Liverpool 1 United 2 - Lessons in concentration

Posted by Barrettski on November 11, 2003, 04:15:35 PM

It's Tuesday, and it's taken this long to shake off the long face (no Van Nistelrooy jokes please). Once again it's November and our season looks Uefa shaped already. Once again we've fallen the wrong side of that 'fine line between success and failure' and once again a refereeing decision has tipped the scales a little. Graham Poll is from Tring you know, a place famous for the Rothschild family and a taxidermy museum. So it was probably fitting that we were stuffed by another right banker.

OK, so blaming the referee is sour faced thing to do but there was very little sweetness to enjoy in this game. The truth is, we were beaten by a gritty United side that rode it's luck and we paid the price for not taking better chances. There are some reasons to be cheerful though. When Houllier says this is a developing side, he's right. There was more potential playing in Red at Anfield this weekend, if only it had started the game.

What of the teams then? Jerzy lined up behind Hyypia, Biscan, Finnan and Traore. Half a back four if you're being harsh. As far as Jimmy and Igor might have come, I still find myself waiting for that lapse in concentration. Golden Goal sellers will start an alternative game soon where you guess the minute of the first Jimmy or Golden Lapse. In contrast, Finnan looks like a championship winner, the kind of player the Nevilles will never be. In front of them a midfield lined up with Gerrard and Murphy in the middle, Kewell and Diouf on the wings (and some places in between). Marginally in front of them Smicer was supporting Heskey, a lone crusader against the forces of darkness ? (sorry).

So there we were, with what amounted to a five man midfield. Sadly United also turned up, but given the five man midfield it's perhaps important to note who wasn?t there. Without Beckham and Scholes, the auld enemy looked set to play for a dire midfield stalemate. So, after an immaculately observed minute's silence, that's exactly how the first half turned out.

There was one highlight, that being the raking shot from Kewell that produced a smart save from the septic tank who didn't acknowledge the Kop's applause. Sure there was much probing in midfield, but both sides were showing the kind of professionalism and work rate that tends to render the first half a non event.

The non-eventfulness of the country's biggest fixture was somewhat bizarre. The Kop tried it's best for twenty minutes and then sat down. If I was being churlish, I'd suggest that one game wonder fans need something to happen on the pitch to get them going. Maybe we all do.

Things got so quiet at one stage that I even noticed we'd acquired a rather tasteless scoreboard (which couldn't keep time) over by the rozzers in the corner. It doesn't work you know and by that, I mean it doesn?t warm me to the frankly ludicrous idea that we need one at all. So don't be thinking that I?d like to see a big colour screen in the new ground, I don't. Allow me to point out a basic rule of business that our fat wadded friends might understand. You see branding is about being different. So if you must see Liverpool FC as a brand, accept that we're different and use it as a strength. Not having a score board is different. We liked it that way. Anfield is built on these quirks. So for god sake get rid of the mangey thing and accept that we know the score, we all have a watch and if we want to watch replays we'll catch them in the pub afterwards. Muppets.

Meanwhile, back on the pitch the half time whistle had gone leaving us to wonder just what the possession statistics must have looked like. Distinctly rugby like I'd imagine, only we were in red and our Johnny Wilkinson was injured. The fight was there though, but it took some characteristic rampaging by Stevie G to get the crowd interested again. Now we had some spaces opening up, now we had a game.

Diouf and Kewell both looked industrious. Harry in particular was intent on running directly at United and looked likely to create something. In contrast, nothing was going right for Smicer and Murphy's 'final' ball was too often just that, the last touch of our attack. But the patience was there, only the concentration needed to hold out and this game was ours.

Cue the lapse. So whoever had 50-whatever minutes on the Golden Lapse won. Giggs was left in too much space on the right (yes the right) and put one of those angled balls to the far post that has Ron Atkinson inventing random new words. So, Djimi wasn?t there, Biscan didn?t clear it and Dudek didn't second guess right. Whoever you want to blame, go ahead. The result is the same, the reds chasing a game that they needn't have been.

Liverpool came back with conviction but of course that leaves gaps and spaces. It didn't seem too long before Giggs had a second. This time a small girl had crossed from the left for Giggs to retrieve and fire the second off Sami and under Jerzy. One and half chances, two goals we were sunk and the United fans decided to earn some credit for once, dropping the Nationwide songs (you really do sound like pondlife sometimes) in favour of Gigg's Robin Hood effort. Congratulations.

Now if I had a penny for every time Liverpool have started playing football when hope has started to slip away, I'd have bought King's Dock by now (and sold it to Everton to stop all this ground share nonsense). At last we saw United on the rack as the reds began to make some decent runs off the ball and find those players with early ball. You?ll have guessed that Smicer was off the pitch by now and Pongolle was on. Later still Le Tallec came on in a final throw of the dice. The approach sounds eminently sensible doesn't it's i.e. blood the young etoile Francais in the latter stages of the game. Unless you have Emile Heskey upfront that is, but I'm coming to him.

I counted four clear cut chances to get us back into the game. The first was neat. Pongolle seemed full of energy and running and found himself at the end of a move of his making in front of the Kop, with a chance to cross. This he did and arriving late on the Kemlyn side was Harry Kewell to drill the ball home past some cursed American. 1-2 and there was hope.

The second came as Murphy, industrious and intelligent as ever had found a gap to raid and with the return 1-2 was in on goal. Plug snorted across and bundled Murphy and the ball out of the way before he could release a shot. Penalty? Well, OK, maybe not, we'll give the benefit of the doubt for that one (I didn't see it clearly).

The third was pure Pongolle. Faster than anyone has yet given him credit for, he sliced though assorted runts and alien heads to touch the ball round the onrushing keeper' at which point both Plug and That American got enough on the kid to bring him down. Even if you think Ferdinand got the ball, then how do you explain the Yanks hands? You can't, it was a penalty and Graham Poll belongs in Tring Museum. Next to Riley.

If the third clear chance was shameful then the fourth was just heart breaking. It was the dying seconds of the game. I know this as the score board had died and was showing 45 minutes, as it had done from about 85. Still, it?s the dying seconds and Danny Murphy is alive to Emile?s movement. He?s found the gap he?s looking for, the ball is threaded through to arrive at his feet and the world goes into slow motion. Heskey plants his standing foot and? his standing foot disappears. A Sunday League moment follows as Heskey finishes in a heap and the ball rolls away. It was just painful.

Chelsea, Arsenal and United have all come to Anfield and taken three points now. Chelsea and United may have deserved draws but I still feel like the dandy highwaymen have plundered what isn?t theirs. No complaints though, in every game we?ve had the opportunities to win the game and we haven?t. If we can fix that and achieve 100% concentration throughout the game then the second half of the season will be, as Gerard points out, a lot more fruitful.

How the Redmen rated

Dudek: Can you blame him for the first? Probably not. Can you blame him for the second? Probably not. But add them together and you have a performance he won?t be happy with. Last time he let two in against ?them? Chris Kirkland took his chance. I wouldn?t be complaining if history repeated itself here.

Finnan: Solid, accurate, reliable and quality. I like him. Can we clone him and have one on the left too?

Hyypia: Definite improvement on recent weeks, Sami was up for this game and contrary to any ?newspaper? reports was not flustered by Kneestillsore. In fact did VN do anything in this game? Was that Sally Gunnell playing for them?

Biscan: Just as I get the impression I?ll be able to leave Finnan?s comments alone from one week to the next ? so I think Biscan?s may be the same. He?s solid, he wins balls with ease and reads the game well, until he switches off or tries something he shouldn?t. I?m not sure he?s done enough to keep Henchoz out of the team, let alone give Boumsong a run for his money should he arrive at the club.

Traore: I can?t help it, I just don?t like his style. I don?t like the way he switches off too. Yes his powers of recovery are awesome, but they shouldn?t need to be. Take that wonder interception at the Annie Road End. It looked like a certain goal, but Carra would have been close, goalside and sharing the lads aftershave. There wouldn?t have been a whiff of a goal. But Djimi, Djimi is a yard off and needs to get a flailing foot in. I don?t like it. It gives me the willies (no Royal jokes please)

Gerrard: Honours even with the evil ?voices in the head? Irishman I thought. Keane had him over a couple of times, Gerrard had the legs on Keane for the majority. stalemate, the goal was always going to come from elsewhere. Did he suffer from playing on the Somme in midweek? Probably.

Murphy: Intelligent player, possibly the best brain on the pitch, but still has the knack of releasing the ball a second after his brain has told him too. That?s harsh though, this was a good performance from Danny and he deserved the goal if not the assist.

Diouf: Looked second best to Kewell and has done so for a couple of games now. But there?s a healthy competition that will get us places. Didn?t take as many players on and was (once again) booked needlessly, but still quality.

Kewell: So do three of the five world class players in the Premiership play for Liverpool? That?s a bit harsh on Kirkland in my opinion but the point for Kewell is hard to argue, he was class here and deserves the adulation. He?ll win games on his own later in the season.

Smicer: Industrious, hard working but ultimately ineffectual. I don?t think he could get his game going which is probably all credit to United?s ability to track him infront on the defence.

Heskey: ?For England? apparently. You have to wonder. It?s always harsh to judge a player on one incident, he had a decent game up to that point after all. Yes I?d have liked him to have made more runs to the channels, pull players out of position and work himself into the ground to be subbed on 75 minutes. It was what we needed, but he didn?t. So we?re left to reflect on one slip, one chance to send us into rapture. Instead he induced some of the worse pre-come/cutting onion faces in the Kop I?ve ever seen, with or without hands on heads neither the miss nor the response was a pretty picture.

Pongolle: A livewire who made those very same runs, both direct and into channels that I wished Heskey would make. Maybe he had different orders, I don?t know. But he looked like a Baros on form ? likely to create something and of course he did, didn?t he Mr Poll?

Le Tallec: Quieter game, but definitely not out of place here.

Kop: Quiet.

Them: Schizophrenic. So what are you' Nationwide team singing 1980s songs about the opposition or genuine fans behind the team and players.

? Barrettski 2003

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