Mascherano Carragher Kyrgiakos Insua
Maxi Kuyt Benayoun
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.