Liverpool 2 Man City 1 – Give My Love to Kevin

Posted by Barrettski on February 12, 2004, 07:15:01 PM

There was a mystical feel about Anfield last night.  The air was still and a cool fog drenched Anfield in a sea of dry ice that rolled over the Kop Grandstand like some eighties episode of Top Of The Pops. And if I could insert the sound of a needle lifting off a record here I would, because there was nothing mystical or magical about this game. I’ve said before that the road to fourth place would be ugly and this was winning ugly with a capital H.

My City mates (try them, you might like them) didn’t rate their chances before the game, they tend not to these days if Michael Owen is in the side. Personally I thought this was the “home banker” we could end up losing 3-1. You could just see it.  David James playing a blinder, McMoneyman turning back the clock and Fowler giving Houllier the metaphorical one fingered salute with a hat trick.

We lined up with a beautifully familiar side.  Dudek in nets. Finnan, Carra, Henchoz and Hyypia at the back. Didi anchored the midfield in front of them and Gerrard was given the freedom of the park as a result. From there it looked like Le Tallec played the majority of the game of the left, Cheyrou on the right and Kewell in behind Owen. But let’s be honest here, between the fog and the Guinness you could have convinced me those three were playing anywhere.

City were even more of an enigma. I’m plumping for a 3-4-1-2 formation to kick off with, mostly on account of McMoneyman demanding his own special position. James returned to Anfield to get the best round of applause he’s ever had here. Distin, Dunne and van Beaut provided a back line of bouncers. Wright-Phillips, Bosvelt, Reyna and Tagnut provided the familiar looking mid-table bustle in midfield and Macken overshadowed Fowler upfront to complete the line up. 

The game kicked off with the kind of film effects William Shatner would have been proud of. Away in the murkiness of the Annie Road End, Owen, Hamann and Gerrard were making inroads against the three sub species. Within three minutes Didi had slotted a through ball to Owen. Dunne had the brassneck to attempt a challenge before he lifted a sublime chip over the Tekken 3 champion. 1-0.

Sadly the quality of football went downhill from there. After a brief dalliance with a back three, Kevin switched to a more robust 4-4-2. The game then began to assume a familiar kind of dis-jointedness. You’ve heard all this before, but the fact is, it’s not good enough to challenge the top three. Sure, Gerrard flashed a volley across the goal with James planted to the spot, but that was about it. Somewhere in a parallel universe Stevie’s effort  went in and Liverpool went on to a comfortable confidence building victory. Meanwhile, back in our world we were failing to capitalise on a fine start.

Passes did find their way from player to player, it looked neat and possession stats were probably wonderful. But there was a lack of incisiveness. Outside of Stevie G bursting forward or Michael turning and beating one or two, I couldn’t see where the second goal was going to come from. 

This leads me nicely to Harry Kewell, who really has lost his love of life. Too much apple pie? Or just a nagging ankle injury? Either way it’s now five games since we’ve seen the world class player that hides beneath the Jimmy Carter façade. If it wasn’t so painful to watch it’d be amusing (but don’t laugh). At times it seems like he has the reverse midas touch. The brain is willing but the feet don’t perform. A Heskey first touch™ can be followed by an over hit pass and so on. Get well soon Harry.

As half time descended on this Granadaland derby, mixed feelings filled the gut. City had been there for the taking, but we’d generated precious few opportunities to bury them. On the other hand, there was room for optimism as it didn’t look like the old Spice Boys were performing at all. Then on the other hand, (three hands? – actually, no I’m not from Prescot) United, Charlton and Everton were all losing. 

Having dispatched the Guinness, I settled in to watch Owen exploit the inevitable second half spaces (I figured I’d be able to see something with the Reds attacking the Kop). Sadly it was Wright-Philips, some rare delight from Manchester town, who did all the exploiting. Another over-elaborate formation passing display had broken down in midfield leaving both Didi and Finnan further forward than we’d like to see. McMoneyman sailed towards goal, listing to port a little while Fowler distracted Henchoz with his lolloping heifer impression. Out on the right Wright-Philips was free and teeing up a two iron. Macca did what anyone can do (but few manage) and the lad put it back across Jerzy for a neat goal. 1-1.

A mystical night and home banker instantly turned into a wet weekend in Rotterdam. But there was enough time to turn our fortunes. I sensed we wouldn’t be seeing the frenetic last few minutes of attacking football that we’ve seen too often this season. In fact City were level for a mere minute before James provided us with a Christmas, birthday and wedding present rolled into one. 

Owen did his best slippery eel impression in their penalty area, only to slip too far and allow the ball to run on to James.  About half the Kop looked away at that point, expecting a safe gather. The other half were therefore forced to recall a “what happened next” scenario to the rest of us. Put simply, James had come to collect the daisy cutter but then spilled, spooned and flapped the ball away to Gerrard who lashed it back between keeper and post. That lad does make me smile. The opportunity was something and nothing. The response from Stevie was characteristic of his recent performances, direct and decisive.

Once more the game was there for the finishing, only this time some chances followed. Gerrard and Owen looked to have rekindled the old partnership and City were looking vulnerable. If none of the 40 yard passes were coming off, then the crosses were. One led to a Sunday League goal scramble in front of the Kop as McMoneyman twice cleared off the line from Le Tallec and Owen.  Another corner resulted in a further cross that fell to Hyypia’s feet. Only a late deflection prevented him driving one into the corner of the net with James unsighted.

At the other end Wright-Philips was still looking impressive and Macken looked hungry, until he was replaced by Sibierski that is. Mr Ski (no relation) is known to be able to head the ball and he sent a couple of salvos over the bar. One wasn’t a million miles away either. But we looked OK, the smell of fear was welling up from the City defence and wafting across Walton Breck Road. A wave of expectation broke gently over the stands.

So what happened next then? On the hour, Kewell was saved from further embarrassment; basically he was clutching at straws and needed saving. So Heskey bounded on. Houllier must have thought his work rate and an additional option upfront would finish the job off. Except I don’t think those were the instructions he gave. Emile was winning balls in front of our penalty area and mixing it alongside Hamann at times. Something wasn’t right here.

Then Murphy came on for Le Tallec. No problem there, a Murphy free kick would be just the tonic.  Except that wasn’t really the case. I don’t think it’s a direct reflection on Murphy and Heskey, but the tone of the game changed. It began to look like we were playing for a draw. We invited City onto us and onto us they came. I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted the final whistle to blow so early before.

Houllier cited our recent performances, draws when we could have won, as reason enough for this approach in the final minutes. He said: "We tried to score the third goal and had chances to do so.  We were edgy but I am happy with my players who worked hard to keep the lead.  Listen when you play against a good side you have to give them respect”.

“Can't you come up with something better than that?  Oh, I think I'd be more angry if your answers weren't so daft!” (to quote some more lyrics).  City were not a good side, end of. Their own season ticket holders know how they can capitulate in the face of a team with the bit between its collective teeth. I know the value of holding onto those three points, I just think that we’d have been better of defending in their half.

So when Biscan came on I was not happy. As a statement of intent it beggared belief. I didn’t boo, I wasn’t pleased… but I said nothing. I believe many in the Main Stand did, to Houllier’s apparent incredulity. So, another seven minutes or so of finger nail biting, another seven minutes of watching balls being pumped up to big Emile and another seven minutes of watching midfield players scrap for the ball. It may have been the right game plan, but not from where I’m standing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy as Larry with the three points. It’s just that I thought the final minutes of this game were incredibly risky and wholly unnecessary. I would like to have seen Pongolle come on and run the weary City bouncers ragged. I would like to have seen us maintain our shape, maintain our composure and allowed Le Tallec, Cheyrou and Gerrard keep the ball on the floor to the final whistle. I don’t think Murphy and Heskey were capable of doing this. In short, I would like to have some fingernails left. Maybe it’s a test, a game for us to play?

So here we are then, four points off the back of two ragged performances and we’re in fourth. It’s thanks mostly to other team’s performances admittedly, but Champions League football is ours to lose now. Nobody is happy that our aspirations are so low, but I think many of us are able to put that to one side and aim for fourth with the team. I for one will think about the bigger picture later.  Moses said “come forth” and if I were Houllier, I wouldn’t argue with anyone who took that many tablets in one go.

How the Redmen rated:

Dudek:  Not sure he had a huge amount to do really. Watched a couple of headers go over the bar, picked the ball out of the net. He did seem better commanding his area though.

Finnan:  Not his usual composed performance for me. Was caught forward for their goal, but no blame attached there. Didn’t go forward as well as we like to see and wasn’t finding players as easily as we’re used to seeing either.

Carragher:  A back step from the heady performances of recent weeks. Definitely guilty of allowing the composure to creep out of his game in the second half. Maybe Alan Kennedy could teach him a thing or two? Naturally enough he still defended like a Trojan.

Hyypia: Solid, but ultimately out of position for the goal (thought it was him, but hey it was foggy). That aside it was a fair performance, the usual towering headers and foot in to keep certain people quiet.

Henchoz:  So glad he’s there. Didn’t think he could have done much for the goal. Well worth a sing song or three, if anyone heard us.

Hamann:  Not sure if it was him who let Bosvelt intercept, pass to Macca etc. Still the safe outlet for the pass and the understated anchor.  But I wanted more. I wanted someone to stamp his authority on the team as we allowed City to come at us. Someone to take the heat out of the game. But then he didn’t get much help there.

Gerrard:  Relishing the freedom of the role and man of the match by far. I’d hate to have seen this game without him playing. Will be well worth another punt for goal scorer in the coming games too.

Le Tallec:  Blonde hair. Everyone thinks he looks daft but he can have his dream. Strange one this, but the trepidation and stomach churn I used to feel as he receives the ball has gone. The Newcastle game probably did it for me. I wish he could have stayed on, he’s clearly growing in stature, confidence and nouse at a heart warming rate. If there’s a down side, I’d like to have seen him get involved more.

New Cheyrou: You've got to pick some people up, you've got to let some people go. Houllier has opted for picking him up after the disastrous start to his Anfield career and he may just be right. He was much the same as Le Tallec in this game.  Like Le Tallec, the trepidation has gone for me, but he’s still to convince. A winner vs. United might help.

Kewell:  Heck. But it’ll come. We know what he can do and we know it'll return.

Owen:  For me he’s back. He took his time but he’s there now. He’s world class and we’ve missed him big time. Deserved his name to be reverberated round the ground and his acknowledgement didn’t go amiss either.

Murphy:  Didn’t see enough. Either that or he didn’t do enough. He may have been industrious but he certainly didn’t improve things in the second half, put it that way.

Heskey: Hate to say it, but although he played well and the effort was commendable, he still made us play that certain way again. Maybe it was under instruction? Either way, I don’t like it.  It’s not good for the nerves.

Kop:  Mixed. Some people had clearly not been in the pub beforehand. Nice to see Barton throw his shirt in and nice to Robbie given a good send off, but only after the final whistle and only after Owen’s name had been sung to his old tune for much of the 90 minutes (depending where you were).

Them: Went ballistic for about a minute.  Nice renditions of Blue Moon though.

© Barrettski 2004

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