Birmingham City 0
“We are different from last season. We are able to finish teams off, we can score the first and then the second, and the game is over. It is different to some of the games last season. I am sure the fans will enjoy where we are”
Rafa Benitez after the 6-0 win against Derby County, and now after yesterday’s game
“I felt that Andriy Voronin and Dirk Kuyt were the type of striker I would have needed to work hard against a packed defence. The game was very frustrating, we tried to play wide, we tried to get the ball into the box and we did everything we could to break them down. In the end we ran out of ideas.”
Perhaps it would be best to summarise the game via the Match of the Day highlights? We see Riise flash a shot across the face of the Brum goal and then go close from a corner. Pennant then fizzes one in from long range. Nafti then clears off line from Gerrard’s weak shot. Ridgewell then saves well from Voronin, after a mistake from Djourou. All in all about a minutes worth of action and then the commentator is talking about Birmingham being fifteen minutes away from an unlikely point! A bit more attacking from us and its back to jug ears in the studio!
So, not much happening then?
Whilst it was arguable that a point from Portsmouth wasn’t a bad result there can be no doubt that this will be regarded as three points dropped. It would be of some comfort if we had battered a resolute Birmingham missing chance after chance it being “just one of those days”. Birmingham did put the emphasis on defence however, even allowing for that and all the possession we had, we created little and turned in yet another flat, toothless performance, our third in a row.
Why the difference after starting the season so well? It would all too easy to site Benitez’s meddling with the side. It was all going so well, top of the league two weeks ago, so why change? The obvious thing to seize on would be the omission of Torres from the starting line up of the league games we have played since he dominated in the rout of Derby. There is no escaping the basic argument that it is a baffling move to leave a player (all £28m of him) who has played so well for us on the bench. I was driving when I heard to news and crunched the gears of my car in bewilderment and disappointment!
Benitez went with Kuyt and Voronin believing they would more effective in opening up Birmingham, who would come to defend. Leaving aside the negativity of this approach, Rafa must have noticed that when Torres did come on his impact was instant. He just missed with a terrific overhead kick and then opened up the “packed defence” with a deft flick which, had Birmingham not got in a last ditch tackle, would have seen Crouch or Gerrard score. What about his goal against Chelsea? When he received the ball nothing was really on yet he cut through there players to score brilliantly, ditto for his first goal against Derby? If that’s not opening up defences I don’t know what is. Kuyt and Voronin have many artibutes but the pace to open up defences isn’t one of them. On the evidence we’ve seen so far Torres seems to have this in bucket loads!
However, one player does not a make a team and the side Rafa fielded, only two changes from Tuesday, should have been more than capable of getting the points.
Where the players tired? Surely not, the Porto game was on Tuesday? We needed a win today after two indifferent games so it should have been all hands to the pump. Surely the time to rest would be next week when we are at Reading in the Carling Cup and will doubtless send over a squad of cleaners, catering staff and YTS groundsman to contest that one anyway?
Other factors? Is it too early to say that we might be suffering because of Pako Ayestarán’s absence? He and Benitez were together for over ten years, he must miss his input? Perhaps it was the injuries to Agger and Alonso that have disrupted the side? I don’t think so, Benitez has rotated these players before and besides we haven’t conceded in four league games.
May be it is just one of those things, you can’t play well all the time? However, if we have pretensions of bettering ourselves in the league this season, and the strength in depth Benitez boasts of, then we should be “grinding out” results even when we are not at our best. Perhaps the squad won’t prove to be as good as he thinks it is? Perhaps it’s global warming? Gordon Brown, or the French? Do our players have savings in Northern Rock?
So should we worry, after a good start and now two league games of indifference? In truth I just don’t know. It’s going to take more than a few games for the true picture of our league campaign to unfold. Let’s just hope this game is not a preview of the final vista?
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise, Pennant (Finnan 87), Gerrard, Mascherano, Babel (Torres 60), Kuyt, Voronin (Crouch 74).
Subs Not Used: Itandje, Sissoko.
Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Djourou, Ridgewell, Queudrue, Larsson, Palacios (O’Connor 68), Nafti, Melendez (McSheffrey 13), Kapo, Jerome (Schmitz 80).
Subs Not Used: Kingson, Forssell.