01 January 2014

Liverpool 2-0 Hull

Agger 36'
Suarez 50'

That might not have been the performance Liverpool wanted, but it's the result Liverpool needed. After the packed fixture list and injury crises of the last month, that's more than sufficient.

And it's due to Liverpool's continued ability to take advantage of set plays and a surprisingly competent defensive performance. Liverpool still haven't scored an open play goal against Hull in 180 minutes of football – something I certainly wouldn't have predicted a month ago – but that didn't matter because Liverpool struck from a corner and direct free kick, and kept Hull from putting a single shot on target.

Both teams started with what seemed a New Years' Day hangover, Liverpool's far more throbbing than Hull's. It took 15 minutes for the headache and nausea to subside, to actually find some semblance of football coherence. The change in formation and personnel, thanks to the extensive casualty list, certainly didn't help matters. Liverpool shifted to 4-2-3-1, Aspas received his first Premiership start in 3 1/2 months.

Even after Liverpool began to "improve," chances were still hard to come by, Liverpool's record of romping at Anfield be damned. Credit where due, Steve Bruce's side is hard to break down, and I'm absolutely thrilled Liverpool are finishing facing them this season. In a sign of things to come, Liverpool's first genuine scoring opportunity came from a set play, Suarez heading Coutinho's free kick into the net, but just barely from an offside position. Not long after, Liverpool nearly opened Hull up on the break – the main strategy used in last month's meeting – but Sterling shot straight at McGregor from an acute angle.

Agger was the recipient of Liverpool's next two corners, eluding Alex Bruce's marking on both, winning headers right on the penalty spot, threatening with the first before scoring on the second. His downward header in the 36th minute found the back of the net with Henderson's help, distracting both keeper and defender on the line despite not making contact with the ball.

Unsurprisingly, the goal propelled Liverpool on, and they should have finished the half at least two goals to the good. But Henderson placed a shot wide from the top of the box with the goal gaping in the 42nd, Coutinho shot wide in acres of space inside the box after wonderfully controlling Henderson's chipped ball over the top. And had rookie referee Craig Pawson had any sense, Hull would have finished the half with 10 men, as Alex Bruce, already on a yellow card, kicked Suarez in the chest in the build-up to Henderson's glorious opportunity. It wasn't too dissimilar from the incident which saw Paulinho dismissed. This was Pawson's fifth Premier League match. I doubt he'll be doing any more for a while.

Once Liverpool got the needed second soon after the interval – another jaw-dropping Suarez free kick, his third of the season and from almost the same position Gerrard scored from in the reverse fixture – Liverpool completely shut the game down. The only thing the final 30 minutes were good for was Gerrard's match practice, replacing Aspas not long after the hour mark. Liverpool soaked up Hull's barely threatening pressure without breaking much of a sweat, Liverpool attempted to get a third by counter-attacking quickly, Liverpool contrived to foul up their few counter-attacking opportunities. Toure came on for Johnson, still underwhelming (to put it nicely) and apparently yet another Liverpool player who picked up an injury during this hectic period; Moses came on for Sterling. Liverpool eased its way to victory without doing themselves any damage, either through further injuries or by conceding sloppily.

Hull took 10 shots today. Four were off-target, six were blocked, eight of 10 came from outside the box. Eight of those shots came after Liverpool already had its two-goal lead. Hull are certainly not the most threatening side, especially away from home, even considering the three goals scored when these sides met at the KC Stadium, but Liverpool's defending was probably the most encouraging feature of today's match. Both Johnson and Cissokho, especially the latter, were put under pressure early, but while both bent at times, neither broke. Skrtel and Agger easily coped with Sagbo and Koren. Hull's 58th minute triple substitution – bringing on Fryatt, Graham, and Boyd for Sagbo, Koren, and Meyler – did little to change the pattern of play. Hull attacked more because Liverpool let them attack more. It'd have been so very Liverpool to concede a goal they shouldn't have, putting the side under unnecessary pressure; you know, exactly what happened against West Ham a couple of weeks ago. But Liverpool didn't.

This was Liverpool's first 2-0 win since December 2011, the first 2-0 win of Rodgers' tenure. And Suarez is now the fastest to reach 20 goals in the Premier League, needing 15 games to hit that tally. Kevin Phillips, the previous record holder, needed 21. The Uruguayan's also the first Liverpool player to hit 20 league goals in back to back seasons since Fowler did it in 1994-1995 and 1995-96. He's pretty special, even if Hull (and Craig Pawson) gave him next to nothing in open play.

Liverpool's fixture list will finally ease in the coming weeks. Liverpool's injury list will as well, with Gerrard back, and Sturridge, Enrique, and Flanagan not far behind him. Thanks to Stoke's draw with Everton, Liverpool are back in fourth, if only by a single point.

The next four matches are against at Stoke, against Villa, against Everton, and at West Brom. Four matches where Liverpool should be favored. Liverpool took just a single point from those four fixtures last season, drawing with Everton and losing in the other three.

If Liverpool have any pretensions of securing a Champions League, they'll have to vastly improve on last season's performances and results. It might not have been an impressive start to 2014, but nonetheless, today was a start towards achieving that.


Anonymous said...

A completely comfortable win. Almost no dangerous opportunities were Hull allowed to create by our impressive defense. It's obvious that we have been working on defending set plays in practice. Held the 18 yard line nicely on direct kicks and everyone was closely marked on corners. With one man toward the front of the goal free to move or cut out the first ball. No shots on goal by Hull says it all really. And almost all of the shots they did take were from distance outside the 18 yard box. I can't remember any even halfway difficult saves by Mig. Can't do much more than that defensively.

Hendo should have scored from sweet layoff by Aspas. Coutinho should have scored on that well controlled trap in from tot goal where he shot just wide left. He had enough time to get a peek at goal somewhere in the sequence from the ball coming in, to the trap, touch and shot. He probably had two seconds to get that peek at goal. Kept his eye on the ball the entire time, so did not know for sure exactly where he needed, in his minds eye, to place that shot. His shooting is getting MUCH better. All of his shots, except for that one shank were hit well and with power. The two that went over goal were just a matter of getting his upper body a few inches forward when he made contact with the ball. That's just a minor adjustment and can be cleaned up easily in practice. Was a nice run at the end of the game and a driven shot, although right at the keeper. Any pullback of that shot had Stevie and Luis wide open for a simple tap in.

2 - nil could have oh so easily been 4 - nil. So many good chances by us.

Was happy for Aspas to get a start. He played OK. The layoff to Hendo that should have been a simple goal was worth the price of admission. He was well positioned for a cross by Luis to the far post that just got slightly cut out and could have been a goal for him. He's been saying all the right things in interviews, so am happy to see him get a chance.

Stevie and Luis look too much for each other in the center of the park. They'll both delay the pass that's on to try and hold the ball waiting for the other to get uncovered. Then they'll play a pass that's not on when the other guy is marked and not in a great position to receive the ball. The way to create the space for each other is to not be so dang predictable and play the pass that's on most of the time which will give the other guy a better chance to slip his marker during the run of a game.

3 points. An easy 3 points actually. Just what the Doctor ordered.

Stoke up next in the league. Got to watch out for Charlie. He's back to his hack you down tackles, putting Paulinho out for a month with ankle ligament damage. Got to just feint the tackle with Charlie. Let him go in by himself. Then when he goes to ground just pick up the loose ball and waltz down the field with Charlie on his fat ass. He's not the smartest player. Not by a country mile.

Anonymous said...

Why on earth was Moses introduced ahead of Alberto? Surely he could have used the game time...did he kill Rodgers dog or something?