Sunday, September 21, 2008

Liverpool v Stokes, September 20, Premier League

The pick was between West ham v Newcastle and this one (great being back home...the joys!) and I must say I gave the first a long thought before picking this. Zola’s debut as Hammers boss and Newcastle in their continuing state of chaos: very tempting indeed. And more promise of entertainment. But I picked the Liverpool game to get more of a look at Riera and with the obvious curiosity of seeing the follow-up to the impressive win over Man U last week.

When Gerrard scored from a free kick in the second minute I felt vindicated and expected a few more in the game but the linesman raised the flag for offside and it was disallowed. Ungoal!

The Kop will argue forever that this was two points snatched away and the linesman should be hanged. It was a ridiculous decision alright. Not only was no player actually offside as the ball was kicked, there would have been a strong case of no interference even if someone had been. But the decision stood and it was the last time the ball went into the net in this one.

Even though they were robbed, Rafa’s team were also given 88 minutes to do it again and set things right. Against a team that played a 10-1 formation with no midfield. Much like they themselves had done to Marseille just a few days ago. Okay the last one was an exaggeration but Liverpool know a thing or two about holding on to a score and also about being held. And with all the seasons of having dropped points against teams they had no right to, you would expect them to have one season of getting it right. For the sake of a multi-horse race to the finish I hope they will be in the hunt till the end, but with performances like this, that will only happen if other contenders have enough equally shitty nights to match the Reds.

When faced with a team defending in the box, the deadlock can be broken in many different ways:
1. A wonder strike through a maze of players beating the goalkeeper (set pieces included)
2. A wicked deflection (mostly off a defender) from an attempted wonder shot
3. An inspired individual beating a number of defenders and causing confusion leading to creation of space and opportunity for a close range effort
4. Lots of movement from attackers again leading to above mentioned outcome
5. Defensive errors ( many different forms and personnel)

The only real approaches that Pool had were looking for a wonder strike and hope for defensive errors. There was maybe half an attempt from sub Benayoun to create something in the box but it was largely up to Gerrard or Torres to make it happen. There were of course a smattering of attempts from Alonso and Kuyt and even Carraghar but there were too little ideas to my liking. And Riera made no more impact than any other team mate till his substitution.

Stoke did the job they set out to do (and which I believe is what they have been doing game in and out through the last season as well resulting in a ground out promotion) and are a team that like Liverpool, may depend on other teams being poor rather than see their own performance carry them through to achieving their season objective. The one statistic to look at for Stokes will be the number and percentage of their goals that will be created (or scored) through Rory Delap long throws (play of the day material).

Two comments before winding up on this one. First Rafa started the game witout a defensive midfielder (Xavi and Steven in midfield) showing a surprising change from last season when he was accused of being too defensive against weak opposition at home. Look how that turned out! Second, it got so boring that I fell asleep for twenty minutes in the first half. By what I saw in the half-time report I didn’t miss much. By what I saw in the second half, I wished I had snoozed some more.

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