06 April 2014

Liverpool 2-1 West Ham

Gerrard 44' (pen) 71' (pen)
Demel 45+1'

Sometimes, the universe tries to trick me into believing that karma actually exists.

West Ham were able to impose their style on the game, to drag Liverpool down to its subterranean level. But, aside from one moment of madness from Anthony Taylor, Liverpool wrestled in the mud just as well as West Ham.

Do you want to know why Allardyce and Pulis' teams often play rugby rather than football? Because it achieves their limited aims, and, more importantly, because referees let them get away with it. 60% of the time, it works every time, and that's enough to avoid relegation and give the bigger clubs a game every now and them, so that's good enough.

Anthony Taylor's decisions led to all three of today's goals. Yes, I'm biased. But the first was a 100% clear and correct decision. The second was a 100% clear and incorrect decision. And the third was arguable, debatable, and most likely very much a make-up call.

For 43 minutes, pure frustration. West Ham controlled the tenor and tempo, even if it was mostly harmless thanks to Liverpool's strong defending. Sakho, starting for the first time since December 29 because of an injury to Agger, battled manfully, but Skrtel was again Liverpool's rock at the back, matching Carroll step for step and header for header. Liverpool had opportunities to counter, allowing West Ham to come forward in the hopes of ripping them apart through transitions, but either the final pass or shot went astray.

Then, Steven Gerrard happened. There are still valid complaints about his positional discipline and awareness when deployed as the deepest midfielder – although they're increasingly few and far between – but it's freed him to make passes like today's: an inch-perfect, defense-destroying 60-yard pass to Suarez, peeling behind Demel and Tomkins, forcing a handball from the central defender in a similar position to Rafael's at Old Trafford. Gerrard trotted forward to the spot, and sent Adrian hopelessly in the wrong direction.

Rodgers' mantra after taking a first half lead is to not do anything stupid in the dying minutes before halftime. Be clever, see out the remainder. And despite conceding an unnecessary corner in injury time, they'd looked to have done so. Until Anthony Taylor intervened. Mignolet appeared to claim, until Carroll punched him in the head. Taylor either ignored or didn't see it, signaling goal while his linesman's flagging furiously for the foul. So he stops, goes to talk to the better positioned linesman ... and still gives the goal. Amazing. You'll never, ever convince me that's given had Taylor not awarded Liverpool a penalty two minutes earlier. Referees always want to "even" things up.

So yes, it was by hook and by crook, but it was still the 15th set play goal Liverpool have conceded this season. Only Fulham, Stoke, Sunderland, and West Brom have allowed more. That's not good.

Rodgers clearly wasn't happy at halftime, and wouldn't have been pleased even if the game was still 0-0 or 1-0. He changed both shape and style, bringing on Lucas and reverting to the 4-4-2 diamond, the defensive-minded Brazilian in place of the attack-minded Brazilian, which better solidified the center of the park, and clustered more players around Carroll and West Ham's other attackers who were looking for the big lump's knock-downs. From 55.6% Liverpool possession in the first half to 72.4% possession in the second half. And, surprisingly enough, the substitution was crucial to the game-winning penalty. Had you told me that Liverpool would win because a Lucas throughball to Flanagan would earn Liverpool a penalty, I would have had you institutionalized. Gerrard, back at the spot, this time going to his left. As did Adrian, but the keeper still had zero chance of keeping the ferocious blast out. A hammer blow, if you will.

From there, Liverpool did an admirable job of seeing out the match, even after Allardyce brought on a second lumbering colossus striker in Carlton Cole, with Rodgers replying with Toure for the misfiring Sturridge. It was nerve-wracking, because Liverpool are often nerve-wracking, but the only chance I can remember in the final 20 minutes fell to Downing at the top of the box. Every Liverpool fan breathed a sigh of relief, remembering Downing's time at Liverpool, as the winger ballooned his shot well over.

With better finishing, it wouldn't have been this nerve-wrecking. The counter-attack just didn't click at times, but both Suarez and Sturridge missed opportunities they've had seized with both hands earlier in the season. Suarez twice hit the crossbar with efforts conjured from nothing, Sturridge put three of five shots off-target, with his two on-target efforts both tamely hit at Adrian.

Liverpool needed two penalties to do it – taking the season total up to 10 (not counting the spot kick in the FA Cup at Arsenal, or misses against Everton and United) – but Liverpool are now only the fourth team to score 90 goals in the Premier League era, joining 1999-00 Manchester United, 2009-10 Chelsea, and 2011-12 Manchester City. And yes, all three of those sides won the league.

Once again, we're complimenting Liverpool for showing the resilience needed in a title chase. Gerrard, cool as you like from the spot, setting up the opening goal, foraging for knockdowns when Carroll won headers, and tracking West Ham's runners well, is a microcosm of that composure, deservedly the center of our attentions. It's telling that he remained the deepest midfielder despite Lucas' introduction. Liverpool's center-backs weren't far behind in the man-of-the-match race, especially Skrtel, while Liverpool's fullbacks defended well enough, even if both were beaten by Diame and Downing on a couple of occasions (especially Flanagan by Diame).

Another mark in the correct column, for the ninth (!!!) consecutive match. Just five more to go.


Vicky Agastya said...

Brendan Rodgers had something to say about the pitch not being watered, resulting in the disjointed fashion of our game and the slow tempo. Maybe it had something to do with the counter-attacking not clicking as well.
Nice to know that the manager has so much belief in his team that he is willing to go to the extent of blaming the pitch than his players. So cool headed!!
It was so ironic to see Kolo trying to signal to other players to clam down, when in the first place, most of us were nervous because of him!! But credit to him, played his bit in the end without fuss.
And lastly, the reaction of the players after the final whistle - the huddle formation, the absolute relief that it was over - it seems like the pressure of expectations is getting them slowly!!! No worry boys. Keep Calm and Win the Next Match.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person to have noticed that this win means that ManUre cannot mathematically catch LFC this season? Not since 2001/2 have we been ahead of them in the league at the close. Added an extra bounce to my happy dance at the end of today's game I can tell you.

adaner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adaner said...

Stevie was immense, but surely you could have lingered a little more on that throughball? Those NBC haters were going on about how Lucas wouldn't know what to do with himself in the final third. Surely he deserves a paragraph or two of gushing praise as recompense?

Anonymous said...

Lucas used to play as a box to box midfielder for Gremio in Brazil admittedly a slow league like La liga in Spain. It was Rafa who converted him into a defensive midfielder when he did not have the pace or legs to run all day - he like Coutinho never ordered his shooting boots from the kit people BUT I love Lucas's class, positional awareness and quiet distribution and ability to track runners. Brendan likes to attack but sometimes two defensive holding midfielders in Lucas and Stevie is a good thing especially in away Champions League games (dare I say it!)

TomW said...

5 games. I can't belive there are only 5 games between us and the title. We really are so close with a golden chance to actually win the bloody thing!

And although we have a young, hungry squad and will no doubt strengthen in the summer, if we don't seize this opportunity I can't help wondering whether we will look back at this point in years to come and rue it as the one that got away. With Champion's League to come in 2014/15, we may not have the luxury of a broadly fresh and fit squad and even if we playing brilliantly again next season there is no guarantee we will be in a 'win 5 and win the league' position. Come on lads! We are definitely good enough, and I believe we can beat City and Chelsea at home.

I feel pleasantly sick (is that a thing?) thinking about it.