29 December 2009

Liverpool 1-0 Villa

Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Lucas Aquilani
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun

Torres 90+3’

Now that’s a fucking turning point. I could not love Fernando Torres any more. And Pepe Reina comes close.

Yes, yes. One-man team. Never looked like getting the goal in a combative, back-and-forth snowy contest with both teams on short rest. Villa had the better opportunities despite more Liverpool possession, with Reina making two tremendous saves. Liverpool needed two lucky breaks to set up Torres in the penultimate minute of the match. Whatever. Warnock under-hit a backpass (thanks Stevie!), Dunne slipped, and Agbonlahor’s tackle thankfully ricocheted to Torres, one-on-one with Friedel. It doesn’t matter how “injured” he is. He’s not missing that.

It didn’t look like that was coming for 92 minutes. The first half was limited to an excellent save from each keeper, while the majority of play seesawed back and forth after an excellent early spell from the home side. Liverpool had more possession as the half went on, which, as is oft repeated, isn’t unfamiliar even during this dire stretch. And the pattern stayed similar for all but five minutes of the second half, where Villa had three excellent chances, as the home side were content to keep Liverpool from breaking them down and attacking through the counter and set plays. And it was infuriating as Liverpool failed to find any sort of final ball. But Torres takes that one opportunity and here we are.

And nerves were raised during those first few minutes, as Villa racked up the set plays (always frightening) and kept Liverpool penned in their own half. But the only real chance created was from Dunne header down in the 14th, on a corner, blocked and smothered by Reina. Three minutes later, Liverpool would have been in front if not for Friedel when Torres teed up Gerrard, who smashed a pretty shot with no backlift (reminiscent of last season’s cracker at Marseille) only to see the American tip it over.

Set plays came back to haunt Liverpool on the half hour mark, though, and Villa would have been in front if not for Reina. After Carew robbed Johnson to win a corner, Downing was found in acres of space at the back post as Kuyt and Insua both marked the same man. But Reina came up with a magnificent reaction stop, staying big to turn the volley wide. And that was about it as goalmouth action went for either side in the half.

Villa were content to soak up Liverpool’s pressure (or lack thereof) throughout the second 45, and look to break-out, which is a fairly clever tactic given Liverpool’s struggles and Villa’s situation. They’re ahead in the table, at home, playing well, and have a speed-merchant like Agbonlahor.

And it provided them the better opportunities, all coming within a five-minute span around the 70th minute. Agbonlahor beat Carragher to a ball over the top but saw Reina equal to the acute shot, Carew narrowly headed wide from the resulting corner, and Insua could have been called for a handball, heading onto his arm (it would have been massively harsh) three minutes later.

Meanwhile, Liverpool drove men forward, especially in the final fifteen minutes, looking for the win. But a narrow, misfiring Liverpool, unable to thread the eye of the needle, never looked like getting that needed goal. Babel, on for Aquilani in the 76th, had the only real chance prior to Torres’, missing a free header after a short corner in the 81st.

But, in the first sign that this might be a similar team to last year’s, we finally saw that never say die attitude, and more importantly, it finally paid off.

Again, it wasn’t a performance to write home about. The attack continued to frustrate – Kuyt, Benayoun, and Aquilani were all guilty of too many giveaways (as was Johnson), while Torres struggled to make an impact even though he looked to be running more freely. Even though Liverpool kept the clean sheet (the first consecutive ones in the league), I could complain about three of the four defenders, but Carragher and Reina were enough to keep Villa off the scoresheet. Those two, along with Gerrard and Lucas, were the only two who had decent, complete games.

But Torres doesn’t need to have complete games. Torres just needs one moment, and that’s why he’s Liverpool’s fastest to 50 league goals. Faster than Hunt, Stubbins, Raybould, Hodgson, Rush, Fowler, or Owen. Only Andy Cole, Shearer, and van Nistelrooy did it in fewer Premiership matches, and all three of them took penalties. I can’t do him justice. I can only repeat that he is the best striker in the world. The. Best.

And I’m convinced that one moment will do more for confidence that the wins over United and Everton, the previous “turning points.” That’s the Liverpool we saw last season. Blood, guts, clean sheets, and late winners were what led Liverpool to their highest points total in two decades. Villa are no mugs, played well, and I'm probably undervaluing the whole team's workman-like performance, which was better than previous matches.

Liverpool isn’t out of the woods by any means. This win moves them all the way up to seventh, 12 points behind the leaders and four behind fourth. The same problems persisted for 90-plus minutes. But that’s one early season defeat avenged. Reading in the FA Cup on Saturday before Liverpool get the chance to make amends for another, against Spurs, the team currently in fourth.


Marlon said...

When will Riera be back? This team is begging for some width.

andrea asyraf said...

Congratulations to El Nino, yeah, he just needs one moment, and that one crucial moment would be so vital for Liverpool, again, this time.
But the way Aquilani played for 2 consecutive starts does not impress me well. What can i say? He's not excellent enough, but we can't say he's rubbish. He just done well. Long way to go Alberto. But i would say, that is better for Liverpool to pair up the Italian and Brazilian Lucas, I do believe they would bring back attacking football that Liverpool had been missing this season.
In addition, sorry nate, I do believe Insua also had decent game, along with Gerrard and Lucas. He's done well to keep Milner quiet over the right had side, even he's struggled with pace, he managed well to pull back speed demon Agbonlahor.

nate said...

Yeah, you're probably right. Harsh on Insua, and somewhat harsh on Agger. I was just very not happy with Insua's marking on that Downing chance, and there were a few other iffy moments. Both Downing and Milner had the beating of him at least once.

But he got up and down the left well, exposed to a lot with Benayoun playing so centrally, so I really shouldn't complain. Plus, even with Young out, the flanks are Villa's specialty.

Issam said...

At the end of the game tonight, all I could think was: it was meant to be. We were just very lucky at the end. I couldn't believe it. But come to think about it now, Villa were really lucky earlier this season at Anfield when Liverpool were playing well. Let's hope good luck keeps coming our way...

Issam said...

And I completely agree, Marlon. Last season's Albert Riera is needed at this point in time.

Anonymous said...

Re: Riera

[i]Maybe[/i] on the bench for Tottenham?

"Meanwhile, Benitez is hoping to have Albert Riera, Martin Kelly and Nabil El Zhar back from injury early in the New Year.

'Riera, Nabil and Kelly are still injured,' he said. 'They are improving but are not ready yet. Maybe in two weeks they will all be available. This year we have had too many injuries so having players coming back will be better for us.'"




and always i wondered why Acquilani didnt play..and I got the answer ..too many misspasses..giveaways..He isnt good enough..I honestly cant see him in the starting once Mascherano comes back as Lucas is by far the best player.

... we needed to weigh all the bad luck this season for that ball to end up on the feet of Torres..

Hats off to ElNino..Wonder which place we would be if it wasn't for him...bottom half for sure..

Now lets hope for revenge at each team...next tottenham..

Anonymous said...

Well done Reds!Nando U Beauty U r a LEGEND!!

extrafattyliver said...

Liverpool fc will commence building new stadium before april 2010, according to the Echo.


Torres gave us a late Christmas present, is this the New Year's resolution?

Earl said...

Aquilani has given way too many balls away, but he's only had 2 starts. He's had some nice moments and will only get better with more playing time.

/scared shitless we wasted another 20 million

Marlon said...

Aqualani has been out of football for 9 months and is still trying to fit in with the team and get good form. Regardless of him giving the ball away two times, even as he is now the team looks MUCH BETTER with him in it. Hell, Lucas looks MUCH BETTER with him in the team just because it gives Lucas a more defined role and allows another player to take more offensive role. Aqualani is giving the ball away a bit because he is actually trying to move the ball forward and his teammates aren't acclimated to him yet. And even with that we're undefeated when he starts. Aqualani should stay the starter, there's no way we should go back to the Lucas - Masch partnership. If you can't see that I'd have to question your knowledge of the game.

nate said...

Thank you Marlon, beat me to it.

I shouldn't have complained about Aquilani's giveaways in isolation, especially given the pitch condition, but there was so much to write about last night.

Most importantly, as Marlon wrote, Lucas has looked miles better in these two games with Aqua, and as a whole, the team's looked more dynamic in midfield. I never thought Lucas would look better as the primary "defensive midfielder," but there you go. Relatedly, I have no clue how people can continue to question Lucas. The kid's already a good midfielder, and will only get better.

It's not a sure thing Aquilani will "settle." But you have to give the player time to adapt to the English game, and even more leeway with his fitness. I hope everyone can see why Benitez was in no hurry to rush him back, despite Liverpool problems.

He will take time. But he's already helped the team, and again, agreed with Marlon. There's no way Mascherano should just walk back into the side.

Ed said...

Completely agreed on Aquilani, it's impossible for him to have sorted out Liverpool's struggles in central midfield and attack. I'm encouraged by what he's done so far, but it's a matter of patience with him. He's tasked with organizing a previously shapeless attack and redefining Liverpool's central midfield...in two games.