26 November 2014

Liverpool 2-2 Ludogorets

Dani Abalo 3'
Lambert 8'
Henderson 37'
Terziev 88'

I am running out of ways to write "you are an embarrassment and you are awful, Liverpool, and I hate you."

That was an absolute shambles from start to finish.

The start? Ludogorets ahead within three minutes when they countered straight through Allen and Lucas, and Mignolet spilled a speculative shot straight to Dani Abalo.

The finish? Liverpool unable to hold onto its tenuous one-goal lead, conceding from yet another set play – the ninth out of the 29 goals Liverpool conceded (yeah, I thought it'd be more) – when Moreno, on as a substitute, lost his man for the initial cross and Glen Johnson lost his man for the second ball. It might have been the most Liverpool goal ever conceded, and it was this season perfectly encapsulated.

In between, Liverpool were gifted an equalizer and had a couple moments of competence. Liverpool's first was as bad as Ludogorets' first: Moti dawdling in defense, allowing Lambert to sneak in for a ball that should have been cleared long before. Liverpool's second actually made me remember last season, a quick counter from Lambert to Sterling to Henderson: a striker winning possession in the opposition half, a speedy run and perfect cross from the flanks, a late dash into the box for a tap-in.

But on the whole, Liverpool simply weren't good enough against mediocre opposition. As against Aston Villa, West Ham, Basel, Hull, Newcastle, and Crystal Palace.

At least Rodgers tried something different with the starting formation? Lovren finally dropped, Gerrard moved further forward, Lucas and Toure brought back into the side, and a switch to the lopsided 4-2-3-1 formation with Henderson and Sterling wide that we saw at times in 2012-13.

But we still had Glen Johnson. We still had a team devoid of confidence, demonstrated early on with Mignolet's baffling error. We had Gerrard huffing and puffing his way through the full 90 minutes, despite being used in a more advanced role.

More infuriating than the result, performance, or starting XI was Brendan Rodgers' inability or unwillingness to change things in the second half.

It is insane to try to sit deep and hold onto a one-goal lead with 32-year-old Lambert and 34-year-old Gerrard up front, especially sitting deep with this defense. It is insane to make no substitutions until the 81st minute in a midweek match with players obviously tired, especially with the two aforementioned players as your main outlets. You had Coutinho and Lallana and Borini and Can on the bench – all rested, all mobile, all decent on the counter – and you went with what you had. And my only explanation for that is because you were seemingly scared of the alternative.

Brendan Rodgers is managing like a man terrified: afraid to remove Gerrard, afraid to drop Johnson, afraid to make any substitutions until the last 10 minutes, when he replaced Liverpool's one speedy attacker (who, to be fair, reportedly had a stomach problem) with a defender, which helped push Liverpool even deeper. Moreno is probably the fastest player that Liverpool had on the bench, but he's still a defender.

The Gerrard decision is the most baffling. I completely understand trying to use him further forward. It's obvious he wasn't working as the deepest midfielder in this team in this system with this defense, and Liverpool had to experiment with something different to try to escape from the current rot. But I do not understand leaving him on for the final 10, 15, 30 minutes, when it's clear he wasn't linking up well with Lambert as the rest of the side retreated, with Gerrard unable to press Ludogorets' midfielders and defense, with players like Coutinho and Lallana clearly better alternatives for the situation Liverpool was in. And playing 90 minutes today after 90 minutes on Sunday will almost certainly affect his performance this weekend, when he'll almost certainly start again.

Meritocracy may well be dead. I eagerly await Gerrard playing for 90 minutes against Stoke like a man with cinder blocks tied to his ankles.

I'll continue to argue against firing Rodgers, because Liverpool's summer signings suggest a long-term plan, because Sturridge's absence really has been one of Liverpool's biggest issues, because I still think it would cause more damage than it'll fix, and, yes, because of last season. But Brendan's making it harder and harder.

There are just two positives from today.

One, Rickie Lambert actually did okay as a target-man, winning most of the long balls forward from defense and holding play up well. Unfortunately, he had Steven Gerrard and little else to aim for, with Sterling progressively deeper as Ludogorets pushed Liverpool back in the second half.

Two, somehow, someway, Liverpool can still qualify for the knockout rounds with a home win over Basel in two weeks. I guess sometimes a point away from home in the Champions League is good enough, even if today's draw feels like yet another loss.

Neither Liverpool nor Basel nor Ludogorets, who were eliminated with today's draw, deserve to qualify for the next round. But one of them will, and Liverpool, because they're at Anfield, are arguably best placed to do so.

You know, if they can actually win a match. For a change.


Anonymous said...

How do you do these so fast?

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that you're a fantastic writer.

nate said...

1) Practice.

2) Thanks very much.

TomW said...

So, I was thinking if we replace Sakho for Skrtyl, Moreno for Johnson, Can for Lucas, Lallana for Allen and Cautinho for Gerrard then maybe we could win a game on Saturday. But who am I kidding. We'd still contrive a way to concede from an average cross or a defensive mix-up, or an o.g. or a misplaced back pass or a quick breakway from one of our naive attacks. Probably in the last 10 mins. Can't wait for Stoke.

Anonymous said...

It was Kolo's man for the 2nd goal, not that it matters much.