21 March 2010

Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United

Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Lucas Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Maxi

Torres 5’
Rooney 12’
Park 60’

Sigh. I wish I were surprised.

Instead of delirium, a dream start through Torres (who else) scarily evoked memories of going ahead against Chelsea in the CL last season before losing 1-3. And it proved true, despite the game settling into the usual war with multiple talking points. As if it’d transpire any other way.

Within five minutes, a quick counter through Gerrard and Kuyt found the Dutchman in space on the right, sending in a picture-perfect cross to find Torres wide open between Rio and Neville. Heading practice, one-nil.

But it didn’t take long for United to equalize, naturally through Shrek, and not without a mound of controversy. Insua gifted possession to Valencia, and when Mascherano couldn’t keep up with the winger, committed a foul similar to Vermaelen’s sending off yesterday. As feared, Valencia posed an absolute handful.

Masch’s yellow could easily have been red. But that penalty could easily have been a free kick, with contact clearly starting outside the box. And despite Reina saving Rooney’s penalty, the rebound fell fortuitously for England’s Greatest Hero™. If I’m honest, I’d rather the penalty and yellow instead of a red card, but I’d far rather a free kick and yellow, which it could have been were it not for Howard Webb wearing Manchester Red today.

Just like in two of the last three meetings, the team that went ahead first only to concede an equalizer spent most of the time on the back foot as United look to press their advantage. With scads of possession, they limited Liverpool to few and far between counters, but rarely tested Reina in the own right. Park’s 23rd minute free header wide from nearly the same position as Torres’ goal was either side’s best chance since scoring. It was United/Liverpool. It wasn’t going to play out in any other way.

Unfortunately, the second half continued to tilt in United’s direction. Liverpool found it hard to claim the ball, let alone retain it. Even if Liverpool’s goal had been untroubled, when the announcers stated United had two-thirds of the second-half possession, you knew it’d be a matter of time. That it took less than 30 seconds was the only surprise.

It came through Park, United’s best player (yeah, not Rooney!), making clear why Ferguson loves him in big games. He got forward from his role in United’s 4-3-3, created the other best chance of the first half, and scored a stellar diving header from Fletcher’s right wing cross after Neville sucked the defender with an overlapping run.

From there, United were content to sit back and stifle Liverpool, limited to two solitary chances, both missed by Torres, both coming when Gerrard was able to find space on the right to center, in the 62nd and 90th. He tried to take a touch with the first, allowing Ferdinand to clear, and completely fluffed the second, popping it up where Benayoun could only send a tame header straight at Van der Sar. United never looked like getting a third for the nail in the coffin, but Liverpool rarely looked like equalizing.

To be bluntly honest, Liverpool lost to a better team, and I expected it. The early Torres strike lifted spirits, but United were worthy winners, in better form, with a stronger squad, and with a massive grudge to avenge. Liverpool were never going to do the double over United in consecutive years where Manchester could win the title in both.

Once again, I’ve drawn the formation up as 4-2-3-1 almost out of convenience, although it clearly was the base formation. But as we’ve seen in recent games, the side’s become a bit more flexible, to its benefit. When defending, it was a standard 4-4-2, with Gerrard on the same line as Torres and the wingers supporting the fullbacks instead of vice versa. In attack, especially on the break, it was a lopsided 4-3-3, with Kuyt higher and Rodriguez sticking nearer to Lucas and Masch.

When the substitutions came around the 75th, it was simply a more attacking 4-2-3-1, with a front four of Babel, Gerrard, Aquilani, and Torres. And while I was pleased to see both Aquilani and Babel, neither could change the game as hoped, and (although there’ve been few appearance to go by) I’m coming to the conclusion that Aquilani needs to start to have an impact.

Regardless, the game was lost in two areas: being outnumbered in midfield and down Liverpool’s left. The platform of Fletcher, Carrick, and Park were excellent, nullifying Lucas and Mascherano’s nullification, although aided by Mascherano’s early yellow that shackled him. And as feared, Valencia gave Insua a torrid time, not helped by Rodriguez playing increasingly narrow and Agger trying to get forward when possible.

The uphill climb for fourth has certainly gotten steeper, but we shouldn’t have been counting on points here, as fatalistic as that sounds. Fourth place wasn’t lost today, no matter what tomorrow’s papers say. Liverpool was and still is contingent on others dropping points. Both Spurs and City still have to face United, as well as each other and the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal, while Villa’s been as unconvincing as Liverpool of late and frequently ends the season on a low note.

At most, Liverpool can only drop points in one or two matches over the next seven. Anything more than a solitary loss or two draws will make the climb impossible. Five wins and two draws, achievable over the run-in, would leave Liverpool on 68 points, which is what Arsenal took for 4th last season.

But the razor’s edge has gotten that much finer, just as we’ve come to expect throughout this season.


Anonymous said...

Just wanna ask you one thing nate, how do you manage to write this whole passage just 15 minutes after the game end? Fantastic!

For this game, the result is pretty much expected, but it really worry me that when we are losing 1-2, none of the team appear to have the spirit to fight back. Till the very end they look like they are contended with the score line. -Teri

Mike Georger said...

Call me pessimistic if you will (I know, I know, uncharacteristic of me) but considering we lost to Sunderland (albeit, beach ball), drew Birmingham at home, and got our shit pushed in by Fulham, I'm not even remotely confident about winning those games. Frankly I expect three points total from those games. Sure if we play like we did against Pompey, but much more likely is playing like we did in the other 30 games we played like shit this year. I think it's over. Wasn't expecting a win here, but a loss coupled with a Spurs and City win ..... I think it's just too much right now.

And my GOD I've had it with Insua. Not his fault, he wasn't meant to be the starter, but when you're getting outrun by Neville and Fletcher, something is seriously wrong with you.

issam said...

1- Johnson's defending was average at best today. I'm beginning to miss Arbeloa's defending.

2- What is it with Torres' temper these days? I don't remember him being this way in any of the previous seasons...

nate said...

I usually get the first half mostly written at halftime, just describing the goals/play. After the match I add the second half, and try to make the review cohesive, if not thematic.

But thanks to a fairly inept/boring last 15 minutes, I got to start on today's review early.

A disclaimer though: I didn't think Liverpool were "inept" for those 15 minutes and it's all their fault. Nor do I think they were content with a loss. They were still rightfully wary of United's counter, United defended excellently, and Torres might have gotten an equalizer regardless.

However, I didn't much care for the substitutions, which didn't fit into the style of play that Liverpool used for 75 minutes and didn't challenge the United backline. Babel needed to come on earlier (although he may be gassed after the last two matches), while I mentioned my thoughts on Aqua off the bench. I'd have brought in Yossi instead of Aqua for sure.

But that's probably moot. As much as it's a stab to the gut to write, United were deserved winners, despite the closeness of the match.

Mike Georger said...

It's been there in the past, he definitely got real pissy in games that weren't going well before this year. Just more of those games have taken place this season.

nate said...

Georger - See, I expect to beat Sunderland and Fulham (at home, craving vengeance). Brum is one of the two draws I'm afraid of simply because of that club's hoodoo over Benitez.

Issam -

Agreed, but Johnson had a "getting forward" brief today and was punished for it at times.

As for Nando, he's been too petulant for sure, but I think Torres' temper today was different.

He hates United as much as we do; can't stand losing any battle to them. Yet another reason why I love him so much.

Mike Georger said...

Sadly I'm long past the point of thinking this team can get up for a game based on revenge.

The only hope I have left for this season is investment. And I still don't think that will actually happen because everyone is looking to get in at a cut rate and they're too stubborn to allow that. We're dangerously close to becoming a mid level team.

Cory D. said...

Howard Webb, England's gold-standard representing them @ the World Cup...laughable!

Fouls outside of the box are NOT peno's. I guess I shouldn't be surprised to be jobbed by a ref @ Old Trafford.

Mike Georger said...

And yes yes I know, sky is falling and all that. But from my window, the sky appears to be a shitload lower than it was a few months ago.

nate said...

That's absolutely a real, and real frightening, possibility, Georger. We'll have more than enough time to discuss it over the summer.

For the next seven games, I only want to hear (and I'm only writing about) matters on the pitch. That's where the season, and possibly the club, will be saved.

Marlon said...

Torres is more petulant because now he understands what defenders are saying to him.

Matt said...

I would've rathered the three subs came on at once, and instead of repeatedly humping the ball upfield to a doublemarked Torres, working the ball upfield with the added "skill on the ball" - why else have Aquilani, Benayoun, and Babel on the field at the same time? Every time the ball sailed from Liverpool's end of the pitch to the opposite box in the last 20, I cringed.

Fine by me to change tactics midstream, especially after the second goal, especially with Scholes and Giggs on to gain more control.

Too bad, I think an equalizer was in the offing.

drew said...

Howard Webb is a penis.

steven. said...

i think Torres is getting more and more upset throughout the year because he's the fulcrum of our attack and all the pressure seems to rest on his shoulders -- errr -- feet rather ..

that kind of pressure coupled with a under performing squad, there's no doubt in my mind that he is -- and deserves to be -- frustrated ..

fuckin' hell, these are dark days ahead ..