28 November 2012

Liverpool 1-2 Tottenham

Lennon 7'
Bale 16'
Bale (OG) 72'

So, what do you want to talk about?

The surprising XI, the exact same personnel and formation who struggled so mightily in the second half against Swansea – which partly led to Liverpool being pushed back for seven minutes until conceding?

Liverpool's continued, unsurprising, utterly abysmal finishing?

Phil Dowd's refereeing? A Spurs free kick for Dempsey's dive leading to the second goal when Bale's vicious free kick took a deflection off the wall. Two blatant penalties, for Suarez in the first half and Suarez in the second half, shockingly not given. 18 Liverpool fouls to just eight from Tottenham.

Let's just bask in the comedy that was Gareth Bale's own goal. It's literally the only positive I'm taking from today.

Three days after Liverpool travelled to Swansea, increasingly terrible as the match went on until a late injury time flurry without reward, Rodgers names the same starting XI. No matter the already fatigued, shallow squad. No matter Downing's complete ineffectiveness at left-back. No matter Bale's pace either exploiting or negating Johnson's strength in bombing forward. No matter Gerrard looking less and less fit as he completes yet another 90 minutes, already surpassing his total Premier League minutes played last season.

It's no surprise that the three above players were involved in conceding Liverpool's first. Bale's pace took him past both Gerrard and Johnson – the former flat-footed, the latter too high up the pitch to properly defend the situation – storming down the left flank before a perfect cross to Lennon at the back post, who had unsurprisingly gotten behind Downing. It was Bale's first assist of the season because of course it was.

But it's also the same problem as when Liverpool last travelled to White Hart Lane. A Tottenham blitzkrieg from the start leading to an early goal that Liverpool have little chance of coming back from. Liverpool actually started in a 4-3-3 formation in last season's match too, one of the rare times it was used last season. And Tottenham similarly exploited Liverpool's vulnerabilities in midfield and on the flanks, requiring them to chase the game from the start. New managers, same match. I'll also churlishly remind that Liverpool still haven't overturned a league deficit in nearly a calendar year, last coming back from behind to win against Newcastle last December.

The goal was the first nail, with the last hammered in less than 10 minutes later. Suarez had a chance on the break in the 9th, set up by Henderson's run at Tottenham's back four, shooting too close to Lloris from 12 yards out, but the game was decided by the two minutes between the 14th and 16th.

Liverpool should have equalized from a Tottenham error – lord knows that the opposition's scored from far too many Liverpool errors; the Reds are due to pay someone back – as Lloris rashly charged from his area to try to intercept Suarez's throughball for Enrique, colliding with Walker, setting up Jordan Henderson with an open goal. Which he shot wide off. 90 seconds later, Spurs were two up; Henderson was called for the "foul" on Dempsey, nowhere near touching him, then Bale's free kick deflected off Henderson in the wall. It was not a good two minutes for Jordan. Two of the three incidents weren't his fault, but Liverpool – again – pay for profligacy. One of these days maybe that lesson will sink in.

Tottenham were no great shakes after those first 20 minutes. They didn't have to be, content to stifle Liverpool, living on the edge, but not really that close to the edge because of Liverpool's impotence. Time and time again, Liverpool chose the wrong option in the penalty box, misplaying the final pass or taking a poor final shot. On the one occasion where the final ball didn't let Liverpool down – neat play from Suarez putting Gerrard through in the 36th – Dowd didn't call a penalty when Walker shoved Gerrard in the back, followed up by Suarez's shot cleared off the line at the last second. Seven minutes later, a Downing cross to no one ricocheted off two defenders, as likely to settle in the back of the net as sail over the bar, with the Tottenham defenders and goalkeeper at sea. It sailed over the bar. Liverpool can't score, can't get a stonewall penalty, and can't get the luck of a bouncing ball. And you expect to win at a ground where Liverpool haven't won since 2008?

It played out similarly in the second half. Aside from a 15-minute spell where Tottenham had possession but little threat, Liverpool were on top but unable to convert passing and possession into goals. Again. Dawson and Gallas did enough, heading multiple crosses and corners behind or out of the danger area, but Liverpool's lack of attacking threat made it too easy for them. It was a fairly open, fairly shambling performance from both sides.

At least, unlike against Swansea, Liverpool's substitutions – well, the first substitution – led to Liverpool improvement. Shelvey possessed far more threat than Henderson, and it was his corner which led to Bale's own goal. Agger won the first header, Gerrard – in the box rather than hitting the first man with his deliveries – won the second, and Lennon's goalmouth clearance blasted off of Bale's ample face. High comedy. Thank heavens for small favors. It was Liverpool's third own goal of the league campaign. No one other than Suarez has more than one.

But despite constant Liverpool pressure in the final 15 minutes, a second goal rarely looked like coming. Which was unsurprising given Liverpool's failure to score after the 75th minute all campaign long. Suarez volleyed over after Agger's brilliant bicycle at the byline in the 80th, Enrique rocketed a 25-yard half volley narrowly wide in the 87th, but more pressure led to the same result. Liverpool are simply not very good in the final third.

The sky isn't falling anymore than it was yesterday. Certain players disappointed, certain personnel decisions confused. The hot stat isn't "unbeaten in eight games"; it's now "one win in six." But Liverpool's major failings in previous matches remained Liverpool's major failings today. They make too many mistakes in defense. They can't capitalize on the opposition's mistakes. They struggle to score for love or money.

This side remains a work in progress, and will remain a work in progress all season. January may improve things. Lucas' return should improve things. But there will be more pain than pleasure for some time. Buckle up for the ride. All we can hope for is that some of these problems are slowly rectified. And that maybe Liverpool might someday win a penalty or two.


Anonymous said...

A very painful match.
Same old. Same result.
Spurs are given their 2 chances and score from that.
Dubious play reigns yet again, with diving fouls and penalty claims in the picture. It's perfectly alright for Liverpool players to be whacked, charged, and hammered.
Phantom fouls from the likes of sterling and Enrique.
Outmaneuvered and outgunned from the seemingly pacey and skillful opponents.
+4 minutes?
But in vain even as we go down fighting for our lives.
Gerrard all smiles after the contest. Shakes of head from Agger and Suarez for the contrary post match reaction.
Dowd? All grin through it all.

Swinefever said...

I'm currently in Marrakech (vacation) and trying to find sensible PL coverage is hard work, but I knew you wouldn't let me down. Shame about the - let's face it, predictable - result but the Keystone Spurs comedy gif goes some way to making it better. Anyway, thanks for the great match report and keep up the great work.