23 August 2010

Liverpool 0-3 Manchester City

Johnson Carragher Skrtel Agger
Kuyt Gerrard Lucas Jovanovic
Ngog Torres

Barry 13'
Richards 53'
Tevez 68' (pen)

Dominated, embarrassed, humiliated. Tactically out-classed, overrun in midfield, passed to death, and toothless in attack. City's going to win a lot more home games this season than last, but that doesn't make this any easier to swallow.

Liverpool ostensibly set out to attack in starting both Torres and Ngog, and Torres had a couple of nanosecond openings in the first few minutes, only to be closed down at the last opportunity, but it was a matter of time before City opened the scoring. Manchester City had possession for more than a minute before scoring the first, patiently passing, poking, and prodding their way up the field until Johnson's through-ball split Jovanovic and Agger, Gerrard failed to track Milner's run to the byline, and the cutback found a wide-open Barry lurking at the spot, with Carragher unable to close down before Benitez's former target passed it into the net.

Liverpool struggled to get the ball off City, hindered by the tactics with de Jong, Barry, and Yaya outnumbering Lucas and Gerrard, and did little with it when able to maintain possession. Adam Johnson was a perpetual threat running at Agger and Jovanovic. Crosses only found City heads. Liverpool's best chance was a wild Gerrard shot after the away side actually strung some passes in attack.

But unlike against Arsenal, Trabzonspor, or Rabotnicki, Liverpool failed to improve after the restart, and Richards doubled the lead when out-jumping Agger to head in a corner; Tevez, directly in front of Reina, was credited with the goal, but didn't appear to get a touch on replay. I eagerly await the imminent condemnation of man-to-man marking, especially when it's a recent concussion victim against the opposition's best leaper. It's also another one that won't make Reina's highlight reel.

Liverpool finally showed some fight after the second goal, with multiple Gerrard shots blocked by diving defenders before the captain hit the post and both Torres and Ngog's rebounds were saved by a flailing Hart. 2-1 could have seesawed the match, but I can't say I'm surprised or that today wasn't deserved. Tevez put the requisite gloss on the scoreline after Skrtel hastily chopped down a stumbling Johnson (and was lucky not to see a second yellow). Babel and Pacheco made somewhat promising cameo appearances, for Torres and Jovanovic; Babel nearly grabbed a consolation minutes after entering, from Gerrard's through with his deflected shot saved by Hart, while Pacheco showed the tantalizing vision and passing in his five or so minutes despite the game being long gone.

We come here today to bury, not praise, the 4-4-2. Almost everything you've read from those who analyze tactics is right – it is an outdated formation that works against few others. It may triumph against the typically English cloggers like Wolves and Stoke, but it will not against the big sides, and like it or not, City's now amongst the United, Chelsea, and Arsenals of the world. Mancini, a continental manager forged in Milan, knows what's he's doing.

We'll be longing for the days where Liverpool bossed possession, even if they did nothing with it, soon enough. Because it is very strange seeing the side not winning that battle; they've only done so against Rabotnicki at home so far this season. Saying that Lucas and Gerrard were outnumbered and overrun barely suffices. Barry, De Jong, and Yaya basically played keep-away while the ever-threatening Johnson sparked an attack once the patient prodding found a hole. Gerrard worked hard, and was probably Liverpool's best player (admittedly, there wasn't much competition for the accolade), but couldn't "grab the game by the scruff of the neck" because of his necessary defensive duties. Kuyt and Jovanovic, both ostensibly strikers before coming to Liverpool, may work out wide in a 4-2-3-1/flexible 4-4-1-1, but not with two flat lines of four mainly behind the ball. And, then there's Torres: clearly still finding his form (to put it nicely) and always thought to be at his best when plowing a lone furrow.

But we also come here to neither bury nor praise Roy Hodgson. I think he got the formation and tactics wrong today, but it is still incredibly early and Liverpool's problems run miles deeper than the manager. The sky is still falling; Huang leaving Liverpool hung out to dry (yes, I went there) shines even more light on the off-field problems, let alone taking a glimpse at this summer's transfer spending or the on-going Mascherano fiasco (I'll assume you've all read the rumors about him refusing to play today).

This is Liverpool's worst defeat for more than two years, since losing to United by the same scoreline in March 2008. But there are built-in excuses for that result: that was the "Steve Bennett game."

There are no excuses today. Only questions, fears, and anger.


Noel said...

Certainly it's far, far too early to bury him, but this was not encouraging--and just about the last thing needed with hope and confidence for a new season paper thin, particularly as the squad is getting thinner and the possibility of new owners is fading into the ether. I also find it hard, right now, to seperate it from the first half against Arsenal where they dominated possession and the midweek Europa game where Trabzonspor looked quite good for stretches and the final result disappointed.

Of course one can't lay the niggles of the last two games entirely at his feet (I'd say either, but I do think this latest match and the disappointing result are largely of his making), but it's not building up to a plesant narrative that is beginning to form in my mind about the new boss.

Perhaps some of that, too is a push back against the media's new found love for the club and the droning, Oh, the 4-4-2, well isn't this a nice attacking change from those dull Benitez days that all the fans are still celebrating the ending of....

Frankly, I'm terrified of the trip to Turkey right now.

Raatzie said...

G+H: SELL, you lunchboxes.

You think you can't get value NOW? Wait'll the window closes with no further upgrades (and possibly minus Masch).

Speaking of Masch - you wait until the Aqua loan to pull this stunt? You go NOWHERE. Rot in the reserves, or don't get paid. Translate THAT to the wife en Espanol.

Sasha said...

Wow, I now really believe it is all down to losing Xabi Alonso. Look at the 08-09 season, where we played some truly brilliant football and easily outplayed our opponents (Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid...) and look at last season. The starting 11 are more or less the same, barring that one player. Losing Alonso that summer made all the difference, and what a terrible difference it was! From the very first games of last season we were shaky, uncertain, uncompetitive. Steven Gerrard has not had a truly good game for Liverpool for 1 1/2 years now. Rafa built us an excellent system with Alonso at the spine, credit to him. Unfortunately, he himself did not realize just how important that player was and thought we could recover if we lost him. We couldn't. And we still can't. Not even this season, with a new manager, with Torres playing... call it crazy but I think the reason for our demise on the pitch is quite clear.

Mike Georger said...

Is "pathetisad" a word?

Rick said...

While I would not say that it's all down to losing Alonso (the rest of the league improving while Rafa wasn't permitted to spend has gotta count for something), I would agree that it's a good part of it. Luckily we got Aqua to replace him...oh wait.

Now that the aforementioned loan has happened, I think that our main problem in midfield, provided Masch cleans up his act, is that we don't have an excellent passer of the ball to open up matches.

TimC said...

I think we are all sick of hearing about Alonso for different reasons. For me, the fact that Benitez sold him ten days before the season hints at the player being very vocal behind the scenes about making a move and Rafa finally caving due to the various pressures (interest payments, unhappy player, time running out to buy replacements, etc.). It's not incorrect to suggest the sale hurt the side in a way that could not be repaired, but to act as if that was what Benitez and the club wanted is ridiculous- if the manager wanted him out, he would have been sold in June and a (healthy) replacement would have found without being rushed.

The same situation is happening now with Mascherano and although preventative measures (Paulsen signing, Cole moving Gerrard back to CM) have been taken, selling him at this point in the season will have the same effect. It seems like Hodgson, fairly, won't get blamed for this sale because the media seems to be getting on Mascherano for his "strike" (which is great because he'll be under enough fire for this loss). But no matter whose fault it is, losing Mascherano at this late stage in the transfer window kills off any hope for a top-four finish and gives us plenty more nights like tonight to look forward to.

Manton said...

Our side just looked gutless, not an ounce of fight in them until the second Citeh goal. Just a depressing effort and result all around.

Luckily it's only match day three!

Sigh. My heart hurts already.

Earl said...

That has to be the most complete and demoralizing ass whipping I can remember. Rarely can one early game crush your hopes like that one just did. They were better at every position, including goal. Tevez is a faster, more skilled Kuyt, he's the Dutchman on steroids. Johnson was a threat every time he had the ball. They will only get better and they have a talented backup for every position.

Mascherano is killing me, I thought he was at least man enough to play until they could accomodate his wishes. I agree, stick him on the bench and let him rot. Better than getting 50 cents on the dollar.

I was not prepared for this. Everything about the club feels rotten, and I'm sorry for ever telling you to lighten up nate. All of my optimism is gone, there will be no top 4 finish and the title is going to Chelsea or City.

nate said...

As I'm a masochist, I've been racking my brain for a comparative ass-whupping suffered under Benitez.

• I already mentioned how the last three-goal loss, to United due to the Mascherano sending-off, didn't seem valid.

• Neither hammering from Arsenal in the 06/07 cups (1-3 FA, 3-6 Carling Cup) seems a good comparison because of the changed squads in knockout competition.

The 0-3 loss at Everton in September 2006 was a horrific one-off, complete with Reina gaffes, Graham Poll being Graham Poll, and the best game of Andy Johnson's career. That felt so much more like a fluke.

The 1-4 loss to Chelsea in October 2005 is the best parallel I can think of, and even then, at least Liverpool scored an equalizer before being run over by a better team. Of course, that was at Anfield. But that Chelsea side was probably Mourinho's best, winning the league by 8 points (Liverpool finished 9 back). No matter how much better City is, they aren't doing that this season.

Those four games (obviously not counting Liverpool 1-3 Arsenal in the FA Cup) are the only games lost by three goals under Benitez over six seasons. I don't want to turn this into a Roy v Rafa, for reasons explained in yesterday's review, but I'd have to go back to the Houllier era to find an analogous debacle.

I know I'm prone to wrist-slitting after a loss, especially one like yesterday's, but I can't help feeling the feeling. And 'back to the future' is not a warming sentiment.

nate said...

Also, haven't we passed the statute of limitations on blaming Alonso's absence? It's been more than a season, boys; as much as I miss him, he's not a valid excuse anymore unless we're debating how/if Rafa lost the dressing room/plot. He was a dynamic, crucial part of Benitez's 4-2-3-1, but other teams manage to win games without him. And surprisingly, better players have left Liverpool before.

Sasha said...

All I'm saying is we haven't played a single good game since Alonso left. I mean, we've won a few games, but even then we've looked unconvincing. We shoulda kept Benitez. He was the one who built the system, the system players like Gerrard and Carragher got so used to playing in... he is the one who can fix it.

dave3544 said...

It is difficult to wrap my mind around what is all too apparent: we're a mid-table team that will give the likes of Blackburn, Bolton, and Villa a tough time but will be easy pickings for the top teams.

Mike Georger said...

I'm still blaming it all on the loss of Patrick Berger.

nate said...

All the cool kids blame the loss of Igor Biscan.

Dunno where you pulled Paddy Berger from.