Liverpool’s fourth place chance only a mathematical possiblity now

11 04 2010

Could have been a happier picture if it were not for a draw. Courtesy: LFCTV

As expected, Rafael Benitez made his trademark changes, ‘squad rotation’ as it is stylishly referred to as. Torres was left out, probably as a precautionary measure and David Ngog was bestowed with Torres’s ‘lone striker position’.  The other surprise inclusion was that of Alberto Aquilani who was on instead of presumably battle weary Lucas Leiva.

Liverpool showed plenty of attacking intent in the first half hour of the game with Alberto Aquilani, Ryana Babel and Maxi Rodriguez being very sharp and incisive. Liverpool would have certainly had a goal or two if it wasn’t for veteran Mark Schwarzer’s interventions. The game had all the makings of “one of those days” feelings that Liverpool would fully like to avoid at all costs!

There was a moment of contention in the 35th minute when Jonathan Greening, already on a yellow card, infringed on Glen Johnson’s right to keep his feet on the ground and contrived to clatter him. Much to Rafael Benitez and Liverpool’s pique, Greening stayed on the field as he didn’t see red flashed in his face. That kind of, effectively, summed up Liverpool’s boorish season.

Somehow, all this while, Steven Gerrard seemed quite M.I.A. although he had showed flashes of brilliance every fifteen minutes or so. Much to infrequently, I would like to imagine, for a player of his caliber and class.

The first half drew to a close with Liverpool failing to take the lead. I am sure that they fully know the consequences of not winning here against Fulham. Meanwhile the somewhat heart warming news of Manchester Utd’s ineffectual display against Blackburn Rovers: a 0-0 draw transpired.

This might have well been Steven Gerrard given Liverpool's ineffectual display. http://www.soccernet.com

The second half started with somewhat the same flavor as it’s predecessor, the first half. Schwarzer continued to thwart any and all efforts by Liverpool to take the lead. Aquilani had quite a few chances in the first five minutes which were all taken weakly. The benefit of the doubt would be given to the Italian as he is, after all, just getting back to competitive football (read soccer in case you are American…) after a lengthy lay-off.

Heres a breakdown of the match so far:

  • Fernando Torres’s absence was telling on Liverpool’s strife to get a goal.
  • Fulham were at Anfield for a draw.
  • Liverpool were playing with half a striker in Ngog, up front.
  • Gerrard wasn’t venturing forward enough.

It was surprising that with Liverpool hogging possession, 77%-23% between minutes 55-60, the reds had failed to come cloes to scoring. A shame. A couple of minutes later, Ryan Babel came up with perhaps the best attempt of the match which Schwarzer put away to safety, yet again.

Dirk Kuyt was all primed and prepped to come on and provide inspiration in the face of desperation! Aquilani was withdrawn for Kuyt suggesting that Liverpool might switch into a more attacking formation with 3 up-front, with Gerrard playing in the hole in all likelihood.

As Fulham’s mainstay striker, Bobby Zamora, came off, Liverpool midfielder, Yossi Benayoun looked to come on soon. Meanwhile, Maxi Rodriguez displayed his coming of age at Liverpool as he continued to demonstrate cross-field crossing that Liverpool have failed to see in the last couple of years. With about 20 minutes to go, further attacking reinforcement was provided by Benayoun who came on. At this stage Fulham had committed about half a dozen players to defensive duty. Liverpool, however, knew that points were not awarded in the Premier League for scaring the opponents into their own box.

Time was no longer a luxury and Liverpool had to get a goal in or kiss their fourth place chances goodbye once and for all. The unfortunately ineffective, David Ngog came off for young striker Daniel Pacheco who got a rousing applause from the Anfield faithful.

An 86th minute shout by Liverpool, for handball was turned down, further adding to Liverpool’s despair this afternoon. There were three minutes of added time for Liverpool to somehow squeeze in a goal to squeeze in a shout for fourth place. As the match ended, I couldn’t help but feel that Liverpool would not be featuring in the Champions League in the coming season, what with their closest competitors for the coveted fourth place, Manchester City, leading 3-1 at Birmingham City.

Now it is only mathematically possible for Liverpool to get in and I shudder to think of the ignominy that possibly awaits Liverpool in the next season.

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Liverpool v Fulham – European supremacy Part 1

10 04 2010

The title shows an obvious lack of ideas for … er …titles. However, it is rather surprising that given their antecedents this season, Liverpool and Fulham are the only two English sides still in any European competition, a stark contrast of a situation as compared to the EPL’s supremacy in Europe.

Anywhooo, this isn’t about the Europa league. Or the Champions League. This is about the Premier League. It is about whether Liverpool would reclaim fourth place which has so often been their’s over the last couple of seasons.

Given that Fulham are in the lower middle half of the table, I have a sneaky suspicion that they may rest a few key players  so as to avoid injuries to key players which might hamper their European adventure. On the other hand, Liverpool should probably play a full strength squad with Ryan Babel, possibly, returning to the starting line up after sitting out Liverpool’s mauling of Benfica. Having said that, if you know Rafael Benitez then there’s a good chance you can’t quite predict the starting line-up for tomorrows clash at Anfield!

On a side note, would we see Lucas Leiva start again or would the gaffer prefer 20 mil. man, Alberto Aquilani?

Predictions, predictions, predictions… Liverpool can’t afford a sub-par performance like the one they demonstrated against Birmingham, so I would say it would, in all probability, be a Liverpool victory: 2-0 or 2-1. Please do note that the key phrase here is “in all probability” and everyone who has followed Liverpool’s dismal season would understand my lack of confidence!





No beachball to save Sunderland! LFC 3 – Sunderland 0

28 03 2010

Liverpool came into this match at Anfield versus Sunderland certainly hoping that there would be no beach balls around. But, it was Sunderland who had all the worrying to do within the first 180 seconds.

Torres got his sixth goal in four matches with a swirling, swerving cross that against all probability and rationale was headed towards the back of the goal to put Liverpool 1-0. An early goal along the lines of that against Manchester Utd.

Fly me too the moon and let me play among the stars! http://www.soccernet.com

From then on, Liverpool consistently piled on the pressure that Sunderland somehow contrived to weather in a barely effecitve fashion. There were chances for Agger, Gerrard and two long distance half-chances for Mascherano, in the first 20 minutes.

There were several corners in Liverpool’s favor resulting from the several waves of attack that the Liverpool contingent had committed themselves to. It was an ‘in your face’ approach that Liverpool have lacked.

Now that we have nailed down the principle finding of this season that Liverpool have been less than vivacious in attack I find it an opportune moment to comment on Aquilani’s continued absence from the starting eleven.

Sunderland tried to expose Liverpool’s defensive frailties with a few counter attacking runs before the half hour but it was to be futile for the black cats.

The incessant pressure that Liverpool piled on Sunderland paid rich dividends. A sixth corner for Liverpool found it’s way to Glen Johnson who pummeled the ball into the net with the goal keeper rooted and stunned by the belter. It was now looking to be a very good day for Liverpool. 2-nuthin’ to the reds! And Steve Bruce might as well try and find the beach ball that scored the goal for Sunderland, way back in October of 2009.

As the game moved towards half time, further volcanic pressure resulted in a double chance for Torres which he expertly hit at the post and skied the rebound.

The second half saw Sunderland move forward with greater intent given that they were looking at a two goal deficit and a third or fourth would damage them psychologically and not as far as the points table goes.

Just as Sunderland tried to squeeze their way into the game, Torres spoiled the party for them with a beautiful goal under pressure from a splendid pass from Johnson. At this stage, I could not envision Sunderland to fashion any sort of a comeback, particularly as they were bludgeoned by jeers from the Liverpool half of the crowd about a certain beach ball. And quite rightly so!

I was happy to see that Liverpool displayed an insatiable hunger for the fourth goal having put the result beyond doubt! This is what champions are made of. I was also happy to see that Aquilani came on for Dirk Kuyt to suggest that there would also be a possible.

As the match further progressed to the inevitable conclusion that there were no beach balls this time around to save Sunderland, David Ngog came on for the supreme destroyer, Fernando Torres. Nabil El Zhar  and came on for Steven Gerrard who had a better day but could still improve.

The only time that Sunderland actually threatened was when Reina had to concoct a diving save to parry a rather strong shot on goal by an unidentifiable Sunderland player. Ah it was none other than ex-Liverpool player, Zenden!

The three minutes of stoppage time did little to improve Sunderland’s predicament as Ngog failed to make it 4-0 in Liverpool’s favor. this was an important victory for Liverpool who would want to continue in the same vein for their next 6 matches.





The race to fourth place

21 03 2010

The race to fourth place is all but over for the red half of Liverpool. Some would say that the proverbial fat lady had actually left the building a week ago when we lost to Wigan. I was strongly of the opinion that a positive result today would have stoked the remaining dying embers that are Liverpool’s chances of a fourth place finish but Liverpool have probably thrown water on the said embers with a watered, somnolent display.

Unless we have a miracle, Liverpool would

Bawl!!!!!!

e plying their once attractive football in the Europa league, much to the chagrin of the Liverpool faithful. This would in turn affect their exchequer and, god forbid it, but it might lead to the exodus of players.

I think it is a given that Albert Riera is on his way out. Dirk Kuyt has failed to make an impression in the last couple of weeks or so and has looked a shadow of his former self. Gerrard has looked completely out of sorts as if he were in a foreign land and was asking for directions with disastrous results. Torres, despite being involved in a glut of goals, has looked a petulant child. As for Rafael Benitez, his days seem to be numbered and probably the only thing that will keep him at Anfield at the end of this season is the massive payoff that would need to be doled to him in case of a premature termination of his contract.

Liverpool will take on Sunderland this weekend. I would like to say that it looks like 3 points are for the taking but given Liverpool’s recidivist attitude this season, I would not like to make sensational predictions in their favor!





Anfield trip ‘hazard’ous to Lille. Liverpool make quarterfinals!

18 03 2010

News of Fulham spectacularly dumping Juventus out of the Europa league could have only galvanized Liverpool to perform at their very best against Lille OSC who proved to be quite the feisty opponents as suggested by the 0-1 deficit that Liverpool had to contend with.

Aquilani was not part of the first team or the bench as a result of a stomach virus or some such while Riera was suspended by the club for unsavory comments regarding the gaffer Rafael Benitez.

I wasn’t really pleased with Lucas coming in for Aquilani but I was in for a pleasant surprise! The usually defensive and much maligned Lucas Leiva was perhaps the most dashing player in red in the first quarter of an hour and to his credit, also won a penalty! A penalty that allowed Liverpool to catch up to the score line and restore parity through Steven Gerrard’s calmly taken spot kick.

The first half came to a close with a 1-1 score line which in fact was a little flattering in favor of the red contingent given their below par performance for large portions of the first half, barring probably the first 20 minutes or so.

Steven Gerrard looked quite out of sorts while Kuyt seemed to absent despite being on the field. Fernando Torres was full of verve but also possessed heavy first touches which saw him absent from the score card. The last few seconds of the first half saw Gerrard cause a major hiccup in the Lille defense but given Torres’s offside disposition, Liverpool couldn’t inflict further damage in the half.

Liverpool started the second half with a real sense of purpose and in similar vein to the first ten minutes of the first half, they scored! Torres was the goal scorer this time around as he caught the Lille defense asleep. Frankly he caught me asleep as well and I couldn’t quite see who the provider was as I was caught off my feet making tin foil ramekins!

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet? http://www.liverpoolfc.tv

As the match progressed to the hour mark, Torres continued to torment the Lille defense which looked like an over caffeinated jumpy kitten. However, it was too early for the result to be written in stone as the aggregate stood merely at 2-1, although in Liverpool’s favor.

Liverpool seemed to be content with sitting back on their derriere’s (French pun intended!) and they almost paid a penalty for their newly assumed non-chalance had it not been for not the best of efforts by Lille from a free kick.

Eggs benedict

Eggs benedict in tin foil ramekins.

With less than 10 minutes of regulation time to go, Liverpool looked quite nervous. And why shouldn’t they be? Given the nature of knock-out cup football such as the Europa League is, although Liverpool were 2-0 up on the day, all Lille needed was a single goal to hurl Liverpool out of the Europa league, on away goals.

Kuyt was going for hard hitting shots on goal but Lille goal keeper, Landreau, parried his salvo of shots with certainty.

At this juncture, the commentators thought best to plug a Van Damme movie: “In hell” which apparently would follow after this match. Liverpool AND Lille were both on tenterhooks and were most definitely “In Hell”  for the last ten minutes of this game. And Jerry Vandamm would come on for Lille for Hazard, Lille’s goal scoring midfielder from the previous round.

The tension was getting to me and as I reached for a Biscotti, the dynamic duo of Gerrard and Torres put the reds into the quarterfinals — Gerrard playing the part of provider and Torres getting his second goal of the game and Liverpool’s third of the night!

The whistle blew confirming Liverpool’s mini resurgence and I can’t wait for the game on Sunday. The big one!





Liverpool unhinged Portsmouth. Win 4-1

15 03 2010

25 minutes. 25 minutes is how long it took for Liverpool to expose the Beckham-esque Achilles heel that is Portsmouth with 3 goals between then and minute # 32! Having said that, the first half was just what the doctor ordered to restore Liverpool’s waning confidence and also the confidence of their fans in the team itself!

Steven Gerrard played a major part in all three goals by Fernando “El Nino” Torres, Ryan “Yippe! I’m in the starting eleven” Babel and Alberto “Insert witty comment in Italian” Aquilani. As the commentators astutely put it: the cork had just been popped!

The second half beckoned and Liverpool took the field with vigor unseen in the last seven or eight months. After all, it was the first time the Liverpool contingent had scored 3 goals in a game in the last six months!

The second half saw Liverpool play in a more mellow, watered down fashion for they had proverbially unhinged the Portsmouth defense with their triple strike in the first half. The potshots at goal were however taken and the Portsmouth goalkeeper, James Ashdown, did his best to keep further goals out.

With 35 minutes gone after Liverpool’s 3rd goal of the game, Martin Kelly was getting ready to come on for Johnson, for his Premier League Anfield debut and immediately made a positive impact in winning a corner kick. Steven Gerrard was the next to come off with less than 20 minutes to go after taking a wild elbow swing at the now completely beleaguered Portsmouth captain, Martin Brown whose vehement petulance in the wake of Gerrard’s exit did little to incite a response from the referee.

The petulance from Brown was persistent for another contentious foul (contentious in Portsmouth’s view) given. The foul was dispatched swiftly by Mascherano and passed positronically (?? bad attempt at wordplay !!) by Aquilani and taken full advantage by Fernando Torres who scored his second of the game and Liverpool’s fourth. David Ngog came on for Torres at this juncture, which was surprising as Torres would have liked a hat-trick round about now!

Portsmouth did get a consolation goal in the 89th minute. This did possibly sour Liverpool’s rather sweet nectarine of an effort tonight.

Liverpool had plenty of positives to take from this match. Particularly the arsenal of runs that Ryan Babel and Aquilani had in their repertoire,and Pepe Reinas solid effort in front of goal, barring the single aberrant goal that Portsmouth did get,  but given Portsmouth’s defensive frailty, it would be incorrect to read too deep into this 4-1 result.

All in all, the Liverpool half ware quite happy and did their goal difference no wrong at all. Here’s looking forward to the next two crucial games on their agenda: Liverpool v Lille on Thursday (18th March 2010) and the big one: Manchester Utd v Liverpool on Sunday (21st March 2010).





Lille OSC vs Liverpool FC – Preview

11 03 2010

The once illustrious Liverpool FC have been left to ply their trade in the lower echelons of European football as they take on Lille OSC in France tomorrow. This is touted to be a tricky test of Liverpool’s character; in other words, a test that Liverpool wouldn’t really like and can do well without. And that is exactly what Liverpool should try to do. The only way out of this is to go ahead and attack Lille.

Although it might not seem so, but attacking football used to be Liverpool’s forte until the turn of 2010 or a little before that. It’s been a while since they scored 3 or more goals in Europe, a very frequent feat for the reds under Rafael Benitez last year.

In Lille’s favor is their recent run of European form. They have lost just once in the last 16 home matches played in Europe and have, more recently, won 5 out of their last 6 home games in European competitions. This statistic doesn’t bode very well for Liverpool who, although have an equally superior record in Europe, and particularly in France, but have suffered a rather fretful fate at home, a fate that has  spilled over into other competitions they have played in so far.

As a Liverpool supporter, I hope and wish for a Red victory in France for I am well aware of what Liverpool are capable of on their day. In my opinion any score line with a two goal margin in Liverpool’s favor should see them progress to the next round. But, given the embarrassing run of form that the reds have had to endure, we will have to wait and see how tomorrow’s Europa league encounter unfolds.

NOTE: I have a sneaky suspicion that Ryan Babel, who has showed much fervor and improvement on the field, might get a rare start tomorrow and might start on the left flank.