22 October 2014

Liverpool 0-3 Real Madrid

Ronaldo 23'
Benzema 30' 41'

Remember the 1-3 loss to Manchester City? That, but worse, because the defending on the second and third goals was vastly worse, and Real Madrid are even better than Manchester City, and Liverpool were at home, and there was no own goal late consolation.

Liverpool were up for the game, Liverpool started well. Balotelli started, but it was much more a diamond than the expected 4-3-3, with Sterling his partner up front and Coutinho at the apex of midfield. But Liverpool's attack remained impotent, and couldn't take advantage of the side starting well. And Liverpool were eventually punished. All that good work in the first 20 minutes led to Gerrard's shot from 30 yards parried wide and a couple of corners that didn't really threaten and that's about it.

Then Cristiano Ronaldo happened.

Usually, when Liverpool concede, you can point to at least one player doing something wrong. Surprisingly, that wasn't the case there. There's wasn't much that any side could do about Real Madrid's first goal.

Maybe if Liverpool have a true midfield destroyer, the build-up doesn't happen. But Liverpool don't, and Brendan Rodgers doesn't seem to want one. And once Ronaldo and James had space to play a one-two, there was nothing that could be done. James' absolutely perfect chip over the defense just eluding Lovren's despairing dive, Ronaldo's unbelievably controlled volley with Skrtel marking as closely as possible somehow getting around both the center-back and Mignolet. It really was pure class.

Unfortunately, at that point, given Liverpool's attacking impotence and Madrid's strength, it's game over. Today's Liverpool weren't scoring unless Real's entire side suddenly succumbed to sleeping sickness. That said, the subsequent two goals were infinitely regrettable. As per usual.

Week in, week out, it's the same problem. The back four's positioning, Mignolet's weaknesses behind them, and set plays set plays set plays. In the 30th minute, Liverpool only half-cleared a corner, and were completely out of position when the ball came back in, overloaded at the back post with only Johnson, Allen, and Coutinho even somewhat close to three Real attackers, with Benzema's header perfectly placed, but seemingly an attempted pass across goal rather than a shot. In the 41st minute, even worse set play defending, Mignolet completely missing when trying to come for the cross and an easy tap-in for Benzema.


Liverpool's best two chances of the first half came after Liverpool were three goals down: Allen shooting wide from Balotelli's cut-back, Coutinho hitting the post from 30 yards out, both in the final five minutes of the half. Neither was an exceptionally good chance, but it was as close as Liverpool came. No matter how good Real Madrid are, that's as much of a problem as the paper-thin, super-soft defense.

The second half was a formality. Balotelli, again unimpressive but by far nowhere near Liverpool's most disappointing, gets thrown under the bus, more because he once again doesn't fit the system rather than playing badly, replaced by Lallana at halftime, Rodgers shifting to the striker-less formation mooted in the run-up. And Liverpool's little giants buzzed around well, pressed well, but remained about as threatening as they were in the first half, if more susceptible to Arsenal-esque overplay in the final third rather than shooting.

The final substitutions were Henderson and Coutinho replaced by Can and Markovic. Resting key players with the match gone is obviously a good idea. Liverpool have an awful lot of games in the next three weeks. Both Can and Markovic need the match practice. But Coutinho had been Liverpool's best player – "best" very much a relative term – and Henderson can run for approximately 84 hours before needing a break. Not Sterling, who's already overused? Not Gerrard, who's played every minute in the Premier League and Champions League?


That Real Madrid didn't add one, two, three more on the counter-attack, picking Liverpool off when they threw players forward is a small consolation, especially since Liverpool didn't add their own small consolation. It's not as if the defense had tons to do, especially after Ronaldo and Kroos went off, but Mignolet did make one excellent save, and no one did anything stupid. Gotta focus on the positives, yeah?

This will be news to no one, but yes, Real Madrid are better than Liverpool. A lot better. For all the praise that Ronaldo and Benzema will get, spare a thought for Isco, who was absolutely phenomenal – albeit up against the hollow shell of a human being who used to be Glen Johnson – for Modric and Kroos, who controlled the midfield when Madrid where in control, and for Real's entire back four. Yes, Liverpool aren't good in attack, but the strength of Pepe and Varane and the organization of the entire back four also had a lot to do with limiting Liverpool's attempts, especially limiting potential attempts inside the penalty box.

The result was sadly predictable, even if the process was infuriating, and featuring many of the same problems that Liverpool's had all season. Liverpool raised their game for Madrid, at least at the start of each half, and this still happens.

This is the first time that Liverpool have ever lost by three goals at Anfield in European competition and it didn't feel unfair in the slightest bit. That's where Liverpool are at the moment.

But you're not going to fix this season against Real Madrid. One swallow, not a summer, etc. You fix it by being better in attack and smarter in defense against the likes of West Ham and Aston Villa, against the likes of Hull. Who Liverpool will host on Saturday.


amtosh said...

Nate - do you not think that Lovren was at least a little at fault for the first goal? He moved up and left to track James who was already covered by two Liverpool players. Skrtel was tracking Benzema and so was unable to move across and so it left a big gap for Ronaldo to run into, which he obviously did. Great finish but I think Lovren is at least partly culpable there.

nate said...

Could he have defended it better? Yeah, probably. Did he make a clear mistake, did he do something that 95% of other center-backs wouldn't have? Not really. Someone had to try to close down James, Moreno didn't make the move so Lovren did, Skrtel was there as the covering defender. Most times, he would have still cut out the pass, but James' pass was too good to block.

Ryan McKain said...

Honestly, we were never going to win this game. This was a reward for the team that qualified, as evidenced by the lineup. To be fair we played really well at times and fairly well throughout against the best team on the planet. I don't have any regrets about our performance.

Anonymous said...

No mention of Balotelli shirt-swap controversy?!? I was told to be angry about this by Wynalda and various British media!!! He said "stupid is as stupid does" applied. What hard-hitting in-depth analysis from FOX!! Clearly why LFC lost. Point being: Thank you, Nate for real, honest analysis as usual & as always, eff you FOX.

amtosh said...

You reckon Nate? Gerrard and Moreno were both within about 2 - 4 metres of James and in front of Lovren who was about 5 - 10 away. He should not have come out and by doing so left a massive gap, which Skrtel couldn't close because he was directly in front of Benzema. I know that it is in vogue at the moment to criticise Lovren (because frankly he has been poor since the great start against Dortmund) and I don't want to criticise just for the sake of criticising, but if he doesn't move forward and break the line, he cuts out the ball (if it's played) and Ronaldo doesn't score.

Source: http://gfycat.com/UnluckyEnchantedAfricanparadiseflycatcher

amtosh said...

As far as I can recall, this season almost every goal conceded has been from a standard collective set piece defence cock up or a Lovren mistake.

The two parts of our team that are having the biggest detrimental effect on our play at the moment (in my opinion), are Lovren and Balotelli. I truly hope they can sort it out because they are both easy to like and seem pretty genuine in their excitement at being at Liverpool (as well as being potentially incredible players), but holy jesus, they have a way to go.

Anonymous said...

Just rewatched that first 20 minutes. It was some our best playing all season. Intense, pressing, intelligent running off the ball. We were easily the better team. Stevie had a good dipping shot that troubled Casillas. He also had a corner that came within inches of going over Casillas' head directly into goal. Iker's losing it. Got under the ball and just luckily got his palm to it to keep it out. But, you could see that our intensity was starting to fall off as Real came back into the game. We needed to test Casillas more, obviously.

Then that goal happened. Nice goal from Real created by Ronaldo. He dishes the ball to James and darts into the penalty area for the return pass. Rodriguez had Gerrard and Allen 2 yards in front of him and both marking him closely. But he was able to deliver that defense splitting pass. Lovren was standing 3 yards behind Gerrard and Allen and was not needed AT ALL to press James. His eyes were glued to the ball on James feet, as often happens, and he was completely oblivious to Ronaldo's run. A blind man would have noticed that Ronaldo was running behind the defense and he needed to track that run. If he would have been aware of Ronaldo's run, he could EASILY have tracked him and prevented the goal. Still, it was a nice goal created by James and CR.

The 2nd and 3rd goals were gifts. Not marking Benzema in the box. Who would have thought.

I'd take that first 20 minutes every time. It's just a matter of whether we can keep it up for 90 (we can't) or we can get an early goal and then defend. We could have. Sterling had the ball in dangerous positions a couple of times that were promising. Balo should have played Raheem in on the left early in the game.

Can somebody stick a sock in Eric Wynalda's mouth? It would be a vast improvement. Pepe tapped Balo on the back and asked to swap shirts. He initiated it and took Mario by surprise. And truthfully, the way things have been going for Mario lately, he must have been more shocked than surprised. At least he didn't offer to autograph it for him. Mario and Sterling up top had some good moments during that first 20 minutes. If only we could have got 1.

Not so much looking forward to the game next week at the Bernabeu in front of 85,454 Madridista's. At least it will be after our leetle Luis teaches them a leetle lesson this weekend.

Anonymous said...

We should send John Harkes to Wynalda's house to talk some sense into him. Hollywood will get things straightened out in a hurry. And Eric will get to renew old friendships. It's a win-win-win. Yeah.