Rare victory, but cautious Rafa still has many problems to deal with

Liverpool 2-1 Wigan
Wednesday, 16th December 2009

The Reds went into this clash with Wigan Athletic at Anfield knowing that nothing but a win would suffice, as they sought to finally get their season on track. Recent poor results had resulted in Liverpool falling to a lowly 8th position in the league table prior to kick-off. And goals from David N’Gog and Fernando Torres ensured that The Reds did secure the necessary three points, on a cold wintry evening. However not without many of the recent problems persisting.

Liverpool must now start winning games regularly if they are to rescue their current predicament, or risk losing touch with the sides at the top of the table. After the disappointing second half showing in the weekend defeat to Arsenal, Rafa Benitez surprisingly chose to omit Fernando Torres from his starting line up. With Alberto Aquilani also a substitute and Glen Johnson injured.

Benitez once more appeared to opt for a rather cautious line-up to face the Latics. The Reds were ultimately able to get the win, but in future Rafa may well have to opt for a more adventurous approach and perhaps take some more risks if we are to witness sustained progress.

With Torres and Aquilani left to warm the bench the Reds – at risk of repeating myself – lack cutting edge and creativity in the attacking third. Steven Gerrard, whether through lack of fitness or simply a lack of form, seems a shadow of his great self. This, of course, is a significant hindrance to the Reds attacking threat. The skipper was however reverted to a deeper midfield role alongside Javier Mascherano for this match, with Dirk Kuyt supporting David N’Gog in attack. But, with Kuyt really struggling to find any kind of form this season and Fabio Aurelio – a left back by trade – deployed on the left wing, N’Gog suffered from a dearth of support and supply.

David Ngog heads home Liverpool’s first of the night. Photo from fOTOGLIF

The young French striker has undoubtedly shown marked improvement since his arrival at Anfield 18 months ago and another goal here adds to an impressive goals-games ratio. However the Reds have seemed over reliant on N’Gog in the absence on Torres, and such an inexperienced player can not be expected to lead the line alone with such limited support.

Rafa has perhaps taken the decision, considering his sides recent struggles, to revert to his default focus on organisation and defensive solidity, in order to rectify the teams decline. Although, in spite of this, Liverpool continue lack reassurance and confidence at the back. Once a glancing N’Gog header from an excellent Aurelio cross had given the Reds an early lead on 9 minutes, the home side always looked vulnerable to conceding an equaliser.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

If the celebrations which accompanied the 50th anniversary of Bill Shankly’s arrival at the club had inspired the home crowd pre-kick-off, then the fare which they witnessed throughout much of the opening half failed to maintain the inspiration. The Reds did dominate possession for large swaths of the match. But this perhaps only served to highlight the fact that too many of the players either lack quality and creative ability on the ball or currently lack the form and confidence to utilise theirs ability.

If Paul Scharner had shown more composure with a header then Wigan could have been on level terms immediately after N’Gog’s opener. Despite this Livepool were in control of proceedings, without truly demonstrating the kind of form which will convince fans that their recent troubles are behind them. Ex-Red Chris Kirkland was forced into an excellent save to fend away Dirk Kuyt’s first time effort, after N’Gog did well to work himself into a good postion and cross from wide on the right. And later in the first half the French striker was alert enough to pounce on some indecisive away defending and almost steer the ball inside the near post. Before Kuyt forced Kirkland into another finger-tip save.

Yet the Reds again seemed incapable of grabbing the second goal which Benitez had highlighted as so important following the weekend capitulation from a winning position against Arsenal. And some level of anxiety was allowed to fester amongst the Anfield crowd as the second half progressed. Hugo Rodallega, playing as a lone forward, seemed capable of causing an unconfident home defence problems. However it was the introduction of a strike partner, in the form of Jason Scotland, which also inflicted an unexpected equaliser on the Reds.

There were appeals for a foul on Pepe Reina when the Spaniard failed to punch away a Wigan cross into the box. However Liverpool failed to deal with the ball and Scotland’s effort, which bounced back off the crossbar, would have counted if it had found the back of the net.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

It was an injection of pure class which made the difference for the Reds as an attacking force in the second period. Fernando Torres’ cameo performance merely underlined the fact that the Spanish striker needs to be starting every game at present. Ultimately Torres was forced to feed of scraps for the most part. But the difference between Torres and the rest is that he can make the most of such ‘scraps’.

Torres could have potentially had a field day against a poor Wigan defence. And it was more indecisive defending from the Latics which allowed Torres to race away and demonstrate some class, out of touch with much of the rest of the match, to outdo Mario Melchiot and Kirkland and cleverly flick the ball home. Torres’ 61st Liverpool goal on his 100th appearance finally gave the Red’s some breathing space with 11 minutes remaining.

Of course the Reds weren’t able to secure a much welcomed victory quite that simply though. Charles N’Zogbia was able to make the Liverpool defence pay in the second minute of added time. The home defence stood off the winger as he cut across the area before firing past Reina.

Fortunately for the Reds N’Zogbia’s goal was too-little-too-late from a Wigan perspective. A win was all that ultimately mattered from this match with the busy Christmas schedule fast approaching. The performance continued to provide more questions than answers, but the Reds can at least be satisfied with a rare recent home win.

Man of the Match

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Javier Mascherano
The Argentinian midfield dynamo has been back to his best in recent weeks, rendering doubts over his form and commitment ridiculous. Mascherano may not be able to provide the Reds with the attacking drive they crave, but when it comes to defending and keeping it simple he is a master. Another accomplished, energetic and passionate performance from the little Argentine.

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