Sunday, 22 November 2009

Liverpool FC: Anfield crock crisis is the worst in a lifetime

Premier League: Manchester City Draw At Anfield

IT'S difficult to analyse Liverpool right now without sounding like you're reeling off excuses.

One win in ten games tells its own story, but there's no doubt about it, injuries are playing their part.

When it's nearly December and the manager still hasn't had the chance to field his strongest 11, it's fair to say his hands have been tied by lady luck.

And speaking of the same old story, it was for Manchester City.

Six draws in a row is not good enough for a manager who has spent over £200million in the last year or so – a spending spree Rafa Benitez can only dream of.

It's no wonder they keep trying to tempt the Spaniard to Eastlands.

But never mind City, what about Liverpool?

Well call it an excuse if you like, but back to this injury jinx - it's ridiculous now and I can't remember anything to rival it in my lifetime.

The mindset against City looked good. We were up and at them, in their faces and looked like scoring - Liverpool certainly didn't start the game like a team short of confidence.

And if it hadn't been for a superb save by Shay Given from Martin Skrtel's bullet header, the Reds could have been ahead inside three minutes.

As it was, Daniel Agger was injured in the same incident and left the field with a gash to the head that needed five stitches.

Disruption number one.

Then Ryan Babel ran into a combination of Steven Gerrard and a shocking studs-up tackle from Nigel De Jong and was also forced out of action.

Disruption number two.

So that meant with around 15 minutes on the clock, Liverpool had just one substitution to call upon - leaving little scope for Benitez to change things around.

Not surprisingly, the enforced changes seemed to affect the flow of the game, particularly for Liverpool, who seemed to revert from going for the throat to keeping it tight.

Nevertheless, David Ngog again shone in an often isolated role up front. And while there were some moments of frustration for the Frenchman, he was key to both goals – winning the free kick which Steven Gerrard expertly delivered into the box for Skrtel to prod home, and firing in the deflected cross/shot for Yossi Benayoun to equalise.

It's credit to the 20-year-old striker that he's quickly shrugged off the over the top media storm after his dive against Birmingham to display such confidence.

While Ngog was key to both goals at the right end of the pitch, Skrtel – who had earlier ended his 65-game goal drought for the Reds – was key to both goals at the wrong end.

I can't profess to know how Liverpool set up their marking on corners. But zonal or not, someone has to pick up the opposition team's tallest player. And the nearest man (although admittedly, not very near) was Skrtel.

Meanwhile, 6ft 4ins Sotiris Kyrgiakos, who replaced the concussed Agger, was closest to a chubby-looking Carlos Tevez, who is 5ft 7ins.

As for City's second goal, I've only seen the incident 'live' at the match, but I can't fathom how Skrtel managed to lose the ball for the second goal as he appeared to be in control and comfortably able to shepherd it out or, at worst, hoof it into the Centenary Stand.

But suddenly he lost possession and two passes later, an offside Stephen Ireland had made it 2-1.

Typically, there's been some over the top reaction to the result, which in the circumstances, doesn't seem a bad one.

Yes, we are crying out for a win, and we were a decent header from Lucas Leiva away from getting one.

But drawing with a team that earlier in the season battered Arsenal can't be all that bad, can it?

There was also frustration spilling over from some fans about Benitez bringing on Fabio Aurelio for Benayoun.

One fan in front of me on the Kop described it as "one of the worst decisions ever." Er, really?

The "problem" with the decision was that it meant Alberto Aquilani wouldn't be making an appearance – and that Benayoun was one of the more dangerous players on the pitch.

Spouting bile from the stands is easy. Managing a football team isn't.

And just the tiniest bit of after thought can explain why it's a perfectly reasonable decision.

Benayoun had returned to the side two to three weeks early remember after the 'miracle' horse placenta cure.

And had it not been for Babel's ankle injury, the Israeli would surely not have been clocking up an hour at this stage of his comeback.

So if he was feeling tired, or worse, feeling his previous injury, why not substitute him?

And Aurelio, as well as on paper at least offering a threat from his set-piece delivery, also sured up the left side and provided support for Emiliano Insua who, at that stage of the match, was being targeted by the City attack.

I also believe we would have seen Aquilani if it had not been for the enforced first-half substitutions.

So, worst decision ever? Don't think so.

So now on to Debrecen in the Champions League - a team thumped by Lyon and Fiorentina.

Hopefully, Benayoun, Albert Riera and Glen Johnson can add strength to the starting line up for a game that really is a must-win.

Then we just have to pray for a Lyon win in Florence.

LFC memories: Istanbul 
LFC memories: First time on the Kop
A lesson for Ngog: Make sure you dive properly next time