After only 2 Premier League goals this season, it was great to see Liverpool finally finding the back of the net more often – even if one was a penalty and it came in a manic flurry towards the end of the match. But it has to be said that the scoreline did flatter us a bit. By no means was it a bad performance, there were a few positives. The main one being Jay Spearing’s all-action performance in the new midfield pairing with Meireles. Then there was Maxi Rodriguez looking a little bit like the highly sought-after playmaker he was at Atletico.
Nobody expected a full-strength team tonight, but I was quite disappointed that Torres was not on the bench. I would have thought that a player who looks as rusty as he does at the moment could do with more match-time, but one can only assume that Roy didn’t want him getting another injury. I also expected Carragher to play but it was nice to see Agger back in the heart of the defence (he should be Carra’s main defensive partner in my opinion).
Apart from the Europea League qualifiers, we have not put in a convincing first-half performance at all this season. Tonight looked like changing all that when Joe Cole was alert to a misplaced backpass, and we were looking comfortable before being caught by a sucker-punch courtesy of Bogdan Stancu and Christian Tanase. The commentators on Channel 5 rather unfairly commented on a slip by Jay Spearing in the build-up, but I think it had more to do with Kyrgiakos being outpaced by Tanase. After that Steaua were rightly given a lift, but what was more worrying was that we let them start to dictate the play. Often when going forward, the only players in the attacking third would be Cole and/or Babel. Mind you the few times we did look threatening after Tanase’s goal in the first-half was on the counter attack. Overall it was more of the same stuff we have been playing this season. No width and no movement around the ball. I’m not saying that this as a criticism of Hodgson, but merely an observation of a team in transition.
The second-half we looked more potent primarily I thought because of the linkup play between the quartet of N’Gog, Babel, Cole and Maxi. The latter was getting into the game far more now and finding Joe Cole – who seemed to be the central point of most of our attacking play – who in turn was getting closer to N’Gog and Babel. Meireles and in particularly Spearing were doing a sound job of training Stancu and Nicolita. Meireles on his debut had a solid enough match. He made the tackles he had to, and probably most refreshing to see was how he was not quick to try a forward pass even if there was an easier option available. His participation in tonight’s match might mean that he won’t start against United, but I really do hope that Roy does not stick with the Poulsen-Lucas partnership purely because they have similar limitations in that they haven’t got the passing range of a Meireles or – dare I say it – Aquilani.
But overall the second-half was an improvement on most of what we’ve seen this season. Alright the penalty was a bit soft (Kyrgiakos was trying to head the ball – hence why he fell to the ground in a heap), but the way things turned out it made life quite easy for Hodgson in the sense that he didn’t have to make any crucial decisions or his tactical nous was not tested in the face of a frustrating defence like it was against Birmingham. Fair play to him though as he took a risk against tricky opposition to play a second-string side which in the end came through for him with Kelly, Spearing and Maxi all having good games. Perhaps the most satisfying thing about that win was that it was a far more accomplished team performance. Nobody went missing and everyone played their part, which could be why Roy chose to field a team of players who have something to prove. It is fair to say that United won’t be quaking in their boots, but as long as we don’t get carved apart to the extent that we did against Birmingham, and we start playing from the first-half instead of the second, we might surprise them.