27 September 2014

Liverpool 1-1 Everton

Gerrard 65'
Jagielka 90+2'

If you don't laugh, you're gonna cry and maybe explode and maybe go on a murderous rampage, so I recommend laughing.

It's the third game this season – and there have only been eight matches so far this season – where Liverpool have conceded in injury time. One in each competition that Liverpool's currently involved in. All three of them at Anfield.

The Ludogorets breakaway after Liverpool stupidly lost possession in the attacking third when defending a 1-0 lead. A Middlesbrough penalty in extra time when Sterling back-passed to a Boro attacker when defending a 2-1 lead and Toure unnecessarily scythed down the attacker. And now, the most unbelievable. The best shot of Phil Jagielka's life after Lovren headed away an Everton cross, with Liverpool looking secure despite 15 minutes of defensive shelling. Liverpool were actually doing what they should in that situation, and even doing it marginally well, and that happens. Sports are the worst.

And, of course, that it happens against Everton, at Anfield, makes it approximately 10000% worse. Wonderful.

Otherwise, same old Liverpool but with what looked to be the return of the set play saving grace. Well, not quite same old Liverpool, as both the defense and midfield were the best they've been since beating Tottenham, maybe all season. But same old Liverpool in attack without Daniel Sturridge.

It's probably a very different match if Barry concedes a penalty (and gets a second yellow) for handball in the 9th minute, or a deserved second yellow for a foul less than a minute later. But Martin Atkinson Doesn't Want To Ruin The Game™, in the vein of great English referees such as Howard Webb, and wrongly ignores both. Liverpool will be right to complain about those moments.

Nonetheless, Liverpool were dominant in that first half and still better than Everton in the second – something we haven't been able to say often this season – and really should have been able to take advantage, regardless of the referee.

Lallana and Henderson's work rate made a massive difference to the midfield, and Liverpool's defense looked much more secure, despite the same personnel, until that preposterous equalizer, although they were aided by Martinez's conservative tactics, clearly remembering what happened the last time Everton came to Anfield.

It's still the attack that's problematic, with Mario Balotelli the most problematic. Aside from an excellent start, Liverpool rarely looked like scoring despite taking 24 shots. 10 of those came from Balotelli: two on target, three off-target, and five blocked. Eight of 10 from outside the box. It's exactly as advertised – he shoots from everywhere with no conscience – and made worse because Liverpool didn't have many other options. But it's not working at the moment, and Liverpool desperately misses Daniel Sturridge, who'll help ease some of Balotelli's burden.

Last season, when the attack struggled, set plays saved the day. And that looked to be the case today, when Gerrard fired past Howard from 25 yards after Balotelli was fouled, for Liverpool's first set play goal of the season. Finally.

The struggles in attack meant that Liverpool were always going to defensively shell after going ahead, only looking for a second when Everton gave them opportunities on the break. And the only time Everton truly threatened before injury time was immediately after the goal, a deep cross from Besic narrowly missing Lukaku's head. And Liverpool almost replied straight away: a counter-attack ending with Sterling's cross finding Balotelli six yards from goal but only able to hit the crossbar, possibly aided by the slightest of touches from Howard.

Liverpool had few opportunities on the break, but stifled Everton, long shots from Eto'o and McGeady that weren't even close Everton's only chances. Liverpool isolated attackers, Liverpool cleared free kicks, corners, and crosses. Until injury time, until only half clearing a cross, until that moment from Jagielka that he'll never be able to replicate.

To be fair, if Liverpool continue to play like that, they'll score more than a lone goal in most games and win most of those games. Balotelli's shooting was awful but he still worked hard, tracked back and held the ball up well. Lallana was outstanding, although – like Sterling – clearly started to tire and became less influential after his midweek exertions. Henderson did Henderson things in midfield, both linking with attack and protecting Gerrard. Lovren and Skrtel finally looked a decent partnership. Sturridge will eventually return, Liverpool's all-new attackers will become more accustomed to one another.

Yes, it's not even October yet, but the season is quickly getting away from Liverpool. Seven points from six games is a horrific return, reminiscent of the early failures which ended up defining both 2009-10 and 2012-13. They're currently 11th, and will probably be nine points off the league leaders in a little more than an hour. Already. Liverpool did mostly right and good things and only dropped two points because of a freak occurrence, even if unfairly, even if harshly, but that's made much worse because of what's come before.

This was always possible when trying to adapt to a different system with a lot of new players, especially in attack, and without Liverpool's most important attacker because of an international break injury. It's now become reality. Things should and probably will get better, but that has to happen before the mountain's too high to climb.

No comments :