27 February 2011

Liverpool 1-3 West Ham

Skrtel Carragher Wilson
Kelly Lucas Gerrard Johnson
Kuyt Suarez

Parker 22'
Ba 45'
Johnson 84'
C Cole 90+1'

Well, for the fifth-straight meeting between Liverpool and West Ham, the winning team's scored three goals. Pity that for the first time, it wasn't Liverpool.

It was back to the bad old days away from Anfield. Wholly insipid; out-fought and deservedly beaten by a relegation candidate on their ground.

Liverpool started decently, despite a much-improved West Ham. Both sides had early chances: Hitzlsperger's jaw-dropping volley from distance in the 3rd was straight down Reina's throat while Meireles nearly converted a dangerous ball over the top, heading wide two minutes later. The game was finely balanced until Parker's brilliant goal knocked Liverpool completely off-kilter. The midfielder played a smart one-two with Hitzlsperger, audaciously toe-poking past Reina into the far corner.

Following that setback, Liverpool's only chance of the half was Kuyt into side netting on counter in the 24th. Heads dropped, and West Ham bossed possession through Parker, Noble, and Hitzlsperger. Kelly's injury less than five minutes before the break made matters immeasurably worse; charging down the touchline, the full-back fell after no contract clutching his hamstring. I'm completely irrational right now, but can't see anything other than an extended stint on the sidelines for him. Cole came on in his stead, converting Liverpool to a 4-4-1-1/4-4-2.

And then Ba scored seconds before the interval, a comedy of an errors and an absolute hammer blow. An out-of-position Ba beat Wilson to Green's hopeful punt before Carragher was slow to close down right-winger O'Neil with Wilson caught up-field, giving time to cross. Most unforgivable was Skrtel's "defense": slow to turn after initially facing goal, ostensibly "marking" Piquionne, slow to react to Ba's run, allowing a free header. Admittedly, he wasn't helped by Wilson unable to track West Ham's recent acquisition, but the Slovakian still takes the majority of blame. It wouldn't be for the last time today.

The injury woes continued in the second half, with two players going off in consecutive matches. The second casualty today was Meireles, unable to run off an earlier knock. He was replaced by Ngog and Liverpool became a more orthodox 4-4-2, with Lucas and Gerrard in central midfield, Kuyt and Cole on the flanks, and Suarez lurking around the taller Ngog up front.

Aside from two excellent saves by Robert Green (I know!), the second half was all sound and fury signifying nothing until Johnson's consolation in the 84th. First, Suarez deliciously turned Tompkins – a sign of consolations to come – only to see Green react with a diving fingertip save in the 61st. Then, Gerrard's run onto Ngog's flick-on and blast required the keeper to tip just over the bar in the 72nd. Other than those isolated incidents, West Ham were reasonably happy to concede possession and pack the area, ensuring little space for Liverpool to dance into.

Johnson inspired false hope seven minutes from time after Suarez again displayed his class. Wilson did well to keep Ngog's flick-on in play, setting up the Uruguayan. He torched both Parker and Tompkins with a nanosecond turn, passing across the face of goal for a Johnson tap-in. But that hope was crushed a minute into added time when Cole completely disrobed the bumbling Skrtel, holding off with ease and leaving him on sprawled the floor, before striding forward to beat Reina at his near post. A fitting capstone.

I'm struggling to think of any positives following this performance. After anonymity for long stretches, Suarez set up Johnson's tap-in brilliantly, while Kelly continued to impress before his unfortunate injury. Lucas was consistent as the metronome in the middle, if nowhere near as effective in defensive duties. That's about it. Other, Gerrard was again invisible in central midfield (shadowed by the talismanic Parker), the defense was woeful for the first time when playing three at the back, Skrtel's regressing to the point of devolution, and Wilson looked every bit a 19-year-old. Couple those disappointing performances with two additional injuries when the squad's already paper-thin, and you have a really really really bad day at the office.

Liverpool's reaction to this set-back will define the rest of the season. The team has a week off before hosting league-leaders United. Ideally, Agger will return – we still don't know the extent of his injury – Kelly and Meireles' knocks won't be that bad, and Carroll will be in contention. It's nice to dream sometimes.

This was about as bad as it gets. So much for an eight-game unbeaten streak and only conceding once in the last seven. It goes without saying that this was Liverpool's worst performance under Dalglish. The tactics and set-up are still vastly better than the previous manager, but this is a result straight out of the first half of the season. Liverpool need to prove that the recent heartening spell was concrete improvement and not just a morale boost from the new regime.


Anonymous said...

The result finally reflect how we played from the last 3 games. If we apply back same tactic of west ham, keep on pressing us all the time we had the ball & closing down space whenever we have possession, it may have different kind of effect.

We lose kelly but johnson did well down the right but what worries me is our left..we look out of sort. Wilson look out of place in the left which cost us dearly. Skrtel limitation is being exposed again & again. Age is catching up..Carragher. It time to blend robinson in LB position just like A.Cole did when he is 16/17. Give Ayala a chance to defend.

Guess 2 new centreback with pace & power with a attacking leftback is our priority in the summer. Without a resolute defend, how good is your firepower will not be enough.

The last 4 games including this game show that "King Kenny" doesn't want to risk losing but it finally backfired during this game. When Ngog came on, the formation that liverpool adopt finally get us moving & able to attack.

We should stick with this formation with Ngog & Suarez playing up front, Cole Gerrard, Lucas & Kuyt in Mid while Kelly (If he is able to recover) Carra Agger Johnson in defense against Man U. Liverpool look more balance this way. Adopting 3 centreback may be the best way to stop united but the way we played in the 1st half, it doesn't make any difference.

Liverpool creativity is lacking (Kenny/Clarke Knows It) & i think time to unleashed Pacheco Potential and having Suso & Sterling in the bench may just give us plenty of creativity that we need.

There is no success if risk r not taken caused the best way of defend is to attack.

Keep Believing...
Chris Lam From Malaysia.

Ash said...

Gerrard plays and Liverpool lose. Finding it hard to get the best out of Gerrard

vinnie said...

you sum up exactly how i feel, nate; except i think this is as bad as hodgson's. i know it's a blip but there goes our momentum

drew said...

Let's not go overboard here: this is an already-thin, injury-ravaged squad, and it will take some serious work this summer to bring it up to the standard required to compete across multiple competitions.

That said, I think today was the first time since the return that Kenny got things wrong. Far more positive than Roy, no doubt, but against a relegation-haunted, wounded animal of a side like West Ham, an opponent that cannot be satisfied with a draw, there's a strong case for soaking up pressure, playing possession football and waiting to take advantage of their mistakes.

Instead we played forward far too quickly, opening up big gaps around the edge of the box, and gave the Hammers multiple chances at what they desperately wanted: an early goal. The Kelly injury was a horrible twist, but as good as he has been, there are risks when playing a 20-year-old every game out.

Some very difficult decisions in the weeks and months to come. But that said, there's still no point in tossing out a good eight-game run because of one bad result against a desperate opponent.

Kevin said...

This match, in collusion with the Sparta fixtures, shows that, while powerful and brilliant at times, we are easy to play against if the manager is tactically brazen enough to do so.

Avram Grant is a cagey manager and he packed the midfield with experienced defenders, who preformed the task of pressing across the midfield with a vengeance. Playing narrowly is the conception of most of our attacks and their conclusions. If an opponent plays narrow as well, they neutralize our attack. In doing so exposed the supreme lack of width in the side.

This lays the burden on others to provide the width for the side. Looking at the heatmaps, you can see that Meireles is being forced wide far too often for a central attacking midfielder, and this is due to the fact that he is one of the few with a decent right on him.

This problem is compounded by the fact that most of the squad cannot efficiently cross the ball. Kuyt and Johnson (especially when he is forced to cut in from the left) do not cross well, Maxi doesn't really even bother trying anymore, and Kelly is still learning the game.

The West Ham match saw 13 Liverpool passes or crosses from the final third wide areas from 7 different players, Kuyt was the only one to complete an attempt. Exactly one attempt to play the ball into the box from the wide left final third was attempted.

With a pacey, collected winger on the ball, his runs would be able to pull defenders into those wide areas to open passing and shooting lanes in the center of midfield. Attacks ending in shaky clearances from crosses and corners, which including a winger in the side would do, take pressure of the defense, allowing Skrtel to regain confidence, allowing Johnson to run in behind and the team to retain more possession as the attack widens.

Before any other needs, we need with.

Mike Georger said...

Like I said last week, Martin Skrtel couldn't even beat Daniel Agger in a being Slovakian competition. At least with Konchesky people still had to get in service after beating HIM.

(Not going to say I was right that we shouldn't have loaned out Ayala though)