Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Robinson
Spearing Lucas Maxi
Maxi 7' 66' 74'
After seven consecutive draws, a five-nil thrashing. Complete domination, a Maxi hat-trick, and a capstone from Joe Cole. Predictable.
In a lot of ways, this match paralleled the much-referenced 7-0 FA Cup mauling, mostly because Birmingham again committed seppuku after Liverpool's early goals. The result was a formality by intermission, and the opposition wouldn't have scored if they played until Tuesday.
Another tactical curveball from Dalglish and Clarke worked like a charm. With Carroll unavailable after Sunday's knock, Maxi was drafted in. More surprisingly, the formation shifted to a 4-4-2 diamond, with Spearing and Maxi bombing forward in support of Meireles and the ever-willing front line.
The movement was superb: Maxi, Spearing, and Meireles shifted from flank to flank, while Suarez dropped deep to link. The interplay and support led to the early opener, with Maxi first to the rebound when Foster spilled Spearing's swerving shot from the top of the box.
Brum's response – keeping possession and marginally threatening through crosses from fullbacks – lasted less than ten minutes, and Liverpool got the crucial second midway through the half. Meireles, in acres of space just inside Birmingham's half, strongly flicked Reina's goal kick onto Suarez, unforgivably open thanks to Johnson stupidly cheating forward. Jiranek did well to get back, while Foster redeemed himself with close-ranges saves on the Uruguayan and trailing Kuyt, but couldn't keep the battery-powered Dutchman out a second time, pinned by Carr and left watching the turned shot find the netting.
To compound matters, Foster picked up an injury during the scramble and was substituted 17 minutes later. Liverpool could have extended the gap before the interval, seeing two halfhearted penalty appeals not given in the 39th (for a Gardner shove on a Kuyt and a Carr "handball"), Kuyt heading a corner wide in 44th, and Suarez tamely shooting at substitute keeper Doyle on the break in added time. But by the second half, Liverpool were fully content to soak up pressure and look for more on the counter.
This was where Lucas came to the forefront. Relentless when Birmingham entered Liverpool's half, the opposition rarely made it into the final third, shut down by the Brazilian and the covering Spearing and Maxi. Both Flanagan and Robinson did well to prevent crosses (Flanagan was again exceptionally impressive), while Carragher and Skrtel doubled-team the isolated Jerome.
It took 20 minutes for Liverpool to dissect Birmingham on the break. Suarez beat the offside trap – played on by Carr, who was distracted by Kuyt – and charged into space down the right, finding a wide-open Maxi at the back post for the clever volley. Eight minutes later, Liverpool had a fourth and Maxi had his third, again on the rebound, this time when Doyle saved the Argentinean's shot and Meireles poked the ricochet back to him.
Once again, it was awful defending by Birmingham, letting Reina's goal kick bounce for Suarez to pick up, then leaving Maxi open as every defender converged in the Uruguayan's direction. That kamikaze defense led to Liverpool's fifth by Cole barely two minutes after he replaced Meireles. Given space to run into the box after linking up with Kuyt (again from a Reina pass out), Cole's weak effort slipped past Doyle and inside the near post, a shambolic error reminiscent of Maik Taylor allowing Cisse's blast to roll under him for Liverpool's seventh in that romp five years ago.
Today's performance was a thorough beatdown, clearly aided by some Birmingham errors. But it's also worth remembering just how many players Liverpool are missing; Gerrard, Carroll, Agger, Johnson, Kelly, and Aurelio all would have started.
With so many players injured, including the talismanic captain, this team's taken on the persona of Kuyt and Lucas – rarely the most talented, but often the hardest-working and most reliable – with a heavy dash of Suarez's talent. It also helps that Suarez never stops running either. Liverpool won today by swarming the midfield, pressing in droves, and forcing Birmingham into those errors.
Which is why Suarez and Lucas vie for man of the match. But, as against Sunderland, Manchester City, and Arsenal, this was a team performance. Maxi's goals get the headlines, Kuyt scored for the third consecutive game, Spearing and Meireles worked nonstop, Flanagan and Robinson again belied their age, and Carragher and Skrtel never yielded. Reina, utterly untroubled, is an afterthought.
Dalglish's renaissance continues, and Spurs' home draw with West Brom opens the door just a little bit more (the first good thing Hodgson's done for the club). Maybe Liverpool doesn't have such a shallow squad; even with all these injuries, the team's taken 13 of the 18 points available since the start of March.
Now, with only four games left, the season looks promising. Funny how that works.