Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde Meets Liverpool FC

strange case of dr. jekyll & mr. hyde
Scott returns to our pages with a cautionary tale:

Liverpool v Sunderland – Mr. Hyde

Yeesh!  What a horrible game all around on Saturday, when Liverpool traveled to Sunderland.  While the Reds deserved to beat Arsenal last week and were unlucky not to do so (undone once again by poor finishing), they thoroughly deserved their negative result this time out.  Disjointed and lackluster from the start, despite controlling parts of the game, they never seemed to get in gear.  It’s as if dominating last week (again) without winning (again) somehow painfully lobotomized whatever oomph was left in their league play.

Even the addition of Craig Bellamy and Sebastian Coates to the lineup wasn't enough to spark the visitors.  In fact, aside from knocking down the other team’s players, there wasn’t much action during the first 20 minutes.  Through the haze of poor passing and defending, the most exciting part was a Jordan Henderson shot to the scrotum.  Of course, field conditions didn’t help matters as the pitch seemed to be torn up so much that the ball was constantly popping up.  And, all the while, the fans were regaled by a continuous parade of plastic bags and other trash tumbling across the grass before blustery winds.

Jose Enrique’s performance was disappointing.  Normally reliable and creative going forward, the Spaniard's passing was sloppy and his defending was suspect at times.  But if Jose Enrique was a little off, Charlie Adam was downright awful.  The only thing the Scot seemed to do correctly was marshal the midfield.  Unfortunately, that was always just prior to a bad pass, or a give-away in the midfield, or a poor free kick, or a poor corner, or…. you get the idea.   When he was finally taken off near the 70th minute, it was the first time I’ve ever been relieved to see him not on the field.

Sebastien Coates was just OK.   Frankly, I found myself holding my breath whenever he had to make a play.  Of course, he is young and needs more time.  If only he were a goal-scoring forward or creative midfielder because the defense is OK, we just need goals.  So bad is Liverpool’s conversion ratio (it's the worst in the league, I’m told by our crack team of analysts), that it seemed they were not going to risk it getting any worse against Sunderland, opting instead to lack any creativity whatsoever and not take any shots.  That’ll teach the statisticians!

So laughable was Liverpool’s performance that it seemed only appropriate that Niklas Bendtner’s goal came after the nearly comical turn of events that saw Frazier Campbell’s shot bounce between Pepe Reina and the goal post like a ping pong ball.

Even the addition of Steven Gerrard in the 70th minute was not enough to shake the Reds out of their sleepwalking play.  And, for his part, Gerrard seemed desperate to cram 90 minutes of play into his 20 minutes on the pitch, forcing everything and rushing his shots.

Liverpool v Everton – Dr. Jekyll

Ahh, but what a difference is made by a derby game at home, with your captain starting.  Gerrard transformed from the frenetic, desperate substitute at the Stadium of Light to a poised, goal-scoring leader at Anfield.  Many will point to a few players left on Everton’s bench, but this one wasn’t even close.  Liverpool played as well as they did against Arsenal with one huge difference – they scored.  Of course, by “they” I mean Gerrard, as he bagged all three goals.  And, by “wasn’t even close” I mean I was so terrified of another let down that I couldn’t breathe easily until the second goal came, despite how well they were playing.

It really was a different team out there.  Liverpool utterly dominated the first 20 minutes, creating many quality chances.  Gerrard’s sublime first touch in the 6th minute put him through to goal only to be thwarted by Tim Howard.  Suarez’ excellent first-time volley was likewise parried away by the American, before Everton finally entered the match with some possession around the half hour mark.  Then, only five minutes later, Gerrard skillfully chipped/lobbed a rebounded shot over several watching Everton defenders to score Liverpool’s first goal in what seemed like forever.

But Liverpool’s savior wasn’t done yet.  After Martin Kelly put his excellent opportunity wide, Luis Suarez received a well-weighted through-ball from Jordan Henderson and zigzagged through some poor defending on the end-line before cutting back and practically handing the ball over to Gerrard, who slammed home for a 2-0 lead.  In games past, nobody would have been where the Captain was and Suarez, with back to goal, would have struggled to get the shot off, let alone actually score.

Gerrard’s third goal, though, offered a glimpse of what can be at Anfield.  After being gifted the ball at midfield, Stevie G. bolted to goal with Suarez on his left.  Despite the hat trick smell that must have been assaulting his senses, he slotted to the Uruguayan inside the box.  Then, despite being up 2-0 with only minutes to play, and despite being smack in the middle of a goal drought, Suarez unselfishly passed back to Gerrard who only had to hit a practically open goal.  Consistently playing with that kind of teamwork is what it takes to finish in the top four.

Unfortunately, Gerrard’s optimism aside, Liverpool doesn’t have a realistic chance of Champions League football next year.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to play for in the League (clearly they do in the FA Cup).  With no major acquisitions planned over the summer, there will likely be no real shakeup in the team, which means that how they finish this season can carry over to how they start next season.  Finish strong, Liverpool!  Besides, maybe Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle won’t (I just can’t help myself).

This is a shamrocked-to-the-max farlieonfootie for March 17.

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