17 October 2009

Liverpool 0-1 Sunderland

Skrtel Carragher Agger
Johnson Lucas Spearing Aurelio
Benayoun Kuyt Babel

Bent 5’

A balloon takes the air out of Liverpool’s title chances? A balloon, and Steve Bruce’s balloon-shaped head.

If I don’t laugh at this season’s misfortunes, I’m going to cry. Only this team could fall behind within five minutes to a stray balloon. A balloon that looked like it came from the Liverpool fans, no less. As much as it pains me to write and as early as it is, on current form, Liverpool is going to struggle mightily for a Champions League place. And yes, I’m fully aware I predicted #19 little more than two months ago. It’s like 2002-03 all over again. I knew I’d jinx it.

In an atypical 3-4-3 (3-4-2-1 if you like) – which we haven’t seen since Pompey last February (when both Gerrard and Torres were missing) – Liverpool struggled to head off early Sunderland possession and paid for it. Sunderland broke after a piss-poor Aurelio free kick (every single one of his set play deliveries was atrocious today), Reid’s right flank cross found its way to Darren Bent, and the striker’s shot fooled Reina by bouncing off an oversize balloon on the six-yard line. Sigh. You can’t make this shit up.

Going 0-1 down prompted a marginally better response, but Liverpool couldn’t find a quick riposte, and it didn’t last. A goalmouth scramble in the 13th saw Liverpool’s best opening, but neither Babel nor Johnson could finish it off, and the game settled into a back-and-forth affair as neither team could keep coherent possession, although Sunderland saw more of the ball.

Unsurprisingly, chances were at a premium, which, despite Liverpool’s attacking prowess at times this season, I’ve written far too frequently. A Benayoun deflected shot, Johnson unable to reach a clever back-heeled throughball, and Spearing just over from distance were all of Liverpool’s close calls in the first half. At the other end, Bent, Jones, and Reid continued to pose questions as Bent had a couple of headed chances from Reid and Bardsley crosses.

The second half saw more Liverpool pressure, but Sunderland with the better opportunities (thanks to three Liverpool mistakes) until the inevitable final furious minutes. Bent was in twice, in the 55th and 61st, after gaffes by Spearing and Skrtel, but Pepe saved the first and the second caromed off the post from an acute angle. In a similar position eight minutes later, Malbranque saw his effort blocked by Carragher.

Malbranque’s chance was bracketed by three for Liverpool: Kuyt and Benayoun went for the same header, which landed tamely in Gordon’s arms; a weak handball shout off Cana’s shoulder; and Lucas’ throughball finding Benayoun in the area, only to be blasted over after he created space. Sunderland had their last threat in the 76th, when Henderson shot wide, before Liverpool started the onslaught that should have come earlier, with the lineup that should have started.

Benitez sent Mascherano and Voronin on for Spearing and Skrtel in the 72nd, reverting to an “orthodox” 4-2-3-1 with the Ukrainian behind Kuyt and Babel on the right. It didn’t click until Ngog came on for Babel in the 81st, shifting Kuyt out right, but then Liverpool finally threatened. Unfortunately, it was, again, to little effect. Even seven minutes of stoppage time (injuries to Jones and Cattermole) couldn’t save Liverpool.

Gordon kept out a weak header from Voronin and a cross-turned-shot from Johnson. Mascherano shot over from 25 yards. Voronin saw a shot blocked. In the third minute of added time, Liverpool had their best opportunity, but Gordon saved the day, keeping out Kuyt’s low shot and Ngog’s rebound. When a ricochet fell to Gordon in the 96th, you knew there was nothing to be salvaged. So far, this team has none of the recovery powers of last year’s (outside of Bolton, I guess).

Yeah, yeah, credit to Sunderland. They got the fortunate opener and held on for the win, and have rightfully leapfrogged Liverpool in the standings. Cana was outstanding, especially when he moved to centerback after McCartney went off at halftime. Benitez is now 1-5-3 against Steve Bruce in the league.

I’d like to head off the ‘this is what happens when Gerrard and Torres are missing’ criticism right away. Sure, they would have helped today – Liverpool certainly could have used more attacking threat – but the team has won without those two. Liverpool hasn’t scored in three games – with or without Gerrard and Torres (I guess they used them all up against Hull). The midfield has been awful, just awful in all of Liverpool’s losses. I hate to keep referencing Alonso, but it can’t be helped. His sale and Mascherano’s loss of form contributed more to today’s loss than either Gerrard or Torres’ absence. Aquilani really can’t get healthy soon enough.

If it weren’t for that freak goal, this game would have ended 0-0. Granted, that’s not good enough, but it would have been a lot better than what really happened. The three centerbacks did alright; Agger and Carragher, along with Reina, were probably the only players to come away with any credit. Kuyt, Benayoun, and Babel obviously needed to contribute more, but chances were hard to come by until the end. Johnson, further forward than usual, was Liverpool’s most frequent threat, and he disappointed.

Once again, as said above, the problem’s in midfield. Spearing and Lucas are young players with potential, so I’m hesitant to pile on them. And it’s not as if any pairing’s been great aside from Lucas/Gerrard against the smaller clubs. Masch hasn’t been playing well and had two immense games for Argentina this week, although it was weird to see him fit enough to come off the bench. Aurelio did not do well in central midfield against Fiorentina.

Almost all of Liverpool’s successes have come from winning the battle in midfield, especially as Benitez has built the team in his image. Early on in his reign, Liverpool was dependent on Hyypia and Carra’s defending, but Liverpool’s looked more and more like the Valencia Crushing Machine in each successive season. Not this year, and the whole side’s consequently falling apart.

Yes, injuries, yes, there’s still 29 games, but these nine have not been good, and this team is damn close to teetering on the precipice. It is a very good league this year; Villa's win today, along with Sunderland, Spurs and City, and there are eight strong sides. Liverpool's just part of the pack behind Chelsea and United, and drifting further behind in that pack.

Lyon at Anfield on Tuesday. Let’s hope certain players are healthy by then.


Mike Georger said...

Aurelio was far and away the worst player out there (impressive, considering Babel played). How can our "set piece specialist" not manage to deliver a single good corner? PING right into the first fucking defender.

Insua didn't play midweek and he's just a kid, or even if you don't want to play him, it's not like Riera was playing in Australia last week.

Thought Mascherano was good when he came on. Maybe it was just the formation shift that changed things, but beforehand, man, we had NOTHING in the center of the field.

I really thought Aquilani would decide Rafa's fate this year, but now I don't think he will even get that chance. Tuesday could be it, win, or you're done.

And he has got to start putting him on the bench. If all he is lacking is match fitness, he's not going to get that watching from the stands.

epiblast said...

I'm still at loss for words over today's performance. Rubbish all around. I agree with Georger, Aurélio was by far the most disappointing player on the pitch today. Where was the player that slotted a brilliant goal at Old Trafford last season? Each and every "service" was poor.
Glen Johnson, for the life of me, was absolutely shocking. He reminded me of Babel, constantly getting caught on the ball, dribbling into three opposing players, and his left foot is a disaster.
Does Benitez need to go? I really don't know. The tactics he put on display today, show he knows what changes he needs to make, he's just too stubborn to do it soon enough.
"Too little, too late," seems a apt method of describing the season so far. I'm not sure an untested midfielder is going to be the one to rescue it...
It doesn't help that we seem to make the most menial tasks difficult with changes in formation (what the fuck are we play 3-4-3 for?!), changes in personnel and a continued lack in consistency.

Raatzie said...

Jo-se Mour-IN-ho
Jo-se Mour-IN-ho
JO-se Mour-in-ho
JO-se Mour-in-ho

(Continue singing until the adult beverage takes effect).

nate said...

Benitez isn't the problem (Mourinho? Really? Not like he'd leave Inter, but still, you can't be serious). The owners, and the lack of funds, are the problem. Hopefully one that will be remedied soon with some new investment.

Benitez was forced to gamble on Liverpool not being out of it by the time Aquilani gets fit, and it hasn't worked out. Hamstrung by £20m or so per summer, although one could argue part of that £20m could have been better spent elsewhere in each summer. Despite the troubles, despite the questions over formation, I still believe Benitez is doing the best with his situation.

And it doesn't help that Liverpool's also behind all of their rivals in matchday revenue thanks to no progress on the stadium.

Plus, it's not like I trust the owners to hire a replacement.

Mike Georger said...

Arsenal, Villa, and Spurs don't seem to have a problem being better than us with a much tighter budget.

Mike Georger said...

Oh and I absolutely think Jose would leave Inter for the chance to come to us, without a doubt. Not mid season of course, but if we don't get results from Lyon and United, it's not like there's going to be much to save the rest of the year anyway.

Shawn said...

Not that I wasn't disappointed in today's horrid performance, but were really writing this team off after a bad performance at a good team without arguably the two best players in the entire Premiership? Really? Were 7 points adrift with 29 games to play, relax.

I agree with all of you that the rest of the season depends on the health of Torres and Gerrard and Aquilani implementing himself into the squad. The problem this season has been Lucas not being able to replace Alonso and to a lesser extent the erratic play of the central defense. If Aquilani can provide any improvement over what Lucas has provided this team will improve with each passing game.

29 games to go people, its not the end of the world (yet).

Mike Georger said...

Not the result that bothers me, it's the painful realization that we are truly a two man team.

29 games left, but how many of those will be with our best XI? We've got no depth.

Mike Georger said...

And honestly, I'm not going to relax when this team loses four of its first nine, plays like dogshit in the Champions League, and is in line for another domestic cup exit at the hands of Arsenal. Not after getting so close last year. No way.

Mike Georger said...

Aaaaaaaaaaand now it appears the Saudi stuff was too good to be true.

But hey, they're investing in NASCAR, so that's cool.

epiblast said...

For me, Lucas has been, perhaps one of the more consistent players in the side. He's come one since Alonso departed, and there's no way he's going to fill the space, but he's performing better than Mascherano at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Really poor performance from the Reds!No Comments ;((

Raatzie said...

Wasn't talking Mourinho for this year. Unless you're really down for the FA Cup, this season will be over in a week.

yowie said...

the thing with lucas for me is, that he comes out and says he is more of a box to box midfielder but he doesnt contribute anything to the attack, and his main form of defence is fouling the player with the ball. OK he's consistent, but he really doesnt have anything going for him. He needs to present himself more, be there for not only the easy side ball but be the one to pick out players or make timed runs to be picked out.
as for glen johnson, as much as he tried, no one presented themselves to him so that he could make that final pass, or play the one-two. Usually kuyt would be there with him on the right but kuyt was in the middle today and thats why u see johnson run into a brick wall everytime he made a run.
and playing 3 centrebacks... its like asking sunderland to have an extra player in our half - unnecessary pressure on our defence.

Anonymous said...

Nate, please never predict a Liverpool title win ever again.

At this point I'm not even sure how upset I can be if we don't get a Champions League spot this year. It's about the only thing that can force some change in this team at the moment.

Also, sidenote: I can't be the only person who sees nothing in Jay Spearing can I? He may end up a decent midfielder but he'll never be first team Liverpool quality in my eyes.