Liverpool 2 Man City 1 – A New Beginning

Posted by Barrettski on August 23, 2004, 09:07:11 AM

Liverpool 2 Man City 1 – A New Beginning

I’ve never worn shades at Anfield before.  Hell, I barely ever sit in the Annie Road End.  But then like so many things yesterday, it was different.  Within the space of a few weeks Rafa has created a team that can defend up the park.  A team where players are allowed to express themselves and most importantly, a team that can turn around a 1-0 deficit to run out worthy winners.  There’s plenty of work to do here, but to me there’s no doubt that this is a new beginning.

Like every other fan, around about August time I suffer a psychological imbalance that makes me believe my team will do outrageously well this season.  Bluenoses suffer a similar condition that makes them think they’ll stay up.  Each to their own I guess.  Still, I just can’t help it, I go into the first game of the season believing… just believing.  There was a time when behaviour like this from a Liverpool fan barely raised an eyebrow.  They call this time “The Eighties”.  Nowadays I get weird looks, like I’ve farted in a lift or something.

Once again though, it’s different this season.  A new manager, a new footballing style, new players that are recognised as quality and yes, no strange looks from rival fans.  Everyone is waiting to see what Benitez can do, but in a beautifully shrouded way nobody is talking about a Spanish Revolution or a five year plan.  Maybe Liverpool fans have at last shaken off the tedious teenager-like culture of expectation that strangled the Houllier years.  Maybe some of us have grown up at last.

Enough of the Budvar fuelled philosophy, time for the team sheets.  Liverpool lined up with the wrong keeper in nets but with a fabulously balanced back four of Josemi, Riise, Carragher and Hyypia.  I counted two new signings in there but more of that later.  The second regimented bank of four were Kewell, Hamann and Gerrard with Finnan the make weight on the right.  More of that later too.  And upfront we saw our favourite Czech terrier and our favourite French whippet, the dog’s bollocks indeed.  On the bench, Diao, Biscan, Warnock, Pongolle and Harrison.  In the stands Garcia and Alonso looked skilful.

Only Wright Phillips and Anelka shone in City’s line up.  James started in nets with a motley collection of thugs and fatties infront of him.  …. Thatcher (thug), Distin, Dunne (fat) and Mills (thug) presented a well organised back four.  Sibierski, Reyna, Bosvelt and Wright-Phillips presented an equally well organised if defensive four across the middle.  No starting place for Joey Barton there you’ll notice.  Keegan seems to prefer Sibierski’s experience to his potential at the moment.  Or maybe he’s just signed for us.  Fowler and Anelka completed their line up, in tribute to the childrens fable of the hare and the tortoise.

Anfield looked full way before kick off as an air of expectation filled the ground, mixed with the odd rolly smoke and the feint whiff of pub.  For me, the season had now started.  And then so did YNWA ably sung by the assembled choirs of Main, Kemlyn, Annie Road and Kop stands.  Nothing prepares you for that first rendition of the season and this was no exception.  Gerry’s early arrival left some time before kick off to rattle out a few more favourites.  Perhaps the compulsory “Premiership Theme” will improve the atmosphere after all, mainly because we get to sing over it (anyone able to tell me what the hell it is?).

We kicked off with Liverpool attacking the Annie Road End and instantly entered a nervous period.  City had come to defend and for once looked like they could.  Our players looked as surprised as we did.  Kewell in particular managed to run into his own team mates a couple of times before running into their players.  That was mostly Danny Mills so I use the term “player” advisedly.

For much of the first half any pundit could have questioned where the improvement was.  But it was there in fits and starts.  Up front Cisse took five minutes to show the kind of blinding pace that Owen hasn’t shown since that fateful Leeds game.  In midfield the passes were crisper and found feet in a manner reminiscent of the days when we were obsessed with five a side games in training (i.e. The Eighties).  Most heartening though was the work rate.  To a man the effort was there.

So, we were just looking for the skill and guile to open City up.  Kewell’s corners were accurate and stinging, but James soon got wise to them.  Baros was industrious and causing problems - he’ll win free kicks for fun this season.  The most spectacular of these was to see a frustrated fatty bluenose kicking Milan in the air to earn a yellow card.  Sadly we didn’t capitalise on any of these.  We still haven’t learned that the Riise free kick doesn’t work and Kewell’s effort had neither enough pace or direction to beat the Nintendo King.

As we approached half time, our best efforts were a Kewell snap shot that James chested round the post, a Kewell volley that didn’t dip enough and a Hyypia slice that… fell to the wrong man.  But then the ghost of Manc games past came to haunt us again.  A speculative cross from their right saw Carra nod the ball back to Jerzy.  He wasn’t ready and spilled it in ludicrous fashion.  Anelka cleaned up and slotted home.  We went into the break 1-0 down. 

It’s at this stage of the game last season that people grumbled into the half time piss pot, expecting a 1-1 draw at best.  But remember this was different.  True, some people grumbled but most seemed to have a quiet wait and see feel about them at half time.  Either that or the news that Everton were winning away had shocked them into silence.

Three minutes into the second half we were level.  Milan and Cisse were pulling assorted fatties out of position with some fine running and Gerrard found Milan in the box.  He left Distin for dead and lifted the ball over James as he advanced.  Now that was some way to start a half.  Clearly Rafa hadn’t given it one of those “sit tight for ten minutes and then push on” team talks.  Whatever he had said, he’d galvanised the team into a unit that wanted to take City apart.

Keegan’s men had nowhere to go from here.  The assorted fatties and thugs defended deeper and deeper.  They held the D, then the 18 yard line and then ended the game on their own penalty spot.  Granted, having Calamity in rare form behind you might lead you to drop deeper, but the real reason was the tactics employed infront of them.  In truth, it was exactly what I’d hoped to see.

Now, if you step into my tactics truck for a moment, you’ll see what I mean.  If Sami and Carra defend up the park then Hamann starts operating 20 yards closer to their back four.  He’s then able to harass and close down anyone that wants to slot a through ball infront of Anelka, which in turn gives Carra and Sami the time to stick with any pacey forward.  This in turn give Stevie license to attack the back four and cause bedlam further up the pitch.  The result here was one goal, one assist and a defence retreating faster than a Government from its election manifesto.  But Stevie’s more than a Fantasy League bargain; he’s going to win games this season and in a very Lampard-esque way too. 

Further chances came our way.  First Cisse worked an opening for Finnan who panicked and side footed over.  Then Cisse found acres of space and raced towards goal, only to fail to a) spot Gerrard for the tap in and b) slot it under James.  Baros fluffed a similar one too as gravity got the better of Dunne and he was left on his own.  Somehow I don’t think Baros will ever score those like clockwork, he just doesn’t look a natural to me in those positions.  At this point in a game last season, heads have gone down and impetus has been lost, but again this was different.  There was no feeling of “it’s not going to happen”.  A winner was coming, a silent away contingent knew it too, the only question was when.

And so it came, predictably it was Baros who wriggled free to fire against James legs.  The rebound fell kindly to Gerrard who rifled it home and headed off to celebrate infront of his family.  Not for the first time his name echoed around the ground.  Let’s face it, there’s nothing to stop Stevie becoming a legend in the same ilk as Kenny now.

The final few minutes provided a couple of scares.  Both Diao and Biscan came on, but neither appeared to weaken the team.  Anelka looked dangerous but without a quality midfield to supply him was feeding on scraps.  In fact Jerzy provided the biggest scare as his one-two with Sami went a little pear shaped but ultimately did the job.

As the final whistle went the feeling that this was continued.  Our players stayed out to recognise the fans and deserved the applause.  Cisse threw his shirt into the Kop and instead of congratulating his players on a successful tactical raid, the manager of a lesser visiting team was remonstrating with, well anyone who would listen.  These are fine times indeed and we’ve seen enough here to suggest they’re only going to get better.  This is a new beginning.

Redman performances

Dudek:  My theory says that Benitez has seen Dudek save shot after shot after shot in training but hasn’t seen him in those challenged cross and difficult situations when we all cringe.  True, James looked worse today but Kirkland needs to be reinstated as soon as.

Josemi:  What a player.  He has the grit of a British full back and the touch and flare of a Spaniard (I like my sweeping generalistic stereotyping by the way).  A fabulous signing.  Favourite moment for me was mid way through the first half when he juggled the ball past two players and released the cross.  More to come here I feel.

Carragher:  We all know what he can do and what he brings to a game, but this season he’s playing like a matured centre back, the kind of which you can’t buy for 15 million.

Hyypia:  Is it just me or is Sami looking fitter and bouncier than ever before?  Here he bounded around the pitch like a youth team player.  The difference being he was also in the right place at the right time too.  Missed a few headers, but then I think that’s credit to Anelka as much as anything else.

Riise:  John Arne Riise?  Is he new?  He looks like it.  Yes there’s always some baloney about the rejuvenating effects of proving yourself to a new manager but to me it looks like he’s been told to play his own game here.  This looks like the Riise we signed, not the one that ran to standstill last year.

Hamann:  Close to man of the match for me and, in much the same way as Riise, seems to be freer in what he does.  Playing twenty yards up the pitch helps of course where he’s contributing to winning the game, not saving it.

Gerrard:  Awesome as ever, but I’d still go along with Rafa’s comments after the game.  Add intelligence to that dominant running and he’ll improve yet again.

Kewell:  I know he’s doing a job at the moment as the single creative wide player, but for me this wasn’t good enough.  Harry looks prone to losing the ball with almost Murphy like monotony at the moment.  I don’t mind if that happens in trying to go past a player, but that never actually comes off and he also seems unable to find the overlapping player either.  Put Garcia on the right and maybe we’ll stretch teams more, give him more time and space, but until then I’m sceptical.  He’s the one player who needs a kick up the arse, dropping him as soon as Nunez (right) is fit.  He and Garcia (left) will force Harry to step his game up a level.  He needs to as well. 

Finnan: Can’t fault his effort.  All too easy to fault his technique.  But it’s nice to have squad players of this quality isn’t it?

Baros:  Man of the match display from a player who looked like he was on speed and Weetabix.  He caused havoc amongst their back four, ruffled most feathers along the way and opened doors in a team who’d come to defend.  Anfield needs Milan this season.

Cisse:  Rocket like acceleration to add to a finishing touch we saw last week.  This is the kind of excitement we need.  The king has gone, long live the king.  There’s no need for anyone to look back here, Cisse is the man.

Warnock:  Came on for Finnan in a late midfield shuffle and did a fine job too.  He’s slotting into a team that’s getting to know each other and what a warm glow that gives everyone here.

Diao: Wipe the slate clean and watch him as a new player.  Came in to play centre half as Josemi went off with a sore back.  Hit the first header hard and looked assured to the end.

Biscan: Ditto Diao.  Came in to play in the middle as Kewell went off and Stevie went wide right.  Little time to impress, so we’ll forgive his reluctance to shoot when he should have.

Kop:  Mixed.  Started well, a bit quiet at times and finished with enough volume to make the old place feel like home.  Nice welcome banner for Rafa too.

Them:  Faded at the end but had an early comedy contender with the Pinocchio songs.  Unfortunately I think we’ll now here it at every game.  Blue Moon was nice too.

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