23 August 2012

Liverpool 1-0 Hearts

Webster (OG) 78'

"A narrow, 1-0 win would suit me just fine. It could be a lucky 1-0 win for all I care, similar to the away leg against Gomel."

How prescient.

Believe me, I'm more surprised than you are; there won't be very many posts referencing how I correctly predicted something. Because it doesn't happen often.

Nonetheless, for all the discomfort, a 1-0 away win does suit me just fine. Sure, the line-up was questionable; Carragher, Spearing, Shelvey, and Adam all had frightening, horrible moments; and the only reason Liverpool are taking a lead into the home leg is a Hearts own goal.

Make no mistake, Liverpool struggled their way to this fortunate victory. The midfield, with Spearing and Adam holding, Shelvey in an attacking role, and Henderson on the right, was fairly dire. Carragher, surprisingly starting instead of Coates, looked even more heavy-legged than usual, often troubled by Sutton. Borini was frequently isolated, and Sterling was Liverpool's only attacking threat.

But Hearts weren't much better. Liverpool's failings made them look far better than they actually were. The home side threatened Reina just once until the last few frantic minutes: a neat passing move ending with Taouli's back-heel setting up Novikovas in the 11th minute, whose 30-yard blast forced Reina to palm behind. The frequent switching between Templeton, Taouli, and Novikovas unsettled Liverpool, and while Liverpool had more possession, Hearts usually had more threatening possession, but the defense still rarely broke. Jack Robinson, frequently challenged, did admirably, as did Kelly and Agger more often than not.

Liverpool's midfield seemingly tried to play as fluidly as Hearts'. Shelvey and Henderson often switched positions, Adam tried to burst forward from deep to join the attack. The latter forced the first save from McDonald, charging forward and having his low shot palmed away in the ninth minute, but all too often, Liverpool's midfield looked disjointed. Shelvey and Adam both attempted too many Hollywood passes, which (it goes without saying) didn't come off, while Spearing was caught out of position and gave simple balls away time and time again. Relegated to the right, just like last season, Henderson found it difficult to make an impact outside of two chances in two minutes – first winning possession in the final third, setting up Shelvey which ended with Borini's shot blocked, then a wicked early cross from the right that just eluded the open Borini.

Otherwise, Liverpool were reliant on Sterling, looking for him at every opportunity, hoping his pace would see him past defenders. And it usually ended with him out-pacing the right back, cutting inside, but seeing his shot either blocked or sail wide. But in the 45th, he cleverly intercepted an ill-conceived cross-field pass, bursting forward to set up Borini, who could only hit the post. Just like Saturday; meet the new season, same as the old season.

The second half proceeded in the same fashion, with a couple more chances for Hearts – both of Liverpool's making, both wide of the target – until Rodgers made substitutions: Downing for Robinson, then Allen for Spearing. Downing added slightly more threat in attack, but Allen made the difference, settling the muddled midfield, his composure extending to others. The goal followed soon after, extended possession in Liverpool's half (which started after a throw-in following Allen's interception) dragging defenders into the middle, Sterling to Downing to Henderson, who spread play wide to a wide-open Kelly, in acres of space on the right. Borini couldn't get on the end of his dangerous cross, but an unsighted Webster shinned it into his own net. Again, sometimes, often, it's better to be lucky than good.

From there, it was an exercise in keeping possession and taking the sting out of the match, an exercise Liverpool desperately need practice in. And it worked for 10 minutes, until Hearts threatened twice, their two best chances of the match, in the 88th and 90th minutes. First, the substitute Driver luckily scuffed a ten-yard shot after Adam failed to track back after committing a foul and Carragher awkwardly failed to clear. Then, neither Adam nor Shelvey chased the ball after Agger's headed clearance, assuming the other would clean up. Taouli immediately put the ball in the box, Paterson outmuscled Downing to claim possession, but Reina excellently parried his low, angled shot. Phew. That Adam Morgan made his senior debut in injury time was the most-pleasing moment outside of the goal and the final whistle.

Sterling played well, Robinson and Kelly got much needed match time, Allen looked excellent off the bench, Reina made the three saves he needed to make, and Borini worked diligently no matter his constant isolation. Rodgers learned something, for good or ill, about all involved. Liverpool played an under-strength, fairly young line-up, and Liverpool won.

All that matters is Liverpool won.


jonnySingapore said...

well, sedate passing out from the back is just encouraging pressure from the opposition who can then spend the next 5 minutes around Liverpool's box.

It might be Rodgers' "system", but it's pretty naive stuff.

When Reina passes it out to the full back, every other player is marked with the opposition coming forward and the ball is pressured.

Every pass from then on is a high pressure high risk pass - and it's around your own box. Madness. The team get nervy, the opposition can be high up the pitch because they have no risk in getting caught there.

If Reina reverted to what he used to do, passing out higher up the pitch then the receiver has a choice of playing forwards or back to the defence. Now the receiver is pressured and everyone else is marked.

Liverpool never had a problem bringing it out from the back. their back 6 (Lucas back to Reina) were the 3rd best defence in the league last season - even with Lucas out for most of the season.

Why has Rodgers decided this is the part of the team that needs to change? Naivety bordering on cluelessness.

Still the front line doesn't work, still Borini remains an odd addition, and overall, we looked like a championship side at best.

The owners have bought into a "new system" which is going to require a whole new suite of players to satisfy Rodgers' indulgence which has ignored what already works, whereas in reality, they just needed to remove and replace the CHAD factor.

It's going to cost a lot and liverpool will not make much progress in competitions or the league while they adopt this new "system" that few teams are bothered by and most are too strong and quick for.

Welcome to the EPL, no country for young men.

Vercingetora said...

I thought it was nice that Downing did well at right back. Robinson isn't ready in my opinion and we have no other left footed backup there. Downing has the tools to excel in that position, his speed and ball handling skills allow him to bomb forward in supporting of inverted wingers cutting inside. I recall his doing the RB job well at Middlesborough on occasion and am glad the new gaffer finally gave him this opportunity. More please!

nate said...

I know what you meant and you know what you meant, but he was at left back, not right back.

I think two moments summed up Downing's 30 minutes in the position very well.

He did excellently on Liverpool's goal, helping keep possession in Liverpool's half on the flank, linking up with Sterling, moving inside into space, then picking out the correct pass to Henderson. He knew what Sterling was likely to do – of course, everyone knows what Sterling is likely to do – and played harmoniously with that, making sure to stay wide to stretch the opposition but not overlapping too often or running into areas where Sterling wants the ball.

However, how easily he was outmuscled by Paterson for Hearts' last late chance was terrifying. Sure, Adam and Shelvey didn't help him at all by failing to clear, as Downing was already shifting to attack and looking to get forward, expecting a quick counter attack. But he "recovered" very badly, the wrong side of Paterson when contesting the header, then easily shrugged off, falling to the turf as the Hearts player spun away to put a very dangerous shot on target. If not for Reina's excellent reaction save, that would have ended very badly, and he would have (rightfully) been heavily criticized.

I honestly don't ever remember him playing left back for Boro, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

I know The Anfield Wrap has mooted him in this position on their podcast, but I haven't had a chance to listen to it.

When Downing signed, I wondered if he might be used as a wing-back at times, but that was after Liverpool used three at the back in a handful of matches, and before Enrique signed.

It's definitely an option, but I still think it's fourth-choice option, behind Enrique, Robinson, and Johnson. Downing's more needed as a wide forward because of Liverpool's lack of options in that area of the pitch. I would much rather Robinson start in the Europa League and Carling Cup, because I have such high expectations for him and want to see him feature. Still, it was definitely good to see Rodgers experimenting, because you can never have enough options. And if, Fowler forbid, Enrique picks up a more serious injury than the one he's currently coping with, Liverpool would need to use Downing in that role.

jonnySingapore said...

sell Downing, take a 1/3 hit on his purchase price and re use the funds to get a more effective player in.

our real task was to remove CHAD and replace with decent signings that actually have goals in them.

Brenda seems to think he can get Downing playing and I think he'll persevere but be sadly disappointed.

It looks like Henderson can do a job at right back which would allow Johnson relief and Kelly was supposed to be a Centre back originally, yet never gets time there.

Coates isn't getting anything right now and I wonder if he's becoming de-motivated. £7m and he doesn't even make the team against Hearts.

Jees, I thought the Hodgson summer of transfers was a disaster but Kenny/Comolli moved it onto a whole new level of crapness I'm afraid.