Sunday, December 28, 2008

In Rafa We Trust

If against Bolton on Boxing Day Liverpool was sublime, today against Newcastle for the last game of the year, we were stupendous to say the least.

With the empthatic 5-1 win, LFC made a few statements. That we are still at the top of the league after the energy-sapping games over the Christmas period. And that we did it after Rafa, yet again, tinkered with the squad. Call it whatever you want -- rotation system, Rafa's hardheadedness, etc but I can see Rafa smiling gleefully with both middle fingers upwards (not that he would actually do this) towards the so-called expert pundits.

Against Bolton, he utilised the wide players to perfection which of course benefited Keane who went and scored two goals. Players like Insua and Lucas played like true pros and with the introduction of Alonso displayed how lethal our forwards could be. Rafa tinkered with the back four too with Carra playing as rightback. Such was our domination in that game that we saw the defence having a field day upfront, even with the old Hyypia and Carra joining the attacks as they wished. And we could also afford to take out and rest Gerrard for today's game.

Just as everyone thought this formation would again be used in the game against Newcastle today, Rafa did the unthinkable. No Keane who scored two goals on Boxing Day in the starting lineup (his looks on the bench today again showed how confused he is). Nor was Reira, who played sublimely on the left and scored the first goal in the same game, played. Kuyt played upfront alone (oh no, the headless chicken) with Gerrard behind him and, (goodness us) Lucas and Mascha in the middle. 

Lucas showed how he is coming to age with a fine display attacking, with defence-splitting and long passes that we don't normally see him convert before. Insua was terrific. Carra showed yet again how potent he could still be in the position at the rightback which he started his career at. And Gerrard again showed how damaging he could be if given the freedom to roam upfront with two goals. And he was again rested much early before the game ended.

If we had lost or drawn this game, the pundits would have had their day of course. But we won, proving yet again why Rafa is the best there is. We finished unbeaten at home in 2008 and are still in contention for the elusive 19th title (some might argue our 21st and why not?).

To all the pundits out there, please bow down to Rafa now. Frankly, he knows much much more than what you all do.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Jingle Bells, Jingle all the Way

I forget how many times I have asked the same question: are we good enough to win the title this season? A justified argument as to why we are still at the top of the table (we might not be tomorrow if Chelsea wins) is because of the favouring results of other games in which the teams gunning for top spot lost points too. We will see what happens at the end of the season.

The only silver lining in the draw against Arsenal today was the goal scored by Keane. A superb one too. A pity he doesn't do that every week.

We created enough chances to win the game. Now, how many times have we mentioned that this season? The fact that we only managed a draw is a wee bit heartbreaking as usual. I am still wondering what happened in this game. And let's not talk about the misses we had because it is nothing new.

Reira was mostly a passenger throughout the game, whether as a winger or in defending Arsenal attack on the side of his flank. We were lucky that Arsenal did not really exploit this, especially when we had Insua in fullback there, although Arsenal did most of their attacking on that side. Probably they still lack a better player with more experience to do the damage.

In the midfield, we always lose the vision and creativity of Alonso when Lucas is playing. As to why Lucas always gets the nod by Benitez still baffles me. If Mascherano as holding midfielder were to play, Alonso would always be deadlier with his freedom to create chances for the forwards, with his killer passes and attempts. We lost the battle in the midfield and also forward today when Gerrard had to leave Keane alone at the front.

And with our flanks keep drifting into the midfield, the middle of the pitch was really packed much to Arsenal's favour playing compact.

Now, what really confuses me was what happened after Arsenal was down to ten players. We played better against eleven men in this game. It is always mentioned that a team down to ten men always raise up their efforts to make up for the shortage.

But Liverpool went into a coccoon when we started to have the one man advantage. Maybe the players did not know what to do since it would require a quick tactical change and since Benitez was not at the sideline, an instant decision was not possible. Sammy Lee, as we could see, had to refer to Benitez through the phone in all instances. After taking out Keane, Kuyt was asked to play upfront. Only towards the end of the game we saw the introduction of Ngog. By then, it was too late.

Someone suggested that our players were affected by the jeers from the thousands of spectators. To me, they were mostly lost in deciding what to do. They looked worried, played worryingly as if Arsenal had the upperhand which resulted in Arsenal really having the upperhand in most situations, which made them looked far more superior than us. Maybe our players were waiting for instructions from the sidelines to change the game plan, which did not come or came too slowly.

We can start to ponder on what has happened to the normal decisions a team makes when it has one extra player on the pitch. You know, the opponent without the usual strike force would start defending. They play deep and hope for a quick counter-attack. You push them to play deeper by ensuring you do more of the attacking. They can't really attack well because you force them to defend. And you stretch your opponent wide with your flanks. You tire them with your passes. Eventually your opponent will have a lapse in concentration in which you deliver the killer blow.  In this game, nothing of that sorts happened. But of course, that is easily said than done.

I am sure in the papers tomorrow, Arsene Wenger and Arsenal would be described as the winners in this game. I can see the headlines now "Ten men Gunners held Liverpool to a draw' with Arsene complaining how unjustified the sending off was and how, if that did not happen, Arsenal would have won the game. How the referree is ALWAYS against Arsenal and how Arsenal are the heroes to have almost beaten 11-men Liverpool. Not to forget the fact that they play a beautiful game. You know, the usual stuffs we read about Arsenal in the papers.

A team that leads the table on Christmas day wins the league for that season, they say. Of course we know that it is not true. Getting a draw away against Arsenal is always a good result. Yes, we might lose the top spot tomorrow after the Chelsea game. But they will be having only one point lead over us if they win. And that is a big IF. And if they do, we know that the season end is still so far away. And of course we know we are still not champions even if Chelsea loses tomorrow.  But of course too I would not mind for us to remain at the top of the table come this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!! Ho! Ho! Ho!


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

To be or Not to be Disappointed

So, Liverpool is back at the top of the table by one point after failing to beat a very disciplined West Ham. West Ham knew just what to do to nullify Liverpool forwards and showed, yet again, how to match Liverpool in their own turf.

Many would agree if I were to say that one point for us is justified, which is enough to go top of the table. West Ham came close to clinching a victory themselves and fully well deserved a point. They defended very well and some of their players seem to have found a loophole in the new 'ball-to-hand' ruling. Keep arms close to your body but make sure that the elbows are always sticking out to stop the ball. Their keeper also showed how every keeper that comes to LFC seem to grow wings and save impossible balls. All in all, West Ham proved again that Liverpool has a problem finding the back of the net when the opponents park the bus in front of the goal and go for the counter attack approach.

To me, the man of the match for the first hour was Hyypia. He defended so stupendously and was a sight for sore eyes. And he came close to scoring a few times too. And when Hyypia, at 35, is the man of the match for that long a period, then you know something is wrong. 

The flanks for us were a real disappointment. Putting Benayoun at the right flank was utter nonsense. Kuyt is much better there and should have been played there. Benayoun kept losing possession, could not cross and a few times made a mess for Arbeloa too. He, like Riera at the left flank, kept drifting into the middle and most of the times was running around like a headless chicken. He was lost, without any conviction of what his role really was. I am still asking myself what is it that Benitez sees in him to justify his playing Benayoun in that position.

As for the left flank, Riera and Dossena showed yet again how they can't really cross. What is the use of having wingers and overlapping fullbacks when they do not provide the amunitions for the forwards?

As for Keane, well, where do I start? Suffice to say that he has lost it. Forget about seeing his old damaging striker's role in his new LFC jersey. We can all wait until the cow comes home, and he will still be struggling to come to terms as to what really happened to him. Patience, as we know, has its limitations.

People always say when Gerrard plays badly, Liverpool play badly. This game sums that up rather aptly. He lost his marbles sometime during the break. When other players see their captain trying so desperately to the extent of making a mess of things when being cool-headed would have been better, they of course become panicky too. Maybe if, a big if of course, Torres were around, we could have won this game with a Gerrard goal.

So, did Benitez choose the proper line-up for this game? As the Master, he of course knew what he was doing. But I would have started with Kuyt at the right with Keane and either Babel or Ngog in front. Kuyt because he has been so used to that position and even in this game he had to do a lot of work for Benayoun (mangkuk ayun if you want to know what I really call him). Babel with Keane would have posed more threat to West Ham defence and who knows, we would have scored a goal or two too. Babel is never afraid to let loose one of his powerful shots and is always a big threat with his speed and muscles. 

Anyway, I bet there are actually a lot of fans out there who really did not believe LFC was going to win this game. They would not say it openly of course as they would be lambasted left and right. Hell, I am sure many fans are also not so convinced that Liverpool is really going to win the Premiership this season. I mean, we should be a few points above Chelsea now, not by a solitary point. But, as a fan, we will continue to have faith in the team. Although a massive makeover come this January transfer window is most welcome. And of course we have hope. As long as there is hope backed by our current position, we will always continue to have the believe.  No matter how disappointing this game was for us, we should look at the one point gained, not the two lost. After all, being optimistic is a virtue they say. Maybe if I really dug deep, I might find that virtue myself.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Another Chance for Top Spot

So, Chelsea lost to Arsenal. Good news for everyone except Chelsea fans I suppose. With this result, Liverpool has a good chance to go to the top of the table if they win tomorrow. And yes, there will be a live telecast at 4am for malaysian viewers after all.

I normally do not watch other games, but this time around decided to watch the Chelsea vs Arsenal match. Not completely though, but in between the Stuttgart vs Schalke match in the Bundesliga. This was right after manure beat mancity with a solitary goal which I caught a bit here and there but was watching when the goal was scored.

After a few minutes in the second half at Stamford Bridge, I switched channels for the Bundesliga game.  And yes, unfortunately I missed both Arsenal goals. No big loss there. But what I really wanted to mention of this particular game, which I do not normally watch, is how both teams were playing so badly. Watching this game has made me believe how superior Liverpool really is. And I do also believe that this would be our year. Happy watching the tuesday morning match and You'll Never Walk Alone!