12 September 2010

Liverpool 0-0 Birmingham

Johnson Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Maxi Lucas Poulsen Jovanovic

Awful. Just despicably awful. The only reason Liverpool's coming away with a point is the sheer brilliance of Pepe Reina. Have I mentioned that I absolutely hate matches against Birmingham? Yet another draw, the seventh consecutive between these two sides in the league. And of those seven, it's the draw I'm "happiest" about, as Brum were the better side by far for the first hour.

There was a bit of early promise in Liverpool's ability to keep possession to start the match, but from there, it was only increasing terror and Pepe Reina saving the day time and time again. Birmingham had ten shots in the first half. I'm struggling to remember any meaningful ones from Liverpool, but they did have two firm shouts for penalties ignored by Mark Halsey. The more things change, the more the stay the same.

The first heart-in-mouth moment came in the 23rd, when Jerome found space between Skrtel and Carra, only to see Reina somehow dive to keep the free header out. The second came 14 minutes later, with Craig Gardner between Carra and Johnson, and Reina replicating his earlier heroics. Both were unbelievable stops after incredibly poor defending. Thank you, Pepe. You are phenomenal.

To say Birmingham were dominant in the first half is an egregious understatement, while Liverpool were beyond terrible. The two penalty shouts – the first for a handball on Maxi's acrobatic effort in the 32nd (with Halsey's view obstructed), the next seconds before Gardner's near goal when Roger Johnson tackled Torres in the box – would have been both undeserved and fair by the letter of the law. Having followed Liverpool as long as I have, I'm not surprised either was given.

At least Liverpool were "better" in the second half, as per usual under Hodgson, but there was nowhere to go but up for everyone bar Reina and maybe Jovanovic. Gerrard finally tested Foster soon after the restart, with a volley too close to the keeper, but Liverpool soon regressed as Scott Dann again found space for a free header, this time on a 57th minute set play. Man marking is obviously fantastic and and underutilized.

But as the match went on, Birmingham seemed more and more content to keep the scoreline blank. The home side blocked something like eight shots in the second half, packing blue shirts in the final third. Meireles' entrance for Lucas in the 76th helped massively, playing further forward as Gerrard went into central midfield, and the Brummies were under the gun for the final 10 minutes. But Liverpool couldn't find a way through as shots from Torres, Poulsen, Johnson – among others - were closed down. And Birmingham has more reasons to be angrier with one point instead of all three.

Once again, the most criticism will be directed at the Lucas/Poulsen pairing. Not only was it insipid in driving forward, but both players gave the ball away constantly, although Poulsen was the far guiltier party; Lucas played as Lucas always plays, if marginally sloppier. He wasn't the biggest problem by any definition.

Most infuriating were how isolated Torres and Gerrard were – today was as off-form as I've ever seen Liverpool's #9 – and how poorly Carragher, Skrtel, and Johnson defended at times (especially Johnson, but he was trying to get forward to supplement Maxi's banal performance). I'll be stunned if Torres starts on Thursday for fitness reasons, and I'll be stunned if Maxi starts for footballing reasons.

The few positives were Reina's continuing awesomeness, Jovanovic's effort and attempts at running with the ball, Meireles' 15 minutes, and Konchesky's second half. That's it. That and taking an arguably undeserved point away from Birmingham – and those are low standards, no matter how hard a venue St Andrews is.

It's been four league matches – and eight overall – and Liverpool still hasn't impressed outside of the home match against Sunday League Rabotnicki and a backs-against-the-wall 10-man second half against Arsenal. No matter how much time Hodgson needs to get his ideas in place, as with any new manager (especially one in this clusterfuck of a situation), that's still frightening. And after this week's Europa League match against Steuea Bucharest, Liverpool travel to Old Trafford. If they replicate today's performance – and play today's line-up – they will get absolutely massacred.


Noel said...

Harsh, sobering, and rather depressing, but spot on. If this was against a slightly better squad, or if Reina hadn't been on top of his game, this would have been another Man City.

And while I agree that for footballing reasons Maxi shouldn't be anywhere near the pitch mid-week, he did play 90 minutes with Pacheco on the bench and only two subs made, so it's hard to imagine Hodgeson was that unhappy with his performance--and the same with Poulsen, as it was he that stayed on in midfield instead of the marginally better (to these eyes, at least) Lucas.

nate said...

Well, if Hodgson was happy with either of those players' performances, I'll have to respectfully disagree with the reigning LMA Manager of the Year.

Noel said...

I hope I'm wrong, but I get the feeling the only reason Poulsen might not play on Thursday will be if he's being rested for United, and that in general as one of "Roy's players" he'll be at the top of the team sheet regardless of form or opponent. On the flip side, Maxi played atrociously, has hardly played at all so far this season (so one might conclude he isn't one of Hodgeson's favourites), and yet Pacheco couldn't get a minute on the pitch coming off a couple of promising, lively appearances?

I find that a little odd and worrisome, too.

drew said...

You know, the amazing thing about that first save was not just that Pepe got to it, but that he thought fast enough to sort of "scoop" it aside. If he just puts a flat hand on it, there's a good chance it spins into the net. One of those rare highlights that genuinely does get better every time I watch it.