Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Fourmiddable- Liverpool Thrash Everton

Last night, one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures of Liverpool’s season was played out. It’s always a good occasion when the reds take on their local rivals, but in recent times it hasn’t got quite as sweet as this. Liverpool dominated throughout the game against a limp-looking Everton side, and came out 4-0 victors!

Liverpool started brightly. Both sides looked very much up for it right from the outset, as is nearly always the case in the derby. Nobody had very much time on the ball, and the game was consequently extremely fast-paced. It was Liverpool who took the lead from a corner on 21 minutes. The captain, Steven Gerrard, headed the ball powerfully into the back of the net from a Luis Suarez delivery. Though the header was excellent, James McCarthy (who was stationed on the near post) should have done better at getting the ball away. From here on in, the win never really looked in doubt. The threat which Everton had initially posed rapidly faded away, and in their desperation to launch some decent attacks their defence fell apart. Daniel Sturridge capitalised fully on this, with goals on 33 and 35 minutes to put the reds out of sight. The first was simple but classy- Sturridge ran through a huge gap left in the Everton defence and was picked out beautifully by Coutinho (who, incidentally, had an extremely good game). He then slotted very coolly past Howard. His second goal was sublime- again he found himself clean through, this time after getting on the end of a long clearance from Kolo Toure. Tim Howard charged out to meet him, but could only watch helplessly as the ball flew over his head and dropped perfectly into the net.

The second half only saw one more goal, but it could have been a lot more. In many ways, Everton can be thankful that they only let in four! Suarez managed to get on the score-sheet, getting to the ball in front of Jagielka and, somewhat inevitably, beating Howard in the one-on-one. Soon after this Liverpool won a penalty, after Howard came out and took the man instead of the ball. Sturridge, on a hat-trick, stepped up to take it. Unfortunately he blasted it over the bar- he looked absolutely devastated, but the fact that we were already four up must have been of some consolation! Still, it was good to see how gutted he was; it points towards the hunger for goals he has that has seen him rise to 3rd top scorer this season despite missing many games through injury. The miss seemed to knock his judgement- later on, determined to get his hat-trick, he went for goal and put it over rather than playing a square ball to Suarez for a simple tap-in. Rodgers subsequently subbed him, much to his displeasure. On the whole though this mini-saga didn’t cast much of a shadow over the result: a 4-0 win over Everton is never going to be disappointing!

But why was it so one-sided? The injury sustained by Lukaku in the aftermath of the first goal almost certainly had something to do with it. Up until the goal, although Liverpool had created a few more chances than Everton, the game had been relatively even. Lukaku’s physicality combined with the pace of Kevin Mirallas is a threat against any team, so against our defence it was particularly worrying! Had Lukaku not been forced off it seems highly unlikely that Everton would have failed to score. As it is Roberto Martinez was forced to bring on Steven Naismith, who failed to produce any noteworthy chance all game.

That said, nothing should be taken away from Liverpool. In attack they were excellent- my man of the match was Coutinho, who finally seemed to click back into the form he was showing before his injury. Sturridge and Suarez were also excellent as usual, and Sterling, though not quite perhaps as prominent as he has been in the last two or three games, still played a very big part going forward. Defensively there was very little to do, but Mignolet made a few decent saves when called upon.

To sum up, it was a very good all-round performance. The team generally worked together in a slick, fluent manner, and the counter-attacking football on show was supreme. It will certainly fill the players with confidence, which will hopefully see us get onto a nice run of form. It also cements our place in the top 4,  which is a place we will surely be come the end of the season if we keep putting in performances such as these.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Monday, 13 January 2014

Stoke 3-5 Liverpool- SAS Storm the Brittania

Phew. After a thrilling contest yesterday against Stoke, Liverpool finally prevailed as victors. Though the win was certainly significant (a win away at Stoke is a tough result to get at the best of times), the most poignant aspect of the match was perhaps the return of Daniel Sturridge from injury. As the title suggests, he immediately managed to pick up where he left off with strike partner Luis Suarez, scoring one and excellently assisting another.

The game started quite well for Liverpool. Though Stoke looked half-decent going forward, they also looked very shaky defensively. Their problems were compounded after just 5 minutes when Aly Cissokho’s wild shot took a wicked deflection off Ryan Shawcross and into the back of the net. It was a comedy goal, but Liverpool were worthy of their lead. Stoke continued to be uncharacteristically shoddy at the back, a problem which the second goal they conceded summed up perfectly. Pieters failed to deal with a bouncing ball, heading it into the path of Suarez. The Uruguayan was then left with the simple (for him at any rate) task of getting to the ball before the hesitant Shawcross and smashing the ball into the net past Butland.

Unfortunately, the tide began to turn at this point. Our ex-players came back to haunt us- Peter Crouch scored the first goal for Stoke, beating Toure easily to score the Potters’ first headed goal of the season. 6 minutes later Charlie Adam scored a most unlikely equaliser, emphatically shooting the ball through Skrtel’s legs into the corner of the net from outside the area.

I’ll take this opportunity to moan about Gerrard. For this game Rodgers deployed him in a very holding, defensive role- as such it was not unreasonable to expect him to do some actual defending! Admittedly he made a couple of decent tackles, but mostly he was drifting forward in order to play ridiculous, usually inaccurate long balls up the field. Those determined to make excuses for Gerrard are saying that he “took one for the team” by playing out of position- this would all be very well if he had in fact fulfilled the role he was entrusted with. The sad fact is he’s too slow and frankly too much of a blunt instrument to work in the Liverpool that Rodgers has created. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gerrard as much as the next Liverpool fan, but his time has come. Playing him in new positions won’t solve the problem- if he’s playing in a defensive role and we fail to hold a comfortable 2 goal lead against Stoke, it’s clear there’s an issue! For me he was the worst player out there in this game, and that’s saying something considering we had Cissokho and Johnson playing!

Right, back to the match. Sorry about that. Anyway, the second half saw Liverpool come out strongly. There was worry that we might have been deflated by two goals conceded late in the first half, but if anything it seemed to fire us up. Indeed, we re-took the lead just 6 minutes after the restart, Gerrard finally making a positive contribution by scoring extremely coolly from the spot after Sterling was knocked to the ground. Some are accusing him of diving, but it was definitely a foul. Admittedly it was very soft and they aren’t normally given in the area, but by the letter of the law it was indeed a penalty. Nothing much of note happened then until the 66th minute, which marked the very welcome return of Daniel Sturridge. He came on to replace Philippe Coutinho, who had played decently but sadly once again failed to reproduce the form he first showed on his arrival at Liverpool. He was an injection of life into our attack, and really reminded everyone how much we’ve missed him. Just 5 minutes into his return, he ran past two players then played an absolutely exquisite pass into the path of Suarez, who did what he does best, curling the ball beyond Butland with a first-time shot.

So, 19 minutes to play and 4-2 up against a side who prior to this game had scored just 19 goals all season (less than one per game). Surely this was in the bag? Apparently not! Liverpool decided to give us all a scare by conceding yet again, this time to Jon Walters. Mignolet was at fault for this one- he saw the ball late, but still should have been able to prevent it from rolling tamely past him into the net. Thankfully, Sturridge was on hand to put our minds at rest. Suarez played in a nice ball, and Sturridge saw his effort smartly saved by Butland. He then managed to keep the ball in play superbly, before cutting back in and firing the ball powerfully into the back of the net.

In conclusion, although it was an absolute rollercoaster of a game, I can have no qualms with the result. A win against Stoke is something any team can be pleased with, and the return of our deadly partnership of Suarez and Sturridge is certainly a huge boost. If they both stay fit top 4 is practically a given- they are currently one of the best, if not the best outright, strike partnerships in the world. However, the game did further highlight our need for some squad strengthening- it is clear that we need a new defensive midfielder, as well as (ideally) two new full backs and another centre back. Still, it does not do to dwell on the negatives, especially after a win that fires us into the top 4, and on the whole I am feeling very positive going forward.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013