27 August 2011

Liverpool 3-1 Bolton

Henderson 15'
Skrtel 52'
Adam 53'
Klasnic 90+2'

And it should have been more. Potential in action. The frightening thing is that there's still plenty of room for improvement.

Liverpool's formation looked more like the 4-2-2-2 that faced Sunderland at Anfield rather than the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 at Arsenal. There's so much interchange among the front four, even the front five, that the above diagram doesn't do the side justice, let alone writing it up as I used to do. Suarez and Kuyt alternated dropping deep and floated across the entirety of Bolton's half. Henderson came inside, especially when Bolton somehow had possession, making it more of a midfield three. Downing both stayed wide to cross and cut in, providing space for Enrique to over-lap more than in the last two matches.

And as against Sunderland, it didn't take long to convert early dominance into a goal, with Henderson wrapping up a wonderful team strike in the 15th. Suarez again played creator, with an inch-perfect deep cross nearly setting up Downing's first for the club, well-saved by Jaaskelainen. But Kuyt was quickest and strongest, reacting first to lay off for Henderson, brilliantly cutting onto his left and nestling the ball into the net. It was an excellent example of what each offers: Suarez's peerless creativity, Downing's attacking guile, Kuyt's workrate and selfless, and Henderson's versatility and ability to make dangerous runs into the box.

Suarez (twice) and Kuyt had chances to get a quick second; their failure to do so begat another (more frightening) parallel with the Sunderland match. Martin Kelly's 30th-minute injury – hamstring, again – also threatened to throw a wrench into the era of good feelings, forcing a rejig with Skrtel at right back without Flanagan on the bench. Truthfully, Bolton had responded earlier, with Petrov's blast from nowhere stinging Reina's palms and then thanks to Coyle's intelligent change, bringing on the more-dynamic Mark Davies for Muamba. But other than Petrov's dangerous corner nearly setting up Cahill, Liverpool remained comfortable.

Unlike against Sunderland, half-time only proved beneficial to the home side. Eight minutes later, Liverpool were three up as Adam assisted and scored within a minute. First, one of those renowned corners found Skrtel's bullet head (beating Zat Knight far too easily), his second set play assist in three games. Then, he proved his right leg's for more than standing, charging forward from Kuyt's centered pass and placing a shot past Jaaskelainen.

Three quick efforts followed – Kuyt headed onto the roof of the net, Suarez shot into the side-netting, and Downing's strike was deflected wide – but Liverpool were increasingly content to contain and counter. Suarez nearly ran his legs off in search of the goal he felt harshly denied; in addition to an earlier non-call, when Knight evidently tripped Suarez (initially looking like Suarez had dived), Probert missed a second possible penalty and a clear back pass, both prompted by the Uruguayan's devilish movement. That Suarez stomped off in the 78th without scoring his third in three games seems wholly unfair, but he wasn't even at his best today. Possibly the best player on the pitch. But not his best.

Carroll replaced his frequent strike partner, while Maxi came on for Henderson. Another flurry followed, with Carroll caught flat-footed on Downing's whipped cross, Kuyt attempting to play Downing in instead of controlling and shooting, and Skrtel (!!!) seeing two shots blocked on his charging overlap. But with both sides seemingly happy to just go home, Carragher's unfortunate mistake allowed Bolton a last-second consolation, somehow putting Petrov through before his recovery tackle set Klasnic up perfectly. Reina, unsurprisingly, was livid.

Bolton, poor on the day, were truly lucky to only lose by two. We saw more of the tantalizing moments previewed against Sunderland and Arsenal. Suarez continues to be one of the most dangerous players in the league. Lucas is indescribably important, again brilliant in scything down potential attacks. Henderson was much improved, with a well-taken goal added to better movement and touch; his versatility, switching from the right side in the 4-2-2-2 to the middle in the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 we saw against Arsenal, will continue to be underrated for some time. And special mention goes to Skrtel, almost completely untroubled at right back, scoring on a set play and even joining the attack on occasion, notably those bruising moments ten minutes from time. That helps dispel those memories of Martin at right back three years ago in Middlesbrough.

The elephant in the room remains Liverpool's largest player (at least until Seb Coates signs sooner rather than later). Once again, Liverpool simply looked better without Carroll in the side, with the added handicap of the striker off the pace after coming off the bench. His adaptation will require patience, but at his best (which we've seen in maybe one match), he'll continue to offer something few players in the Premiership are capable of.

Otherwise, it was a remarkable performance from the home side. Kelly's injury, as with Meireles' against Exeter, is the lone concern. And as against Exeter, the consolation, while unfortunate, can be explained away as a one-off mistake – which we hope to see no more of. Progress, especially from new players, is coming quicker than expected.

That Liverpool are top of the league after three games matters little. However, that Liverpool have more points after three games than they did after eight games last year matters much more.


Anonymous said...

Well said. However, today was obvious that with an attacking coalition of suarez/downing/henderson/maxi/kuyt the slow paced and predictable Carroll will never work. It is GLARING. Once subbed in, he attacked nothing in the air with any urgency. Everyone around him has clever passes and are thinking BEFORE the ball comes to them while it is obvious that Carroll does not. He is not an intelligent player at all. We would be better off with selling him for whatever we can get now while people still think he is of some value and get another creative striker... man city got it right.. silva/aguero two creative people up top. They bought big guys like adebayor they bought complete athleticism like balotelli but they came to realize why barcelona wins... CREATIVITY ... and Carroll is the complete opposite of creative.

matt said...

Haha. Anonymous REALLY hates Carroll. Though I think he does have a point, at least in the fact that Carroll isn't a complicated player. But Carroll isn't a creator, nor was he brought here to be a creative force. He was brought here to score, and bring a physical, aerial presence. I think we should also keep in mind that Carroll has been the victim of some questionable refereeing concerning disallowed goals. We can't expect Carroll to suddenly become a pass-and-move player because that seems to be the style the rest of the squad is adopting. Direct, simple football does not equal poor football.

Carroll is young and talented. And English. He will keep a reasonably high value if you are so intent on selling him. But a little patience never hurt anyone.

matt said...

Also, as a side note. The free-flowing, exchanging front 4 or 5 doesn't play to Carroll's strengths in my opinion. Neither does playing as the lone striker. I think he'd be more effective in a more rigid formation with another striker he could knock the ball down to.

Fan Futbol said...

I'm worried about Carroll as well. He's looking like the odd man out. But let's focus on the positive: Luis Suarez is brilliant.


Anonymous said...

LU IS SUAR EZ! most addicting chant we have.

But I agree with Matt in that Carroll isn't a complicated player and was brought here to be direct, etc. yadda yadda yadda.... yet we didn't know suarez would be the second coming... and knowing that 90% of footballers would rather play pass and move than longballs to a big guy (seriously, leave that crappy boring football in league 1) we have to accept that he is a lost cause and we need to get money for him at end of season...

Matt, we are FORCING the issue by trying to make a team play football that doesn't win anymore... please name the last champions league winner who played longball up to a big holding striker... exactly, carroll's style is not a WINNING style, and you say he was brought here to score goals, but suarez is doing all the scoring. downing put in a beautiful ball to carroll and he put forth maybe 50% effort towards it... he doesn't have the heart of a champion, doesn't have the skill or pace of a champion... if you wanna win play like winners, we have to model ourselves after the last winners of the champs league, and they dont have guys like carroll... ibrahimovic is carroll with footskill/pace/creativity.... we need an ibrahimovic not an andy carroll....

-anonymous who realizes carroll will never be anything than a lil above mediocre.

CheekyFellow said...

"However, that Liverpool have more points after three games than they did after eight games last year matters much more."

That puts things into perspective

Scott B said...

So far this season, teams have tried to push up and press us. It's been our biggest weakness for a while. If this type of play continues, sides are going to start parking the bus from the beginning. That's when Carroll's skills in out-muscling defenders and winning headers in traffic will hopefully shine.

It may not work out, but I'm not going to stress over it. Fans turning on him, which I'm afraid could easily happen, certainly won't help. I only have to look back to this time last year to realize how much worse things can be.

Anonymous said...

Scotty B,

We are in the same position this year with or without Carroll... but wouldn't it be nicer to have 35mil to buy a needed striker now instead of watch the Carroll fully realize how mediocre he is?

35mil and no goals in his 3 liverpool EPL games... he is Torres-esque

dARkDevX said...

Carroll will eventually be needed as our striking department is looking very weak and less potent when Suarez is not playing. I would love to see how David Ngog links up with Suarez in the future. Now liverpool need to get another striker in Suarez's mould or a creative force. Looking at the highlights of City's game against Tottenham today, it just drove the point home. They have Aguero, Dzeko, Tevez and Ballotelli. Supplying the creativity: Nasri, Silva and Yaya. That's a potent mix! Take out Mereiles, Suarez, Gerrard and Liverpool main creative thrust is gone. Aquilani being sent out on loan was another bad move. We needed him around.

All the same wont complain about the result but Carragher needs to be benched and brought on as an experienced defender when they are some nasty strikers playing against us and massive experience is needed. The center back pairing should be two of Agger/Skrtel/Coates. I watched Uruguay's games in the Copa America and if the young boy can handle Higuain, Tevez, Aguero and Messi; handling premier league strikers should be a breeze.

Anonymous said...

I hate talking about ManU but rooney,wellbeck,chicharito are who fergie preferes over the slow berbatov.... turns out man utd is pretty good and wins trophies of late.

if that's not a sign of what style of play wins and where we should spend our money on creativity and pace than slow build up with a berbatov type player in carroll than i dunno what is...

anyone who thinks we'll win a trophy with carroll as our main striker is delusional.

Marlon said...

Hey Nate if you get a chance can we see an average position chart from that game? It'd probably be really interesting since the players moved around so much.

nate said...

Working on the usual chalkboard post now – it's harder to do one of these when everyone's firing on all cylinders and the whole match went well – and was just looking at the average position chart.

You can find one at the Telegraph here, on the right sidebar under Team Stats.

Actually, there's less fluidity than in first two matches, where Downing, Kuyt, and Henderson were all pretty much clumped in the middle because all three switched so often. Looks more like a textbook 4-1-3-2.

And if you're into comparison, which is the direction I'm leaning if I can work a chalkboard post today, you can find the average position in the 2-1 win over Bolton here