Live from New England


An Encouraging Performance

Originally published on website.

Brendan Rodgers first trip leading Liverpool into the Bernabeu began with a surprising line-up.

With a number of consistent starters on the bench, the manager’s selection no doubt divided opinions among supporters. Yet, with Chelsea at the weekend, victory unlikely against the competition’s defending champions at their home ground, and a squad that has not exactly performed well of late, changes were not completely out of order. This new starting eleven competed bravely in a 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid.

From the opening whistle, Liverpool looked lively and hungry to play, passing with greater pace and precision than recent weeks. Despite an early attempt in the fourth minute, when James Rodriguez quick shot from inside the arc was saved by Simon Mignolet and the Reds continued to get on the ball.

Early on Liverpool worked the ball but still lacked precision in the final third. Both sides played at a frenzied pace, committing numbers in attack. In fact it looked like Liverpool might risk getting caught upfield and exposed on the counter attack. However, they worked hard to maintain a good shape and balance defensively.

Still, in the 10th minute Martin Skrtel nearly gifted Madrid a goal, lingering and losing the ball just outside the area to the pressure of Karim Benzema, who pounced and found a trailing Christiano Ronaldo. Yet, Mignolet flashed a save to deflect the shot over the bar for a corner.

From that point, Real began to seize control of the match and Liverpool began to drop deeper into their half, trying to be compact while looking to spring forward with pace. Any counter attacks amounted to little more than interruptions in Real’s possession. They virtually set up camp in the Liverpool half, working ball around the pitch, probing, with Luka Modric pulling the strings and looking to pull the Reds out of shape and break into space quickly.

There were a couple of scares. In the 16th minute, Kolo Toure crashed into Mignolet causing some panic when the ball did not find its way out of play, but Liverpool recovered. A couple of minutes later Ronaldo sprinted past three Reds before firing a a shot from an unlikely angle, right at Mignolet.

Liverpool’s urgency then started to increase again for a short stretch, as they buzzed around and frustrated Madrid without the ball and looked to move the ball quickly when in possession. However, in the 27th minute, the home side broke through when Marcelo swung a cross from just inside the left of the penalty area towards the back post, where Benzema peeled off Toure’s shoulder and finished into the roof of the net. While the quality sequence of play may have found Toure momentarily ball watching, as well as freezing Mignolet on his line, the service and finish were top class.

After the goal, Madrid showed that their squad not only has more quality but is a physically strong, rugged side capable of imposing themselves on their opponent. In particular, the center half pairing of Sergio Ramos and Varane were able to quickly close down isolated forward runs by Fabio Borini and Lazar Markovic. Still, Liverpool continued to fight and refused to surrender.

In the 34th minute, Ronaldo nearly tallied with a wicked free kick from 28 yards out, forcing a blocking save from Mignolet.  A moment later, Verane chipped an impressive diagonal ball over-the-top, on to the chest of Benzema, whose advancing run split Skrtel and Toure, but Toure put the ball over the crossbar and out of play. For a short time, Real attacked in a series of waves that rained shots down on the Liverpool goal but Mignolet was up to the challenge.

In the final five minutes of the half, Liverpool gathered a few minutes of possession that found them deep in Real’s box but unable to find any cutting edge.

The second half began with no changes to the sides and Real fell into control again. Two minutes after the restart, Skrtel was booked for a late challenge on Ronaldo just outside left corner of the box but the free kick amounted to nothing.

In the 53rd minute, Markovic picked the ball up deep in Liverpool’s end and went on a blinding run through half of the home side before being chopped down by Rodriguez, who received a yellow card for the foul. The move marked another run of play that saw Liverpool attempting to make a contest of things.

Three minutes later Alberto Moreno flashed a shot in from outside the penalty area for an easy Casillas save. It was the first real attack the Real keeper was called upon to react.

Then in the 58th minute, Adam Lallana received a Moreno pass with a nifty turn to slip between two Real defenders and into the box, only to slide a shot wide right of the outstretched Casillas and goal. It was the closest that Liverpool would come to threatening.

Before long, Real’s Ronaldo and Benzema turned Liverpool’s defense inside-out and had them scrambling, but Toure recovered to block a Ronaldo shot out of play. Even though the Reds defense was occasionally frantic, they maintained the organisation and closed quickly, absorbing the attack.

However, in the 69th minute Marcelo nearly found Benzema again with a low cross that skipped to the far post before the striker mishit high and wide.

Immediately after, Raheem Sterling came on for Markovic and Steven Gerrard replaced Lucas Leiva. In the ensuing action, Marcelo broke down the wing and pulled a low cross back along the pitch to substitute Gareth Bale. In Bale’s first real threat for the home side, he nearly dashed the Reds’ hopes when he slammed a shot off the crossbar.

Then at 76 minutes, Philippe Coutinho replaced Emre Can, who put in an admirable shift, and Liverpool looked to possibly steal a draw.

Gerrard sprayed diagonal balls from deep to try and push the attack forward with more urgency and directness, but Sterling and Coutinho never quite settled into the match and Real coasted to a one goal victory.

Although Liverpool rarely tested Real’s defense and did ultimately falter, this was a performance that offered encouragement after a run of inconsistent and struggling form. They looked energetic and committed, even pinging the ball around the midfield with purpose in a manner that has been sorely missing.

Even in defeat, this was an encouraging performance and gave the travelling supporters a determined show. Questions remain and solutions are still wanting, as the result was never really in doubt, but spirited display by the unlikely starting eleven revealed that this Liverpool side remains in the fight and continues to seek answers. Playing in Madrid may provide easy motivation, but so too should Chelsea’s arrival on Saturday. The effort and work shown in this match will be needed again.

Inconsistency and Missed Opportunity

Originally published on website.

After winning dramatically midweek in the Capital One Cup, Liverpool looked to carry some confidence into the league fixture at St. James’ Park. Yet, Newcastle entered the match with three straight wins, stretching it to a fourth with a 1-0 home victory.

In the opening minutes, Liverpool endeavoured to move the ball around and build possession. However, Newcastle dropped deep in their half and looked to counter attack with pace. It proved the home side’s tactical set-up for the match. The Reds, however, did not take up the role of the positive side and found it difficult to generate any threatening penetration in the final third.

After Liverpool surrendered a corner in the fourth minute, there was not another from either side until Newcastle again earned a corner in the 21st minute. For the Reds part in that time, they rarely found their way into the Newcastle penalty area.

The most action in the first 25 minutes was when Gabriel Obertan pulled up with a thigh injury on a run down the right flank, forcing Newcastle boss Alan Pardew to use a substitute. It highlighted a slow first half, punctuated by the occasional foul but little to no urgency for either side.

It took until the 37th minute before there was any real chance on goal. Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse turned a corner kick that sailed to the back post on goal, where Glen Johnson headed it off the line with a diving header, saving Simon Mignolet some blushes after missing the clearance.

Three minutes later Liverpool won a corner. Steve Gerrard served up a great ball to the near post where Martin Skrtel headed just past the goal, missing the best chance for a finish in what could only be described as a plodding first half.

The second half began with a second substitution for the Magpies, as Ayoze Perez replaced Cisse up front. Still, the second half brought much of the same as the first, with Liverpool passing the ball around without any threat.

Yet, the Reds dodged a dangerous moment in the 47th minute when Glen Johnson senselessly fell to the ground on the edge of the box, looking for a whistle that never came. It allowed Perez nearly to find Rolando Aarons.

A minute later, Moussa Cissoko chopped Joe Allen down with a viciously high tackle that resulted in a yellow card that could and probably should have been red. Mario Balotelli took the ensuing free kick and bent a long, curling shot from 25 yards out that bounced just before the Newcastle goal keeper Tim Krul, but was handled easily.

Balotelli would try curling another in the 55th minute. It was just as easily caught by Krul and highlighted how much Liverpool’s attack lacked incisiveness.

Then two minutes later, the Reds’ best chance would come when Balotelli drifted out the the right sideline, before finding Gerrard who made a diagonal cross deep into the near post, finding the head of Philippe Coutinho, but the Brazilian headed wide of the mark. The move seemed to breathe some life into the Liverpool attack, helping sustain a more substantial push beyond midfield.

Then in the 62nd minute, referee Andre Mariner made another critical call when Daryl Janmaat wildly chopped Balotelli down, right in front of the technical areas. Balotelli had worked hard coming back to collect the ball amidst a scrap of physical challenges. Still, it was another rash challenge from Newcastle and Janmaat escaped with only a yellow.

In the 66th minute Remi Cabella came on for Sammy Ameobi for the home side, and Fabio Borini replaced Allen for the Reds. Borini’s inclusion was an attempt to push forward with greater speed and intent but Liverpool continued to struggle trying to penetrate and break down the Magpies. Newcastle remained resolute, organized and capable of absorbing Liverpool’s pressure.

In the 70th minute, Raheem Sterling would chest down a ball into the onrushing path of Borini, who pulled a shot wide left, again from outside the box. Then, in the 73rd minute, the game turned…

After Johnson cut in from the right flank and took a shot that was easily blocked, Newcastle would start a sequence of play that would send the ball to the other end and in the net. It took three passes to reach the Liverpool box with each Newcastle player receiving the ball free to advance with little or no pressure. Perez would eventually pounce on a poor touch from Alberto Moreno to score. While Moreno’s touch was easy to blame it was Dejan Lovren’s positional indiscipline that would compound things and open up the back line for the scrappy finish.

As pressure mounted, Liverpool’s attack continued to splutter. Moreno would misplay a poor back pass from Jordan Henderson in the 76th minute that started a two-on-one break for Newcastle that could have sealed it, but for a shoelace save from Mignolet.

Rickie Lambert would make a cameo appearance in the 80th minute, replacing Coutinho. Yet the two forward setup did little to add to the attack, as Newcastle would try to press their advantage, mounting a handful of attacking waves that put the Reds on their back foot for much of the reminder of the match.

Despite remaining three points off fourth position, Liverpool continue to suffer from a crisis of confidence. The Reds look bereft of answers to the increasing number of questions in all areas of the game. The defense continues to make collective and individual errors, the midfield continues to struggle in transition, speed of play, and finding space, and the strikers, whether one or two, continue to lack clear chances and misfire.

While Daniel Sturridge cannot return to the starting eleven soon enough, the Reds’ problems are growing and need to be righted quickly, before the season slips away in a series of what-ifs and could-have-beens. The fortunes of the midweek cup clash did not continue.

With a Tuesday trip to the Bernabeu this match was an opportunity missed, especially against a team finishing without a first choice striker. To Newcastle;s credit, they are riding a wave of good form that has powered them to four straight victories. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s inconsistency continues, leaving them with as many losses as wins and still looking for solutions.

Late Cup Winner Boosts Reds

Originally published on website.

Having gone over two games without scoring at Anfield and still struggling to find a solid eleven, Brendan Rodgers had a challenge in rotating a Liverpool squad for a midweek cup clash against Swansea City.

The Swans beat the Reds the first time Rodgers’ old team faced his new team in the League Cup and, after Marvin Emnes’s fortunate goal, a repeat looked likely. Yet, Liverpool rallied in the final ten minutes to come from behind, scoring seconds before the stoppage time whistle for a 2-1 Capital One Cup victory.

Liverpool started the far better side, generating some early shots but unable to break down Swansea’s defense. The brightest force for the home side, Philippe Coutinho started strong, creating chances for himself and others.

In the 27th minute, Coutinho started a sequence that offered potential signs of shaking the scoring drought, when he linked with a driving Jordan Henderson, who slipped the ball left to Lazar Markovic racing in behind the defense only to send the ball wildly into the crowd. It was the Reds’ best chance of the opening half.

Still, Liverpool continued to press defensively and try to force the issue in attack. Fabio Borini nearly manufactured a chance out of nothing when he picked off a Jonjo Shelvey back pass in the 34th minute and cut into the penalty area, forcing a save from Swans goal keeper Gerhard Tremmel. The industry of Coutinho, Henderson, and Borini continued to suggest the Reds might break the tie open.

As the second half continued scoreless, and Liverpool found penetration difficult, the away side grew in confidence and began to get on the ball with longer stretches of possession. Then Swansea benefitted from a series of unfortunate deflections to open the scoring.

In the 65th minute Henderson blocked a Shelvey pass that landed in the path of  Neil Taylor, as he surged toward the box met by a Borini challenge, resulting in the ball rebounding up and over a slowly reacting defense, right onto Emnes boot. The Swansea forward capitalised, finishing fast and flawlessly. The goal was against the wider run of play and created an even greater sense of urgency for the home side.

Within five minutes Glen Johnson advanced to lash a hard, dipping shot from 22 yards out, forcing a Tremmel save and Taylor denied Borini’s attempt to convert the rebound. On the ensuing corner, Coutinho served a ball Kolo Toure reached with a header that flashed to Rickie Lambert, who had an attempt headed off the line by Jay Fulton, leaving Liverpool still searching for a finish.

In the 74th and 75th minutes of play both Lambert and Coutinho found room to shoot from the edge of the box, respectively. Neither could find a way past Tremmel and Liverpool continued to struggle creating any penetration.

Then Mario Balotelli entered the game for Lambert in an effort to manufacture an equaliser. It came in the 86th minute, when the Italian beat Angel Rangel to a Borini cross, just right of the penalty spot, for a classy finish.

As the match looked like it was heading into extra time, Swansea’s Federico Fernandez received a very harsh straight red card. It was a stoppage time surprise that would only be eclipsed moments later when Coutinho delivered an excellent free kick from the left touch line to the back post, where Dejan Lovren headed into the net in the dying seconds of the match.

It was a dramatic recovery and redeeming for the two Liverpool scorers who came through and delivered a needed result to capitalise on a quality performance. The joy of the win was clear, and two goals within ten minutes relieved the mounting frustration for the team and pressure being felt by newcomers Balotelli and Lovren. It was a much-needed victory with a trip to Newcastle, riding two wins, waiting for the weekend. Progress is yet in store for the back of this busy period of fixtures.