Liverpool 2 Tottenham 2 – Late Flurry fails to remove the bad taste

Posted by Barrettski on October 9, 2007, 12:03:44 AM

A draw at home to Spurs is generally enough to have the auld timers leaning over and checking the wheels haven’t come off.  The Drury Lane Fan Dancers come here to lose.  It’s just what happens.  Flair meets footballing nouse and we take the points, it’s traditional.  But having witnessed our embarrassment of riches contrive to commit almost every school boy error in the book and allow the game that was already won to see-saw out of control – I wouldn’t be surprised to lean over and see we’ve swapped chariots with Man City.

You think that’s harsh?  I don’t think so.  This was a perfectly decent and barmily warm Sunday afternoon in October that promised so much.  We looked for a return to form after a collection of strangers failed to match a committed Marseille side, but instead we got more of the same.  World class players played beneath themselves once again and handed the initiative to a psychologically fragile Tottenham side.  Only an old fashioned byline cross from Finnan and salmon like leap from Torres saved us.

Spurs lined up with Mr Spoon in goal.  Lee and Chimbonda flanked a centre back pairing of Dawson and Kaboul… much like a couple of sprouts flanking a leaky sieve.  The midfield lined up as Tainio (tireless), Jenas (brilliant and lame in equal measures), Zokora (tireless Mk2) and Bale (one of the stories of the season so far).  Upfront we saw Berbatov with last season’s price tag hanging heavily round his neck and a zippy looking Captain Keane.  Geoffrey, Bungle, Rod, Jane and Freddy were on the bench alongside Jermaine “haven’t you gone yet?” Defoe.  No rainbows here.  Spurs’ squad is not one to be feared.

The reds lined up with Pepe in nets with the default partnership of Sami and Carra infront of him.  Completing the back four was Mr Dependable Finnan on the right and Mr Arbeloa on the left, both capable of adding attacking options.  In the lottery that is our midfield, numbers 6, 8, 16 and 20 came up.  That’s Stevie and Mascherano in the middle with Pennant and Riise outside them.  Now there’s two players that need to be on form to contribute anything.  Ahead of them a true quality feel completed the side with Voronin partnering Torres.  Benayoun, Kuyt and Babel warmed the bench.  Rafa’s three point intentions appeared to be clear.

The pre-match talk was subdued.  But then those new fountains at Epstein’s are impressive aren’t they?  Riise’s inclusion raised the biggest eyebrow – good expression there Dolly.  Aside from that, this game didn’t seem to have much of an air of importance about it and that seemed to carry itself to the pitch.  We kicked off attacking the Annie Road End.  It wasn’t exactly ninety miles an hour but then we can’t pretend every team coming here is Juventus.  Early exchanges saw distance shots from Voronin and Bale trouble nobody. 

Liverpool hadn’t clicked into gear and only had one interchange of passes down the left to suggest they would do.  At this stage Gerrard was sufficiently involved to dupe a hapless Jenas into conceding a free kick 25 yards out.  Stevie powered the ball round the wall and straight at Robinson.  A minor deflection was no excuse for Robinson’s spillage and Andriy was there to put the loose ball away.  One – nil Liverpool and those that had woken from their Indian summer siesta nodded sagely – this game had those traditional three points written all over it.

But Tottenham didn’t play like a beaten side.  In Tainio, Bale and Zokora they had enough industry to harry Liverpool into mistakes and here’s where the school boy errors began to creep in.  At this stage it was misplaced passes and wayward first touches.  Most players were guilty, including Gerrard who left more than one receiving player with too much to do to get the ball under control before looking for options.

Despite the moments of poor quality a comfortable feel somehow remained.  Keane had flashed a header across goal but the game was generally being played up the hill and away from Pepe.  Torres and Hyypia each had wayward shots that ensured the stats reflected the balance at this stage. 

As the need for a second goal mounted, Spurs conceded another free kick in a dangerous area.  Mark Halsey ensured keystone cops were ten, nine… yards back and before they could encroach any further Stevie had swung the ball low round the wall to crash against Robinson’s left hand upright.  Tartan rugs and flasks went everywhere in the main stand.

Tottenham stayed in the game and once Carragher and Pepe had finished flapping, allowing Jamie to walk Berbatov’s toe poke off the line, Liverpool returned to the business of scoring a second.  Sadly our efforts didn’t begin to resemble the ruthlessness and efficiency of a title chasing side.  I’m thinking it was more like John Barnes’ Strictly Come Dancing effort, looking out of place and stuttering round a dance floor with all the panache of a lame walrus.  Sorry John.

The lack of co-ordination was apparent in the match’s turning point.  One touch football had opened up the Spurs defence.  The sprouts were missing and Torres, Voronin and Gerrard had a single defender between them and Robinson.  Torres drew the player and presented the opportunity on a plate to Andriy.  His crisp side foot swept the ball home.  Or at least that’s what we all expected.  Instead he laid the ball up for an equally surprised Gerrard who just about managed to get a shot away before being closed down.  It was the kind of decision you only make when you’re three-nil up and the player you’re passing to is on a hat trick. 

Ten minutes later Berbatov had beaten Hyypia in the air, Zippy had escaped Carragher to latch onto the ball and managed to loop it past Pepe in a very Robbie Keane-esque fashion.  One-one.  The norf lundun day trippers in the Annie Road paused and then went bananas.  Around the other stands a terrible Houllier era type feeling descended.  We had opened the scoring, had the chances to go into the break two up and failed.  Instead we went into half time level and faced a tricky second forty five minutes trying to get a misfiring collection of players to raise their game and play for each other.

Barely two minutes into the second half that Houllier era feeling gave way to a Souness kind of ache.  Berbatov had beaten Hyypia in the air, Zippy had escaped Carragher to latch onto the ball and managed to slot it high past Pepe in a very Robbie Keane-esque fashion.  One lapse in defensive concentration is abnormal.  Two identical lapses from the same players raises a few questions.  The route one ball could have been prevented.  Berbatov should have been beaten and Keane should have ushered away or at least off balance as the ball arrived.  Glen Hysen could have done better.

It took a further quarter of an hour for our substitutions to be made and a semblance or urgency to creep into our game.  Until then we were treated to more school boy errors.  Mascherano, Gerrard and Pennant were all guilty of passing and watching.  I suspect the reasons are different for each – Masch has a holding job to do, Gerrard looked jaded at times and Pennant is still absent minded when we ask the most of him.  The result was ball watching – and how many times did you have that screamed in your ear as a kid? 

If you add ball watching to the hospital passes, the woeful first touches, the lack of concentration and the sheer lack of movement then you get the first indications that it’s not simply rotation that’s to blame for the recent dropped points.  If I was team captain I’d pass it off as a dip in form and suggest we can turn it around in time for the derby.  But I’m not so I’m going to suggest we’re training like a pub team at Melwood without the kind of attention to detail that gets the basics right.  If that means “hard work” to you then I agree.

Meanwhile, back at Anfield a few thousand fans realised we might have a game on here and began to make a little noise.  Just a little mind you.  As you know, our famous atmosphere is stored away in a box where the boot room used to be and only brought out for big games.  That’s just in case you were asking gents. 

A frantic final ten minutes represented a victory of character over ability and tactics.  Sheer will power appeared to get a leaden legged Finnan up the wing on the overlap.  Sheer determination seemed to get Kuyt (on for Pennant) past players down the right and sheer endurance seemed to keep Gerrard in the game.  This character yielded the chances you’d expect but both Torres and Riise flashed decent openings high and wide.  In Riise’s case, wider than Digger Barnes.  Mascherano pinged one past the first post but as the tartan rugs left the stands it looked increasingly as if the Reds had thrown this game.

Those of us still in the ground waited for some Beardsley like magic from Benayoun or a Rush like turn from Torres.  Instead salvation came from a Toshack like header.  Kuyt had worked the space down the right, Finnan had worked the overlap and delivered mild outswinger to the back post.  Torres climbed high above the sieve and the sprout to head home.  Two – two and having locked themselves away, Liverpool had found a way out of jail.  Argue amongst yourselves as to whether we deserved it or not.

I know we like to start seasons badly and we’re only a few points off the pace and the wheels are still on.  That said, I remember the days when we hit the top spot about September and stayed there to May.  With the current squad of players I see no reason why we shouldn't be doing that again.  The current squad and manager are that good.  We know it and they know it, which makes it all the more frustrating for both us and for them when something like this happens.  There’s no doubt that this game left a bad taste in the mouth. 

Six points against Arsenal and a small Kirkby club will consign Martin Jol’s latest / last visit to history, but my point is, without a lot of hard work on the training ground six points is not going to happen.

Redmen performances:

Reina:  Mostly untroubled… had a flash of madness / loss of concentration to let Berbatov in but Carragher swept up – regardless of how much he knew about it.  Not at fault for either goal.

Arbeloa:  Showed some great touches and potential in the first half but ultimately left me unconvinced by this performance.  If the opposition play 4-4-2 then you need to balance support for your centre backs against being an attacking option.  Fell between the two stools too often for me.

Carragher:  Whoops.  One to forget Carra.  Sure Keane and Berbatov are a handful, but not if you’re ready for it.  Keane should not have got round Carra once let alone twice.  Second ball nappage.  Not good.

Hyypia:  Is it me or does Sami’s posture not look right?  I’m not sure I’ve seen such a hang dog expression on him before.  I’d suggest he goes back to the early days, remember the flight back to Willem II, the excitement and everything that made him stand so tall as an unknown giant.  He’ll never have the outright pace, but he also seems to have lost a bit of that air and authority.  Remember the things that made you great Sami and sign off as the legend you should be. 

Finnan:  Doesn’t seem to have come back from the early internationals as the same player.  Is he carrying an injury?  Is he struggling with the change in players infront of him?  Not sure.  Still solid though and a fine cross to nick a point.

Riise:  Not the dynamic space opening kind of performance we’d hope from John and not the tireless chasing performance we’d expect as back up either.  Concentration seemed to go missing at times and there’s at least one example when he looked at Arbeloa as if to ask where they should both be.  On one occasion Gerrard waved him forward.  Mind elsewhere John?

Gerrard:  It’s not worth the speculation or the autopsy on the England game or that toe… the simple facts are Stevie didn’t play as well as he’d like to.  Things didn’t go for him, he made some bad passing decisions and struggled for options more than once.  He also failed to rally the troops in the way we know he can.  But you know when it’s not happening for Gerrard when Voronin does the chasing back, makes the last ditch tackle and comes deep for the ball.  That alone tells me Stevie needs a good game under his belt and I don’t care if it’s for England either.

Mascherano:  As guilty as any for those school boy errors.  It was like he’s been to the Sissoko school of passing.  Played well below expectations – both his and ours.  On this performance we missed Alonso badly.

Pennant:  Delivered a couple of good crosses in the first half but still flattered to deceive for me.  This game was crying out for players to take it by the scruff of the neck and make a name for themselves.  Voronin did, Pennant didn’t.

Torres:  Showed enough flashes of brilliance to warm the cockles but was all to often marshalled by the Dawson yard dog.  Still, you know what they say about players who are quiet for 80 minutes and score? 

Voronin:  Man of the Match by a country mile.  His energy, touch, effort, awareness and pace were just a different level to most others on the pitch.  Managed to play upfront, come back into midfield to win the ball or collect it and even made a last ditch saving tackle in his own penalty area as last man.  Didn’t he play near Chernobyl?

Kuyt:  Looked more likely to create down the right than Pennant, although that would be late on, infront of the Kop and chasing the game.  Did everything that will continue to make him hugely popular here.  He even made a wonderful ball boy for much of the match until he came on.  Now that’s dedication to the cause.

Referee:  Halsey.  Didn’t do bad actually.  Couple of daft midfield decisions (Voronin was backing in not vice versa) but nothing serious.

Kop:  Sleepy. 

Them:  Decent showing… not in Newcastle’s league though.  Oh when the Spurs go marching in (slow rendition) is a classic, love for Jol is admirable but eighties ditties about jobs show you up as thirtysomething Steve Perryman era tourists.  Shame.  Sadly atmospheres are reserved for big teams or when we have a season ticket amnesty.  Sorry.

© Barrettski 2007

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