19 December 2009

Liverpool 0-2 Portsmouth

Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Lucas Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Dossena

Belhadj 33’
Piquionne 82’

Merry Christmas.

Have I said that you can’t make this shit up recently? What a fucking nightmare.

A slick, frozen pitch paved the way for a disjointed game, hampering both teams at the start. Liverpool’s early ball retention was far better than Wednesday, let alone in recent losses, but opportunities on goal blossomed far too infrequently as passing broke down in the final third. Pompey grew into the game by the 25th minute, and it didn’t take long for the home side to make Liverpool pay. It rarely has this season. Being the “better team” counts for absolutely nothing without something to show for it.

The good opening spell – as is usually the case with Liverpool – only resulted in two half-chances: Kuyt unable to make close-range contact with Gerrard’s knockdown in the 16th and Torres’ curler inches over four minutes later. From there, Pompey found their way, with a smattering of dangerous free kicks from O’Hara and a break at speed which Agger did well to clear for a corner. But in the 33rd, Yebda beat Insua down the flank and Liverpool couldn’t clear his cross. Reina parried the resulting shot back in, but Johnson’s attempted clearance only found Belhadj at the near post. Lord knows how he smashed the impossibly-angled volley past Pepe.

The unsurprising subsequent confusion and frustration, in which Liverpool still nearly leveled against the run of play (only to see Agger spurn a free header from Gerrard’s free kick for the second-straight game), soon saw Mascherano sent off for a bad one-footed tackle on Ben-Haim. The straight leg challenge deserved a card, but it’s yellow much more often than red. Which is a three-match ban. And to compound matters, Masch looked like he’d injured the same knee he’s had problems with. It was like the Fulham loss all over again, and it’d get a lot more like that game. Andy Kaufman isn’t writing this season’s script; Satan is.

10-man Liverpool, lining up 4-4-1, had to be content with containing a home side growing in confidence while trying to counter. And the team’s bewilderment and obvious irritation boiled over in the second half – three players (Lucas, Torres, and Johnson) picked up dubious yellows in the first fifteen minutes, adequately illustrating the team’s composure.

This is the most faith I’ve ever lost in Benitez. Ever. Bad breaks and decisions are only so much of an excuse. Despite the setbacks, Liverpool had a chance to regroup at halftime and utterly failed. No real chance in tactics other Benayoun replacing Dossena in the 53rd (which didn’t make that much of a difference) and Gerrard dropping deeper, no siege mentality, and little fight-back. Just petulance giving way to weary acceptance after Liverpool couldn’t convert two excellent chances in the 67th and 68th.

First, Liverpool finally broke at pace thanks to Lucas’ tackle in the middle of the pitch. Gerrard found Kuyt on the right, and although his tame cross was cleared, the captain still had a shot in space outside the box. Two deflections looked to wrong-foot Begovic, but the keeper somehow got a hand on the ball despite sprawling in the opposite direction. And when Boateng’s clearance of the subsequent corner just eluded the near post, it regressed to Liverpool on the back foot, hoping the ball would somehow bounce their way.

Torres almost danced his way through the box in the 77th, but he was blocked off and Begovic beat Kuyt to the loose ball. Five minutes later, Pompey put what little hope there was to bed. Agger failed to keep Boateng from crossing, Piquionne’s touch bounced perfectly to turn Carragher, and the striker scored from an acute angle akin to the first goal. The two chances Pompey converted, both aided by the bounce of the ball, were harder than at least five of Liverpool’s. But they were on target. Gerrard’s attempt at a consolation after lovely control in the 89th, which bobbled just wide of the far post, sums up today’s accuracy.

There are only so many times one can write ‘what else can go wrong?’ Liverpool’s dropped points to lower-placed opposition after every single league win since the end of September (all four of them). Damn little’s gone Liverpool’s way, but they’ve done damn little to right the ship themselves.

For the second time this season, I’ll write that Benitez would probably be gone if the owners could afford to buy him out. Last time, I was vehemently opposed. This time, I can’t be anything but less so. I’m just baffled by this team and this season’s results. I want to believe in Benitez so much – you’ve all seen my praise and defense of the manager, and the squad’s improved in every season but this one – but the comparisons to the end of Houllier are unavoidable.

Something is rotten at the core of this club. The morale is so far gone it’s unfathomable. I’m far more inclined to lay it at the feet of the owners, and at the end of the day, they’ve the most to do with it by not allowing squad investment. But results are at the feet of the players and manager. They’re the ones devising the tactics and out on the pitch. And outside of two or three games, Liverpool has been utterly insipid on the pitch for three months now.

Burn it down and start all over.


Mike Georger said...

Pompey players haven't been getting paid this season and still got up for this game. Either we have the most fragile team of pussies ever, or something other than the ownership sucking is impacting their form/ability/inclination. Could be both, I suppose.

Rafa has to walk if he doesn't get fired. Not like Madrid wouldn't fire the world immediately to hire him.


nate said...


Perfect word, wish I'd used it.

Mike Georger said...

Danny Murphy ... wow. Anyone who didn't vote him in team of the decade: for shame!

anakrantau98 said...

for the first time, for the first time i want to curse mr. rafa benitez.

half time only one good chances by danial agger ?

and yet a red card for mascherano ? is that a world best tackler should do ? get a red card for the team ? ... Lihat Lagi

second half only got one-two-three good chances ? pompey's keeper is not "tree-stump". he is good. but liverpool with big history, high price players (i'am comparing to pompey's players. not chelsea or any big four teams) were gradually demotivated ? hak tuiii !! (spitting)

why he is still using lucas/mascherano pairing ? why he insists using 4-2-3-1 formation ? people know how good torres/gerrard pairing are. but does he know, they also know to nullify them ?

glen johnson still not recovered yet from his own-goal trauma.

why not using 4-4-2 formation like last match ?

i still can accept the last defeats (heavily accepted) due to key players injuries. but this one is utterly rubbish.

if pitch doesn't good, why is the pompey playing a better pass, a better long ball, a better interception and all i can say better than everything ?

if so called gerrard himself insist want to play as attacking midfielder, mr. rafa benitez should force to play along side macherano or lucas. he is the boss.

when the boss don't do what is suppose to do, then mr. big boss should do something.

i hope that other loyal fans of mr. rafa benitez should gave him some "advices" or "lessons". a lesson that he will alert the situation.

Anonymous said...

That'll be a 4-match ban for Masch, as he was sent off once already this year. If there's going to be a burning down and starting over, offloading him to Barca in January for a ton of cash wouldn't be a bad place to start. As for Rafa, the final straw for me was when he used a 3-4-3 against Sunderland in October. But who would do better? Would another manager actually deliver a title with the resources available? Probably not. But we probably would see the shackles come off and see these players express themselves and enjoy themselves a little more often.

epiblast said...

Glen Johnson is no longer looking like a good signing. The lad's been rubbish lately. Constantly getting caught on the ball. Poor passing and distribution. Can't defend. Responsible for three of the last four goals against. £18M? What a waste of money...

On a different note, during the summer I couldn't wait for the season to start. Now... I want nothing more than it to just be over.

Anonymous said...

My problems with this team aren't the results. It's that they aren't even fun to watch. They're so resigned to everything and they're not playing in a style worth viewing. They don't believe in themselves at all. One thing goes wrong and they just give up. I'm really fed up with Benetiz. 18 million pounds on a fullback who can't defend. 20 million pounds on a midfielder you're not going to use. I've really had it with Johnson, I've no idea why he's in the English squad. Not worth it at all. I was happier with Arbeloa. At least he could defend. This team really has sucked all the joy out of football for me recently.

nate said...

A couple of hesitantly marginal defenses of Benitez:

1) Injuries pretty much forced his hand against Sunderland, and it would have at least been 0-0 if not for the beach ball.

2) Benitez is at fault for buying Aquilani, but not for not playing him. The calf strain incurred shows he's still fragile, and by all accounts, the ankle injury wasn't supposed to be this serious. You can't play him if he's not prepared to play. Plus, Benitez was forced to gamble on Aqua because of finances.

3) I really can't think of anyone who can do better under these constraints. There's no money as it is; if Benitez is fired and gets severance, there's even less, leaving any potential manager hamstrung in making changes. I wouldn't blame any manager for not wanting to work in this situation. That Benitez hasn't walked shows the love he has for the club; he left Valencia for far less.

But I firmly agree with the above sentiment that football isn't fun anymore, and the results are just making it worse. It'd be one thing if the players appeared to be working their hardest or at least gave us signs of hope. Now I'm probably over-reacting, but if Liverpool's mid-table, I'd rather see Roy Evans 'let's at least try to out-score them' style of football.

Benitez has always been a 'mechanical' manager. But at least the team used to be built upon a sturdy defense. This team is in transition, bordering on directionless, during a season where people less deluded than I am actually thought Liverpool had a shot at the title. The fullbacks are too attacking, but the attack often stutters thanks to injuries, squad depth, and a central midfield that lacks that ingenuity and that defense-splitting ball. Injuries to every part of the team have hindered any sort of cohesion.

A mechanical team in such dire form, with players looking beaten as soon as the team concedes, is flat-out depressing, and, agreed, it's the least fun football's been since Rafa took over.

Carlos said...

1> Not a Red card I'm sorry, its pro football and tackles are gonna be rough, But a direct red? please

2> Benetiz must go, offered no inspiration at half-time when things were not going well.

3> If Benetiz leaves , who? Kilnnmen? Huddink? Jose? I would dread seeing Jose managing our side because of the history, but i'm also seeing such a wonderful club in shambles.

Anonymous said...

Is there anyway Dalglish could fill in for the rest of the season?

Anonymous said...

I kind of want to piggyback off of what Marlon has said. For all the "Liverpool is financially hamstrung" talk, they were still able to spend close to 35 million (albeit having to sell Alonso was part of that) this summer. Obviously we haven't seen enough of Aquilani to make a judgment yet, but I just think that Liverpool's transfers going back to Keane have been extremely inefficient. It's frustrating because you see a guy like Niko Kranjcar bought four relatively little (2.5 million) who is having much more success than some of Liverpool's recent buys. I know it's not an apples-to-apples comparison -- who knows if Krancjar would enjoy the same success here that he's enjoyed a Tottenham -- but it's still frustrating to see our big money transfers struggle.

I don't know... I just think it would've been wiser for Benitez to spend that allotted 35 million on four or five decent players (certainly possible, by the way -- Riera, for example, was bought for just eight million pounds) rather than putting all your eggs in one (in this case, two) basket(s), especially for a squad whose biggest issue (coming into the season, at least) was a huge lack of depth behind the 'big two'.

As far as the on-field play, I don't want to hyperbolize but it's rather pathetic at this point. I haven't been watching Liverpool for as long as most of you guys have but in the past when Liverpool lost matches to lower-table teams, it was usually a game where Liverpool controlled possession for a majority of the game but got caught on the break because of one mistake. This year it's quite different -- if not for the jerseys I wouldn't be able to tell who the big 4 (hah) squad is. They don't control the ball and try to break teams down anymore -- it's almost like watching the US men's national team when they get in their mode of trying to play long-ball and hope one of their forwards can come down with the ball and have a moment of individual brilliance. It's a boring brand of soccer (I should also note that today it was exasperated by Masch's red card).

I'm rambling at this point so I think I'll just close by saying that I keep waiting and waiting for them to start playing well, and it hasn't happened. So maybe it's an expectations issue. Perhaps it's time to come to terms with the idea that Liverpool just aren't very good and that instead of hoping to even finish fourth, Liverpool should be concerned with staying in the top six (or is it seven?) so they can continue to play in the UEFA Cup.


Anonymous said...

WTF is happening to my beloved Liverpool FC!!!!!!!!!

Bilal said...

listen, i'm just as depresssed and, frankly, pissed off as the rest of you guys, but lets try and come to terms with a few things. Rafa is probably doomed, and with him leaving comes another long period of rebuilding, except Stevie's getting on a bit, which is quite terrifying when you think how much he's bailed us out in the past. So unless a Wenger-type takes over and wins us a league title in the first season, things look heartbreakingly bleak in the mid-term.

But. Rafa is simply not all to blame. We can complain the big signings flopped, but big signings are needed to take us from challangers to champions, think off all the stop-gap signings, Bellamy, Pennant, Crouch, they mostly served us well and those days look golden now, but would any of us have accepted constant 3rd place finishes? Of course not, we're not Spurs or Villa, we're Liverpool. The injury situation over at United shows us what happens to all top managers when players start dropping like flies. And frankly, Rafa's constraints and his willingness to withstand the urge to leave, lets not forgot the 'I asked for a sofa and they brought me a lampshade' partly atone for his shortcomings. Its just a shame that he probably has to leave for the good of the club.

Anonymous said...

Agree with all the criticism here. Poor performances, strategies and ugly, ugly football. We've always played ugly football under Rafa - it usually aids the team, but not so much lately.

(Oh, and is everyone else blind? Masch clearly grabbed the neck of Ben Haim when he tackled. Grabbed his neck and pushed off of it. It's a straight red.)

extrafattyliver said...

when u consider it is essentially the same team as last year minus alonso. u know it is either one of two things. either it is all confidence or luck or injuries (i doubt it); or, alonso was the linchpin of the team last season(which is looking more and more like the case)

we all know what a fantastic season alonso had for us last season. sadly we never knew how we would fare without him.

i remember in the summer when it looked like we would be losing both alonso and mascherano, a friend asked me who i would rather keep in the team if one could stay. i said mascherano. even i, watching 100% of our games, did not appreciate xabi. how wrong was i!

the devil didn't write the scripts though, moores and parry did. the mismatch between the proud tradition and high expectations, and the financial woes due to lack of progress since the nineties is the problem. the treble season and a second place finish under houllier was a false dawn. the european cup and another second place finish was again a false dawn. but the underlying problem remain unsolved. benitez is not a bad manager, to say that is far from a fair assessment of the guy. he doesn't have the resources. his net spending was almost zero in the summer for a team that nearly snatched the title. we are asking too much of the guy. the team has been weakened in the summer.

i am afraid the fair assessment of rafa will soon become unrealistic with each loss. but a replacement will be at the cost of the club in the long term. get rid of the owners, build a new stadium and properly back the manager in the transfer market is the only solution.

epiblast said...

i agree extrafatty. sacking rafa isn't the answer, as much as it feels like the right thing to do. we need new owners, an injection of cash and a new stadium. but there ought to be someone more in control of players being purchased and sold. i hesitate to say a director of football though.
i'm just a guy in Pennsylvania, but even i can see that there are players we just should not have let go or bought. as the weeks go by and the losses start to pile up, that list gets longer and longer.

Neel said...

If Benitez felt the squad was thin, he would've purchased some more in the beginning of the season. He bought like-for-like Right back & Central Midfielder.

I hope you haven't forgotten how there were strong rumours before the season had started of how Lucas would leave for more regular football to keep his chances for WC10 alive. Rafa kept him with the promise that he will get playing time while Aquaman was injured. Had Rafa felt Lucas wouldn't be an adequate player for the team he would've bought 2 players in.

Except for 1 person the squad was supposedly as good if not better than last season even for this game v P'mouth (who were bottom btw.). Rafa was NOT forced to buy Aquilani. He CHOSE to buy him with the funds he had. Everyone who watches Serie A said his positioning was different for Roma and that he's hardly played in the recent past bcoz of injuries.

You can only blame the owners so much. Look at Arsenal! What investment are the owners doing there? Whether they win or lose, their fans always get to watch a bit of sexy football.All we've been getting this season is the proverbial (pardon my usage) "shit hanging from a stick"

The more time Rafa spends here only proves how little he likes the club. Its plain for all to see how he has been utterly clueless through this season - FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. I'm sorry rafa, its time for you to move on...

extrafattyliver said...

Neel, as i said, with this season so spectacularly falling apart, it will soon be impossible to assess rafa's management rationally, if it is not already.

arsenal sure play lovely football perhaps only barcelona could match. but then wenger is a good manager. there are not too many managers around like wenger. still what has a great manager like wenger won in the last 5 years? nothing. why? because united and chelsea has more resources.

we have regularly finished higher than arsenal, won more trophies, gone further in the CL and had the best team in the land last year (scoring more goals, double over united, chelsea and real madrid). and our expectation is sky high. but we failed to go one step further.

if we had enough resources perhaps we would be able to keep bellamy, crouch (instead they had to leave for a profit), or give keane a big longer to find his feet. or bringing in villa to partner torres, rather than have voronin, ngog (however well the lad is doing) on our books.

we would have properly replaced alonso with a fit quality player even if it cost 40 million.

with gerrard, alonso and mascherano i think we had one of the strongest midfields in europe. that is why teams knocked on the door to tap these players away. alonso was bought and sold for 200% net profit and so would mascherano, torres if they had to go.

it is falling down like a house of cards. but i wonder what sacking the manager would achieve. shankly or even ferguson had gone through rough patches during their management careers and come through with the support they needed. but this is 2009, rafa, and our beloved liverpool will be victims of modern football if we couldn't find some solutions quick, starting from the January transfer window. this season needs a kick start. the heads are dropping even amongst veterans.

learn from the lessons, splash some cash if you are not leaving Gillett&Hicks. and bring some big names in January for a moral booster and a strong 2nd half of the season. this is our only chance. failure to do so or sacking of the manager will lead to an exodus to the permanent detriment of the club.

Andreas Bjørklund said...

I`ve never seen this blog this heated before.

I more often than not read your pre- and post game analysis Nate, you`ve got a very good eye on the club. I`ve followed LFC closely since 1987, as a kid.

Thank you for your contribution to the LFC-sphere, it`s very appreciated and you obviously have a substantial readership. I`m sure the blog will eventually get you a job in sports journalism. Good work!

But do you really want to sack Rafa? To replace him with who? And with what money? If Rafa walks (with a five-year contract) the entire backroom-staff will go as well. If the club were to receive investment I would very much like it to be directed towards the squad and not towards sacking managers. Rafa`s clearly made some poor decisions this season, but he`s working under very difficult circumstances as a top manager. All in all he`s been our best manager since Kenny, who Rafa`s brought back to the club.

Let`s stay positive, people!