Monday, January 12, 2009

Now... What Was That All About?

Stoke City 0
Liverpool 0

On Friday’s pre-match conference, Rafa Benitez launched an astonishing attack on Sir Alex Ferguson, Man Utd’s mind game master. The verbal tirade split the crowd into two as some says that it was a calculated move while others suggest the Spanish manager has cracked under pressure.

“I would ‘luv it”, anyone?

And how the Premiership title race took a 180 degrees turn over the weekends. Is the tide turning against Liverpool already? Now the attack by Rafa Benitez suddenly seemed daft and the attempt to put extra pressure on Man Utd is probably as toothless as their abject display at the Brittania Stadium.

A goal-less stalemate (notice the word ‘Stale’) against Stoke City, Liverpool suddenly handed the initiative over to Man Utd, who with 2 games in hand still, crushed and trampled over a purring Chelsea side.

By this Saturday, Liverpool could be dislodged from the pinnacle and they only have themselves to blame.

Don’t get me wrong. Stoke City, away from home is never going to be easy. A typical modern day relegation side which lacks quality to compete on level ground with the big money clubs in the Premiership, they even things up by being physical, hard work and a lot of high balls.

Rory Delap’s every long throw gave Liverpool a couple of nervy moments. But he proved that he is more than ‘that long-throw man’ by rattling the bar of Pepe Reina early in the first half.

Despite a good start from the visiting team, Stoke City took control and even had the ball in the back of the net when Richard Cresswell rising above the static defence to head home but he was rule offside.

Meanwhile, Benitez’s decision to deploy Dirk Kuyt as a spearhead for the attack backfires this time. It worked against Newcastle but not this time. Robbie Keane was made to pay for all his misses last week with a position on the bench.

Steven Gerrard saw little of the ball, which effectively mitigates the majority of Liverpool’s attacking threat. But the unlucky captain hit the post twice in the second half in an attempt to haul the league leaders into victory.

The impact of Xabi Alonso’s absence was also felt. His passing that unlocks defence was sorely missed and there was no one able to dictate the tempo of Liverpool’s play. His replacement, Lucas, looked like a fish out of the water again in this game after a few decent performances.
Wasteful in possession and constantly racking up fouls, the Brazilian midfielder was indeed, frustrating to watch.

Even with the introduction of Fernando Torres, it failed to spark any sort of inspiration into an abject performance. Robbie Keane was left on the bench and Yossi Benayoun… was he even playing?

With so much at stake this very moment, another disappointing draw could only mean more pressure will be on Liverpool in the days to come. The season could go pear-shaped as the next 2 games are against their Merseyside rivals, Everton.

Have those words of Rafa Benitez managed to stir the hornet’s nest over at Old Trafford? Seeing how they rolled over Chelsea last night, it definitely did. Have they helped Liverpool’s push for title? No, those words are unnecessary.

Want to win the 19th? Stop talking, start playing consistently like one already.