19 October 2013

Liverpool 2-2 Newcastle

Cabaye 23'
Gerrard 42' (pen)
Dummett 57'
Sturridge 72'

Should have been better, could have been worse. Which, if I'm not mistaken, was the mantra of the 2011-12 season. That's not a pleasant memory.

On the whole, Liverpool were not good. Disjointed in attack, again broken in midfield, and sloppily, unforgivably beaten twice at the back. An international break hangover coupled with an early kickoff bears a fair bit of blame, but it's not as if Liverpool have been wholly fluent in any match this season.

Rodgers maintained the same formation, but with Johnson and Cissokho replacing Sterling and Enrique, the latter ostensibly injured. Lucas remained absent due to the birth of his second child.

Liverpool were reliant on set plays until Yanga-Mbiwa's 40th minute red card, spurning four free headers from Suarez, Skrtel, Sakho, and Toure. Which made it no surprise when Newcastle scored from its first opening, as Cissokho and Sakho let Cabaye waltz into the attacking third without closing him down, hammering in a perfect shot from 30 yards. I will probably never forgive Lucas' wife for not giving birth during the international break. Cabaye scored from exactly the zone where Lucas would have been, where either Gerrard or Henderson should have been but weren't, with both Sakho and Cissokho also guilty of not closing down the dangerous midfielder with a reputation from scoring from distance.

It took 17 more minutes before Liverpool finally created something from open play, a move which led to a penalty and dismissal. Finally, the Liverpool we're used to seeing: a quick transition from defense to attack, a sumptuous pass over the top from Sturridge to Suarez, the Uruguayan's trickery requiring Yanga-Mbiwa to pull him down rather than let him score a similar goal to last season's strike of the campaign in the 1-1 at Anfield. After two minutes of fruitless arguing from the home side, Gerrard stepped to the spot, tallying his 100th Premier League goal even though Krul guessed correctly.

But despite a man-advantage for nearly 50 minutes, despite dominating possession, Liverpool created exactly three good openings against a side they beat 6-0 in this fixture last season, needing half a hour and a substitution. The first led to a goal, the second saw Suarez hit the bar, quickly followed by Sturridge pushing the third wide.

But by that point, Newcastle had retaken the lead. No points for guessing that it came from a set play: a deep free kick, Toure and Skrtel both misjudging the delivery in while Cissokho ball-watched, allowing Dummett – on as a defensive substitute in place of Sissoko – to ghost in unmarked at the back post. That's so Liverpool. So unforgivably Liverpool.

And that it took Liverpool 30 minutes to create that first good opening after the dismissal was almost as infuriating as conceding a second. Almost. Rodgers, persisting with three at the back despite the man-advantage, bears almost as much blame for Liverpool's struggles as the players. Less than 10 minutes after Luis Alberto finally replaced Sakho, shifting to 4-4-2, Liverpool leveled matters. And again, it was lovely build-up starting in the defensive third and ending with the ball in the goal: six quick passes up the pitch, Moses taking on Williamson before feeding Suarez with an excellently weighted throughball, Suarez getting behind Debuchy before a byline cross to Sturridge between two defenders and a diving header that Krul had no chance at. That's what Liverpool are capable of. That's what we haven't seen enough of.

Newcastle were on tilt for the next five minutes, with Liverpool inches away from being able to take advantage. A narrowly offside Sturridge toe-poked Luis Alberto's low cross just past the post. Suarez blasted a half volley off the crossbar. Moses, somehow open at the back post for another Luis Alberto cross, cut the ball back for Sturridge, who could only push his shot wide, hitting Henderson rather than the back of the net. A game of inches, and Liverpool came up short each time.

From there, the final 15 minutes had just two half chances as Liverpool mostly failed to penetrate Newcastle's deep, determined 10 men. The first saw Gerrard's deep cross accurately finding Sturridge but the striker unable to hit the target, choosing to center with no Liverpool runners in the six-yard box instead. The second was Suarez's free kick at the death, saved by Krul, the rebound just eluding Sturridge just before Marriner blew the final whistle. The predominant theme was Liverpool giving the ball away in the attacking third countless times. The lone substitution, Sterling for Johnson, accomplished little and less. Liverpool were lucky they weren't exposed on the break, needing a wonderful tackle from Cissokho to stop Remy after yet another failed corner.

So, that Liverpool got at least a point when mostly not good is some small consolation. Against Villa and United, Liverpool got three points when being mostly not good, a point against Swansea when mostly not good. Sadly, mostly not good has been the dominant motif, even against the dregs of the league, winning easily but not fluently against Sunderland and Palace. Liverpool still haven't strung together an impressive full 90 minutes.

We're getting to the point of the season where results don't lie, where the table doesn't lie. Liverpool are still fairly high up that table, top in fact – at least for a couple of hours. But some credit for that goes to Liverpool schedule so far, six of eight matches against sides currently 10th or worse.

If Liverpool keep playing as they did today, we're going to see a lot more one points against Newcastle than three points against Villa and United.


Anonymous said...

Can we finally put this abortive experiment with three at the back to bed. It was born out of necessity, and despite beating Palace and Sunderland, we have looked terrible playing that formation - huge gaping holes in midfield, and miles of space between the front two and the ball. Against Newcastle - with an extra man - it looked at times like we were down a man, hoofing hopefully forward or across field. We created almost nothing, and looked completely uncreative. Alberto's introduction shifted that a bit, but it was more to do with formation change, I think. It was so obvious, given the opposition, that three at the back would be ripped to shreds. BR is SO infuriating in this way - he sometimes appears SO inflexible - like he is a bit proud for having reinvented three at the back, he can't really see the bigger strategy. Thats why its always the same. BR learns, but only after we come unstuck - against Southampton, and now against Newcastle. Two steps forward, one back. This is supposed to be the season of pushing forward, not learning the (elementary) lessons anymore. I am fully behind BR, but god, this was so obvious, I watched the game thinking "this is like a cruel joke - we knew this would happen!".
And why, if he is well and on the bench, does Allen not start a game like this. It was the perfect game for him to play - control midfield, keep possession, and feed the front attackers - who are (luckily) on fire, or else we might not have escaped!!!!

Anonymous said...

"never forgive lucas' wife".. that was funny.. i wish we could either change the formation to play moses in the position he wants cos today was his worst display as a no.10.. or else just give luis alberto a chance and see how well he does .. alberto looked a very mature player

Seth said...

Agree with all.

You have a man advantage, and you stay with a back three? Who are those three supposed to mark at that point?

Alberto looked great. Any chance we an play all of Suarez/Sturridge/Alberto/Coutinho when he's back.

Stephen said...

Never thought I could miss Jose Enrique but Cissokho was terrible at wingback ... lots of lost possession and zero threat posed ... not pacey enough to go left ... not skilled enough on right foot to cut in and go right ... he's a reserve at this point ... agree that Moses is playing out of position but he's still more a threat than Alberto and did set up our only goal from set play

Anonymous said...

Wait till BR and the team gets schooled by Steve Clarke next week against West Brom. Followed a week later by getting dunked by Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere and the Arse boys. Our midfield will show its true lack of top quality at the Gunners. Expecting to see a headless chicken routine as the Gooney's run rampant.

Not one convincing 90 minute rollicking performance in 8 weeks. We'll be lucky to finish the year in 6th and could quite easily be worse if Man U pick up the pace or dip into the market in January with a quality signing as they probably will. At least they got stuffed out of £27.5 mil with the Fellaini acquisition. He looked way off the pace against the Saints.

We should all just reset expectations for the season now and hope for 7th so that it's not like falling off a cliff when the reality sets in and bites us all on the butt cheeks.

It just feels like the team is looking for the first opportunity every game to find 45 minutes so they can all take a rest and go on walkabout.

This Liverpool fandom stuff is way hard.

JonnyS said...

very annoying game and bad liverpool games always ruin the weekend. Your write up was about the right tone Nate.

as mentioned above, another game where formation messed up our game - as with Southampton.

Rodgers showing that he's a bit of a rookie as a tactical manager.

We might be high up the table but we're only 2 pts better off than last season comparing the fixtures we've played - and how likely are we to get above Chelsea now they're above us? That's the worry with the big sides when you don't get the easy points, they're less likely to drop points than we are going forwards.

The Palace game showed how ineffective the 3 at the back setup was in the second half which just wasn't pretty once Holloway sorted out his setup, and if a dead cert relegation side can show that why didn't Brendan learn from it?

It's because he's inexperienced and thought he had found out something wonderful about 3 at the back when the truth was it was about Sunderland and Palace - 2 relegation candidates.

So many ways of looking at newcastle and opting for a different set up, all I can conclude if I were to give him the benefit of the doubt, is that he wanted to practice it with Johnson back, in order to play it against stronger teams coming up. WBA's midfield is going to run rings around us I reckon and Arsenal's too.

But Cissokho isn't ready for this role and there wasn't enough pushing up from the central CB to help in midfield which is essential with 3 centre backs.

Otherwise midfield just gets trashed, especially when we have a weak midfield in any case.

At the end of the day we lost the points because we couldn't create enough playing this way but also because Rodgers proved once again he's a very poor defensive coach.

He may like being on the training pitch but it's more important you have coaches working for you and you observe what they're doing and judge it from the performances - then instruct the necessary changes required to the coach. You can't coach and be the judge/mgr as effectively.

I'm not sure he'll sort the set piece brain farts out given how bad we've become at set pieces and losing players in the box. Remember how organised and stubborn Steve Clarke got this defence playing? Rodgers isn't in the same division as Clarke on this.

Unfortunately he doesn't seem able to create a strong midfield either, slavishly playing Gerrard even when he's walking around the pitch in the last 20 mins and not realising that Henderson makes sense when there's another midfielder driving forwards (because he doesn't). There's little to his game when they are both sitting deep because he can't use his best asset, his engine.

That's a huge problem and may well come to haunt us against better sides.

We will NOT keep Luis after this season and we have to build a strong setup before he goes. Right now him and DS are bailing us out and given DS needs a new contract next summer, we could lose both strikers if we're not a strong team by then. DS won't sign a new contract if we're languishing in 6th place.

Anonymous said...

-In this game..we let newcastle hold ball too long n we dont put enough pressure for them to make error.

-1st hlaf our tiki taka gone..and hate to see hendo in lucas's position coz he didn't do much to break up play or tackling at the center. plus no link up play.

- 2nd half we play better when Alberto came in...he provide us something we missin in fist half..player to link midfield and attack. id say Rodgers need to play him if Countinho injured in no 10 position.

-hate to see when Daniel Agger not playing.