The Sweetest Derby Victory In Years?

Posted by Paul Tomkins on March 21, 2005, 10:14:45 AM

Who is the king of British comedy? Charlie Chaplin 末 British-born, and arguably as famous as any comedian that ever lived? Bob Hope, another Brit who found fame in America? The anarchy of John Cleese in his Python and Fawlty Towers days? Or current favourites, Ricky Gervais or Peter Kay?

   Or is it David "We didn't get enough protection from the referee" Moyes? Ever heard anything funnier? It was like American soldiers in Vietnam complaining that the locals were hitting them with bamboo leaves.

   Moyes' entire post-match gripe was about how it was just three minutes of injury time, and that then 末 horror of all horrors 末 the referee compounded this by blowing his whistle after three minutes. Really, David?

   Such is life. We could gripe too, as the first half had just two minutes of injury time 末 I didn't see Moyes complaining then, given 30 seconds should be added for each goal, and 30 seconds for each substitution. The eagle-eyed will already have totted two-and-a-half minutes there already, let alone the time added from when the watch should have been stopped while four of our players received treatment. What is it with miserable Scots and their obsession with timekeeping?

   While Baros was sent off for merely hanging a foot in the air 末 let's face it, he didn't jump in, leave the ground or make any kind of jabbing movement 末 I remain staggered at how Tony Hibbert (who was later yellow carded) escaped without even a booking for his over-the-ball lunge at Luis Garcia's shin when he had both feet off the ground. That's a straight red. Even then the Everton players accused the little Spaniard of diving. It just makes the victory all the more sweet 末 that the ref didn't help us at all, but that they were the ones moaning about him.

   The list goes on. David Weir escaped a definite second yellow for pulling Baros back when he was through on goal. Had Milan gone down, as others would have, Weir was off. The ref was still wrong to not go back and award the card. As it was, Weir was then allowed to kick Baros into the Main Stand, and still not get that second booking. Baros, who gets all sorts of shit kicked out of him in every game, was then red-carded for his first bad tackle of the season.

   Baros' suspension means he can be kept fresh for the two Juventus games (small consolation), but Morientes 末 who would then naturally lead the line in the league 末 remains a doubt with a thigh strain. (Perhaps sustained from that wonder strike). No wonder Benitez 末 an attacking player in his day 末 was considering dusting down the boots. We could be without Baros and Morientes, as well as Ciss, Sinama-Pongolle and Mellor in the coming weeks: our entire catalogue of out-and-out strikers.

   Baros' movement against Everton was superb, as he ran into the channels to draw the Everton defenders apart. His work rate remains phenomenal, and his all-round game was superb. It's just in front of goal where his confidence is lacking. Just as Owen regularly did (and, of course, all strikers do), he's having that patch where nothing will go in.
   So it's a good job that goals are coming from other areas.

   Luis Garcia now has nine goals from open play. Has more than adequately replaced Danny Murphy, who scored ten and 12 in his best two seasons, but with the aid of penalties and free-kicks, something at which he really excelled. Luis Garcia gets into the box more, to score poacher's goals, without ever appearing to be that kind of player. It's no wonder he's been called up to the Spanish national team. He had a difficult patch with injury and the birth of his child, but few skillful imports have settled so successfully so quickly. He works hard, runs all day, but of course he'll always be knocked off the ball on occasion 末 let's be realistic, he doesn't have Jan Molby's build. A ten-ton truck would have come off second best from a 50-50 shoulder barge with the Dane.

   Steven Gerrard now has ten from "open" play, although I use the inverted commas as I think that's four from indirect free kicks rolled to him. He'd score even more if someone else took the corners 末 in his previous best season with goals, when he got ten in 2001, he scored three or four by getting on the end of Gary Mac's crosses.

   Riise has eight goals, despite long periods at left back. In theory, Harry Kewell is another who can add lots of goals from midfield. But it clearly remains theory for the time being. I've not given up on him, as I want to see a fit and sharp Kewell in a red shirt before judging him too harshly 末 although next season will surely be make-or-break for the Aussie. (And despite all the heroics from midfield, no one has yet matched Kewell's 11 goals from last season 末 and that despite Kewell being poor from December 2003 onwards).

   That midfield, with Alonso's extra creativity added in place of Hamann, has the goals and creativity for a title challenge next season 末 or to at least get closer. Of course, not a day goes by without speculation which needs no explanation, where one member of that midfield might be playing elsewhere.

   Suffice to say it was great to see Gerrard back to his marauding best, influencing the game at both ends of the pitch and putting in some bone-shaking tackles. It was a timely reminder: indisputable evidence of how much the club still means to him. Perhaps to avoid an accusal of a being a 'badge kisser' he decided to instead heartily bite the liverbird 末 a love bite? Maybe this is a new trend, where full digestion of the club crest becomes the only way to prove your affection and affinity? Time will tell.

   The most impressive thing about yesterday was how players not usually associated with getting stuck in were charging about. Also, while our wretched luck with injury continues, it was great to see all three subs 末 all of whom have legions of detractors 末 quickly assimilating into the pace of the game, and ended up among our best performers.

   Several weeks ago I risked ridicule by praising Nunez. While I won't pretend that after yesterday's great showing he's done anything near enough to merit talk of him being a definite answer to anyone's prayers, it did at least showcase why Rafa bought him: he just needs to take some confidence from it, and do it more often.

   Now he is fit he is proving that he has a good turn of pace; no little skill (while not possessing a bag of tricks like Luis Garcia); strength; that he is a good header of the ball; and he is not afraid to get stuck in. I had seen qualities I liked 末 and lots of different qualities at that 末 in every display of his, even those games where, overall, he was extremely poor. I could see the sparks of something positive. A good cross here; a great header there; a change of pace as he got fitter; a clever give-and-go; a willingness to get stuck in. It was just a question of putting it all together. A Mersey derby is as good a place as any to start winning the fans over. Now he needs to build on it.

   Same with Pellegrino. The only doubt when he arrived was 'is he past his best?' Otherwise his pedigree was amazing: league titles with three different clubs, including Barcelona and Valencia. As a slow player whose game is all about thought, he is one of those who, in theory, should age well. Instant condemnations, as with Nunez, were made about a player who was lacking match fitness when being thrown in halfway through the season. That is about as tough as it gets for a player: new country, not fully fit, and adjusting to the pace of the English game.

   It's like a marathon runner who is physically fit, and free from injury, and who has done a little training, but who hasn't done any long distance running before entering the New York marathon. They might get around the course, but their performance will be severely impaired, and there will be no sprint finish left in the tank. Nunez and Pellegrino were both in need of getting matches under their belts, and had the disadvantage of baptisms of fire in the English game when the opposition was 'up and running'. If you all start at the same time in August, you get your match fitness in the first few games 末 it's the same for every team's players.

   I don't see the comparisons between Henchoz and Pellegrino, which were constantly made as a way to suggest there was no need to swap the Swiss with the Argentine. Watch how much organizing Pelle does 末 it's light years ahead of anything Henchoz, who was a mere 'reactor', ever offered. Henchoz wanted only to defend the edge of the area (which he did extremely well) and go about his own business. Just as Rafa feels Carra is at least the equal of Roberto Ayala, he always insisted Pelle was the organizer at Valencia 末 and as such, he's looking to a similar partnership at Liverpool. In the last three league games 末 all of which Pelle has started 末 we've limited the opposition to very few shots at goal. That may be a coincidence, or it may not.

   Pellegrino isn't much different from Sami in many respects 末 just far more vocal, with the downside of being slightly weaker in the air. Both read the game very well, but it seems clear that Pellegrino helps out his colleagues with more with advice and instruction. Pellegrino is making it tough for Rafa, but Sami will of course play in the Champions League, with Pelle ineligible.

   Pelle has to be given the one year extension. It showed how great his attitude that he asked to first prove he deserved it when offered it on arrival in January. He has the kind of quality and experience we need, even if only as cover 末 he's certainly not going to be any kind of long term solution. (Although Benitez won the league and Uefa Cup last season with a 39-year-old left back). The absence of Sami Hyypia from any starting XI was always a major worry, but that has proved unfounded in the last two games with a similar player able to step in. While Traore 末 who would have been the reserve centre back 末 has bags of pace, I already feel much safer with Pelle at centre half. Sometimes you have to back the tortoise over the hare.

   Benitez's replacement at Valencia 末 Claudio Ranieri 末 instantly dispatched Pelle to the reserves and made him train with the youth team. He was not part of his plans. Valencia were awful, with the Italian being sacked earlier this year. I doubt it was down to Pellegrino's absence, but at least the Argentine could say that when he was a regular they were a great side, and that he was not in any way culpable for the club's decline. Now he is enjoying his football again, and has discovered what it's like to win a Merseyside derby.
   A first Anfield victory in the derby in five years: yet more proof that while Houllier's Reds were better away from home, Benitez's are making Anfield more of a fortress. Get the walking wounded fit again, and next season we can expect to be much more competitive in all games.

   In the meantime, Everton are now well within Rafa's sights, and they are blowing hard like that marathon runner I mentioned earlier 末 in their case, they treated the first half of the season more like a sprint, and now their legs are turning to jelly. While all teams would want the points in the bag, most players admit that it's easier to chase than be chased 末 especially when the team in front are rapidly losing their bottle and composure, and apparently running in quicksand.

   This result could have the same effect as when Gary Mac's 93rd-minute winner at Goodison Park in 2001 saw the side find resolve and inner belief, and led to the amazing run-in which saw the treble completed, and a Champions League spot secured.

   Here's hoping.

ゥ Paul Tomkins 2005

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