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Archive for October 2007

Good Game Bad Game [vs Arsenal]

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Monday, October 29, 2007 by

How can it be that Liverpool go into November as yet unbeaten in the league yet still lie sixth? The answer lies in the excessive number of draws that have stunted any hope of progress. Had the games against Birmingham and Tottenham been won, then Liverpool would be second with a game in hand and matters looking a lot rosier.

Not that there be too many complaints with today’s draw. Having played so badly against Besiktas I think most fans were fearful that this game might turn into a humiliation. At least, this time round the players showed a lot more passion but simply came up against a team that at the moment is playing better. And don’t Arsenal play some fantastic football? Every time they moved forward I thought that they were going to score and it was only some excellent defending – and a slice of good luck – that kept them out.

The downside is that Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres both forced Benitez into making substitutions – as would have Javier Mascherano if not for the fact that all substitutions had been used up - and the hope now has to be that neither one will be missing for too long.

Good Game
Wrong footed in the goal, Pepe Reina didn’t do much wrong and his excellent reading of the game meant that he was quick to block any Arsenal player who broke free. That said, he was extremely lucky that the Arsenal players didn’t make better use of the shots that rebounded off the post.

Jamie Carragher once again had to work overtime to keep Arsenal at bay and had another great game. So too, thankfully, had Sami Hyppia whose experience made up for his lack of speed. He needs a rest, however, and giving Jack Hobbs a run against Cardiff shouldn’t hurt too much.

Steve Finnan is another who partially redeemed himself from the Besiktas game and was also looking to move forward something that he hasn’t really done of late. That was partially down to the presence of Steven Gerrard who also tracked back every time that Finnan went into attack. The captain scored the first goal and had a very good game: perhaps that derby substitution was what he needed.

Gerrard would have probably been the man of the match if it hadn’t been for Javier Mascherano. The Argentine’s passing might have gone occasionally stray yet his defending and anticipation was a key reason why Liverpool were able to hold out. Of course, he was aided by the returning Xabi Alonso. The Spaniard might not have been playing the best football of his Liverpool career before his injury, yet the enforced absence and his performance against Arsenal proved how valuable his tidying up is.

Up front, Dirk Kuyt was, well, Dirk Kuyt. He worked hard and challenged for every ball. Unfortunately he never looked like scoring which is what you would expect from a striker.

Bad Game
Like the rest of the side, John Arne Riise gave his all today yet his crossing left a lot to be desired. The same applies to Andriy Voronin who might be an intelligent player yet he isn’t a winger and that showed today. This was one game too early for Fernando Torres and his lack of fitness showed for throughout the forty five minutes he managed to put in.

Substitutes
For the first time this season, Peter Crouch came on and showed his talent. He forced Almunia into two difficult saves and if can keep up this form he should be given a run in the side. The same goes for Yossi Benayoun whose running can cause problems and he occasionally did today. Alvaro Arbeloa has been used by Rafael Benitez in various positions and he has always done well. However, central midfield isn’t his role and it showed up big time.


Win To Show Title Ambition

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Saturday, October 27, 2007 by

Log on to any Liverpool forum these past couple of days and you were bound to come out feeling desolate such is the level of cynicism and gloom. The views are varied – there are those who feel Rafael Benitez is going down the same road as Gerard Houllier, others who feel that the departure of Pako Ayesteryan is what broke the toy whilst an increasing number simply want him out – but the overall feeling is of acute dissatisfaction.

Trying to lighten the mood are the few who point out that Liverpool are as yet undefeated in the Premier League. Which is true enough even if that is a record that could easily have been lost against either Tottenham or Everton.

For Liverpool haven’t been playing well since the 6-0 rout of Derby. They were abysmal against Portsmouth away and Birmingham at home, whilst last gasp goals were needed to draw with Tottenham and overcome Everton. Yet unbeaten they remain as well as fourth in the table.

Simply defending that record against Arsenal won’t be enough. This is a game Liverpool must win even if it is the hardest they’re likely to face over the next 12 months. Arsenal come full of confidence after 12 consecutive wins let alone the 7-0 trashing of Slavia Prague: they know that this is a game they can win.

The contrast with Liverpool couldn’t be any core acute. Losing at Besiktas has made life exceedingly more complicated and getting out of the group stages a tricky job. On a deeper level, most players aren’t playing up to their standard, confidence is lacking and the overall style of play is extremely laboured. Few chances are being created and those that are often end up being wasted.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are playing with the poise of a team that feels at ease and the results are proving that, making Sunday’s match something of a mismatch.

Only that it is hardly going to turn out that way. That Liverpool have eked out draws, and possibly wins, from games where they looked set for defeat which shows a certain degree of resiliency and determination. Already this season they have showed that they can face up to a top four side with style when they outplayed Chelsea at Anfield.

On that occasion they could rely on all their top players which might not be the case against Arsenal. Xabi Alonso might be back – and not a second sooner given how poorly his replacements have been performing – but Fernando Torres and Daniel Agger might have to wait a little bit longer.

That shouldn’t be used as an excuse and certainly the players themselves have to question what has been going on over these past few weeks and why they have been playing so poorly.

At various stages, they have come out saying that the corner had been turned – after the league cup win at Reading, the defeat by Marseilles and the derby in particular – yet on each occasion that didn’t prove to be the case.

This weekend, however, there can’t be any let-ups. Win and they would close the gap knowing that next week’s clash between Arsenal and Manchester United might offer the possibility of progressing even further. If they are genuinely going to challenge for the title this is when they must start proving they can do that.


Right Time for Crouch

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Friday, October 26, 2007 by

It is impossible not to feel for Peter Crouch. With Andriy Voronin and Dirk Kuyt labouring to fashion anything against Besiktas, you might have thought that the stage was all set for him. Instead it was only when the second goal had been conceded – that is when it was already too late – that he was sent on.

Whatever he says about using his squad, Benitez’s actions are proving that he has lost faith in Crouch. Perhaps it is down to what he sees during training, and Crouch certainly hasn’t been brimming with confidence or exuberance whenever used, but he is clearly reluctant to turn to the England forward.

Yet the alternatives don’t look too hot. Unless Fernarndo Torres returns and is fully fit, then surely Crouch is worth a start. Both Andriy Voronin and Dirk Kuyt are good players who work tirelessly yet they are too similar to play together, they don’t look dangerous enough.

Crouch is the one who offers something different. When off form, he can look cumbersome and lacking in talent. Give him confidence and he can score goals. That is what Benitez has to do: back the big man as he so often has in the past.

His recent treatment of Crouch certainly seems strange. After all, it was Benitez himself who brought him to Anfield and defended him so stoutly when he struggled to find his feet. That Crouch had subsequently done so well had fully justified the manager’s actions.

This time it is a different challenge that faces both of them. Whilst Benitez has to find it within him to change the set-up – rather ironical given the criticism of his rotation policy - Crouch must once again prove his worth. That is perhaps what he has failed to get to grips with this season: that rather than being the regular starter almost by default he must now work hard to show that he deserves to continue playing.

And there’s no better time than this for both to do so.


Good Game Bad Game [vs Besiktas]

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Thursday, October 25, 2007 by

Liverpool went into this game looking for a victory but would have probably settled for a draw. Instead they got beaten by a side that didn’t look anything special. Those hoping that the derby victory might have re-ignited the players after the recent lethargic performances were left disappointed with a game of too many stray passes and very little incisiveness.

The only positive thing to come out of this game were the Besiktas fans. A warning had been issued advising Liverpool fans against making the trip to Turkey but those who went will certainly have appreciated the ninety minutes of constant support and organized chaos. There was the occasional thrown item on the pitch but on the whole it was extremely entertaining.

Good Game
As in the weekend, Pepe Reina was extremely unlucky to have conceded an own goal against which he could do little and again he didn’t stand a chance in the second goal. In between he had very little to do yet was always quick off his line to snuff out any breaks.

Same goes for Jamie Carragher. His tackle just before the first goal was an amazing recovery on a player who looked set to break free – he had a similar tackle later on in the second half – but he was unlucky that the ball ricocheted back to a Besiktas player. Couldn’t have done more.

Perhaps because of the weekend’s substitution but Steven Gerrard tried hard to get Liverpool back into the game. He scored the only goal and was the driving force behind most chances, making him my player of the game.

Bad Game
With the passing of every game, Sami Hyppia is increasingly looking like a liability and Daniel Agger can’t get back soon enough. His lack of pace is being found out and Jamie Carragher is having to work overtime to cover up.

Steve Finnan is another who hasn’t been doing too well. He looks tired and unable to catch up with the pace of the game.

I wouldn’t say that the rest had a bad game yet John Arne Riise, Ryan Babel, Javier Mascherano, Jermaine Pennent, Dirk Kuyt and Andriy Voronin didn’t play particularly well either.

Substitutes
Yossi Benayoun immediately had a positive impact on the game as he constantly found himself in space and probably should have been brought on earlier. As with the derby game, Lucas was once again composed and had a positive effect on the game after coming on for Javier Mascherano. If he’d had that little bit more experience he would have probably started this game. You have to feel for Peter Crouch who was only given six minutes despite the fact that neither of the two forwards had played particularly well. His presence probably panicked the Besiktas defenders and it was off a ball directed at him that Gerrard scored.


Good Game, Bad Game [vs Everton]

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Monday, October 22, 2007 by

Second guessing Rafael Benitez’s match selections has never been a fruitful task but his early substitution of Steven Gerrard took matter to an altogether new level. Gerrard is the sort of player you would turn to in situations like the one Liverpool were facing at Goodison Park. If anything, there were two other midfieders who were playing much worse than Gerrard.

Benitez is like that, he’ll do whatever he feels is needed and doesn’t look at reputations. It was a brave decision but one that ultimately paid off, if only just.

Good Game
It is telling that, despite their ball possession, Pepe Reina didn’t have a single save to make. Confident in his handling of the ball, he was unlucky to be beaten by an own goal. Of the back four, only Jamie Carragher played to the level we’ve become used to and his covering saved Liverpool on a couple of occasions.

Despite his substitution, Steven Gerrard had a good game. He won the penalty and looked to be dictating things. How much of a boost was it for the Everton players to see him come off? The same goes for Yossi Benayoun who started brightly and looked dangerous whenever he got the ball to his feet. Again, his substitution was a surprise.

Up front, Dirk Kuyt was quite for long stretches but it takes someone special to bear the pressure of having to take a last minute penalty in the derby. Kuyt did so and converted. His reaction after both goals was absolutely priceless. Players tend to kiss badges too easily for my liking but in Kuyt’s case I think he really means it.

Which leaves Andri Voronin who is also my man of the match. A couple of, admittedly bad, misses aside he was excellent. Running and covering back to a degree that would have made Kuyt ask for a breather, he also used the ball intelligently whenever in possession. It was his work and pass that set off Gerrard for the first penalty and he played a significant role in the second one as well.

Bad Game
Sami Hyppia might seem an easy target because of the own goal but in reality he had a tough game against Yakubu and Anichebe. So too Steve Finnan who just couldn’t handle Joleon Lescott. On the other side, John Arne Riise had less to do and more room to move forward neither of which he did remarkably well.

I guess that both Momo Sissoko and Javier Mascherano did their jobs of shielding the defence well enough. Sadly, neither one of them looked like they could pass the ball to another Liverpool player throughout the whole ninety minutes.

The Substitutes
Lucas was obviously in the spotlight having replaced Gerrard and he did really well and would have got the winner were it not for Neville’s goalkeeping skills. Once again, Ryan Babel looked like a striker who is being asked to play on the wing. He did well enough and troubled Everton to the extent that Moyes but on Leighton Baines to cover that area but I’d be amazed if Babel turns out to be a long term solution in that position. Jermaine Pennant came on late on but did manage to put over a couple of good passes and played a part in the second penalty.


Sissoko Wants to Leave…And Nobody Wants to Stop Him

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It would seem that Momo Sissoko wants out, frustrated by the lack of opportunities coming his way. Based on Saturday’s performance – and many others over the past months to be honest – few fans would stop him.

Benitez, however, isn’t one for such knee-jerk reactions. His praise of the Mali midfielder early last week seemed strange at the time – he isn’t big on compassion either – but in the light of such rumours it is easy to see what motivated him to do so. Unfortunately, if his ultimate aim was to instill confidence in the player, then the ploy hasn’t worked.

Against Everton, his passing was truly woeful. Few players get past him but teams are realizing that often you don’t really need to: simply let him try to get the ball to another player and he’ll present it back to you.

If that is an area that he can improve in, then it would be senseless to sell him. When he’s on form there are few better defensive central midfielders in the world in that position. Just recall games like the one against Barcelona last season if you need convincing.

Sadly, those games are too few and harder to recall with the opposite applying to performances like the one on Sunday. Unless he can find it within him to show an improvement, not even Rafa’s words of comfort would be enough to avoid a sale that no one seems too bothered to prevent.


Good Game, Bad Game [vs Tottenham Hotspurs]

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Monday, October 08, 2007 by

With all the other clubs around them winning, Liverpool needed to win but ended up thankful for a late equaliser in a draw that tasted very much like a defeat. After the midweek defeat against Marseilles, everyone was waiting to see how Liverpool would react but, apart from the occasional good move, rarely showed the brand of football that got everyone so excited early on in the season.

Good game
For the first time in this Premier League campaign, Pepe Reina was beaten in open play yet could have done very little to prevent both of Tottenham’s goals. Instead, he was always safe in his handling and dealing with crosses whilst his timely reading of the game ensured that he got quickly off his line to close down Tottenham players who had gotten into space. His kicking was once again woeful but otherwise it was another faultless game for him.

Jamie Carragher occasionally struggled yet his anticipation was vital to clear the ball of the line. He is one of the few that Benitez never leaves out and the same should apply to Steve Finnan whose crossing put the club’s wingers to shame. As the game wore on space opened up for him to move forward and Spurs couldn’t find a way to keep him out.

It was by no means a great game for Steven Gerrard and he does seem to miss the calmness of Xabi Alonso beside him. Yet his was the free kick that resulted in Liverpool’s first goal whilst a second kick thundered off the goal-post.

The same can be said about Fernando Torres who struggled with lack of opportunities and when a couple of half chances came along he seemed to feel the pressure and was way off target before finally heading in the leveller. Against Marseilles he saw the last gasp shot rebound off the post, Spurs weren’t so lucky.

Neither was Paul Robinson particularly fortunate to see his parry fall at the feet of Andrei Voronin. The Ukranian striker worked hard all through the game, showing exceptional strength and determination to hold the ball and lay it off to a team-mate. His only mistake, perhaps, was in laying off the ball to Steven Gerrard when he should have hammered it home to give Liverpool a two goal lead. Man of the match.

Bad Game
Sami Hyppia has been a great servant to the club and is a valuable back up but this game exposed once more his limitations when faced by a fast striker, just as Andy Johnson did in last season’s away derby.

Left out in midweek for the first time this season Alvaro Arbeloa quickly regained his starting spot yet didn’t make an impact and could hardly contain Pascal Chimbonda every time the Tottenham full-back moved forward. He was given little support by John Arne Riise who patently isn’t a winger with Tottenham effectively crowding him out every time he got the ball.

Jermaine Pennant on the other hand is a winger and did occasionally find space. Too often, however, he failed to beat his man and lacked that spark that last month made him such a match winner.

In midweek, the world and his dog were wondering why Javier Mascherano had been kept out of Liverpool’s side but yesterday’s game did little to enhance his reputation. Defensively there are none better yet he adds nothing to the side’s creative output.

The Substitutes
Ryan Babel huffed and puffed without ever really causing any problems. He’s a striker who is being forced to play out wide and it is starting to show. There was no repeat of his two recent great goals for Yossi Benayoun although his eagerness did help Liverpool stretch Tottenham’s defence. It is virtually impossible to fault Dirk Kuyt who works so hard, something that caused Spurs a lot of problems.