13 April 2013

Liverpool 0-0 Reading

Déjà vu all over again. Déjà vu from last week, and déjà vu from last season.

If you thought last week's match was insane, that it was unfathomable Liverpool could fail to score, you hadn't seen anything yet.

Discussion starts and ends with Alex McCarthy, who was making his first start since a shoulder injury in November. He hadn't played for more than five months and then comes up with a performance like that. I can't remember the last time I've seen a better goalkeeping performance. And we saw a lot of them last season.

It was the same scoreline as when Liverpool traveled to West Ham six days ago, but today was very, very last season. We got the Liverpool Hat-Trick: a goal ruled out for offside, what looked to be a certain goal cleared off the line, and a shot caroming off the post – which all also happened at West Ham. All that was lacking was a missed penalty to fully complete the time machine trip to 2011-12. And more importantly, we got a goalkeeper on cheat mode, in even better form than Ruddy, Hart, De Gea, Al Habsi, or any of the others who somehow stood on their head against Dalglish's side.

An early goal, and this ends just like Swansea, Wigan, Norwich, et al ended. Of course, we said similar after West Ham. Four, three, two months ago, and this probably ends just like Swansea, Wigan, Norwich et al ended. Liverpool players, especially the crucial players – Suarez, Gerrard, Johnson more than others – are clearly fatigued, overextended and struggling to finish the season in any semblance of form. It's been that way since the reassuring 3-2 win comeback win over Tottenham at least, and arguably going back a game before when Wigan was thoroughly overwhelmed.

Spare a thought for Brendan Rodgers, although I'm certain you aren't inclined to do so. The tactical changes to the starting XI made Liverpool a better side, more cohesive in attack, with far fewer final-third foibles compared to last Sunday. Sturridge ostensibly started on the right, where he was against West Ham, but spent little time there. Henderson returned to a left-sided berth, shifting between the flanks and midfield, while Coutinho played behind Suarez. All four rotated fairly effectively. Reading's lack of attacking threat meant Johnson and Enrique had acres of space to roam freely without the fear of being exposed. Liverpool simply could not put the damned ball in the damned net, and it wasn't for lack of chances, both clear-cut and speculative.

Yes, yet again, Rodgers wasn't able to change things during the match, handcuffed by the squad's quality and options on the bench. Yes, it may have been better to remove Lucas rather than Henderson on the hour mark, still switching to the ostensibly more potent 4-2-4 but with a more dynamic midfield and with Lucas both barely needed and already booked. But after that change, what else was Rodgers going to do? Bring on the increasingly disappointing Shelvey? The barely seen Suso or Assaidi. This squad, even after January's improvements, remains markedly shallow. This is news to no one.

Rodgers didn't force McCarthy into 10 saves – a high for an opposition goalkeeper this season – and didn't fail to take just one of the countless chances Liverpool created. Had McCarthy not played out of his mind, had Gunter not cleared Suarez's 14th minute chip off the line, had Coutinho stayed onside in the 49th minute, had Suarez's 78th minute free kick been 6 inches to the left rather than off the post, had Liverpool converted just one – just one! – of its 28 shots, Rodgers looks an awful lot more clever.

I'll repeat: 28 shots, 11 on target. Five on target from Suarez, two from Sturridge and Gerrard, one from Coutinho and Downing. Only Lucas and Reina failed to take at least one shot; Agger, Lucas, and Reina were the only starters to fail to create a chance. Few of McCarthy's saves were routine; they weren't easily grabbed shots straight down his throat. And saves on Coutinho, Suarez (twice), Sturridge, and Gerrard were simply remarkable.

This is the first time that Liverpool have had back-to-back 0-0s in the league since December 2008, against both Fulham and West Ham at Anfield. The first time Liverpool have failed to score in consecutive league matches since losing to Stoke and Tottenham at the start of last season. Failing to score for the last 210 minutes, it's Liverpool's longest goalless streak since the beginning of last season as well and it's also the first away match where Liverpool failed to score in the last 11.

What makes this even more infuriating is that no matter how well McCarthy played, it changes nothing for Reading. A single point is almost as worthless as none. Had Reading actually attempted to attack more than sporadically, Liverpool may well have penetrated McCarthy's forcefield. But they didn't – with one good chance created more by Liverpool than Reading and well-saved by Reina – and they still remain planted to the foot of the table, eight points from safety. Congratulations. You're still going down. Cowards. And now both Liverpool and Reading fans go home unhappy. Some more unhappy than others.

Despite the anger, this changes next to nothing in the greater scheme of things, except Liverpool are marginally more likely to finish behind Everton for the second consecutive season. Which is a massive blow to Liverpudlian pride, but not much else. Liverpool already weren't qualifying for Europe, not even the Europa League, thanks to failings earlier in the campaign. Which, of course, doesn't make today any less frustrating.

This season cannot end soon enough. And it's the fourth season in a row where I've written that depressing line.


suley said...

oh liverpool why do you hurt me so

Anonymous said...

What are the odds that we finish above Everton next season? Better than 50/50?

Has Liverpool ever finished below Everton for 3 seasons in a row?

Any chance Borini scores more than 2 league goals next season?

Might Andy Carroll have access to enough alcohol to help a brother out if things go tits up again next season or if Suarez leaves in the summer?

So many mysteries.

suley said...

Amazing how far we have fallen and how much everton have risen... I guess this must be how they have felt all those years