22 March 2014

Liverpool 6-3 Cardiff City

Mutch 9' 88'
Suarez 16' 60' 90+6'
Campbell 25'
Skrtel 41' 54'
Sturridge 75'

You can see the progression over the last few months ago. In January, a very similar match ended 2-2 against Aston Villa. In February, it ends 3-2 at Fulham, thanks to a fortuitous late penalty. In March, it ends with an absolutely mad 6-3 at Cardiff.

Liverpool's resiliency, Suarez and Sturridge's potency, and a helpful dose of Skrtel on set plays. In spite of recurring midfield messes and defensive mistakes.

Like against Villa and Fulham (and at Stoke, at West Brom, and v Swansea), Liverpool started off terribly, pushed back by errant passing and a wide open midfield. Liverpool's most impressive performances – against Arsenal and Everton, in the last two away matches – have seen a compact, disciplined midfield, keeping the shape before launching its attacks, leaving enough players behind to prevent opposition attacks but also pressing the ball both in the attacking third and the middle of the pitch.

But today, like those aforementioned five matches, Liverpool's midfielders left insanely large gaps. Unlike against Fulham, this was more due to Liverpool dropping too deep, seemingly afraid of Cardiff after allowing three chances in the first five minutes. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But when you drop deep, you have to keep the shape; you can't just charge around the defensive third chasing the ball and hoping for the best.

The first goal started with a quick Cardiff transition, but Allen should have seen it off when dispossessing Fabio. However, the midfielder missed Flanagan with his pass, instead finding Frazier Campbell. The striker strolled to the flank and fed Mutch, who'd ambled away from an out-of-position Gerrard and with the captain unable to close down, smashing a perfectly placed shot from the top of the box that Mignolet had no chance at.

The second came with Mutch passing through Liverpool's static midfield, Campbell having pulled into space behind an unaware Gerrard, with both Agger and Skrtel marking Bellamy and Flanagan caught upfield marking Fabio. Either press the ball in midfield or drop deep enough to mark the striker. You have to do one of those two things. But no. And maybe both center-backs don't try to mark the same player. So Campbell ran at a recovering Agger, cut around him, and again placed a shot into the far corner. Both goals were well-taken, but both came far too easily.

Sandwiched between Cardiff's goals was Suarez's first, set up by Henderson's excellent ball to an overlapping Johnson, and Johnson's low centered cross for a Suarez tap-in. A first equalizer should have been enough, but how would Liverpool respond to needing a second?

Fairly well, thank you. "Even when we're not good, we're still going to score more than you." And so they did. Two set play goals; a pass-pass-pass-pass oops-we've-broken-your-defense fourth, and then two blitzkrieg counters. And a regrettable, but ultimately meaningless, consolation conceded.

Liverpool's second, Skrtel's first, wasn't wholly a set play goal, but it might as well go down as one. Cardiff cleared Coutinho's corner, but cleared it straight to the Brazilian, who immediately crossed back into the box. Skrtel's run was immaculate, intuitively breaking between three defenders to reach the ball first, just outside the six-yard box.

The second was a more orthodox set play goal, albeit with a fair amount of controversy, with both Mutch and Theophile-Caterine off the pitch, having been treated for injuries in the build-up. And Liverpool took advantage, with Skrtel beating his marker to Coutinho's corner and directing the header well past Marshall.

That was that. Liverpool wouldn't give Cardiff a chance to get a third until the result was well out of sight. Six minutes after taking the lead, Liverpool had a fourth: patient build-up, Henderson and Johnson again combining just before the goal, Johnson's low cross deflected but fortunately falling to Sturridge, whose first-touch back-heel into space was indescribably brilliant, somehow telepathically knowing that Suarez would find it. Sometimes, there are just no words to do those two justice.

And they reversed roles 15 minutes later, as Suarez's tasmanian devil work rate forced Caulker into misplaying Johnson's ball over the top, charging into the box before centering between two defenders to meet Sturridge in stride, yet another Liverpool goal scored from six yards out.

The last 15 minutes seemed a formality, with Liverpool threatening on a couple of quick attacks but somehow contriving to foul them up, until Cardiff found a consolation. The build-up should embarrass Liverpool's defense: Theophile-Caterine allowed to cross to an open Jones, who headed across to an open Mutch. But Liverpool responded just before full-time, similar to their last goal, with Suarez terrorizing Cala into misplaying a hopeful long ball, then tearing at Marshall, villainously teasing him into committing (and ignoring Sterling) before poking home.

These games aren't doing my heart any good. Liverpool may be mistake-prone in midfield and defense, but Liverpool remain very good in attack, and fairly decent on set plays as well. It's the 17th time (in 30 matches) where Liverpool have scored at least three, the 10th time they've scored at least four, and the 5th time they've scored at least five. That's unfathomable.

More importantly, Liverpool believe. Liverpool know they're capable of something truly special. And even when Liverpool disappoint, when Liverpool start badly, when Liverpool suffer setbacks, Liverpool somehow respond.


Anonymous said...

Great analysis - defense and midfield keep on leaving vulnerable space as Cardiff waltzed pretty much untouched on all three of their goals. I don't blame Flanagan for either of the first two goals though others are. Thought Johnson provided needed width on several occasions. If Suarez had missed and I was Sterling I'd be mad at him but equally how can you be mad at someone who gets two to three goals. Would Lucas or Sakho work better today - we would never know as no one changes a winning side - but with a midweek game I hope Rodgers rotates

Vicky Agastya said...

The thing to take back home from this game for me was the mentality. To come back twice and win the game indicates unwavering belief that the team has in itself. To twice come back from a goal down and win 6-3 will pretty much strap the team to an inter-galactic rocket and ignite it.
What is more surprising and doubt-inducingly-strange is that I was very sure that we would outscore them. Strange tides these are. But I want the strangest of them all - Liverpool winning the Premier League!!!
Tactics are thrown to the dogs. Logic is shredded with a light saber. Suarez might just be the Greek god of football that history and lore forgot to mention. CHAOS IS BACK.
THIS IS LIVERPOOL. TOP OF THE LEAGUE. (It will be, after 38 games. In this very season.)

Marque Pierre Sondergaard said...

...yes but who will take points off Chelski?

Stephen said...

We control our own destiny vs. Chelsea. It's City who must drop points. Wait...Brendan says one game at a time.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason our midfield was so open is because we defended too deeply, allowing too much space, and then gave the ball away repeatedly in that opening 20 minutes. Gerrard can't, for example, be expected to foresee Allen misplacing a ten yard pass for the first goal.

Agger and Skrtel were obviously too concerned about the pace of Bellars and co., and the sloppy passing didn't help.

Anonymous said...

I've come over all weepy. Love your blog, Nate, keep it up.

Alexandr Adlov said...

Thanks for the analysis, good read as usual.
@Cardiff cleared Coutinho's corner, but cleared it straight to the Brazilian@ - in fact, they cleared to Gerrard, who nodded it back to Coutinho.

Anonymous said...

The reason our midfield was open was because we left big gaping spaces, did not track runners and did not press as well as we have been doing - it happens but that's why we concede three goals against Cardiff whereas no(?) other teams in the league do and certainly not a Maureen team. But hey you score three and we will score six seems to be working until of course it doesn't - that's a summer problem.