26 September 2012

Liverpool 2-1 West Brom

Tamas 3'
Şahin 17' 82'

So, Liverpool concede through a horrendous mistake in less than three minutes. One free kick after a Henderson mistake, one goalkeeper howler, one shot into an empty net. Another match, another opponent scoring with its first shot on target. Yep, it's gonna be another one of those nights.

Or not.

I can't decide whether I'm more impressed with the comeback – that Liverpool's second-string and youngsters didn't let their heads drop and kept fighting get the result – or how quickly those players have learned and then abided by Rodgers' ethos, no matter the situation. Either development is encouraging, and incredibly welcomed.

It took Liverpool ten frightening minutes to settle; West Brom could have added a second in the sixth, when Carragher deflected Lukaku's shot narrowly wide, or the seventh, when Jones saved Rosenberg's effort. But Liverpool began playing its game: Wisdom and Robinson closed off West Brom on the flanks, Henderson and Şahin spent more time in possession dictating play, and Assaidi began running at defenders – a trend that would continue for the rest of the evening. It was the Moroccan who created Liverpool's first chance: a delicious cross that Yesil headed narrowly wide in the 10th minute.

Seven minutes later, Liverpool were level, partly thanks to a goalkeeping error from Ben Foster, but partly thanks to the viciousness of Nuri Şahin's shot. Liverpool had kept possession well prior to Wisdom's lay-off for Şahin, but the midfielder's blast from very, very long range looked likely to be saved. Until it fortunately dipped in front of Foster, squirming under the keeper. One goalkeeper error to one goalkeeping error. One to one on the scoreboard. And like West Brom, it was Liverpool's first shot on target.

Liverpool pressed, Liverpool kept possession, switching sides or going backwards rather than let West Brom rebuild momentum. Chances were few and far between; as cleverly said by the match commentator, Yesil was more of a nuisance than a threat, while Downing disappointed as Downing as is Downing's wont. Assaidi kept defenders on their toes but didn't present much danger in front of goal. Lukaku was menacing on the counter, but was limited to just one more tame shot at Jones late in the first half thanks to Liverpool's ball retention and improved defending.

The home side came out stronger in the second half, and it continued to be an enthralling (if sometimes frightening) game with chances at both ends. Foster nearly added a second farce when Yesil's fierce blast from the top of the box went through his legs, luckily bouncing over the crossbar. Pacheco hit the bar and forced another 'just-did-enough' save. Foster finally made an outstanding save, on Coates from Şahin's free kick. But Jones also had to make an excellent stop on Rosenberg's shot from distance, and was tested on a number of West Brom set plays, thankfully catching or punching whenever required. Still, the threat was there, and every back pass when West Brom forced Liverpool to regroup worried.

Then, finally, came Liverpool's substitutions. Suso for Pacheco, Jerome Sinclair – now the youngster Liverpool player to feature in a senior match – for the tiring Yesil. And then came the winner.

It can't be coincidence that Liverpool have scored within a minute of Suso coming off the bench in successive matches. Almost immediately after entering the fray, Suso had the chance to run at West Brom's back line. Sinclair occupied the defense with clever movement, Suso spread play wide to Assaidi after finally sucking in two defenders just inside the box, and the winger quickly crossed, perfectly placed for Şahin's late run into the box for a tap-in. Midfield runners getting to the penalty area remains crucial, and it was excellent to see Şahin do so to great effect. And it was only fitting that both of Liverpool's goals came from Liverpool's best player on the night.

The away side held on by fingernails for the final 10 minutes, dropping surprisingly deep, with Coates, Carragher, and Jones clearing their lines innumerable times – contrary to Rodgers' preference and allowing West Brom to come back at them immediately – but Liverpool did enough. Sure, it's not a league win, but it's a first win in domestic competition, and a win over a more-experienced foe which beat Liverpool little more than a month ago.

And it's a win from a starting XI with an average age of 23.6, which still included the 34-year-old Carragher, 30-year-old Jones, and 28-year old Downing. 22-year-old Peter Gulacsi was the old man on the bench; the other six were 20 or younger. Jamie Carragher has played 542 more Liverpool games than the other 12 players combined.

Şahin looks more comfortable in each of his three matches, controlling the midfield, running from box to box, and contributing two wildly different goals. As against Young Boys, he combined well with Henderson, who was typically tidy and efficient if unspectacular. Assaidi was a willing runner down the left; like Sterling, a player who provides something different, stretching play and willing to take on defenders on the flanks. Pacheco was far, far better in a more familiar role, if more impressive tracking back than linking play in attack (which is another sign of a player buying into the new system). The back four all played well, Yesil worked hard, both substitutions were effective. It's odd having little to nothing to complain about. But a very welcome kind of odd.

Finally, Liverpool reap some reward for the hard work and adaptation to the new system that's been evident in matches against Sunderland and United. It's even more impressive when it comes from Liverpool's second-string, an XI mostly lacking in first-team experience. No matter that West Brom were slightly weaker than the side which beat Liverpool on opening day, it's proof of the successful rebuilding of the youth system started by Benitez and further developed under Dalglish, and evidence that there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel. And maybe, just maybe, that Liverpool might just be deeper than we all feared.


Anonymous said...

thats funny. i thought that looked like jones in goal, not reina...ha

nate said...

Sigh. I don't know why I'm so terrible about changing the keeper in the formation diagrams, but I am. Maybe because I'm so used to Reina playing every match ever.

Thanks much.

kevin said...

yesil looks a real talent. he is surprisingly strong for someone of his stature and his positioning is classy. I can see now why people compared him to klose when we signed him, he looks like a similar player, if quite inexperienced.

In addition, I am quite pleased with rodgers willingness to play the youth. Kenny seemed only willing to do that with scousers, hodgson wouldn't put someone on the field if they weren't receiving social security. It certainly makes for some interesting and anxious games, but maybe we will see the academy produce something relevant for the first time really since gerrard.

kanagu said...

We have done well. Maybe clearing the ball in the box when in lead is the best thing to do :) :)

Loved our performance.. Suso just ran through middle and that 2nd goal reminded me of Barcelona's goals.. :)

BackBergtt said...

Assaidi and Sterling flanking Suarez has to be the preferred big boy lineup at this point, right? Even if he's still slightly not there in terms of fitness that would be three players capable - and more importantly willing - to beat their man. Exciting.

I think what encouraged me most about Sahin was the absolute steal he made at the top of the box, just picked dude's pocket Brockman's Danish style, was beautiful to watch.

Anonymous said...

"And maybe, just maybe, that Liverpool might just be deeper than we all feared."

That was among the first thoughts I had once the match concluded. Admittedly, I'm making these assessments based on commentary as I was not able to watch the match (have it DVR'd for later), but I started wondering about needs come the January window and, seemingly, I'd venture that a striker to challenge the starting XI might be the only spot and even that might not be as big an area of concern considering the number of attacking options available to us (Borini, Suarez, Sterling, Morgan, Suso, Assaidi) and the fact that Brenno's tactical style does not call for a typical out and out striker. I know results in the Prem haven't quite gone our away but with the performances in the last three matches (Young Boys, United, West Brom), I'd say we've all got more than a few reasons to be optimistic.
Thanks as always for an awesome write up, Nate!

Ómar Ó'Magi frá Torfgarði said...

And the WBA goal wasn't an error by Jones, he was fouled by Olsson. That's one goal and a missed red card for this game's ref. What is happening here?

Biggestfandownunder said...

Great post. The future is bright, the future is red!

nate said...

Ómar Ó'Magi frá Torfgarði,

It took a single still image for me to see Olsson's arm in Jones' face. Maybe that says something about the quality of my stream and/or the replays I saw, but I'm not surprised Oliver didn't see it or didn't give it. And even with Olsson's fist/arm in his face, Jones should have done better.

Now, Oliver ignoring Mulumbu's tackle – not even a yellow, let alone a red – was unforgivable. But also not surprising, in a different, sadder way.

Dan said...

Let's not forget Wisdom's extremely classy performance. A right back for the future with size, strength and technical ability. Johnson/Kelly will be fighting for their place in a year's time. His one touch passing and vision was exceptional!

Anonymous said...

Luis Suarez could learn a thing or two by the way these 20 year olds conducted themselves on the field today, nearly all of them choosing to stay on the ball and keep playing instead of looking for the whistle. Cannot wait to see this side in 3 years time. when Suso is the ripe old age of 20...
How can Borini look to get back in the side after performances like that from Assaidi, Pacheco and Suso?

Unbelievable Jeff