Monday, 23 March 2015

Liverpool 1-2 United: Post-Match Analysis

These are always the worst articles to write. We’ve lost to our bitter rivals. Not only that, we’ve lost by putting in a performance that was, at times, utterly abysmal. Add to that the injury picked up by Sturridge, the three match suspensions for both Skrtel and Gerrard and the fact that we now need a minor miracle to make the top four, and it’s fair to say that this match can be written off as an absolute disaster.

As with most derbies, the quality was poorer than we normally see. Passes were constantly going astray and both teams lacked any sort of fluidity in the early stages. It was Man United who were looking the less awful of the two sides though, and this played out when the visitors took the lead after just fourteen minutes. Ander Herrera played a lovely ball through to Mata, who finished very coolly indeed on his weaker foot. Liverpool fans could take minor solace in the fact that it was at least a good goal – it would have been even harder to stomach a Fellaini header from a long ball over the top.

Our miseries were compounded as the game went on. The first half went from poor to abysmal, and Liverpool looked utterly incapable of scoring. We only made one chance in the entire half – that said, it was a golden opportunity. Adam Lallana received a pull-back that gave him a clear shot on De Gea’s goal, but he placed it just wide. Other than that, the home fans had nothing to get off their seats about; following the rousing chorus of YNWA at the start of the game, the crowd noise rapidly (and, to be brutally honest, understandably) declined. Any hopes of a second half revival were quickly stifled – Gerrard, who had come on to replace Lallana, got himself sent off after just 38 seconds. Experienced he may be, but he showed all the composure of a 20 year old in his very first Liverpool-United clash. He needlessly stamped on Herrera in response to a hard challenge he had just been on the receiving end of, and left the referee no choice but to dismiss him. Admittedly you can’t really blame him for wanting to take his last chance to have a good stamp on one of the Mancs, but he hardly helped the team!

Sure enough, United were the next to score. Liverpool did at least look like they wanted the result in the second half, but the damage was already done. The second goal for the visitors came through Mata again – as with the first, it was an excellent goal. This one was a scissor kick: the ball came in behind him, and he improvised marvellously to put it into the far corner beyond Mignolet. The game was all but up by this point – with half an hour to go and one man less than their opponents, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for Liverpool. It was a testament to Rodgers’ beloved “character” and team spirit that we managed to pull a goal back – the players didn’t allow their heads to drop completely, and Sturridge emphatically rifled his strike in at the near post with twenty minutes to play. This was not enough to inspire an unlikely recovery, however – United looked the more likely to score the fourth goal of the game. They seemed as if they were about to do just that in the last few minutes when Can put in an awfully clumsy challenge in the box, gifting United a penalty. Rooney, however, could not beat Mignolet, who guessed the right way and made a fine stop.

I tend to try and end on some sort of positive note after the summary of the match events. Sadly, on this occasion, the immediate future is looking somewhat bleak. We are now five points adrift of fourth place and go into the Arsenal clash on the back of a demoralising loss – failure to win that one will absolutely kill any remaining hopes of a Champions League spot. It is starting to look inevitable that United will somehow make fourth, despite playing absolutely appallingly for most of the season. Of course, being a Liverpool fan is enough to have taught me that it’s never quite over, but Europa is looking like it’s on the cards for next season.

-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Swansea 0-1 Liverpool: Post-Match Analysis

Liverpool weathered the storm on a ghastly Monday evening in Wales, eventually coming out 1-0 winners after somehow keeping Swansea out despite a lacklustre first half performance. The winning goal was a rare slice of fortune: a clearance deflected off the shin of Jordan Henderson, and the ball looped over Fabianski and in. While not exactly a glorious victory, the win (amazingly, given our start to the season) leaves Liverpool just four points off second.

It was immediately apparent that we weren’t going to be treated to a vintage Liverpool performance. Swansea were playing a very effective pressing game, and this was prompting multiple errors from Liverpool players. We were sloppy in possession and Daniel Sturridge looked extremely isolated when we did get forward – it was one of the worst first half performances Liverpool have put in this season, and certainly the worst in 2015. It was Swansea creating all the chances, and had they not been so wasteful then they could have been two or three up at half time. Ki in particular wasted a good chance, heading tamely to Skrtel when presented with a golden opportunity just outside the six yard box. Mignolet must also take some credit – as he has done so regularly since his upturn in form, he bailed out our defence with a couple of exceptional stops.

Other than Mignolet, the only performance of note in the first half was Allen. He was the only outfield player who looked up for it, and made a couple of key tackles as well as multiple positive passes. Lallana was abysmal at wing back and only marginally more effective when moved to the centre, Can’s performance was summed up when he got totally destroyed by the skill of the prodigiously talented Neil Taylor and Sterling was largely ineffectual. Coutinho also struggled to influence the game, but that was largely thanks to the failure of his team-mates to create some space for him with their movement.

Still, somewhat predictably, the hosts weren’t able to keep up such a high press for the full 90 minutes. Around the 55 minute mark the Swans started to ease off a little but, and Liverpool were consequently allowed to play the more expansive, exciting football we’ve grown accustomed to in recent weeks. Sterling really came into the game, getting forward a lot from the wing back position he had taken from Lallana and demonstrating some nice skill at times. His final ball was lacking, with a couple of pull-backs only picking out a Swansea defender, but he did at least get us on to the front foot with a lot of positive running. Allen continued to dominate, playing some wonderful passes and maintaining a staggering work rate. Sturridge still didn’t look quite at the races, but in fairness it was his lovely piece of improvisation that led to the only goal of the match. He dummied a ball that had been intended forwards for him, allowing it to run through to Henderson. The stand-in captain (at least until Gerrard replaced Moreno a couple of minutes prior to the goal) then struck lucky, watching on as Amat’s attempted clearance struck his shin and looped over the keeper. 

Liverpool then had enough about them to see out the remaining minutes fairly comfortably. Indeed, they almost added a second: a quick counter attack led to the ball reaching Sturridge in the box, whose cheeky curling shot smacked the post. Fortunately it didn’t matter – the whistle went moments later, and Liverpool got the three points that moved them into within just four points of second place. After the abysmal start to the season, this is frankly mind-blowing. We could finish in the same position as last season. Let that sink in. Of course, there’s still a lot of work to do, but the fact we can even discuss the possibility shows what a turnaround there’s been at the club. We’ve closed the gap on City from a staggering seventeen points at the turn of the year to a meagre four now. Perhaps more importantly than this, we’re also only two points off United in fourth. We play them on Sunday in the knowledge that a win would move us into the Champions League positions. Hopefully we can put in a better performance than the one we saw last night, but ultimately all that matters is that we get the same end result: a win. If we can maintain our excellent form (five wins from our last five!), there’s no reason at all why a Champions League place, and possibly even as high as second, can’t be achieved. As well as being the key to Europe, a top four finish would be a solid foundation upon which to push on from for next season – hopefully next time out the squad will be able to fulfil their capabilities and launch another title challenge.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Liverpool 2-0 Burnley: Post-Match Thoughts

Liverpool continued their impressive run of form in yesterday's game against Burnley, coming out comfortable 2-0 winners. They looked in charge right from the outset, and goals from Henderson and Sturridge sealed the three points.

It was immediately apparent that Liverpool are the league's form side: straight from kick-off they were oozing confidence. One of the key differences from the start of the season is the pressing; be it Burnley or Man City, the reds aren't giving their opponents any time on the ball. This allows them to get on the front foot in matches immediately - Sturridge nearly scored within the first couple of minutes of this one, only to see his shot kept out by an exceptional stop from Heaton. Burnley looked dangerous on the counter occasionally, but it was Liverpool who looked by far the more likely to score. They did manage to make the breakthrough before half time: Henderson continued Liverpool's run of scoring screamers by smashing an emphatic half volley into the corner. It evoked memories of Gerrard and Olympiakos; indeed, it caused many fresh comparisons between the current and future captain.

These comparisons were only increased by Henderson's glorious assist for the second goal of the game midway through the second half. He whipped in a wonderful cross before Daniel Sturridge, who had endured an otherwise poor game, beat his man and headed home. It was a typically assured finish, and Liverpool fans will be hoping that it was the start of a return to full form for Sturridge. This put the match beyond doubt, and the hosts comfortably saw out the rest of the game.
It is worth noting that Dejan Lovren had an uncharacteristically solid game. While I still don't think that he'll be able to carve out much of a career for Liverpool, it's good that he's starting to prove himself as adequate backup. Coutinho, too, continued his magnificent form - he nearly netted yet another immense goal, curling one inches wide from what is fast becoming known as the Coutinho zone. In fact, everyone put in a decent shift - Mignolet perhaps looked a little shaky and Sturridge still looked off the pace, but on the whole it was a wonderful team performance.

The win saw us continue to pile the pressure on the teams above us; United's extremely lucky victory over Newcastle meant that we didn't gain on them, but if our form continues then it's only a matter of time. We play them just two games from now – if we can keep up this form then it seems not only possible but likely that we’ll be in the top four after that match. The “81 points” total that is being bandied about by fans is actually starting to look attainable: this is the total Liverpool would end up on if they won all of their remaining games. It is a points tally that has always been enough to secure at least fourth place (it is usually enough for second), and with only eight games to go the reds look capable of achieving it.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Liverpool 2-1 City: Coutinho Magic Seals Three Points

Although this fixture wasn’t the title clash that it was last season, it lived up to similar standards in terms of excitement. Both teams still had a lot to fight for – Liverpool needed a win to keep up their pursuit of a place in the top four, while City wanted three points in a bid to keep the pressure on Chelsea. The two sides are both renowned for their easy on the eye attacking football, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. They produced one of the games of the season, with Liverpool eventually coming out 2-1 winners courtesy of wonder-strikes from Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho respectively.

It was evident from kick-off that this was going to be a hard fought affair. Immediately the game developed an end-to-end nature, with both sides looking very threatening. City perhaps looked a little more likely to score in the opening exchanges, perhaps due to their extra recovery day since the two teams’ European excursions. However, a moment of pure inspiration from Jordan Henderson after eleven minutes meant it was the hosts who struck first. Sterling passed the ball to the captain, who was in a fair amount of space outside of the box. After a touch to set himself, the ex-Sunderland man curled the ball powerfully into the top corner, leaving Joe Hart completely powerless to prevent it.

The game continued in much the same way after this, although City’s attacking play had a little more urgency about it. Aguero struck the post just two minutes after they fell behind, and then turned provider after 25 minutes to give City an equaliser. He slotted a perfect ball through to Dzeko, who made no mistake with his finish. Can could be criticised for not stepping forward and playing Dzeko offside, and Lovren was perhaps a little guilty of ball watching, but the goal largely came courtesy of Aguero’s excellent vision and technique.

From this moment on it was Liverpool who seized the initiative, playing the better football from then until the end of the game. Coutinho was instrumental in this, showcasing his amazing dribbling talents to embarrass City defenders on multiple occasions. Zabaletta had a particularly torrid time of things; Sterling and Coutinho both caused him multiple problems in the first half. To be fair to the Argentinean, he had an immense second half – he made multiple crucial tackles and drastically reduced Liverpool’s threat down the left. Allen should also be singled out for praise. Many have said that this match was his best in a Liverpool shirt: his close control and passing were both excellent, and he definitely brought a degree of composure into the Liverpool midfield. Lallana, too, was excellent. He was using his undoubted skill properly for once – rather than executing ten pointless Cruyff turns before giving the ball away, he was actually beating men and creating chances. His highlight was a beautiful piece of first time control in the second half; he took the ball down and beat his marker with a beautiful piece of trickery all in one movement.

Although Liverpool had really begun to dominate by the hour mark, their inability to pick out a final ball meant that it looked like the match could be heading for a draw. Coutinho had other ideas. If there was any doubt that he deserved man of the match, he ended it by scoring an absolute peach of a goal to win the match for the hosts and hugely bolster their chances of finishing fourth or higher. Henderson watched on as his goal went from goal of the season contender to not even goal of the game: Coutinho struck one from even further out, and it curled in a remarkably similar way straight into the top corner. The Brazilian is making a habit of scoring exceptional goals – everyone’s been saying for a while that he would be scarily good if he added goals to his game, and two in two matches speaks for itself. He is fast becoming the complete package, to the point where I’d now rather lose Sterling than Coutinho.

To sum up, both sides deserve credit for an all-round excellent game of football. Neither team was perfect defensively - Liverpool clearly missed Sakho – but that just added to the spectacle. In the end it took two moments of magic to see Liverpool take all three points, and continue on the right track for a top four finish. Their next game is against Burnley; we’ve beaten the big team, but getting the results against the minnows is just as important. Hopefully Liverpool can retain their unbeaten league record in 2015 and pile even more pressure on Arsenal and United.
 -James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013