An Unobstructed View from the Couch – Liverpool 0 AK Graz 1

Posted by Olly on August 25, 2004, 09:46:01 AM

Due to financial difficulties, brought about by ridiculously inflated ticket prices and other issues, I am having to take a cut in the number of games that I go to this season.  As such, unfortunately European home matches have been ruled out, and so for one season only (hopefully) I shall have an unobstructed view from my couch, one where I won’t have to shout at people to sit down every 5 minutes!

Games like this, where we comfortably won the away leg against a poor side, usually fall into two categories.  It either turns out to be a rout, with players taking the opportunity to improve their goal tally, or it proves to be extremely frustrating.  Last night’s match limped into the latter category.

With Josemi injured, Henchoz came in pushing Carragher to right back, with the young Darren Potter making his first full start in front of him.  Diao came in for Hamann as the only other change from the weekend.  I settled down with a beer, just in time for the camera to pan the crowd during YNWA.  May I first congratulate the idiots holding up their mobile phones so their mates could hear our anthem.  Well done.

We started well, and looked eager to push on and wrap the tie up.  Milan looked lively again, and caused his marker all sorts of problems.  One great touch took him past the defender and into the area, where he was manhandled at the by-line.  Looked to be a good penalty shout to me, but the man in black waved play on.  The mighty reds were controlling the midfield with Potter showing a couple of good touches, and Gerrard looking to get Baros and Cisse away at every opportunity.  Cisse showed incredible pace to glide past two defenders on the left, and looked up well to play a ball towards Gerrard as he ran into the penalty area, only for it to be toe-ended away from him.  Graz offered very little, and seemed a little overawed by their surroundings, with the Anfield sounding energetic and in full voice.

But then something changed.  Everything went flat.  The reds seemed to lose interest, and allowed the Austrians to take the game to us.  We started to revert back to a style of play that we “enjoyed” last season, as the team retreated and looked to Stevie G for inspiration.  Instead of the short sharp passing we’ve seen from Rafa’s team at the start of the season, Liverpool started to get impatient, and Gerrard’s attempts at the long pass were rarely successful.  Graz had two good opportunities from free kicks curled in towards Dudek, that caused our Big Pole all sorts of problems.

Jerzy seems to have had the confidence knocked out of him already which is extremely worrying.  He was miles away from an attempted punch on the first cross, and on the second stood rooted to the spot as a man in blue slid in to wrap himself round the post.  I winced as memories of a certain Phil Babb came flooding back – the thought of him colliding family jewels first with the post, rather than the image of him turning out for the reds time and time again.  Unfortunately Kirkland is injured again, and this may well have to be an area that Benitez addresses, as the communication between Dudek and his back four has all but disappeared.  He’s been a great keeper for the reds, but he’s looking extremely error prone at the moment.

As Anfield grew ever quieter and more anxious, half time came.  I switched channels to watch the Olympic womens pole vaulting, as the opportunity to listen to “expert” analysis from Townsend and McCoist didn’t sound too appealing.  Plus have you seen that Icelandic pole-vaulter – she’s what dreams are made of.

The second half got under way, and rather surprisingly Rafa had decided against a change of personnel.  Kewell had been quiet again, and I half expected Pongo to replace one of the front two who had lost their way somewhat after a bright opening spell.  5 minutes into the second half, Graz gained a corner.  The ball was floated in, half cleared and fell to Tokic on the edge of the box.  He took one touch to flick it past a typically weak challenge from Kewell, and volleyed a cracking shot into the top corner to give Graz a deserved one nil lead.

Rafa decided that a change was needed and on came Warnock for the ineffective Kewell.  I don’t know what’s happened to Kewell, but he seems to have lost the ability to take the ball past a defender which is worrying.  Conceding a goal looked to have sparked a bit of urgency in the mighty reds, as Gerrard tried to drive the team forward once again. One run took him into the area, where he went down under a challenge.  Our card happy referee harshly booked our captain, and turned down the penalty claims.  Too be honest we should have had more than enough quality to score from open play and looking for penalties smacked of desperation.

Pongo replaced Cisse on 70 minutes, who doesn’t look quite up to speed as yet.  He snatched at a great chance immediately before being substituted, but as with everything else it will take time before we see the best of him.  The Graz captain got a booking for attempted to pull down Stevie’s shorts and then five minutes later got booked again.  This might give us a chance I thought.  Silly me – two bookings now does warrant a sending off, as the man in the middle allowed him to stay on the pitch.  Isn’t one Andy D’Urso enough?

The last ten minutes of the game saw the now nervous reds clinging on to their lead.  Graz failed to convert two great headed chances, and Didi was brought on for Milan simply to try and protect our slender advantage.  The final whistle came as a relief, and the mighty AK Graz became only the 4th side to beat us at Anfield in the European Cup.  The others, in case you’re wondering, were Red Star Belgrade, Barcelona and Valencia. And now AK Graz.

This was a very poor performance, against a team who themselves are fairly poor.  Every year we hear players moan about needing to be in the Champions League to realise their ambitions, but when a performance full of heart and desire is required to ensure the club reach the promised land, the team go missing.  Still most of us are well aware that Rafa won’t be able to turn the performances round immediately, and it should come as no real surprise that we will struggle to grasp his new ideas from time to time.  There is plenty of room for improvement, but then again there should be plenty of time for it as well.

Plus points: Riise is looking more comfortable as a defender, and the blooding of two local young lads can only be a good thing.  Oh, and Clive “Manc-loving” Tyldsley only made reference to the Corporation once.

Man of the Match: Gerrard for his first half performance

And finally, I’d like to congratulate all those who felt the need to boo at full time.  We truly are the most knowledgeable fans in the land.

© Olly 2004

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