Monday, October 05, 2009

Is Liverpool Still Up For The Challenge?

Chelsea     2
Liverpool   0

With only Hilario to beat, Liverpool substitute, Yossi Benayoun, sent the ball inches wide. It definitely looked easier to score than to miss but that just sums up Liverpool’s day at Stamford Bridge.

And it might also just be a sign of how awry Liverpool’s title challenge has gone.

Already 3 defeats in early October, the season so far has been a major disappointment in view of many Liverpool fans. With so much promised after last season’s good showing, little has been delivered.

It’s quite possibly not their year again.

With only 2 clean sheets in as many games, Liverpool’s defence has been found out. Rafael Benitez definitely has tweaked the style of their play to a more attacking one. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that Liverpool’s defence has been shaky and unconvincing.

The only player excused from criticism would be Fernando Torres, who has been plundering goals since his arrival at Anfield 2 years ago. He is the only bright spark in their campaign so far.

Steven Gerrard, often a player looked upon when needed, has been looking out of sort and has not picked up any sort of form since the start of season. His body language yesterday reflected a very frustrated man.

Jamie Carragher, the Mr. Dependable, has been disappointing. Rafa Benitez would usually be confident that his defence is well marshaled by the reliable Carragher but in recent weeks, he has definitely not inspired any confidence at all.

So it was to no surprise that Liverpool were handed a lesson at Stamford Bridge by Carlo Ancelotti’s classy Chelsea side.

The away side didn’t look threatening, despite all the attacking prowess on show last week against Hull City.  They were toothless and too conservative against a resolute Chelsea, who is finding a perfect response to last week’s defeat to Wigan.

With Petr Cech suspended, Hilario deputised and if Liverpool thought they were going to get a little advantage from Cech’s suspension, they’d be wrong as the Portugese goalkeeper put up a faultless performance.

On the hindsight, it didn’t matter actually. Liverpool seldom tested Hilario. Other than perhaps Riera’s effort and Gerrard’s volley, Hilario was a spectator throughout.

Fernando Torres had a torrid time as he tried to barge his way pass John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho but to no avail. The Spanish striker just couldn’t find that touch that helped him to a hat-trick of goals last week. He was presented 2 chances but spurned them.

On the other side of the field, Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba gave the Liverpool defence much to worry about. With their pace and power, they were definitely going to be a thorn in Liverpool’s flesh. Drogba was tasked to exploit the flanks as Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua are often suspects in positioning.

The visitors held on for the first half but it was in the second where Chelsea showed no mercy and the first blood was drawn when Javier Mascherano carelessly lose possession of the ball in midfield.

With Glen Johnson totally out of position, Drogba powered through and the Ivorian turned provider as his inch-perfect cross was met deftly by Anelka and the former Liverpool striker showed what he is all about.

That goal sparked a response from Liverpool as they siege an encamped Chelsea side. Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun were called upon to deliver more firepower. But clearly, Liverpool ran out of ideas and were one-dimensional.

With the visitors committing players forward, Chelsea exploited the sluggishness of their defence and hammered the final nails into the coffin when substitute, Florent Malouda, scored an easy tap in after yet another surging run from Didier Drogba.

It was a good move but Drogba really shouldn’t have gone into the box that easily. He turned Carragher with ease while Fabio Aurelio just stood and watch. The pace and power of Drogba were unmatched.

In the end, it was yet again the clinical finishing of Chelsea that was the difference. They weren’t given much chance but they took it when they should. Liverpool, meanwhile, looked like a lost child at a playground, totally clueless.

Was it the pre-season Asia tour that had burned out some of the players? Was it the extra pressure of living up to last season’s achievements? It is so frustrating to see a group of talented players unable to play like they ought to. The potential is there but the present showing is disappointing at best.

Is it already too late for Liverpool? I believe it might just be. Knee jerk reaction perhaps, but if Liverpool continues to play this way, perhaps even the top 4 finish might be a problem. With a resurging Arsenal side and a Man City side living on limitless amount of money, Rafa Benitez has a couple of problems on hand that he has to solve as soon as possible.

A)    Defence – Where is that usual reliable defence we have thought of about Liverpool? Understandably, Liverpool’s approach to games has changed drastically over the past few seasons. With the purchase of Glen Johnson and the inclusion of Emiliano Insua, the attacking full backs were asked to push forward.

That leaves the 2 centre-backs exposed. It didn’t help as Carragher seemed to be slowing down and isn’t at his physical peak. Is it time to replace Carragher? It’s a rather difficult decision but it’s one that has to be made some day.

Is Agger a capable deputy? Is the Danish’s injury problem going to go on further and affect his Liverpool career? He has been potentially a good defender and his calmness on the ball is something different from Carragher’s. But I’m not sure if he is ready to fill Carragher’s huge boots.

What about the zonal-marking system? It really is quite a risk not putting anyone on the posts and with Liverpool lacking some real muscles and height, it really is a big ask for them to constantly challenge players such as Vidic, Terry, Ballack and Vermaelen. The number of goals conceded through set pieces is embarrassingly high. Time for a review?

B)    Midfield – You’ll never know how much you miss the water till the well runs dry. Never knew the importance of Xabi Alonso till he left for Real Madrid. But is it really his absence that is consequential of Liverpool’s display this season?

Lucas was never called to be a direct replacement for Alonso, that’s a fact. He was just supposed to be a squad player and Alonso’s actual replacement, Alberto Aquilani, is recuperating from injury. The Brazilian never truly convinced. Yet to criticize him is a mistake as he stepped up as much as he could.

Gerrard and Mascherano on the other hand, are players whom we know can deliver yet failed to this season. The captain was not at his imperious best this season thus far while the Argentine seemed to have his head slightly turned towards the direction of Nou Camp, Barcelona.

If these two key players continue to perform as it is, Liverpool will have problems. As the mainstay of the team, players do look up to them for inspirations and if they see a dejected role model, it will definitely pull down the morale of the team.

C)    Goals – Yes, I know. They are coming in quick and they have scored truckloads this season. But most of them have come from Torres and just what if he gets injured? Who are going to score the goals?

That goes back to the 2nd point as midfielders really need to chip in and play their part. Kuyt and Benayoun are doing decently but it really has to come from more players.


GaryMadrid said...

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GaryMadrid said...

hey all
A friend and I have started a new blog in english about atletico de madrid. As we formed a good relationship last year we would love to hear from you