31 October 2012

Liverpool 1-3 Swansea

Chico 34'
Dyer 72'
Suarez 77'
de Guzman 90+5'

I can't decide which is more infuriating: Liverpool's wholly abhorrent first half or throwing Gerrard, Suarez, and Sterling on in the second half and still failing to win. Actually, nevermind, that's an easy decision. It's the latter, and it's not even close.

Today's match totally exposed Liverpool's utter lack of depth. Of course, that Joe Cole would start any match exposes Liverpool's utter lack of depth.

Both halves were criminally poor, but for different reasons. Liverpool's line-up was pretty much as expected: similar to the last round, similar to the match against Young Boys. Except for a couple of surprising changes. Henderson played at right-back, as he did as a substitute on Sunday, since both Johnson and Kelly injured and Wisdom needed a rest. With Henderson needed in defense, Joe Allen started against his former club after a draining match on Sunday. And Joe Cole started, in his "preferred position" no less. It went about as well as you'd expect.

Liverpool's starting XI had scored just 21 goals for the club. Carragher and Downing were joint-top scorers with five each; Shelvey has four, Cole three, Coates and Henderson two. That's it. So it was little surprise to see Liverpool completely impotent in attack. Liverpool at least controlled possession well for the first 15 minutes, albeit with absolutely no cutting edge, but that didn't last long. Only Swansea's profligacy kept the away side off the mark until the 34th, as Dyer couldn't control after getting behind Robinson and Carragher, Ki fired wide, Carragher made a couple of crucial last ditch tackles, de Guzman blasted over, and Jones parried another long-range effort from Ki. But Swansea eventually made the break-through, as Chico got in front of Coates to rocket in a header from a corner.

Rodgers' response was the same as against Udinese, only earlier. Here comes the cavalry: Suarez and Gerrard on at half-time for Yesil and Cole – the former out of his depth, the latter completely terrible and totally past it. There's no rest for the weary.

Unsurprisingly, Liverpool had created two better chances than anything we saw in the first half within five minutes. Also unsurprisingly, Liverpool failed to hit the target with either. Shelvey's shot cleared the crossbar after Allen intercepted in Swansea's half, swiftly followed by Suarez heading over from Shelvey's cross. Around the hour mark, Gerrard cannoned a long-range shot off the post, with Downing unable to sort his feet or his brain out for the wide-open rebound. After that, Rodgers went all in, bringing Sterling on for Assaidi.

Coincidentally, that also marked the tilt back towards Swansea; as in the first half, the away side gained a foothold after early Liverpool possession and didn't take long to make Liverpool pay for it. I'm still not sure how Swansea failed to score in the 67th minute, as Brad Jones made three separate saves with the ball bouncing around his penalty box before another crucial Carragher block and an eventual clearance. Then came another excellent save from Jones, tipping Michu's shot over the bar. And then, with Liverpool sending almost everyone forward in the frantic search for an equalizer, came the stomach.

Swansea broke out of their own half after a Liverpool free kick, and once Michu out-muscled Jack Robinson, it was three-on-zero: Michu to Pablo to Dyer, for a point blank tap-in with no other defender able to get back. It's one thing to gamble when pushing for a goal, it's another to leave yourself pants-down naked against a side that thrives on the counter-attack, especially with players like the three involved in Swansea's goal.

To their credit, Liverpool pulled one back within five minutes: as against Everton, a Gerrard free kick, an unstoppable Suarez header. But one good free kick was little consolation, especially since Liverpool couldn't find the now-needed second, and were again exposed on the break in stoppage time. Routledge stole possession, Michu strode forward, de Guzman easily snuck in behind Robinson for yet another tap-in from the exact same location.

I'm not going to get up in arms about a League Cup loss. This competition means less than zero, even if Liverpool were the defending winners. Swansea started close to a full-strength XI, while Liverpool's XI demonstrated just how thin the squad is. Being out of one competition will probably help Liverpool in the long run and this is, by far, the least important competition.

I am, however, going to get up in arms about how it came about. The two players who made the difference in the last round – Suso and Şahin – two players who only played for 45 minutes on Sunday, didn't feature at all. The former stayed planted to the bench, the latter wasn't included in the squad. That Joe Cole started remains an unforgivable sin. But playing Gerrard and Suarez for another draining 45 minutes – in this competition – is the most unforgivable sin. I doubt I need emphasize how crucial they are to Liverpool's fortunes in the league and Europa League or how over-used they already are. The fixture calendar is only getting worse in November and December. Similar goes for Allen, who has played 1112 minutes out of a possible 1440 so far this season (the most of any player except – you guessed it – Gerrard and Suarez, with 1240 and 1150 minutes respectively), as well as Sterling. Sure, Liverpool were incredibly not good in the first half, and didn't look like getting better, but are Gerrard and Suarez the only answer for that?

Does Rodgers use Gerrard and Suarez if Liverpool aren't facing his former club? Does Liverpool push so hard for an equalizer that it's easily rent asunder on counter-attacks not once but twice? Those are both unanswerable and probably unfair questions, but this is also the first time I've been as angry with Rodgers as I've been with the result or players' performances. For starting Cole; for playing Henderson at right-back, requiring Allen to start; for playing Gerrard, Suarez, and Sterling in the second half; for Liverpool pushing forward without any regard for its back four – which included a midfielder, two youngsters, and Jamie Carragher – leading to two supremely avoidable goals conceded. Yes, he's damned if he does and if he doesn't in a lot of ways, but the personnel decisions did not help Liverpool's cause – either in today's match or, more importantly, for the future.

And now, Liverpool need to pick themselves up to face Newcastle in less than four days, desperately needing points in the league and facing a side that finished well above them in the table last season. Good luck, guys.


dReXler said...

I wished and hoped that team in white was our beloved Liverpool. Sadly, it's time to add a question mark to the hallowed "This is Anfield" sign...if just to reflect the times we live in.

Swinefever said...

I don't understand the mentality of saying this competition means less than zero. Winning this competition is the reason we have european football at all this season, and given that there's no way we're going to win the league, a champions league spot looks highly unlikely and on current form I can't see us winning the Europa League or the FA Cup either, this 'meaningless' trophy represented our only real hope of securing a European birth for next season.

You can disparage success in this competition all you want but European spots are a key factor in attracting talent to a club and I'm fairly sure that the revenue - albeit lower than CL revenue - is also worth having. There's big talk about strengthening the squad in January and again in the summer but you can forget the top-tier of available players if we can't even offer Europa League football.

nate said...

Last season, this competition (and the FA Cup) was important. Both were made more important by Liverpool's absence from any European competition. The bigger squad wasn't as stretched, Liverpool had gone too long without a trophy.

This season, little else seems to matter aside from improvement in the league. And Liverpool's very shallow squad requires the team to prioritize. The League Cup is and should be the very bottom priority.

Also, there's a big difference in the Europa League and Champions League when it comes to both recruitment and revenue. I never heard any player say they joined a club because they wanted to play in the Europa League

There are 29 games left in the league season. For all of Liverpool's difficulties over the first nine, they sit just five points behind a Europa League place, seven points behind a Champions League place. Even if those are still unlikely, and Liverpool will need not only vast improvement but help from those teams above them playing worse than they are now, they're still remote possibilities. And possibilities which are slightly improved by not having to play four more League Cup matches over the next three and a half months.

Ryan said...

Nate, like you, I was left scratching my head yesterday. Liverpool's first half lineup indicated that Rodgers was going to continue his trend of treating the non-league competitions as opportunities for youngsters and reserve players. Then at half-time, unexplicably, Rodgers decided that this was a game he needed (wanted?) to win.

For the first time I think Rodgers got his starting XI completely wrong. Yesil was never ready for this level of competition and should have been in Germany for the Next-Gen match against Dortmund. Henderson was totally lost defensively at RB and as such we had no shape on our right side. In the second half, Henderson and Coates bombed forward leaving nobody back to defend. Cole should never put on the jersey again. His career is dead. Downing up front on the right is a waste. He cannot cross with his right foot. Shelvey was lost as the middle CM in the 4-3-3 not sure when to drop deep and not sure when to move forward. It was clear that this XI had never played together before and had no shape or creative ideas.

Henderson and Sahin have bossed the midfield in the games where the two have been paired together. A midfield three of Henderson-Sahin-Shelvey was the only way to approach this game.

I really dont know what went through Rodgers's head yesterday. This was so out of character for him. I'm hoping that the opponent was to blame.

Fortunately, this was a cup game, and the loss may end up being ok as we really didnt need more matches on the schedule.