20 January 2010

Liverpool 2-0 Spurs

Carragher Skrtel Kyrgiakos Insua
Mascherano Lucas
Degen Aquilani Riera

Kuyt 6’ 90+3’ (pen)

Even with this season’s horrors, Liverpool hasn’t done too badly in ‘statement games.’ Admittedly, basically every game’s a statement game with the shape the side’s in, but 2-0 wins over United, Everton, and now Spurs (and a 1-0 win at Villa) are nothing to sneeze at.

Kuyt’s early goal certainly brought a lot of relief, but also some wary memories of this match at the Lane last year and the league loss to Arsenal in December. This season’s seen me revert to my natural pessimism, but Liverpool finally were able to hold on to a lead, and finally able to add a second to seal the game, even if it came in injury time.

With few changes to the line-up (starts for Aquilani and Riera, and Kuyt shifting up top as expected), Liverpool used similar tactics to those against Stoke. Yes, shutting up shop against Spurs at Anfield, hoping to counter, is what we’ve come to. But it worked. It finally worked.

The first half saw each side limited to a single shot on target. Liverpool made theirs count. Breaking after Reina claimed Bale’s dangerous cross, Aquilani (despite being fouled) teed up Kuyt, who firmly and accurately placed the ball low in the corner. Spurs' five-game clean sheet streak didn’t last long.

And the game settled into Liverpool easily soaking up Spurs attacks. With Modric and Krancjar on the flanks, and Tottenham frequently looking for balls up to Crouch for flick-ons, the home side smothered a narrow opposition. Kyrgiakos was again influential, combating Crouch's height as he did against Sidibe at Stoke.

The final five minutes of the half saw what was arguably Liverpool’s best stretch so far, with mounting pressure leading to a Kyrgiakos volley over and a tame Kuyt header off the line after a corner fell to the striker, with Skrtel blasting the rebound over. But Tottenham’s best came with the last kick of the half, a flowing move ending with Modric through, only to shoot too close to Reina.

Controversy arose soon into the second half, and of Liverpool’s own making. Kyrgiakos’ back pass put Reina under pressure when hassled by an offside Defoe, only to see the referee finally stop play after Defoe had the ball in the net. I thought Defoe was flagged for a foul on Reina. The Sky Sports commentators seemed certain it was for offside, despite Kyrgiakos’ touch to the keeper. Who cares. Either decision pales in comparison to being scored on by a beach ball.

And from there, Tottenham were fairly impotent. It’s nice to see the chess master’s return, although it should have happened over the weekend were it not for a regrettable late equalizer. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case today.

After the disallowed goal, Liverpool had five better chances to score before winning a penalty in the 91st minute, compared to two half chances for Spurs that happened before the hour mark. First, Riera’s header was touched onto the bar in the 51st. Then, Degen should have taken advantage of an excellent Kuyt break in the 66th after the striker broke out and found him in acres of space. He steadied himself… and cut back for Kuyt. And it was behind the striker. Meanwhile, Modric and Jenas forced saves from Reina in the 54th and 58th – Jenas’ fierce strike from distance causing marginally more trouble – but that was about it for opposition efforts.

In contrast to previous efforts, Tottenham saw less and less of the ball as the game went on. Bringing on Ngog for Aquilani (79th) and Maxi for Riera (81st) helped, but it looked as if Spurs simply decided they were beaten. The final five minutes saw Liverpool’s best spell of the game, and the second goal was surely deserved. Gomes saved Ngog’s shot after the striker got around Bassong in the 85th, Kuyt missed a sitter seconds later, shinning Ngog’s flick-on over, and Kyrgiakos, staying onside, shot directly at Gomes after Tottenham couldn’t clear a free kick in the 88th. And when the two substitutes combined in the first minute of injury time – Maxi finding Ngog – Bassong clattered the Frenchman. After reenacting the Lampard penalty shenanigans from a few weeks ago, with Kuyt having to retake a made spot kick, the Dutchman sent Gomes the wrong way for a second time. Game over.

Get used to seeing a lot of tight matches, strangulation, and – yes – some frustration and nerves. That this game looked a fair bit like Stoke’s despite the difference in opposition is no coincidence. Benitez is nothing if not pragmatic, and this style of play gives Liverpool the best chance to win given the casualty list. That Aurelio didn’t even make the squad was the only real surprise, and as he’s made of glass, that isn’t even a surprise anymore.

Considering their respective ages and experience levels, Kuyt will probably start up top over Ngog more often than not. It was a big game for him – and there will be a lot of big games for him with Torres and Gerrard missing – and he came up with two goals, including the all-important first to set the perfect tone. I was surprised to see Degen feature on the right again, but he did little wrong other than egregiously pass up that shot. We’ll see more Maxi as Benitez has a better gauge of his fitness levels, and he’s already contributed, providing the pass that lead to the penalty.

Aquilani also looked brighter in a more advanced role, with a clever assist despite being fouled to send Liverpool on its way. The Skrtel/Kyrgiakos pairing has been surprisingly effective in these last two games, with Carragher still a big contributor from right back. I fear how it’ll fair against a frontline with pace, but Defoe was mainly kept under wraps.

We’ve seen more than one false dawn so far this season. And, to put it politely, there are still 16 games to fuck it up. But there are also 16 games to make it right, and now that Liverpool’s firmly amidst Spurs, City, and Villa, they’ve the chance to.


extrafattyliver said...

Massive performance.

Riera was good, we have missed him.

I wish Kyrgiakos was 21, not 31. He is definitely Hyypia-esque.

Lucas was again quietly doing his job. He is definitely underrated.

Without Agger, Johnson, Gerrard, Torres and Benny, the lads put on a much better show, the grit is back in the team.

Anonymous said...

This is the best game Liverpool has played since... I'm not even sure when. At Villa, perhaps? The back four were all very good and as mentioned above, Riera out on the wing was good to see -- I guess it's taken me until this season to really appreciate his dribbling skills, and his service from the wing and from set pieces was superb. And finally, I'll echo your sentiments re: Aquilani -- he looked a lot more comfortable up field in a more 'attacking' role.


Anonymous said...

Great performance by Reds.We must continue like this...

McrRed said...

Defoe has bags of pace so I'm less worried for future games than I would have been following the defensive display last night.

Also, Reina was great again...

And it was good to have Hyypia back in the side!!!

drew said...

Game was the exact opposite of Reading--last week when the Kop sang "Fields of Anfield Road" it was a rebuke to the side on the pitch. Last night it was an embrace.

drew said...

By the way this video is ace:


I saw just the tail end of this, really set the tone for the evening. Spurs botched it big time choosing to play Liverpool toward the Kop first half.

Anonymous said...

The game plan was “Spot on” – Credit For Rafa.

Reina – Can’t think of replacing him except the slip.

Insua – Did ok

Skrtel – Great play but how he miss the sitter?

Kyrgiakos was immense in “Defense” + “Attack” in set play.

Carragher – His commitment to bring the team up was 110%. I think that was his best performance that I seen him play In “RB” – Bringing the ball forward & crossing it.

Riera – This is what we was missing – A classy “LW” who can pass, dribble, shot. His delivery was 1st Class (Didn’t know that he can deliver so well). His play set-up our attacking tuned. Unlucky not to score with his header after moving into great position.

Macherano – The “King” of breaking up play - His attitude restore.

Lucas – He always trying to make things happen and keeping things moving (Should look into his play especially in stoke game - Do u think that “Xabi” will b in his movement on the 2 penalties involving him?)

Degen – Frustrated to see him squaring off the chance that he had but his attacking flair needed to keep the pressure on “Bale”

Aquilani a 20m flop? The quality that he demonstrates in game was classy though 2nd half he faded a bit (Short of Match Fitness) but did justify his potential & will make the doubter eat their words.

Kuyt – If Carragher gave 110%, he gave 120%. Never stop pressing spurs defence and a great tactical switch from Rafa moving him behind Ngog as that time Aquilani was not pushing the spurs midfield enough so by moving kuyt into that role, it gives ngog space to exploit. Score from a half chance but didn’t score from an easy chance. Score a great penalty (Twice Taken)

The Subs..
Ngog – His 10 minutes substitute appearance was awesome. Firstly, I doubt rafa on bringing him in place of Aquilani rather Pacheco as I thought his creativity would help us to push for the 2nd. But he manage to proof me wrong as he manage to get behind the defenders and sending crosses in as well as testing gomes. Credit for him for making the penalty given.

Maxi – Our soon to b King “Maxi”/ the last used that name it was “Luis Garcia”. What a great pass to Ngog to lead to the penalty.

Darby – Congrat’s for the Premier debut. Had a hand of the play leading to the penalty given.

A resounding victory for Liverpool which is without a torres, gerrard, benayoun, agger & johnsson. A good time to play with the “Reds” according from Spurs player…Guess they have to think before saying it again.

A good morning watching in Malaysia. Cheers for the teams.
Chris Lam.

Earl said...

Great effort from everyone in a "make or break". Let's hope they can keep it up for a few games. Carragher had those boys playing out there. Not the most nimble going forward, but you have to love the passion. Maybe its not his best position, but I'd like to keep Carragher out wide and leave the big Greek in the middle. However, whom does Agger bump when healthy, Kyrgiakos or Skrtel?

While I don't want to start Ngog, he was outstanding as a change of pace. My apologies. Good results with Degen the last 2 games, but I hope to see a little more of Maxi. I like Riera over Aurelio too, if they could both stay healthy.