QPR vs Liverpool was exactly the same kind of bananas as much of last season. Hopeless defending, clinical finishing. While it is true that QPR bagged a pair of own goals it’s common knowledge that these things tend to arrive as the result of pressure, and in both cases had the defender missed it a red shirt in the shape of Balotelli was waiting unmarked to take the tap-in. QPR probably deserved a point today, but in football you don’t always get what you deserve.
What went wrong?
Rodgers continued the Gerrard as no. 10 experiment but it didn’t fail as a result of Gerrard not being up to the task; in fact his effort on the stroke of half time was Liverpool’s best of the first half. The problem came from the supply, or rather the complete absence thereof. QPR pressed well and Can and Henderson did not perform well as the double pivot. The build-up from the back plan simply didn’t work without players capable of retaining possession and then getting it forward. Lovren and Enrique running wide to the touch line and then hoofing it didn’t help either, but the primary fault was a lack of players coming deep to collect the ball in the middle and then distribute it.
A secondary issue was that Balotelli was largely isolated and unable to deal with Dunne in the air. This left him frustrated and Liverpool without the ball, and his play was never particularly inspiring, leading to him being unable to test the ‘keeper despite having several good chances in the second half.
I do not think that the experiment failed due to Gerrard’s position, but rather that we probably needed Allen’s ability to retain possession more than Can’s physical presence. I can understand Rodger’s desire to start the more physical midfielder against the expected aerial bombardment, but in all honesty I felt Can failed to impose himself on the game and that created significant problems both with and without the ball.
It could have been much worse; Johnson was pretty lucky to escape a red card when taking out two QPR players on the goal line without touching the ball. Fortunately it was QPR – against a better team we’d have headed in at least 2 down after 45 minutes and lost by more.
Defending. The two efforts that hit the bar and the two goals QPR actually scored underlined how poor this Liverpool side is at defending. I normally reserve some praise for Enrique, but I thought he was poor today. Glen Johnson didn’t really add much, even though it was his pass that created the opening own goal. We just look that much more solid with Moreno and Manquillo, which really is saying something as both are new signings and both barely 20. It is likely that Rodgers rested them with the pair of meetings with Real Madrid and later Chelsea on the horizon.
What went right?
Pressure. Sterling caused a lot of trouble throughout the game, tracked back, and ultimately it was his free kick win and quick thinking that lead to the opening goal. His “assist” for the winner should not go unnoticed. My man of the match.
The introduction of Coutinho. This largely coincided with the departure of Sandro, but the little magician was at his best today. He found the space Lallana could not, and his link-up play with Sterling was superb. He took his goal really well too.
Switching the midfield around. Once again having Henderson not part of the double pivot brought more energy to the front line. With Gerrard deeper Liverpool could build from the back with greater confidence. While we conceded more goals in this formation, QPR were a threat even from open play prior to the change. Their goals both came from set pieces; Liverpool’s Achilles’ heel since the turn of the century.
Mignolet. For the first time in a long time he pulled off some top class saves in difficult positions. There are saves keepers should make, and he regularly has to make those, but he has a poor record saving the shots that are just a fraction harder. Today he put in a huge performance and if he can keep that up will be certain to see off the Valdes talk.
All in all an ugly 3 points, but 3 points nonetheless. For the record I predicted a scrappy 2-1, with the score either 0-0 or 1-0 to the visitors at half time. Not entirely wrong, but it pretty hard to predict 4 goals in 8 minutes at the end of the game.
Last season 7 clubs had won half or more of their games at the same stage, all of which would go on to finish in the top 8. So far only 5 clubs have won 50% or more of the 8, though Manchester United travel to West Brom tomorrow for their respective 8th round fixtures. Those 5 clubs are last season’s top 3, plus Southampton (who seem to have a habit of making fast starts) and surprise package West Ham. Last season 10 of the clubs had conceded fewer than 10 goals at this stage. This season only 5, with West Brom one of those (conceded 9) and unlikely to keep a clean sheet against United’s firepower (none of whom will be rested as they have no midweek football commitments).
This is the worst showing in these terms (games won and goals conceded) since the last post-World Cup year in 10/11. So perhaps, like then, only 3 clubs will score more than 68 points (72 has been necessary for 4th the last few seasons), and if we can learn to regularly win ugly like today then we stand a great chance of being one of those 3.
We might have lost Sturridge for another month, but that guy Own Goal came through for us again… In 12/13 he was our 4th best scorer and we may need him to the same degree again this season (presently O.G. is top scorer with Sterling on 3).