Thursday, October 30, 2014

Getting in Gear: Liverpool 2 - Swansea City 1

Scott on the Capital One Cup and Not-So-Super Mario:

Well, after a dismal performance against Hull City last weekend, Liverpool looked largely lethargic in their Tuesday Capital One Cup game against Swansea. It was the Swans who looked most likely to advance, especially when they went ahead in the second half and, with only 11 min of regulation left, Brendan Rodgers replaced the ineffectual Rickie Lambert with the recently equally ineffectual Mario Balotelli. But within minutes the industrious Fabio Borini's pinpoint cross found Super Mario's lunging foot and breathed life into Liverpool's lungs. After a controversial red card, Swansea were without a key defender in injury time for a last gasp freekick, allowing Dejan Lovren to nod in after the Swansea 'keeper misjudged the cross. Lucky Liverpool seems to be a familiar refrain of late, and one that surely won't last. Get in gear Liverpool!
Surely the Reds have missed the injured Daniel Sturridge, his hereditary fragility apparently manifesting of late. But the squad has enough talent to compete against all but the very best teams even without their star striker. Rodgers must piece it together, become more creative in the final third and plug their defensive holes. 
A word on Balotelli. It seems the Italian would no doubt benefit from having a strike partner and this fan would like to see more setups with that in mind, even before Sturridge's return. And while he has not scored as often as we would like, aside from the dreadful, no-effort outing against QPR 2 weeks ago, Mario has worked decently hard and been a pretty good team player, with many of his teammates backing him to succeed. Yes, he has taken some ill-advised shots and needs to be mindful of his teammates with questioning hands in air after yet another low-percentage shot. And he has gone down very easily a few times and stayed down. But all in all, he is just a talented striker struggling to find form with a new team, shouldering nearly all the goalscoring burden, and resulting criticism.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Really?: Liverpool 3 - QPR 2

Scott checks in on a scrappy contest:

Liverpool limped to 3 points at Loftus Road on Saturday, courtesy of two QPR own goals, after stumbling through yet another uninspired performance.  Mario Balotelli, in particular, was underwhelming despite padding his attempted shots stats.  And Brendan Rodgers' attempt to push Steven Gerrard higher up the pitch missed as badly as the Balotelli shot that knocked the bejeezus out of the woman in the 42nd row.

Despite their relative positions in the standings, it was the home side who had the more and better chances throughout the first half as Gerrard rarely touched the ball and the rest of the squad grasped for creativity.  The lone creator was not at all a surprise - Raheem Sterling.  His penetrating runs and speed with the ball were the only dangers to unsettle a QPR team who otherwise had a relatively comfortable first half as they rattled the cross bar on two occasions and otherwise showed the visitors whose house it was.  Nothing short of pure luck and a goal-line, studs-up lunge by Glen Johnson, followed by a goal-line clearance by Martin Skrtl, kept the score level at the interval.

But, true to form, Rodgers made adjustments at halftime and Gerrard dropped deeper from the second-half kickoff.  That led to more possession by the Reds, especially in the offensive half, and a handful of opportunities as they began to press for the winner.  The pressure ultimately led to an unlikely scorer - Richard Dunne.  It was Sterling, again, who was causing the fits for QPR that resulted in the free kick that was quickly taken, crossed by Johnson and directed toward goal by Dunne who, like most of his team mates, was caught napping.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why Always Controversy?

Scott with some thoughts on Liverpool's weekend win:

This is starting to remind me of two seasons ago when it was always two steps forward then one or two back.  Liverpool played well enough to win against West Brom on Saturday but can they repeat that week in and week out?  Losing to “lesser” teams was beginning to define this season so let’s hope that has at least stopped.  In any case, 3 points were dearly needed and finally won, even if controversies continue.
For one thing, it is always troubling to see a penalty called when it is the incorrect call.  In this case, however, I’m willing to give Michael Oliver a pass.  Admittedly, this is probably easier to say given that Liverpool eventually won the game, but when a foul happens that close to the area at full speed, it can be difficult to adjudge the exact spot of the infraction.  And I thought the young referee did very well otherwise.
The larger “controversy” of course was the fact that Rickie Lambert started over Mario Balotelli.  ESPN’s Steve Nicol can claim that the move was just a natural rotation as Brendan Rodgers wanted to rest the Italian, but I’m not buying it.  If Balotelli were scoring goals, and maybe if he ever managed a facial expression that wasn’t a scowl, Rodgers would have had him starting that game.  How the Super Mario will react to the benching will tell a lot about how his tenure at Anfield will go.  Fortunately, upon entering the game in the second half, he was industrious and solid with his hold-up play and passing.  But, still, his shots weren’t particularly threatening.