Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Tigers bite as tame Reds lose

Liverpool’s miserable run of form continued last night as they lost 1-0 away to Hull City. Michael Dawson headed home the only goal of the match (and of his Hull City career) eight minutes before the break to seal three crucial points for Steve Bruce’s side, who are now four points above the drop zone.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are almost mathematically unable to finish in the top four, although most Kopites already knew that Champions League qualification was never going to happen anyway before kick-off at the KC Stadium.

Roughly 1000 Liverpool supporters boycotted the match in protest at high ticket prices, leaving the away end half empty. Unfortunately, at points it seemed as if the players had followed the fans’ lead, as they never really showed up and certainly didn’t put a decent performance in, with the possible exceptions of Simon Mignolet and Philippe Coutinho.

In the main surprising team news, Mario Balotelli retained his place in the starting eleven following a typically average display against West Brom on the weekend. Coutinho and Sterling started either side of him, as Gerrard missed out altogether after picking up a slight knock late on against the Baggies.

Almost straight from the kick-off, Balotelli was producing his usual antics, needlessly squaring up to Tom Huddlestone after a routine foul. The Italian’s subsequent free kick was nothing to write home about, either, as it was deflected behind by Hull’s wall.

If only Balotelli channeled some of this energy into his football
Coutinho went closer on 18 minutes, testing Harper with a decent effort from a corner kick won following a weaving run down the right wing by Jordon Ibe, but the hosts were creating the better goalscoring chances, Mignolet repelling goal-bound headed efforts from N’Doye, Chester and Elmohamady.

The best the Reds could come up with in response before Mignolet was finally beaten by a header was a weak and pointless back-heeled effort by Balotelli, who was then largely responsible for Hull’s opening goal. The Italian was too slow in moving out at a corner and, although three of his teammates were offside, Michael Dawson was onside and thus able to head home Elmohamady’s ball back into the box.

Balotelli played Dawson onside for his goal
To make matters even worse, the number 45 then squandered a perfect opportunity to atone for his error in literally the last second of injury time, as he somehow failed to tap home from close range after some unusually excellent work from Glen Johnson, who marauded down the left wing, beating two men, before putting the ball on a plate for Balotelli.

Admittedly his teammates weren’t exactly pulling up any trees, but Balotelli was particularly poor, and it still astounds me how he gets game time ahead of Rickie Lambert. The only explanation I can think of is that Rodgers wants to put him in the shop window so he can try and recoup some of the £16 million he shelled out for him last summer.

The second half was perhaps even worse. Although Hull’s players, fans and manager were clearly anxious about Liverpool getting back into the match, they needn’t have worried, as the Reds never seriously threatened to equalise, let alone comeback to claim all three points.

Henderson saw a couple of shots saved by Harper, but even after the introduction of Lallana and Lambert with 25 minutes left Liverpool looked incapable of truly testing Hull’s 40-year old goalkeeper. If anyone was going to make something happen, it was Philippe Coutinho, but the little Brazilian magician couldn’t do it all by himself, and he lacked back-up from a fairly mediocre supporting cast.

Coutinho and Mignolet were the only ones who came away with any credit for Liverpool
On 77 minutes he weaved past two players and tried to play in Lambert, but the former Southampton striker was too slow to latch on to it. Then, he did well to make it into the box and find Sterling, but the number 31, who is performing ridiculously poorly for a 20-year old demanding over £100k a week, shot straight at Harper.

Coutinho then smashed one well wide of target in the third minute of injury time, as Hull fairly comfortably held on for what is a crucial, and well deserved, victory for them. Liverpool, on the other hand, need to take a long hard look at themselves.

Their season is winding down to a very disappointing conclusion, and it feels like Rodgers' time at the club might be winding down to a sorry end as well, unless things are radically different in their final four games against QPR, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Stoke City.

Champions League qualification is definitely off the table - it was before anyway- now it’s all about restoring some pride and sense of direction so that we can start next season with a bit of momentum rather than down in the doldrums.


Sunday, 26 April 2015

Dull draw at Hawthorns as top four hopes die

Liverpool’s faint hopes of a top four finish were entirely extinguished at the Hawthorns yesterday, as Brendan Rodgers’ side were held to a dull goalless draw by West Bromwich Albion.

In an instantly forgettable contest, Liverpool were the better side but, once again, lacked any sense of cutting edge in front of goal. As a result, all they could manage was a point, which, when combined with Man City’s last gasp 3-2 win over Liverpool’s FA Cup conquerors Aston Villa, leaves the Reds seven points off fourth, rendering Champions League qualification unfeasible.

Mario Balotelli made his first start since February following his decent cameo display against Villa, while Jordon Ibe, returning from injury, was also in the starting eleven as Liverpool looked to provide their supporters some cheer following a trying few weeks. Unfortunately, they didn’t deliver, as a dreary first 45 minutes was followed by only a marginally better second half.

With the pace, tempo and feel of an end-of-season dead rubber, the first half was dire from the moment referee Roger East blew his whistle to start the match.

Only two events worth nothing occurred. First, just before the half hour mark, Steven Gerrard, making his 500th League appearance for Liverpool, curled a free kick over the bar from the edge of the box. Then, five minutes later, Balotelli blasted a volleyed strike just over the bar.

Gerrard curled a free kick over the bar
Apart from that, very little happened at all, as Tony Pulis’ men, knowing that they only need a couple more points to secure safety, were happy for Liverpool to monopolise possession, fully aware that they lacked the fire power necessary to cause the Baggies serious problems.

The second half was slightly more tolerable, but still far from an entertaining watch. The best goalscoring opportunity for Liverpool came ten minutes after the restart when a combination of poor finishing and last ditch defending prevented them breaking the deadlock three times in quick succession.

Balotelli swivelled and shot in the box, only for his effort to be blocked by McAuley. The ball fell to Coutinho, whose weak strike was parried away by Boaz Myhill, but only as far as Henderson, who tried to turn home the rebound but saw his shot blocked in the goalmouth.

Ibe then blasted against the bar after playing a neat one-two with Balotelli and darting into the danger area, as the Merseysiders briefly threatened. They remained vulnerable at the back, though, and West Brom seemed to respond, Gardner shooting into the side-netting before Skrtel made a mess of cutting out a cross, forcing Lovren to make a goalline clearance to stop Morrison’s header crossing the line.

Gardner shot into the side netting
It was a good clearance from Lovren, who was actually one of Liverpool’s best performers, which is a damning indictment on the rest of the team considering; 1) how shockingly bad the former Southampton defender has been on a consistent basis this season, and 2) Liverpool spent the entire match trying to break down the Baggies’ defence, so the fact that a defender was arguably the Reds’ Man of the Match says all you need to know about the success of their attack!

With 15 minutes left, Lallana returned to action, replacing Ibe, while Borini was brought on in place of Balotelli, which was frustrating as Rodgers really should have gone with two up front at that stage to try and force the issue.

As it transpired, Liverpool only had one more chance, Coutinho’s strike from 20 yards landing on the roof of the net, while West Brom also could have nicked an undeserved winner in the closing stages as Mignolet was called upon to save from Callum McManaman at his near post after the 24-year old former Wigan winger skipped past the off-form Skrtel.

At the end of the day, though, everyone was pleased when the final whistle was blown; West Brom, because a point represented a good result from them, and Liverpool because it brought to a close a rubbish afternoon that they’d very much like to quickly forget.

At a stretch, maybe we can be pleased with the Reds keeping their 14th clean sheet of the campaign, but Rodgers’ description of Liverpool’s performance as ‘outstanding’ stretched the limits of credulity. Yes, his team had three-quarters of possession and 22 shots, but only a pathetic five of them were on target, and, when you want to be challenging for the Champions League, that’s just not good enough.

What is particularly annoying is the fact that events yesterday could have quite easily put Liverpool back in the fight for fourth had they taken a different turn. Had Liverpool taken their chances and beaten West Brom and had Villa held on for a few extra minutes at the Etihad, then the gap between the teams would have narrowed to a still considerable, but certainly not insurmountable, five points.

Lovren and his teammates are dejected on the final whistle
As it was, Liverpool just didn’t really show up, and got what they deserved as their Champions League dreams lie in tatters.


Monday, 20 April 2015

Rubbish Reds crash out of Cup

Liverpool performed woefully at Wembley, as they crashed out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage after losing 2-1 to Tim Sherwood’s resurgent Aston Villa side.

Philippe Coutinho capitalised on some poor Villa defending to give the Reds the lead in the first half, but Benteke responded almost immediately for Villa, and the excellent Fabian Delph scored what turned out to be the winner early in the second half.

The response that Liverpool managed to muster was embarrassingly meagre, and the Midlanders quite comfortably held out to secure a deserved victory and book their place in the final against Arsenal in May. Liverpool’s season, meanwhile, is effectively over, after Manchester City’s 2-0 victory over West Ham in the Premier League yesterday afternoon moved them seven points clear in fourth.

Emre Can, Martin Skrtel and Steven Gerrard all made immediate returns to the starting line-up following suspension, the first two forming a back three with Dejan Lovren and the skipper, starting for the first time in 13 matches, flanking Raheem Sterling with Philippe Coutinho. The other major team news saw Daniel Sturridge miss out altogether, as the perennially injury plagued England international didn’t even make the bench at Wembley.

The opening exchanges were fairly even, with both sides passing neatly and having sights of goal. For Liverpool, Allen and Henderson shot wide, while Villa’s N’Zogbia fired a left footed shot towards the top corner that forced Mignolet to tip over the bar.

A key moment came on 26 minutes, when injured Villa centre back Nathan Baker had to be replaced by Jores Okore. Not yet up to speed with the contest, Okore was at fault for Coutinho’s opener, as Villa’s backline repeatedly spurned opportunities to clear their lines, allowing the Brazilian magician to weave his way into the box before curling past Given.

Coutinho's goal was the highlight of a disappointing afternoon
It was a clinical finish from Coutinho, but his goal owed as much to Villa’s incompetent defending as it did to the brilliance of Liverpool’s number ten, who had been a crucial part of Liverpool’s cup run, scoring in replays at both Bolton and Blackburn.

Importantly, Liverpool’s lead did not last long, as, within five minutes, the on-form Benteke levelled with his sixth strike in Villa’s last seven games. Delph broke down the left wing and, with Markovic and Can nowhere to be seen, Skrtel was pulled out of position. This allowed Benteke plenty of room to receive Delph’s cutback and side-foot past Mignolet.

Benteke equalised almost immediately
The Belgian striker has now scored in five of his last six matches against Liverpool, and this was surely the most important, as it immediately restored Villa’s confidence while simultaneously destroying the platform that Liverpool hoped Coutinho’s goal would provide for them to build a better performance on.

Liverpool did have a couple more chances to reclaim the lead before the break, Lovren heading wide from Gerrard’s corner after Coutinho’s shot had been deflected over, but the momentum and belief seemed to be with Villa.

This was demonstrated by their rapid start to the second half, which began with N’Zogbia shooting off target and Mignolet gratefully collecting Benteke’s deflected shot, but ended with Delph and Benteke combining once again to put Sherwood’s side ahead.

Delph played Benteke in behind the Liverpool defence, and he back-heeled the ball to Grealish, who in turn released Delph in the penalty area. The 25-year old midfielder cut inside Lovren and fired past Mignolet to deservedly give Villa the lead.

Delph, Villa's star man, bagged the winner
Mario Balotelli, who came on for the ineffective Lazar Markovic at the break, seemingly spurned the perfect opportunity to do what Villa did to the Reds in the first half and immediately equalise, as he inexplicably failed to connect to a cross with just Given to beat. Only the linesman’s offside flag could spare Balotelli’s blushes.

Apart from that, Liverpool did precious little to suggest that they were going to fight their way back into the match and, as the minutes dwindled down; many Kopites became increasingly nervous that the expected final push would fail to materialise. Their fears proved well founded.

Crucially, the players that you would expect to step up to the plate in big moments in big games like these were nowhere to be seen. Henderson was anonymous, as was Sterling, whose effective absence from proceedings yesterday makes his wage demands seem increasingly farcical.

Coutinho was also disappointingly quiet after opening the scoring and, although I held out hopes of a late Gerrard rescue to roll back the years, my faith proved hopelessly blind and optimistic; the skipper is a fading star, and his semi-final no-show proved it.

Lovren and Balotelli headed over in the closing stages, while Gerrard also saw Richardson clear his header off the line, but, apart from long balls into the box and headed efforts from set pieces, Liverpool produced little to seriously worry their opponents.

The afternoon was summed up by Dejan Lovren in the third of four minutes of injury time. The ball came to him 40 yards out and he had two options; one, he could have put the ball back into the box where the majority of Liverpool’s players were or, two, he could have played a simple five yard pass to Gerrard, who would have a much better chance of scoring a last gasp worldie from range. Instead, the £20 million signing from Southampton blasted high, wide and handsome into the stands.

Season over: Liverpool's players are inconsolable on the final whistle
It was a depressing end to a depression afternoon that depressingly effectively draws down the curtain on Liverpool’s 2014/2015 campaign. With no cup to win and Champions League qualification a pipe dream, there’s basically nothing to play for in the final six matches.

Liverpool can have no complaints, though; Villa were the better team on the day and the Reds just didn’t show up when it really mattered, as has been the case far too many times during what has been a frustratingly up and down season.


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

26 years on: The 96 remembered

On 15th April 1989, 26 years ago today, Liverpool supporters set out to Hillsborough, Sheffield to support their team in the FA Cup semi-final. Tragically, 96 supporters never returned. They had been crushed to death in the pens after fatal over-crowding.

The 96 were remembered before the Newcastle match on Monday
These are the names of the 96 who lost their lives;

John Alfred Anderson (62)

Colin Mark Ashcroft (19)

James Gary Aspinall (18)

Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16)

Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67)

Simon Bell (17)

Barry Sidney Bennett (26)

David John Benson (22)

David William Birtle (22)

Tony Bland (22)

Paul David Brady (21)

Andrew Mark Brookes (26)

Carl Brown (18)

David Steven Brown (25)

Henry Thomas Burke (47)

Peter Andrew Burkett (24)

Paul William Carlile (19)

Raymond Thomas Chapman (50)

Gary Christopher Church (19)

Joseph Clark (29)

Paul Clark (18)

Gary Collins (22)

Stephen Paul Copoc (20)

Tracey Elizabeth Cox (23)

James Philip Delaney (19)

Christopher Barry Devonside (18)

Christopher Edwards (29)

Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons (34)

Thomas Steven Fox (21)

Jon-Paul Gilhooley (10)

Barry Glover (27)

Ian Thomas Glover (20)

Derrick George Godwin (24)

Roy Harry Hamilton (34)

Philip Hammond (14)

Eric Hankin (33)

Gary Harrison (27)

Stephen Francis Harrison (31)

Peter Andrew Harrison (15)

David Hawley (39)

James Robert Hennessy (29)

Paul Anthony Hewitson (26)

Carl Darren Hewitt (17)

Nicholas Michael Hewitt (16)

Sarah Louise Hicks (19)

Victoria Jane Hicks (15)

Gordon Rodney Horn (20)

Arthur Horrocks (41)

Thomas Howard (39)

Thomas Anthony Howard (14)

Eric George Hughes (42)

Alan Johnston (29)

Christine Anne Jones (27)

Gary Philip Jones (18)

Richard Jones (25)

Nicholas Peter Joynes (27)

Anthony Peter Kelly (29)

Michael David Kelly (38)

Carl David Lewis (18)

David William Mather (19)

Brian Christopher Matthews (38)

Francis Jospeh McAllister (27)

John McBrien (18)

Marion Hazel McCabe (21)

Joseph Daniel McCarthy (21)

Peter McDonnell (21)

Alan McGlone (28)

Keith McGrath (17)

Paul Brian Murray (14)

Lee Nicol (14)

Stephen Francis O'Neill (17)

Jonathon Owens (18)

William Roy Pemberton (23)

Carl William Rimmer (21)

David George Rimmer (38)

Graham John Roberts (24)

Steven Joseph Robinson (17)

Henry Charles Rogers (17)

Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton (23)

Inger Shah (38)

Paula Ann Smith (26)

Adam Edward Spearritt (14)

Philip John Steele (15)

David Leonard Thomas (23)

Patrick John Thompson (35)

Peter Reuben Thompson (30)

Stuart Paul William Thompson (17)

Peter Francis Tootle (21)

Christopher James Traynor (26)

Martin Kevin Traynor (16)

Kevin Tyrrell (15)

Colin Wafer (19)

Ian David Whelan (19)

Martin Kenneth Wild (29)

Kevin Daniel Williams (15)

Graham John Wright (17)

Justice for the 96. Never Forgotten. You'll Never Walk Alone

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Sterling and Allen put Newcastle to the sword

Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen were on target as Liverpool put Newcastle to the sword and secured a relatively simple 2-0 win at Anfield on Monday night. Warming them up nicely for the FA Cup semi-final versus Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday afternoon, this victory also takes the Reds within four points of fourth placed Manchester City.

Daniel Sturridge was left out of the squad altogether after feeling the effects of a hip injury suffered against Blackburn in the FA Cup quarter final replay. He now faces a race to be fit for the semi-final. In his absence, Raheem Sterling, who has courted much off-field controversy recently, began up front alongside the brilliant Philippe Coutinho and Jordon Ibe, who was perhaps predictably underwhelming on his return from injury.

After an impeccably observed minute’s silence two days before the 26th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, the away side actually began the better, Cabella seeing a shot deflected wide as John Carver’s men were on top during the opening exchanges.

That all changed, however, when Raheem Sterling responded to his critics by bagging the opener in spectacular fashion. The number 31 collected Henderson’s wonderful diagonal pass before proceeding to cut inside and curl an awesome strike into the corner of the net.

Sterling celebrates scoring the opener
It was a lovely strike from Sterling, and if he could produce that type of finish on a consistent basis then his wage demands- which the Kop mocked by singing, “Raheem Sterling, Your agent’s a kn*b”!- might be more reasonable. As it is, though, the 20-year old talent also missed a couple of sitters in the second half which explain why he isn’t worth more than the £100,000 a week the club are currently offering him.

After the opener had been scored, Liverpool were in the ascendancy for the majority of the remainder of the half, the unmarked Moreno testing Tim Krul five minutes later, before a bit of typical brilliance from Coutinho to skip past Colback and Williamson went unrewarded as there was nobody in the box to turn home his enticing low cross. The Brazilian magician was then involved in a clever free kick routine with Henderson, which fooled everyone but disappointingly ended with his effort on goal being blocked.

As the half came to a close, Newcastle came back into the match, starting with Mehdi Abeid shooting sweetly but straight into Mignolet’s arms on the half hour mark. Referee Lee Mason then harshly refused Ayoze Perez a penalty despite being well-placed to witness Lovren’s foul in the box, before Mignolet had to be on top form to turn behind the Spanish striker’s excellent header.

There was still time for Abeid to fire into the Kop in the dying seconds of injury time, as Newcastle ended the first half and then started the second period strongly. After the restart, Obertan headed wide and Abeid saw another shot blocked as Liverpool struggled to get going again. Raheem Sterling could have rectified that on the hour mark, but he somehow dribbled the ball wide with his left foot when it would have been easier to score from only a few yards out.

On 67 minutes, the Anfield crowd once again evidenced its class, as the whole stadium stood to welcome Newcastle substitute Jonas Gutierrez, who has fought testicular cancer to return to football, on to the pitch.

Three minutes later, Newcastle were charitable in return, as some horrible defending from Mike Williamson allowed Allen to fire home the loose ball from close range to double the Merseysiders’ lead and effectively end the match as a contest.

This was Allen's first goal since that 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace
It got worse for Newcastle, as Sissoko saw red after picking up a second yellow for a horror tackle on Lucas that warranted a straight red card. Liverpool couldn’t inflict more pain on the Toon, though, as they were wasteful in front of goal, Lovren heading a corner over the bar when he should have at least hit the target and Sterling unable to keep his shot down when in a perfect position to double his personal tally for the evening.

When is all said and done, however, Liverpool fans can have few complaints. This Liverpool-Newcastle match certainly won’t go down in history alongside other epic encounters with the Geordies, but it was important to get back to winning ways in the League and pleasing to see the Reds put in a pretty decent performance for the first time in a while.

Liverpool’s chances of Champions League qualification remain slim, but all they can do is keep winning to keep the pressure on the out of sorts City, and that’s what they did with relative ease at Anfield last night.


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Reds secure narrow replay win over Rovers

A Philippe Coutinho goal 160 minutes into Liverpool’s FA Cup quarter final tie with Blackburn Rovers proved enough to seal a semi-final spot for the Reds and keep their season alive.

Seven points off fourth with only seven matches left to play, Champions League qualification is now a distant dream for Liverpool, so a defeat last night would have seen them embarrassingly knocked out of the FA Cup by lower league opposition and effectively end their season. Thankfully, though, despite a far from impressive display, the Reds ground out an important victory, setting up a semi-final against Aston Villa at Wembley on Sunday 19th April.

Following an abysmal defensive display at Arsenal on the weekend and with Emre Can and Martin Skrtel suspended, Brendan Rodgers reverted to four at the back, with Johnson coming in at right back and Lovren replacing Toure, who performed dreadfully against the Gunners.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we saw the Ivorian again, as he replaced the injured Sakho on the half hour mark. He looked a little shaky, but was nowhere near as bad as he was against Arsenal, which isn’t saying much.

After having a taste of their own medicine against Manchester United and Arsenal, Liverpool returned to dominating possession and controlling the game in the first half against Blackburn, although they struggled to get their slick passing game going on a difficult Ewood Park pitch. They also failed to craft many decent goalscoring chances and were routinely frustrated by two banks of four that were tough to break down.

In fact, although Liverpool had the better of the opening exchanges, Allen skewing a volley wide after five minutes, Blackburn were handed the first real chance after a quarter of an hour by what was nearly a costly slip up from Sakho.

The French centre back dwelt on a hopeful punt forward from Rovers and almost allowed Craig Conway in as communication completely broke down between Sakho and Mignolet. He eventually recovered to make a decent block, but it was a sign that, for all their dominance going forward, Liverpool remained vulnerable at the back.

Sakho was also at the centre of Rovers’ next good opportunity, as Jordan Rhodes exploited the fact that his hamstring injury had left him hobbling back to get in a good position to head Conway’s left wing cross goalwards. Fortunately, the Scotland striker spurned a great chance, heading poorly well over the bar.

Sakho limps off injured
At that point, Sakho was substituted and, as the game approached half time, Liverpool began to produce a few more chances, Johnson lashing towards the near post from a tight angle and Sturridge trying his luck with a dipping effort that Eastwood dealt with well.

Coutinho, a key player in the Reds’ cup run, was at the centre of everything good about the Merseysiders’ performance, and he had the best chance to score ten minutes before the break.

Chaos ensued in Blackburn’s box following a corner, and the ball eventually fell to Coutinho. His low shot towards the bottom corner forced a good save out of Eastwood, whose view was obscured by two players in his line of sight. One of those players, Daniel Sturridge, tried and failed to get a touch on it that would have turned the ball home and given the visitors a crucial lead at the interval.

Coutinho had a couple more chances before the break, firing way over from 20 yards after the ball bobbled at precisely the wrong moment and also seeing another attempt blocked, but there was nothing Liverpool could do to avoid entering half time with the scores at a stalemate.

After the restart, Blackburn immediately came out with a far more attacking approach and had two great goalscoring opportunities within the first minute of the second half. First, Mignolet had to acrobatically turn Cairney’s effort over for a corner, which was subsequently turned goalwards by the head of Ben Marshall.

The Belgian stopper then produced another brilliant save, getting a firm left hand to it and thus turning the ball on to the post. There were questions as to whether the ball had brushed Joe Allen’s arm on its way through, but it would have been incredibly harsh had Kevin Friend pointed to the spot.

This was a great save from Mignolet
It was worrying for five minutes when Blackburn looked like they might take the lead, but, overall, it played into Liverpool’s hands, as space opened up for them to exploit in Rovers’ half. Despite that additional space, Liverpool still crucially lacked quality in the final third. That was, until Coutinho produced a piece of magic with twenty minutes remaining.

Coutinho played a clever one-two with Henderson after a short corner, allowing him space to drill an unstoppable shot across Eastwood and into the far corner. Coming only moments after Rovers’ substitute Rudy Gestede had caused some trouble up the other end; the goal came as a welcome relief and put the visitors firmly in the driving seat in the contest.

This little magician produced the goods in the FA Cup once again
Blackburn lacked the energy to mount a serious challenge during the closing stages, while Liverpool had a few chances to put the outcome beyond doubt, Lambert heading into the side-netting only moments after replacing Sturridge and Allen being denied a penalty despite Williamson’s foul on him in the box.

Liverpool did suffer one final fright in the dying seconds of injury time, though, as goalkeeper Eastwood raced forward for a long throw and ended up firing a decent effort goalwards. It took him two attempts, but thankfully Mignolet eventually dealt with the shot to deny Blackburn a fairy tale comeback story.

To be fair to Mignolet, although he worried me with Eastwood’s effort, he had a good game and made a couple of important saves, which turned out to be crucial in helping the Reds reach Wembley. Coutinho was the other stand-out performer, but most of his teammates were a level or two below their potential.

Improvement is certainly needed ahead of the semi-final versus Villa next weekend, but right now it’s just great to still have something to play for this season.


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

What went wrong and where do we go from here?

It’s been a tough few weeks for Liverpool. Defeat against Manchester United at the end of March was the worst way imaginable to enter the international break, while comments from Raheem Sterling regarding his on-going contractual negotiations have not been helpful in the least, providing an unnecessary off-field distraction.

In light of that United defeat, getting something against Arsenal on Easter Saturday was crucial for the Reds’ hopes of Champions League qualification. Had Liverpool at least drawn with United, a point at the Emirates might not have been a bad result, but what Rodgers’ men really needed was a win.

It was always going to be a tough task at a venue where Liverpool have historically struggled. Few could have foreseen the complete collapse that occurred on Saturday lunchtime, though. Admittedly Arsenal were on top form, as Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud all found the net in a comprehensive 4-1 victory, but Liverpool were as bad as their hosts were brilliant.

The day after Goof Friday was a bad day for Liverpool fans
In fact, the Reds were so poor that a very long list could be written detailing in great depth where they went wrong, but here are the three main things that went wrong against Arsenal.

Defensive disaster

Liverpool’s defence has improved hugely recently, but it reverted back to the bad old days of earlier in the season on Saturday, utterly undermining the visitor’s efforts. Having not conceded away from home in the League since the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford in December, the defence capitulated and conceded that number of goals in the first 45 minutes at the Emirates.

Kolo Toure was particularly awful, routinely giving the ball away and inviting pressure from the high-pressing hosts. Wing back was also a problem area, as Jordan Henderson, pushed out to right wing back to accommodate the returning Lucas, clearly looked uncomfortable, while describing Moreno’s defending for Bellerin’s opener as school-boy would be paying the Spaniard a huge favour.

Moreno was beaten far too easily for Bellerin's goal
Also, although he made a few good saves to avoid an even more embarrassing result, Mignolet had to do better with Ozil’s free kick. There’s no way that should be beating him.

All in all, it was a very bad day in the office for Liverpool’s defence, which clearly missed Martin Skrtel. The absence of Emre Can against Blackburn following his red card against Arsenal only depletes the Reds’ defensive resources further, and Brendan Rodgers might want to consider reverting to a back four, as he did with some success in the second half against the Gunners.

Costly missed chances

At this level, and against top teams like Arsenal, missing golden goalscoring chances will always cost you dearly, and that well-established fact proved true once again on the weekend. Liverpool’s profligacy in front of goal is reflected in the statistics. Only 2 of their 13 shots were on target, which is pathetic in comparison to Arsenal, who managed to get 10 of their 16 shots on target.

The most costly missed chance came on roughly 20 minutes. Liverpool had weathered an early storm and were coming back into the game when Lazar Markovic went clear through on Ospina’s goal. Instead of shooting, as he should have done, the 21-year old Serb squared to Sterling, who wasn’t expecting a pass and therefore couldn’t quite stretch far enough to get a toe to it and turn home.

Sterling should have given Liverpool the lead
It was a terrible spurned opportunity at a crucial time of the game. Had the Merseysiders taken the lead at that stage, the game could have taken on an entirely different complexion. As it was, the chance was wasted and Arsenal went on to dominate and all too easily claim three crucial points.

Lack of leadership

With Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel both picking up suspensions for stupid stamps against United, a youthful Liverpool lacked the leaders necessary to provide the grit that helps teams get through tough times in matches against the best sides.

Kolo Toure could have taken the leadership mantle, as he did spectacularly in Madrid earlier in the season in similarly adverse circumstances, but instead put in one of the poorest performances of the season.

Toure was useless against his former employers
Jordan Henderson also still lacks the air of authority of a natural leader, although it admittedly didn’t help that he was given the graveyard shift on the right wing.

Nobody else looked like stepping forward and taking the lead, either, which is a particularly worrying fact that both Brendan Rodgers and FSG should seek to address. Perhaps they need to modify their transfer strategy in order to ensure that youthful potential is balanced with the experienced leaders needed to pick up points in big matches against top four rivals, which is something that Liverpool have really struggled to do this season.

Where do we go from here?

All of that makes for particularly grim reading. That is because Liverpool’s situation is fairly grim, though, as they are now seven points behind fourth with seven games remaining. As a result, their hopes of Champions League qualification are all but over.

The FA Cup now therefore assumes much greater importance, as winning it would be a great way to salvage something from this season. Liverpool have to overcome Blackburn Rovers in the quarter-final replay tomorrow night and then beat Tim Sherwood’s improving Aston Villa side in the semis to set up a final against Arsenal, in all likelihood, on the 30th May.

Some revenge against Wenger’s men and Cup success would be sweet.