22 January 2011

Liverpool 3-0 Wolves

Kelly Skrtel Agger Johnson
Lucas Poulsen
Kuyt Meireles Maxi

Torres 36' 90+1'
Meireles 50'

After four games, performances finally lead to a result. A deservedly comprehensive three-goal away win, for Dalglish's first victory in his second stint as Liverpool's manager. A continuation of the pressing, shackles-off style that the King has brought back, three well-taken goals, no costly defensive mistakes, and an absolute master-class from Raul Meireles. That'll do nicely.

Today began looking more like rugby than football, as expected in a trip to Molineux. Martin Atkinson seemed content with Wolves' physicality, but was quick to show Poulsen a 4th-minute yellow, a frightening prospect for a shaky defensive midfielder. But Liverpool demonstrated its attacking intent with a clever move five minutes later: Johnson set up by Torres after taking the throw-in, putting Lucas in with a smart pass only to see Poulsen's shot from the Brazilian's cutback blocked. That's right, Christian Poulsen actually got in the box and threatened.

Torres and Meireles were at the heart of almost every good Liverpool attack, and the two nearly combined to open the scoring in the 22nd, with Torres' controlling Meireles' brilliant cross-field pass only to see his left-footed shot saved. Ten minutes later, the Spaniard's flick led to Meireles' shot from distance skittering wide of the far post. But in the 36th, the two finally provided the needed goal, with a cameo from the oft-criticized Poulsen. The Dane's throughball found Meireles just onside, played on by Zubar, bursting through and centering for a Torres tap-in.

Wolves' attempted to spark to life, hoping to catch Liverpool out, as happened in the last two games once the Reds took the lead. Reina saved Fletcher's shot from the top of the box and Milijas' point-black far post-effort before halftime. But Liverpool never looked like cheaply conceding after the interval, as happened in those seven minutes last Sunday. The away side got the desperately-crucial second goal five minutes from the restart thanks to an indescribable volley from Meireles.

We'll be hard-pressed to find a better goal this season. Berra attempted to clear an aimless free kick from Liverpool's half, heading the ball skyward. The Portuguese midfielder watched it all the way before blasting an unstoppable shot. The movement of the ball, dipping like a cut pitch, broke at least four laws of physics. As McManaman said on ESPN after the game, "The goalkeeper could have had stilts on and wouldn't have stopped that." Seconds before, Kuyt should have tallied the second when one-on-one with Hennessey from Maxi's quick pass.

From there, Liverpool were rightfully content to quash Wolves attacks and hit back on the counter. Unlike in previous games, especially under the previous manager, Liverpool rarely looked like capitulating, in control throughout. Wolves had chances, from open play and dead balls. But any mistakes, like Skrtel's giveaway when under pressure in the 66th, only led to Reina saves, in that case from Ward's vicious long-range strike. And thankfully, there were few mistakes.

Liverpool's third goal, to cap proceedings, was the perfect way to mark Dalglish's first victory and an end to the previous era: keeping possession for more than minute with one-touch passing, with more than 30 passes and every player getting a touch of the ball, ending with a quick strike when Johnson put Kuyt through, the last ditch tackle setting Torres up for his second goal. Pass and move, with a small sprig of luck on the finishing touch. It hearkened back to better days.

Liverpool had played good football in the last three games without getting a win. Today, they played their best football under Dalglish and got those deserved three points. That it comes away from Anfield is further confirmation that the times are a changin'. Confidence is up, performances are improved, and the tactics are suited to the players. The back-line is slowly becoming settled and secure. The midfield looked coherent as Meireles had his best game in a Liverpool shirt, Lucas was typically consistent and diligent, and Poulsen didn't disappoint. Kuyt and Maxi actually gave Liverpool width and looked threatening on the break despite each's respective lack of pace. And the change in Torres under the new manager is like night and day.

But it's still one win against the 19th-placed side, even if it is one of the few and far between away wins. Liverpool are still only up to 10th, and that's before every other weekend game's been played. There is still much work to be done, and confidence can be sapped in the blink of an eye by one bad play. But this is what had to happen today. Dalglish has made a difference during his short tenure and Liverpool are beginning to get what their play deserves. Today just can't be a one-off game. We've seen enough of those.


el bagucci said...

my niggling worry though is what happens to the balance in midfield when Gerrard returns for Fulham?

TimC said...

People will insist on discussing the Meireles goal but for me the Kuyt nutmeg was the play of the day.

TimC said...

And el bagucci I think Gerrard replaces Poulsen/Spearing and it will be some combination of a 4-1-4-1 with Gerrard and Meireles a bit forward or a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 like today with Gerrard a bit further ahead of Meireles. I am excited for the prospect of the two playing together with Meireles in this form but it will be a challenge for Dalglish to find them the space they each need to play their best. Of course, in all of this, it should be pointed out that Lucas is probably more than ready to handle the added responsibility of cleaning up behind the two of them.

Michael J said...

Nate--what'd you think of Shelvey today? Thought he played a nice last 20 minutes, seeing a great opportunity to score our third and picking out Torres from the left flank.

nate said...

@el bagucci:

I think it'll look like how TimC suggests

Meireles Lucas


Meireles Gerrard

In keeping with the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1/4-1-4-1 hybrid we've seen so far under Dalglish. If both Gerrard and Meireles have license to get forward, which they will, one will have to protect Lucas at times. It'll need to be ironed out in matches, but the trio has the potential to be excellent.


Glad someone else noticed that Kuyt nutmeg. Chest control to unbalance the defender, nutmegged through the legs to start the break. Do that more often please, Dirk.

@Michael J:

Shelvey had another good cameo. These chances are huge learning experiences for a kid of 18, and he's taking them. Pity he didn't notch a deserved goal; would have been a classic first. That's four consecutive appearances off the bench in Kenny's four games. An incredibly promising sign.