This was a painful result, for 2 reasons. Firstly, it was a cup final! (although some of the players may not have been aware of that in the 1st half). And secondly we could have won, if we had played for 90 mins instead of the last 35 mins. (I don’t care too much about the disallowed goal. You win some, you lose some. We got the ghost goal on the way to Istanbul, we didn’t get this one. I’d rather be Euro Champs 5 times than winning the FA Cup an 8th time. Plus, yet another time we have hit the woodwork without the ball going in! hahahaha)
I have had another look at the game after 24 hours to cool down (that is becoming a standard phrase this season) but I think that there are more important questions and repercussions to come in the next few weeks than just the analysis of the game and result…
Summary of the game
I presume the tactical plan in the first half was for Henderson and Spearing to sit while Gerrard supported Suarez, and if so that is great, as 4-2-3-1 is our best formation in my opinion. (and Rafa’s!) But as soon as I saw the team sheet, I knew that we would be swamped in midfield. How are Spearing and Henderson ever supposed to cope with Mata, Lampard and Ramieres? Such a formation requires two midfielders who can sit and thread passes through to the 4 who go forward. This worked at its best when we had Mascherano/Lucas and Xabi Alonso in tandem and Gerrard behind Torres. Without Xabi or even Lucas, neither Spearing nor Henderson have the initiative / desire / invention to find these passes regularly enough to give the forward 4 anything to work with and clearly Gerrard has no confidence in either of them, as he dropped deep from the 12th minute onwards to play those passes himself leaving Suarez completely isolated.
I noted previously that 15 of Suarez’s 17 LFC goals came from one or two touches. He rarely scores after his dribbles, but they do cause mayhem, so having him as the spearhead/lone striker is a fruitless strategy. I am not saying that through hyperbole or perception, but from the evidence of him playing at Ajax and LFC. He needs to be supported or fed to create goals. The way we played until the 55th minute meant that most of the time we were playing with 9 players. (Stewart Downing does not count)
Overall the midfield was a shambles. They were set up correctly, but it simply did not work for whatever reason, probably the personnel, possibly the balance just wasn’t right. I do not know the answers, but I did foresee the problems (as Pete will testify, as I bitched all game about what was wrong. I do not like the bitching, but my predictions are becoming more accurate. Like a critic, I can see what is wrong, but I am nowhere near the genius of a real manager to know how to create something that works.) What is more disappointing is the lack of pressing in that first half. Chelsea were allowed to knock the ball around like a training game under absolutely no pressure at all. It was a Cup Final not an average pre-season friendly and the attitude shown was not befitting such an occasion. When we did press, it was individually, and not as a group, which would have denied time and space, and instead meant that the one guy running around (Suarez) tired himself out for little result.
The game showed very clearly that in 3 years we have gone from Lucas, Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard to Spearing, Henderson, Adam and Gerrard. That is criminal. From arguably the best midfield in the premiership, to players no other premiership team would buy.
Downing – Christ wept! First half was one of the most incompetent displays I’ve seen of any Liverpool player. I’ve never heard of a winger who is afraid to take on his man and will always look for the overlap of his fullback, or the cut back. Enrique was basically our winger and left back. You could see Enrique’s frustration when Downing played a pointless pass to him when he could have at least tried to take on Boswinga. I was spitting food cursing his attitude, inability, and all round anonymity. One moment in the first half summed it up for me, when he got the ball early, with the CFC defence out of position, and Suarez making a run into the left channel. There was a window of opportunity for a couple of seconds to create a viable goal scoring chance for Suarez…but instead, Downing cut back, waiting for Boswinga to cover back, Suarez to go offside, and then for Enrique to overlap, before passing inside to the midfield. From a possible goal to 9 men behind the ball in a Downing moment. Yes, I hate all 20 MM wasted on a 28 year old with no confidence or contribution. He is not going to get better. He is not going to develop. He is not going to recoup any money in a sale. I used to complain about Murphy prior to 2001, and Lucas prior to 2010, but these were young players with potential. Hopefully this was Downing’s last game for LFC. He is not good enough to be a top team player.
Henderson – another game in which he looked like a rabbit in the headlights. Henderson has been put into big games he didn’t deserve to start, more due to his transfer fee than merit. He is only 21, so its too early to write him off, but he is too poor to be given a staring role. As with everyone else in the first half, he spent the 45 minutes knocking the ball inside 5 yards or forward 5 yards before waiting for a 5 yard pass back to him in the same position. Incidentally, people are ready to give Hendo a free pass as he is only 21, but Spearing is only 23. The only difference is that one is home grown, and the other is perceived as having lots of potential. But Spearing contributes in shielding the defence, so plays a part in helping the team. How does Henderson help? Not in defence, and not in attack. He is great at recycling possession, but that requires him to be paired with an Alonso, not a Spearing.
Agger – looked like the only attacking player we had in the first half. Drove forward and played some of our few forward passes. Handled his defensive responsibilities well, sweeping behind Skrtel who handled Drogba.
Gerrard – was neither the problem, nor the solution. Since Rafa left, he has had no tactical discipline. To be honest, you can hardly blame him for dropping back to help out a static overwhelmed midfield, but by dropping back, he left Suarez unsupported. Another disappointment was Bellamy. I hardly noticed him to be honest, which is unusual, as he always gives 100%, but by being isolated, he was cut out of the game. I didn’t even see him start an argument, and Terry was there for the winding up!
After Carroll came on, the whole game changed. Suarez was no longer isolated, and Gerrard became part of a 4 man midfield that was no longer out numbered. The question is being asked, why didn’t we start with Carroll? I have not been a fan of his, but recently he has been brilliant, and against Fulham, and CFC, I believe we saw why we paid 35 million for him. His attitude has always been in question, not his ability, but his body language showed that he was up for the challenge, unlike many others. And this changed the whole mood of the team.
And so for the last 35 minutes, you could see Chelsea were hoping to hold out against continuous attacks.
But why did we set up 2 youngsters to hold out against 3 world/international class players?
Why did we leave our most in form player on the bench?
Why did it take until half time for the coaching staff to see the problems?
Why does KK always make substitutions so late in the game they cannot hope to make a difference? (Kuyt on 82 mins)
KK said that he knew he had to quit in 1991 because during the match against Everton, he knew that he had to bring on a defender/midfielder to hold on to the lead, but he was paralysed by indecision. Everton got the equaliser, and he quit, knowing that he was too burnt out to take the tough decisions. I am not privy to anything at the club, but it seems that KK might be caught in the same dilemma again. He is selecting players on reputation not merit. He is adjusting his tactics too late in the game to make a difference.
Over the next few weeks, I expect some more major changes at Anfield as FSG take hold of their underperforming asset, and expect it to deliver.
I expect a new manager to be announced. KK will announce his resignation as he doesn’t believe he take the club further. The new manager / coaches will probably be one or more of Rafa / Steve Clark / Klopp / Hyppia
I expect a new director of football to be announced, someone possibly more chalk board than moneyball…and don’t be surprised if it is KK.
I expect a couple of buys to be made prior to the Euros, namely a striker and a winger, before their value shoots up.
And I expect LFC to be challenging next season. We are a very good, but unlucky team. Did you know that in Europe’s top five leagues Liverpool have spent more time in the opposition half this season than everyone apart from Barcelona? We all know Liverpool have hit the woodwork more times than any other Premier League team, but did you know Liverpool would be 4th if all shots that hit the woodwork were counted as goals? (the calculation of Liverpool’s position is based on ALL teams’ woodwork hits, for & against being counted as goals.)