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.


Mike Georger said...

"speculation that the Rafa v Parry v owners saga is the reason that Liverpool were so freaking terrible today"

Unfair to chalk this one up to the media, as last year the players openly bitched that the offield distractions hurt their play. Which is either complete and total horseshit and an excuse for them being choke artists, or if it is true then it's equally as horseshit. Look at Chelsea, two years in a row they have fired their manager and two years in a row they will have finished better than Liverpool. Crap excuse, crap players.

Why the hell didn't Yossi start? Why no changes until the last third? Why in God's fucking name did El Zhar start?

nate said...

I question how Rick Parry supposedly losing a power battle with Rafa affects professional players. It'd be one thing if the manager looked on his way out, but I'd have thought this news would make the opposite true.

We know there are problems with the squad. It isn't deep enough in attack, and clearly wasn't helped by Torres out and Gerrard not fit.

But I really think it's more a case of a really bad day - which happens to all teams - rather than the players put off by matters off the pitch.

Unless there really is something we don't know about why Rafa isn't signing a new contract. Which is even more frightening than the things I listed in the above post.

Anonymous said...

A really bad day? Honestly, we've played a steady "crappy" all season long. There have been a handful of games where we were able to dominate score and possession, but for the most part, the team has played poorly all year.

The performance today wasn't surprising at all. From the get-go against Standard Leige we looked incredibly dull in attack and nothing has changed except a few names due to injuries and terrible transfer management. Take away some of the incredible game-ending heroics we've been fortunate enough to conjure and we are mid-table. (Which after yesterday's performance is fitting)

I'm very committed to the CL at this point seeing as I'll be in Rome. But not much hope otherwise for the way we have played this year - major changes need to be made. Good to see Coco going, but at this point I'm okay with anybody changing hands excepting Torres and SG. This includes Rafa who has had plenty of time to address our issues in attack - and comes up with Kuyt, Babel and El Zhar! Wow.