25 September 2010

Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland

Johnson Carragher Skrtel Konchesky
Gerrard Poulsen
Kuyt Meireles Cole

Kuyt 5'
Bent 25' (pen) 48'
Gerrard 64'

I can't do anything but shake my head and sigh.

Liverpool were excellent in the first five minutes and gifted an early goal, evoking karmic references to last year's beach ball horror show. They then proceeded to be utterly terrible for the next hour, as Sunderland went in front after a deserved penalty and more embarrassing defending on crosses. But, like against United, Ngog's entrance changed Liverpool's fortunes, and Gerrard soon hauled Liverpool level. But the home side couldn't take advantage of mounting momentum, spurning chance after chance in the final 15 minutes. I miss when Liverpool scored late winners; 2008-09 seems a distant memory. And we're left wondering how this result feels like two points dropped and a point earned at the same time.

The gift – which came less than two minutes after Torres had the ball in the net, only to be rightly ruled offside – was presented by Michael Turner's hilarious decision to touch a dead ball in the direction of his keeper, expecting Mignolet to take the free kick. Unfortunately for him, with the ball dead, his touch counted as the free kick, and Torres smartly stole in and set up Kuyt for the tap-in. But unlike last year's terrible beach ball decision by Mike Jones, Attwell correctly ruled the ball in play. Small favors.

However, Liverpool couldn't take advantage. Presented with an opportunity, the home side increasingly retreated into its own half. The only other Liverpool shot came from Meireles in the 21st, straight down Mignolet's throat from outside the box, as the Reds became more disjointed and more narrow, with Kuyt, Meireles, and Cole frequently switching positions, but always abdicating the flanks.

And then Poulsen, my new scapegoat, conceded an idiotic penalty, throwing his hands up in an attempt to stop Al-Muhammadi's cross. Mind-bogglingly moronic. Again, I don't like singling out players – and I've often defended past targets like Lucas and Kuyt – but I have zero clue why Hodgson's frozen out Lucas in favor of the Danish midfielder. I see absolutely nothing in his game, even ignoring this ignominy, to explain that decision. And although Reina guessed the right way, Bent's penalty had too much power behind it.

From there, Liverpool fumbled aimlessly, out-worked, out-thought, out-possessed, and out-played as Sunderland took the game to them. At Anfield. Admittedly, Konchesky's 27th-minute injury, replaced by Agger, didn't help matters, but by halftime, the away side had the edge in possession 46-54% and deserved to be level. That's unconscionable given what we've seen from Liverpool in past seasons and what we've seen from these sides in past meetings.

Despite having been better after halftime often this season, Liverpool were certainly not improved following the interval today, and it took Sunderland three minutes to go in front. In fact, the away side could have won a second spot kick seconds after the restart, when Sunderland won a flick-on header from a goal kick, and Welbeck burst through the backline, colliding with Reina. It'd be one of Liverpool's few fortunate moments, and it wouldn't last. In the 48th minute, that man Poulsen was out-jumped on Carragher's skied clearance, Malbranque found Onuoha in space (with Joe Cole failing to track his man), and Bent easily beat Johnson to head in the cross. Yet again, another goal conceded from a cross. It's far beyond the point of embarrassment.

Liverpool were frustrated, picking up unnecessary yellows, and second-best, but as against United, Ngog's entrance – for Poulsen – changed proceedings, even if the young Frenchman had little to do with it. Torres found space down the right channel – yes, using the flanks is helpful! – and despite a tricky deflection on the striker's cross, Liverpool's captain buried a header into the net. The benefits of getting Gerrard into the box. Don't worry, he'll be back behind the front four soon enough.

From there, Liverpool looked the only team capable of winning. Bramble blocked Cole's shot on target after Mignolet spilled Ngog's effort, followed by Torres mishitting an acrobatic volley from Kuyt's cross. Johnson toe-poked wide from just outside the area, then Ngog missed a free header at the near post. Deep into six minutes of injury time, with Liverpool camped in Sunderland's half, Turner made amends by somehow clearing Agger's flick-on off the line before the Dane missed a free header in the final minute from six yards out, wide open after Skrtel headed on a deep cross. That sums up Liverpool's luck this season. The result sums up Liverpool's impotence.

Make no mistake, a draw's still somewhat fortuitous since Sunderland were the better side for an hour, which is why it's partly a point earned. At least Liverpool showed some spine in coming from behind. As against United (for a little while) and (sigh) Northampton. But Liverpool shouldn't need to go a goal down before producing some passion. And all those chances not taken in the last 15 minutes, not to mention Liverpool's home record against the Mackems, contribute to the feeling of two points dropped. It was a battle of mid-table sides, and it ended level. That's what we've come to.

I'm still fairly convinced that the 4-4-2 is an outdated formation, one that doesn't work against tactically-competent teams, as the match at Manchester City demonstrated. Liverpool also seemingly doesn't have the personnel capable of playing in the formation; Kuyt, Cole, Jovanovic, etc. are not out-and-out wingers. But with how narrow and ineffective Liverpool were today, with Kuyt, Cole, and Meireles constantly atop one another, it might at least be a formation that works at home against teams like Sunderland, who pretty much played 4-4-2 with Welback sometimes dropping wide for a 4-5-1.

Whatever the solution is, it needs to be implemented quickly. Other than Skrtel's outstanding performance, Gerrard once again hauling Liverpool back from the brink, and the resoluteness shown in the last half-hour, there are few positives to take away from today's performance. Liverpool's reliant on a deep defense, "keeping the shape," and kick and rush. They're prone to conceding sloppy goals from crosses and unable to keep a lead, except in a few Europa League matches and at home against West Brom. As said above, right now, this is a mid-table team at best. The previous manager was supposedly fired because of disappointing results and a too-defensive side. While it's still early and the disclaimer that the owners are killing the club remains, all we've seen so far is regression from last season's "low point."


lfcfan said...

I just don't get it. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but this is Anfield, right? How on earth is this happening. It's all very well to blame the fucking owners, but seriously, what's happening on the pitch over the last few weeks has only very very little to do with them. The formations just aren't working, there are constant team changes and it just feels like the team can't find it's groove. We can't be playing such a terribly narrow game up front, there needs to be more width so people aren't falling all over each other. There needs to be more sharpness so that passes and goals actually get finished. And there needs to be more spirit so that this is Anfield actually continues to mean something.
Humiliating doesn't even begin to desccribe this anymore. I mean a couple more weeks like this and anyone who says we're making top four will just be laughed at. And with good reason.

Ken said...

Roy has to go. His tactic is diabolical. He is supposed to bring out the best out of the players but so far bring out the worst. Liverpool is doomed. Most of the so called expert is blaming rafa, his players, owners blah blah blah but miss out the obvious culptrit, inept Roy, Liverpool saint mr Roy. Blackpool is coming what a apt alias for Liverpool.

Anonymous said...

I think Liverpool needs to start small. First, I think as fans we must throw out the concept that we will beat smaller clubs that the Liverpool of 2-3 years ago would have beat. Something is gone. Something is missing. Be it a certain player or some intangible belief that Liverpool would eke out victories; it is gone.

I remember a few years ago when Liverpool dismantled a team 7-0. Ask yourself if you can envision out squad coming out and beating ANYBODY by this margin.

Second, I think that the squad needs to find their identity, and then stick to it. What I mean by this is that certain teams have a playing style that is all their own, and they play their style no matter who they play. Spain is an excellent example. In the world cup, you knew Spain was going to be passing like their was no tomorrow. That was their identity. Their were a technically gifted squad who used their skill to impose their style on the other team.

Conversely, there are a lot of smaller clubs in the Premier League who play defense and counter. Liverpool has had a lot of trouble defeating the clubs that "park the bus" in front of the goal. And there's nothing wrong with that style, so long as you do it well.

So what will Liverpool's style be? Our defense seems to be fragile, and we play too narrow. Perhaps we take our bus and we park it. Draw the opposition forward, and then hit them hard with small spells of attack. I don't know. I'm no expert.

Anonymous said...

The Reds' players lack synergy. There seems to be nil understanding among the players as they keep misjudging everyone's run, and being a professional footballer, even a mistimed pass is one too many.

The guys are playing as if there's a vulture looming at their backs, which is quite rightly so, but this pressure is taking its toil on the players, all of them save for Gerrard.

Hodgson brought out the best in mediocre players, and don't get me wrong because I think Hoy's a tactically astute manager and brilliant man-manager, but there's just something amiss with this bunch of World Class players performing below their levels.

On the bright side, the mediocre Ngog seems to shine eh?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you aredthing. They seem to be playing with a group of strangers. But you definitely right about Ngog; let's just hope that he is actually improving and maturing into a legitimate strike partner for Torres!