Has anyone ever read the book “A guide to recognising your saints” by Dito Montiel? In the book he describes how his Father used to watch the news every night but at the first sight of any gimmick or attempt to inject humour into the news, he would immediately turn the TV off and dismissively say ‘Clowns!’
That is the perfect description of Liverpool yesterday.
Lets start with the starting lineup, which was a complete joke. Gerrard is injured so needs replacing with another attacking central midfielder. Benitez then realises he doesn’t have one. Torres still isn’t quite fit and played over 100 minutes midweek so needs a rest. Kuyt has been poor lately and also needs a rest. What that left us with was the only recognised striker left, David N’gog being supported by Babel and Benayoun.
Worse was to follow, Alonso was rested and Lucas was suspended (mercifully) so it looked likely Plessis or Spearing would play. Wrong again. Benitez made the logical choice of playing left-back Aurelio in the middle. I can only assume Plessis and Spearing have either insulted Rafa’s mum/scratched his car/ran over his cat/ eaten all his jaffa cakes, as neither were even in the squad and are not, to the best of my knowledge, injured. What being overlooked in favour of a left back will do to their confidence, only time will tell.
We lined up with what looked to be, on paper at least, an unusually attacking formation, 3-4-2-1 with Dossena and Arbeloa deployed as wingbacks. As with any Benitez team it was not to be. As the game kicked off it became evident we were effectively playing with a back SEVEN against a team that hadn’t won in 12 games and are in complete freefall in the league.
The first half was one of the worst halves of football I have ever witnessed. We were completely clueless up front as Babel spent all half running into blind alleys, N’gog was dominated by Campbell and Distin and Benayoun completely fluffed our only decent chance when he was put through by Arbeloa and fell, only managing a weak effort wide. The only bright spots for Liverpool were Arbeloa, the three centre backs (especially Agger, whose ability on the ball brings another dimension to our play) and surprisingly Dossena was having a good game on the left, though his attempts at skilful moves like the step over, did resemble a Hippo trying to tap-dance.
I was impressed with Aurelio, I though he did very well in the middle, he went close with a free kick that brushed the outside of the post and got himself in good positions to shoot, even though his shots were wayward. His overall passing and distribution was good and he looked far more composed than Mascherano, who was wasteful in possession once again, though he had a great effort on goal that forced James into a fine save.
Early in the second half we had a penalty appeal turned down for handball, which evened itself immediately as Aggers hand inadvertently touched the ball as he fell over.
N’gog had tried hard without doing anything at all and was the obvious choice to be replaced. The stage looked set for Torres to come on but instead it was Dirk Kuyt who was introduced. Kuyt got the ball in the box after a rare piece of good work by Benayoun, and crossed for Babel to produce arguably the worst miss of all-time. Most of the time when someone missed an open goal like that they have taken their eye off the ball but Babel watched it and went with his wrong foot.
Almost immediately Crouch put Nugent through and he slotted home for Pompey to take a 1-0 lead against the run of play. Surely Torres would come on now? No, in a substitution that sums Rafa up, we responded to going a goal down by bringing on a defensive midfielder, Alonso.
Crouch hit an awful back pass that Kuyt failed to get onto, but James handled it. Aurelio then smashed home the indirect free kick for 1-1. Finally, Torres came on for the hapless Babel but Pompey scored next. They were awarded a dubious free-kick, which our Zonal marking failed to deal with, and Hreidarsson headed past Reina, who made a rare mistake to allow the ball to bounce over him. 2-1.
Kuyt had a goal disallowed for offside but it looked a poor decision. Torres was then put through and beat Distin before pulling back to Kuyt, who beat Distin and fired in from a tight angle for an equaliser that made Tony Adams kick his seat in the dugout very hard!
We kept pushing and in injury time Benayoun’s not possessing any genitalia (he has no balls at all, he jumped out of every tackle, all match) paid off when won us a throw in. Benayoun crossed and Torres met it at the front post to rocket a header into the top corner for an unlikely win that keeps the pressure on Man Utd and off Benitez for his kamikaze selection.
Make no mistake; much of our victory is down to Pompey’s inability to defend. Distin and Campbell, who have been the backbone of their successes the past two seasons, were truly bad. If we had had a real threat up front for all of the game, not the last twenty minutes, we would have scored far more. I just don’t understand why he wouldn’t attack that defence more.
Our team selection was a disgrace. Our starting lineup had a whole 5 league goals between them, and one of them was Arbeloa’s. You could have rested Torres and Alonso by playing them then bringing them off after 50-minutes or so just as effectively. Thanks to the deadline day debacle, we have no real options in attack other than Torres, as N’gog does not look good enough. I’d like to see us recall Krisztian Nemeth from his loan spell at Blackpool and give him a go.
Babel has been poor all season and he is really frustrating me. He has all the attributes a top-class player needs and all the talent in the world but he isn’t performing.
We have a long break until our next game, and we have to hope none of our players get knjured on international duty this week. If they do, we have no chance of winning the title.