24 March 2012

Liverpool 1-2 Wigan

Maloney 30' (pen)
Suarez 47'
Caldwell 63'

We should have learned by now. It can always get worse.

After this most recent atrocity, Liverpool have taken all of eight points in 2012: two wins, two draws, and seven losses. An average of 0.73 points per game. It's now five games without a win against Wigan, Liverpool's worst recent record against any club in the division. That's the same Wigan who had won four matches all season – profligate, awful Wigan scoring two goals with just two shots on target. Liverpool have now dropped 11 points against the bottom four sides; only Wolves were exempt from the alms Liverpool have repeatedly handed to the poor.

Rather than just the individual mistakes and confidence issues on full view in the final 13 minutes of Wednesday's match, Liverpool added questionable tactical/personnel decisions to complete the trilogy of error. Phenomenal. More fun for the whole family.

I still have no idea why Andy Carroll didn't start. Yes, he's struggled at times and yes, Liverpool had other problems, but that was the most baffling. Rather than returning to the 4-4-2 which worked well against Everton and Stoke in the FA Cup, Dalglish redeployed the 4-3-3 variant used in recent losses to Arsenal, Sunderland, and QPR. Once again, Carroll was left on the bench, with Liverpool still unbeaten when Carroll, Suarez, and Gerrard all start.

This time, Liverpool didn't even have early chances to repeatedly spurn. Wigan's 3-4-3 steadily soaked up any home side "pressure," with Suarez again almost always isolated as a lone striker, easily marked by three defenders. Suarez and Downing combined once, in the 25th, with the winger released by the Uruguayan's clever flick, but blasted narrowly wide of the far post.

And Wigan were ahead five minutes later. Henderson conceded a soft free kick on Liverpool's right, Carragher and Skrtel comprehensively failed to clear the set play, and Skrtel insanely booted Moses in the face when trying to "defend." Another mindless decision from Liverpool's strongest defender; it's almost as if he's more unsettled when partnered with Carragher. Who knew? After a three-minute delay, Maloney hammered the spot kick past Reina despite the keeper guessing correctly.

Liverpool had little response until the second half, when Carroll came on for the struggling Henderson, completely ineffective in an advanced free role. Two minutes later, Liverpool were level. Gerrard surged forward and centered for Suarez, freed from multiple markers because Carroll also demanded attention. Even if ostensibly uninvolved, Carroll's inclusion creates space for others, proven with five goals against Everton and Stoke. Six minutes after that, Liverpool apparently took the lead through Suarez's second, bundled over the line after Skrtel headed a free kick toward goal. But Mason, probably correctly, disallowed it, bundled over by Suarez's arm, accidentally or not.

Rather than continuing to push on, Liverpool's lack of confidence reappeared, as the disallowed strike took the steam out of the home side's attack. And then Wigan retook the lead: another free kick from the left channel, more hapless defending, and a surprisingly calm, collected finish by center-back Caldwell, in acres of space after the cleared free kick came back in, played onside when Carragher – the closest defender – stepped forward but Skrtel and Carroll didn't, fortunately receiving the ball from a fortuitous deflection off Liverpool's long-time stalwart. Bad luck and stupidity comprehensively punished. The story of Liverpool's season.

Another set-back, further back-sliding. Liverpool never looked like getting back into the game, and what else is new. That Shelvey and Sterling came on, for Downing and Kuyt in the 73rd and 84th respectively, is the only positive worth mentioning, the only players who looked "up for it," although to little effect. Otherwise, we were treated to more and more forced, improbable passes and heart-warming 'it's not MY fault!' arm-flailing. Wigan unsurprisingly, correctly shut up shop, and only Sterling's pace or a set play seemed to have any chance of unlocking it. Sterling and Shelvey's performances, combined with Coates' on Wednesday and Carragher's lack of today, makes what I wrote prior to Sunderland moot. Now it really is time to play the kids. It can't get any worse, can it?

The most frustrating thing – more than the lack of league progress (if not outright regression since the New Year) – is that Liverpool can look wholly competent (in the cups, against stronger opposition) and then completely dismal in the space of consecutive games, if not in the same game. Players impress and tactics work against the likes of Stoke and Everton – or Chelsea earlier in the season, among other examples – but then Liverpool somehow refuse to learn from those positives in subsequent matches. And then there's the repeated, constant confidence issues.

I will still maintain that this is a transitional season, and it's not wholly surprising to see the side struggle in the league with Champions League qualification out of reach. The same happened in the final two games last season after some thoroughly excellent performances against Birmingham, Fulham, and Newcastle. All the recent bad makes it hard to remember some of the good. Success is not immediate, Rome wasn't built in a day, etc. etc. But the inconsistency from everyone involved remains infuriating, disappointing, and costly; it's happened far too often to be coincidence. And this inconsistency can cost both players and manager their jobs.


Mike Georger said...

"I still have no idea why Andy Carroll didn't start. Yes, he's struggled at times and yes, Liverpool had other problems, but that was the most baffling. Rather than returning to the 4-4-2 which worked well against Everton and Stoke in the FA Cup, Dalglish redeployed the 4-3-3 variant used in recent losses to Arsenal, Sunderland, and QPR. Once again, Carroll was left on the bench, with Liverpool still unbeaten when Carroll, Suarez, and Gerrard all start."

And this is why I've lost all faith in him.

I have no doubt in my mind that when healthy we have the quality to challenge for fourth.

I have no doubt in my mind that I do not trust Dalglish to lead that talent to such a finish. Nor do I trust he and Comolli to adequately prepare the squad through another window.

Dalglish's post match quotes are some of the most infuriating things I have seen in a while. Tiredness? Then why not start Carroll over Kuyt, who was dire, and Coates over Carragher, who was also dire? Because you're full of shit, that's why.

nate said...

I understand that loss of faith, but despite how unhappy I am with today's decisions and really really unhappy with Liverpool's overall lack of confidence, I'm not there yet.

However, I wouldn't read too much into post-match comments, especially after a loss. I suspect what Dalglish tells the media differs from what he tells the players. At least I hope that's the case.

Mike Georger said...

We've already seen him throw the team under the bus before this season (the "they won't be wearing the shirt much longer" quotes) and he wasn't talking to "the media" he was talking to LFC's website, I don't think he gave a real press conference did he?

I get the difference between inward and outward reaction, but considering he hasn't shown faith in the players who have justified it and hasn't punished those who have failed to deliver time and time again, I don't exactly think he's doing much of an effective hair-dryer treatment back there.

To me, it looks like the players have quit. Again.

nate said...

Talking to LFC website is talking to the media, whether it's wider press availability or not. Those quotes will be the ones repeated over the weekend/Monday.

There are times to throw the players under the bus and times to make excuses for them. I don't know the mental state of the dressing room at the moment, but I suspect it's incredibly fragile. That wasn't necessarily the case after Bolton (think that's when the 'wear the shirt' came from), which was also more comprehensively awful. Sometimes the hair dryer's need, sometimes cossetting is needed, and even if Dalglish has made some questionable decisions all season long, he's still in a better position than we are to know when to use the stick and when to use the carrot.

I'm terrified you might be right about players quitting, but we don't know for sure and I think Dalglish still deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Mike Georger said...

Until the end of the season, he does.

But beyond that, questions need to be asked.

Not looking forward at all to our summer signings being Fletcher, Jarvis, and Dann.

nate said...

Yes, I definitely expect FSG, Comolli, and Dalglish to have multiple long conversations over the summer. Some might be awkward. Still think, on whole, Dalglish should and will be retained but the team's morale (more than performance) for the run-in will be the measuring stick.

Also, I actually wouldn't mind Fletcher. Jarvis and Dann are terrible though, and thankfully, unlikely.

Calico Jack said...

In the 8 remaining league games, I'd like to see an emphasis placed in getting the younger players developed.

Guys like Flanagan, Coates, Shelvy, and even Sterling need a regular run of action to gain the experience for next season and beyond.

Anonymous said...

Tiredness? Lame xcuse from kenny. Why change tactics? Why not use same formation we used against everton..

-other opponent team even top 3 bottom not afraid of liverpool anymore.. Very sad.

-in term of winger, spurs,mu,arsenal, swansea are ahead of us.
In term of striker, mu,city,arsenal,newcastle are ahead of us.

If we can improve these 2 positions nxt season im sure we will be better team.

Roger said...

Nate, you're fucking insane. Dalglish is done. He has is out of his depth, period. There are simply no more excuses. We beat better teams because of player ingenuity and enterprise. We lose to worse teams because their managers out-think Dalglish.

His comments, not just following this game but every loss, have proved this time and time again. Wouldn't trade a top 4 finish for winning the carling cup? This isn't 1984. Bring in a manager who has actual managerial experience this millennium and who isn't going to disrupt Commolli's selections.

At this point I'm finding myself torn between rooting for winning or losing. Like I felt about Hodgson, the sooner this nightmare ends, the better.

If another dime is given to Dalglish, given Henry's actions with the Marlins and Red Sox, I would be beyond shocked. Enrique has been the only bright spot. And you can bet that Dalglish fought that one tooth and nail, probably hoping for the return of Warnock.