Liverpool 1 Trabzonspor 0 - Questions Still Left Unanswered

Posted by Garstonite on August 19, 2010, 11:27:50 PM

For the first time in quite a while, I can sit here and praise Liverpool Football Club. Whoever it was who made the decision to make the tickets so reasonably priced deserves a big pat on the back. Today is forty years to the day I arrived on this Earth, and while the celebrations will continue at the weekend, there was nowhere I’d rather be than sat in The Kop with my son (who rarely gets the opportunity to come to Anfield) and his school-friend (who was making his debut).

Even on the walk up from the car, you could sense the anticipation. I was hoping that the eagerness from the new-feel crowd would transcend to the players on the pitch. The crowd seemed to fill up earlier than usual, which perhaps justifies the ticket price decision. The pie and programme-sellers probably haven’t been this busy in a while.

After the exhausting effort the players put in at the weekend against Arsenal, a much-changed side was expected. Pepe Reina continued in goal, across the back-four, Martin Kelly, Jamie Carragher, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Fabio Aurelio. In midfield, Maxi Rodriguez, Christian Poulsen, Lucas Leiva and Milan Jovanovic, with Joe Cole starting just off Ryan Babel.

For Trabzonspor, Kivrak, Cale, Glowacki, Gulselam, Korkamaz, Inan, Yilmaz, Balci, Teofilp, Bulut and Colman. And yes, I have just copied those names down from a BBC article.

It was a difficult match to predict already. Seven changes from the side that took on Arsenal facing a largely unknown outfit. All we could do is hope one or two grasped the opportunity – namely Joe Cole and Ryan Babel – and keep our fingers crossed Roy had done his homework. From the limited “research” I did of our opponents prior to the match though, I sensed we weren’t in for the vintage display many were expecting. These are a tougher proposition than the fans on the concourse anticipating a three or four nil win realised.

The game began in much the same way the game against Arsenal did. Trabzonspor didn’t fear Anfield. Even after the opening exchanges, it was easy enough to see that none of their team lacked confidence. They kept the ball far better than the men in red, with their number 20, Colman, gluing their fluid midfield together, popping up here, there and everywhere. It was difficult to see what formation they were playing, but at a guess, it looked somewhere between 4-3-3 and 4-4-1-1.

After rewatching the tape from the Arsenal game and hearing Martin Tyler's Monkey’s analysis of our defensive set-up from corners, I must say that so far, I’ve been left unconvinced. There is little doubt that we have shifted from ‘zonal’ to ‘man’ and while it may be just a bedding-in period, the players didn’t look comfortable. It was a good job Kyrgiakos was on the pitch as he seemed to take matters into his own hands. The Greek was the pick of our players in the first-half and even had our best chance early on in the game when he lost his marker from a corner down the other end and had his header palmed clear from their keeper Kivrak.

Trabzonspor continued to knock the ball around us in the first half. Christian Poulsen showed some encouraging signs of what we might grow to expect from him in the future. He stuck his foot in well and, whatsmore, was very assured in possession too.

Up front, we were severely lacking though. Cole and Babel didn’t seem in tune with one another, the service to the wide-players was limited and the opponent’s wingers constantly stuck themselves within five yards of Aurelio and Kelly who rarely crossed the halfway line. Overall the pace of the game was frustratingly laboured, played out as if it were a pre-season friendly. The atmosphere in the stands reflected what was being shown on the pitch, apart from the vociferous thousand or so in the Lower Anfield Road that had travelled from Turkey. One thing that seems certain is that next week is going to be a very hostile environment.

Much like at the weekend, the game appeared to the petering out into half-time when all of a sudden things sprang to life. Joe Cole received the ball and for the first time was able to turn and run at the Trabzonspor defence who parted like the waves. Cole slipped in an inch-perfect pass, Ryan Babel controlled it first time, opened his body up and bent it round the advancing Kivrak. A sublime finish and an ideal end to the half.

The mood around the ground immediately lifted and the rather despondent crowd was now feeling somewhat upbeat. If I’m totally honest, I will admit that in my attempt to remain positive in front of my two excited companions, I was spared a big mouthful of humble pie. I hate to be overly critical of a performance, but I thought Ryan Babel was atrocious. He’s insistent that he is a striker, but apart from the being quick and having a good finish (as he displayed) he seriously lacks the game intelligence to make it at this level up top. But credit to him for his goal which he took brilliantly. (I feel like the two characters from The Muppets, Waldorf and Statler, that change their minds more often Djibril Cisse changes hairstyles.)

As the teams shuffled out for the second half, Liverpool were set to make a change. Fernando Torres ran out onto the pitch in place of Ryan Babel who I can only presume got lost in the dressing room tweeting about what great a moment his goal was. Already I was feeling more positive and the young crowd at Anfield responded to the introduction of Torres with great delight. I informed my son and his friend of the Kop tradition to clap the opponent’s goalkeeper. Unsurprisingly Kivrak – who looks like the sort of person who’d try and entice a girl by showing her his Warhammer collection – didn’t reciprocate the generosity and it wouldn’t be the only occasion he’d fail to endear himself to The Kop.

It didn’t take Fernando very long to make an impact as the second half began. Linking up with Jovanovic on the left-hand side he fizzed a fine effort at Kivrak (who, to be fair, probably made a bit of a meal of it) from the left corner of the penalty area. All the posters, replica number 9 shirts and lunchboxes with his face on them justified immediately.

Liverpool already looked much better in the opening five to ten minutes than we had done in the entire first half. Milan Jovanovic looks very difficult to shake off the ball and he profited from the extra attention the Trabzonspor defence had to pay to Torres, bursting through into the penalty area, only to see his low drive blocked well from the goalkeeper. Suddenly we were looking an extra five yards quicker than our opponents. Maxi Rodriguez was brought down in the penalty area, but the decision was a corner. A few short moments after that Lucas drove into the box and was also brought down by Balci, who looks like he enjoys a pint of Tetleys or twenty every Friday night. This time the referee – who I thought had a shocking game and loved the sound of his own whistle far too much to be truthful – pointed to the spot.

It’s easy to say with hindsight, but I didn’t share the optimism the rest of the crowd did when Joe Cole stepped up to the spot. In fairness, there was no obvious choice from the players on the pitch, but I’d have preferred a cleaner striker of the ball such as Aurelio. Cole looked confident though, but his penalty was poor, lacking any form of pace or accuracy. It summed Joe’s week up, after being shown a red card and being banned from driving in the previous seven days. Given he won’t play in the next three Premier League games, I just hope he doesn’t get too frustrated by his lack of goals as it could potentially affect the rest of his game.

Trabzonspor weathered the early second-half storm and settled back into the rhythm that saw them dominate possession in the first half. They look a very good technical side, but are perhaps a little toothless in front of goal. With that said however, they did manage to produce one moment of sheer brilliance. Umut Bulut’s intelligent run off Martin Kelly was met by an equally intelligent pass. Bulut did everything he could with the effort by Pepe Reina made himself big and saw the ball bounce off him, on to the ground, and over the bar. A corner and a huge let-off.

Fernando Torres had another good effort – this time with his head from a teasing Jovanovic cross – saved well from Kivrak. The decision to bring on N’gog for Maxi was a puzzler, as we seemed to lose all shape. N’gog and Torres played side-by-side giving the already deep midfield-pairing little to aim for along the ground. After this, we looked most threatening from set-pieces. Jovanovic and Maxi’s crossing was very good throughout and in the second half, Kyrgiakos attacked an inviting ball and directed his header at Kivrak. Cole made life difficult for the keeper and Christian Poulsen bundled the ball over the line. Unfortunately the linesman’s flag and the referee’s whistle denied Poulsen a debut goal. The protection on goalkeeper’s in the modern game continues to frustrate the old-timers like myself. A few around me questioned where the fifth and sixth officials were, pondering whether they might have overruled the decision with a greater view of the incident.

In the end, a one-nil lead to take to Turkey next week. Something tells me next week might be a very different kettle of fish. On a night that was supposed to give us an indication as to whether our squad is strong enough to compete with gruelling schedule this season promises to offer, the only thing that can be said is that nothing is conclusive still.

MOTM – Christian Poulsen – I might raise a few eyebrows with this choice given he appeared a little sluggish and off the pace on occasion. With that said, I saw plenty of encouraging signs from the Dane. He was constantly looking for the ball, he kept things simple but was unafraid to try passes that were out of the ordinary when the situation called for it and made life very difficult for the very technically-gifted Tranzonspor midfield. A goal would have been the nice icing on the cake.

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