24 October 2010

Liverpool 2-1 Blackburn

Carragher Kyrgiakos Skrtel Konchesky
Lucas Meireles
Maxi Gerrard Cole

Kyrgiakos 48'
Carragher (og) 50'
Torres 53'

Even though we finally saw Liverpool "at its best," that was a lot nervier than it needed to be against an anemic Blackburn. Only Paul Robinson prevented a rout in the first half, but the goals came during a far more frightening second, bracketed by an immensely sloppy equalizer, with Liverpool under unnecessary pressure for long stretches.

It's amazing what a competent midfield and pressing from the front can accomplish. Blackburn came to park the bus, and rarely got out of their own half in the first 45 minutes. Meanwhile, Liverpool had something like 72% possession and 10 corners, and Robinson had to make three incredible saves to keep the scoresheet blank. In the 8th minute, a flowing move ended with Cole's shot from Rodriguez's cutback saved and Meireles' rebound wide of the post. Less than 10 minutes later, Robinson palmed Kyrgiakos' bullet header from a corner over the bar. And in the 25th, Robinson again came to the rescue after a flying Liverpool break: Gerrard to Lucas to Meireles, centered for Gerrard, stopped by yet another diving save. Even with the team hitting all cylinders, lady luck continued to prove a fickle mistress.

The break-through finally came after the restart, and it again came from the Greek colossus on a set play. The 11th corner was the charm. Kyrgiakos rose highest for Gerrard's cross, with Olsson deflecting it in at the near post. The goal still should go down as the Greek's.

But yet less than three minutes later, we were treated to an actual own goal, and another comical example of "defending" by Liverpool's back four. Benjani easily beat Konchesky and Skrtel down the left, cutting back for the hated Diouf, who stepped around Carragher for the shot. But Konchesky's clearance off the line ricocheted off Carragher for the Scouser's 574th own goal (rough estimate) of his career. This season in a nutshell: anything good quickly followed by bad.

However, against this season's run of play, Liverpool were soon back in front. Cole's delicious left-sided cross was just over Kyrgiakos, but found Torres in acres of space for an easy tap-in. Horrific marking from the away side, but absolutely wondrous to see the Spaniard back amongst the goals. He's scored in every match he's started against Blackburn, and coincidentally, last struck in Liverpool's last league win two months ago.

After reclaiming the lead, Liverpool were far happier to stay compact and keep their shape, as is Hodgson's primary wont. Kyrgiakos nearly got a second from another set play, only to see his downward header bounce just over the bar, but Blackburn were increasingly invited forward despite offering next to nothing in attack to that point. Few forays ended with a shot in anger, as Reina's primary responsibility was to claim wayward crosses, but the pressure was telling. The two-thirds of the game that Liverpool bossed were outstanding. The final third was utterly frightening, especially given how fragile Liverpool's been this season.

Bringing on Ngog for Cole in the 77th minute, while ostensibly an attacking substitution, absolutely didn't help. It meant that Meireles had to man the right while Maxi moved left, making Liverpool even narrower and exposing space along Liverpool's already-vulnerable left, and Meireles was lucky to stay on the pitch after a dreadfully high tackle for which he only saw yellow. Yes, Liverpool should have won a penalty in the 86th – again, surprise, surprise, Kyrgiakos on a set play – but the temerity in those final thirty minutes again leads to the belief that we're papering over this regime's multiple cracks.

It's not rocket science to see that Liverpool were far better when pressing from the front, taking the game to the opposition and getting the fullbacks forward, but I won't be happy unless we see the same ambition at Bolton in a week's time. The true test of any progress will come away from Anfield. Either Lucas or Kyrgiakos could be named man-of-the-match, with the Brazilian bossing the midfield and the big Greek an utter handful both in defense and on dead balls. Poulsen simply cannot come straight back into the side after the midfield's dominance today. Maxi also had one of his best games for the club, staying wide and given time on the ball to create. But Carragher, Skrtel, and Konchesky still looked like accidents waiting to happen, and that accident happened. Thankfully, Robinson couldn't save the day yet again and Liverpool had enough for it not to be a costly one.

This result's obviously bought Hodgson a little more time – although I remain convinced he's wrong for the job – but Liverpool's still 18th, and we need to see the first 70 minutes replicated in the next match at the very, very least. Only three points separate 18th from 7th; there is still more than enough time to move up the table if Liverpool's let off the leash every week. In addition, Allardyce's Blackburn made it surprisingly easy today – only Robinson and Phil Jones impressed – mirroring Hodgson's usual away match tactics, which simply won't work when Liverpool's in the form they showed in the first hour.

Long story short, it's nice to see progress for the first time this season, and it's even nicer to get all three points. Beating an Allardyce-led side makes it that much better. Today proves that there's still a good team in there somewhere, and it's both encouraging and a massive relief. But one match obviously doesn't make a season, and one win isn't a revolution. The margin is still perilously thin, and Liverpool need to learn from today's positives before we remove Roy's blindfold and recall the firing squad.


Ken said...

Spot on Nate. Let see how Roy fair against teams that press and have a go at his team. Bolton, like you point out, will be that test. I still hate his gut even though today is a good day overall.

Anonymous said...

Did you really mention Carragher's 574th own goal of his career?

Spot on Ken, I kinda hate Roy's gut as well.

A 2-1 win over one of the bottom of the table team, conceding a soft goal, and he's adamant that John Henry's as happy as a puppy.

Don't get me wrong, it was a good team performance for once, but I still believe this team is capable of much, much better once they resolve their confidence and roles.