22 October 2011

Liverpool 1-1 Norwich

Bellamy 45+1'
Holt 60'

Like watching a replay of the season opener against Sunderland.

At Anfield? Check. Failure to convert multiple first half chances? Check. First-half goal? Check. Early second-half equalizer? Check. Increasingly frustrated and increasingly impatient? Check. Some dubious but not game-changing decisions from the referee? Check. And for added spice, Liverpool had two jaw-dropping chances deep into injury time: one just wide, one miraculously saved. Just what we needed. Salt in the wounds.

29 shots, nine on target, with efforts off the crossbar and both posts. That Liverpool continues to spurn brilliant chances seems unbelievable. It's no exaggeration that the home side should have been three up and out of sight by the 15-minute mark. Skrtel crashed Adam's corner off the bar within 120 seconds, Suarez somehow turned past two only to shoot into the side-netting three minutes later, and Ruddy pulled off his first outstanding stop on a Suarez effort in the 11th, pushing the Uruguayan's blast onto the post.

Unsuccessful in front of a baying Kop, frustration quickly mounted, and Norwich responded with a spell of pressure, testing Reina from distance and on corners. After regaining momentum following ten nervous minutes, Liverpool seemingly pushed too hard in trying to replicate the fast start and make the breakthrough, losing possession in the final third, caught offside too often, and generally wasteful when anywhere near the 18-yard box.

That is, until Bellamy finally, fortunately found the net with the last kick of the half, running onto a ball over the top aimed for a fouled Suarez, his shot deflecting in off Tierney's heel. In theory, with that curse lifted, Liverpool should have gone to seal the win. In practice, Liverpool came out in familiar form, starved of chances save Suarez creating something from nothing yet again, turning one defender, fooling a second into going to ground, and nearly poking past Ruddy, only to see his shot deflect off Martin off the post. Again.

And then came the predictable Norwich stomach punch, due to Lambert's smart substitution. For once, there's not one scapegoat for the opposition's equalizer: Adam lost possession seeking a soft free kick, Enrique gave Pilkington space to check the wind before angling in a cross for Holt, who beat both Carragher and Johnson in the air as Reina charged out only to flap.

Dalglish's response saw Henderson replace Bellamy in the 69th and Carroll replace Downing ten minutes later. Despite the change in system, Liverpool remained reliant on Suarez until the injury time flurry; the closest he came was in the 78th, shooting wide after his buzzing movement saw Norwich's excellent center-back Barnett slip. With hope dashed yet again, Liverpool nearly got the late winner that's so often eluded the side. In the 93rd, Carroll powered Gerrard's deep cross just wide. In the 95th, Ruddy again came to the rescue, somehow palming Suarez's sweet volley over. The Uruguayan took 11 of Liverpool's 29 shots – six on target, four off, one blocked – and drew zero free kicks. One of the Canaries would have had to sever a limb before Walton whistled, the result of the now-pervasive media narrative and his own checkered antics.

That Liverpool have taken two points from matches against Norwich, Stoke, and Sunderland – two of three at Anfield, matches where they set both tone and tempo, matches where they created countless chances spoiled by both keeper and woodwork – borders on unforgivable, no matter the novelty of the side and the vagaries of luck.

Suarez remains Liverpool's lone menace; while he's a bomb-throwing handful, he also can't buy a goal for love, luck, or money. Little came from his strike partner Kuyt, who often dropped into the hole to link play with both Gerrard and Adam sitting deep. Without a third midfielder, a runner like Henderson or holder like Lucas, the duo replicated each other's abilities and mainly got in each other's way. A less than auspicious debut for the partnership in a 4-2-2-2. At the same time, little came from Liverpool's inverted "wingers." Bellamy's general hassle created the goal, but he clearly tired. Which, I'll churlishly mention, might not have been the case had he not played an hour on Tuesday. Downing was wasteful in shooting but did well crossing with either foot on either flank, completing five of nine. Unfortunately, that was with Suarez as target-man. With Carroll on the bench for 80 minutes, Liverpool actually attempted 37 crosses in total, 12 successful, which is 11 more than in any other fixture. Second-most? At Stoke. Surprise!

Besides the comparison to this season's opening fixture, I'd like to draw one other parallel. Holt's introduction in the 56th reminded of Zamora's second-half entrance in Liverpool's 5-2 win over Fulham last April: a burly striker who held up play, rumbled with Skrtel and Carra, and nearly brought his side back into the game, setting up Dembele and unsettling Liverpool until Maxi's wonder strike resealed the match. The difference is that Liverpool weren't three goals to the good today, unable to take advantage of its house-on-fire start. And there was no wonder strike to reseal the match.

I'm not saying that all of Liverpool's problems stem from the inability to convert chances. I am saying it certainly couldn't hurt.


Anonymous said...

awful substitutions.

Anonymous said...

Why is kuyt still starting where he doesn't offer us much in attack. All I see is Suarez trying to make things happen own his own. Adam just not playing well enough. Henderson should have start on the centre. I still dunno why Carroll is not playing while we keep on putting crosses in the box in the 1st half yet there is only suarez the realistic target. What is Daglish thinking after Norwich score. Carroll came on the last 10min while we look disjointed after they have score. Taking downing out..who is going to put crosses? Maxi sit on the bench? If Carroll has started..we may just finish the game on early. If Carroll/Henderson/Maxi came on for kuyt/adam/bellamy after norwich score..we may put the game on bed. Anyway is king keeny not taking risk n playing suarez n benching Carroll. We might not make to top 4. If daglish still not reverting to 442 with suarez n carroll starting..we might end up as frustrating as today.

Anonymous said...

I agree Anon 1,

Man city destroys Man Utd at Man Utd and we can't even beat Norwich at home. This should be a big wake up as to how far we are off. Man city is the best. Chelsea and Man Utd next. Then it is truly Tottenham and Newcastle at this point. Then Lpool. I do not see us overtaking Tottenham. They destroyed us. We need to make a couple massive buys in January. We need Neymar! We need that creativity. Sell Caroll, bring in Neymar. If we are going to have creative players like suarez and gerrard and bellamy then we need one more massive creative buy up top and our attack would then finish in the top 4. Neymar or Hazard and we have a chance at a top 4 finish this season. If not, mark my words, we will all be disappointed come May.