Liverpool 0 USA 0 – Hidden dwarf crouching champions

Posted by Barrettski on September 18, 2005, 08:00:40 PM

Liverpool 0 USA 0 – Hidden dwarf crouching champions

Everyone loves beating United, it’s one of those base chemical reactions they teach you in school.  Release lithium into water and you get a fizz.  Beat United and you get a release of endorphins that will keep you happy for at least a week.  That’s the kind of hit I was looking for, but the latest instalment of the East Lancs series failed to deliver.

I felt we needed something to kick start a season that appears to have dribbled towards October without any great conviction or highlight.  Five points from three games, one goal scored and none conceded.  Ask any Red if they think that’s the start to the season they wanted and I bet most will struggle for a decisive answer. 

Three points against United would have provided one of those “launch pads” that the cliché monkeys at Sky like to talk about.  We could have taken a result to Birmingham and then faced Chelsea with the season in full swing.  It wasn’t to be, but the early signs were good.  United only had one variety of left back and Keane was set to make an appearance with his zimmer.

Their full side looked something like this.  Van der Sar (strewth, a real keeper) in nets, Richardson (fresh), Ferdinand (greedy), Silvestre (alien head) and O'Shea (paid up Liverpool fan) across the back.  Smith (no words to describe), Keane (past it), and Scholes (ginger) lined up across the middle with Ronaldo (bleating diver), Rooney (Granny botherer) and van Nistelrooy (horse) in a system that seemed to flex between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3.  Modern football eh?  Isn’t it marvellous?

Liverpool lined up with Pepe in nets and a now familiar and solid looking Warnock, Carra, Sami and Finnan infront of him.  Riise and Pongolle provided the “width” in a four man midfield outside Xabi and Stevie.  Garcia played off Crouch upfront, air traffic control permitting.  The casual reader will have noticed the absence of a new centre back, right midfielder and Michael Owen.  More of that later.

The mood in the ground was predictable.  We’d all crawled out of bed at some ungodly hour to remind the Mancs we’ve won five European Cups.  A bevvy of new banners made the point for the hard of hearing and a wall of hatred rolled off the Kop to drown the United team sheet reading.  The same old, same old… but with the added joy of being European Champions. 

We kicked off attacking the Annie Road and the impact of our new bean pole was immediately clear to see.  Watching Van de Saar and Peter Crouch going for the same aerial ball was bizarre to say the least.  Van de Saar won that one but that was just about the only header Crouch lost in the first half.  Sadly his team mates didn’t seem to want to gamble on him winning the ball.  Shame.

The pace of the game certainly lived up to expectations.  Smith, Keane and Scholes were all late with agricultural challenges and one of those brought a free kick down the left.  Gerrard curled the ball into the area from 35 yards, only to watch it evade everyone and miss the upright by inches.  Sadly none of his team mates seemed to want to gamble on the back door and a goal kick followed.  Shame, especially given the extreme case of déjà vu at this point for those who saw the Sunderland game.

Similar snappy tackling at the other end gave United a free kick in range.  A Rivaldo kind of a feeling came over me but I needn’t have worried.  Reina saw the ball come round the wall and stooped to collect easily.  I don’t know why but I’m happy with Reina, or at least I will be when the communication improves.  Better communication would have allowed Warnock to cushion a header to him rather than concede a corner.  But that too came to nothing.

In fact quite a lot came to nothing in the first half.  I think they call this a “tacticians game”.  Personally I think these games are down to individuals and individuals outplaying their counterparts.  On the left United frequently pitted Van Nistelrooy against Warnock.  Stevie was equal to it.  On the right Pongolle had the better of things against Richardson, only to find cover at every turn.  In the middle, Gerrard and Co. versus Keane and Co. appeared to be more of a stand off than a fight as both midfields held back, almost too deep against their respective back fours.  Another nil-nil loomed on the horizon.
A breakthrough was only going to come from something out of the ordinary.  Carragher surged forward on one such mission, reached the box and won a corner.  Similarly, Ferdinand surged forward on a mission of is own.  He successfully pulled a couple of red shirts out of position and left Mr Ed one on one against Pepe.  Ruud opted to chip but lobbed it onto the roof of the net.  A collective sigh of relief went round the ground.  It was the best chance of the half.

The second half followed the first (give it a couple of seasons and Sky / Merseyside Police will want to move that around too).  By now the atmosphere had petered out a little, “Five Times” was sounding over exposed and Danny Murphy was unavailable to score the winner.  A change was needed but it didn’t come from any substitutions, so once again the two titans went at it with no quarter given and none taken.

Personally I can see Gerrard out scoring our strikers this season, so it was no surprise as the next two chances came his way.  The first saw Riise whip in a cross from the left for Stevie to head over from a tight angle on the near post.  The second was a trademark long range rifle that, without the aid of a Lampard-esque deflection, Van de Saar was free to parry away. 

For their part, United seemed to be relying on the step over queen and the teenage temper tantrum to create enough unpredictability to open up the Liverpool defence.  It didn’t work.  Ronaldo was generally well marshalled away from goal and Rooney invariably ended up on his arse, dumped there by Carra or Stevie.  Which in turn was enough to spark the mood again… cue “Five Times”.  I knew I should have kept my “Red Hand Gang” T shirt.

So we entered the substitution zone as managers throw the dice and try to shake a result out of a dying game.  Rafa put Momo Sissoko on for Florent Sinama Pongolle.  To be honest, Flo looked knackered and as a result thousands of Fantasy League managers up and down the country will now pick up Richardson for their teams.  Fair enough.  I wanted to see Cisse and Crouch play together.  With Crouch more than a handful for Ferdinand, Cisse vs. Silvestre would have been enjoyable.  But I guess Rafa’s hand was played for him.

I’d also liked to have seen Gerrard given the licence to go forward more in support of Crouch (and then Cisse as Peter made way for Jibby).  With Momo and Xabi sitting in behind this made sense to me, but sadly didn’t seem to happen.  I couldn’t make out if this was lack of adventure or tired legs on Gerrard’s part.  The second half saw more possession and command from Liverpool and with Keane a virtual pedestrian by now I hope fitness was to blame and not a tactical decision to be cautious.

The remainder of the game seemed to be a series of missed final passes, opportunities opened up in midfield only to be squandered.  The chief culprits seemed to be Garcia and Cisse.  Garcia you can accept.  He’s a luxury player who you keep on the pitch to create something out of nothing.  Like, for example, the Juve game.  But when it doesn’t come off it looks bad and he looked as if he wanted more time to deliver the ball he wanted.  You don’t get that much time in the Premiership, Luis, and you should know that by now.

Cisse worries me more.  He wants to lead the line and run the channels.  That’s fine.  But his touch isn’t as good as Crouch’s and his attitude stinks at times.  I hate watching a player in that shirt turning and standing still to berate his team mates for not delivering the perfect ball to his feet while play continues around him.  There’s no need.  If I were trying to prove to the world and the fans that Michael Owen wasn’t needed here, I’d be concentrating on other things. 

There was time enough for Rooney to be petulant, Park to be introduced for United and Keane to be told he was a very naughty boy indeed but I’m dodging the main issue here.  This was as comfortable as I’ve ever felt playing against United in recent years and we should have put them away.  We didn’t look like creating any chances though and that’s where the problem lies.

As long as creating chances looks like being a problem, the ghost of Michael Owen and that putrid transfer deal will forever haunt us.  What would I do?  I’d like to see Pongolle or a respectful Cisse play alongside Crouch, I’d like to see Garcia adapt to the Premiership and Kewell to emerge like Lazarus on the left. 

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, nil nil versus the USA isn’t a bad result and further demonstrates the solidity of our defence and midfield.  We can build on this.   

Redmen performances:

Reina:  Mostly untroubled (again).  Saw Mr Ed’s lob plop onto the top of his net and scooped up his other effort from a free kick.  Failed to communicate with Warnock in the first half but then took the ball neatly off Carra’s head in the second.  He learns quickly.

Finnan:  Looks solid and comfortable to me.  Stevie has enough class to be targeting a full season playing alongside Carragher.  Our problems aren’t on that side of defence… which is exactly what I wrote about the Sunderland game.  Nice.

Warnock:  Is now beginning to fill me with confidence.  His positional play looks more assured.  Sami looks less worried.  He goes forward with purpose – although too much purpose at times.  He appears prone to making desperate challenges and leaving himself stranded.  All heart though and worthy of the place ahead of Djimi.  Subbed late on with an injury.  Couldn’t see which bit he was pointing to though?

Carragher:  A defending god.  Made two important interceptions and bustled Van Nistelrooy out of decent half chances on more than one occasion.  Did likewise with Rooney and only lost out once, resulting in a booking.  But then that was at the other end.

Hyypia:  Made a couple of those “thou shalt not pass” style tackles at key poits to remind us there’s more to his game than heading.  And blocking.  And maybe covering too.  And probably safe distribution of the ball.  In fact he had an all round good game.

Xabi Alonso:  Put himself about a bit but seemed to have lost the range with a couple of passes.  Still looked quality if a little under par to me.

Gerrard:  Provided the team’s engine for much of the game, notably to track back 40 yards to catch, dispossess and leave Rooney on his arse.  Had the best two chances as characteristic surges ended up a bona fide chances.  They were the only two though and I wonder if he was hanging back a little more than most of us would like.  Fitness or by design?  I’m not sure we’ll ever know.

Sissoko:  Came on to fill the ankle snapping role in midfield.  But where that left Xabi and Steven I’m not sure.  20 minutes of play confirmed what we know.  He’s going to be invaluable this season, a bit like Silva was for the Arsenal and look at him now.

Riise:  Probably suffered the frustration that was Luis Garcia as much as the rest of us.  How many times had he made runs of half the pitch to be overlooked?  How often was he in a park of his own on the left?  Too many.  I prefer him over Zenden on that side – he’s able to provide the width better and is more athletic.  I can’t see Zenden running 90 yards to provide the overlap, but would love to be proved wrong B.

Garcia:  Started playing off Crouch and ended up at right midfield.  Nothing seemed to come off for him in either position.  We know what he can do so this was as frustrating as he can get.  If one in three killer balls or flicks came off, I’d be happy.  At the moment it’s zero.

Pongolle:  A player who is comfortable with the ball and can go past a player.  Right midfield was the position for him but I would like to see him upfront alongside Crouch.  He had Kieran a couple of times but he in turn always seemed to have ample cover. 

Crouch:  Wonderful performance as the holding player but didn’t have the players up and around him to make the most of it.  Once again he proved he can play the ball on the floor and was an absolute menace to Ferdinand.  Rio won’t have a more torrid time this season (unless Drunken hits him).

Cisse:  Had a performance of sorts but seemed to add to the confusion or lack of communication with Garcia.  Didn’t look like beating a player and didn’t seem to have the ball under control with any first touch.  Showed the same petulant disrespect for team mates on the pitch if the ball didn’t arrive when he wanted it.  Hated that.  Just hated it.

Kop:  Nice banners.  Even the RAOTL monster made a guest appearance on 202 / 102.  “Five Times”, “Champions of Europe”, “Campionne” were fine.  “Not for Sale – you’re having a laugh” and “USA, USA” had airings and Rooney got less than the usual / he deserved. 

Them:  “Are you watching Michael Shields?”.  Oh dear.  Watching the assembled scousers with five digits in the air must hurt after all.  “Wimbledon” was fair enough once or twice as the ball pinged in the air a little too much.  But then Rio and Van De Saar looked as much like Gray and Beasant with their clearances.  Didn’t hear too much else from them.

Referee:  Now that was good reffing.  Anyone else notice the advantages played?

© Barrettski 2005

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