Season review 2006/07 Part II

Posted by Steve_M on May 21, 2007, 04:55:02 PM

Following on from part I we have the second half of the season and the games upto and including the final in Athens.

Arsenal (FA cup 3rd round) (h) 1-3 (h) – Prior to this game, Rafa had two obvious choices in terms of team selection – one, he could pick a reserve based team (which he has done in the past in Carling Cup matches) which would allow him the excuse, if beaten, of pleading inexperience and reminding us to keep an eye on the bigger picture and two, pick the full team and go out and try and knock Arsenal out of the cup.  Unfortunately Rafa picked some sort of hybrid half-way-house combination which resulted in a severely weakened first team.  This left them a poor second to a decent Arsenal team and didn’t do anything particularly for the rest of the team’s confidence.  Sometimes I think the management should have the guts to announce this in advance and have the decency to drop the ticket prices.  I mean, why charge full rates to watch a second class team?  Arsenal treated the game a bit more seriously and came away with a 3-1 victory which in all honesty was a bit too easy for them.  Dudek didn’t help his chances with a lethargic looking performance and a couple of other players probably stunted their own development with ropey displays. 

Arsenal (CC QF) (h) 3-6 – The Gunners came back for their second game in four days at Anfield and left with pretty much the same result.  Batista, the so-called ‘Beast’ actually looked as if he possessed some teeth going by this performance rather than the pussy cat he’s looked for most of the season.  Mind you, our defending at times looked if it was straight out of the Laurel & Hardy slapstick manual and would have made Duncan Ferguson look like Marco Van Basten.  Occasionally we showed some venom, but then went and conceded another goal. 

Watford (a) 3-0 – Although this was a relatively straightforward victory over a team haunted by relegation threats, my gut feeling is that Watford will probably come back up if they keep the team together.  They were physical and worked extremely hard which should bring them success in the Championship (what a stupid name! – why can’t we just call it what it is? – the second division), although they lacked the finesse and clinical edge to do much damage at Premiership level.  Have to say that Boothroyd impressed me with his attitude all season - no histrionics or moaning about referees  or injury lists.  He got on with the job and kept focussed all season and with relatively little resources managed to put out a team that at least went out and tried their best every week. 

Chelsea (h) 2-0 – Mourinho could take a leaf out of Boothroyd’s book.  Is there anything this man has not moaned about?  Whining about his injury list will get him nowhere except a few more column inches in newspapers – file under spoilt kid, I say.  So what was this injury ravaged squad that he sent out? -  A group of youth players?  Untried reserves?  Inexperienced second string squad men?  Er…, actually he fielded a team which included nine players who had played in the previous year’s World Cup finals.  Yes, that’s right – nine players who had played at the highest level of world football and he still has the cheek to claim that his team was decimated.  This from a man who has spent a sum of money on players and wages that would keep a small African country afloat for several years.  Rafa had them attack from the off and Kuyt drilled us ahead after only a few minutes.  Pennant added the second when he lashed home a great volley from the edge of the box as Ashley Cole stood and had a think about what a good defender should do in these situations.  For once, Chelsea looked considerably second best and we ran them ragged.  If ever three points were better earned this season, I haven’t seen it yet. 

West Ham United (a) 2-1 – Despite a great win last week, there is always a certain amount of trepidation when you go to a club fighting relegation, which has changed their manager and had a recent take-over.  Sometimes the feeling that the world is against you galvanises the players; other times they crumple and wilt.  West Ham had shown against MU that they were capable of standing up and being counted.  Whether they could produce any consistency to match that would be another matter.  Benitez rubbished any claims of a cautious approach by starting with Kuyt, Bellamy and Crouch in a three man attack and it paid dividends immediately after the interval.  Kuyt lashing home a 25 yarder followed shortly afterwards by a fantastically controlled side-footed volley by Crouch.  Although at times it was one way traffic, West Ham held their nerve and Blanco pulled a goal back to set up a storming finish.  However the Reds steadied up and claimed all three points. 

Everton (h) 0-0 – The Bluenoses appeared to have hi-jacked an Arriva bus and parked it in front of the proverbial goal.  No matter what the Reds attempted, an Everton player managed to get his body in front.  Losing five points to that lot across Stanley Park wasn't exactly part of the agenda, but Moyes had them well drilled and we simply had no answer to prising open their defence. 

Newcastle United (a) 1-2 – Rafa must have a special file in his office at Melwood for a certain type of match report.  There is a category that could be labelled ‘X File’, those games where it is an absolute mystery why we haven’t won.  You create chances, you dominate the game and yet you leave without any points.  It’s baffling and I suppose if he knew the reason why this seems to happen to us so frequently he would do something to rectify it.  I don’t think any of us really know why it happens, except in the most basic sense, we didn’t take enough of our chances and there isn’t much Rafa can do about that (except get rid of those who aren’t good enough).  Bellamy had put us into an early lead against his old club, but a poor clearance by Pepe gave Martins an easy chance to equalise.  Bellamy continue to torment the Newcastle defence, hitting the crossbar and having a shot cleared off the line which gave the impression that it was only a matter of time before Liverpool added their second.  Unfortunately chance after chance was squandered and Solano won the game with a penalty after Riise tripped Taylor. 

Barcelona (Uefa CL QF, 1st leg) (a) – As Hannibal in the A-Team used to say, ‘I love it when a plan comes together’.  This has to go down as one of the all time great European results.  Beating the defending champions in their own back yard when every Tom, Dick and Merson has you down for a slapping.  What was surprising was how poor Barca were.  They could have at least tried.  Bellamy (the nutter with the putter) somehow managed to squeeze a header over the line despite the best attempts of Valdes to thrown it into the back of his own net.  Barca did start to stir and poached an equaliser and for 15 minutes actually looked like they were European champions.  However order was restored soon after when Riise couldn’t get his right leg out of the way and accidentally slammed the winner home from the edge of the box.  If that’s what Riise can do after being attacked with a golf club by Bellamy, I think we should chip in and by him a full set of clubs. 

Sheffield United (h) 4-0 – Rafa shuffled his pack again and gave that well known landlord, Robbie Fowler a rare run out.  After 25 minutes we were 2-0 up, both goals from Fowler spot kicks.  Kozluk decided he couldn’t wait until the end of the game to hug Gerrard and decided to wrap his arms around him in the penalty area.  Referee Steve Bennett pointed to the spot and Colin Wanker was outraged.  When is he not?  Robbie despatched the kick and struck a second five minutes later when Gerrard earned the second penalty of the match after being felled by Montgomery.  Stevie got himself on the score sheet late on, but not before Sami had notched the third in what had become a formality.   

Manchester United (h) 0-1 – The end of this game had a horrible feeling of inevitability about; Ronaldo drilling in a free kick in injury time which Pepe couldn’t hold and left O’Shea the chance of scoring from the rebound.  Apart from that the champions elect as they seem to look upon themselves were a shadow of any potential champions.  Ronaldo was snuffed out of the game by Finnan and generally Liverpool controlled the game with Bellamy making Vidic look a novice at times.  However the old problem of not creating enough quality chances and a lack of clinical finishing cost us.  The positive side was that if this was the best MU could play, then there is very little between the two teams. 

Barcelona (Uefa CL, 2nd leg) (h) 0-1 – Barca knew they had to score on the night to have any chance of advancing, but it was the Reds right from the start who looked most likely to open the scoring.  Riise went close with a couple of early efforts and Sissoko’s snapshot clipped the cross bar from 40 yards after a poor clearance by Valdes.  Not until the icelandic rent boy came on did they start to look dangerous and low and behold he goes and bloody scores.  But similar to the first leg, the expected onslaught never materialised and in the end the Reds deservedly went through.

Aston Villa (a) 0-0 – This really was a nil-nil draw.  Not much to write home about here.  The defence looked solid which is as positive as I could get about this one.

Arsenal (h) 4-1 – Liverpool came out of the traps and tore into Arsenal like they were some third rate team who turned up to be humiliated. In fact that’s exactly the way the game continued.  Where were the real Arsenal and where had this Liverpool team been hiding most of the season?  Pennant and Arbeloa traded back heel flicks before the ball was crossed to Crouch to slam home at the near post for the opener. Arsenal looked shell-shocked and it wasn’t long after that Crouch rose majestically to power home Aurelio’s cross. Agger then scored in the second half one of those very rare goals - a header direct from a corner.  Crouch then wrapped the match up with a little touch of Ricky Villa and went home with the match ball.

PSV Eindhoven (Uefa CL last 16, 1st leg) (a) 3-0 – Probably the most impressive away European victory since, er, the last one.  Gerrard opened the scoring with a header from a Finnan cross.  Finnan also crossed for Crouch to add the third and in between Riise walloped home a 30 yarder after a mistake by Simons. 

Reading (a) 2-1 – Arbeloa opened the scoring with his first for the club and reminded me of the old adage,’if you don’t know what to do with it, stick it in the net and we’ll discuss it later’.  Alvaro looked a bit bemused to be in a on-on-one with the keeper but he finished with aplomb.  Here’s your starter for 10 – what exactly is aplomb?  Anyhow, Reading gave a good account of themselves and fought back and you could see why they had climbed into the Uefa cup places.  With time ticking down, Pennant, looking more and more assured of his role in the team made a great run down the right side and crossed for Kuyt to score the winner. 

PSV Eindhoven (h) 1-0 – These games are not the easiest to play.  In saying that, all teams would prefer to be 3-0 ahead after the first leg, but you know that most of the lads are thinking about not getting injured or booked and wondering who they’ll be playing in the semi-final.  The good thing was both teams went out and tried to make a decent game of it and the PSV supporters did their best to lift the atmosphere in the ground.  In fact the fans in general gave a good account of themselves which is a bit surprising in the circumstances of the game.  Makes you wonder why we can’t do this for every Premiership home game.  Crouch added to his impressive list of European strikes for the only goal of the night. 

Manchester City (a) 0-0 – One of those games that reminds you of pre-season run outs where half the players seem to think they are still on a beach.  Nothing much happened, the tempo was slow, the sun was out and City were happy with a point.  It’s these games that separate the championship challengers from the rest and whereas Chelsea and MU would probably come here and take the game by the scruff of the neck, we tend to go through the motions until 20 minutes from the end when we realise we are going to get virtually nothing out of the game. 

Middlesbrough (h) 2-0 – I suspect Rafa read the riot act after the previous performance.  He casually mentioned that we need to improve our performances and certain players are playing for their contracts for next season.  If that isn’t the kick up the ass that some require, then nothing is.  Boro came to defend and did it fairly well until a thunderbolt from Gerrard put us one up and then added a second from the spot when it appeared Crouch was held when he tried to meet a cross.

Wigan Athletic (h) 2-0 – The feel good factor from the Boro game continued and there was only going to be one result here.  Kuyt got on the scoring charts with a header and added a second later, swivelling and drilling the ball past Filan.  Wigan rarely threatened and gave the appearance of a team concerned with relegation.  All Liverpool fans should be hoping that they do survive as the JJB is one of the few stadiums where you get a good away allocation, especially as it should be £15 to get in next season!

Chelsea (Uefa CL SF, 1st leg) (a) 0-1 – Another collective groan from the travelling kop when the team was announced – no Finnan, no Pennant, no Gonzalez and Zenden out on the left wing.  It that wasn’t a team designed to contain rather than win a game, then I’m a Chinaman.  Zenden had the proverbial nightmare and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many of our players choose the same game to have an off night.  Quite frankly, we were atrocious.  The only saving grace was that the rent boys looked a shadow of the team that had steamrolled the league 2 seasons ago.  They might still be a formidable proposition, but in all honestly they looked average on the night.  As far as I was concerned, it was an opportunity wasted to go and get a result and the saving grace at the end of it was Chelsea didn’t take advantage of their superiority.  They should have buried us, but didn’t.  More fool them.  We live to fight again. 

Portsmouth (a) 1-2 – I must admit that the odds for Portsmouth at 9/4 were just too generous to avoid.  Heresy some may say, but knowing that Rafa was making 7  changes against a team fighting for a Uefa Cup spot was as good as money in the bank.  The game played out that way with the bell ringers taking a 2-0 lead.  Liverpool looked half arsed and some of them need to pay a bit more attention to Rafa’s veiled threats about players playing for their contracts.  Sami was one of the few to look the class professional that he is and pulled a goal back for us, but it was too little, too late. 

Chelsea (Uefa CL SF, 2nd leg) (h) – Every so often a game comes along which makes what has happened in the rest of the season seem almost irrelevant.  Chelsea may have their multiple millions, a couple of recent league titles and make enough whining noises to rival a Stuka blitzkrieg, but when it comes to standing up and being counted, there is only one 12th man – The Kop.  Jose can smirk and attempt his mind games as much as he likes, but nothing causes the adrenaline to flow as much as a full house at Anfield on a European night with the crowd baying for blood.  The Spartans may be topic of the month, but they only had to face a few thousands Persians and certain death.  The Kensington rent boys had to travel north to face 40,000 scousers who had pulled on their boots and were prepared to kick, tackle and win every ball in unison with the eleven in red shirts on the pitch.  Jet engines at Speke probably make less noise than the wall of sound that greeted the teams onto the pitch.  Chelsea probably thought they had a chance after winning 1-0 on their patch, but as everyone with European experience knows, you would usually take a 1-0 defeat knowing you can overturn it at home.  In fact it only took 22 minutes for Daniel Agger to level the aggregate scores with a well worked free kick routine that outfoxed the blue defence.  From then on, the match swung back and forward with Liverpool looking the more positive, although if you listened to Maureen, you’d have thought they had hit the woodwork four times; had two goals disallowed and only played with five men because of a dodgy ref.  The reality was that Cech had to pull off a good save with his feet from a Crouch effort; was beaten by a Kuyt header that smacked the cross bar and was then fortunate to find Kuyt’s follow-up to Alonso’s shot had been disallowed for a debateable off-side decision.  But apparently those efforts don’t count as we were wearing red shirts and only those in blue matter according to Jose.  Credit though to those Chelsea fans who commented later on the television and on the radio that the better team had won and Chelsea had not deserved to progress.  Maybe Maureen could take off his rose-tinted googles and accept reality for once and admit defeat with good grace like some of his fans had done.  With neither side able to add to the tally after extra-time, it came down to everyone’s favourite – the penalty shoot out.  Not sure what it is about them, but I had a quietly confident feeling about this.  Pepe performed his usual heroics, Liverpool players put away their kicks and Chelsea didn’t.  Simple as that.  It was also fitting that Kuyt who had worked his socks off all night notched Liverpool’s 4th consecutive successful spot kick to send the reds to Athens. 

Fulham (a) 0-1 – Winning in midweek meant that Rafa was prepared to accept that whether we finish 3rd or 4th is irrelevant (both positions mean that we would have to play a qualifying round in next season’s Champions League) and keeping players fit and healthy for Athens is now his number one priority.  Hence we turned up by the Thames with a barely recognisable team which obviously was a boost to a Fulham team seeking to avoid relegation.  Chris Coleman had just recently been controversially sacked and replaced by the Northern Ireland manager, Lawrie Sanchez.  Sanchez was there in his role as fire-fighter and was determined to gain the points needed to stay up.  So many changes disrupted our flow, although it has to be said that both Fowler and Bellamy looked rusty and missed a few chances that you would expect them to score.  Fowler missed one particular sitter that almost defied belief for a player of his quality.  But time and injuries catch up with us all and unfortunately Robbie might have the heart and enthusiasm, but the level of quality of finishing has started to fade and it’s unlikely he will be with us next season.  Fulham scrambled home the only goal and thus assured themselves survival for another season. 

Charlton Athletic (h) 2-2 – This had all the classic signs of a meaningless end-of-season game which it was.  Charlton were already relegated and we were safe ina top 4 finish, so once again we went out with the attitude of let’s not put our foot into any tackles or do anything rash. Unfortunately Charlton treated it was if their lives depended on it (a bit late now) and went at it all hammer and tongs.  We defended like the Keystone Cops and Holland had them in front after only a couple of minutes.  We managed to equalise after Xabi came on before Mack Sennett took over again and Charlton added their second.  Then one of the strangest things of the season took place.  Someone came on in Harry Kewell’s shirt and proceeded to look like a world class player.  Admittedly it was only Charlton we were playing , but this imposter looked genuine class.  Harry better watch out.  This lad went past defenders with ease, rifled in two great shots, one hitting the woodwork before slotting home a penalty that Charlton needlessly conceded.  The day also marked the last appearance at Anfield by Robbie Fowler in a Liverpool shirt.  It was fitting that he was given the chance to return to Anfield and say goodbye to the fans properly and I don’t think ’God’ was the only one with a few tears in his eyes at the end of the game as he joined the rest of the players in the traditional last day of the season ‘lap of honour’. 

AC Milan (Uefa CL Final) (Athens) 1-2- Not exactly sure how I can explain this one.  Don't know what was more of a buzz - the last couple of minutes as Milan shit themselves or jumping an 8 foot railing and legging it into the ground after being tear gassed and chased by riot police.  And before anyone gets too high and mighty, I was in possession of a genuine ticket issued to me by Liverpool FC, but Uefa as usual couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery and decided to hold the event in an athletics stadium with atrocious security and organisation.  How else do you explain standing in a queue for an hour and forty minutes outside the stadium waiting to get in and still managing to miss the first seven minutes of the game.  I'm not condoning the behaviour of those that bunked in or used forged tickets, but this sort of thing will always happen at major finals with clubs who have huge followings.  Uefa and the Greek authorities seem to live in a world where we all turn up in dinner jackets four hours before a game for a quick prawn sandwich and then stick their heads in the sand as if they had no idea that this sort of thing happens or will happen again.  I have news for them - wake the fuck up and deal with reality and host events in stadiums and countries who know what the hell they are doing.  How else do you explain why metro trains mysteriously stopped and forced people off them with no instructions or advice; police who had no obvious instructions what was going on; riot police who had problems dealing with a lot of replica shirted middle-aged fans and their kids and decided it was a good idea to tear gas them; no signs or instructions in the complex pointing out directions or where entrance gates were; locked entrance gates in the stadium; lack of signage even for toilets and I could go on, but I almost forgot, there was a game of football taking place.  Firstly, congratulations to Milan.  They took their chances and we didn't. Football is not about what you deserve or don't deserve - it's about scoring goals and winning games and we didn't score - simple as that, no excuses.  In saying that I was extremely proud of the performance by all the players and once again Rafa got his tactics right and had Milan on the back foot for most of the game and made them look the ageing team that they are.  How odd that we won in Istanbul when our tactics misfired and yet we lost a game that we should have won in Athens when we got it right tactically? If I had to pinpoint something that maybe was the difference in winning this and not, it was simply having a clinical finisher and unfortunately we lacked that.  I also have to congratulate those fans that stayed to applaud the team and the Milan team as well at the finish when they went up to collect the trophy.  It was also a nice touch for Ancelloti to point his players in the direction of the Liverpool fans and for them to acknowledge the opposition fans.  Some fans of other clubs may be happy that Liverpool didn't win their 6th EC, but as far as I'm concerned, it is better to have played in a European final than not get their at all. I mean, we can only go one better next season. 

© Steve M 2007

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