Liverpool 1 Villa 0 – What a difference a week makes

Posted by Barrettski on January 11, 2004, 02:00:52 PM

Steven Gerrard chose his words wisely following the Chelsea game.  The media men wanted him to respond to the snivelling tackiness that they’ve been peddling for too long now.  Stevie simply resurrected the “one game at a time” Liverpool mantra of old and pointed out that the Chelsea result would mean nothing unless we beat Villa too.  Beat them we did and with it a spring like feeling of optimism crept into Anfield.  Maybe there’s something in this season after all.

It takes all sorts of fans to make a club.  They’ll be those who are now happily skipping down the yellow (or red) brick road to Champions League football.  We already have the Wizard of Oz, Emile Heskey appears to have found his courage and the wicked witch of the media is dead.  Houllier will probably sign a Tin Man is summer too.  What a happy bunch we are again.

Personally I think the truth is a little grittier than that.  There are still too many munchkins and the odd Toto in the group too (they appear to be there for the ride and quite frankly add little to the club).  For me the “one game at a time” ethic will be crucial.  That and the siege mentality born at the AGM will be instrumental in getting us where we want to be.  It’s going to be more like Joy Division than Judy Garland.  Routine needs to bite hard and, in targeting fourth place, our ambitions are low.

There were plenty of smiles around before the game.  Many match day folk were meeting up again for the first time since New Year.  Many grinned inanely at the sheer mention of “Chelsea”.  Some just had wind.   I think most of us were wary of Villa.  They are the form team of the moment, albeit on the back of a string of home victories.  But with Michael Owen starting this was definitely one to look forward to.  We also had new players in Jones the Keeper and Emile Heskey.  Splendid.

Liverpool lined up with Michael and New Emile upfront, the old partnership reunited again.  Hamann held the middle ground with Kewell and Diouf swapping wings in front of him.  Danny Murphy completed the midfield with more licence to roam. At the back Riise was preferred to Traore and Henchoz preferred to Semmy.  Biscan and Hyypia completed the back four with a centre back partnership that is now perhaps worthy of that title.  And In nets, a player we’ve respected and admired from afar.  It’s nice to have three international keepers on the books isn’t it?  On the bench we had the French under 21 five a side team: Luzi, Pongolle, Traore, Cheyrou, Le Tallec.

Villa pitched up with a team that O’Leary has moulded into a team hard to beat.  A 4-4-2 formation starts with Sorensen in nets.  Delaney and Samuel at full back.  Mellberg as the defensive rock alongside Dublin (!).   Barry, Hendrie, McCann (blue and white shite) and Whittingham made up a hard working midfield with Vassell and Angel the front pairing.  On the bench: Postman, Hitzlespitzenhoffenhampenberger, Penelope Cruz, Moore (on at half time for Vassell) and Ronnie “manure” Johnsen.

After a royal welcome for our Welsh keeper and a winning toss we descended into an edgy and uninspiring game.  Hamann drove inches wide in the opening minutes but it wasn’t enough to rouse Anfield.  I guess after the first five minutes we recognised that this was Villa again.  Memories of that dire draw at Villa Park returned and we settled down to wait for the second half when the game would inevitably open up.

That said, there were talking points.  Kewell had his fifty pence boots on and looked set to kill someone in the Annie Road End.  Dancing between players on the right wasn’t the problem, hitting a barn door was as two first half efforts went high and wide.  It’s a cliché, but by Harry’s standards this was a very poor game, sealed by worse misses in the second half.

Biscan looked comfortable alongside Hyypia.  They covered each other well, but there’s always that fear that Igor will have a bit of a moment.  He did.  On this occasion he failed to make a routine clearance and allowed Vassell a snap shot at Jones.  Jones was alive to it a put it round the post and received thanks from Igor and Sami for his efforts.  Not to mention thunderous applause from the Kop.  We like flying pigs in goal after all.

Our new LFC spokesman Danny “winning breeds confidence” Murphy predicts Michael will need four or five games to get back to his best.  He didn’t look that far away on today’s performance and his class shone through.  We’ve seen attacks break down in recent games as composure eludes us and passes go astray.  Michael brings that composure to the game.  He has the ability to hold onto it, to pass and move as we expect and many people forget he has this aspect to his game.  It was pleasure to see again.

Less pleasing were his own fifty pence boots.  On ten minutes Diouf did well down the left, hoisted one over for Heskey to win.  Kewell pinged it back to Owen inside the six yard box and his pinball effort came back off the crossbar with enough pace to clear the area.  At the end of the half another right sided cross found him in prime right footers volleying position.  Like a clay pigeon shooting pull the ball came across his body only for him to react slowly and fail to get a shot on target.  We’ll forgive him, as that smile on his face says there’s trouble in store for Spurs and Wolves.

The goal came from Harry Kewell.  Again he was having no trouble carrying the ball.  He also had no trouble finding Heskey in the area either (so perhaps I’m being harsh on him).  Heskey made glancing contact and some combination of Murphy and Delaney’s arse sent the ball back across Sorensen.  The Kop was unsighted but Murphy’s “celebration” told us he hadn’t scored.  George disagreed so it was worth a song. 

So 1-0 at half time, it should have been two or three.  With the exception of Biscan’s concentration span, it was difficult to see where a Villa goal was going to come from.  So any journalist thinking this game was nervy wasn’t standing on the Kop.  Houllier said it was a “back to basics” performance from us.  A cunning choice of words from a self confessed non-Tory, but accurate all the same.  All the effort and badge wearing pride that was missing from THAT Southampton game was here today.  It looked as though we’d win the game simply by riding the wave of effort that broke at Stamford Bridge.

The second half saw a change in the games pattern, but only as Villa started to chase the game.  Spaces opened up as predicted ad Diouf and Kewell looked more dangerous as a result.  Diouf in particular seemed keen to address his critics with his actions on the pitch.  In one particularly audacious piece of skill he spooned the ball over Samuel’s head from a standing start, facing the wrong way and raced past to balloon a cross in.  It’s the kind of thing that breaks down organised defences.  Not only does the full back lose confidence, the centre back gets dragged over more often, carving open new and interesting spaces for Murphy (on the occasion) to exploit.

On the other side (which for the benefit of those watching in keyboard vision, was the left for most of the second half), Kewell didn’t seem himself.  I wonder if he needs a Steven Gerrard around to give him more freedom?  With or without Stevie on the pitch, his next effort was both tantalising and agonising in equal measures.  Delaney isn’t a poor full back.  Kewell made him look it as he homed in on goal, wound up the left foot and… hit row 32 (I’m guessing?).  With the New Cheyrou on the pitch for Diouf late on, Kewell found himself with a tap in to complete.  Bruno had shown power and pace in making 40 yards down the right (yes, you might want to read that bit again).  Bruno cut in to see Kewell in space.  He released the ball in a Barnes to Collymore kind of a way and… Kewell blasted it into the side netting.  The manual says you should put it back across the keeper and low.  But then when did Kewell ever do anything by the manual?  We’d not want him to anyway.

Hamann, who had a colossal game, snuffed out Villa’s sole second half efforts of merit.  So it remained 1-0, not a pretty game but ultimately very satisfying.  Everton lost too so the weekend was complete.  We’ve had a torrid week, but with the Chairman and then the players showing their metal we’ve been reminded what Liverpool FC is all about.  Doing the talking on the pitch and taking one game at a time.  That’s the way I think it should stay until May.  Until then it’s another roller coaster ride for the fans.


Jones:  Welcome to Liverpool.  Not too much to do but when needed he produced the safe kind of save we don’t mind seeing.  I suspect he was more instrumental in what he was saying to the players in front of him.  Quality loan signing.

Henchoz:  Solid and skilful.  I can see why Houllier prefers him to Otsemobor.  When it’s back to basics, experience counts.  He also managed the crowd pleasing moment of the game, striding forward with a mazey run of 30-40 yards. 

Hyypia:  Fits his current cliché well: “has improved massively since losing the armband”.  In fact he’s probably back to his best.  I never tire of seeing him step up to meet the running midfielder.  It’s like fly swatting at times.

Biscan:  Still prone to the Biscan moment.  In fact he had two, one to let Vassell in, the second to head the ball into the turf and narrowly avoid conceding a penalty for sheer daftness.  Apart from that he is still growing on me and is now working well with Sami.
Riise: Someone’s stolen the old Riise, I’m sure of it.  This guy doesn’t have the touch that the old one had.  I know he’s keen to race forward but the fact is you need the ball under control first.  The effort is all there though, so no complaints.

Hamann:  Colossal.  This was classic Hamann, winning free kicks, holding the ball and obliterating opposition attacks.  Under rated?  I don’t think so.  The Kop barely sang today but his name came out loud and clear.

Murphy:  The footballing brain of the team is still waiting for his legs to catch up at times.  His passing disappointed at times but his all round play was good enough.   

Kewell:  Enough about him already.  This was a bad day at the office.

Diouf:  Showed glimpses of what he did in the first few games this season but I still think he needs to improve some to loosen that price tag round his neck.  His crossing leave plenty to be desired but at least he brought his heart to this game.   

Owen:  Oozed class like a diamond covered in cack.  It was wonderful to see him, fabulous to see that smile and with the cack removed there’ll be reasons to be cheerful once more.  Also nice to see him talk of ongoing contract talks after the game.  Not a hint of moving on, just a young man trying to secure a future for his family in his home country.  Nice.

New Heskey:  Looked so much more like the player from 2001 both today and at Chelsea.  Someone has cleared the cobwebs away and I’d love to know how they did it.  He made himself available, tracked back with eagerness and was the defensive monster who cleared three or four of their corners.  At the other end the instinct is almost back too.  At one stage he took to running straight at goal with three or four Villa monkeys on his back and generally caused mayhem.  If there’s a criticism it’d be that there’s a time for instinct and a time for pre-meditated tricks.  The kind of bustle that once earned him a reputation as “El Diablo” in the Barcelona papers will always get him into shooting situations.  It’s the next side step he’s missing to release the shot.  We look forward to more from New Heskey.

Pongolle:  Got a few minutes but wasn’t as lethal as he could have been.  Released one pass behind Kewell and managed to over run his own best chance as he headed straight for goal (nice theme developing there).

New Cheyrou:  No groans this time.  Just one surging run, one pin point pass and one or two decent tackles to talk of.  More of the same and some people might need to eat their hats.  I’d love to Bruno, but reserve the right to buy some HP sauce first.

Kop :  Bubbling, smiling but not particularly vocal.

© Barrettski 2004

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