Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Liverpool vs Swansea: Late Goals Send LFC Through to the Last 8

Yesterday, Liverpool faced fellow Premier League side Swansea in the Capital One Cup. The reds put in a solid display, but it looked like they were going to be sent crashing out of the competition until two late goals turned the match on its head.

It was clear from the start of the match that Rodgers had sent out his players with instructions to press high and put Swansea under pressure. This resulted in chances being created – for the first half an hour Liverpool were posing an almost constant threat. Borini was particularly good at this; his hunger for the game and determination to prove himself meant he happily chased down every ball. However, the pressure never really materialised into efforts on goal. Tremmel was barely tested in the first half, with good positions being squandered. This served to highlight how much we are missing Sturridge; Coutinho’s through balls were on point, but there was nobody there with the confidence and quality to provide the finish. For the final fifteen minutes of the half Liverpool eased off a bit, and consequently Swansea applied a little pressure of their own. Brad Jones looked very uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, rushing multiple clearances. The Welsh side were unable to capitalise on this period of vulnerability, and the half ended with the game still scoreless.

The second half started, and Liverpool were once again producing football at a level they’ve failed to reach for much of this season. Coutinho was really pulling the strings in midfield, often drawing two or three men before playing a lovely pass to a teammate. That said, clear cut chances were still very much at a premium – most of our shots on goal were speculative long range efforts. Although the team were managing to keep up their attacking momentum from the first half, a little of the defensive solidity had been sacrificed. This led to a much more open game; Swansea were starting to worry the notoriously shaky Liverpool back line. After 65 minutes the visitors did manage to exploit the defensive weaknesses of the hosts: a ball over the top left Lovren in no man’s land, and Marvin Emnes finished excellently to give Swansea the lead.

The goal was followed by a worrying spell for Liverpool. They were in disarray having gone behind despite being on top, and Swansea could easily have doubled their lead. Gomis had the pick of the chances, finding himself unmarked in the box from a set piece but firing his header straight at Jones. Eventually things settled down, but the Reds still didn’t look likely to score the goal that would bring them back on level terms. With 10 minutes to play, Brendan Rodgers took Lambert off for Balotelli. This change should have been made much earlier. Lambert looked off the pace all game, as his lack of speed and mobility prevented him from properly integrating himself into the high pressing system. Balotelli had a positive effect on the side immediately, combining well with Coutinho and Borini to carve out chances. It was Borini who got the assist for Balotelli’s goal in the 85th minute: an inch perfect cross was attacked well by Balotelli, who knocked it home from close range.
With the scores level, Liverpool really kicked on. Federico Fernandez was shown a straight red with just minutes left to go – it was never a red card offence (and arguably not even a foul), but the dismissal left gaps for LFC to exploit. Into the 95th minute it looked as though Swansea would get the chance to go in and regroup before extra time, but Dejan Lovren of all people scored a late winner to send Liverpool through. It came from a set piece: Coutinho’s lovely ball in was totally misjudged by Tremmel, and Lovren got his head to it. He headed the ball downwards, and it bounced into the net. Liverpool are now through to the final 8 of the Capital One Cup.

It’s excellent that the two heroes of the game are the two most under-fire Liverpool players. Balotelli in particular will surely be relieved to have found the net after his long drought, his last goal coming against Ludogorets. Hopefully both Lovren and Balotelli can kick on from here and start really returning on the investments made in them. Borini will be hopeful of a place in the starting line-up when Liverpool face Newcastle on Saturday – he played fairly well on the whole, and combined nicely with fellow countryman Balotelli. Whoever starts at the weekend, the reds will fancy their chances of victory if they put in another performance like this.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Liverpool 0-3 Real Madrid: Post-Match Analysis

Yesterday, Liverpool played host to Real Madrid in a Champions League tie at Anfield. Playing the reigning champions of Europe was never going to be easy, and so it proved: the errors that have manifested themselves throughout this season were brutally exploited by the Spanish giants, and the game ended 3-0.
The game started very promisingly for Liverpool; the high press and the rapid attacks were reminiscent of last season. Real looked shaken by the intensity of the start – some uncharacteristic unforced errors were made, with passes going astray and crosses being wasted. The only real issue was the failure to test Casillas. Although Liverpool were applying pressure and looking the stronger side, the final ball was lacking and consequently the Real Madrid goalkeeper had little to do. Even the LFC defence looked better than usual, with Johnson putting in his best performance in a while and, at least for the first twenty minutes, dealing with the threat of Ronaldo.
Sadly (but somewhat predictably), it was too good to last. The effort that the men in red were exerting was clear, and after twenty minutes the intensity started to drop off. It didn’t take Real long to punish them for the lapse; 23 minutes in they showed their class and came up with a stunning goal. The passing was rapid and accurate, culminating in a lovely Rodriguez chip over the top which Ronaldo converted excellently. Unlike most of the goals we’ve conceded this season, it was down to the skill of the opposition rather than a glaring defensive error.
After this, Liverpool’s resistance totally disintegrated. The game turned into the exhibition that so many had predicted pre-game, and by the half an hour mark Madrid had made it 2. This time it was Benzema: Toni Kroos crossed it in, unchallenged by anyone, and Benzema beat Johnson comfortably at the far post to loop it over Mignolet and in. Though the finish itself was nice, the cross should never have been allowed to come in. Five minutes before half time they had a third, again through Benzema. This was the worst of the lot, and typified our defending so far this season. It came from a corner – the defence were totally unable to clear after Pepe knocked it down, Mignolet failed to claim the ball and Benzema poked it home from close range. The game was nearly made interesting again by Coutinho, who was our best player on the night- seconds before half time his long range effort cannoned off the post.
Balotelli was taken off for Lallana at half time – this left Liverpool without an out-and-out striker. It was Sterling who functioned as the false 9, and he looked fairly dangerous. The renewed pace in attack allowed the hosts to threaten for the first ten minutes of the half, but soon enough control had been seized again by Real. Kroos and Modric pulled the strings, toying with Liverpool and preventing them from getting a touch of the ball for prolonged periods. This slowed the tempo down massively. It is likely that Madrid had El Clasico on their minds, as if they’d wanted more goals in the second half they probably could have got them. As it was, the second half ended at a pedestrian pace and finished 3-0.
Although a hefty defeat is never pleasant, the game wasn’t as bad as many people are making it out to be. It should not be forgotten that Real Madrid are current champions of Europe, and that they are 10 times winners of the prestigious tournament. It is also unfounded to suggest  that Liverpool didn’t show promise; it’s fair to say that if we’d started against QPR like we did against Real then we’d have had the game wrapped up in the first twenty minutes. Coutinho looked back to somewhere near his scintillating best, and Sterling was excellent as usual. The only real problem the match highlighted was one we are all very aware of already – our defence simply isn’t good enough.  If the club are going to continue the progress they have been making in recent times, this issue has to be dealt with.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 19 October 2014

QPR 2-3 Liverpool: What Just Happened?

After a frantic finish at Loftus Road, QPR and Liverpool fans alike were left in a state of utter shock. Four goals in the last seven minutes turned a dreary 1-0 affair into a mind-boggling 3-2 victory for the reds. Despite being dominated by QPR for large periods of the match, two own goals and a nice strike from Coutinho saw LFC take all three points. The win fires them up to 5th in the table, although wins for Swansea and/or Manchester United would see them drop.

The first half was one of the most lacklustre performances Liverpool have produced in living memory. They barely produced a chance of their own, allowing QPR to apply mounds of pressure onto an extremely shaky defence. Some of the clearances were nigh-on suicidal; it’s a minor miracle that Rangers didn’t manage a goal in the first half. Leroy Fer struck the bar twice, and a goal line intervention from Glen Johnson was needed to stop Rodgers’ team going a goal down. Mignolet was also called upon on multiple occasions. He had a very good game, making three or four vital stops. The few times Liverpool did venture forwards it ended in frustration- Mario Balotelli was hugely wasteful, taking poor shots from ridiculous areas. Another issue in the LFC attack was the more advanced role Gerrard was playing in. His lack of pace prevented Liverpool from springing attacks quickly, and consequently many a blistering run from Raheem Sterling went to waste. With the possible exception of Adam Lallana, Sterling was the only player in a red shirt who looked capable of creating any sort of chance.

Liverpool started the second half a lot better, but that wasn’t hard. In truth we still looked pretty awful; a few chances were being carved out, but they didn’t look like being taken. Defensively there was little improvement- Bobby Zamora continued to terrorise our back line. This doesn’t bode well for our clash against Real in just three days time; if Zamora, Austin and Phillips can make our defence look so weak, what will Benzema, Ronaldo and Bale do to it? All we can do is try to outscore them, but based on today’s evidence that might be tough. It took nearly 70 minutes for the reds to eventually get the ball into the QPR net, and even then they had to rely on Richard Dunne to do it for them.

After the breakthrough, the game went dead for a while. For a glorious fifteen minutes, Liverpool fans started to hope that their team might be able to calm the game down, prevent QPR from getting forward and grind out a 1-0 win. What were we thinking? In typical LFC fashion, it didn’t all go according to plan. With just three minutes of normal time to play, substitute Eduardo Vargas scored to put the London outfit back on level terms- the chance was created courtesy of some shambolic defending from Jose Enrique. The anger and despair didn’t last long. In the 90th minute Coutinho drilled the ball excellently into the far corner to restore Liverpool’s lead. He deserved a goal for the impact he made on the game; after replacing Lallana in the 66th minute he vastly improved the LFC attacking threat.

Unbelievably, the game was far from over. Barely a minute after Coutinho had scored what most people were sure would be the winner, Vargas scored from a corner with a glancing header. The ball nicked off Steven Gerrard and somehow crept in at the near post, making the score 2-2 in the 92nd minute. In the final minute of added time, it looked like QPR might even go on and snatch the victory. They won a free kick in a dangerous position, but the delivery into the box was poor. This allowed Liverpool to break- Coutinho played an inch perfect pass through to Raheem Sterling, who’s attempted ball across goal to Balotelli was diverted into the net by Steven Caulker. Rangers barely had time to kick off again, meaning that Liverpool somehow left Loftus Road with all three points. 

The performance can hardly be called inspiring; whilst Sterling played well and Coutinho made a strong case for inclusion in the starting line-up against Real, the team as a whole played extremely poorly. The only real positive to take from it is that we got the three points; in one sense that’s all that matters, but we won’t be able to rely on two own goals to get us the win every match. We need to up our game, and we need to do it soon.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013