Liverpool 0 Graz AK 1 – A lot to learn

Posted by Barrettski on August 26, 2004, 09:01:29 AM

Liverpool 0 Graz AK 1 – A lot to learn

I love it when the manager comes out and says what I’m thinking.  So when I heard Rafa’s post match comments last night, any remnants of concern left in my mind ebbed away.  This wasn’t a result to be concerned about at all, but it was one to learn from.  Let’s face it, this collection of players will never play together again.  We knew that, but now Rafa knows it too.

It’s great to see the Main Stand floodlights as you walk down the Oakfield Road on a crisp winter’s evening.  It’s not the kind of feeling I was expecting in August, but then I’ve already said this season is different.  As I walked, I had another kind of feeling.  Either I was seriously excited about this game, or the team sheet had reached the phone in my pocket.  The text said Diao, Potter, Henchoz and Kewell were all starting.  Now that’s a lot of players with something to prove and the first seeds of doubt were sown in my mind.

The full line up saw Carra and Riise at full back with Sami and Stephane in the middle.  It was like a trip down memory lane, then you saw Diao infront of them and less savoury memories flooded back.  Gerrard and Kewell were the regular starters, but it was the sight of Potter on the right that got me excited.  We know he can play but could he cut it?  With Baros and Cisse upfront this looked like a formality, but I bet Ajax thought that too.

Graz AK had a winning line up (in Scrabble).  Schranz in nets sat behind a back four of Standfest, Tokic, Pogatez and Majstorovic.  Despite sounding like a bad night out, Plasnegger, Amerhauser, Aufhauser and Sick were as solid and committed as those behind them.  Bazina and Kollman completed the team.  Actually, the travelling fans completed the team – marginally outnumbered by the players but hey, it’s nice to have a steward each isn’t it?

The game started well as the Redmen adapted to the conditions and zipped passes across a surface zippier than anything Bungle has seen.  It looked neat, it looked promising, but Graz were closing everything down quickly and it already looked as if something special would be required here.  I looked to Potter, I looked to Kewell and the second seeds of doubt were sown.

Half an hour later and Liverpool were running short on ideas.  We were running short of talking points too.  Baros had started where he left off on Saturday and earned a penalty infront of the Road End.  Except the charlatan (with apologies to Burgess and Co.) pretending to be a referee in the middle failed to give it.  He also failed to give the appalling foul on Riise as a challenge on him arrived later than anything Virgin Trains can manage.  It begged the question though, what exactly does the referee’s assistant do apart from throw ins and offsides?  Don’t tell me he didn’t see it either.

It was difficult to see if anything was going to be achieved in the first half or where it was going to come from.  Cisse managed a new 0-60 time that Porsche would be proud of down the left.  Riise was continuing to show the kind of model professionalism that Elite would have been proud of and Stevie G managed a clean, crisp and rather tasty right foot shot that Budvar would have proud of.  But ultimately it came to nothing, nil – nil at the break. 

The second half didn’t begin much better either.  Whatever the Gafa had said at half time it didn’t have the same effect as it did against City.  Liverpool were now falling foul of the conditions with few players able to get the ball directly to feet or control it with one touch.  We lost possession too many times as a result and it started to look a bit scrappy.

As we failed to gain the upper hand, so Graz looked like taking advantage.  Every team will have their chance in a game and the more seasoned members of the Kop began to look at each other.  With thousands of years football experience sat in one place, the Kop can smell an opposition goal coming in games like this.  It came as a Graz corner popped out to Tokic.  He controlled and side stepped the flailing child that was Kewell trying to defend and lashed a stunning strike off the underside of Jerzy’s crossbar.

The sideways looks and wry smiles in the Kop gave way to applause.  It was a fabulous effort and deserved nothing less.  That was Rafa’s cue (or kew) to make changes.  Warnock came off for Kewell but strangely Potter and Diao stayed on.  Now, with £15m and Champions League qualification at stake, a team defending too deeply and a right sided player looking a little out of his depth, I’d have brought on Didi and Finnan.  Rafa clearly has bigger balls than me.

The situation didn’t change hugely.  Warnock was having more joy down the left with a direct style but the rest of it looked wrong.  Hyypia and Henchoz looked to be defending deep and Diao was defending ten yards infront of them.  Stevie wasn’t having the usual rip roaring game and Potter, while looking accomplished, was never going to have an impact here.  Credit to Graz for the speed at which they closed everything down but this was turning into one of those Southampton type games.

We had our chances though.  Baros and Cisse took it in turns to fluff volleys, Potter laid someone out with a howitzer of a drive and Carragher found row 30 with a decent chance after some neat build up work.  The best chance came as Gerrard starting taking things upon himself (another trip down memory lane) and sliced into the box.  An extra touch took the ball beyond him and then a heavy hand sent him to ground.  We’ve seen penalties given in identical situations and so probably have a right to feel aggrieved.

L Medina Cantalejo of Spain probably deserves a paragraph to himself here.  It’s rare to see such a catalogue of refereeing crimes so I thought I’d list them.  Not only did this gentleman manage to miss Riise being upended in a different time zone to the rest of the play, he also failed to give Baros the penalty he’d won, booked Potter for winning the ball and then booked Gerrard for being pushed to the ground.  Stevie didn’t even appeal for a penalty (probably expecting to stand up and see him pointing to the spot).  His greatest misdemeanour though was booking Aufhauser twice and letting him stay on the pitch.  We’ll not be seeing Cantalejo again.

The game ended with an air of nervous tension.  Liverpool FC were opening their A level results and, as a late header was saved by Jerzy at the foot of his post, we saw we’d got the results we needed.  Apparently one A and a D against Graz AK is enough to play with the big boys.  Fair enough.  Graz were applauded off the pitch and leave town with our best wishes.  We tune in on Friday to see what our Uefa seeding gives us for the next stage.

So what did we learn then?  I’d say we’ve now proved Jocky’s theory of defending up the pitch.  We now know Diao can fill in at centre half but leaves us short of ideas if he plays in the middle.  We know Darren Potter will graduate from the Academy but I think he still needs some work.  Henchoz?  Nothing wrong with him as a player but I think he may contribute to the whole defending deep problem.  And Kewell?  Kewell now needs to fight for his place.  Time for a bogey side for Rafa to show his edge.  Bring on the mighty Bolton.

Redman performances

Dudek:  Made the saves required of him but for me this is still a problem position.  Oh for the pre-James days when the keeper was the keeper and played hundreds of games back to back.  This week’s hiccup was a slip inside the six yard box.  This week’s grumble is his kicking and apparent laziness in distributing the ball behind where our defender want it.  Tut.

Carragher:  Solid as ever, but filling in for Josemi here.  He could have had a real impact in this game, it needed combination of hard work and touch. 

Henchoz:  Difficult to fault the performance, he was solid.  But as we develop we’ll need more than out and out defenders in the side and I’m uneasy about the affect his lack of pace has on those around him.

Hyypia:  Creditable performance here as the revitalised Sami bounced around the pitch once again and made some long leggy sliding tackles to deny several almost promising attacks.

Riise:  Ditto Sami, he looks to be playing his own game here free from any tactical shackles or confusion that seemed to dog him last year.  Made some great interceptions and drove forward like the Arne of old.  If there is a criticism it’s the final ball.  Go practice the crossing John.

Diao:  Provided the first half entertainment by skipping round three or four players more like Wayne Sleep than the man mountain he is.  Sadly I think he brings little else to the party in the middle.  He’s a creative sponge… give him the ball and the creativity is sucked up out of the attack. 

Gerrard:  A little off colour?  A little unsettled by Diao?  Whatever it was this wasn’t vintage stuff from Stevie.  We saw patches of it in the second half but not enough to win the game. 

Kewell:  Yes I saw the neat passes to feet in the first half and the best of the incisive passes too but I still struggle with Kewell.  He’s fully fit, he’s a world class player and here was a game that needed some flair and a defence to be unlocked.  Did it happen?  No.  Did it look like happening?  No.  Answers on a postcard.

Potter:  Few will doubt Darren is a fine player, but he didn’t come out of this one covered in glory.  I was introduced to a lovely phrase this week and in bastardising that phrase I’d describe Potter as a grower and not a shower.  For me he lacked the gravitas a first team player should have.  It will come with confidence I’m sure, good luck to him too.

Baros:  Another whirling dervish of a performance that almost came good.  McCoist was talking complete shite in talking our strikers down in this game, our problems were behind them.

Cisse:  Not the best performance we’ve seen from him, I wonder if he’s struggling a little with fitness?  More likely that there’s room for a lot of “wavelength” work to be done here.  Cisse was listening to Jazz FM, our midfield were on 96.7.

Warnock:  Good performance here (again).  He was able to turn players inside out and was unlucky not to find the killer ball on a couple of occasions.  He’s earned his right to compete for a place alongside Kewell now.  What an exciting season this is going to be for him.

Hamann: Came on half an hour too late, but still managed to show how much we missed him.

Pongolle: Came on for Cisse and showed the kind of touch and close control that a skiddy pitch demands.  Was full of tricks and looks to give us something different.  Impressive.

Kop:  Sporting to the end, applauding the goal, the away fans and their players.  Nice.

Them:  Smallest away contingent I’ve ever seen, but they did make themselves heard.  Didn’t hear any yodelling though (or is my geography up the swanny there?).

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