15 January 2013

Reds Choke at Old Trafford

As a prelude to the great internecine war that is Liverpool against Manchester United, the online articles on the Scouse side of the Great Divide were all about how the older players could not remind the younger players enough of how great the task was going to be in the ensuing game at Old Trafford; and how the wide open spaces would seem so much wider towards the end of the game.

And I was thinking to myself, why-oh-why? That is, why intimidate the youngsters with these tall tales? If you do not wish to dream of ghosts, then do not – for the love of God – tell each other ghost stories before going to bed.

There is more than just horse sense to this. There is this thing that coaching manuals call playing a game up; or, its opposite, playing a game down.


Allen has been looking a bit overwhelmed of late, probably finally realising that playing for Liverpool is not exactly the same as playing for little Swansea. There may be teams who have little choice but to use players who are off-form and hope they play themselves back to it; but Liverpool is not ‘other teams.’
For teams that are fraught with nerves – particularly those that have so many young players, as Liverpool does – it is always best to play a game against a fierce rival down. Any Liverpool v Manchester United match is already by default laden with pressure to begin with. Why attempt to add any more?

In this regard, the late and great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly had few peers. He could take the sting out from any fixture and with a few choice words reduce the opposition to the level of a Sunday park team.

“There are two teams on Merseyside – Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves.” Tactless, granted; but to all concerned, it made the city’s other club Everton sound inconsequential.

How Liverpool could have benefited from such defiance before Sunday’s visit to Old Trafford! The problem with this Liverpool team is not in ability; and former Liverpool great Ian St. John says that this is probably the best team he has seen in years in terms of keeping the ball.

I totally agree. Even after eventually losing to United, the possession statistics were 54% in favour of the visitors and only 46% to United. How many teams can do that to United at Old Trafford?

Of course, the stats that matter – i.e. the goals – were in the home team’s favour. That said, Liverpool probably rued a poor first half performance which was fearful and disjointed.

Lesser clubs have come to Old Trafford and poached goals; so why Liverpool sat back and defended deep is better explained by Brendan Rodgers. I suspect it had something to do with the wariness about the wide pitch so that the team was set up to be compact.

How can a team that even with ten men outplayed United at Anfield earlier in the season be worrying about the pitch? Explain that one to me, please!

I thought the negative approach was a tactical mistake which only allowed United to dictate terms and come forward menacingly. The sooner that Liverpool learns when to pass out of defence and when to simply whack it and bring the backline up, the better it will be.

As things were, it was not only Pepe Reyna’s goal that was under duress. Even the midfield was always under pressure and Joe Allen, for one, was one lucky boy in that two of his back passes turned out to be bad passes that almost gave goals to United.

Of course, there was a second half fight-back which even saw new boy Daniel Sturridge score his second goal in two matches for Liverpool. I am seriously starting to like him. I never did when he was in the blue of Chelsea not because of his club but because I thought that although he was quick and powerful, he did not have a good brain inside his head.

The fight-back, naturally, only makes one want to ask the question why the flowing football could not have started sooner for Liverpool. As things were, the performance and the result were reminiscent of the visit to White Hart Lane earlier in the season when Liverpool only started to perform after having gone two goals down.

In fairness, the second half performance spared me from the irritation which usually makes sleep elusive after Liverpool defeats.

I agree with Rodgers that there is not really a large gap between the two teams in terms of quality despite the 24 points that separate them in the EPL table. Ability is not the problem; Liverpool outplays teams week in and week out whatever their positions in the table.

It is in the areas of consistency and mental toughness where Liverpool is so behind United.

I will be lying if I said that I was not baffled by why Lucas was sacrificed in the second half to accommodate Sturridge. The Brazilian was obviously not at his best; but Allen was simply godawful!

Former Liverpool player Steve McMahon in the ESPN panel was tactless in calling Allen Rodgers’ “love child.” That was mean! That said, I fully understood where he was coming from.

Allen has been looking a bit overwhelmed of late, probably finally realising that playing for Liverpool is not exactly the same as playing for little Swansea. There may be teams who have little choice but to use players who are off-form and hope they play themselves back to it; but Liverpool is not ‘other teams.’

Jordan Henderson has hit a patch of form lately; and he is also a lot taller and bulkier than tiny Joe Allen. Why he made way for a player who has been off-form recently at Old Trafford of all places, that one I will struggle to understand.











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RELATED STORIES:
Brendan, Let Loose the Kids Please!
The Great Liverpool, Man United Rivalry

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