MANCHESTER UNITED 3
Berbatov 42, 59, 84
Gerrard (pen) 64, 70
As deflating finishes go it was certainly up there. Battling back from two goals down to level the scores at Old Trafford is no easy task, and getting pegged back again in the closing stages undoubtedly knocked the wind out of what was a doggedly resurgent Liverpool side’s sails. However, the Gerrard-led fightback was something of a smokescreen. In actual fact, the Reds probably got exactly what they deserved from the game, and continued to look like a side riddled with problems. It might be something not worth contemplating for most Liverpool fans, but Roy Hodgson still has a lot of work to do if he is to really improve on last year’s dismal campaign.
For one, the problem at left-back has not gone away. Paul Konchesky was poor yesterday, exhibiting occasionally terrible positional play (the first goal would not have been conceded if he had not wandered away from the post he was meant to be guarding) and failing completely to contain Nani. Perhaps he still needs time to settle in, but on the evidence of Sunday’s game, the ex-Fulham man simply doesn’t possess the quality to act as first choice full-back for a side with top-four aspirations. Similarly, Maxi has about run out of chances to prove that he is good enough for Liverpool, pulling off yet another disappearing act in yesterday’s game. Meanwhile, while it might pain the Liverpool faithful to hear it, it is beginning to look like Carragher doesn’t have the legs or the engine for the big games anymore – he was steamrollered by Berbatov for his third goal, and a yard off the pace for most of the match.
These problems – not to mention Johnson’s defensive frailties, or Joe Cole’s struggle to fit in – conspire to create a side that looks, at the moment, like little more than a marginally improved version of the one that coughed and spluttered through last season. Just as under Benitez, the Reds still lack imagination, dynamism, or attacking verve, and still appear slow and occasionally frenetic. Although at times they kept the ball well against United – in the first half, Liverpool completed 220 passes as compared to their opponents’ 176 – they didn’t actually do anything with it; for example, only three of these passes were made by Torres, who barely saw the ball. In the entire game, the Reds only mustered one shot on target (Gerrard’s somewhat fortuitous free-kick) and won only one corner. They had possession of the ball on their attacking flanks for a total of barely five minutes out of the ninety.
There were some positives. Poulsen looked less like an unskilled battering ram and more like a proper defensive midfielder, and new singing Raul Meireles put in a pretty classy performance. Torres also looked to be recovering slowly from his ongoing identity crisis. However, there is no getting away from the facts: Liverpool now lie sixteenth in the table, just below Wolves, having collected five points from their opening five games. They have scored twice from open play and haven’t gained any points from a losing position.
Hodgson is no miracle worker, and should be given time, but he needs to inject some new life into the deflated and depleted team he inherited from Benitez soon if he is to ward off further, deeper woes on Merseyside.
2 G Johnson – 23 Carragher – 37 Skrtel – 3 Konchesky (Agger 81)
17 Maxi (Ngog 62) – 4 Raul Meireles (Jovanovic 79) – 8 Gerrard – 28 C Poulsen –