After the uninspiring, goalless draw at the City of Manchester Stadium this past weekend, the opening quarter-hour of the Liverpool – ‘Boro match conjured up that same humdrum feeling. With Arsenal having gone a point clear in the ‘race’ for third, anything less than three points against a poor road team like Middlesbrough would be unacceptable. Luckily, Captain Fantastic flipped the script by scoring two, one a well-taken have from outside the 18 and the other a Crouchie-earned penalty.
But, as I watched the game, there were a few familiar scenes and themes. I hate to sound like a broken record, but let me quote my father when I say, “Never be afraid to repeat yourself!” Spoken like a true attorney.
Those reoccurring themes:
- Pennant is easily the most improved player of the season. Granted, ‘Boro gave him too much space on the wing, but he looked sharp and hungry. However, his refusal to use his left foot became glaringly obvious to me today. Multiple times he juked his defender by cutting back to his left, opening an acre of space, but would not pull the trigger on the cross. Instead, he opted/insisted on bringing the ball back to his right (and closer to defensive danger) so he could whip the ball in with his preferred foot. While I understand the preference, I’d feel slightly better if he at least attempted to pass the ball with his left on one occassion. There will come an instance when time & space dictates that he will have to or risk losing the window of opportunity.
- Sissoko is an offensive liability. I was surprised to see him start the second half, although Rafa quickly corrected that mistake by bringing Kuyt on within the first ten minutes. Everytime Momo had bounded forward (which was a lot, especially for one half), he either fucked up a pass, took too heavy of a touch, or went down to ground. In fact, his only productive contributions in the final third were winning free kicks. I still believe Momo to be a fantastic young talent who gives the midfield a strong defensive backbone, but his lack of a quality first touch and refined passing skills is a serious short-coming.
- Mascherano was a steal. He reads the game spendidly, tackles hard and can pass. Should he continue to bed in, we’ve got ourselves a helluva player. My only worry is his belief that it’s alright to tackle from behind. I’m not sure if it gravitas or stupidity, but Javier does not seem to think twice about tackling from any angle. He got away with one outside our 18. I don’t think that luck will continue for long. As an added bonus, I think Rafa picked up another gem in Arbeloa. He played in the right back spot today, and having a versatile defender who looks comfortable on either side is a valuable luxury.
- Liverpool need a game-winner/game-changer up front. If we are to make a real challenge for the title next season, we need that vital ingredient which allows us to nick a goal when teams come to
playdefend the whole game. While I think lesser squads might benefit from taking a page out of Reading’s book, blaming crappy teams for parking the bus in front of goal isn’t a valid excuse when Liverpool fail to beat inferior opponents. Why should Chelsea be the team that consistantly wins games in which they don’t deserve the full spoils? But, they consistently do, because they press on and find a way through. You can tell it by their body language. They know they’ll get that goal. United have done that a few times this season too. Liverpool, for the most part, have not. Too often, it’s a matter of passing the ball side-to-side, without pace or intent, looking for a magical gap to open wide. We need a striker who can create something from nothing when the creativity goes lacking. Stevie G cannot be relied upon to do it alone. If Liverpool can change a few of those draws into wins, especially at the beginning of the season, that elusive Premiership trophy won’t be so far out of reach.
I will end this brief summary by applauding each and every fan, Liverpool or otherwise, who was at Anfield today. There was a minute’s silence to honor the 96 who died at Hillsbrough, and it was properly observed. All it takes is one douchebag to whistle or yell something, but there was none of that. It was dead silent for the duration. It was refreshing to see such class demonstrated, and rightfully so. Well done.