Preston North End v Liverpool - FA Cup 3rd Round - Match Report

Posted by Veinticinco de Mayo on January 2, 2009, 11:32:28 AM

[many thanks to Lachesis for the image]

I should preface this report by saying that I went out on the ale as soon as we got back into Liverpool, so I've not seen the game again and I've probably erased most of the brain cells containing any tactical info I managed to pick up (not much then).  It matters not, you'll all have seen it, you know the plot: Dominate the first half, score, spurn enough chances to have won the Cup, slowly lose control in the 2nd half, get a little nervy,score on the break, get pissed.  I'll concentrate instead on a few observations on players and the match in general.

Still watching from the directors box,and by his own admission not enjoying it.  Interesting to hear him claim that you can see the game better from the dugout,something that seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

Given that I work about a mile away from Deepdale this game was probably more important for me than it was for the team in terms of how our entire season pans out. Whereas I needed a performance in order to hold my head high in the office on Monday morning I thought that Rafa would be attempting to win the game but would also have an eye on resting a few key players while easing some others back into action after lengthy lay offs.  As it happened  only Kuyt that got the day off, with Babel getting his right sided support striker berth.  Otherwise it was a full strength team.

Hardly had a shot to save but he still looks like a huge step up on our sub keepers of recent seasons.  At least with him in the net the whole organisation of the defence does not disintegrate. He looked a little shaky on the first couple of crosses but after that he dominated his area well and claimed everything that was there to be claimed.

Probably one of the few players on our side who had a better second half than he did in the first.  He was defensively solid throughout and had more opportunity to show that in the second 45. In the first half he looked a little uncertain on the ball and a little unwilling to bomb up the line on the overlap as he needed to do given our overwhelming superiority at this point.

Had a pretty tough game marking Wallace who was their best player by a country mile.It's to his credit that through fair means or foul although the lad skinned him a few times Carra never once let him get away from him completely, always getting back to pressure him or force him into a hurried cross.  A certain Mr Dossena should've been taking notes.

Cool, clam efficiency personified.  I thought last season, where he really struggled was going to be his last meaningful contribution, particularly when he was left out of the CL squad.  The way Rafa has used him sparingly this season though has really brought the best out of him. I can see him being offered another season at this rate.

He's had a few shaky games defensively since his return from injury but today was not one of them. Like Hyypia he was calm and rarely troubled even when Preston pushed us back in the 2nd half. As usual he was also excellent at bringing the ball out of defence and through midfield al Hansen.

Mascherano / Alonso / Lucas
If ever a game illustrated the importance of Xabi Alonso to our current team it was this one. It would be unfair to attribute our loss of control in the second period entirely to Alonso's replacement by Lucas, Preston clearly paid us too much respect in the first half and upped their game significantly in the 2nd half, but the loss of Alonso's controlling rhythm as a huge factor. For all Mascherano's terrier like persistence and Lucas' clever prompting neither player is really capable of controlling the tempo of a game by dominating possession in the way that Alonso can.  We have plenty of players that can pick up the tempo and drive the team onwards, Gerrard being the prime example, but Alonso remains the only one who can restore calm to a frenetic game. 
He got his wish and had the chance to excorcise a few demons and in the end he got a pretty easy ride mainly because the local fans lacked the wit to come up with any particularly cutting songs about him.  He got a heroes welcome from the 5,000 visiting fans at the start and walked over for a mutual love in at the end.  In between he was his usual mercurial self coming close on several occasions before finally giving his bessie a welcome back present.

So who knows what is in Rafa's mind?  Does the return of Torres mean a return to the bench for Robbie?  Or does it mean a slightly more withdrawn role to which he is far more suited?  Whichever, it means that we'll soon have someone running onto low balls across the six yard box who knows how to put them away.  Converting that sort of chance seems to be a huge weakness in Robbie's armoury and I'm sure even he is looking forward to allowing Torres to make those runs while he checks back and waits for a pull back.  Overall I thought he had a decent game but he should have converted at least one of those chances and killed off the tie.
Nice to see you back lad. Also nice to see that he still has the same devestating acceleration on the turn, he just needs to regain the match sharpness that allows him to waltz past defenders at full tilt and he'll be back in business.  Nice to see him get back on the scoresheet as well, although even Robbie Keane couldn't have missed this one...
Riera / Babel
Hmmm.  Deliberately left to the end. Surely if ever a game was made for Ryan Babel this was it?  The Preston fans, in the brief interludes between their bitter gripes at the cruel world, admitted that their side was dreadfully short of pace. Albert Riera then ably demonstrated this by destroying both full backs at different points of the game.  Our domination was such that we repeatedly put Babel into positions where he was one on one with his slow and very very average full-back. And, he never took him on, not once.
People argue that Kuyt gets the right hand side berth ahead of Babel because he is better defensively and Rafa prefers this to Babel's superior attacking threat. Sorry, but at the moment that is rubbish, Jamie Carragher was more of an attacking threat down the right than Babel.
If this is not going to be Ryan's final season at Liverpool he needs to turn things around and quickly. It won't be easy. He's now, for the first time, lost the crowd. There were a couple of blerts a few rows behind us giving him all manner of abuse all game. Just how this pair of cretins, think of the chuckle brothers in a particularly dark parallel universe, think this will make him, or us, play better is beyond me, but it now appears that with the rehabilitation of Kuyt and Lucas, Babel is going to be the bete noir for the kind of tit who has to have someone to moan at. 
So were there any glimmers of hope?  Well, a couple.  He's always going to have a languid playing style (the only comparison with Henry that holds any water at all at the moment) so he looks lazier than he really is, but he was working hard particularly in the second period.  Also he looked a bit more promising when he was shifted up front at the end. I thought he was rather unlucky to have a succession of fouls given against him when attempting to turn his man. His form at the moment means he's miles from a starting place though.

Their Lot
ok Deepdale, time for a soundcheck...

Do you think they do all that shite when they're playing Doncaster?

We moan about the lack of atmosphere on the Kop but it's only when you go to "little" clubs like Preston or Bolton and experience the shite plastic packaged atmosphere that you realise how important it is that we actually protect and maintain what we've still got.  It got noisy for about five minutes in the second half when they had a goal hilariously disallowed. Hilarious because of the length of time it took their muppet fans to realise that the flag had been up for 5 minutes. The sight of their fans cavorting and goading us from the concourse in front of the Tom Finney stand as Cavalieri was teeing the ball up for our free kick is one that I'll treasure for a while.

Our Lot
Pretty good effort from our travelling end, good noise for most of the first slowly subsiding into anguished fretting as the game wore on.  Excellent support for Gerrard and a good repertoire of songs which kinda shamed our two song hosts. One or two idiots as ever, more of which later, but generally a good day out.  Quick nod to Bez who we met in the Royal Garrison before the game, nice to meet you mate.

A decent performance that was almost undermined by some poor finishing and a failure to close the game out when we had chance.  A potential banana skin avoided. Bring on the Blues.

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