I saw my first game back at Anfield today after 5 years out of the country. It was my good fortune that it was also the first game after the end of the disastrous reign of Hicks & Gillett. It was good to be back and see that some things have changed and some things haven’t. I wrote about my last game a little while ago and comparing the squad of then and today shows how much work Liverpool have to do in order to compete. The goalkeeper and captain remain the same, but the defence of Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher and Riise is superior to today’s of Konchesky, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos and Carragher. I would also take the midfield of Kewell, Alonso, Sissoko and Gerrard over Cole, Lucas, Miereles and Maxi. Gerrard and Torres are a better partnership than Crouch and Morientes were but are struggling this year. The 2006 team were the European Champions, this team won’t get even close. I would be surprised if the same team is being played in January of 2011 after the transfer window has opened again.
Anyway some quick thoughts on the game…
Liverpool looked bright and inventive in the first half and the first 15 minutes of the second half. They created a good number of chances before half-time. Meireles should have done better with the rebound that he fired wide and Paul Robinson kept Blackburn in it with some good saves particularly from corners were Gerrard to Kyrgiakos looks dangerous. Contrary to what Roy Hodgson said after the derby last week, this was the best I have seen Liverpool play this season. They were particularly dangerous down the right flank with Maxi causing a number of problems.
This continued in the second half and it was one of those Gerrard corner balls to the big Greek’s head that got the first goal, although it took a big deflection off Salgado before crossing the line. Then a few minutes later Konchesky and Skrtel contrived to let Benjani in to the penalty area who then found everyone’s favourite pantomime villian El-Hadi Diouf. His shot was cleared by the hapless (hopeless) Konchesky straight into Carragher’s face which then rebounded into the net for another Jamie Carragher own goal, who seems determined not to let Richard Dunn have it all his own way in the own goal leaders table. Only 1 behind now Jamie…
However two minutes later and Fernando Torres re-discovered his scoring touch to lash home from close-range following another Gerrard and Kyrgiakos corner combination.
There was a period after this goal when Liverpool had so much possession and seemed able to move the ball at will through Blackburn’s midfield. But no further chances were created, and either this is some kind of tactic of Hodgson or the players just got nervous as they edged closer to that all-important win. They sat off the Blackburn players, happy to let them have the ball inside the Liverpool half. When they did get possession back they looked uncertain and uneasy. There was no pressing on the opposition and all the nice, attacking play was gone. Against a better side they would have been in trouble but as it was Blackburn were unable to do anything with the possession Liverpool were gifting them. The game petered out in a flurry of bad tackles and yellow cards.
A point that highlights Liverpool’s mindset at the end of this game was a free-kick on the left-hand side of Blackburn’s penalty area with a minute to go of stoppage time. Instead of getting men forward and whipping a cross in, or taking a shot, the defenders and midfielders stayed back in the Liverpool half and the free-kick was held in the corner of the pitch. Against a team as poor as Blackburn today Liverpool should have had enough about them to try to score one last goal but the fear that had gripped them for the final half an hour meant they were unwilling to take any risks. If this victory is to lead to any real progress they have to be willing to take more chances and to have confidence in themselves. The events of the last 12 months have clearly taken their toll on the players’ confidence, something that Roy Hodgson has to deal with. He has to instil new confidence in them, something he has been unable to do so far.