24 November 2009

Liverpool 1-0 Debrecen

Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Mascherano Lucas
Kuyt Gerrard Aurelio

Ngog 4’

Hey, it’s a win! And it doesn’t matter one bit! Luck still laughs at the club, even though their exit from the Champions League is their own fault, down to two goals conceded in injury time to Lyon. Had Liverpool held on to the draw at Anfield and the win in France, they’d be through to the group stages now.

Today saw 30 very good minutes, including an early Ngog goal (his fifth in 11 games), 30 mediocre minutes, and then 30 dire minutes, where Debrecen almost equalized with the last kick of the game. I hate this season so much, and I’m sure saying that will find a way to make it somehow worse.

It didn’t take long for Liverpool to find its way past a flat-footed Debrecen. Pushing forward from the opening whistle and having won an early corner, Carragher met Aurelio’s ball in at the back post, and Ngog was able to redirect past Poleksic. Just what Liverpool needed, and they’d assuredly build upon it. Or not. I don't know why I've any optimism left.

On the whole, Liverpool were more patient after the opener, which is sure to annoy given how the team needs a confidence boost. The team clearly expected Debrecen to come out of their shell when a goal behind, but no such luck. 10 men in white remained camped in their own half hoping to hit on the counter, and like against lower-league sides at Anfield (before this season, mind you), Liverpool had to find its way past a parked bus.

The strange thing is that all off Liverpool’s early chances came from set plays. And most of them were short corners or free kicks to get the defense moving, which we don't often see. The two best opportunities following Ngog’s goal fell to Kuyt from Gerrard and Aurelio crosses in the 11th and 16th; the Dutchman just missed contact with the first and was embarrassingly wrong-footed by the second when the ball made its way through the box only to nutmeg him for a goal kick.

It seemed fairly clear that the Liverpool players understood the 30th minute PA announcement of Fiorentina’s goal. Maybe the home side simply grew in confidence having not conceded a second and limited Liverpool’s opportunities when they were finally able to string two passes together. But it looked more likely that Liverpool grew a bit disillusioned and took the foot off the gas.

Rudolf, a lone striker with top scorer Coulibaly on the bench, had a couple of chances, making poor contact with a free header between Johnson and Carragher and mishitting a shot from that top of the box which Carra blocked. But even considering Liverpool’s oft-noted defensive liabilities, the home side rarely looked like scoring. Liverpool continued to have the best chances for a second, with Debrecen’s keeper twice saving Ngog shots, including a lovely snapped effort in the 38th.

The first fifteen minutes of the second half played out similarly, with no one able to reach Johnson's dangerous cross in the 54th, a defender sliding in to block Gerrard’s shot in the 58th, and an excellent Poleksic save on Gerrard’s placed strike a minute later. Lucas’s header wide in the 63rd, in a similar position to his miss on Saturday, marked another turning point in the match as Debrecen actually started to turn the screws. I doubt the home side had ten minutes of possession in Liverpool’s half prior to the hour mark.

Coulibaly’s entrance in the 62nd certainly helped matters, and it’s Debrecen’s manager’s fault for playing conservatively. Maybe he hasn’t seen much of Liverpool recently. But when the team’s top scorer came on, and Rudolf was given license to drop deeper to set up play, the tide turned.

Rudolf almost put Coulibaly through in the 68th, only to mishit the pass, before Mascherano had to make a last ditch tackle to keep the Hungarian out. Then, Coulibaly nearly beat the offside trap twice before his shot from an impossible angle forced Reina to save when he was expecting the cross. Capping off the evening was more abysmal late defending, allowing a long ball to bounce and cause panic in the penalty area, but Coulibaly could only weakly side-foot at Reina from less than 10 yards out. Now that would have summed up this season.

It’s moot now, seeing as Liverpool’s out despite accomplishing what they needed to today, but I was also baffled by Benitez’s substitutions, or lack thereof. Liverpool was dying for a change by the hour mark, but the first sub came on in the 77th, and it was Benayoun for Ngog, which says it all. It's always infuriating when Liverpool tries to strangle the life out of the game when only a goal to good, especially with how many dumb goals this team's conceded. To be fair, with Fiorentina winning, a win or a draw doesn't matter, and the team's stretched fairly thin as it is with yet another big game on Saturday. But it's still no fun to watch.

I’ll be honest – I thought Kuyt was dire today, which is a rarity even for me, so I was baffled when a striker who’d scored the lone goal was taken off for a creative midfielder. Dossena, making his third appearance of the season, came on for Aurelio in the 89th before Aquilani finally arrived in the second minute of injury time. Clearly, both subs were to waste time, but bringing on Aquilani that late – after Dossena no less – seems almost insulting. He’d better start against Everton, or there’s something we haven’t been told about his fitness or adaptation to England.

Had Lyon done the job in Italy – and to be fair, it wasn’t in their interests to; every club would like to see Liverpool out of the competition, no matter how insipid they’ve been of late – this performance would have sufficed, and could have been something to build on. By the end, it was annoyingly tame, but hey, at least another late goal wasn’t conceded.

Ngog played well, again scoring in place of Torres. Mascherano had a second successive "Mascherano game," finally looking up to speed and winning a fair few crucial tackles. The defense didn’t have any egregious mistakes. And Gerrard was far more mobile than against City. Yes, I’m well aware I’m stretching for positives. Liverpool scored two goals in two matches against a side that the other two clubs in the group scored 12 in three against. It's little wonder the team's out of the competition.

Liverpool dug its own grave before this match and paid the price. There’s little the club can do but keep trying to move forward. A derby match this weekend should go some way toward raising the adrenaline levels.

I guess, as Carragher said earlier today, Liverpool will just have to go and win the Europa League. And we’ll have to hope it doesn’t wreck the club’s finances.


Ed said...

Besides that whole "dive heard 'round the world" thing, I'm really encouraged by Ngog recently. He's started to assert himself a bit up front, using his height and surprising strength in attack. He was unfortunate not to score a second on that effort you mentioned in the 38th. Seems like a bit better attitude than Babel, eh?

Tough day, but like you say, the club have to be able to move forward.

Anonymous said...

It seems apt that Lopez had a late chance to equalize against Fiorentina (or at least I'm fairly certain it was Lopez) -- a really, really good opportunity in 1-v-1 with the goalies (although at a tough angle). Against Liverpool he buries his chance; against Fiorentina the keeper makes a save with outstretched arms.

Perhaps this is for the best? Liverpool can now -- for the most part -- turn its focus to getting back into the top four (winning the league also looks pretty unlikely). The only way that's going to happen is with Gerrard and Torres being fit. I still contend that when healthy, this team can compete with anyone, but they're so top heavy (read: little to no depth) that any injury screws everything.

Getting knocked out of the CL so early sucks hard, but not even having the chance for next year would be even worse for the club. Getting back to fourth place is pretty crucial, wouldn't you say?

And maybe it's because I'm so pissed off but I'll echo your comments re: Kuyt. He was fucking brutal -- absolutely no creativity from the wing and he provided awful service from out wide.

I'm also getting a little irked about Aquilani. It's always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Wasn't the initial prognosis that he'd miss about the first month of the year? This is getting a little ridiculous -- the dude is our big summer transfer and we've yet to see big minutes from him. That's not to say I want him to be on the field at less than 100%, but don't tell the fans an optimistic return projection only to drag the fucking thing out.

Apologies for the blunt language.


drew said...

Not sure why anyone expected a result out of the other game--I almost posted in the prematch thread about how Fiorentina would win 1-0, and probably on a penalty, but decided it was too cynical.

Didn't stop me from placing the bet though, even if the 15 quid and the booze it's buying is scant consolation.

Sad to say it, but we must now win the Europa League, and have a very good Cup run. And fourth, obviously--I'm terrified to think who might ask to leave if we're not in the CL mix next season.

Mike Georger said...

Aquilani combines the fitness of Kewell, the price of Keane, and Rafa's reluctance of playing Crouch all into one embarrassing package. This season is an absolute farce. Its one season and I can deal with that but with stubborn owners and a stubborn manager if something doesn't change I'm worried about the future of this club. I laughed off the Leeds comparisons before but in starting to find it not so funny now.

Anonymous said...

Perplexed by Rafa's choices as well - especially with the £20 million sub for 30 seconds. Insulting indeed. He's done a piss-poor job this season when you lay it out, and not just because of the results.

There is absolutely no reason this team should struggle to beat Debrecen, twice. Injuries make no difference. The team looks unmotivated and sluggish. Last season had the occasional woeful performance - no balls in attacking, no spark/creativity. (Think against Standard, or any of January) We're stuck on permanent suck and you can't blame beach balls for that.

I'm pretty sure Kuyt has naked pictures of Rafa - I can't think of any other reason why he would get so many starts. We aren't loaded with right MF, obviously, but Benayoun isn't a lefty, nor is Babel. (Injured today, I know) And I now understand the frustration of Babel even though he's made a mistake in taking his issues public. We never know what's behind the scenes, but if I was on the bench for my inconsistency and an as-is Kuyt started in front of me, there would be a lot of whining. At least Babel is classy enough not to take Kuyt's name to the press which would be easy to do. Kuyt is a #1 choice, but the concept of being "in-form" really does exist and Kuyt doesn't have it right now.

The worries keep stacking up...with our already shaky financial situation taking a dramatic hit today and with a team plummeting in every contest I imagine their could be some serious blow-outs in the near future. I think the Europa League is £5.3 if you win the whole thing which is £5.3 more than we have to spend at this time.

Let's be the first winners as well as the #1 winners of the consolation tournament. But first let's start playing some good footy.



nate said...

Couple of things in response to above comments:

1) Yep, it was Lisandro Lopez you're thinking of.

2) That's not what I consider blunt fucking language, Keith, so no worries.

3) Sounds like you're blaming Aquilani, Georger, and that's not fair in the slightest. Who knows if he's turn into a Keane or Kewell, but he needs the chance to get on the field first.

4) Still think it's way too early for Leeds comparisons. As Rafa's said post-match, qualifying for next year's CL is more important that making this year's knockout round. Only if Liverpool finishes worse than fourth will I contemplate the Leeds comparison.

5) Kuyt's getting so many games because injuries to Benayoun, Babel, Torres, Gerrard, and Riera have kept him in the starting line-up. There hasn't been a game where he could be rested.

6) Babel did mention Kuyt, JP. Not calling out as a player, but still, a personal call-out if nothing else, and completely classless.

“Dirk Kuyt? I don't really hang out with him. Dirk got accepted in the group of the Spanish-speaking players. He is very friendly with them and it looks as if he understands their jokes.”


The whole interview is classless. I'm washing my hands. Hope he's sold January 1st as long as some sort of replacement's bought.

Marlon said...

I need a hug.

extrafattyliver said...

absolutely gutted today.

lyon couldn't do us a favour.

europa league...

we are not gonna win europa league are we, playing like this

just need a few shots right now.

Mike Georger said...

not blaming him at all Nate. If anything the expectations put on him were unfair. Just think his situation is a good illustration of what has gone wrong.

Fan Futbol said...

Does anyone have a reliable estimate of how much money we lost not advancing to the round of 16 (but no further, i.e., pretend we went out next round)?


P.S. Re above: assume no additional money from Europa advancement, i.e., worst case scenario.

nate said...

In this case, I actually believe Managing Director Purslow's quotes instead of the 'woe is Liverpool, y'all is fucked' media narrative.


...Liverpool are expected to suffer a budgetary shortfall of only £2.4m for this season as a consequence of their group exit.

"We budget for a level of performance that maybe fans would not like to be at, it's prudent," the managing director added. "If we have three home games in the Europa League we are equivalent to what we budget for in the Champions League."

So. If it's really just -£2.4m, it's not an enormous deal.

I may be wrong, but I think the TV pots are increased in the Europa League, compared to last year's UEFA Cup, as part of Platini's 'spread the wealth' bonanza.

drew said...

The other bizarre thing about the Europa League is that you can actually get a higher UEFA coefficient for winning that than for winning the Champions League--so if we advance reasonably then we won't take a hit to our seeding for the next 5 years.