A(nfield) Forgettable Farewell

So ready was I to watch Robbie Fowler’s last game in red before the Kop (and possibly, in fact, ever) that I woke up extra early on Saturday, with plans of coffee and bagels before God’s goodbye. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after my ever-awesome coffee was finished brewing that I remembered the Premiership’s last round of games was on Sunday.

D’oh.

Instead, I got my Saturday footy fix later that evening by watching the hometown Charleston Battery lock horns with Miami FC at the ever comfortable Blackbaud Stadium. As a overly deliberate Battery, who lack speed and creativity, frustrated the more attractive visitors, I wondered if this game wasn’t forshadowing the Red’s home finale. The match ended with two fortuitous goals for the good guys and the clean sheet to match, but unfortunately, that would prove only half-right in predicting the outcome of the next day’s game.

With the much more important CL Final overshadowing the match against freshly relegated Charlton, third place in the league was still up for grabs and Rafa would definately want to field some regulars, allowing them to sharpen their knives ahead of next week’s battle in Athens. Plus, everybody knew that day was to belong to Robbie Fowler.

While it wasn’t full-strength, the patchwork XI’s fielded at Fulham and Pompey were no longer as most the first team stepped back into action. The only exceptions were Fowler up front and 21-year old Daniele Padelli between the pipes. Sadly, the play and ensuing result would end up much like those at Fulham and Pompey.

A 2-2 tie was probably fair, although it might actually flatter Liverpool. The Reds played a first half rife with sub-standard passing, highlighted by Mascherano’s gift of a bed-crapping cross-field pass led to a Charlton goal in the second minute. And, although he looked industrious with creative touches, Fowler’s touch deserted him in front of goal and the home side deservingly went into the dressing room down 1-0. It could have been, and probably should have been, more.

The second half was a brighter affair for Liverpool, as the squad looked more intent on the task at hand, especially with Captain Gerrard trying to impose his will on the game. Once Harry Kewell replaced the vanilla adequacy that is Bolo Zenden, the team started to look sharp enough to cut. But, it wasn’t until Xabi Alonso stepped on for the woefully wasteful Alvaro Arbeloa that they successfully struck back. On the field for only a shade over a minute, the Spainard hammered home a sublime missle from outside the 18. Only a great save from the solid Darren Randoph would deny him a second later on.

Charlton, who had looked more dangerous as Liverpool’s usual strong home defence looked ordinary, went ahead once again as Darren Bent finished spectacularly after a Padelli failed to properly control a shot.

Enter the winger formerly known as Harry Kewell. After bascially resting for the last 11 months, the Aussie looked efficient and lively with the ball. Instead of sitting on the ball before taking on his defender, like Zenden prefers, Harry showed no ill effects of his injuries he dispatched quality crosses. In fact, it was only the woodwork that denied him a cracking goal with a Riise-like laser.

Unfortunately, the man who was to be the hero on the day failed to cash in on the opportunities that came his way. So, in the dying minutes, Rafa pulled Robbie off and allowed him to leave under a cascade of deserved applause. Sadly, he walked off the pitch goalless, unable to put a final notch on his Liverpool belt.

Even more cruel was the manner in which Liverpool would soon even the game up. Awarded a penalty after a handball in the area from a high cross, it was Kewell who stepped up to convert. Had Fowler been on the field, it would have been his to take, right there in front of the Kop. Although unkind, one would hope that that will be enough wickedness from Lady Fate ahead of next Wednesday’s big game.

As for today’s individual efforts, they were often contrasting. Fowler’s part in the game was ultimately disappointing only because every sole watching wanted him to get a goal. He did, though, orchestrate some fantastic touches and passes, but failed to convert at least two solid chances. The decision not to renew his contract, sadly, is a just one.

Kuyt, per usual, played hard. He had a few good efforts and got credit for an assist on the first goal. He may have finished a chance in the second half, but was rightfully judged to be offside.

Zenden put in his usual performance. Not flashy, more or less effective, but generally pedestrian. I can’t stand seeing him start. I want to see speed and creativity on the left flank, niether of which he possesses. Distressingly, I’m willing to wager that Rafa is lining him up for yet another anonymous start in Athens.

Harry Kewell, on the other hand, impressed me. I’ve had my doubts whether he’d return. I still have my doubts as to how long he’ll stay healthy. But, as shown by today’s limited performance, Harry in half-fitness is superior to anything Zenden can deliver. I’m not sure he can hold out for a full 90, but I’m stumping for Kewell on the left in the Final.

Speaking of impressive performances, Xabi Alonso walked on to pull us out of the gutter. He could have had two, in fact. I understand Rafa hasn’t wielded the full power of the squad in the last few games, but seeing Xabi start on the bench isn’t reassuring. While having a ‘super sub’ like him come on to change games is great (since Lil Luis is injured), his talents are wasted outside of the starting XI. He absolutely cannot not start on the 23rd.

Mascherano, on the other hand, did not look solid. While not fully to blame for the first goal, it was his toliet pass that directly contributed to it. No rash tackles from the Argentinian today, but not his best effort. The bench, at least in a four-man midfield, is calling.

Riise was adequate. He had a few pops with the left foot, but they looked more like field goals than net-shattering strikes. He was lucky that the referee called Bent for a foul, when, in fact, the Norweigan was blatantly obstructing him at the 18, waiting for Padelli to (not) come claim the ball. I do expect him to start at left back for the Final, though.

Arbeloa was dreadful today. He’s currently regressing. He had two efforts he absolutely should have scored with today. To miss one is human, to miss both is just evil. His last few turnouts may have earned him a spot on the bench.

I like to think of Carra and Agger almost as one, like a collective Borg-like unit, so I’ll review them as such. Today’s play was rather pedestrian. Carra failed to make an effective challenge on the first goal, but otherwise they were quiet. Agger looked comfortable on the ball, though I’m not sure he’ll enjoy the same level of ease against Milan. But, I trust these two will be ready for that battle.

The same goes for Finnan. Good to have him back after the neck injury. He also failed to make a proper (i.e. successful) challenge on the first goal, but was more or less solid for the remainder. His starting place is cemented.

Crouchie was only on for a few minutes. But in his favor, we scored with him on the field. He’ll figure, one way or the other, against Milan.

Gerrard was reliable, but not superb. He demonstrated much more drive and intensity in the second half, though. Especially when he went to ground (like a goalkeeper) on the far left side to knock the ball out of touch and keep Charlton locked in deep in their own half. He was battling and tried to will the team to victory. He did look dangerous on the ball, with those surging runs where he seems to push off and glide, push off and glide. It’ll be especially important that he starts off the Final with a ‘second half’ mentality.

Padelli looked every bit his age and experience level today. I refuse to slag him off because he’s young and needs games like this, but his performance today alternated from ‘woeful’ to ‘grappling to be comfortable’. It’s just a shame injury robbed Jerzy Dudek of his chance to properly say goodbye.

So, where does this leave Liverpool? For starters, after the Arsenal draw, in third place. Though the difference between the two isn’t much (money and bragging rights), I’m relieved to finish third. But, thanks should go out to Wenger and his men for phoning in the remainder of their season after bowing out of the CL. Seriously, after the PSV loss, they just flushed the toliet on it all. Brilliant stuff, lads.

But, honestly, we’re not going to beat Milan with a performance anywhere in the same zip code as any of the last three Premiership games. Granted, the team wasn’t at full strength because of the lack of significance in those outcomes, but who wouldn’t feel better heading to Athens on a winning streak? Let’s hope the time spent in Spain before the 23rd helps get the lads in a higher gear, because right now, they’re stuck somewhere in between 1st and 2nd.

All I ask is that you remember the first half from 2005 and not duplicate it.

That is, unless you’re going to lift the script from the whole damned thing.

Onto Athens…

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