Liverpool were held to a goalless draw yesterday by visitors Hull City after a reasonably entertaining match. Both sides had chances but it has to be said, the hosts had the bulk of them. The hosts recorded their first clean sheet in nine games and on balance should have taken all three points.
Brendan Rodgers recalled Alberto Moreno and Javi Manquillo in the left and right back berths respectively, with Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren in the centre. Emre Can and a Joe Allen took the central midfield partnership either side of Steven Gerrard. Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli made up attackers in a 4-3-3 formation.
In terms of highlights, there weren’t that many in the first half. Mario Balotelli tested Eldin Jakupovic from a tight angle after picking up Sterlin’g clever through-ball. Lovren went close with a header from Gerrard’s corner but Alex Bruce was on hand for the Tigers to clear off the line. Referee Neil Swarbrick missed a worthy penalty shout after a late challenge on Lallana from James Chester as the ex-Southampton man burst into the visitors penalty area after a one-two with Moreno on the edge of the box.
The visitors were not without their chances, however. A good run from Hatem Ben Arfa found Jake Livermore in space in the area, only for him to shoot straight at Simon Mignolet. Tom Huddlestone also came close when his deflected effort squirmed wide of Mignolet’s right upright to the relief of the home support.
The second half started in similar fashion to the first with the hosts taking the game to their visitors. That little bit of luck in front of goal just eluding them. Gerrard curled a shot just short of Jakupovic’s left post after a neat one-two with Sterling on the edge of the City penalty area. On 61 minutes, Rodgers made a change, replacing Allen and Lallana with Philippe Coutinho and Rickie Lambert. With the change, the hosts grew further in dominance and, with two distinct strikers, looked more dangerous around their visitors’ goal.
Balotelli missed a header from close range after Can connected well with Coutinho’s corner. Sterlings shot from range with the resulting lose ball was saved by Jakupovic. Lovren came close after being teed up by Balotelli in the visitors’ box. The Croatian completely missing his kick. The chances came thick and fast. Sterling’s curled shot (probably mistakenly) fell just short of the visitors’ left post. Balotelli losing his footing in the area and just unable to stand up long enough to force a shot. Coutinho had a drive from the edge of the box, after showing good strength to get a couple of City defenders, superbly saved by Jakupovic.
As the final whistle approached, Balotelli almost became the Reds’ hero on the day. A left wing run from Coutinho showing excellent footwork to beat two challenges and a neat exchange with Gerrard, put a cross in front of the Hull goal. The Italian was marginally beaten to the ball by the boot of the impressive Jakupovic who was able to save from point-blank range. The whistle blew. 0-0.
For a goalless draw, I have to say it was a good performance from the home side. Balotelli was unlucky not to break his duck and played much better after the introduction of Lambert. I’m sure he’ll be criticised for his “miss” late on but to be fair to him, credit has to go to Jakupovic for some brilliant positioning and anticipation. Something that will surely go amiss to the Balo-bashers. The whole side will be cursing their luck. Coutinho, Sterling, Gerrard, Lovren even Skrtel all went close and could have taken the points. Hull defended like demons and I think they can count themselves lucky to have come away with a point.
In terms of stand out performances, Can’s was worth a mention. He made some good runs from deep with power and pace in abundance. The lad does indeed look like an excellent prospect. I’d even go so far as to say he’s a better player than Gerrard was at the same age. Much stronger this is for sure and has a touch more maturity in his game too. He has definitely been missed this last few games and it’s clear to see what benefit he brings over say, Lucas Leiva as a defensive midfielder.
Overall, I’m pleased with the clean sheet. It’s the first since the Tottenham match and should not be taken for granted. Considering the recent dross we’ve been served up from the defence I’ll take that. It’s no coincidence that Moreno and Manquillo played a part over Luis Enrique and Glen Johnson. Johnson, for me has probably reached the end of the road for Liverpool. If he’s sold in January then one has to question Rodgers’ wisdom (for want of a better word) in letting Andre Wisdom go out on loan to West Bromwich Albion for the entire season. Jon Flanagan is still injured and not due to return for a while yet. Not a great call.
Balotelli struggled to make an impact on the game early on but as I maintain, Rodgers doesn’t play to his strengths. We’ve alway seen the best of Balotelli when he has support from another striker and this was born out yesterday. I still think he’ll come good. He’s not the most dynamic of players this is for sure but, it’s clear Rodgers knew this when he signed him. Let’s face it, if he can’t expect the lad to score goals like Luis Suarez, why expect him to have the Uruguayan’s work rate? It doesn’t make sense. Fact is, if you want a player like Luis Suarez – Don’t sell him. Simple.
The LFC File Man of the Match: Philippe Coutinho. Came on and changed the game. Showed some much needed steel which has been lacking recently from him. He’s got to be one of the first names on the team sheet for the Newcastle game.
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