Season Review 2007/08 Part I

Posted by Steve_M on June 11, 2008, 01:18:05 PM

Aston Villa PL (a) 2-1  A new season, new signings and new expectations.  It’s now become the expected turn of phrase, that if you don’t get off to a winning start and get points on the board, you could see your championship ambitions disappearing by November.  The first game of the season had a cup feel about it – almost a must win situation (which quite frankly is ridiculous).  The Brummies had some expectations too with Martin O’Neill now settled, so we expected a tough enough encounter.  However the opening exchanges looked good for us.  Torres linking up well and missed what looked a relatively easy chance.  Some of us groaned.  Would this be another false dawn?  Another waste of money?  Only time would tell.  Martin Laursen would prove to be an absolute diamond if you had him in your fantasy footie team this season – a centre-half in a decent defence that scores the occasional goal.  On this occasion however, he did us a big favour by putting the ball in his own net.  After that we looked very comfortable.  But like in all these situations, the second goal looked more and more elusive and then Carra had an aberration -  handling the ball under no real pressure.  Gareth Barry was only too grateful to slam the resulting penalty home with four minutes remaining.  Howver the gleeful look on the Villa fans faces disappeared a minute later when Gerrard was awarded a debatable free kick on the edge of the box.  Come the man, come the moment (and all other related hyperbole) and Stevie delivered an inch perfect shot over the top of the wall into Taylor’s top corner.  Cue wild celebrations in the Doug Ellis Stand.  If today’s atmosphere alone was anything to go by, this could be an interesting season. 

Toulouse CL (a) 1-0  We all know it should be a formality and none of the players really want to bust a gut in case they pick up an injury or booking.  What didn’t help was a mid-afternoon kick off in scorching hot temperatures (something to do with a French holiday and other games being televised in the evening).  Voronin marked his debut proper with a spectacular 25 yarder into the top corner when it was starting to look like we may have to wait to get them back to Anfield before disposing of them.  For anyone who was disappointed with the way our season later unfolded, a quick look at the French league table shows that Toulouse eventually avoided relegation by two points. 

Chelsea PL (H) 1-1  Oh what could have been!  Second league game of the season and we’ve already been moved to a Sunday 4 pm kick off.  In the last few seasons, there has been usually nothing between the two sides, but today we were definitely in the driving seat.  Torres skinned Ben-Haim and opened his Anfield account with a well taken effort at the Anny Road end.  But it was the usual story – we looked comfortable, but the killer second goal just wouldn’t come.  And then referee Rob Styles decided to give one of the worst penalty decisions ever.  Malouda ran straight into Finnan, as the ball went across him and Styles somehow deemed this a foul by the static Finnan.  The Chelsea players reaction illustrated Styles had made a serious cock-up - none of them appealed for the foul and Drogba, who had picked up the loose pass was too busy trying to get it under control to have a shot.  Result a 1-1 draw which flattered the Pensioners (or are we not allowed to use that nickname in the Abramovich era?). 

Sunderland PL (a) 2-0  One of those encounters where nothing much is memorable.  We went, we saw, we conquered.  Sunderland looked exactly like they were – a team just out of the Championship.  Only time would tell if they would have the necessary qualities to remain in the Premier League by the end of May.  Sissoko grabbed his first ever Liverpool goal and Voronin grabbed his second in 10 days near the end.  What a bargain he looks! 

Toulouse CL (h) 4-0  A necessary evil, part two.  Having to play this game forced the postponement of the West Ham game.  The most stirring part of the night was hearing the Z-cars theme being played as they teams came out in tribute to local youngster, Rhys Jones who had been tragically killed in a shooting incident.  Crouch opened his account for the season and Liverpool always looked in control against a team that definitely didn’t look Northern Counties League material, never mind Champions League.  Sami added a second after half-time and then it was cigars and brandy time.  The only gripe was that we missed a hatful of chances, but the positive way to look at it is that at least we are creating the chances.  Kuyt wrapped things up in the last few minutes with a brace.  The odd thing to note about the evening was that it was the first time in 103 European games that neither Carra or Gerrard had played. 

Derby County PL (h) 6-0  Nose bleed time as we roar to the top of the league by thrashing a horrendous Derby County team 6-0.  Although the Reds opened their account rather fortuitously (Xabi’s cross from a free kick going straight into the net), from them on it was one-way traffic.  A one stage it was suggested that a St. Bernard be sent out to look for the Derby defence which was missing without trace.  To say Derby were bad was a bit like saying Hitler could be a bit of a moody bugger.  They were bloody awful and if they continue in the same vein, they could be the first team to be relegated by Christmas.  After Xabi got a second, Torres added two more to his account, Babel got in on the act and it was all wrapped up by that man Voronin again.  Games like this always make me wary, as afterwards there are too many comments about how great we are.  Unfortunately the reality could be that Derby are this season’s nominated whipping boys.  (Mystic Meg look out!). 

Portsmouth PL (a) 0-0  ‘Liverpool maintain their unbeaten start to the season’ said the headlines.  Mmmnnn, technically true, but it doesn’t tell the whole picture.  Liverpool may well have gone to the south coast, kept a clean sheet and taken a point against a useful team, but the bigger picture for most fans was that Rafa had dropped (sorry, rotated) Torres and Gerrard.  I’m in no position to have a go at Rafa, but sometimes this logic defies belief.  This would be the same Stevie G that missed a few matches in the last month because of a toe injury?  So how come he needs a rest from a Premier League game in September?  February or March I can understand, but why rotate now? Surely this only disrupts the team – a team which isn’t playing its best players.  Portsmouth’s Sean Davis said later that their players couldn’t believe their luck when Torres and Gerrard weren’t in the starting line-up.  Maybe someone should point out this sort of comment to Rafa and make him realise that he is only boosting the opposition’s confidence.  And no matter what he might believe, the squad is not as strong as he might think it is.  Only time will tell if this sinks in.  Oh, yeah…. The game was 0-0 and Pepe saved a penalty from Kanu.  That’s how close we came to ending up with zero points in this encounter. 

FC Porto CL (a) 1-1  The opening fifteen minute period was possibly the worst I had seen us play for a very long time (it brought back a horrible recollection of the first leg of the ECWC semi-final against PSG game in 1997).  The early exchanges looked as if we would get a tanking.  A poor clearance from Finnan almost let Porto in, but there was no respite.  They went ahead shortly afterwards from a penalty when Pepe brought down Sektioui.  Thankfully Reina stayed on the pitch, however the same couldn’t be said of Pennant who was having one of his petulant performances, arguing over every decision.  It was blindingly obvious that he was going to get himself sent off and I was probably more annoyed that our coaches and his teammates could surely see the same situation developing and appeared to take no measures to calm him down (or substitute him).  Thankfully Kuyt got us level after 17 minutes and the game began to take on an even keel before Pennant did his disappearing act.  Strange thing was Porto looked less effective when we were down to ten men and were left to rue the fact that they hadn’t taken their opportunity to claim the three points. 

Birmingham City PL (h) 0-0  Any momentum that we had built up this season seems to have vanished and this performance probably sums up why the Premier League title is still just out of our grasp.  That’s not to say that you can just expect to roll over every team that you face, but every so often we struggle to break down teams that are not particularly good, but who are just well organised.  This was another to add to the list.  (By the end of the season, Birmingham would be relegated which would just add insult to injury as we would only take a total of two points off them).

Reading CC (a) 4-2  I have to say that I like Rafa, but sometimes I want to slap him hard.  Real hard.  Torres was ‘rested’ for the league game against Brum, but was then brought into to this Carling Cup game at Reading.  I know it’s easy to pick faults in any coaches decisions, but I fail to see any logic (and have yet to find any other coach or player who can explain his reasoning) behind leaving your best striker on the bench for an important league game and then recalling him in a low priority cup game three days later where there is always the chance of picking up an injury.  Whatever the reason, Torres did the business and if nothing else boosted his confidence with a well taken hat-trick.  Benayoun weighed in with a cracker while Reading scored two, but in reality we were fairly comfortable. 

Wigan Athletic PL (a) 1-0  A gritty team on a deadly pitch looked for quite a while that they were going to keep us from earning the three points.  Seven changes from the midweek team and two from last Saturday’s game maybe didn’t help and when Michael Brown looked to be bossing the midfield you started to wonder where our inspiration was coming from.  However Benayoun came up trumps with a late winner, although Aghahowa managed to miss a sitter in the closing seconds.  In all honesty Wigan probably deserved a draw.  However what you deserve and what you actually get are two different entities.  Hello Arsene! 

Olympic Marseille CL (h) 0-1  Occasionally a game has ‘stinker’ written all over it.  This one had it on billboards all over town.  It’s hard not to end up over-analysing how we performed so poorly against what looked a very average team, but making five changes from Saturday certainly wasn’t going to help the situation.  Starting with Leto backfired heavily, as he looked dreadfully out of his depth and probably set the lad back in his development by several months.  Gerrard had Sissoko, Benayoun and Leto starting beside him in midfield.  At Wigan, he had Pennant, Mascherano and Riise.  Is it any wonder the team looked disjointed with no real pattern of play?  Maybe Rafa honestly believes that our squad are further down the road of being an interchangeable unit than the rest of us can see.  Performances however don’t appear to bear this out.  I know I wasn’t the only person who wasn’t surprised when Marseille pinched it with a stunning strike late on from Valbuena. 

Tottenham Hotspur PL (h) 2-2.  Rafa fed the appetite of the tabloids and their rotation views by making another five changes from the previous game.  At this rate I’m thinking of bringing my boots along.  Paul Robinson continued with his poor run of form by failing to deal with a Gerrard shot and Voronin followed up to score.  With the risk of sounding clichéd (but I will anyway), Gerrard hit the post and again we failed to capitalise before Robbie Keane followed a route-one punt from his keeper and unchallenged, knocked it past Reina for a scarcely believed equaliser.  If we thought fate was against us, we should have stayed in the changing room at half-time.  No sooner were we out on the pitch than Keane got on the end of another hoof and we were staring defeat in the face.  Worrying signs in our central defence.  As the game wore on, frustration grew and we were becoming desperate, however Torres pulled us out of a hole by equalising with a header from a Finnan cross in injury time to scramble a point.  Relief all round at preserving the unbeaten run, but the bottom line was another two home points gone begging. 

Everton PL (a) 2-1  Derby games can sometimes throw up strange occurrences and this one certainly generated a few talking points.  For the first time since 1997, an own goal was scored.  Unfortunately it was by Sami Hyypia.  However Kuyt expertly despatched two penalties later in the game to claim the three points.  What was hotly disputed was whether Kuyt should have been still on the pitch after a wild, lunging tackle on Phil Neville.  Ironically Neville received his marching orders later after blocking a Lucas shot with his hand.  He followed Hibbert who had been already sent off for hauling down Gerrard and giving away the first penalty.  Thankfully referee Clattenburg had ruled that Kuyt’s challenge on Neville was entirely justified – after all, it was Phil Neville we’re talking about.  Memo to self – add Clattenburg to Christmas card list. 

Beşiktaş CL (a) 1-2  Another one to file under ‘S’ for stinker.  No disrespect to Beşiktaş, but there’s something badly wrong when we lose to teams of this calibre.  Rafa declared that he was pleased with the way we had played and created quite a few chances.  Meanwhile on this planet we wondered how we could perform so poorly.  Voronin failed to take an early chance and from then on we lost our grip on the game.  Sami was credited with an own goal that will surely appear on one of those ‘footballing gaffes’ DVDs at Christmas.  The only surprise was Stuart Hall wasn’t commentating.  Bobo (or it could have been Coco) rubbed salt into the wound or put us out of our misery depending on your outlook by adding a second, although Gerrard managed to pull one back near the end.  But too little, too late.

Arsenal PL (h) 1-1  After a poor midweek performance, probably one of the last teams you want to face is a high flying Arsenal.  However typically we turned in a solid performance and although the Arse reckoned they were much better than us, we were the ones holding the lead for most of the game.  Unfortunately Fabregas equalised late on after a Gerrard free kick had put us into the lead.  At least this showed we were capable again of lifting our game.  Unfortunately it’s the consistency factor which weighs heavy on us. 

Cardiff City CC (h) 2-1  The return of Robbie Fowler may have been on most people’s minds, but you know Rafa isn’t giving this game top priority when he starts with Crouch and then brings on Harry Kewell.  No matter, the Reds won the game comfortably enough with Gerrard and El Zhar getting on the score sheet.

Blackburn Rovers PL (a) 0-0  A lively enough encounter which looked like it could really take off but somehow faded away.  Both teams were on a recent good run and it was probably no surprise that it ended in a draw.  Unfortunately for us, the Mancs and Arsenal had drawn earlier in the day and we missed the opportunity to pull another couple of points back on them.  Torres had an injury and didn’t play and as I have my rotation soapbox nearby, it makes me wonder on the logic of ‘resting’ players when you can almost be sure they will invariably pick up knocks at some stage causing them to take an enforced rest anyway (like today). 

Beşiktaş CL (h) 8-0  From the ‘stinker’ of the away game to the opposite extreme of a game where every touch seemed to result in a goal at the right end.  Crouchie and Yossi put us 2-0 by half-time and any possible fight back from the Turks in the second half was nothing more than a token gesture.  As soon as Yossi scored his second just after the break, the heads went down and their whole team caved in.  Not since the days when we played the genuine minnows in the early rounds of European competitions have I seen a team look so wretched as this bunch.  Turkish football may have come on leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, but this performance was reminiscent of the days any game against a Turkish team was a chance to boost your ‘goals for’ column.  Crouch scored his second, Gerrard knocked in one and Yossi ended up with a hat-trick.  Babel also managed to notch two, one with a back heel flick which pretty much summed up the type of game that it was.

Fulham PL (h) 2-0  Rafa did the unthinkable and picked the same team as faced Beşiktaş (no Torres in the starting line-up).  Mind you, it would have been rough on any player to have found themselves dropped after taking part in an 8-0 thrashing.  Fulham however were a lot more determined than the Turks and as the game wore on, it looked like they were going to escape with a point.  However the introduction of Torres changed all that and the scoreline looked a little more respectable when Gerrard added a second with a penalty just before the end. 

Newcastle United PL (a) 3-0  Big Sam certainly has his work cut out at Newcastle if this result was anything to go by.  Certainly since Newcastle came back up into the top division under Keegan, they have usually had a few decent players who can raise their game against us, but this lot were quite frankly, pitiful.  3-0 away from home is a great result in anyone’s book, but in all honesty it should have been six or seven.  And that’s not being greedy.  Torres on his own missed a hatful of relatively straightforward chances which made the doubts I had about him resurface.  The route started when Gerrard lashed home a freekick, although I feel it needs to be pointed out this set piece usually works about once a season for us.  Why we keep persisting with it is beyond me as the return is very poor.  Kuyt and Babel added to the total, but the talking point on the way home was whether Newcastle would go down and how long Allardyce would last. 

FC Porto CL (h) 4-1  At last we seemed to be finding the form that we displayed right at the start of the season.  Having lost to both Beşiktaş and Marseille, we had left ourselves in a rather precarious position, basically needing to win all our remaining games to qualify for the next round.  Add on the controversy generated by the American owners and several thousand fans walking to the ground to add their voice to protests about Rafa’s treatment stoked up the atmosphere and the opening exchanges looked positive.  Things looked even better when Torres nodded us in front, although Lopez equaliser soon afterwards knocking us back a bit.  For a time we began to tread water and I recall thinking that Porto certainly were certainly as good as any team we had seen at Anfield this season so far.  Eventually after 78 minutes Torres smacked in his second and relief broke out all around.  A late penalty by Gerrard and last gasp effort by Crouch sealed the win, although the final scoreline had a more than flattering look to it.  No matter, at least qualification for the knock out stages was still in our own hands. 

Bolton Wanderers PL (h) 4-0  After Allardyce leaving and Sammy Lee’s sacking, Bolton were on their third manager of the year in Gary Megson and still playing abysmally.  Sami put us one up, before Gerrard added a second and as they say, we were on easy street which in all honesty is not what you expect when playing Bolton.  Torres continued his fine run of form with the third and Babel came on again to score (I swear he must be related to David Fairclough).  Megson looks as if he might have his work cut out. 

Reading PL (a) 1-3  Just when we thought the blip was over and we were full steam ahead, we ran into an iceberg called Reading.  Not a particularly big or fashionable iceberg, but a hefty slap in the face nonetheless.  Jack Hobbs was drafted in for his debut as Agger’s injury problems continued.  Petre Cech’s favourite player, Stephen Hunt opened the scoring for Reading after Carra had conceded his second penalty of the season.  Fortunately Gerrard got us back in the game and no doubt most of us thought that from then on we would take control and put Reading to the sword (that was from my Big Bumper Book of Cliches).  Unfortunately we conceded what we can only describe as a truly dreadful goal when a free kick flashed across the goal and ended up in the back of the net.  Doyle was claiming the final touch.  No matter, we were behind again.  Torres was taken off and we wondered if the points were going west.  With virtually everyone up in attack searching for the equaliser, Harper burst through from his own half, rounded Reina and put us in a very precarious position.  How precarious was hard to gauge, but it certainly got a lot worse when Rafa decide to take Stevie off with 20 minutes of normal time still on the clock.  To say there was a general look of disbelief when Gerrard’s number was held up by the Fourth official was an understatement.  I have to say that a suspicion lingers in my mind to this day that Rafa had thrown the head up and decided that we couldn’t retrieve the game, which if true, is unforgiveable as it sends out all the wrong signals about Liverpool FC.  In saying that, without real evidence we have to give him the benefit of the doubt and trust he made the changes for the right reasons.  Having made some strange team selections already this season, has probably (unfairly) contributed to everyone analysing (me included) his every decision looking for faults. 

Olympic Marseille CL (a) 4-0  To use an old boxing cliché, if this had been a boxing contest, the referee would have stopped it long before the finish.  OM took a real battering.  Stevie G started the bandwagon rolling in the first few minutes from the penalty spot, although not without a few gasps as his initial shot was saved, but he lashed home the rebound.  Then Torres slalomed past several Marseille defenders before side-footing past the keeper similar to his earlier goal against Chelsea.  Marseille didn’t know what hit them, but I think they had the realisation that this wasn’t going to be their night as we throttled the life out of them and it was no surprise when Kuyt added a third in the second half.  Babel came on for his customary supersub appearance and duly scored.  Another point to notes, especially for Anfield cafes – just outside the Velodrome, baguettes filled with pieces of steak and chips – top notch grub.  Highlight of the night though was undoubtedly the OM fans racing up and down their steep terraces like madmen which was a bizarre sight in the middle of the game. 

Manchester United PL (h) 0-1  These encounters have tended to follow fairly much the same pattern at Anfield over the last few years, usually one goal either way.  Frustrating and disappointing were the words on most people lips at the end and the sloppiness of the goal conceded only rubbed salt into the wounds.  With a corner to United, Rooney appeared to be standing in acres of space on the edge of the box whilst we daydreamed.  The ball was whipped across to him and we hit it low and hard goalward.  The shot itself didn’t have any real effect, but Tevez unmarked in the six yard box managed to divert it into the roof of the net.  Sometimes players do deserve a bollicking for not paying attention.  Common sense tells us that when a player like Wayne Rooney is standing unmarked at a corner, it is plain wrong. 

Chelsea CC (a) 0-2  This was our third domestic defeat in a row, although we had made a few changes for this Carling Cup contest.  Surprisingly we looked quite lively minus Gerrard and Torres, but once again didn’t capitalise on the few chances we created.  It was left to the master of the deflected goal, Fat Frank to put Chelsea ahead, before that well-know football hard nut, Crouchie had a rush of blood to the head and lunged recklessly at Mikel which didn’t leave the ref with much option but to pull out the red card.  That pretty much killed the game as a contest and Shevchenko’s (now officially the dearest substitute in the world) late strike only confirmed the result. 

Portsmouth PL (h) 4-1  With a sigh of relief we got back to winning ways.  Harry Kewell showed his face (the only people who have been paid more for special guest appearances used to turn up in episodes of ‘Murder She Wrote’) and contributed to setting Yossi up for the first goal.  Unfortunately for Sylvain Distin he was chiefly responsible for the second, as the ball rebounded off his shin into the back of the net.  Torres then did his little cameo appearance scoring two in the second half.  Benjani had pulled one back for Portsmouth in one of his last appearances for them before he headed off to Eastlands.  Harry Redknapp mentioned that Torres was a player “on another level”.  Rafa said “he has a good mentality”.  Thank goodness for that then. 

Derby County PL (h) 2-1  We might play in red, but we don’t need to play like Santa Claus handing out gifts to teams like Derby County.  After starting well and Torres scoring a scorcher, McEveley equalised and all of a sudden we were finding it tough going against a team that had won one match all season.  Maybe we had too much sherry trifle, but whatever the reason, we struggled big time and luckily Stevie G hauled us out of an embarrassing situation with the winner in injury time. 

Manchester City PL (a) 0-0  You know the team underperformed when Rafa comes out and ‘does a Houllier’ - quoting the number of chances we made and shots we had.  Yes, you guessed it – we drew nil-nil.  To be fair to the lads, there were chances and only some last ditch tackling kept City from going behind.  Richard Dunne and Joe Hart were City’s best players, so you get an idea of the sort of performance it was.  However at the end of the season, it’s these sort of games you reflect on and realise where your title challenge disappeared. 

Wigan Athletic PL (h) 1-1  It sometimes shows how entrenched and blinkered that fans become in their views when they see something different and jump to conclusions.  Rafa tried playing Torres on his own up front and received harsh criticism from all and sundry after this 1-1 result.  I don’t seem to recall anyone having ago at Ferguson when they were winning championships with Van Nistelrooy up front on his own.  Then again, it seems to be let’s find fault with Rafa time.  (Fast forward a few weeks to when Torres is banging them in left, right and centre and playing on his own and the complainers are strangely muted).  Ignoring the tactical formation, this was a poor game by anyone’s standards.  When Titus Bramble scores against you, you know things aren’t going your way.  As someone pointed out later, a week or so ago, he stumbles, misses the ball and Andy Johnston races past to score a goal.  Against us, he lashes in a twenty-five yarder.  Torres had given us the lead, but unfortunately with ten minutes left on the clock, Titus decided it was time for Wigan to take their first point ever off one of the ‘big four’ teams. 

Luton Town FAC (a) 1-1  After the eight goal thriller of two seasons ago, it was always going to be difficult to live up to that game.  Luton, virtually bankrupt and struggling to put a team out managed to snatch a draw in a poor game (after Crouch had put us ahead) when Riise decided to give them a helping hand by putting the ball into his own net.  I hope he doesn’t start of make a habit of this.  Ho, hum.

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