Monday, February 9, 2009

Portsmouth v Liverpool, February 7, Premier League

Vilified over the Robbie Keane saga and troubled more by the injury to Gerrard than his own gall bladder stones, Rafa Benitez responded in the manner which only he can. Even God dares not predict what Rafa will do with a team sheet and definitely the long list of defenders was not really the expected response to a shortage of strike force situation. But that’s what he did and out came a 3-5-2-1 which was also a 5-2-3 and a 3-4-3 and many other combinations as the game progressed. But the real puzzler was seeing the pubescent Ngog lead the line with not only the fitness question-marked Torres, but even the ever favorite Kuyt only making the bench.

I will not go into analyzing the formation and how it suited the team but what I will get into is the genius of unleashing Torres for the business end of the game. I read somewhere that this is the safest way to keep Torres fit for the rest of the season and if fifteen minutes is all El Nino needs to score, then what a masterstroke it turns out to be.

The drama had started unfolding much before Torres’ winner though. With so many defenders on the pitch, Pool still managed to go behind and though they were soon level, when Portsmouth made it 2-1, Tony Adams would have believed that this time their luck was changing. But every minute has been a minute too many on the pitch for Adam’s Pompey and sure enough they gifted the equalizer on a platter.

Will Sylvian Distin have a telling impact on which side are crowned Champions? Only time will tell, but it was a blunder that stank of ill fate (apart from the usual confidence mumbo) and when Durk “not the greatest finisher” Kuyt took the chance from a very difficult angle, a Pool victory felt a more likely outcome than a draw, even with only some kick-about time remaining.
And then stepped up Torres, again. Like he did against Chelsea. Manchester United have been the masters in getting ‘THAT’ goal throughout this season and that has seen them go to the very top, but Liverpool are now showing refreshing doses of that ability. For after great discussions have been done about a team’s technique, style, depth and all surrounding factors, it is the ability to get those winners that makes Champions.

Quite often I have felt that this particular trait resides with teams as a whole and not individuals in particular, though some individuals manifest the trait more than others in the team. In other words, on the odd days when a Gerrard or a Ronaldo does not turn up a hero, a Vidic or a Kuyt or a Milner steps up and does the job. And till Pool can match United step for step on this one team-trait, they will be in with a chance, no matter how deficient their squad is, how constrained their game is or how puzzling their team sheet is.

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