Liverpool travelled to Eastlands last night to take on big spending Manchester City but it may as well have been “No Mans Land” they visited. They say the term is defined as being the ground or space between two parties that is not occupied because of fear or uncertainty, that being so, elements of it ring true as to the performance delivered by the Reds.
It is way too early to hit the panic button as to the direction that Liverpool’s season will take this year but there are some lessons to be learnt and caution to be recognised. The game was headlined by the refusal of Javier Mascherano to play for his club, as he tries to further ensure a move to Barcelona and a ticket for the next flight out. This of course is going to cause a little disruption to any team, a change less than 24hrs concerning a leading player ahead of the fixture and after a few days planning but all the signs were there that life without Mascherano was more than likely going to happen sooner or later. Hodgson under interview on the Mascherano withdrawal opted to use the words “his head had been turned”, his focus therefore on matters not of the game but perhaps the same could be said of Hodgson himself concerning his own focus?
The weekend brought news that Liverpool were looking to field a side around their usual 4-5-1 formation (Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Poulsen, Mascherano, Kuyt, Jovanovich, Gerrard & Torres). A side that admittedly hadn’t had any level of game time together but one on paper that offered a good element of balance, organisation and hope of a positive result against a Manchester City side, still being meshed together but talented all the same. The news that brought the refusal of Mascherano to play, also brought a complete change of formation and playing staff.
With Hodgson opting to play in a 442, strategy the warning signs were clear for all to see ahead of the game, verified by the players own displays in the first 30 minutes alone. The side simply look lost and unprepared, playing too narrow and too slow, the decision to play 4-4-2 against one of the leading sides in the league was a brave one to say the least, possibly naive, an experienced manager still getting to grips with his playing staff. 4-4-2 lends itself to being a great basic of the game but at the highest level it is too easily exploited, as Capello found to his huge cost out in South Africa. City didnt even need to deliver a sterling or polished performance to do so, it is simply exposing space in too flat a formation and Liverpool accommodated. A further similarity exists to England’s illustrious leader existed in the decision making from the bench on the night, a game crying out to be changed with both formation and players, had neither, with both Babel & Pacheco not getting enough time to make any impact on the game.
Kuyt and Jovanovic found themselves in the middle of question time out on the flanks, unable to build upon the correct choices made against Arsenal and get the simple things right on the night, the system failed them and they failed the system. There was no need to go 4-4-2 even with the late withdrawal of Mascherano, there was enough on the bench to accommodate the change, it would certainly have given Man City a lot more to worry about, especially in the full back department. Daniel Agger was given somewhat of a torrid time by the inform Adam Johnson, a player that would have benefited greatly from another couple of days rest from concussion allowing Aurelio to fill the role.
Liverpool gave away three simple goals on the night, marking mistakes for two but poor decision making for all three. An excellent double save from Joe Hart thwarted both Ngog and Torres after Gerrard’s strike has come flying back off the post, that on another day might have seen it rebound in to the net off the back of the keeper as opposed to go back into play but it was very much one of those nights. This period of play heralded the only real spell in the game of Liverpool showing some forward momentum which rattled Man City, had it gone to 2-1 then there might have been a little more fight from Liverpool. The game was permanently killed off though when Skrtel’s challenge on Johnson, saw City awarded a penalty and Tevez step up to send Reina the wrong way from the spot.
Attention turns to two games in the matter of three days as Liverpool first venture out to Turkey to face Trabzonspor in the 2nd leg of the Europa League tie and then back to entertain newly promoted West Brom at Anfield on Sunday. It is far from doom and gloom in the Anfield dressing room but they will be looking to make amends in their next two games and get progress back on track and avoid the confidence crisis that spread like a virus last season. All of the events of this Premier League season so far – 1 sending off, 1 goal scored and 4 conceded add up to no more than a mere 5 minutes in football, theres an awful lot of time left.
They say it is always good to get your mistakes made early and hopefully the first two games of this season have gone a good way to exorcising this for both a goalkeeper and a manager. Liverpool has not become a bad team since last Sunday, far from it, but there is a lesson to be learnt that while a lack of depth exists in certain positions in the squad, our strengths have to be played to week in week out, otherwise they will be exploited. That lesson should now have been learnt and as Roy rightly said its time for the players to forget Man City, pick themselves up and get some enjoyment out of football. There is more than plenty left to play for.
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