The 3-2 victory at Bolton on Saturday was such a vital, vital victory in our Premier League campaign. Defeat would have left us nine points behind the league leaders and a two week break for international football in which pressure around the club, internal and external, would have mounted. Something which is never healthy.
But the nature in which Liverpool turned the game around, twice coming back from behind to clinch the game seven minutes from time must be highly commended and takes us into the internationals with a bit more confidence that, despite a bad start to the season, there are signs we can soon return to the irresistible and blistering form we showed at the close of the 2008/09 campaign.
Still, there’s a lot of questions to be asked all over the pitch and a lot of bugs and problems remain in the team’s performance however much three points sweetens reality.
In my third tactical analysis of the season here on This Is Anfield, I look at what went wrong and what went right for us at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Let’s start with a look at Bolton’s first goal which put them 1-0 up after 33 minutes.
The defending when conceding Bolton’s first goal was absolutely comical. Here we can see at least three Bolton players simply queuing up to score with Liverpool’s defence standing still.
It was really a dire goal to concede and a situation we’re getting a bit too familiar seeing. A scrappy piece of play in the area and the ball eventually bundled into the net with ease by Kevin Davies.
The problem stems from the first ball into the box, launched towards the far post from a corner. We need to be clearing these corners, or at least getting to them, first time.
It was Elmander who easily jumped to meet the corner and head it back across goal where Bolton were ready and waiting to pounce with a number of players.
Our defending from corners has been suspect for a while now, but when goals like these are being scored with such ease every week, it starts to ring alarms. Some more confidence in going to clear the ball first time would be essential right now.
Glen Johnson’s equalizer was a brilliant goal. He found time and space to turn inside Tamir Cohen and with his left foot accurately steer the ball low past Jaaskelainen.
More great signs from the right-back that he can turn nothing into something pretty quickly and great to see him bag his second goal for the club already.
But Liverpool’s defence fell asleep yet again just minutes into the second half and I really hope this is something Benitez addresses over the international break.
This is in the build-up to the goal, just before Davies meets a long ball into our area with a neat header down to the left of goal.
I’ve circled the goalscorer Cohen and illustrated his run onto Davies’ assist. Cohen sneaks in and to his credit keeps composure to smash the ball past Pepe Reina.
But why was no-one tracking Cohen as he ran into the area which allowed him a free pop at goal? And, equally important, why was Davies first to the header? Just like the first goal, we need to be attacking these high balls that will fly in at all angles and getting to them first.
If we don’t, teams will undo us, just as Bolton did, all season long.
The turning point in the game was undoubtedly Bolton’s sending off. Sean Davies’ second bookable offence of the game with a clip of Lucas’ heels and the home side were down to ten men.
This extra space and the absence of Davies suddenly unleashed the Reds – and in particular Steven Gerrard, who had been stopped by Davies all game from getting forward.
Now Gerrard was able to get forward and do what he does best – get into that extra yard or two of free space and fire Liverpool home.
Prior to the game, Rafa Benitez had challenged Gerrard to step up his game after a disappointing start to the season.
And Gerrard responded to the manager’s public criticism in the perfect way – a captain’s performance, which after the game he admitted he owed.
This is just after Davies was dismissed and Gerrard suddenly finds a new dimension to his game. Dirk Kuyt heads back Lucas’ header to the egde of the area where Gerrard is arriving.
With Bolton’s defence expecting Kuyt to head back across goal, Gerrard runs into the space and unleashes a wicked right foot half-volley that crashes against the Bolton crossbar, leaving Jussi Jaaskelainen completely beaten.
It’s Gerrard’s ability to sneak into, and create goalscoring opportunities that suddenly lifts Liverpool up into another gear and we enjoy an exciting, and ultimately successful, last twenty minutes.
Now Gerrard’s winner, Liverpool’s third of the game, was a special finish, but I do believe that Fernando Torres’ goal, that’s Liverpool’s second, is one of our goals of the season so far.
It epitomizes a rejuvenated Liverpool just minutes after Davies sending off and combines the vision and accurate passing of Gerrard with “big man” play of Kuyt before the fantastic nimble running and finish of Torres. A fantastic goal that seemed to be overlooked in the media after the game.
I’ve tried to illustrate the goal as best I can above. Gerrard finds time and confidence to look up, send a dinking ball over the top from the right which is at a perfect level for Kuyt to run onto and with sheer strength and intelligence Kuyt swivels his body to chest the ball into space for the ongoing Torres.
As in the last example, Gerrard’s vision and movement brings out the best in Dirk Kuyt. Kuyt is now able to take a more marksman role up front, laying balls off and creating situations.
His firm chest down to the feet of Torres is taken in his stride by the Spaniard who takes one touch to take the ball with him deeper into the area before a tradesmark Torres finish with his right foot and Liverpool are level again.
It’s great play by all three players in creating a goal out of what wasn’t even really an attacking opportunity. Extra credit must go to Kuyt in my opinion for the way he ran onto Gerrard’s chip over into the area and reversed the path of the ball away from his run, allowing Torres to sneak in for a glorious opportunity which he duly took.
And what about Gerrard’s 83rd minute winner? The technique at which this lad can fire these sort of loose balls in from the egde of the area is nothing short of outstanding.
It was a simple goal really, but all about the technique in which Gerrard hit the final shot.
Johnson’s deep cross, headed back by Torres and fired in with the composure and skill we’ve seen so many times before from our captain. It was the perfect goal to demonstrate his superb goalscoring ability.
My final praise of the day goes to Reina. Though he’s part of the unorganised shambles our defence was for Bolton’s two goals, this brilliant first half save from the Spaniard should not be overlooked.
Lucas had stupidly given away a free-kick right on the edge of the area with the score at 1-1 and half-time fast approaching. It was Taylor’s fast, curling free-kick that beat our wall, but his effort was matched by this outstretched fingertip save by the man in our goal. Fantastic goalkeeping and a joy to watch. Reina has already proved with a number of saves this season just how important he is to our team.
There’s still definitely questions to be asked over Liverpool’s defence this season. Some soft goals are being let in which makes life at the other end of the pitch more difficult.
But the resurgence Liverpool showed in attacking in the final third of the game was a fantastic performance, though somewhat overdue.