's better of with us in this scenario. If he's coming for 3-4 mill as is mentioned i think its a steal. I know he's not a goal scorer but we don't need goal scorers, we have them in plenty (Torres, Keane, Bennayoun and Gerrard). What we need is a goal creator and ball holder in the latter half. Heskey is one of the best in business and to top it all he's English. This is my opinion.

About the rumored move of selling the club to the Arabs, i am not so sure. As much as hate these yanks, i don't want to be called the team that buys success like Chelsea and City (if they do). I want a team built perfectly by a Manager with a good mix of local and international players competing and winning the title. All we need now is a huge stadium with a capacity of around 75 - 80 thousand. Then we can sustain our club pretty well. So we need a owner who will give us a stadium and thats it.