Praying it’s not another false dawn

Match Report
Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham
Wednesday, 20th January 2010

Liverpool laid down a significant marker for the intentions of retaining a place in the Premier League’s top four at Anfield on Wednesday evening. Not only was this an important 3 points gained against a near rival, but just as significant was the determination and fighting spirit which the Reds exuded to secure the victory.

This was not a vintage performance of attacking, attractive football from the Reds but I guess it was never likely to be. With Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Yossi Benayoun all on the sidelines and a limited squad, Rafa’s team have been robbed of their attacking bite at present. However in beating Tottenham, and coming so close to doing the same in a difficult away fixture against Stoke City a few days earlier, Liverpool’s players and staff have demonstrated that they may yet have the fight that will be necessary to achieve their goals under such adverse circumstances.

No one will be getting carried away with this result. Liverpool have, of course, had far too many false dawns this season to date. But this was a crucial fixture in the Reds season. And Rafa Benitez – a man so often keen emphasise the whole over the single game – said as much in his pre-match thoughts.

Lose and Liverpool were truly up against it for the remainder of the season, cut further adrift and confidence drained. Draw and the Reds would have missed out on an opportunity to make up ground and remind all of their intentions. But in winning the match Rafa’s men have dragged themselves back within touching distance of the top four, despite the terrible season which much of the media is all to keen to remind us about. And in doing so gained some valuable confidence and belief for key battles ahead.

Deprived of their attacking trio Gerrard, Torres and Benayoun, and with Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger also absent, the attacking and creative limitations of Liverpool’s squad has been exposed. But, encouragingly, those who remain available in the squad have risen to the challenge and proved that they have the spirit and desire to grind out results and respond to the abysmal performance and result against Reading last week.

Many have derided Rafa’s team selection for the weekend fixture at Stoke as too negative, and this may be the case, but this is a situation which has largely been forced on the boss. Again, here against Spurs Liverpool often lacked a creative edge or even an ability to retain possession in attacking areas and at times were simply too short on numbers in the final third of the pitch. But the Reds simply demonstrated far superior commitment and will to win then their counterparts from North London and were ultimately rewarded with victory.

Jamie Carragher never was designed to be a footballer blessed with ability in possession and, with age beginning to creep up on him, is unlikely to be a long term option at right back. But the stand-in captains passionate and committed performance set the tone for the rest of the team to follow. One passage of play in particular, were Carragher chased down what appeared to be a meaningless ball to win a corner near the kop end corner-flag, epitomised what the man is all about and inspired a reaction from a vociferous Anfield crowd.

With Javier Mascherano at his usual bustling, disruptive best alongside Lucas in midfield, Alberto Aquilani was deployed in an unusually advanced role behind striker Dirk Kuyt. And although the Italian may lack the pace and physical presence to play that role on a more regular basis, Aquilani again demonstrated some good movement, touches and attacking intent. And it was Aquilani who set up Kuyt for the crucial opening goal after just 6 minutes. The Dutch forward, given a rare opportunity to play as the focal point of the attack, gave a reliably committed and hard working performance. And he proved that his goal scoring knack may have returned; taking his chances to grab his 7th and 8th goals of the season here. If he had shown greater composure on a couple of occasions Kuyt could have had his first hat-trick in a Red shirt.

Kuyt took his goal well to beat Heurelho Gomes from the edge of the box and grant the Reds an early advantage. And, although at times Tottenham had plenty of possession and often the home side invited pressure on themselves, Liverpool always looked good value for the win. Deprived to the pace and potency of Aaron Lennon, Spurs were largely a disappointment. Harry Redknapp’s men didn’t do their Champions League credentials many favours here and failed to make the most of the potential threat of Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch up-front.

At the same time though, Liverpool’s astute defensive play didn’t really allow Spurs many opportunities. Sotirios Kyrgiakos, who had been used sparingly all season, has looked commanding and impressive in the last two games. He again defended solidly in this match, particularly in the air, and also seems to use the ball intelligently. The Greek centre-half could well be playing himself into a more regular starting berth.

Alongside him Martin Skrtel gave a more assured performance to keep the Tottenham threat at bay. Even Emiliano Insua, who has come in for plenty of criticism of late, added to the team with a solid defensive display. Although I’m sure he will have been pleased to have faced the largely ineffective Luka Modric rather than the raw pace of Lennon. The spirit and determination to achieve a win ran throughout the team.

Having gained the lead the Reds often seemed to be their own worst enemy, too often sitting back and allowing Spurs to press them. During the first half inparticular, Liverpool seemed to lack the players to make the ball stick up front and often surrendered possession too easily. Liverpool had a rare opportunity to add to the lead at the end of the half from a corner, but the ball fell to Skrtel at the back post who blazed over. However, Tottenham lacked any potency in rarely threatened in the opening period. Pepe Reina blocked well from Modric late in the first half but the visitors barely tested the Spaniard in the first half.

The Reds continued were the left off in the second period and had the best chances to add to the scoreline. Albert Riera’s return from injury on the left provided at least some attacking assistance for Kuyt and Aquilani. Riera was particularly a threat with his delivery from set pieces and could have grabbed a goal himself with an excellent header from Kuyt’s right-wing cross, which bounced back off the cross bar.

Philip Degen put in another shift for the Reds on the right wing, in what was amazingly his third successive start. Although his unbelievable decision to try, and fail, to square the ball back to Kuyt rather than shoot when clear through on goal midway through the half proved that he is ultimately a full-back by trade. And Degen is still yet to play a full 90 minutes in a Liverpool shirt, as he was substituted for the final few minutes for young Stephen Darby.

Kuyt had another couple of glorious chances to add to his personal tally, which he squandered when he should have tested Gomes at the very least, as Tottenham’s defence began to show frailties’. In contrast with the solid Liverpool backline. Before Kuyt finally sealed the win in injury time with a confident penalty at the second attempt, after substitute David N’Gog was upended by fellow sub Sebastian Bassong. Referee Howard Webb had pedantically disallowed the initial goal because of encroachment in the area – an issue which has apparently only recently become a problem.

Defoe had thought he had stolen an equaliser for Spurs just after the restart. Although a bizarre sequence of events saw a late flag rule the goal out after Kyrgiakos had put Reina in trouble with a rare poor back pass. There may also have been a foul by Defoe as he challenged Reina. Jermaine Jenas also later tested the Reds keeper with a powerful effort from distance which Reina palmed over.

However they were rare moments of concern for the home faithful in a hard fought and comfortable victory. The kop were able to celebrate in both relief and joy as a vital victory was secured in a hard fought gritty fashion.

The overriding feeling is that more of the same is likely to be in order from the Reds over upcoming games as Liverpool battle to salvage their season; at the very least until the attacking reinforcements recover. There has been much talk about the inadequacy’s of the squad and management over recent weeks and months. At the end of the day, aside from one or two possible late additions to the playing staff this month, these are the players and the manager which will be fighting for success for the remainder to the season. So all that remains is to focus wholly on that task and to get behind the team as they look to end the season on a high.

Man Of The Match
Jamie Carragher set the tone with his attitude and commitment and there were a number of other good defensive displays. But Dirk gets the vote for a hard working and effective performance. Kuyt doesn’t often get the opportunity to play as a main striker these days but he showed here that on his day he can perform in the role. And this was the ideal sort of match for the Dutchman.

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