Friday, March 12, 2010 by Paul Grech
You have to feel for Alberto Aquilani. Game after game, he has to watch as Liverpool contrive to make even the worst of teams look like world beaters conscious that, perhaps, he could change the way the match is going. It is frustrating for us to know this, one can only imagine how he must feel. This was another classic example. With two defensive midfielders on the pitch, there was no one to really give a sense of direction to Liverpool's play making it far too easy for Lille to cut off the danger. And, as has happened so often, Liverpool ended up hoping for an individual piece of brilliance which, given the general lack of confidence (not to mention character) was not going to happen.
It would be far to easy to blame this defeat on a freak goal, just as it is easy to blame the pitch or to mention that a 1-0 defeat isn't the end of the world. Yet we've been excusing bad performances all season and now know that it isn't likely that Liverpool will produce the sort of performance at home that is going to sweep away Lille. Not to mention that if Lille score then it would take three goals to overcome them.
The truth is that something has to give. Surely Benitez must realise that he can't keep playing with the same tactics and with the same players regardless of form. If not, then the sad truth is that he's digging his own grave just as Gerard Houllier did before him.
I wasn't overly pleased by Jamie Carragher's words this weekend because, justified as they might have been, the only outcome is that they put needless pressure on Benitez. Based on this evidence, however, then Liverpool should hurry up the paperwork and offer a new deal. Defensively brilliant, he tried to give the side some leadership and passion. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to rub off. That said his partner at the back, Daniel Agger, also had a good game and both put in some great tackles.
Glen Johnson too was good, although perhaps he should have pushed forward more than he actually did. In fact, the Lille defence was clearly panicking on the rare instances that he did join in the attack. Javier Mascherano's passing may be wayward, but at least he is doing the basic element of his job - that of winning balls in midfield - well.
Another whose passing does not always come off is Ryan Babel. That was the case here too but, overall, he had a very good game and was the only one who really tested the Lille keeper. It was a major surprise that he was taken off as he deserved to stay on. Fernando Torres is being increasinly loaded with responsability and the belief seems to be that if he doesn't come up with soemthing, no one will. It is pressure that he is clearly feeling as his increasing frustration during this game showed, even if he did his job of being the best outlet for the team. Sad as it sounds, if teams keep going as they are, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if he decided to move elsewhere.
It might seem harsh to say that Pepe Reina had a bad game but surely he could have done better for the goal. Same too for Emiliano Insua who eventually started getting hold of Eddie Hazzard as the game wore on but early on he was getting beaten far too easily.
Lucas Leiva has had a good season, in my opinion, but here he simply failed to deliver as he gave the ball away for too often. Lucas is, in reality, a victim of the system that Benitez is adopting and as games wear on, the decision to keep playing both him and Mascherano is going to hurt him increasingly more because his every mistake is going to be magnified.
No one can attack Steven Gerrard because of lack of effort yet this does not excuse another night where most of his passes ended at the feet of an opposing player. He seems incredibly frustrated but it is getting harder to decide whether this is because of his lack of form or it is down to matters off the pitch. Meaning that he is losing faith in Benitez's systems.
On a night when there were so many bad performers, Dirk Kuyt was the worst by some distance. Bad passing, lack of movement and never really in the game, it is baffling how he stayed on for so long. Incredible.
Albert Riera came on and proceeded to play worse than Ryan Babel, the man he replaced and who had been doing reasonably well. Nabil El Zhar came when there was very little that he could do.