13 January 2010

Liverpool 1-2 Reading aet

Degen Carragher Agger Insua
Aquilani Lucas
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun

Bertrand (og) 45+1’
Sigurdsson 90+3’ (pen)
Long 100’

Comical. Unfortunate. Deserved. Typical. And no, there’s no acronym there.

It looked like Liverpool would hold onto the one slice of luck received – a chance deflection in the last minute of the first half – but not this season. Even when Liverpool were in the lead, that luck was tempered by misfortune, with Torres off after 30 minutes (for Ngog) and Gerrard replaced at halftime (by Babel), both picking up knocks despite 11 days of rest between matches.

No matter the line-up, writing ‘Liverpool had more possession, but (insert opponent) had the better chances’ is seriously getting old, especially when it’s against the 21st-placed Championship side. Reading should have punished Liverpool sooner, and when Benayoun clumsily tripped Long in the box, Reading got the goal their play deserved. After that, it’s little surprise they went on to win in extra time.

Once again, it started typically, with some decent early possession. Reading defended in numbers, but pressed high effectively as well, forcing Liverpool into too many hoofs for the second straight game and prompting some gut-churning giveaways. Once again, the opposition threatened through breaks and set plays, and had two excellent openings in the 22nd and 26th. First, Rasiak missed a sitter after Church broke down Liverpool’s left and Carragher stepped over the low cross. Then, McAnuff’s deep early ball narrowly eluded the on-rushing Church.

Liverpool’s response was two half-chances fifteen minutes later – Benayoun curling high and wide after Degen’s good run and Ngog’s shot straight at Federici – until that fortunate goal. Gerrard broke into the box after Reading couldn’t clear a short corner, and when the captain got the ball back from Ngog, his low cross was diverted in by left back Bertrand.

The second half saw the home side with even more possession and little to show for it, but Reading rarely threatened Liverpool either. Until the 80th minute. For some reason, the damn burst with 10 minutes remaining, with Liverpool's lone decent chance to make it a two-goal margin Aquilani’s misplaced header in the 71st. Then McAnuff did his best Maradona impression, beating five Liverpool defenders on a mazy run from midfield only to place his shot wide of the far post, and Liverpool invited Reading on. Church could only put Gunnarsson’s header onto the roof of the net in the 85th, while Cavalieri had to push away Sigurdsson’s curler in the first minute of added time.

And then Reading got that penalty. Agger and Benayoun collided while trying to clear a ball that should have been cleared 30 seconds earlier, and Benayoun clipped Long stretching to make the tackle. Making it even worse was Liverpool denied a penalty for Bertrand's handball three minutes earlier. Sigurdsson nonchalantly sent Cavalieri the wrong way, providing us 30 minutes of Liverpool with their tails between their legs.

It couldn’t have been a worse blow to confidence. And it was little surprise to see Long find a winner ten minutes into extra time. Gunnarsson worked space down Liverpool’s left and sent in a perfect cross for Long, between Skrtel and Agger (Skrtel came on for Degen at the start of ET), to head in.

Liverpool had two good chances to equalize after Long’s goal, but both Benayoun and Ngog disappointed either side of the interval. Benayoun stayed onside to be one-on-one with Federici in the 105th, but tamely shot too close to the keeper. In the 112th, Lucas won the ball well and found Ngog, but the striker quickly snatched at the ball, mis-hitting it tamely wide. From there, Liverpool huffed and puffed, but never blew a brick out of place.

It’s the insipid, toothless performances that infuriate more than the results. I don’t fully blame Benitez for players’ form, and I certainly can’t blame him for injuries, but Liverpool have been mired in a funk with or without Gerrard and Torres. It took a fortunate deflection to score against Reading at Anfield. Liverpool played well for all of 15 minutes in the previous meeting, culminating with Gerrard’s solitary goal. And it took a moment of magic for Torres to win it at the death against Villa. That’s just the last three games, and it’s not a recent trend.

I have no suggestions. I am beaten down. I can’t defend that. The sooner the season’s over the better. I don’t want to get all melodramatic (again), but I hope the club survives. I still hope Benitez survives as well, as I've written far too often, but I have no defense for him today. There’s always a new low. Hopefully, once Liverpool dig their way to the bottom they’ll find a way back up.


Raatzie said...

Rafa's fault or not (and I lean, barely, not), he's gotta go.

It may be undeserved (and, again, that certainly is debatable), but you need to do something to spark a top 4 finish, else it is well and truly over, and you'll be covering Championship matches in two years.

drew said...

Felt increasingly inevitable from the 60th minute on, when suddenly we all realized Liverpool weren't going to push on, but were going to try to defend a one-goal lead against a Championship struggler. There's lack of confidence, and then there's absolute pants-wetting terror, and tonight it was the latter time and time again.

Reading tormented Insua, and he simply has to raise his game soon or be dropped. They had Degen too when they wanted but the attack down the right was so easy they didn't bother with the left as much. They kicked Torres and Gerrard early on and got exactly what they wanted, both crocked and out before second half. And the penalty was unlucky, but they were so surely worth a goal it felt deserved all the same.

However that was an absolute stonewall handball penno for us minutes earlier, was 15 feet away from it and don't know how on earth it wasn't called. Phil Dowd and both linesmen were poor all night, at times it seemed they were determined to give Reading a fighting chance--and did they ever take it.

I've defended Benitez long and loud elsewhere, and I still think firing him, with the cost that entails, does no good to Liverpool long term. But something has to change, and soon. It is getting as ugly on the Kop as it is on the field.

Anonymous said...

I thought Liverpool actually looked its best from about the 50th minute to the 75th minute -- they were pushing forward at appropriate times, held possession and didn't allow Reading too many chances. I'm not sure why, exactly, that is -- it's not like either of Babel or Ngog had significant impacts. Aquilani certainly looked better in the second half, and I thought Degen did a decent job causing some problems out wide. Not sure anyone else stood out...

But there's absolutely no creativity in the final third. I've wanted to see Liverpool break down teams all season long. Instead it just seems like Liverpool is, for the most part, content to send in crosses from the wide with the hope that it finds or bounces to a player in red. As much as the loss of Alonso is bemoaned, I think Riera's loss has been a more subtle hit to LFC's attack. Hopefully Maxi Rodriguez can help in that area.

I keep waiting and waiting for this team to 'break out', but perhaps that's my problem. This is a team that isn't getting unlucky in their losses -- they're fully deserved. They're struggling to beat weak teams at Anfield. Liverpool's going to need just about everything to go their way if they want to stay in UEFA competition for next year, much less a top four finish.


Anonymous said...

The only reason he isn't gone is because we have no replacement and we have no money. No other team worth as much as LFC would put up with a 1/2 season of horrific football like this.

Other teams simply have Rafa's number - keep a high line, mark Torres tight and hit him when you can. Close the wings when they come inside. Counter, put balls in the box. That's it. And Rafa's too stubborn to change anything up.

Besides playing ugly, passionless football my biggest gripe with him is that he isn't getting nearly enough out of the players' strengths. Torres is a top 3 forward in the world - but he gets no touches. Aquilani is creative with long and short passes, but he rarely makes them. Gerrard can pick out a pass like no other, and both him and Aquilani never take shots and rarely play those killer balls. Benayoun is a wonderful skilled dribbler who needs to be in the middle of the pitch. Not in space. Babel needs to be in space with support. Neither get what they need. The only strength he gets out of the players is Kuyt's - running. And that makes for ugly, passionless football.

Anonymous said...

"It took a fortunate deflection to score against Reading at Anfield. Liverpool played well for all of 15 minutes in the previous meeting, culminating with Gerrard’s solitary goal. And it took a moment of magic for Torres to win it at the death against Villa. That’s just the last three games, and it’s not a recent trend."

Let's not forget that without Bolton and Wolves each getting a player sent off against us, we very well might not have won those games, and Ngog's dive against Birmingham saved a point for us too.

That's 7 pts that could easily have been 2, or even 1 or 0. We were also outplayed at Everton and were fortunate to win there. If Masch's shot doesn't deflect in, who knows how that one turns out.

We're very fortunate to be just 5 pts off a Champions League spot at the moment. But 5 pts almost seems like 50 at the moment with City, Spurs, Villa and even Birmingham all looking like they're going to be in the fight for European places.

Also, with these injuries to Gerrard and Torres tonight, you have to wonder....if they both miss some time and we fall further down the table, will they really be pushing hard to get fit so they can return for us, or will they be more concerned about being fully fit for the World Cup?

It's not like either of those guys have to prove themselves to get into their respective countries squads. They're both locks as long as they're fit.

I want to try to stay positive, but I can see the dominoes that are about to inevitably begin to fall from miles away.

Missing out on not only the top 4, but Europe all together, Torres and Mascherano (maybe even Reina too?) leaving in the summer followed by a 2010-2011 season mired in mid table.

From there, who knows? The lack of money from 2 consecutive seasons without European football, on top of the astronomical debt we already have, plus the inevitbale diminishing skills of an aging Gerrard could lead to....dare I say it...a Leeds United situation.

God this is depressing.

Anonymous said...

Im sorry I can't take it anymore!

Fan Futbol said...

Somebody please make it stop.