Zamora 24, Nevland 73, Dempsey 87
After we beat The Mancs last weekend I posed the following question about Rafa…
“What is it about this man that attracts so much criticism and what is it that he has about him that enables him to turn things around and make all the newsprint pulp and the verbal’s diarrhoea?”
For me perhaps this was answered with this game. Rafa is different to other managers. Sometimes it works in our favour and he and the team produces something very, very special and then there was Saturday’s game at Craven Cottage.
What is the cause of this latest demise, our sixth out of seven? The way Rafa played it – substituting Torres and then not making the right tactical decisions? Bad luck re injuries? Bad luck on the pitch with two dubious red cards. Then there is our lack of strength in depth? When you scratch beneath the undoubted quality that is on the surface do we reveal a poor squad? If so who’s is to blame for that? Rafa, because he signed the players? The players themselves or perhaps the owners for not stumping up the cash to enable the quality to be acquired? May be it is a combination of the whole lot? Judging from the post mortems held this weekend it would seem so as all of them were pushed forward as explanations?
The side certainly reflected the injury problems facing Rafa coupled with his need to produce something at the Stade de Gerland on Wednesday. Enter Kyrgiakos and Degen at the back. Voronin kept his place from Wednesday and there was no Gerrard, Riera, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson, Ngog, Aquilani or Aurelio. Is that it, or is there anyone else I’ve missed out?
When you have so many players out chances are that things won’t go so well however there is damage limitation? No doubt Rafa will attract criticism for hooking Torres when the scores were level. His goal, a superb predatory volley from outside the area, showed how much we value him at present (haven’t we always) however it is clear that he also needs to be rationed until “reinforcements” come along?
It is not the withdrawal of Torres that causes concern but perhaps Rafa’s solution to his departure. Despite the score we dominated this game in terms of possession however, we produced very little in terms of chances – all football and no action. Fulham, when they did get the ball, did just that. When Torres was hooked perhaps the response could have been more positive? No doubt Fulham were perturbed by our dominance so a move such as introducing Babel or pushing Benayoun (who has plenty of success against Fulham and hit the bar in this match) further forward might have worked?
The fact we dominated possession yet still managed to ship three goals is also a major cause for concern, injuries or no injuries. For the first goal Duff was given too much space by the increasingly unimpressive Degen and was able to cross past a seemingly comatose Kyrgiakos for Zamora who managed to easily get in front of Insua to slot home. Against the pattern of play yes but it means nothing and it was just really, really poor defending.
The second was equally as calamitous. Konchesky, again given the freedom of the park by, Degen crossed, Reina touched it but only succeeded in helping it on to Gera who at the far post fired in past two idle defenders and Reina from an acute angle. Nevland got the final touch.
Two very poor goals. Could this be put down to an inexperienced defence unaccustomed to playing with each other? And then there is poor old Jamie Carragher who, like Rio Ferdinand, appears to be wrestling with his form and therefore perhaps his confidence?
Jamie was injured pre season could it be this or are years of battle scared defending finally taking a toll? I hope it’s the former however his dubious and desperate tussle with Zamora, which might have lead to a penalty, wasn’t the first such incident, remember a similar one with Michael Owen the week before? Perhaps the referee’s decision not to send him off last week counted against his eventual dismissal this week? The decisive incident, another one on one skirmish with Zamora, was not as bad as the first and even the Fulham striker conceded Jamie had got the ball. However things, wrongly, have a way of totting themselves up?
Before that Degan who, aside from a few decent forwards runs at The Emirates on Wednesday, has failed to impress got sent off for what was at best a yellow card challenge on Dempsey. With both defenders gone and our need to chase the game it was no surprise that Fulham made it three via Degen’s victim’s easy unmarked tap in as the defence were transfixed by the ball rather than shadowing the men.
It is disappointing to see games turn out this way and it is easy to let the result prompt criticism that, over the cause of the season, might prove to be unfounded. One appreciates the importance of Wednesday and the injury problems facing Rafa and, as a result, it’s easy to ask what could he do? His decisions didn’t come off partly because he simply called it wrong and partly because of bad luck. However can one, when considering the circumstances, really criticise the motives behind them? Many have harked on about our lack of strength in depth and lack of quality and perhaps Saturday’s performance gave some credence to that argument? It is worrying to see it manifest itself in the way this game turned out. However, wouldn’t any team struggle when faced with the resource problems we’ve had recently or is it Rafa’s eye for a talent or something wider – our scouting system?
These are wider questions but the games are coming think and fast. Two years ago I remember a similar disaster at Reading where we caved in and lost 3-1. It was a body blow to our title hopes however four days later we also went to France and invigorated ourselves by thrashing Marseille.
What are the odds and history repeating itself this week? Time will tell if the stakes are higher than they were two years ago?
Fulham: Schwarzer, Konchesky, Hangeland, Hughes (c), Pantsil, Dempsey, Baird, Greening, Duff, Kamara, Zamora. Subs – Etuhu, Gera, Kelly, Nevland, Riise, Smalling, Zuberbuhler
Liverpool: Reina, Insua, Carragher (c), Kyrgiakos, Degen, Benayoun, Leiva, Mascherano, Kuyt, Torres, Voronin. Subs – Babel, Dossena, Eccleston, Gulacsi, Plessis, Sanchez Ayala, Spearing