05 December 2009

Liverpool 0-0 Blackburn

Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Lucas Mascherano
Benayoun Gerrard Riera

Remember all those late goals Liverpool scored last season? Yeah, I miss those.

I’d say it’s a return to the bad old days of 0-0 draws, but those were last season’s bad days. As depressing as it is to write, at least it’s not another slack, stupid away loss, which was eminently possible. Still, with the best chance of the game – an Ngog shot ricocheted off the crossbar – it again feels like two points dropped. And even though it’s still December, we’re watching the race for fourth (sigh), which Spurs and Villa are now two points ahead in.

A sloppy and subdued opening 10 minutes saw Liverpool grow into an ugly game little by little, but Blackburn’s backline, marshaled by Samba and Nelsen, was excellent, leading to a forgettable first half. A goal never felt like coming and neither keeper had much to do. Liverpool were restricted to two Gerrard shots deflected behind for corners while Blackburn “tested” Reina once, a Samba flick-on straight to the Spaniard.

Disappointingly, but not completely surprisingly, the home side had more of the ball as Liverpool looked to contain and counter. As hoped, Kuyt started up top with Benayoun, Gerrard, and Riera supporting, but the Dutchman was often isolated, unable to bring the wingers into play any better than Ngog had. Probably worse; Kuyt was no better up front than on the flank. Robinson appeared confident after Wednesday’s heroics, but Liverpool couldn’t test him with a shot on goal in the first half.

The main problem was erratic passing, a recurring culprit this season. I can’t single any player out because all were guilty. Benayoun and Riera, unable to supplement the strike force with Torres out, were probably the most liable, but both central midfielders weren’t far behind. Benitez, proactive for once, didn’t hesitate to bring Ngog on for Riera seven minutes into a much more open second half.

Liverpool were better in the second frame, with more possession and improved by the substitutions, but Blackburn were just as threatening. Liverpool had that aforementioned best chance, but Blackburn had about as many opportunities. More possession for Liverpool meant more of an open game because of Liverpool’s inept passing and lack of movement. Giveaways lead to breakaways, and I reckon it’s a small consolation Liverpool didn’t give away a stupid goal.

The second-half tone was set with Blackburn’s 47th minute chance, as Insua played Di Santo onside, putting the striker one-on-one with Reina, but the youngster lingered in surprise, allowing Carragher to get back. Ngog’s entrance started the shift in Liverpool’s favor, but the team couldn’t turn momentum into goals.

Gerrard provided Liverpool’s first shot on target in the 55th – partly summing up the afternoon – which Robinson smothered at the second attempt with Kuyt waiting for a potential rebound. Two minutes later, Liverpool had its first soft penalty shout when Gerrard was brought down in the box after a scramble following Lucas’ nice run to the byline, but Atkinson played on and Kuyt’s follow-up was blocked.

Five minutes later, Blackburn demonstrated the potential to break Liverpool hearts on the counter as Lucas’ slip presented Blackburn possession in Liverpool's half. Di Santo got on the end of the resulting throughball, but Reina easily claimed his shot from a narrow angle.

Upping the pressure finally led to the solitary chance that should have won the game. Johnson, one of Liverpool’s few dangerous players, beat two to the byline and centered. Blackburn’s captain Nelsen, easily man of the match along with Samba, was able to get a toe to the ball, deflecting it just enough so Ngog could only shin his effort off the bar. Such is this season.

El Zhar came on for Benayoun soon after, looking to run at the defense, but Blackburn was clearly content with a point and pushed deeper to prevent a winner. The final 15 minutes saw a lot of Liverpool possession and a couple of chances, but more giveaways and more frightening Blackburn counters. McCarthy shot wide from the top of the box on one of those counters in the 77th before Robinson nearly let Liverpool in three minutes later, sending his clearance off Mascherano and failing to recover, but the Argentinean’s attempted center was cut out.

The second, and stronger, penalty shout came in the 82nd, when Johnson’s mishit lefty cross found Gerrard at the backpost, and Ngog claimed a push when attempting to get on the end of the captain’s knockdown, but Atkinson again waved away appeals. And other than speculative efforts from Agger and Kuyt, that was the extent of Liverpool’s chances. So much for undying Liverpool’s late winners.

More in line with this season, Blackburn almost caught Liverpool out twice in injury time. The first happened when Liverpool failed to chase down Hoillett’s awful shot. Blackburn prevented the throw-in, and Kalinic turned Agger in the box, only to shoot over. The second came after another sloppy short corner, with Reina to thank for smartly charging out of his box to close down Kalinic after Mascherano’s tackle somehow released the striker.

I’m obviously of two minds about this, since this season’s proven life can be much worse than a point on the road. But it was an insipid, toothless performance against a bottom-half side, no matter how resilient said bottom-half side was. The ball bounces slightly differently and Ngog scores in the 71st. Shit, if the ball bounces differently, Liverpool lucks into a goal from Robinson’s misplaced clearance; it happened against Newcastle, off Pennant, a few seasons ago.

The hoped-for tactical switch didn’t work as hoped. Liverpool were clearly better after Ngog came on, even if Blackburn sitting deeper was partly responsible. It goes without saying that Liverpool misses Torres, whose creativity would have unlocked something. Gerrard also isn’t fully fit, even if he was more influential than against Everton.

The dead rubber match against Fiorentina, which matters about as much to me as the Carling Cup (probably less), before an unexplainably crucial (where have I heard that before?) match against Arsenal next Sunday.


Mike Georger said...

I was impressed with Lucas today. He made some smart plays (especially that pull back against the goalline that set up one of our few real chances, smart smart play). But, he's still not enough of a creator in these kinds of games. Not his fault I reckon, just that combination is too defensive.

The substitution that shall not be named just absolutely blew me away. I swear to God Rafa must think GH signed this Italian that won't be named, because he's certainly treating him like Cisse.

At least we didn't concede, even though Blackburn easily should have had two goals.

Off topic: Hindsight being 20/20, Torres absolutely should have had the surgery.

nate said...

I've seen conflicting reports, Georger, but if it's an inguenial hernia, and they're suggesting regular hernia surgery, I'd want Torres to wait it out too.

Now, Torres' doctors are obviously better than mine were, but I had that surgery almost 18 months ago, and I still get lingering pain every now and then. When playing rec soccer, I get so much less power when taking goal kicks that I sometimes have a defender take them.

From what I've read, my complications aren't completely common. My out-of-shape ass still plays soccer weekly. And, again, I'm sure Torres' doctors are far better than mine. But complications are only a semi-rare result, and if a hernia operation can be avoided, I'd recommend it from my experience.

nate said...

Shit, I was waxing nostalgic so much I forgot I wanted to mention Aquilani too.

It's a pity that Liverpool have been so disappointing of late that the situation's not been right for Aqua off the bench.

I wrote that Aquilani actually slowed down play in his cameo at the end of Brum, unable to help Liverpool frantically rescue a winner. In a similar situation in the next game, again far tougher opposition away at City, Benitez didn't want to bring him on. The pitch sucked in Debrecen, Liverpool were only up by one, and it was a dead match since Fiorentina was winning. And then came the Derby, which wasn't a game for a player returning from lengthy injury to play in; by the time he might have come off the bench, Liverpool were two-up.

And then there was today, a similar situation to Brum and City. I don't blame Benitez for not bringing him on in such an unfamilar situation with Liverpool struggling for a winner. And who would come off? Lucas, who as you mention, wasn't bad in midfield? Mascherano, who was the shield against a Blackburn goal against the run of play?

Now, I made a similar ultimatum a couple of games back, but if Aqua doesn't start against Fiorentina (and I guarantee I'll pick him in my guess at a line-up), then I'll be confused and pissed.

Mike Georger said...

Who comes off? Yossi obviously. Aquilani is SUPPOSED to be able to play higher up in midfield.

nate said...

So Gerrard or Lucas shift out to a flank, with Kuyt on the opposite side, because Aquilani's not going over there? I'm all for trying that 4-4-2 diamond, with Kuyt and Ngog up top, but Benitez wasn't doing that in a nil-nil game with 20 minutes to play. And if the shape stays the same when Aqua came on for Yossi, there would have been a big gap down one of the flanks to be exploited on the counter, especially with how the attackers were clumping in the middle.

Mike Georger said...

Gerrard spent a good chunk of the game coming up the left flank after Riera went off and Yossi was playing through the middle.

This is still just one game and at least we didn't lose, but I'm just more frustrated with the overall situation surrounding our supposed replacement for Alonso. I hated the signing when we made it, and at that time he was supposed to be playing by October. I hate it even more now.

Mike Georger said...

(Though again, to clarify, not blaming the player here)

Mike Georger said...

Nate I'm assuming you've seen the Sylvania commercial that runs during the commercials on FSC right? They have the "oh you beauty!" call superimposed (what the fuck does superimposed mean?)(I know that doesn't fit here, but I love that word) over a clip of Kaka scoring a damn penalty. That pisses me off every time I see it.

nate said...

Haven't seen it. Well, I probably have, but I've learned to tune out commercials when I don't bother to change the channel. Either way, I don't remember it, but I'm not surprised.

Every time I'm forced to explain the name of this blog to a friend or potential employer (yep, all this nonsense is part of my "portfolio"), I wonder if I should have chosen something more accessible/understandable for lay people.

Oh well, too late now.

Mike Georger said...

Easier for you to explain that "Footie Girl" or "Kickette" at least.

Matt said...

Aquilani should have been the first sub on. Liverpool--and this game--were screaming for a positive attacking player.

Anonymous said...

Very unlucky last nite...Gutted!Onwards n upwards!

Marlon said...

I'm starting o think the Alonso money should've been spent on a striker and Rafa should've just moved Gerrard back to midfield.

extrafattyliver said...

inguinal hernia nate, not inguenial

need aquilani and torres back as soon as possible

nate said...

yeah, like i've said, it's not like i have any real medical knowledge. i just know the phrase and symptoms from experience.

chances are i've misspelled that word multiple times on this blog