Monday, 18 May 2015

Liverpool 1-3 Crystal Palace: Gerrard’s Anfield Farewell

After close to 17 years of loyal service to his boyhood club, Steven Gerrard yesterday played his last ever match at Anfield. This was a day of celebration, a day to pay homage to the man who has single-handedly rescued Liverpool on so many occasions. The mood was slightly dampened by a lacklustre performance leading to a disappointing 3-1 loss, but ultimately this was a day where the game and its result was a mere sideshow, simply providing the backdrop for the final farewell of a club legend.

The veritable feast of nostalgia meant that a plethora of old Gerrard clips were retrieved from the archives – footage of Olympiakos, Istanbul, the 2006 FA Cup Final and countless other memorable moments were unavoidable throughout the day. This was only fitting, but also inadvertently threw sharp focus on the failings and inadequacies of the current team; the jubilant faces of the likes of Torres, Mascherano and Alonso contrasted starkly to the defeated Lambert, Lovren and Lallana trudging off after a shocking showing against Palace. Certainly it raises questions over where the club is going – the glorious European nights seem so distant, totally out of reach with the current personnel. Coutinho, Henderson, Mignolet and to an extent Sterling are the only ones who can look back on the season with any sort of pride: are the rest really good enough for Liverpool? Come to that, is Rodgers? If Istanbul were to happen today, I don’t think we’d come from behind to win it. I think we’d bring on Lambert at 3-0 down, the famous fans would take a few selfies in complete silence and we’d whimper to a 5-1 defeat, after which the manager would praise our “great character” for snatching a goal back.

Still, that’s a debate for another day. This day was all about our captain: while the sublime and the ridiculous (looking at you on this one Voronin) came and went, Gerrard remained. To lose him is to lose an integral part of the club itself – Steven was Liverpool, he epitomised all that it stood for. If there was any justice in football he would have signed off with a screamer to win the FA Cup Final, but the damp squib of an ending does nothing to devalue his service to the club. I grew up with Gerrard as the go-to to get on the back of the shirt, the one everyone tried to replicate in the playground – he will surely go down as one of the greatest English players of all time.

His unique standing in the footballing world was shown by the sheer volume of tributes he received from pros and ex-pros. Henry, Del Piero, Kaka, Suarez… the list goes on. It seemed that everyone had a good word for the skipper – the man who Zidane described as possibly the best in the world received high praise from all corners of the globe. It felt for all the world like his retirement: it was easy to forget that he isn’t ending his career, but simply moving across the pond. Not only that, he’s not quite done for us yet! The visit to Stoke is still to come, and while his proper send-off was at Anfield it’ll be good to see him don the shirt (probably the yellow one now I come to think of it) one last time.

I know this hasn’t been much of a match report, but this is not the time for analysing and summarising and criticising – this is the time to pay your respects to the man who has defined this football club for so long. I have had many a bad word for him over the past couple of seasons, but once you’ve acquired legendary status then you can never lose it – the club are undoubtedly losing a legend, one who will be greatly missed and also adored for the memories he has left us with. Thanks Stevie.

-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool: Post-Match Thoughts

On Sunday, Liverpool travelled to Stamford Bridge knowing that their top four chances were all but over. A win would have kept them mathematically alive, but essentially all that was at stake was pride. Chelsea, too, had nothing to play for, although for much more desirable reasons: they have already won the league. This was evident in how the game panned out – the hosts barely got out of first gear, and Liverpool’s introduction of promising youngsters Jerome Sinclair and Jordon Ibe into the fray had a definite exhibition match sort of feel about it.

Still, there was nothing friendly about the game’s opening exchanges. Perhaps instructed by Mourinho not to lift off, Chelsea were quick to mark their territory with a couple of ferocious challenges early on. Fabregas should probably have seen red for a nasty challenge on Sterling, and then should certainly have been off for a second yellow just minutes later after holding Sterling back. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, a Chelsea midfielder making his first Premier League start, also showed his willingness to go in for some robust challenges. The style of play was less PL champions and more Stoke circa 2011, and the opening goal had a similar feel about it. Fabregas whipped in a corner, and Terry, having lost Lambert, headed home past Mignolet. Hardly a vintage strike, but one that meant Liverpool were behind after all of five minutes.

From here on in, the Reds managed to up their game. The absence of Matic combined with the general end-of-season apathy of the hosts meant that there was space to be used in midfield, which Lallana and Coutinho utilised effectively. Several times attacks nearly came to something, but the final ball was lacking. Sterling had his best game for a while (perhaps showing off for potential new employers?), showing his ability to run at defenders and beat them. However, his end product was lacking – he dragged wide from good positions on a couple of occasions. In the end though, it was not a piece of intricate build-up that led to the equaliser. Like Chelsea’s goal, it came from a set piece. Lallana won a free kick on the edge of the box, and the subsequent delivery picked out Gerrard, who had been left unmarked at the far post. He guided the ball into the corner with his head, meaning the two teams went in level.

Liverpool were the better of the two sides for much of the second half, but still failed to properly test Courtois. This highlighted the need for additions to the squad in the summer – both the final ball and the clinical striker to be on the end of it are lacking, and if we are to replicate the title challenge of last season then we sorely need them. A defensive midfielder is also a must-buy: for the twenty minutes or so mid-way through the second half that Chelsea bothered to put in a performance, they cruised effortlessly through the midfield multiple times. Not since Mascherano have we had a competent defensive midfielder capable of shielding the defence enough to allow the other midfielders to get forward and help in attack. 

At the end of the day a draw against the champions isn’t a bad result, but the game highlighted just as many problems as it did strengths. It would be easy to praise the team, but the truth is that had Chelsea even been close to their best then they would have walked this match. Still, it did show the positives within our squad, and hopefully a few astute additions in the summer will be enough to get us back challenging for silverware next time out.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Liverpool 2-1 QPR: Post-Match Thoughts

After a string of poor results stemming from even poorer performances, yesterday Liverpool finally managed to find themselves again. It wasn’t exactly a vintage display, but it was unrecognisable to the utter tripe we were forced to endure against Hull and, to a lesser extent, West Brom. This improvement was reflected in the final score – despite missing a penalty with the scores tied in the 80th minute, Liverpool kept fighting and managed to come away as 2-1 victors.

The team sheet had a rather end-of-season look about it: Rodgers opted to return to the double-pivot of Henderson and Gerrard that was such a disappointment in the first half of the campaign, and Lambert was also given a start. As it happened, this worked rather well – Gerrard’s defensive weaknesses weren’t exploited at all by an underwhelming QPR, and Henderson was able to force the issue at times with some wonderful long balls that his central midfield partner would be proud of. Lambert, too, did very well. He put in what was surely his best performance in a Liverpool shirt, making some decent runs and linking up fairly well with the rest of the attack. It was he who created the opening goal: a lovely pull-back across the box was controlled exquisitely by Coutinho, who proceeded to use his second touch to curl the ball unerringly into the top corner.

From then on in it was total control for the hosts, and in truth they should have added more goals. Lallana got through on goal, but smashed it wide at the near post rather than aiming for the far post or squaring it to Sterling. At the time this seemed like the wrong choice, but having seen what happened a little later on maybe it was sensible not to trust Sterling with an open goal! Early in the second half the youngster was picked out by a glorious Henderson ball, but despite being just six yards from goal he was unable to keep his effort down. This summed up his post-Christmas form: ever since the contract saga begun, he’s contributed little more than Victor Moses managed in a Liverpool shirt. Obviously we all know that Sterling possesses immense quality, but if he cannot produce that consistently then he is in no position to hold the club to ransom. For me, if he doesn’t soften on wage demands and doesn’t round off the season with three absolutely world class performances, he can leave.

His miss became even more depressing when Liverpool were punished for their wastefulness by Leroy Fer. The visitors had barely created anything all game, but then Fer steered the ball home from a Joey Barton corner to level the game up. It looked like, despite the vastly improved performance, Liverpool’s severe problems in attack would come back to haunt them once more to continue what has been a torrid end to the season. However, just when all seemed lost, the man who has always been there for us when we need him stepped up.

And missed his spot kick.

Steven Gerrard will undoubtedly be gutted that he’s missed what could well be his last ever LFC penalty, particularly as it was in front of the Kop, but the captain did not waste time dwelling on his poor effort. After Onouha got sent off for a second bookable offence the reds began to totally dominate once more, and Gerrard grabbed the reward for this dominance with just minutes to go. Coutinho’s corner found the skipper, who towered above Barton and emphatically headed the ball beyond Green.

With United having lost their game against West Brom, there is an outside chance that this win could earn Liverpool more than pride. I’m not getting my hopes up – LFC’s run-in includes a trip to Chelsea, and even if they do win all of their games it is unlikely that the Red Devils will drop 4 points (realistically five due to goal difference) in three games. However, it does at least mean that we’ve kept the pressure on: if United do slip up horrendously, we need to be in a position to capitalise. That said, the best thing about this game was the performance – in all likelihood the season is over, but it is vital for confidence that we go out with a bang rather than a whimper.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013