08 March 2010

Liverpool 0-1 Wigan

Mascherano Carragher Kyrgiakos Insua
Gerrard Lucas
Maxi Kuyt Benayoun

Rodallega 35’

D-O-N-E. That spells “Liverpool” for the rest of the season.

It’s the first time Wigan’s beaten Liverpool and only the second time Wigan’s beaten a “top-four” club (Chelsea earlier this season). Of course, the sad fact is that Liverpool’s rarely, if ever, looked like a top four club this season.

A few stats from my notes:

• Kirkland saves: 0
• Liverpool shots on target: 0
• Wigan shots on target: 3
• Liverpool shots in last 15min: 0
• Petulant Liverpool yellow cards: 5
• Chances I would have put money on Torres scoring: 3
• Liverpool giveaways: countless

This loss, Liverpool’s ninth of the campaign (and seventh away from Anfield), probably makes fourth place an unachievable pipe dream. We’ve seen some bad performances this season, but this one was the worst. The team was an utter mess today. I lost track of the number of unforced giveaways less than a quarter of the way through.

And it was yet another baffling mistake – Kuyt passing the ball to Diame as Liverpool struggled to clear – that led to Wigan’s winner. The midfielder’s toe-poked cross found Rodallega perfectly placed to scramble in at the back post.

Liverpool had a few half-chances in the first 10 minutes, most notably when Torres volleyed off the post after Maxi headed on Gerrard’s corner, but Wigan quickly grew into the game thanks to Liverpool errors and their clear lack of confidence. Insua, Lucas, and Kyrgiakos all picked up yellows as the home side got bodies forward (Insua had a particularly tough time against N’Zogbia), while the best reply from the visitors was Gerrard’s close range shot blocked and a tricky rebound wide after Yossi’s clever run into the box in the 27th.

Soon after, Liverpool were behind after Wigan camped in their half, and the only reply they could find was a Torres header over from Maxi’s cross a few minutes before the interval.

The second half remained Wigan’s thanks to Liverpool’s continuing poor play, even though Torres could have again tallied against the run of play, ballooning Maxi’s clever cutback in the 49th. As a sign of Liverpool’s desperation, Benitez actually made changes before the hour mark, Johnson for Lucas, moving Mascherano into midfield.

It almost looked like 4-4-2 at the beginning, but as Liverpool began to be pegged back, it reverted to the usual 4-2-3-1 with Kuyt dropping deep in the “Gerrard role” and both Gerrard and Lucas holding. When Johnson was brought on for Lucas, Aquilani for Benayoun (69’), and Babel for Kuyt (83’), Liverpool went even further back to basics.

It goes without saying that none of the formations worked. The lone chance in the last 40 minutes, despite a decent spell of pressure between the Johnson and Aquilani substitutions, again came through Torres, with the striker volleying wide after Kuyt headed Insua’s cross into the danger area in the 76th. But we saw absolutely none of last season’s heroics as a demoralized and beaten Liverpool didn’t threaten in the slightest after that opportunity.

This is one of those games that make me question what little I think I know about this sport. And I have no idea where Liverpool goes from here. It was the exact line-up I guessed in the preview and the team looked insipid from top to bottom. The players I most fervently defend – Kuyt, Lucas, Insua – were the most auspiciously awful. Just awful. And Benitez was outfoxed by his friend and first-year Premiership manager Roberto Martinez.

After six unconscionably long posts defending Benitez’s reign, I have no idea what to say. I’m embarrassed for his team’s performance today. Zero shots on target. Zero! With Gerrard and Torres in the line-up! Yes, there were a few chances to be had, and yes, I’ve defended Liverpool’s rough conservatism, but there is absolutely nothing to defend today. With the exception of Mascherano (who was still beaten to the ball by Rodallega for the goal) and Pepe (easily the player of the season), every single Liverpool player was inferior to his Wigan counterpart.

Like the dreadful loss at Portsmouth, I fear that the team strolled in expecting a win against a “sub-standard” relegation candidate and were sent home with tails between legs. The outcry against Benitez is going to hit a fever pitch, and I have no defense today. It'll fall on deaf ears coming from me, but I blame the players far more – no one could pass the ball at all today – but I completely understand any outcry. Either the tactics, if they were any, were completely wrong, or the players aren’t listening anymore. And either answer’s a death sentence.

All of the other contenders for fourth have games in hand. Spurs and City, a point ahead of Liverpool, have one and two respectively. Villa, in 7th by three points, has three. Not to mention that all three are in much better form. This abysmal performance, yet another abysmal performance after it looked like Liverpool had gritted their way through that awful phase, means Liverpool’s most likely fighting to spend a second year in a European competition they don’t want to be in to begin with.

The sky is falling. The sky is falling. The sky is falling.


carlo said...

All the defenders Rafa has bought, and he plays Mascherano at right back. Then, given that, 20m Aquilani doesn't start. Rafa's effectiveness in the transfer market clearly showing there.

He's got to go. He put this squad together, made the deals, spent the money and can't get the results.

Marlon said...

Can this season please just be over? Please?

nate said...

Okay, now that I've written my criticism I guess I've revert to default Benitez apologia

• Most of those defenders were unavailable. Skrtel, Aurelio, and Agger are injured. Johnson wasn't starting after being out for 10 weeks. And Masch did well at right back on Saturday, and not bad today. Other than Insua being roasted by N'Zogbia far too often, and the previously-mentioned worry about pace with Carra/Greek pairing, the defense wasn't the problem. It was ineptness throughout the front six.

• Aquilani's been done to death. Even his agent (as well as Rafa) has spoken about this season being a wash. He hasn't been able to get a run of games to adapt to England and his teammates because Liverpool wanted/needed to be conservative and to grind out games. Next season (and I do think he'll be here next season) will be the big test. And Liverpool were starting to look better today (from 62-69' from my notes) until Aquilani came on, when Liverpool returned to being unable to keep the ball.

Benitez may have to go at the end of the season. Liverpool's gotten screwed in a lot of ways this season, and only a few were of their own making, but Benitez has done little to dig Liverpool out of this funk. The play is unavoidably comparable to the end of the Souness and Houllier regimes.

I still fear what would happen if Benitez left, especially with Liverpool's two idiotic broke owners, but this game makes the end of his tenure look a lot more likely.

nate said...

Yeah, I want the season over too, Marlon. I think we all do.

One thing I forgot to mention, and the smallest of the slight sliver linings, is I think this loss and Liverpool's subsequent place in the table, will force Rafa to come out of his shell.

We might still see this conservatism (read: two holding midfielders, Kuyt/Maxi on the flanks) against Lille, but I think Liverpool might throw caution to the wind in the league.

More Aquilani, more Pacheco, more Babel. Maybe I'm just hoping against hope, but it can't get much worse.

Jim said...

Like you I'm at something of a loss to explain that performance. I would also put a lot of blame on the players but particularly our two Liverpool lads, Carragher and Gerrard, who have made a big deal out of being the heart and soul of the team in the past but have been absolutely dreadful this season in terms of both performance and morale. So I certainly don't put all the blame on Rafa, but something is clearly terribly wrong and he's not giving much evidence that he can fix it. That means he might have to go before things get any better, but they might also get a lot worse.

Baadier said...

Im just so disappointed by the result, i optimistically thought we had turned a corner and the team that ran out looked like they should have done the job but it just didnt happen. One word: Gutted..

Marc said...

So I've done a lot of thinking about this squad, and I think I've come to a possible answer for why the team has played in a semi-permanent funk most of the season.

I have to revert to American sports personalities for comparison here, so I apologize in advance....

Benitez fancies himself a bit like Bill Belichick. He's a schemer, a film watcher, a defensive-minded game-planner. He'll break down your strengths/weaknesses and can come up with an effective counter-strategy. Thus his success in Europe as one-off ties give him an edge.

But we all know he's not an emotional guy, he's not going to bellow and bristle in the locker room, he's not going to get in guys' faces and challenge them, or scream at the top of his lungs that everyone needs to follow him or be axed. He's not fiery.

And that's okay... if you have a captain or best team player who fits that mold. But Torres obviously isn't it, and the captain, well, let's talk about Stevie G.

He's a pouter, honestly. He's not a leader of men like a Teddy Bruschi, the guy who gave the Patriots the fire Belichick couldn't -- in fact, it's no wonder New England hasn't won anything since he left. You need that locker room guy who will be insanely positive when things look darkest and relentlessly harsh when someone needs to be bawled out.

Gerrard goes into a shell, certainly on the pitch and presumably off it. He often says somewhat odd things to the press like admitting when confidence is down, or that the team has fears. That's SUPER counterproductive from the captain, even if it's true. He needs to be *inspiring.*

We've never heard any tales of him rallying the troops with fire and brimstone speeches, to be sure. Now, his play has inspired players in the midst of a game, but that's different that what's needed now, which is a constant pep talk across practices and on plane trips and before a match...

And you know, that would be totally okay... if we had a manager who could be the emotional core of the team.

So here we are. Carra seems to be an okay leader, maybe Masch could do it at some point. But Gerrard's not the emotional core of a team, and if he is, well, look at where his emotions are and it's easy to see why we are where we are. The great ones overcome their own doubt to spread hope to others. It's just not him, and it's definitely not Benitez.

So we have a black hole where there should be a source of inspiration. Something has to fundamentally change because nobody here can be the rallying leader of men. This team hates playing right now, and they need a new manager or (gulp) new captain. Maybe that's blasphemy, but he's certainly not helping us with performances like today's.

anakrantau98 said...

i'm aggreed with marlon.

cannot say anything. the mancs and the chels, moking me all time (especially the mancs).

i don't expect the absent of xabi alonso is the biggest lost for the team.

Anonymous said...

well said, marc

Mar said...

Yeah, Marc well said.

Talking about leadership, there's a dearth of it at anfield. What separate ordinary, from good, from best is the level of leadership that a player possess.

So many times, we see a Red's player baulk at taking initiatives and do something creative or daring. There's just too little aggressive leadership out there, and it taxes upon the ageing Carragher and Gerrrard.

It makes you wonder if Roy Keane was in this current squad.

Indeed, we're done for the season. Damage limitation for now.

Anonymous said...

I want the season over now....

vinnie said...

first things first, i have never been a fan of rafa all these years until ed and nate's analysis on rafa, which shows me a different perspective. but one thing has been in my mind for many many weeks now.

no doubt the players are to be blamed as none of them, apart from reina and mascherano, (torres to a certain extend) has been performing consistently and passionately even though it's essentially a similar squad to last season. but there's no way the whole team would fall all of a sudden without reasons, i strongly believe that it has something to do with rafa. he did his part by bringing the most out of a lot of young/unknown players but for some reasons, he's undone his team to the point where no one is really playing their hearts out. we were hit injuries this season but our confidence never recovered since then. like i said, there's no way a squad similar to last season could lost their confidence and passion so easily.

vinnie said...

moreover, as much as i want rafa out; i have understood the club situation that doesn't allow a change of leadership. the rebuild will take years, which means spending money that we don't have and both our local heroes will be too old.

at the end of the day, i wish there's an overhaul of ownership and management even if it's going to take years. bring back the english blood into the club that i first started following 14 years ago.

i know i will be the biggest traitor in LFC but how i wish david moyes was our manager, if only we could find someone like him