22 November 2012

Liverpool 2-2 BSC Young Boys

Shelvey 33'
Bobadilla 52'
Cole 72'
Zverotic 88'

Way to spoil Joe Cole's best game for the club, Liverpool.

Liverpool take the lead twice, Liverpool stupidly concede twice. Both of Liverpool's goals were outstanding. Both of Liverpool's concessions came because the side remains more open than a pervert's trench coat on counter-attacks. It's déjà vu all over again.

With a surprisingly weak XI and surprisingly strong bench, the home side needed 20 minutes to get going, pinned back by the Swiss but only coming close to goal with two tame efforts at Reina. Both sides were forced into early changes through injury – Ojala came on for Veskovac; Gerrard came on for Wisdom, with Henderson shifting to right back – which ended up solidifying Liverpool's slowly-progressing advantage. Şahin began taking control of midfield, winning four tackles in the first 45 minutes (half of Liverpool's total), while Suso started finding attackers, taking advantage of Shelvey and Cole's constant movement.

It was those three players who combined for Liverpool's first goal: Suso's perfectly-timed throughball after a one-two with Cole, Cole's run and expert chip into the danger area, Shelvey dart into the six-yard box for a tap-in header. Starting from Şahin winning possession in Liverpool's half, an end-to-end, flank-to-flank move of eight passes in under 30 seconds. Suso and Skrtel each nearly added a second within five minutes – the former when a fierce shot deflected just wide, the latter after redirecting Cole's shot on a scrambled corner, cleared off the line – and the young Spaniard had a second chance right before the interval from Cole's excellent throughball, placed narrowly outside the far post.

But Liverpool made the same mistakes to start the second half as in the first. Young Boys were brighter, and despite another Cole chance from another Suso throughball just seconds before, scored an equalizer in the 52nd. Wölfli saved on Cole's shot, then straight down the pitch: Farnerud running at Şahin before a sumptuous cross-field ball to Bobadilla, unforgivably sneaking in behind Henderson, then jaw-dropping control and an unstoppable half-volley. Not only do Liverpool have a habit of conceding on the counter, they've a habit of conceding wonder goals. The universe is against me. I am convinced of it.

Credit where due, Liverpool responded. Bringing on Suarez on the hour mark, for the unfortunate Suso – who again played well, but was the obvious choice to go off – may have had something to do with it; Liverpool re-took the lead just 12 minutes after his entrance, after monopolizing possession in the run-up. It was another longish passing sequence – 10 passes from a throw-in – quickly moving the ball around midfield before the dagger through the middle, as Suarez found Gerrard who found Cole, smartly running into the vacated space better center-backs in the box, a quick turn and shot that Wölfli couldn't keep out.

That should have been game over. Liverpool should have enough nous to keep possession, take the sting out of the game, and play keep-away. Young Boys should have tired, as they did in the meeting in Switzerland, after pressing heavily and harrying Liverpool players for 75 minutes.

Instead, it was the away side on the front foot for the final 15 minutes, pinning Liverpool deeper and deeper, coming again and again with fresh attacks. Sure, Liverpool's personnel wasn't built to be defensive – removing one of the three starting defenders early on due to injury, finishing with a formation comprised of Suarez, seven midfielders, two center-backs, and Reina. But Rodgers didn't help his own cause with the final substitution. Enrique, Allen, and Coates were on the bench. Instead, despite taking the lead, Rodgers still sent on Sterling for Cole in a straight swap. Which would make sense if Liverpool could keep or win possession, using Sterling's pace to counter. But Liverpool couldn't keep or win possession. Rather, Young Boys had the chance to hammer shot after shot after shot from distance at Reina's goal, coming closer with each attempt. It was only a matter of time before one went in.

All Liverpool had to do was keep possession. Instead, given the chance to break from their own half, they piled men forward, eventually losing possession when Suarez tried to dance past three defenders. The third was the charm. Young Boys quickly broke as the four players involved in the attack jogged towards the halfway line. Assaidi eventually broke into a sprint, but failed to stop Sutter. Şahin rashly dove in, trying to intercept; when he missed, it gave Zverotic all the time in the world to line up a shot. He didn't miss this time.

Sure, Reina didn't cover himself in glory, but before I'll criticize him, someone needs to explain to me what Carragher's doing here, as Skrtel also retreats and Assaidi's too far to get there in time after failing to stop the attack earlier:

It is the same problem over and over and over and over and I am incredibly sick of Groundhog's Day. It wasn't even a very good movie to begin with.

I'm really not kidding when I say that Joe Cole was Liverpool's best player. The assist and goal speak for themselves, but he had more shots than any other Liverpool players, added two other chances created, and completed all three of his attempted tackles (behind only Şahin, who added just one more tackle in the second half). He really was Liverpool's best goal threat, and deserved his place on the scoresheet. It truly is a pity that Liverpool's flaws will be remembered rather than this performance.

Gerrard disappointed, despite the assist. Suarez attempted eight take-ons in his 30 minutes, completing just one. Jordan Henderson is not a right-back – and while we're here, neither is the again-invisible Stewart Downing. While Shelvey worked hard in a "false 9" role, the goal was his lone shot. Even scoring twice, Liverpool remain too toothless and, more crucially, Liverpool simply cannot stop conceding on the counter-attack, no matter the personnel involved.

Now, Liverpool need to equal Young Boys' result in two weeks. Anzhi held up their end of the bargain, beating Udinese to assure their progression and the Italians' exit from the competition. Young Boys host Anzhi, with the Russians having nothing to play for, likely to rest any important players. Liverpool travel to a chagrined Udinese, with a point to prove in what will be their last Europa League match. Liverpool's advantage in goal difference makes a big difference, but otherwise, I'd rather be in Young Boys' position (get your minds out of the gutter; I didn't pick the club's name).

Happy Thanksgiving. I guess I'm thankful for the fact that Liverpool haven't killed me yet. Yet.

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