07 April 2013

Liverpool 0-0 West Ham

Let's get it out of the way early. Yes, Liverpool's attack was not good enough, but sometimes you can't help feel that there's a referee conspiracy. I'm well aware that's the much-mocked stereotype, but you're not paranoid if they're really out to get you.

Eight Liverpool fouls to just four for West Ham despite Liverpool's overbearing edge in possession, with three of those four West Ham fouls coming in the last 10 minutes. Two more-than-decent penalty shouts ignored – including this carbon copy of the penalty that Suarez won last week – as well as one for Johnson which was actually just outside the box. A "goal" for Sturridge which looked level; if he was offside, it was by millimeters. Every single marginal decision seemed to go against Liverpool today, and not for the first time.

Make no mistake, Liverpool were not good in the final third. And that's putting it nicely. 69.8% accuracy in the final third, too far below the season-long 72.8% average. 21 crosses, with just two successful, despite Liverpool's aerial weakness in attack and West Ham's comparable strength in defending crosses. But had Liverpool gotten "that little bit of luck," whether from the referee or the bounce of the ball, Liverpool could have still eked a narrow win, and all we'd be talking about was a battling three points despite the subpar performance. Narrow margins, but that's been the case for years.

Some of Liverpool's attacking incompetence came from individual disappointments; Suarez was especially frustrating, and despite the team-wide improvement as the season's progressed, it's still "as goes Suarez, so goes Liverpool" all too often.

And some of that incompetence was exacerbated by some of Rodgers' decisions. Downing's 25th minute substitution through illness surprisingly weakened the team. He hadn't done much of note when on the pitch, but his exit disrupted Liverpool's balance, especially because Rodgers decided to use Sturridge mainly as a like-for-like replacement even though Sturridge's best moments have come when playing off the shoulder of the last defender and Suarez was struggling against Collins and Tomkins. And then, needing to make changes in the attempt to force a late breakthrough, Assaidi comes on rather than Suso or Shelvey, a player who hasn't featured in a league match for four and a half months. The sum of his contributions: one off-target shot, three errant crosses, and four completed passes despite receiving possession 11 times. Liverpool were not set up well to penetrate West Ham's deep defense either from the start or after the substitutions.

And some of that incompetence was because West Ham defended very, very well. James Collins was especially impressive, stopping countless attacks by Suarez and Coutinho. West Ham made 47 clearances, the vastly majority inside the 18-yard box. Jaaskelainen made eight saves, including excellent stops on Suarez (twice) and Coutinho. Tomkins cleared a certain Gerrard goal off the line in the 55th minute. Allardyce was content with a point, and Liverpool didn't do enough to stop him from getting that point.

In the interest of fairness, it could have been worse. It could have been 0-2 against West Brom at Anfield, a match very similar to today's except in the final ten minutes and subsequent scoreline. And that's because Liverpool defended well throughout, the few times West Ham threatened. Agger saved a goal with a superlative block in the 32nd minute when West Ham stole possession off Lucas following a goal kick. Lucas saved a goal clearing Collision's header off the line in the 86th – a goal which would have made the game almost exactly like West Brom at Anfield. Despite Carlton Cole winning the majority of his aerial duels, Liverpool made certain that West Ham players rarely won the second ball, while Johnson, Agger, and Lucas led the way with interceptions.

It's only the third 0-0 draw of the season, the first since the trip to Swansea on November 25th. It's the first time Liverpool have drawn a league match at Anfield since November 4th against Newcastle, winning seven and losing two during the stretch.

These matches happen every season to every side, no matter how good or bad. I assume most of you remember a 0-0 against West Ham in December 2008, a match which saw Liverpool booed off the pitch when top of the league. And "it could have been worse" is a phrase we've not heard much this season; if something bad can happen, something bad usually happens. But it's still eminently frustrating when we know Liverpool's capable of better, in almost every regard.

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