28 February 2009

Liverpool 0-2 Middlesbrough

Skrtel Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Alonso Mascherano
El Zhar Gerrard Babel

Alonso (og) 32’
Tuncay 63’

Win in Madrid, and then lose in Middlesbrough. Only Liverpool.

The number of times this team has been sucker-punched is almost laughable. And this time, Liverpool couldn’t even drag themselves back for a draw. In fact, they just got poorer as the game went on. We’ve had some gash ones this season, but this has to be the worst performance of the season, although that’s obvious just by looking at the scoreline.

Liverpool forced three good saves from Brad Jones before 20 minutes were off the clock. Gerrard put El Zhar through in the 9th, Kuyt nearly converted Aurelio’s cross in the 15th, and Babel was in a similar position to El Zhar in the 16th. But for the rest of game – to put it as mildly as possible – Liverpool fucking sucked.

As usual, the opposition flashed a warning in the 11th when Downing crossed in from the left and O’Neil directed it towards Reina, but it looked a matter of time before Liverpool went ahead. Ha.

Around the 20th, Boro started to settle. Liverpool continued to be too intricate, Gerrard, clearly not fit, was a shadow of himself in the first half (although he was better in the second), and the frustration mounted. Downing, perpetually Boro’s best player (and perpetually a thorn in Liverpool’s side), started to pull the strings, and played a key role in the goal.

The mess started with a free kick that never was. Alonso “fouled” a Boro player, and while the free kick was cleared, Tuncay won a corner off Carragher. And yet again, Liverpool’s punished on a set piece, when Downing’s ball in caught Alonso flat-footed after Skrtel missed a header, and it ricocheted off him past Reina.

When Liverpool's gone behind in the second half to smaller clubs, it’s prompted an immediate response. But not today, when it happened in the first. It completely took what little wind there was out of the sails, and heads dropped. Boro could have gone two up in the 41st when Skrtel (who looked very uncomfortable on the right) gave the ball to Downing, but the winger shot too close to Reina.

The second half didn’t start out as hoped either, with El Zhar missing a sitter, side-footing over from Gerrard cutback in the 48th. And that was about it as chances went until Boro went up 2-0.

In the 63rd, Boro broke down Liverpool’s left, O’Neil fed Aliadiere, who beat the offside trap and cut back for Tuncay through the legs of Mascherano. Fittingly, the striker mishit his side-foot but still put it past Reina. A team that couldn’t buy a goal in the league – having not scored for over 500 minutes before the opener – scoring two on Liverpool. I’ve gone through the looking glass.

A scramble in front of goal in the 65th and another sitter missed in the 68th – Kuyt unable to make contact with Gerrard’s centered pass – summed up the afternoon. And just to round out the atrocity, Gerrard picked up a knock in the 75th, and it looked like the same hamstring (although hopefully it was just cramp), with Lucas coming on. Previous subs were Ngog for El Zhar in the 68th and Benayoun for Carragher in the 71st. It goes without saying the changes did nothing, and boy did Carragher look pissed when he trudged off.

I can’t even think of any chances until injury time, when Boro had the ball in the net, but King was offside, followed by Ngog missing a free header from a corner. Liverpool were utterly disheartened and abjectly awful.

I’m not a big fan of singling out players, but I don’t have to today. No one played well. Alonso, Kuyt, Skrtel, and El Zhar were the worst offenders, but that list could easily include others. This team has a nasty habit of playing down to the level of the opposition, and today was the worst example of that. Boro offered next to nothing, just like Liverpool, but got that stroke of luck with an own goal, then doubled their advantage when the team fell asleep on the break.

With Chelsea’s late winner, Liverpool’s now in third on goal difference. And if Villa beats Stoke tomorrow, they’ll only be a point above fourth. Awesome. I still believe everything I wrote two days ago, but that’s downright frightening. And I'm very, very frightened of the repercussions this game will have.

Sunderland on Tuesday before Real a week later. Thank god there’s a game so soon, so we’ll only be subjected to a few days of media thrilled to write about the 'end of the league challenge,' why Rafa sold Keane, and speculation that the Rafa v Parry v owners saga is the reason that Liverpool were so freaking terrible today.

Play like this against the Madrileños, and that glorious win three days ago will mean absolutely nothing. As will the season.

Update 12:44pm: Sorry, still stewing over this, and I didn't want to put this in the comments or create another post.

The more I think about it, the more that I'm not really having that Liverpool lost because of tactics.

Yes, the attack was insipid for long stretches, but there were at least five clear-cut chances, and you'd have expected a goal from at least two of them. El Zhar in the 9th, Kuyt in the 15th, Babel in the 16th, El Zhar in the 48th, Kuyt in the 68th, even Ngog in the 93rd.

If there's anything to complain about tactically, it's Skrtel at right back. It's almost understandable because he's faster than Carra (up against Downing) and given that he did well getting forward when Liverpool played three at the back against Pompey, but in hindsight it was the wrong decision as the back line often looked shaky.

But for the most part, it was just bad luck and silly mistakes that Benitez will be furious about which led to the goals. First, Skrtel mistimes his jump to head Downing's corner away, which wrong-foots Alonso, and it deflects for an own goal. Second, O'Neil's barely keeps the ball in to launch the break, the back line mistimes the offside trap to play on Aliadiere, and then Mascherano can't block the pass nor could Carra block Tuncay's shot. And it's arguable that if Tuncay hits the ball where he's aiming, Carra blocks it.

These excuses make me feel like I'm absolving a poor performance. Which I really don't want to do, as I hope I emphasized above. But for the most part, everything that could go wrong pretty much did.

27 February 2009

Liverpool at Middlesbrough 02.28.09

10am, live in the US on Setanta

Last 4 head-to-head:
2-1 Liverpool (h) 08.23.08
3-2 Liverpool (h) 02.23.08
1-1 (a) 01.12.08
2-0 Liverpool (h) 04.18.07

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Real Madrid (a); 1-1 City (h); 3-2 Pompey (a)
Boro: 2-0 West Ham (h); 0-0 Wigan (h); 1-1 West Ham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard 9; Torres 8; Kuyt 7; Alonso 3; Babel, Benayoun, Riera 2; Arbeloa, Aurelio, Carragher, Hyypia 1
Boro: Alves, Tuncay 4; Aliadiere, O’Neil 2; Pogatetz, Wheater 1

Referee: Rob Styles

Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Insua
Alonso Mascherano
Benayoun Gerrard Babel

Yes, there’s some very big news around Liverpool, and I reckon it’s led to a happier manager, but there are more important things going on. Like football.

I know Gerrard’s only recently back from a few weeks out, and played only a few minutes on Wednesday, but he’ll be crucial in Torres’ absence. I’d be surprised if the Spaniard missed more than two games, but there’s little reason for him to be risked before then with the way his season’s gone.

This front six would be nearly the same as that which beat Newcastle 5-1 two months ago – the only difference would be Alonso for Lucas, which I’m pretty sure we’ll all agree is an upgrade. With Torres out, Riera looking gassed, and Benayoun in fine form, I can’t see much different, and hope not to.

I was pleased with Babel’s performance off the bench two days ago. He may not have stood out, but he had little chance to as a lone striker away to Madrid. There seemed a notable change in his attitude, and that makes all the difference. He looked hungry, showed for the ball, and worked hard against Pepe and Cannavaro, both of whom were kicking everything that moved. He put his head down and got to work, and that’s exactly what Ryan needs to do more consistently.

I’m less certain about the backline, even though that’s where Rafa’s more reticent to rotate. I’d be surprised if Aurelio started two games in four days, so we might see Dossena start, as against City, but I’d rather Insua now that he’s back in the squad. Agger’s still out with a back injury, so it should be Carra and Skrtel in the middle; with two of Tuncay, Alves, and Aliadiere likely to start, Hyypia’s height won’t be as essential as Skrtel and Carra’s quicker pace (relatively speaking).

Don’t be fooled by Boro sitting in 19th or by their league record of three draws and three losses since the New Year. Liverpool hasn’t won in Middlesbrough since 2002. During that six-game spell, Liverpool’s has three scoreless draws, two losses, and one 1-1 (last season). One goal in six years, courtesy of Fernando Torres, is not a good record.

Here’s hoping that changes tomorrow.

26 February 2009

Sing when you’re winning

I had yet another long 'support Rafa' rant mostly typed up, but screw it. This'll be much shorter.

Nearly six years ago, I was piss-drunk at a pub in London watching Celtic dump Liverpool out of the UEFA Cup, winning 0-2 at Anfield. The team finished fifth that year with 64 points.

In the last five seasons, I’ve seen Liverpool go to Juventus, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter, Arsenal, and Madrid and get a result in the Champions League. Liverpool currently has what I’m nearly positive is its highest Premiership points total after 26 games. And I’m seeing more and more rumors that Benitez will resign or be pushed out, and a steadily growing minority clamoring for it.

So forgive me if I’m a bit incredulous. It just feels like reiterating these particulars, links to the players’ faith in Benitez, and my belief that a change in management would set Liverpool back another five years from top to bottom – especially with these owners – is getting a bit irritating. I'm still waiting to see someone name one (just one!) viable, available alternative to Benitez.

Oh, things could certainly be better. All those draws and lost opportunities still stick in the craw. And they’ll be repeatedly replayed in the mind. But, not to fall too much into cliché, things sure could be an awful lot worse.

25 February 2009

Liverpool 1-0 Real Madrid

Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Aurelio
Benayoun Alonso Mascherano Riera

Benayoun 82’

Welcome back, Champions League. I hope Jorge Valdano enjoyed the ‘shit on a stick’ in his home stadium.

Real’s won their last nine league games, scoring 22 while conceding just two. Liverpool’s 4-5-0 over the same spell, with 17 for and seven against. But, in keeping with precedent, we get a different performance in Europe.

To be fair, this tournament suits Benitez and Liverpool down to the ground. And in Madrid against a resurgent Real, Liverpool was able to do what lesser teams do to them in the league, but better: strangle the life out of the opposition and hope for the best on the break (looking to exploit Torres) or a set play.

It wasn’t #9 that got the goal, but otherwise, that’s about as close to ‘according to plan’ as it gets. For all Real’s possession, Liverpool were never ‘backs against the wall,’ and the longer the game went on, the more comfortable the visitors became.

It took until the 20th minute for Liverpool to get a shot on target, whereas both Raul and Marcelo tested Reina before the 16th. And, unsurprisingly, it came after Kuyt flicked on a goal kick and Torres was ruled onside, forcing Casillas into a nice reaction save from a narrow angle. Soon after, hearts were in mouth as Torres received treatment on what looked to be an ankle knock. He didn’t look quite right for rest of the half, and wasn’t helped by the fact that Real kicked lumps out of him. But he looked more disenchanted than injured when he went off for Babel in the 61st.

After the chance, Liverpool did a better job keeping possession, but only threatened when Casillas was quick off his line when Benayoun was chasing down in the 23rd, and on an Alonso shot from his own half in the 45th (just to complain, Liverpool were denied a corner when the referee blew exactly on 45:00).

Meanwhile, Higuain had the ball in the net in the 29th, but was clearly offside, Robben twice cut in dangerously and unleashed shots wide around the 40th, and Reina had to react quickly to prevent a Riera own goal in the 44th.

But, as has been proven to Liverpool to its detriment time and time again, the longer you keep a stronger side at 0-0, the exponentially greater the chance luck will go your way. Other than ten-minute spell to start the second half, Real continued to have more of the ball, but were increasingly limited to shots from distance as Mascherano, Carragher, Skrtel, and Aurelio were all immense. The most frightening again came from Robben cutting in from the right in the 71st, which Reina had to tip over, and as the game went on, even those chances grew hard to come by.

And in the 81st minute, Heinze unnecessarily fouled Kuyt on the right channel. From the resulting free kick came that stroke of fortune Liverpool needed: a great header and even better free kick coupled with poor marking. Aurelio whipped it in, Benayoun got away from Gago and Higuain, and nailed a header past Casillas. Benayoun probably gets man of the match for the goal and his work on the right, but Aurelio and Mascherano both have a claim as well.

In the absence of Gerrard (who got a quick run-out in the 88th) the formation’s become something of a 4-2-3-1 when attacking and 4-4-2 when defending. Part of the reason is so Kuyt would be in better position to flick on or control balls over the top, but more noteworthy is how this demonstrates Gerrard’s versatility, strength, and stamina. With him missing, Liverpool got two rows of four behind the ball, while Torres came deeper to add another body when defending from the front.

Even though it’s a wonderful result, there are still a few notes of caution to be sounded. First, obviously, Torres – that he played for another 40 minutes makes me think it was precautionary, but it’s going to worry until someone official reports different. Second, Liverpool’s been better on the road often this season. Third, Liverpool will undoubtedly open up a bit more at Anfield (and rightfully so; imagine the reaction were Liverpool to sit on a one-goal lead for 90 minutes in front of their own fans). And fourth, the most obvious, it’s only one goal.

It’s been one of those seasons where you simply can’t get ahead of yourself. Little would surprise me from this team. A 1-0 win – away goal and clean sheet – in Madrid with Gerrard missing and Torres limping after 20 minutes certainly doesn’t. But it’s a result that puts Liverpool in a perfect position for the return leg in two weeks.

24 February 2009

Liverpool at Real Madrid 2.25.09

2:45pm on Setanta

Stupid Wednesday games. Another one for the DVR. Will probably have a review up by 8pm or so local time.

Group Stage:
Liverpool: 3-1 PSV (a); 1-0 Marseille (h); 1-1 Atletico (h); 1-1 Atletico (a); 3-1 PSV (h); 2-1 Marseille (a)
Real: 3-0 Zenit (h); 1-0 BATE (a); 0-2 Juve (h); 1-2 Juve (a); 2-1 Zenit (a); 2-0 BATE (h)

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 City (h); 3-2 Pompey (a); 0-1 Everton (h)
Real: 6-1 Betis (h); 4-0 Sporting Gijon (a); 1-0 Racing Santander (h)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Gerrard 5; Kuyt 2; Babel, Ngog, Riera 1
Real: Raul, van Nistelrooy 3; Ramos, Robben 1

Referee: Roberto Rosetti (ITA)

Guess at a squad
Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Alonso Mascherano
Kuyt Benayoun Riera

I still find it tough to believe this’ll be Liverpool's first competitive match at the Bernabeu. Thanks to the Spanish make-up of the team, a fair few players have trod on the Madrid turf (including the manager), but it’s not as if any of them have the best records against Los Blancos. But this game will be a whole different bag of apples. And you have to hope that – as often happens in the European Cup – form will go out the window.

Real have won 10 of their last 11 matches, scoring 10 goals in their last two. You have to go back nine matches for Liverpool’s last 10 goals. Ramos has taken them from a team struggling towards third place to La Liga’s most in-form side, only seven points off Barca’s pace. Raul, Robben, and Higuain are all scoring (Raul especially), while Lassana Diarra’s been the signing of the winter, solidifying the midfield and protecting the back four in the absence of Mahamadou Diarra. What Arsenal wouldn’t give to have him back.

With or without Gerrard, Liverpool’s lineup pretty much writes itself. I expect the skipper to start on the bench as he hasn’t played since the beginning of the month, but you never know with Gerrard. And, to be honest, with a hamstring injury, it might be better for him to start, because it’s a lot harder to warm up a hamstring when coming off the bench. But if Liverpool’s going to be cautious with any player, it’s probably Gerrard.

Which would mean that Alonso and Aurelio are the only likely changes from Sunday’s draw. Alonso was a glaring absence, as usual, given his range of passing and intelligence, while Liverpool were clearly a better team after Aurelio came on against City. The goals may be few and far between of late, but I still feel that this formation – with the caveat of having all the players healthy – is the best way to change that. The formation was just as much 4-4-1-1 as 4-2-3-1 on Sunday, and we’ll probably see similar tomorrow, as Liverpool will undoubtedly have more defending to do in Madrid.

We might see Babel in place of Riera, especially since the Bernabeu pitch is wider than most and Riera has looked a different, more tired player since autumn, but Babel certainly didn’t have anything to write home about after his cameo appearance on Sunday. Similarly, I’ve seen posters on various forums suggest Benayoun on the left with Lucas in a more advanced position, but this doesn’t seem the game to experiment with that.

If anyone knows how to travel to Madrid, make it a tight, cagey game, and strangle the life out of the home side, it’s Benitez and Liverpool. These are the games Rafa and Liverpool have built their reputations on. Let’s see it again.

22 February 2009

Liverpool 1-1 Manchester City

Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Dossena
Benayoun Mascherano Lucas Riera

Bellamy 49’
Kuyt 78’

More heart stoppers and late heroics, but it’s not enough this time. And it’s probably the nail in the coffin.

You know the routine by now. This is just the draw that seals it.

Dominant, but insipid in the final third, for the first half. For all the possession, City even had the best chance through Ireland in the 30th. Liverpool started the second half on the back foot and fell victim to a massively unlucky deflection on (who else) Bellamy’s shot. And City kept Liverpool on the back foot until the final 15 minutes as the home side’s passing devolved. Kuyt gave a lifeline in the 78th, and it looked like Liverpool might snatch another victory from the jaws of a draw, but for all the late pressure, no such luck this time.

Throughout the first half, Liverpool just couldn’t find the finishing touch. Benayoun and Torres were lively, but the home side didn’t create enough from the flanks, and couldn’t get past Dunne and Onuoha. Riera, usually the release valve out wide, cut in too often giving room for Dossena to overlap, which rarely came to fruition. At the same time, I’m not sure why Kuyt played centrally with Benayoun wide while the opposite had worked well previously. And despite all the pressure, the best chance came from a League One-esque goal mouth scramble in the 23rd, but none of Torres, Kuyt, or Riera could apply the finishing touch.

And Liverpool almost paid for it in the 30th when – surprise, surprise – City broke. Robinho scampered down the left and slide it through for Ireland (who started the move), but the midfielder could only shoot straight at Reina and then into the side netting.

Liverpool didn’t heed the warning, and it didn’t take long after the restart to go behind. City had almost all the possession before scoring, but compare four minutes of sustained pressure to 45 unfulfilled and it’s a bit frustrating. It might even go down as an own goal as well – that shot doesn’t hit Arbeloa’s foot, it doesn’t go in. But them's the breaks.

The next 30 minutes were eminently frustrating as City stayed on top, making it hard for Liverpool to break out of their own half. Both Ireland and De Jong weren’t far away with shots from distance before Ireland had the ball in the net on the break only to be rightfully ruled offside.

Two substitutions – El Zhar for Riera and Aurelio for Dossena – helped Liverpool reassert a foothold as Aurelio’s passes succeeded at a far better rate and El Zhar was much more of a pacey outlet out wide. And in the 78th, Liverpool pulled one back as Benayoun charged down the left and crossed for Torres, whose mishit shot set Kuyt up perfectly to strike from close range.

But in the last 10 minutes, Given saved well from Kuyt and Benayoun, Kuyt dragged a shot wide, and Aurelio blasted a volley over. Benayoun’s was the best chance – in the 85th, the Israeli blasted a knockdown straight at Given when either side would have been a goal. No such luck. No brilliance from Torres or any other late magic. Just a depressing end to another draw at Anfield and the lingering hope of challenging for a title.

At the end of the day, sadly, Liverpool just weren’t, and aren’t, good enough. This’ll sting for a while.

20 February 2009

Liverpool v Manchester City 02.22.09

10am, live in the US on FSC

Regular readers are probably used to my disappearances during international breaks. Once again, I can only apologize and thank people for returning when it’s over. You know that if there’s breaking news, I usually find a way to chime in.

With that apology said, now let me apologize in advance for not having a review up right after Sunday’s game. I’m pretty sure this is the last time it’ll conflict with my college basketball tickets. I suck. I’m sorry. Review should be up by 4pm.

Last 4 head-to-head:
3-2 Liverpool (a) 10.05.08
1-0 Liverpool (h) 05.04.08
0-0 (a) 12.30.07
0-0 (a) 04.14.07

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 3-2 Pompey (a); 0-1 Everton (a); 2-0 Chelsea (h)
City: 2-2 Copenhagen (a); 0-2 Pompey (a); 1-0 Boro (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard 9; Torres 8; Kuyt 6; Alonso 3; Babel, Benayoun, Riera 2; Arbeloa, Aurelio, Carragher, Hyypia 1
City: Robinho 11; Ireland 7; Wright-Phillips 4; Elano, Sturridge 3; Bellamy, Caicedo 2; Benjani, Dunne, Evans, Fernandes, Garrido, Kompany, Zabaleta 1

Referee: Phil Dowd

Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Insua
Lucas Mascherano
Kuyt Benayoun Riera

It’s the start of a crucial three-game week that sees trips to Madrid and Middlesbrough after this match. So, with Gerrard ruled out and Alonso suspended (instead of Lucas), do we see the 3-4-2-1 again?

Short answer? I doubt it, but you can never be sure with Benitez.

As evidenced by the two posts promoting the system and the general delight that comes with a win like that at Pompey, I enjoyed the formation an awful lot two Saturdays ago. But I doubt – and this is speculation, as usual – it’s going to be a recurring theme. It was first and foremost a short-term fix for the absences of two central midfielders and the main striker.

Granted, circumstances are similar other than the likely return of Torres. And it’s not a stretch to suggest that the purchases of Dossena, Degen, and Keane (and the attempted purchase of Barry) were with that formation in mind – wingbacks help explain all four.

But I’ve argued for the 4-2-3-1 past the point of sanity, and to hell if I’m changing my tune mid-stream. I still think that formation best suits Torres and Gerrard, and is what Benitez should be building towards. If I’m wrong, I throw my hands up and write another 800 words in support of what the manager’s doing. But (for once) I think it’s more likely that I’m right.

Which would lead to the familiar formation I’ve guessed six paragraphs earlier. Benayoun in the Gerrard role (his preferred position), Kuyt and Riera on the flanks, Torres up top, and Masch and Lucas (Alonso’s serving a one-game suspension for accumulated yellows) holding. A similar formation (but with Gerrard and Alonso) beat City 3-2 at Anfield, and they wouldn’t have needed a comeback had Liverpool taken one of the many chances to clear the ball before it fell to the feet of Ireland and/or had Garrido not hit the free kick of his life.

There’s definitely an argument for Aurelio in midfield after the game he had against Pompey. I’d rather see Insua at left back, needing to find his feet having recently returned from the U-20 tournament, but Aurelio certainly merits a place after the last match. However, even though Lucas had two matches to forget before his suspension, Benitez will probably keep faith with the young midfielder given recent history and past pronouncements.

City’s shown that you win by attacking them. Robinho, Ireland, et al can only do so much when the defense lets in 22 goals in 12 away matches. Under pressure, Mark Hughes might park the bus and hope for the best, but I can’t see it with this squad; City’s only had one scoreless draw all season: hosting PSV in the UEFA Cup in December. And there’ll be space to operate if City plays like City, but Liverpool will assuredly be wary of the counter attack if defenders get caught up field, especially the likes of Craig Bellamy. Facing former players always frightens me.

Benitez and others have been quoted recently saying that Liverpool need to win every league game from here on out. That’s enough of a synopsis

12 February 2009


In case it's convenient, you can now get posts, plus other Liverpool news, on your phone via Natajak. All you need to do is go here, register and install it.

I've been promised that Natajak doesn't charge for their end of the service (although you should check to see what your service provider will do), it runs on most phones that can access the internet, and works just about anywhere in the world.

And by the way, I'm not getting anything out of this; I hope that this service is useful to people who read this site.

09 February 2009

As goes Kuyt goes Liverpool?

Disclaimer: Frequent readers know that I stick up for Kuyt to the point of annoyance. It's turned into something of a crusade: I think he's made into a scapegoat when it's not deserved far too often (as is happening to Lucas lately). I don't say this to look smarter after Saturday's match; reminding readers of my pre-existing biases is usually the best course of action. So, long story short, I may be reading too much into this because I've got a lot of time for the player, but I think it's worth noting anyway.

Inter and Arsenal in the CL last year. Chelsea too if not for a last-minute freak own goal. City, Wigan, and Pompey in the league this season, as well as the CL qualifier against Liege. In tight, big games, and in league comebacks, it's Kuyt with a starring role.

At the same time, Liverpool's spell of draws over the last few months began when Kuyt stopped scoring, with his last league goal before Saturday coming against Bolton on 11/15. He's scored eight goals in six games this season: the only one that didn't end in a win was the collapse against Spurs after Kuyt scored in the 3rd minute. The nearly three month dry spell Kuyt suffered through coincided almost exactly with the drop in Liverpool's form, leading to a league record of four wins and seven draws during that period.

Obviously, the Dutchman's not without his faults, which have been well documented, and aren't cancelled out by playing a key part in a comeback against a relegation candidate. But, in keeping with my paeans to Benitez, there has to be a reason why the manager keeps picking him, and it's not solely because he's willing to run himself into the ground.

I reckon the Portsmouth match might show the way forward, as well as hopefully marking a turning points. Against teams content to shut up shop, Kuyt's best role is probably as a sub. With Benayoun playing so well of late, maybe the preferred right flank against teams with 10 men behind the ball should be Yossi as the starter and Kuyt off the bench. If Benayoun's guile doesn't break them down, maybe Kuyt's energy and industry will when legs are starting to tire. And in games against the likes of United and Chelsea, where Kuyt's been a nailed-on starter, the opposite will be the preferred pairing.

08 February 2009

So what was the deal with the 3-4-3?

The team sheet and formation had a fair few confused, including yours truly, so I’ve been dwelling on Benitez’s possible rationale. Beware, this is going to get extra sycophantic.

Obviously, most important was the freshness of the team. It may have been a “second string” side, but it still included eight internationals (Carragher, Aurelio, and Ngog were the others) and on paper was better than Portsmouth at pretty much every position. It also included a few players with a point to prove – mainly Agger, Babel, and Ngog.

It may have included six defenders – again, more out of necessity – but that too had a purpose: congest the area around Crouch in an attempt to prevent any flick-ons, a plan that worked until the 62nd minute when Basinas hit an outstanding pass, both Carragher and Skrtel failed to close down the former Liverpool man, and Arbeloa couldn’t get back to cover Nugent. Both Arbeloa and Dossena did well to support the attack and stretch the field from wing-back, and Agger and Skrtel also got forward, bringing the ball out of defense when they had the space (which is why those two featured instead of Hyypia).

And even though Liverpool didn’t get the early goal, it’s not as if they weren’t creating more than in recent draws, even those against the likes of Stoke and Fulham. Benayoun, Aurelio (twice) and Mascherano all came close within the first 30 minutes. I’m sure Tony Adams didn’t expect this formation either, and catching the opposition unprepared had to be in Benitez’ mind.

Portsmouth most likely planned for what I’d guessed: most likely the 4-2-3-1 with a fatigued Torres up top, or possibly the 4-4-2 with Kuyt and either Babel or Ngog. And if either of those formations were the case, the home side would have attempted to strangle the life out of the game and hoof it up to Crouch, like we’ve seen from so many other sides so far this season.

Portsmouth may be gash of late, but they were always going to come to terms with the changes – the hope was to score before that happened. At this point, it started to look a bit like all the other games where Liverpool’s struggled to break down the opposition, even when they’ve had a full-strength squad.

And when Liverpool didn’t get the goal, Benitez made substitutions which changed the game: Kuyt to stretch it with his work ethic, Alonso to unlock it, and then the genius Torres, who was the most fatigued, in the last 15 minutes to provide that spark. I love it when a plan comes to fruition.

Now, two defensive mistakes almost made all that logic moot– but that’s football. And it’s not as if Liverpool were solely lucky: Nugent was arguably offside for the opener, Kuyt was arguably onside for the disallowed goal, and the foul that led to the free kick for Pompey’s second sure was arguable.

It is, after all, a thin line between genius and insanity. Crouch or Kranjcar could have deflected Aurelio’s free kick, Distin could have cleared prior to Kuyt’s goal, or Distin could have stayed closer to Torres instead of edging closer to his goal line. You know, all the normal moments that a game can turn on.

At the end of the day, what matters are the three points. And to think, at 1-2, I was worried Benitez was on pace to be questioned more than after any other result.

07 February 2009

Liverpool 3-2 Portsmouth

----Skrtel Carragher Agger

Nugent 62’
Aurelio 69’
Hreiddarsson 78’
Kuyt 85’
Torres 90+1’

So are we going to let another late win – another late winner from that man Torres – gloss over the performance as a whole? Is Benitez still an idiot or a genius? The starting formation got nowhere, but the substitutions sure won the game.

We knew Gerrard and Lucas would be out, and that Torres, Alonso, and Kuyt were all fatigued. And we know the emphasis Benitez puts on fitness – and in my opinion, rightfully so. Despite what the pundits say, there’s a difference between being fit for the bench and being fit enough to start, and there are a lot of games left.

There isn’t much else the manager could do with the team selection with those five players out. The 3-4-3, 3-4-2-1, whatever you want to call it, was pretty much the only formation possible with that many midfielders and the star striker missing. And given that Liverpool hadn’t used this shape all season, I thought it worked reasonably well, even considering the two goals conceded.

For about 25 minutes, the team played well and had Pompey off balance. In the 8th, Benayoun slipped when in space on the right, shooting into the side netting, before Aurelio put a free kick off the outside of the post and later shot wide after one of Liverpool’s best passing moves. In the 26th, Mascherano forced a great save from James on a shot from distance, but that was pretty much the last sniff of the half as Pompey settled.

The fact that the game passed over the midfield, with Mascherano and Aurelio unable to establish the sort of possession Liverpool’s had in the past, didn’t help matters, but Ngog was often isolated as Benayoun and Babel dropped back more often. The backline of Skrtel, Carragher, and Agger held firm, limiting the home side to a couple of shots from distance, the best from Crouch in the 38th.

The possession and tempo was better in the second half, even as Liverpool still failed to find the final ball to unlock another stingy defense. Ngog didn’t have the best of games, but at 19 and often battling both Campbell and Distin, it was understandable. He showed a bit of potential in holding up play and trying to turn, but wasn’t making much headway, with Kuyt coming on the 56th. And the substitute almost provided the opener three minutes later, putting a perfect centered pass across the box for Babel after Benayoun beat two defenders, but somehow Babel couldn’t make contact, summing up his day. Today was a big opportunity for the Dutchman, and although I doubt it’ll be his last, he didn’t have a game to remember.

It didn’t take long for Liverpool to pay the price. Crouch put Nugent (who looked offside) through in the 62nd, and he was able to slide a left-footer past Reina. Five minutes later, Liverpool made another game-changing substitution (but to the commentators’ dismay, it wasn’t Torres) in Alonso, and two minutes after that it was level. It was partly thanks to Crouch, whose back pass (which Kuyt smartly read) led to James’ handling. Alonso laid the indirect free kick off for Aurelio, and his venomous shot from 12 yards beat Kranjcar at the near post.

The goal, along with the subs, brought Liverpool back into the game, and it looked as if Kuyt put them ahead in the 76th, only to be ruled offside. If Nugent was onside, so was Kuyt, and it seemed like the decision would haunt Liverpool as Pompey went back ahead. Johnson won a free kick on Liverpool’s left, Belhadj sent in a dangerous ball, and Hreidarsson somehow got a free header, which bounced awkwardly in front of Reina. Another set piece goal, after Liverpool had one pulled back, and I was ready to slit my wrists. Little did I know what was to come.

In the 85th minute, a mistake from Distin, similar to Ashley Cole’s last week, let Torres (who came on for Babel in the 76th) in. At a narrow angle, the Spaniard cut back for Kuyt, who took a touch and looked to have lost the chance before smashing a point-blank rocket past James at the near post.

At this point, it was starting to feel like the comebacks against Boro and City, and we weren’t disappointed. And it was that man again. In the first minute of added time, Mascherano charged forward and fed Benayoun, who crossed perfectly for Torres to smash and grab at the near post, just like the winner against Chelsea. 2-1 down, 3-2 up. Who cares if United has two games in hand? For now, Liverpool’s top of the table.

I wrote it for a reason at the top of this post – the win can’t completely gloss over a shaky performance, where Liverpool had to produce another brilliant comeback against a team that’s taken two points from the previous eight matches. But, given the starting line-up (which again, Benitez is responsible for, but was understandable with fitness issues, upcoming games, and suspensions), it’s a great result. Substitutions and fortitude won the game, two things you love to see.

And at the end of the day, all that matters is the three points. But the morale boost from a win like this can’t hurt.

06 February 2009

Liverpool at Portsmouth 02.07.09

12:30pm, live in the US on FSC

Last 4 head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 10.29.08
4-1 Liverpool (h) 12.22.07
0-0 (a) 09.15.07
1-2 Pompey (a) 04.28.07

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Everton aet (a); 2-0 Chelsea (h); 1-1 Wigan (a)
Pompey: 1-3 Fulham (a); 0-1 Villa (h); 0-2 Swansea (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard 9; Torres 7; Kuyt 5; Alonso 3; Babel, Benayoun, Riera 2; Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia 1
Pompey: Crouch 8; Belhadj, Johnson, Nugent 2; Davis, Kranjcar 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a squad:
with Torres
Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Alonso Mascherano
Kuyt Benayoun Riera

without Torres
Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Benayoun Alonso Mascherano Riera
Kuyt Babel

That I rarely guess two different squads should show you that I’ve got absolutely no clue whether or not Torres will start.

The arguments against:
1) He looked dead tired by extra time on Wednesday, and has started five in a row since returning from injury
2) He’s essential to the rest of Liverpool’s season

The arguments for:
1) It’s Torres
2) There’s a weeklong international break coming up
3) If Liverpool doesn’t win pretty much every league match, the rest of the season isn’t going to count for much
4) It’s Torres

That said, I’m still leaning towards guessing he won’t start. Benitez is playing coy about both Torres and Alonso, although I’d be surprised if the midfielder missed out because it didn’t look a serious knock that he took and he’s suspended for the next match. But Torres’ fitness is a completely different bag of apples.

Otherwise, it’ll fall to Kuyt and Babel (and Ngog) to pick up the slack up front. I’d hope that if Torres is out, Liverpool play two up top for added firepower; with the goal return of late, I don’t truly trust Kuyt, Babel, or Ngog on their own.

Benayoun will assuredly play some role, either on the right or as a second striker in the hole, as he did for half of Wednesday derby, and as he did partnering Crouch in the league draw at Arsenal last season.

And the key to stopping Portsmouth will be stopping Crouch. With Defoe sold to Spurs, the Gangly Handful is the only Pompey player with more than two goals. And I’ll admit that I’m worried we could see a reprise of Liverpool’s match against Southampton in 04-05, where the lanky striker surprisingly punished a sloppy opposition. I’d be stunned if Hyypia didn’t start to mark the giant beanpole (who has “good touch for a big man”!).

Also, Pennant, as it was a loan, is ineligible for this match.

Just because Pompey’s on a poor run doesn’t mean Liverpool can look past them. The team’s made plenty of other struggling sides look like defensive world-beaters in previous draws this season.

At this stage of the campaign, hands become tied due to fitness levels and injuries. But Liverpool can have no excuses. The team knows how to win, and knows what they have to do to beat Portsmouth at Fratton Park, even without Gerrard and possibly Torres.

04 February 2009

Liverpool 0-1 Everton aet

Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Dossena
Lucas Alonso
Kuyt Gerrard Riera

Gosling 118’

I got a DVR in early January because I knew classes would be disruptive this semester. So I apologize, it’s my fault. Liverpool hasn’t won one game I’ve watched after the fact.

Losing Gerrard to injury in the 16th and Lucas to a red card in the 74th, and Liverpool was lucky to hang on as long as they did. It looked to be heading to penalties, where the team with far more experience had to be favored, but Dan Gosling made sure it didn’t get that far.

It’s petty to say, and undervalues the rest of the team, but Gerrard’s injury was as much of a turning point as the sending off. It was no coincidence that the away side looked the most threatening in the first 15 minutes – even if Alonso’s blast from distance that went narrowly wide was the only shot at goal. That it takes a bit for a local lad to want to come off in a derby makes me nervous to say the least.

Kuyt moved centrally into Gerrard’s position with Benayoun coming on (they switched right before halftime), and – not blaming Kuyt, mind you – the difference was noticeable. It took another five or so minutes for Everton to stake a claim as the better side, and it wasn’t until the second half that they were so, but I’m struggling to think of any other opportunities Liverpool had at the Everton net – although that isn’t completely out of character for a derby. And it’s not like the home side had any of their own.

Everton looked a better side following the restart, but the best chance to that point went to Liverpool in the 61st, when Howard had to rush out to prevent Riera from making clean contact on Alonso’s throughball. 15 minutes later, five after Everton had hit the post through Osman, Liverpool would be down to 10 men.

I don’t want to sound bitter, but Cahill, dickbag that he is, was lucky to only see yellow for a deliberate elbow on Carragher in the 18th. Liverpool’s opponents were never going to get a red card after Sunday, but it leaves a taste of injustice in the mouth with Lucas sent off 30 minutes into the second half.

His first yellow was a nothing challenge – I’d reckon at least five worse went unpunished prior, and it’s my firm belief Wiley only gave it because he’d already booked three Toffees (and it should have been more) – but there are no complaints about the second. That he was already on a yellow makes it a stupid foul, but I’m not ascribing as much blame as against Wigan because he didn’t play badly otherwise. But he has to cut out the stupid mistakes – that’s two very costly ones in three games, and it’s not surprising when a player’s crucified after that. But I can’t be the only one that sees a huge amount of potential in his passing and positional sense (moving with and without the ball, not tackling, naturally). He is a smarter player than this, and other than the results, that’s what bugs me the most.

Only one side spent the last 45 minutes trying to win the game, and for once, it wasn’t the team in red. Once Liverpool started to tire in extra time, the chances came. Cahill almost turned Baines’ cross in. Reina had to save from Osman and Gosling before Cahill headed the resulting corner wide. Arteta’s free kick was barely deflected wide. It was a surreal role reversal – Liverpool a man down, with almost the entire team behind the ball hanging on, and trying to nick one from distance or a set play.

And on the verge of penalties, van der Meyde (what was this, his second appearance of the season?) crossed in, and Gosling controlled around defenders, curling in a pretty shot. So Liverpool suffered through the extra 30 minutes of an extra game, had Gerrard injured, and saw Torres work futilely and tire significantly before going off in the 101st, and still lost. Super.

It’s rarely a strong suit, but Liverpool’s crossing was especially abominable today from either flank. Again, wasn’t much to aim at after the first half, but it was noticeable for the time when Liverpool were stronger.

At the end of the day, Everton (sigh) are deserved winners (so when’s the DVD coming out?), even if the red card was the tipping point. Once again, Jagielka and Lescott were immense, Jagielka man-marking Torres especially. They looked the more likely to score with a man advantage, and it’s actually a credit to Liverpool that they kept the home side out as long as they did.

It’s necessary to keep things in perspective. This is Liverpool’s first loss in over two months, and it took extra time to happen. That it’s to Merseyside rivals gives an additional amount of anguish, but if it wasn’t a cup replay, it would have been another draw, one earned with 10 men. It’s just this bad because it’s against that lot.

Worse than the result is the injury to Gerrard and the fitness the extra time will cost the players. I’m not sure if Lucas’s ban kicks in for Saturday or the game after, but if he is, that’s him and Alonso out. I’d be surprised if Torres played on Saturday, and with Gerrard out as well, it’s going to be a depleted side for a crucial (they’re all crucial) league game.

03 February 2009

Liverpool at Everton 02.04.09

3:10pm, live in the US on Setanta

Another match for the DVR. There have been way too many Wednesday afternoon games recently. I won’t have a review up until late night.

Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 2-0 Chelsea (h); 1-1 Wigan (a); 1-1 Everton (h)
Everton: 0-1 United (a); 1-1 Arsenal (h); 1-1 Liverpool (a)

Goalscorers (all competitions):
Liverpool: Gerrard 15; Torres 8; Kuyt 7; Riera 4; Alonso, Babel 3; Benayoun, Hyypia 2; Agger, Arbeloa, Carragher, Lucas, Ngog, Plessis 1
Everton: Cahill 6; Arteta, Yakubu 5; Fellaini, Lescott, Osman 4; Saha 3; Anichebe, Castillo, Gosling, Jagielka 1

Referee: Alan Wiley

Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Dossena
Alonso Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun

With Chelsea three days before and Pompey three days after, tomorrow will certainly see some changes. I’m not suggesting the trip to Portsmouth is more important – yes, it’s the league, but this is a derby – but with the timing of the fixtures, it’s easier to rest players on Wednesday. Plus, yeah, one eye is always on the league. It comes with the territory of being in the hunt in February.

My best guess is that Riera and Aurelio will be two to miss out, and possibly Skrtel as well. Aurelio rarely plays three games a week, and will need to stay fit with Insua still with Argentina. Riera, on the other hand, has looked gassed in the last couple of games, and Yossi could benefit by starting after his performance against Chelsea. Babel’s inclusion wouldn’t surprise me either – I have to expect he’ll be the primary beneficiary of Keane’s departure.

If Alonso weren’t suspended for Portsmouth thanks to his fifth yellow of the season, he’d probably be rested given that, like Aurelio, he rarely plays two matches in three days. I’m not positive that it’s Pompey that he’s ruled out for – it might be seven days before the ban kicks in, and he’d miss the next FA Cup match if Liverpool win tomorrow – but if he’s out Saturday, he won’t be tomorrow.

And even though I wrote that I hope he plays every match from now until May, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Torres on the bench. Despite his return to form, he isn’t long removed from a lengthy injury, and Benitez may play it safe with his fitness. Obviously, I’m hoping it won’t happen, and would rather Torres miss Saturday if it comes to that, but it’s possible. If Torres is rested, I’d rather Babel instead of Kuyt up top, as it looks like Babel might be drafted in as striker to fill the void left by Keane.

Everton picked up Jo on loan from City, but he should be cup-tied having come off the bench in the fiasco against Forest. Chances are that Everton’s lineup will be very similar to the team faces two weeks ago, except I’d be surprised if Fellaini was left out again.

Being at home should bring the Toffees out of their shell a bit, and there should be more space to operate. Even after the heady win over Chelsea, questions remain over Liverpool’s cutting edge. It took until the last minute of the match to break down a 10-man Chelsea, while the infuriating draws aren’t yet removed from the memory.

This match can’t finish with honors even. If it gets that far, there’s extra time and penalties. But that’s the last thing this team needs with games coming fast and thick, and the squad a man shorter up front.

Hopefully, the adrenaline boost that comes with playing the city rivals (for the third time in a month) will be enough to make sure it doesn’t get that far. I think we’re all in agreement that the league comes first, but Merseyside bragging rights – not to mention a chance at an FA Cup run – aren’t far off.

Also, this is unrelated, but I wanted to link a fantastic column about Rafa in case others don’t see it, even though it doesn’t deserve it’s own post. Sometimes, like today, I reckon I don’t check Football365 as often as I should, and sometimes I do and all the opinions piss me off. But this is a super read.

My favorite bit:
Trying to break the stranglehold that Manchester United and Arsenal have had on the league for so many years is no small task. He is up against two of the best managers of the modern era with so much momentum and experience behind them. After all, he's 11 years younger than Wenger and nearly 20 younger than Fergie and is surely still learning the art of English management. It's not unreasonable to assume his best, most successful years are still ahead of him in English football.

It is almost totally down to Rafa that as a neutral, I want Liverpool to win the league, if only to seem him stick it to his critics both within and without the club and their ability to beat the other top clubs may yet be the key to them doing that.
But it’s all very good.

02 February 2009

On Robbie Keane, for the last time

Over the last few weeks, I've made little secret of my belief that Robbie Keane wasn't going to work out. And Rafa displayed that renowned ruthless streak by shipping him out during the first window. But I want to make sure no one's thinking that I'm reveling in this news. Because, even though it strengthens the team by removing a major question (and seems to show that Liverpool will focus on the 4-2-3-1, which I believe is the right move), it weakens the team as well.

According to the BBC
, the deal is for £12m in cold, hard currency, potentially rising to some unstated figure due to those ubiquitous incentives clauses. That's at least £7m that Liverpool's losing (Keane's fee was originally £19m, rising to £20.3m, even though all the stories I've seen today only quote the higher figure) at a time when money's tighter than (pick your sexual innuendo). £7m for 7 goals and 5 months of service, not to mention the 25 or so weeks of wages. And because the transfer's happened so late in the window, it looks as if there was no time to buy a replacement, if Benitez was even allowed access to the funds. It turns out Spurs (or Liverpool) didn't fancy a player exchange – which is fine with me, as the only player I'd want from their squad is Pavlyuchenko.

Granted, if there are no major injuries (I can't knock on wood hard enough), the squad should be okay. Torres, Kuyt, Babel, and Ngog can all theoretically play up top, even as a lone striker. The Torres and Gerrard partnership, with Alonso and Mascherano holding, is and remains the most important part of this team. And Robbie Keane hindered that, even though he’s a Liverpool fan, gave it his all, and didn’t shirk from the spotlight.

Now, what I want to see is Benitez experiment with his "wingers" more. Specifically, I want to see Benayoun on the left or right in games like those earlier infuriating draws, where Liverpool needs creativity. Similar goes for Babel. Apologies for the 1984-style mantras, but 4-2-3-1 is the way forward. 4-2-3-1 is Liverpool's best chance for success. Now, use it in pretty much every game here on out, but vary the flanks according to the opposition.

Then, with help from other teams, Liverpool might actually make a season out of this.

01 February 2009

Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Alonso Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Riera

Torres 89’ 90+4’

Outstanding. I never thought I’d be thanking Mike Riley for a Liverpool victory.

But we’re really thanking Fernando Torres. Yes, I’ll get it out of the way up top. That was never, ever a red card on Frank Lampard. But I also remember a penalty that never was which cost Liverpool two points last season. That’s why I’m a firm believer in karma.

And if it wasn’t for the brilliance of Fernando Torres, it could have easily stayed 0-0. For 29 minutes with a man advantage, it looked exactly like the recent frustrating draws. And then Torres made his presence felt and made sure the better team won. Looks like someone might be finding his feet after injury – and coupled with today’s win, that’s more than enough to restore some of the faith lost in the last few weeks.

For 60 minutes, even with the lack of goals, you couldn’t help but be pleased with the performance. Had Liverpool not had so many draws of late, the 0-0 would have almost been satisfying. Both defenses were dominant, with the four centerbacks easily the players of the game, and Carragher and Alex a further step ahead of the pack.

But Liverpool was in control for the most part, and although chances were again hard to come by, the home side had all the best. Alonso and Mascherano tested Cech, who looked tentative, early on, before Alex had to spectacularly block Torres’ shot off the turn and Ashley Cole almost turned the rebound from Riera’s shot into his own net. Meanwhile, Chelsea didn’t get a shot on target all half as Liverpool’s defense snuffed everything out and Alonso and Mascherano – Alonso, who was again fantastic, especially – set the pace in midfield. Had Kuyt and Riera delivered a better end product, Liverpool probably would have been a goal to the good before the break.

And the second half started similarly, with Liverpool even more dominant in possession. Alex again blocked a Torres shot on target before Mike Riley made himself the main talking point. Alonso and Lampard went for the same ball, with Lampard getting there first, albeit with studs high. If anything, it’s probably a foul by Alonso, but Riley somehow comes up with a red card for Frankie. Lampard barely argued; he just looked confused. As did everyone else.

You can’t throw away gifts like that. Chelsea didn’t at Anfield last season, and for nearly half an hour, it looked like Liverpool would. The pressure, and chances, came non-stop. Alex and Terry were superb, and Chelsea were content to sit back and see out a goalless draw. Had Liverpool not been able to take advantage of the extra man, the worrying, complaining, and second-guessing would have continued. Because it looked again like the lack of end product would cost Liverpool – and Benitez had even made attacking substitutions, bringing on Benayoun for Riera and Babel for Mascherano.

But Fernando Torres again makes all the difference, and Liverpool responded with the late heroics we’d been waiting for. In the 89th minute, the home side again poured forward, Aurelio curled in yet another cross from the left, and Torres made a beautiful run to beat Alex at the near post, glancing his header past Cech. Finally. Thank you.

Chelsea, with 0-2 no different than 0-1, tried to steal an equalizer by actually attacking with more than two players, but the space allowed that man Torres to claim his brace, with Cole making a mistake on Kuyt’s flick-on, allowing Benayoun to get in behind. When the left back tried to make a recovering tackle, he could only shift the ball into the path of Torres, who only had to pass into an empty net to seal an exceptionally gratifying win.

Once again, I’m left feeling that luck is the determining factor in this league. You have to have the talent to take advantage of that luck – which Torres has in spades – and you have to put in the work – which Liverpool rarely fails to do – but lucky breaks often make the difference. Liverpool couldn’t buy a break in every single one of the draws before this match. But one bad decision by a referee prone to bad decisions has given Liverpool the opportunity to push on. And at the end of the day, the better team won, thanks to the brilliance of Fernando Torres and the diligence of every player in the side.

With the form United’s in, Liverpool will need a lot more than luck. But it seems a lot sunnier outside than it did an hour ago. Now Liverpool has to put it to use.