Gerrard Does It Again!
Yes, no arguments from me, I've been guilty of neglecting this blog. That's been down to one major reason - I've recently moved from my home country of 12 years (New Zealand) to the hallowed home of the beautiful game (England). In New Zealand, where rugby is the mass' religion, I felt a compulsion to bring football to the public eye through this site. However, in England, faced with a glut of footballing news wherever I turned, I questioned the impact of just another footballing blog, resulting in abandonment. Until now that is.
The events that unfolded yesterday in the Millenium Stadium jolted me, quite violently, out of my blogging slumber. It reminded me again of why I love this team and why I feel the need to share this love. I humbly beg for forgiveness. I should have shown more of the never-say-die, beat-all-odds attitude that has come to be the Liverpool way. Yesterday was Istanbul all over again! Could that even be possible? Almost a year to the day from the remarkable Champions League victory of 2005 and Liverpool have somehow, again, come through on the winning side of a penalty shootout in a major cup final after a 3-3 draw in fulltime. Unbelievable! Astonishing! There aren't enough adjectives to describe what is one of the greatest cup finals the English game has ever seen. Hollywood could not have scripted it any better!
It had some freaky parallels with the Champions League final too. Kewell limps off injured, only to be subbed with Didi Hamann. 3-3 in fulltime leaves the Liverpool players completely drained, both mentally and physically, hoping for penalties because there was just nothing left in the tank. The Liverpool keeper (Dudek last year, Reina this year) makes a world class save at the end of extra time to keep his team in the game and goes on to save crucial penalties. It's just not in our blood to win finals in a simple, straightforward manner! It really isn't good for the heart.
Take nothing away from them, West Ham were worthy opponents, and they were 3 minutes away from claiming the cup. And then there was Gerrard. Is there anything this man cannot do? After coming within hours of bringing him to London, I'll bet Chelsea and Mourinho were sighing with dissapointment yesterday, watching Gerrard perform heroics in red and not in blue. It says something of Benitez as well. He never let the issue go and tried his hardest to keep Gerrard at Anfield, knowing full well that he's capable of matches like yesterday's. Captain Fantastic wrote his name into the FA Cup and Liverpool history books (yet again) when, suffering from cramp, he unleashed THAT 30-yard piledriver in injury time to equalize the score. It capped off a superhuman effort from the captain, which included setting up the first goal, scoring the next 2 goals and converting a penalty in the shootout. No doubt, they'll be calling it "pulling a Gerrard" from now on. He might not have the obvious leadership of an Alan Hansen, or the mesmerizing effect of a Kevin Keegan, but Stevie G is starting to eclipse the Liverpool greats with his heroicism, his tenacity and his lead-by-example style of captaincy.
Let's not forget the other hero from yesterday - Reina. From his dissapointing performance in normal time, when he was at fault for 2 of the goals, to pulling off the save of the game in extra time and saving 3 penalties in the shootout. He was the first to admit that he was lucky in the shootout, but I reckon he showed character when it was easier to drop his head after his miserable performance earlier.
So, here we are. An amazing end to an amazing season. We have the European Super Cup and the FA Cup in the cabinet (2 more trophies than Man Utd have!) and we're only 9 points off the Premiership top spot. The Rafalution rumbles on! I wish 2006/2007 started next week! What am I going to do with myself for the next 3 months? I guess I'll have to settle for watching the World Cup. Not bad that.
Liverpool 0 - 0 Chelsea: Close
If I was still groggy and not fully awake as I switched the TV on early this morning (kickoff was at 2.45AM here), the teamsheet woke me up right away. 4-4-2? Really? Not quite...although we started with Crouch and Cisse, Djibs was placed out on the right wing. Still, it was an attacking lineup, and who am I to argue with Rafa's unbeaten 4-5-1 (or 4-3-3 depending on how you look at it). Best thing about this formation is that we can fit Didi, Stevie and Xabi all in the first team.
Liverpool made most of the early running without creating any clear-cut chances. Chelsea were the first to threaten, Lampard's free kick well pushed aside by Pepe Reina. It may have been going wide anyway but Reina didn't take any chances. Alonso then dwelled on the ball and was caught out by Essien, who had a very good game and will probably go on to be a superb player for Chelsea, I am very sad to say. Early booking for Xabi.
Gerrard then had a little bit of space about 25m out, but he rushed his shot and it went way over. Hyypia then chased a cross from Finnan - he didn't connect with a header but replays show that he was impeded by Drogba. Ref didn't spot it though.
Hamann then showed great close control to evade several Chelsea defenders on the left-hand edge of the area, but frustratingly his good low ball across didn't find a team-mate. Robben then had a rising drive palmed over by Reina after cutting inside Hyypia. HT 0-0.
Second half started brightly, with two penalty appeals turned down by the ref. First Garcia was tugged back slightly by Ferreira as he chased a bouncing ball into the box. OK - that was a 50-50. But later Carragher made a great run to meet Gerrard's corner and bullet a header towards goal which struck the arm of Gallas. Looked a clear penalty, Gallas had his arm up, shepherding a Liverpool player (Traore I think). But we're used to not getting penalties against Chelsea aren't we?
Xabi had a couple of speculative shots, but they failed to trouble Cech. Cisse made way for Pongolle who caused problems down the right - one foray forward took him past Lampard into the box but his low ball wasn't converted. Crespo and SWP came on for Chelsea but they were well contained, although SWP managed to win a few headers against Traore, which was a little bit worrying. Anyway, FT 0-0.
Positives - Crouch was a handful throughout. The ball either stuck or he laid it off to a team-mate. Or he got fouled by Carvalho (which happened again and again with no booking). Didi was great too, getting forward and delivering some nice passes. Xabi's defensive work was superb, but his normally razor-sharp passing was off today, as it has been thus far this season.
Negatives - obviously, no goals. Although maybe it's not such a big thing since we won't come up against defences like Chelsea's every week. I am worried though, Garcia and Gerrard seem to be the only likely goalscorers we have. Maybe Rafa should try playing Cisse off Crouch instead of out on the wing.
All in all, a very good performance, but we could have won this. Let's put things right this Sunday!
Liverpool 0 - 0 Manchester United : Dissapointing
What promised to be a firestarter of a game ended up being a lifeless affair in desperate need of some spark. Liverpool fans expectations were high, with Liverpool being the current European champions. Liverpool started with a 4-4-2 formation with regulars Warnock, Finnan and Gerrard reinstated to the team following the Betis experiment. Benitez opted for Crouch upfront, with Garcia playing just behind the big man in the "hole" between forward and midfield. United came out in a 4-5-1 formation with Keane and Smith sitting in midfield just in front of the defence.
Both sets of players looked up for it in what is one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures of the season, with Gerrard putting in two crunching tackles in the opening 3 minutes to make sure United understood where they were. Liverpool looked keen on overturning recent results, having lost 4 of their last 5 encounters. However, the game proved to be more of a midfield arm-wrestle than the free-flowing attacking play that the fans had hoped for, proven by the fact that Liverpool's first shot on target only came in the 40th minute. The first half saw Liverpool come out brightly, wanting to bring the game to United, but not leave too many holes in defence, especially with their dangerous speedster Ronaldo lurking. Gerrard was almost set through by Garcia in the opening 10 minutes but Van der Sar was quick off his line to clear the danger, something the Dutchman continued to do effectively throughout the game. Liverpool's tactic seemed to be to pump the ball long to Crouch, with the hopes of a few knockdowns setting another player through on goal. Crouch did his part, winning every single aerial battle against the helpless Ferdinand and Silvestre, however, dissapointingly, his headers could only find teammates on a few occasions. The first half finished with United getting hold of the midfield and almost scoring in the 44th minute when Van Nistelrooy was set free on goal by Ferdinand's throughball. The normally prolific striker however, tried to chip the advancing Reina and only managed to drop the ball on to the roof of the goal.
No substitutes were made at the break and both teams continued more of the same in the second half. Crouch continued to be the target man although he was visibly tiring. Possession was too readily lost by both sides resulting in very choppy play, with neither team able to string together more than 4 or 5 passes. Garcia was the repeat offender for Liverpool, having given away possession much too cheaply on too many occasions. He looked lost as to what to do with the ball and frequently passed it back to United or was robbed of it. To Garcia's credit though, he never once shirked away from the ball or hung his head in dismay, continuing to run and tackle. On the hour mark, Benitez surprisingly introduced Sissoko for Sinama-Pongolle instead of Garcia. Pongolle had been tricky and industrious up to that point and had given Kieran Richardson a stern test. With Sissoko on, Gerrard was able to roam forward and he tried hard to take control of the game. Within the space of 10 minutes, he unleashed a 20-yard drive that Van der Sar could only beat away, pushed a header over the bar and setup two chances for Garcia, both of which were off target. With 15 minutes to go, Cisse was brought on for Crouch as the game deflated. Sir Alex Ferguson made 3 very late substitutes, bringing Giggs, Fletcher and Park on to the field but there was hardly any time for them to have an impact.Positives
- Crouch had a very useful game, proving to be the bane of Ferdinand's and Silvestre's existence. The two defenders had no answer to his aerial efforts and if Liverpool had had more support play, we might have seen a goal or two produced from it.
- Keane limped off with 10 minutes to go with what was apparently a broken foot.
- Rooney was kept under wraps the whole game, which is a credit to our defence. He is capable of so much, proven by the winner he scored here in the corresponding fixture last season.
- Another clean sheet with Reina only having to put down the book he was reading to catch the ball 3 or 4 times.
- A dissapointing overall performance. Both teams looked nervous and wary of making mistakes and as a result, produced a dour affair, with goalmouth action at a premium.
- Cisse's attitude.. again. He appears more intent on arguing with referees and teammates than chasing down the ball and running hard. At this rate, it won't be surprising to see him leave the club in the January transfer window, should a replacement become available.
- This may sound like a broken record, but once again, we're unable to score a goal. As Benitez says, "You can't win if you don't score."
- Chelsea have the last laugh as two of their supposed title challengers play out a goalless draw, leaving the Blues to widen their gap at the top even further.