25 November 2012

Liverpool 0-0 Swansea

A completely impotent, inept second half erases almost all memory of a quasi-competent first half, where Liverpool played well but – surprise, surprise – failed to score despite a handful of close calls.

Liverpool are now unbeaten in eight league matches. Liverpool kept consecutive clean sheets in the league, just the fourth clean sheet of the league campaign. It's a better result than in this fixture last season, where Liverpool tepidly lost 1-0 to a late Danny Graham goal in the last match of the depressing campaign. But somehow, this doesn't feel like cause for celebration.

Maybe it's because Liverpool also haven't scored in three league matches against Swansea. Swansea hadn't kept a clean sheet since August 25. Liverpool still haven't scored after the 73rd minute in the league, still haven't won a league match via a late goal since Carroll's 90th minute header at Blackburn last April. Liverpool haven't won back-to-back league matches since beating QPR and Villa nearly a year ago, and Liverpool haven't won following a Europa League match yet this season. There were positives, but the negatives loom larger.

Swansea started much brighter, highlighted by Routledge's fierce shot in the 12th, well parried by Pepe Reina. But Liverpool eventually woke up, the more dangerous side from the 15th minute despite Swansea's continued advantage in possession. The rampaging Glen Johnson nearly set up Enrique in the 17th, a menacing low cross chested wide by the now-winger. The same two players combined seven minutes later, when Enrique's throughball put Johnson on goal, his shot smartly saved by Tremmel. Rangel crucially blocked Suarez's close-range shot, Sterling cannoned an effort off the crossbar following a corner, and Enrique had a goal rightfully, narrowly ruled out for offside after Johnson's back heel in the box allowed Suarez the space to chip a cross.

Unsurprisingly, Liverpool immensely regret their inability to score when on top, but, for once, weren't wholly punished for it. Today's biggest positive was Liverpool's defense, with Agger and Skrtel excellent – marking Michu into near-oblivion and dominating Shechter so thoroughly that he was removed for Ki at halftime. Reina was also ready for action when called upon, evidently benefiting from his injury layoff, while Allen was steady if unspectacular, committing a handful of fouls in dangerous areas but making up for it with four crucial interceptions. Henderson's work rate also helped cover for Gerrard's disappointing performance, at least everything but chances created.

And that defense was the only positive in the second half, until an eventual final flurry in injury time. Liverpool had increased possession, but gone was the attacking threat, as Swansea created almost all the serious chances until added time. Liverpool had double the shots on target in the second half, but most were easy saves for Tremmel. Swansea's best chances came from set plays, mainly because of Reina's goalkeeping and Skrtel and Agger's marking, but they still felt the far more threatening side.

After sticking with the same system which won last week's game against Wigan, Rodgers finally changed track in the 77th, bringing on Cole for Downing and Shelvey for Henderson. The substitutions did nothing to change the game, as Liverpool's lone chance until added time came when breaking from a corner: Sterling and Suarez against a lone Swansea defender, spoiled by Sterling's poor pass to Suarez, ending with a tame shot at Tremmel after the Uruguayan tried to check back into space after defenders recovered.

With time running out, after Liverpool had apparently decided to settle for the draw, the aforementioned flurry finally came. But Gerrard shot narrowly wide from outside the box with Shelvey inches away from redirecting, Tremmel parried Shelvey's long-range rocket, and Williams did just enough to unsettle Agger on Cole's deep cross, with the Dane unable to knock down a header for the on-rushing Gerrard. At least it ended with a bang, not a whimper, but the bang truly should have come sooner.

Again, unbeaten in eight is a positive. Liverpool's defense was definitely a positive. On the whole, these were two evenly matched, similar sides, demonstrated by the near-equal possession and passing totals. But, once again, we're talking about Liverpool's inability to put the damn ball in the damn goal. If not Suarez than no one, and after the pre-match Williams v Suarez hype, Swansea's center-backs did well against Liverpool's talisman.

Sadly, it looks like we'll be talking about this inability to score until January, as both fans and, seemingly, the players wait in the hopes that reinforcements will arrive.


Ryan said...

Not enough real chances created for me today. Rodgers was always going to opt for the 4-2-3-1 after the trouble that Swansea created in the league cup. Enrique was the most dangerous (non-Suarez) player, but Downing's lack of positional awareness at left back made Enrique a little more timid going forward in the second half.

Sterling's cross-bar effort would have been a wonder goal. Liverpool's only real threat coming when Enrique put Johnson through on goal. How weird is that, a true left back putting a true right back through on goal with build up play. Pretty much says where we are right no in terms of attack. Sterling doesn't play nearly as well in the 4-2-3-1 as he does in a true 4-3-3. Suso might have been a better choice in that role today.

Last 15 minutes was a farce. Sterling, Johnson, Allen and Gerrard giving the ball away far too easily.

I can't help but scratch my head at the fact that Rodgers will not play Robinson at his natural left back. Robinson looks further along in his development than Wisdom and with Enrique pushing forward on the left we are desperate for a left back. The young man must be scratching his head. In fact, neither Robinson nor Flannagan seem to be fancied by the manager, for some reason.

This fixture always seemed like a draw. The second half performance was a bit troubling. A quick turnaround on the road at Spurs looks like it may be too much for our thin squad. After that, there is a run of winnable games before the transfer window.

Stephen said...

My initial reactions were similar to Ryan’s...frustration at sub-par performances & at some of Rodgers tactics. After 13 matches however, I think you have to say that we’re just not a top 4 contender with the current roster. Yes, they will continue to improve in Rodgers system. For sure, the injuries to Lucas, Kelly and Borini have set us back. Lucas is especially problematic as, if he were fit, we would get more out of Allen & probably Gerrard. But injuries happen and a top 4 contender needs to have a roster to manage through those inevitabilities. We simply don’t have such a roster. 20-25% of wage bill is spent on players who make almost no contributions (Cole, Carragher, Downing, Henderson) and have no future in Rodgers’ system.
FSG should accelerate their plans, beginning in January, to re-shape the roster or we will begin to lose our better players this summer, further elongating the re-building process. In the summer, Carragher & Doni come off the wage bill as neither should return, saving ~130-140k/week. With one year remaining on his contract, there should be a market for Cole in the summer, if we are willing to pay half his wage bill, saving an additional ~40-50k/week. Also in the summer, FSG need to hold their noses and sell Carroll and Downing at a substantial loss which should clear another 70-80/week for the latter and generate ~20-25 million in transfer fees. In summary, these moves would clear ~240-270/week in wages and 20-25 million in fees, enough to fund a top striker and a top CAM that can fit Rodgers’ playing style. Worst case scenario…FSG can’t make the necessary sales on adequate terms until summer and have to pay double wages for the remainder of the season (~6-7 million) and eat the time value on the transfer fees which they would get back in the summer.
A top striker and CAM would partner w Suarez to address our problems in attack … provide sorely needed depth for Europa/FA Cup & give us a legit shot at a UCL place this season.

Erik Bates said...

Unbeaten in the last 8 matches, yet not winning 5 of those still says something. Draws are fine, sure, but it's hard to move up the table when both sides are gaining a point at a time.

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