What can I say? We blew it.
With Chelsea playing Man Utd today (Sunday 11th), we had the chance to throw down the gauntlet and really put the pressure on our title rivals by beating Stoke comprehensively. Now United can overtake us if they win their three games this week.
Instead we got the football equivalent of a Chimps tea party. We are now the team Stoke have kept two clean sheets against.
We lined up with Aurelio in for Insua, who has to play in a youth tournament for Argentina, Benayoun in for Babel and Lucas in for the injured Alonso. Kuyt started up front by himself with Keane dropping to the bench after his terrible FA Cup performance.
The best way I can sum up Lucas and Benayoun’s performances is to say we actually would have been better starting with 9 men. Benayoun lost the ball every single time he got it and Lucas spent the day either missing the ball completely, missing tackles, giving the ball away and his reading of the game and judgement was atrocious.
We badly missed Alonso in the middle. Mascherano played like the second coming of Momo Sissoko as he couldn’t pass the ball to save his life. When Amdy Faye is made to look like a good player, something is badly wrong.
The only player who played well for us, besides the defence, was Albert Riera. He was doing everything a good winger should but more often than not had nobody to cross to, although Kuyt missed our best chance when he headed a Riera cross wide.
Stoke put us on the back foot the entire game. We were getting out muscled all over the pitch and we’d have lost if not for Hyypia and Carragher, who denied a certain goal with an excellent header. Stoke hit the bar early on, though there were about four players offside and had a goal correctly ruled out for offside. We hit the bar late on and Gerrard hit the post right at the end but we got what we deserved from this game, not much.
Once again this was the result of Benitez’s ultra-defensive tactics. We basically played for the 0-0 draw from the start. With no Alonso, we need Gerrard back in the middle where he can pull the strings for us as he was not really involved in yesterdays game. Again, it was obvious we needed a second striker. I was watching the game with a friend who is an Evertonian, and when Torres was getting ready to come on he asked who I though was coming off, I said Riera and he looked at me like I was crazy as it was obvious Benayoun or Lucas had to go off. When Riera did come off I had to explain he had made the fatal mistake of playing well and providing an attacking threat.
Even then, we stuck to one up front, with Kuyt moving to the right and Torres playing as the lone striker. Basically out tactic was to allow Stoke to launch long balls into our box and then punt the ball up for Torres to try and beat the four defenders covering him by himself.
I was not impressed with Rafa sounding off about Alex Ferguson in his press conference. While most of what he said is correct I can’t help but get the feeling that all he has done is poked the bear who will get angry. He should have kept a dignified silence and acknowledged that the fact Fergie is saying things about Liverpool means he sees us as a real threat.
We play Everton next twice and we are at home and playing a team with only one recognised striker, who has scored once in his last 40 premiership games. Surely we’ll play two up front?
I wouldn’t bet on it.