Johnson Carragher Skrtel Kelly
Meireles Lucas Poulsen Cole
Trying not to lose and lucky not to lose. Gutless, frustrating tactics, yet again, and if Utrecht showed any pretense of the finishing quality that saw them beat Celtic 4-0, we could have had a similar result here.
Where to start? Persisting with the Lucas/Poulsen midfield again, despite getting nothing from the pairing in each of their previous appearances? Playing Meireles out of position on the right side of a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2? Joe Cole's invisibility on the opposition flank? The disheveled, insanely deep defense? The complete and utter lack of lack of service for Torres? Waiting until the 81st minute to make the lone change, even though Liverpool had created next to nothing? No width, no pressing, none of what's led Liverpool to the few successes seen in recent seasons? It was all there, and it was all infuriating.
There's little point in a blow-by-blow recap like usual. If this wasn't a Liverpool match, I would have fallen asleep or changed the channel. There were that few chances, at least for Liverpool. Duplan shot wide in the 7th, set up by Cole's attempted diving clearance. Utrecht had a goal ruled out from a corner in the 26th because Lucas was "fouled." Reina had to palm away Cornelisse's low cross when Liverpool was again beaten down its left in the 30th. Pepe made a few more saves, Meireles cleared off the line in the 56th when Reina flapped at a corner, Mulenga narrowly shot wide when both Kelly and Carragher dawdled in defense seven minutes from full time. Lucky, lucky Liverpool; they easily could have lost to a Dutch club for the first time in 44 years – since Cruyff's Ajax. They'd won their last five matches against opposition from that country by a 12-2 margin.
The aforementioned Meireles and Reina are the only two to come away with any credit. The decision to play the Portuguese midfielder on the right baffled, and contributed to Liverpool's perpetual lack of width, but he wasn't terrible. In fact, he created two of Liverpool's few shots; unfortunately, both were tamely at the keeper. You just can't help but think he'd be better in his natural position. Otherwise, none of the players performed to their potential, and despite the lack of any attacking impetus, I still can't understand why Hodgson waited until the 81st to replace Cole with Maxi. It wasn't the strongest bench, but it contained both Babel and Ngog. FYI: Ngog is Liverpool's top scorer in this competition, and his introduction in the last two league games has led to goals.
Torres can't escape blame either, but for those claiming he looks disinterested, I'd counter that Liverpool couldn't possibly cater to his talents less. He barely touched the ball in the first half, and when he did, it led to a corner and a shot narrowly wide of the far post. In the second half, he had two chances: once on the counter, set up by Kuyt – a chance he should have converted (and should have won a corner from) – and once on a defensive mistake. He continually got the ball with his back to goal, with no Liverpool attackers going beyond the defenders, which successfully isolated the striker. As much as it pains me to write, I wouldn't blame him for leaving the first chance he gets. That's what we've come to.
But, hey, the point means that Liverpool's currently atop the group, after Steaua drew with Napoli at home (despite going up 3-0 in the first 20 minutes). It's another clean sheet, even if it's a lucky one. I can't see post-match coverage, and I won't look until finishing this write-up, but I'm sure the manager has told us we should be thankful. As if.
Calling for a manager's head during the season goes against everything I believe in, and, as I always feel compelled to write, I'm well-aware of the root cause: the tumorous owners. Liverpool is not a club that sacks managers during the course of a campaign. Unless the team's in the midst of a relegation fight or Hodgson gives an interview to The S*n, we're probably stuck with him until the end of May. But this match has me closer to making that declaration than I ever thought possible. Steady the ship? Ha. To steal a joke from someone on my Twitter timeline, a sunken ship's steady. The "low point" that was last season was miles better than anything we've been served so far this season.
Blackpool on Sunday. Ian Holloway's already announced his desire to test Liverpool's backline at every opportunity. And that actually has me frightened.