15 December 2012

Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa

Benteke 29' 51'
Weimann 40'
Gerrard 87'

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

The lesson, as always, is never ever get optimistic about Liverpool. It is inevitably a lie. There are no turning points.

So much for the belief that a resilient comeback victory at West Ham marked a new dawn. Nope. Same old Liverpool, with the added bonus of conceding multiple times to a side that Liverpool had no business conceding against in the first place.

Credit where due: Lambert's three-at-the-back strategy nullified Liverpool, and Villa were undeniably potent on the counter-attack. Benteke caused even more problems than Carlton Cole last week, and was far, far better in front of goal and with the ball at his feet. But it's hard to give the opposition manager full credit when we've seen similar so often. The fact that Villa kept a clean sheet through the opening 30 minutes was due to Liverpool wastefulness as much as Villa defending. During that spell, Liverpool's pass accuracy in the final third was a paltry 66%, with just three completed passes into the penalty area and one chance created. A disciplined, determined defense surely played its part, but awful final balls from Gerrard, Suarez, and Johnson – Liverpool's three best attackers – did as much to prevent an opening goal.

And then came the stomach punch. Well, stomach punches. It's hard to decide which of Villa's three goals was the most infuriating. Two started with Liverpool giveaways; sandwiched between was Liverpool's tender underbelly carved open like a Thanksgiving turkey.

For the first, Suarez lost possession at the halfway line, Lichaj and Holman moved the ball down the flank, Holman laid off to Benteke, and no one (read: Joe Allen) closed the striker down, as Benteke rammed a shot just off the inside of the near post from more than 20 yards out.

The second began as Bannan spun away from Gerrard in his own half, pushing the ball forward for Weimann and Benteke's attack. The two strikers sliced and diced through Liverpool's midfield; Weimann's throughball seemingly took Benteke too far wide, but a brilliant backheel removed Skrtel from the picture, setting up a wide-open Weimann on the penalty spot, with neither Agger nor Allen tracking his run and Downing unable to cover in time. Just a wonderful goal. Unless you're a Liverpool fan, in which case it's utterly soul-killing.

Both were regrettable, both were avoidable, but the third was probably the most exasperating. Cole stupidly lost possession in his own half, turning into trouble after receiving the pass from Allen, allowing Holman to intercept and hand off to Benteke. The striker ran unhindered at Liverpool's dishelved defense – Skrtel backed off and Allen recovered too late and too weakly – ambling into the box before blasting past Reina from 12 yards out. Maybe someone tackle the striker who's caused Liverpool so many problems before he gets that far, yes?

And in the meantime, Liverpool were summarily awful from the moment the first goal went in until the final whistle. No cohesion in midfield or attack, little self-belief, lots and lots of standing around, and lots and lots of crosses to no one in particular. The substitutions that worked against West Ham added nothing today, with Cole at fault for Villa's third and Henderson unable to add much to Liverpool's attack in place of Lucas, especially with Villa determined to defend resolutely when ahead by such a comfortable margin. Once again, Liverpool attackers were massively outnumbered when inside the penalty area, all too often resorting to shots from distance (14 – six off-target, six blocked) and crosses (44, with just nine "successful"). Liverpool's attack made it easy for Villa. Liverpool's attack needs to stop making it easy for opposition defenses.

Gerrard's consolation was nothing more than that, another notch on the bedpost against the side he's scored against more than any other. Johnson attempted another shot from long range – able to replicate his brilliant strike last week with none of them – but this time, Gerrard's stooping header redirected the blast past Guzan. Amazing what's possible when Liverpool get more than one player in a dangerous position deep in the penalty box, but pity it wasn't a lesson learned sooner.

Look, we all knew there would be growing pains this season. Nonetheless, this is a game that Liverpool should be winning no matter the circumstances. Villa had won all of one away game this season, a narrow 1-0 win at struggling Sunderland (where, naturally, Liverpool drew 1-1 after going behind). They had scored just four goals in eight away matches, just 12 goals through the 16 Premiership matches.

So far, Liverpool have beaten Reading, Wigan, and Southampton at home. That's it. Teams currently occupying 17th, 18th, and 20th (after Villa's win lifts them all the way to 14th).

Liverpool aren't going to win many matches when Suarez, Gerrard, and Johnson all disappoint, when they're so unable to defend counter-attacks. It's slightly unfair to single out those players when Liverpool were comprehensively awful to a man, but that's how it goes when you're reliant on the big names. Gerrard and Allen look every bit the players who've started every single match, Sterling's also suffering from fatigue, Lucas was positionally poor when defending counter-attacks, Skrtel and Agger both underperformed on Villa goals, etc. etc. I cannot explain why Henderson - in better form than both Gerrard or Allen – didn't start, or why Suso and Şahin have become personae non gratae. Sure, there's a lot of blame for individual players, but it's hard to defend some of Rodgers' decisions as well.

Last week's win meant all the talk was about being four points behind fourth. Well, after this, Liverpool are still just five points behind that place (albeit with Tottenham and West Brom still to play), but also just seven outside the relegation zone. Momentum can swing both ways, and in such a tight league, just a couple of bad results will be the difference between fourth and fourteenth. Liverpool already have had too many bad results.

Last week's win didn't lead to a proper response to build on Liverpool's momentum. Now we'll get to see Liverpool's response to further adversity against Fulham next week.


Mike Georger said...

"The fact that Villa kept a clean sheet through the opening 30 minutes was due to Liverpool wastefulness as much as Villa defending. During that spell, Liverpool's pass accuracy in the final third was a paltry 66%, with just three completed passes into the penalty area and one chance created."

This is so important. I just read someone say this: first half hour we were making chances for fun!

No we were not. People kept saying things like "same old Liverpool, wasting their chances." WHAT fucking chances? Possession and dominance do not equal chances. Sterling's service in the final third was abysmal and we were relying on Downing, we weren't missing sitters left and right, we were creating absolutely nothing. I cannot understand why people are seeing that we're still struglling to create.

Oh well, there's always January.

And next summer.

Then next January.

Anonymous said...

Saying our offence made it easy for Villas defender is possibly a little harsh of Clark and Herd, who both pulled out outrageous efforts in the first 30 mins and early in the 2nd hal to stop Suarez and Shelvey from scoring. Both at times where a liverpool goal would have changed the complexion of the game.

Anonymous said...

Its a case of The Emperors New Clothes @John_W_Henry

ErictheRed said...

Suarez absolutely had to put Gerrard through with a better ball. Shelvey has to hit his sooner. A poacher like Dempsey would have been perfect for this team, how they wouldn't spend for him I will never understand. Will they buy anyone in January?

Ricardo DeFrancesco said...

Calm down people, we know what the problem is and it will be fixed - we need more players active in the box and that will be amended in January. In reality if we win 3 of 4 against Fulham, Stoke, QPR and Sunderland then we will be up around the CL spots by Jan. 13 when we play United.

We will have brought in another attacker or two and there is a chance that FSG will spend big to bring in a top level player, if not there are a number of other players who could add quality to the attack for cheap, also Borini will be back soon.

I hope we sign a goal poacher like Soldado or Cavani in January so that Suarez can drop into a playmaking role where he is at his best (we all know by now that he isn't an effective focal point of attack). Last year the top 3 teams in the table were also the top three teams for shooting percentage - I really think that "chance conversion" is a poor way to measure finishing ability because not all chances are created equal however shooting percentage gives an indication of how the player handles the chances he gets. In this area Suarez is very weak (1 goal in 10 shots) while a top striker scores about 1 goal in 5 or 6 shots(Rooney, Cavani, RVP, Aguero; Messi and Falcao are both around 1 goal in 3 shots).

Mike Georger said...

There is zero reason whatsoever to think that they can win three of four. I'm not being negative, I'm being pragmatic. This team is not consistent and there is no such thing as an easy fixture for them (outside of Norwich).

If Cavani or Soldado sign I will eat a hat of Nate's choosing. If we spend more than fifteen million I will do the same.

ILL said...

Good read, and echoes most of my thoughts on the game.

Makes me laugh that people called Shelvey a false 9 when he played as a striker against West Ham, when actually he was more of a number 9 than Suarez has been. He's been playing as a false 9 all season!

I also don't believe that these owners are anywhere near as bad as the last lot, but they're not perfect by any means.

They're probably scared of spending too much money after the farce of a transfer policy under Comolli and Dalglish.

nate said...

I choose this hat: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Visita_di_Papa_Benedetto_XVI_a_Genova_-_2008-05-18_-_Primo_piano_di_Benedetto_XVI.jpg

But I'm pretty sure you're probably in the clear, Georger.