Season review 2006/07 Part I

Posted by Steve_M on May 21, 2007, 04:48:45 PM

With the season now over and events in Athens slowly settling in, Steve M brings you his game-by-game review of the season with the final part updated from a hotel room in Athens:

Maccabi Haifa (Uefa CL 3rd QR 1st leg) (h) 2-1 – What is it about these type of matches that induces such lethargy and complacency in players?  On paper, a club of Liverpool’s stature and quality should be able to stroll through this type of game and rack up enough goals to leave the second leg a formality.  Maybe it’s something to do with a lack of really competitive games at this early stage of the season?  Maybe match fitness is not quite there yet?  Whatever the reason, we made hard work of defeating a team that showed from the early moments some enterprising moves.  Indeed it was getting to that point in the game when you start to think we are missing too many chances and I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt us, when they opened the scoring.  With hindsight, it probably wasn’t a bad thing as it proved to be more of a wake up call and Bellamy equalised on his official debut only 4 minutes later.  From then on it was simply a matter of how many we would score.  Unfortunately for us, it was only one and came with 2 minutes left on the clock from another debutant in Gonzalez.  At least we could approach a dangerous second leg in the knowledge that Haifa would have to come at us to score which usually suits our style of play. 

Chelsea (Community Shield, Cardiff), 2-1 – We weren’t to sure what to expect with this one.  Chelsea had a well publicised slow build up to the game, claiming they were not treating it seriously, as they were not fit enough to be competitive.  In all honestly that pretty much summed up the game.  The West Londoners looked at half pace and gave a lopsided appearance to the game.  Not that we were complaining, although Rafa left Xabi and Stevie G on the bench, we took the lead through Riise when he ran half the length of the pitch and finished off by hammering the ball passed a stunned Cudicini.  Unfortunately Shevchenko opened his account just before half-time, before Crouch came of the bench to give us a deserved victory as the game looked to be doomed to penalties. 

Sheffield United (a) 1-1 - Although Rafa has been subject to relatively little criticism from our own fans, one issue that as been levelled against him at times concerns team selection and rotations.  Even without having seen the Blades play recently, most fans would have known that any team produced by Colin Wanker was guaranteed to provide a stern, physical challenge.  So it was with some surprise that Kronkamp, Aurelio and Zenden were included in the starting eleven and maybe a bigger surprise to see Fowler on from the start, Alonso omitted and Finnan missing, presumed to be still nursing an injury.  From the kick-off the game took the inevitable route that most fans had foreseen – little time on the ball; lots of hard physical challenges; plenty of high, long balls and route one tactics.  It was no surprise that Sheffield looked the more comfortable team in this setting and indeed took the lead.  The longer the game went on, the less chance it looked like the Reds would get anything from it and without the intervention of referee, Rob Styles we probably would have left empty handed.  He somehow managed to judge that Gerard had been fouled when making a run through on goal, although replays clearly showed there had been no direct contact.  The ref mentioned something later about ‘intention’, but we were just glad that he seemed to have given a poor decision and for once Warnock had a genuine grievance about a decision going the way of a ‘big team’.  Fowler slotted away the penalty, which was about the only shot he had all game.  Not a great start, but early days, an away point at a ground where for all we know, maybe a lot of teams will struggle this season. 

Maccabi Haifa (Uefa CL 3rd QR 2nd leg, Kiev) 1-1 – As most of us suspected the second leg ended up being much more of a gentle workout than the first.  Rafa must have been on the same wave length as he again left Gerard and Xabi on the sidelines.  The most tiring aspect of the whole thing was that the game had been moved to Kiev due to the ongoing security situation in Israel at the time.  Crouch opened the scoring to put us into the lead and although Haifa pulled one back, there was never any doubt who was the better team and the game ended up petering out. 

Now that the formalities were over, we looked with anticipation to the group stage draw in Monaco to find out who our next three opponents would be.  With being seeded as a pot one team, there was little chance of anything too exciting as UEFA have the group stages so well organised, we would be unlikely to meet any of the giants until at least the quarter-final stage.  Leaving the big guns aside for a while, we’d be happy with some decent away trips to a few new locations.  Unfortunately Galatasaray came out of the bag and another trip to the dreadful Ataturk stadium.  No disrespect to Gala, but the prospect of another trip to the stadium with the lunar landscape didn’t fill too many Reds with joy.  Eindhoven wouldn’t be too bad, at least it would be convenient for travel and Bordeaux would probably the best opportunity for a proper euro away and a chance to see Vlad again (if he wasn’t injured). 

West Ham (H) 2-1 – If it wasn’t bad enough for Carra to score an own goal in the cup final, Reina to fluff a standard save and then Konchevsky to fluke a cross into the back of our net in last May’s cup final, those cheeky cockneys were up to their tricks again.  Zamora ran down the wing, looked up, crossed the ball and we looked to see who would get on the end of it.  What we forgot to take into account was Zamora’s two left feet.  Rather than produce an inch perfect cross, he sliced it, totally deceiving Reina and flew inside his near post.  1-0 to the ‘appy ‘ammers.  A case of Bobby’s banana feet.  However we reasserted ourselves and start to produce some decent football.  Agger then weighed in with a great strike from distance that left Carroll with no chance, before Crouch wrapped things up with a little twinkled toed magic.  3 points to the Redmen and those cheeky chappies were sent back to that London with a flea in their ear. 

Everton (a) 0-3 – Oh dear.  What can you say about this one?  Nothing much to be honest.  It started badly. The middle wasn’t up to much and the end fell apart.  Bit of a disaster really.  It would have to be bloody Everton.  In between Carra made an uncharacteristic error which Andy Johnston capitalised upon after Cahill had already opened the scoring.  Reina flapped at a bread and butter save and made AJ look like Romario.  One point from 2 away games hasn’t been the best start for a team with title pretensions.  Let’s be blunt - It isn’t much good for any team.  The natives are restless.  Well, those that think you should be winning the European cup and league every season are. 

PSV Eindhoven (a) 0-0 – This was a bit more like it.  At least for the first time in an away game this season we looked solid and untroubled.  Mind you PSV didn’t look the biggest threat, but I think the thing that most of us were concerned about was Ronald Koeman.  He had been the brains behind Benfica putting us out of the Champions League last year and although we had contributed to our own downfall by a particularly poor period of play around that time, he had coached them to put 3 goals past us without reply.  However on this occasion PSV looked happy with the point.  I guessed that they were working on the principle that any points gained against Liverpool, home or away would be points well earned. 

Chelsea (a) 0-1 – Mmmnnnn.  A worrying trend developing here at away games.  We don’t look particularly threatening and the longer this continues, the further we drift from the leaders.  At one time, a team could afford to lose 7 or 8 games in a season and still hope to win the title, but not these days.  Any more than 4 and your realistic chances have probably gone west.  In this case, west London.  A lovely warm, sunny afternoon at the Bridge.  And that was just about all the good points summed up.  Chelsea looked a totally different proposition to the one that capitulated so easily in the Community Shield and showed their true colours.  We fought gamely, but didn’t look as if we were going to trouble them much, although Kuyt clipped the bar early on.  Even with Ballack being sent off for a stamp on Sissoko, it was the usual cagey affair between the sides.  The difference between champions and those who hope to be is decided by moments of class and unfortunately one occurred when Drogba walloped one of the goals of the season past a stunned Reina.  The brighter aspect was that we then did give it a real go in the second half and if we had been a bit more clinical, we may have taken at least a point from the game.  However the problem of not taking many points from the other top teams has resurfaced. 

Newcastle United (h) 2-0 - Kuyt continued looking impressive and opened his account for the Reds by scoring the first of the night.  However it was the second which had everyone talking.  Alonso noticed Steve Harper off his line and pinged a 60 yard shot over his head.  There’s was no doubting that Harper’s slip contributed to the goal, but you had to admire the confidence of Alonso in deliberately attempting the shot. 

Tottenham Hotspur (h) 3-0 – Fortress Anfield again providing another 3 points.  This time Spurs were put to the sword, although we had to wait until the second half to strike.  Bellamy was having one of those days where his finishing seemed to have escaped him.  It was summed up for him when he hit the post with an open net gaping.  Luckily Gonzalez followed up to score.  Kuyt got in on the act again, before Riise pulled out another one of his trademark 25 yard tap-ins. 

Galatasaray (Uefa CL) (h) 3-2 – We started off like a house on fire and in no time had raced into a 2-0 lead with goals from Crouch and Luis Garcia.  Crouch added a third with a spectacular bicycle kick (although looking at Crouch, that bicycle would have to be a penny farthing).  However whether it was memories of a team being down 3-0 at half-time and a connection with Istanbul or just pure complacency, I don’t know, but in no time at all Karan had pulled 2 goals back with second half headers and we were rocking.  The 3-3 scoreline at the Ataturk was in everyone’s mind.  And don’t pretend denying it.  The left back position seemed to be particularly vulnerable and playing Aurelio and Garcia down that side didn’t give it the most robust look.  When Kuyt went off, most of us thought Riise would have brought on to add a bit of steel, however Rafa  appeared oblivious to the problem and brought on Gonzalez.  Shades of Houllier in Leverkusen.  Luckily Gala seemed to have run out of steam and nothing further materialised, but for a short time we were all holding a collective breath. 

Bolton Wanderers (a) 0-2 – What is it about the Reebok and Bolton?  Have they become our bogey team?  I’m struggling to remember a game there where we went and battered them, but I digress.  We looked okay in this one until a volunteer from the Blind Institute decided to stick his flag up and claimed Reina had handled the ball outside the penalty area whilst punting it up field.  Replays clearly showed the referee’s assistant was indeed in need of assistance and at that point should have been given a helping hand to find his way back to the changing room.  As luck would have it, Speed drilled in the resulting free kick and our run of poor luck away from home continued.  Campo only added to the misery when heading home in the second half.  Some thought Bernard Matthews had sponsored today’s game.  Something to do with lots of headless chickens running about. 

Blackburn Rovers (h) 1-1 – For the first time this season we struggled in a Premiership game at home.  We did the right things – won tackles, moved the ball around and created chances, but it just didn’t want to go into Brad Friedel’s net.  It was until Bellamy headed home to equalise McCarthy’s opener that we found some relief, but the winner still avoided us.  Dare I say that we struggle generally when faced with well organised teams that defend in numbers?  Then again, few teams don’t struggle in those circumstances, but it makes it all the more frustrating when the Mancs, the Harlem Globetrotters of West London and Wenger’s youth teams appear to do it with ease.  Or does it just seem that way? 

Bordeaux (Uefa CL) (a) 1-0 – Crouch maintained his good run of form with a headed goal in a fairly comfortable victory.  Having now played all 3 teams, it seems clear that PSV and Liverpool are the two obvious candidates to go into the next round. 

Manchester United (a) 0-2 – Another away game, another defeat.  This is becoming tedious to say the least.  If I was one of those fans who only chooses to attend away games, I think I would be tearing my hair out this season.  The travelling Kop would look like a Kojak line-up.  There was a bad vibe before the game when the team was announced.  Not so much about who was playing, but more to do with who wasn’t.  Rafa had opted for a 4-5-1 formation which he probably guessed would help stifle United’s midfield and cut-off the supply to Giggs and Ronaldo.  Unfortunately the only stifling it succeeded in achieving was to our own forward line leaving Kuyt stranded amongst their back four.  The overall performance was not as bad as many claimed with probably an equal amount of ball possession, but United had the edge when it came to putting the ball into dangerous, advanced positions.  Eventually a gap opened and the offside trap was sprung leaving Scholes an easy opportunity to open the scoring.  We hoped that Bellamy with his pace or Crouch (in decent scoring form) would be brought on to assist Dirk, but Rafa persisted with his policy.  Unfortunately it was undone when several midfield players went missing at a vital moment and Ferdinand was left with too much space in front of goal and lashed the second one home.  I’m not sure if Rafa learnt an awful lot about this game, except that if you insist on living on the edge, then it only takes one chance to unravel all the good work beforehand.  From a personal point of view, I still think we are a good enough team to go to OT and play with 2 men up front and have a go at them. 

Reading (CC 3rd round) (h) 4-3 – One of those odd games where you think you should win with ease, but then you look at the starting line-up and it could be anyone’s game.  Fowler opened the scoring with a goal simply described as ‘typical Fowler’ chipping the keeper with the outside of his boot.  Riise smacked in one of his trademark ones and Palletta added a third.  Reading pulled one back, before Crouch added the fourth.  However Lita and Long pulled two more back for Reading which ensured a panic inducing last few minutes.  Nothing like sailing comfortably into the next round. 

Aston Villa (h) 3-1 – Villa turned up, were given a sound thrashing and sent on their way.  That’s the way to do it.  An impressive first half, with Kuyt lashing home the first, Crouch volleying the second and Garcia getting in on the act with the third.  The Brummies pulled one back in the second half, but by that team we had the cigars and brandy out and were having foot massages from Swedish masseurs. 

Bordeaux (Uefa CL) (h) 3-0 – If only all European games were this easy.  Garcia kept up his remarkable scoring record in the competition with two and at long last Steven Gerard got himself on the score sheet.  The only moment of real excitement of the night was when Menegazzo decided to nut Riise in full view of the ref and earned a red card for his effort. 

Reading (h) 2-0 – Solid, professional, workmanlike and 3 points gained.  Two tap-ins from Kuyt settled a game that was relatively one way and kept the remarkable home record going. 

Birmingham City (CC 4th round) (a) 1-0 – Rafa wrung the changes for this one at St. Andrews with Dudek, Peltier, Paletta, Warnock and Fowler all getting run outs.  The line-up may have looked a bit strange but the result wasn’t in doubt, although we only had one goal to show for our efforts.  Agger smacking the ball home in a scramble after a corner for the only goal of the game. 

Arsenal (a) 0-3 – Although the Reds started the game brightly enough, I suspect most fans thought a midfield containing both Zenden and Gonzalez looked a little lightweight.  Crouch had an early effort ruled out for off-side, but the Gunners looked more incisive in forward positions and it was Flamini who opened the scoring.  Poor defending allowed Toure to notch their second and a third from Gallas only rubbed salt into the wounds. 

Middlesbrough (a) 0-0 – An encouraging display that the reds dominated but unfortunately couldn’t win and a lack of clinical finishing cost us the three points.  Mind you, Yakubu could have won it for Boro, but managed to miss-kick a sitter with the goal at his mercy. 

PSV Eindhoven (Uefa CL) (h) 2-0 – An easy victory only marred by the loss of three players with injuries.  Hopefully none of them will be too serious.  Onwards to the knock-out stages!

Manchester City (h) 1-0 – You can look to the midweek games to provide excuses as to why some games at weekends look so lethargic.  This was another to add to the equation.  Whatever the reason, City worked hard, gave us little space and generally made life difficult.  Eventually Gerrard lifted the gloom with a thumping strike from 20 yards, but overall we looked to be going through the motions. 

Portsmouth (h) 0-0 – Occasionally a nil-nil game is an absolute cracker.  A game which has everything but the goals.  Unfortunately this was not one of them.  Pompey came for a point and basically ‘parked the bus’ as Jose would say.  Liverpool huffed and puffed and tried hard, but a high work rate without creating chances isn’t much use to winning games.  Portsmouth became only the second team in the league, after Blackburn to come to Anfield and take a point. 

Wigan Athletic (a) 4-0 – One of those days when it all just clicks.  Every touch goes to the right person and goals seemed to flow with easy.  That and 5000 away fans helps.  Two goals for Bellamy who appeared to have found his jet-pack boots again, one for Kuyt, plus an own goal just for good measure gave us probably the easiest win so far of the season. 

Galatasaray (Uefa CL) (a) 2-3 – A dead rubber.  Having already qualified for the knock-out stages, there was little to play for in this game except personal pride with some players being given a run-out to provide an opportunity to show what they could do.  Unfortunately a few took it as an occasion to show what they shouldn’t do and didn’t do themselves any favours.  Fowler manager to get himself on the scoreboard twice, but the game overall had an end of season look about it, not helped by being played in the sparsely populated Attaturk Stadium. 

Fulham (h) 4-0 – The Cottagers looked outclassed from the very start of the game, but it wasn’t until the second half that Liverpool took it by the scruff of the neck.  Pearce somehow handled which gave Gerrard a chance from the spot.  I don’t know what it is with Stevie and penalties, but he never fills me with confidence, yet let him have a smack from 25 yards and you’d almost put money that he’ll hit the back of the net.  Owen was the same - ask him to beat two men and chip the keeper and he could do it blindfolded.  Ask him to shoot unopposed from 12 yards and he’d scuff it like he was wearing his boots on the wrong feet.  Fortunately Gerrard followed up his penalty miss to slot home the rebound .  Minutes later Carra got on the end of a corner for his first goal since Kaunas (if my memory is correct), although if we’re talking league goals, I’ll leave it to the statos to work that one out.  Garcia notched a third with Gonzalez rounding everything off in the last minute for a morale boosting 4-0 triumph. 

Charlton Athletic (a) 3-0 – You don’t particularly want to knock teams, but Charlton are definately a team struggling in a relegation battle with the season less than half over.  Djimi Traore was superb and set up the first goal.  That’s not a comment you may have heard often in his Anfield career.  Unfortunately Djimi is now playing for Charlton and gave away a penalty in the 3rd minute.  Alonso comfortably scored it and Bellamy and Kuyt looked like they were on a mission to destroy any confidence Charlton had, but the second goal just seemed to be out of our reach until Bellamy eventually got on the score sheet near the end.  Right at the death Gerrard curled one in to give the scoreline a much more comfortable look. 

Watford (h) 2-0 – Although the reds were infinitely the better team, they struggled to impose their class on the game and for too long left the game in the balance with the threat that a hard working Watford team might pinch something.  Bellamy settled the nerves just after the break with a smooth finish, but the second one seemed to elude us until Xabi put one into the top corner near the end.  Unfortunately this was another example of the team failing to find another gear or at least play the game at a tempo which causes the opposition problems.  If we truly want to win a championship, we really have to put these sort of teams away with much more ease. 

Blackburn Rovers (a) 0-1 – In the New Oxford English dictionary under ‘frustration’ it says ’ see Liverpool’.  How the Reds managed to lose this game should be in a competition with a premium rate number on Richard and Judy because I’m sure Rafa was as bemused as the rest of us with the final result.  Credit to Friedel who played a blinder in goal for Blackburn.  How much dough would we have saved if we had kept a bit more faith with him?  There wasn’t really a lot to say after this one, except how did we not score?  We battered them for 90 minutes but somehow managed to allow Benni McCarthy to take one of their very few chances.  That’s 5 points they took off us this season and once again, this is the sort of team, against whom we consistently throw away any chance of a title shot.

Tottenham Hotspur (a) 1-0 – If anything was memorable about this game, it was probably the fact that it was played in a downpour.  Luis Garcia scrambled the ball home on the stroke of half-time which arguably went with the run of play, but on the whole it was three valuable away points at a difficult venue which we were grateful for, especially as Spurs had been on a great run of form. 

Bolton Wanderers (h) 3-0 – Usually this is a bit of a sticky fixture and nothing in the opening 45 minutes suggested otherwise.  However Peter Crouch decided to liven things up and repeated his spectacular bicycle kick trick that he did against Galatasaray.  That seemed to get the ball rolling and Gerrard smacked home the second shortly afterwards before the scoring was completed by Kuyt.  It seems that Bolton’s early strong form has begun its traditional fade early this season. 

The review of the season continues in part II.

© Steve M 2007

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