Blackburn 2 Liverpool 2 - Unlucky Breaks

Posted by Paul Tomkins on October 30, 2004, 09:03:50 PM

How on earth can one league fixture throw up - and that's an apposite phrase following the slow-motion replays of Cisse's leg snapping - three broken legs in 13 months? And all Liverpool players? I can only hope that at the end of this season Blackburn get relegated - simply to save us from losing key players to plaster casts and crutches for months on end.

I'm not sure how many other teams have lost key players to fractured limbs this season, but with Steven Gerrard still out (but on the mend), we've now lost two. Our squad is not as deep as some, especially in the out-and-out striker department. Another striker - Anthony Le Tallec - could possibly be called back from loan (I'd imagine, anyway), but last I heard, he was out injured for three months.

It's been a week of bruising battles. The Millwall game was frenetic, with Kevin Muscat trying to maim anyone who crossed his path. Then at Blackburn Tugay did enough to land a seasons'-worth of suspensions and somehow remained on the pitch. No surprise really that the opposition this week were managed by the bęte noire figures of Denis Wise and Mark Hughes.

In the circumstances - 2-1 down and a player in hospital - a draw was a good result. Mark Hughes had his players super-hyped-up, and they came flying into us (mostly legal, but occasionally overstepping the mark, although nothing too sinister this time around).

At home is not where Blackburn have struggled (not a single away point all season). We've ended a series of away defeats with two away wins and a draw - still very creditable form, whomever the opposition. Man United needed the ref to miss a blatant handball on a lucky last-minute goal to rescue a point at Ewood Park; we're now above Man U having played one game less - at this stage of our evolution it's a nice place to be.

Our visit to Ewood Park was frenetic, and a good lesson for the Spanish lads: Josemi looking well off the pace (so he needs to start learning quickly); Luis Garcia looked lively as a sub; and Alonso again showing that if you give him time and space he can be devastating; but also that if not, he'll find his own time and space. Only once we get Gerrard back alongside him, can we truly kick on, with what will be the best midfield combination in the world. If we can dominate in the centre, it will help compensate for any weaknesses elsewhere (until Rafa spends money to address them).

Two of his predecessor's Ł3m signings scored our goals. After 64 games without one, Riise has two goals in a week. He might have had another when he cut inside on his right foot and again opted to use his left - good play in one regard in getting a ferocious strike in, but the angle was better when on his right foot for the far post curler (see Brett Emerton, 45th minute). Something tells me he'll never learn, but at least he's looking like the player who arrived in 2001.

Houllier also deserves credit for the 'steal' of Baros from Banik Ostrava. Ł3m for the man who went on to win the Golden Boot at Euro 2004, and now our top scorer with seven goals? A bargain. Now Milan is finally getting a run in the side, out of Owen's shadow (and away from doubts about similar styles), our number five is looking awesome. He can still frustrate, but his running - both with and without the ball - is phenomenal. Unlike Heskey, another who kept him from the team, he frustrates from taking too much on in terms of attacking the opposition, but I prefer a determined goal-hungry player to one who always looks for the safe option. Milan's awareness is getting better, but I don't want him to lose that directness which can make him unplayable at times.

Once clean through on goal, Milan is looking formidable. We are currently seeing the Czech Republic version of the player, now he feels 'loved' and trusted. The way he finished past Brad Friedel was superbly cool and composed, and reminiscent of the way he scored against Denmark over the summer: slightly different finish, but the same lack of panic.

I still can't work out how exactly quick Milan is. Nippy and determined sums him up. He is one of very few players who appear as quick when running with the ball as without. He doesn't boot the ball 20 yards and chase it, as Cisse tends to do (as, until the accident, Cisse knew no-one was capable of matching him over 20 yards). Milan dribbles the ball very close to his feet, but shuffles those feet really quickly, like mini-pistons. He's strong and holds players off so well.

Another Houllier signing, Djimi Traore, continues his metamorphosis from "Bambi on ice" (a description his critics over-used) to a Lilian Thuram-type full-back. Okay, I'm possibly over-stretching things a bit, but I'd like to know if there is a better last-ditch tackler in world football? Those telescopic legs hook danger away just as you think the opposition is in on goal. He's cutting out the mistakes, and getting forward well. We've seen enough false dawns from Djimi in the past to get carried away just yet, but maybe - as he reaches maturity in terms of defenders (few defenders are mistake-free before their mid-20s) - he's turning into the finished article. Watch this space.

It was good to see an opposing full-back make the kind of glaring error Djimi may once have made, in gifting us the equalizer (there was still a lot for Luis Garcia and Baros to do to score, however). In the RAWK feature where we ask opposing fans their view on the game, a discussion between the two Blackburn contributors broke out. One noted that McEveley was "mistake after mistake". It happens with young defenders - just not normally quite as generously as that, where he worked a Blackburn free-kick in our half into a goal for Baros.

It's been a difficult week. The Millwall game may not have proven that the kids are definitely good enough, individually, for the top level of football, but it did show that the philosophy of Benitez - the style of play: high tempo, pass-and-move, defend a high line, play as a team - is something that is following through with the squad's fringe players and future hopefuls. The entire playing staff is slowly coming to terms with the new approach - one wavelength, it seems. At Blackburn we competed physically, in a tough physical game, and we looked to try and keep the ball on the ground and work openings; not always successfully, but the improvement on earlier in the season was evident.

Just a couple of worries remain: the lack of pace at the back, Traore aside, which makes such a high line (which is essential to stop us conceding territory) a dangerous ploy at times. And zonal marking threw up another heart-in-mouth example of static players losing out to a running jumper (well done to Luis Garcia on the line). But it wouldn't be right if there wasn't still stuff for Rafa to work on so early in his tenure.
Although I was ecstatic when Milan pulled us level, the game was soured for me after our number nine was stretchered off in the first half; to have lost after leading would have been hard to stomach, especially as we'd clearly lost Cisse for the season - so to rescue something seemed both essential, and strangely irrelevant (you still can't exactly claim that the injury wasn't in vain; one point is no compensation for a broken leg).

It turned out to be a pretty innocuous foul - a clumsy tangling of legs - that did for Cisse. I can only wish him a speedy recovery, and hope that from watching a lot of English football on television over the coming months he picks up pointers for his game, and that when he returns he feels under slightly less pressure when the 'new boy' tag will have worn off and expectations have lowered a little.

A comminuted fracture, which he suffered, is where the bone is broken, splintered or crushed into a number of pieces. It was therefore not a clean, simple break. So first of all, we must hope he manages to play again - careers are occasionally ended by nasty injuries. 

Florent Sinama-Pongolle now has the chance he has been waiting for. His pace and silky touch will cause defenders problems. Whether he can score enough goals remains a valid question, but if he can offer the pace and directness Cisse was contributing to our recent good results, and help push teams back with Milan Baros, room will be created for others. Luis Garcia and Kewell are two other options, and both can score goals playing just off of the main striker. Kewell's best position, to my mind, is as the second striker, and with Riise getting into good positions from the left, it could be Harry's way back into the team, with Garcia cutting in from the right flank. Nunez is another player who can play as a striker; but he needs to just play - full stop - before we can judge his worth in that role.

But Baros is now the main man. We're relying on him to score goals, but seeing the way he plays football, he would want it no other way.

© Paul Tomkins 2004*

* polite note: while I don't mind my articles being posted on other forums (providing accreditation is included - preferably with a link to RAWK), as that is the nature of the internet, I do object when people pass my work off as their own, and then, when challenged, claim to be me!

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