Liverpool today stole victory from the jaws of defeat at Anfield and claimed a fortunate victory over Middlesborough.
Liverpool were looking to put their indifferent earl season form behind them and make a statement to the rest of the league that they are serious contenders. People tend to believe the title will be decided by the games between the ‘big four’ but in my opinion titles are decided by games like this one, when you have to beat a team who come to defend.
Admittedly, this was a better performance than the Sunderland game but Rafa got it tactically wrong. Middlesborough deserve a lot of credit today. They soaked up a lot of pressure and the back four defended excellently. Alves and Tuncay were a handful up front and they battled hard. Turnbull in goal made some excellent saves despite only replacing Brad Jones minutes before the kickoff.
However, Liverpool was the home team and as such it was up to them to take the game to Boro. Torres and Keane still have not gelled as a partnership and as such the Boro defence was never seriously threatened. Benayoun was terrible again (no idea why we’re selling Pennant and keeping him) and Wheater at right-back had no problem subduing him. Alonso also had a poor game in that he kept giving the ball away and was shying away from tackles all game, Mascherano’s return from the Olympics can’t come soon enough.
Boro had the best chance when Reina was forced into an excellent save from Taylor. Torres and Keane had some shots but Turnbull was equal to it. In the second half Liverpool were very poor. We reverted to playing long balls, which were easily being dealt with by the Boro defence, all of which were about 6 inches taller than Torres or Keane. We also seemed to regress to 6-yearolds in the playground tactics, namely give the ball to your best player (Torres) and wait for him do something with it. Torres was beginning to get frustrated and referee Mike Riley was giving him no protection.
Boro brought on Mido and just after my friend was saying how bad a player he was, he scored an excellent low drive from 25 yards out to give Boro a shock lead. Boro then started to defend deeper and deeper and frustratingly Liverpool kept launching long balls to nobody up the pitch or moving the ball about so slowly that Boro could get all 10 men behind the ball and deny any space to the Liverpool attackers.
Liverpool had a penalty turned down when Huth handled Gerrard’s shot (How Mike Riley gets to officiate at the top level continues to astonish me). The equaliser came when O’Neil handled Alonso’s cross: the referee played the advantage and the ball fell to Carragher whose cross/shot hit Pogatetz and went in.
After that it was all Liverpool but Boro looked to have got a deserved point, especially when Skrtel wasted a free header in injury time. There was just enough time for one more attack and when the ball fell to Gerrard he made no mistake and Liverpool got the win.
Whilst I am delighted we won the game there are still some serious deficiencies in our team. We need width and pace desperately. Benayoun is of no use on the left and Babel did nothing when he came on. I’d be more than happy with Stuart Downing or Morten Gamst Pedersen on the left rather than spending money on Gareth Barry. Also despite his work rate Dirk Kuyt should not be on the right. If Pennant is to be sold and not replace then El Zhar should be given a chance. There also were not any real quality replacements on the bench, Voronin is not the answer (unless the question is name a useless striker) and Babel is too erratic although he may be the best option we currently have until Nemeth and Pacheco are ready.
To mount a serious league challenge we need more players to be signed and hopefully that can happen now Rafa and Rick Parry have kissed and made up. We should beat Standard Liege on Wednesday but Villa next Sunday should be a good test for the Reds and an indicator of how our season is going to be.