Sunday, 19 October 2014

Roller-coaster ride as lucky Liverpool beat QPR

Liverpool were extremely fortunate to escape with three points from Loftus Road on Sunday.

From the first to the final minute, QPR were the better team, but Liverpool were the beneficiaries of two own goals conceded by Harry Redknapp’s men, rendering the hosts’ efforts fruitless and handing the Reds a win that their performance certainly did not merit.

Four goals in the final seven minutes livened up what had been an otherwise deeply frustrating match, but the dramatic ending could not disguise the fact that the Merseysiders’ display simply was not up to scratch and, but for the kind assistance of Richard Dunne and Steven Caulker, Liverpool could well have suffered a humiliating defeat against the team propping up the Premier League table.

Rodgers controversially started Raheem Sterling and kept him on the pitch for all 94 minutes despite the England international’s much-reported tiredness. It was a wise move, as the teenage sensation was instrumental in all three of Liverpool’s goals. He also moved captain Steven Gerrard into a more advanced role behind Mario Balotelli after he combined well with the Italian when played there briefly versus West Brom last time out.

Unfortunately, apart from one effort on the stroke of half time, Gerrard proved ineffective in that role and was subsequently moved deeper in the second half to try and help Liverpool’s central defence to cope with the threat posed by QPR frontman Bobby Zamora.

Lovren and Skrtel certainly needed some help, as Zamora was running them ragged and easily out-competing the pair, causing them no end of trouble. The 33-year old bullied Liverpool’s defence right from the word ‘go’, chesting the ball down for Charlie Austin to blaze over after only two minutes.

Austin then forced Mignolet into a good save soon after and sent a follow-up effort into the side-netting after easily evading half-hearted challenges from Johnson and Skrtel, as the R’s bright opening encouraged the boisterous and noisy home crowd.

QPR went even closer to scoring midway through the first 45 minutes, but they were denied by the woodwork twice as the visitors rode their luck. First, Leroy Fer fired a rising effort against the bar from Zamora’s square pass as the Reds were, as usual, all at sea defensively.

Then, the 24-year old Dutch midfielder hit the bar once again, this time heading Zamora’s cross against the upright. In the ensuing scramble, Sandro attempted to find the net but was denied by some desperate last ditching defending from Glen Johnson.

Johnson scrambles clear off the goal line
At that point, Liverpool were on the rocks. Defensively all over the place, the only thing keeping the scores level was QPR’s prolificacy in front of goal. Most other Premier League teams would have punished Rodgers’ side for their stereotypically shoddy defending, and Real Madrid will definitely be more ruthless on Wednesday if the Reds’ back four duplicates this performance.

At the other end, meanwhile, Mario Balotelli was performing abysmally. Languid and lazy, Balotelli looked disinterested throughout and infuriated fans with a sub-par work rate. His only efforts on goal in the first period were a shot that was easily saved by Alex McCarthy and a strike that embarrassingly ballooned into the stands.

Gerrard sent a shot narrowly wide of the far post after cleverly manoeuvring in the penalty area just before the break, but it would have been an injustice if Liverpool had gone into the interval in front. Much more was required from and expected of them during the second 45 minutes.

Frustratingly, that improvement failed to materialise. In fact, things arguably got even worse, as Balotelli somehow struck over the bar from six yards out with the goal at his mercy when it seemed easier to score. It was the type of miss that left Kopites wondering whether the name ‘Balotelli’ translates into ‘Ngog’ in French and ‘Heskey’ in English!

It was one of those days for Balotelli
That embarrassment on the hour mark was preceded by two frights at the back, as QPR kicked off where they left from during the opening 15 minutes after the restart. First, Sandro was given far too much space to send a powerful shot goalwards which forced Mignolet to make a good save. Then, Austin’s shot flashed across the face of goal from a tight angle.

The introduction of Allen and Coutinho midway through the half seemed to make a difference. Coutinho’s arrival was particularly important, as he injected a much-needed degree of energy and inventiveness into Liverpool’s sterile attack.

With that said, the Reds were always going to need some help from QPR to score. Thankfully, that assistance duly arrived on 67 minutes when Richard Dunne became the first Premier League player to reach double figures in terms of own goals. The former Evertonian centre back amusingly got his legs in a tangle and therefore diverted Johnson’s low cross into his own net after Sterling had taken a quick free kick.

When Bobby Zamora exited the action with eleven minutes remaining, Skrtel and Lovren must have breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, his replacement, Eduardo Vargas, proved even more of a nuisance, scoring twice in the dramatic closing stages.

To start with, he equalised on 87 minutes, as, with a depressing sense of inevitability, Liverpool capitulated and squandered their fragile lead. Enrique was culpable for the goal, as it was his weak initial headed clearance from a free kick which allowed QPR to put the ball back into the box. The Spanish left back then overcommitted when challenging Vargas on the left wing, allowing him to find Austin and then latch on to his header down before smashing home, leaving Enrique trailing in his wake.

Brazilian substitute Coutinho thought he’d bagged the winner in the final minute of normal time when he concluded a swift counter attack that had begun with a crucial intervention from Skrtel by cutting in from the left and sweeping beyond the goalkeeper following good build up play by Sterling.

Coutinho deserves to return to the starting line-up
There were still to be two more twists in the tail, though, as suicidal defending at both ends made for edge of the seat entertainment in the dying moments. Immediately from the restart, QPR won a corner, which Vargas scrambled home in possibly the scrappiest manner possible thanks to non-existent defending from Steven Gerrard and shocking incompetence from Allen and Mignolet on the post.

When QPR were then awarded another free kick in a central position, it was heart in mouth time for Liverpool, who looked liable to concede from every set piece. Remarkably, instead of conceding a third, the Reds grabbed a winner themselves after clearing the danger and pouring forward.

Coutinho played a wonderfully precise through ball to Sterling, who confusingly decided to try and square the ball to Balotelli when he should have shot himself, but he got lucky as the back-tracking Caulker converted into his own net with literally seconds left on the clock.

Sterling and Stevie celebrate an undeserved last gasp winner
It was an absolutely crushing blow for QPR, who deserved so much more from a contest that they arguably controlled. Liverpool, on the other hand, were relieved to have somehow found a way to win a match they probably should have lost on the balance of play.

By hook and by crook, Liverpool secured three points that move them up to fifth in the table, which is heartening. However, apart from possibly the performances of Sterling and Coutinho, there really are no other positives that the Reds can take from this match. It was embarrassingly bad, and Madrid are going to hammer them in midweek unless they perform exponentially better against the European Champions.

I’m not holding my breath.


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