Liverpool laboured to their first Premier League point of the season away from home with a goalless draw against a well-organised and tenacious Birmingham City at St Andrews.
The Reds struggled to trouble a solid Blues defence and created few genuine chances, particularly in the first half. As Pepe Reina produced a couple of world-class saves to secure a point for the visitors.
With Joe Cole serving the final game of his, seeming endless, suspension and Dirk Kuyt also missing due to an injury sustained on international duty, the limited attacking options in Roy Hodgson’s squad were somewhat exposed. Much criticism has been levelled at Fernando Torres for his contribution – or lack of it – in the immediate aftermath. However it was the lack of creativity in midfield, and the absence of a supply line to Torres, which will be more of a concern.
Torres is evidently lacking match fitness and will, no doubt, not have been aided by being flown halfway across the world for an international friendly just a few days earlier. Yet, if the supply to Torres can be improved, then the Reds Spanish star-striker will surely also improve in games to come.
Torres is not a forward who is likely to get very involved in team play during a game or create something himself. Okay there have been occasions when he has created something out of nothing. But generally his killer goal scoring instincts thrive best when played into space, or on the end of a quality cross. These are Torres’ strengths, and Liverpool need to be playing to their strengths now as much as ever.
The pairing of Lucas and Christian Poulsen in midfield – two holding midfielder’s by trade – rarther limited the Reds cutting edge with the ball in the centre of the pitch. Recent evidence also suggests that Steven Gerrard may be better utilised in a more traditional central midfield role, ahead of the supporting role to Torres which Hodgson asked Gerrard to return to on Sunday.
Of course the captain will do a job if asked to play in any position. Gerrard was excellent when playing just behind Torres for much of the time under the previous regime. But if central midfield is to be Gerrard’s most effective position at present and in the future then Liverpool should also be playing to this strength. Fabio Capello’s decision to revert him to this role for England provides perfect evidence for this.
Liverpool looked to start their second Premier League away trip of the season on the front foot but failed to genuinely impose themselves on the game, particularly in midfield. Glen Johnson’s marauding run down the right found Fernando Torres. Although the Spaniard seemed to scuff his first time effort wide.
However, as the first half progressed, Alex McLeish’s side started to find their feet in the game and began to make life difficult for Hodgson and his players. Birmingham were well-organised and solid through the centre of the pitch, with Scott Dann and Roger Johnson at the back and Barry Ferguson alongside Craig Gardener in midfield. They continually pressuried Liverpool high up the pitch and looked to give the Reds little time on the ball. Often leading to miss-placed passes or wasted possession.
It was the hosts who looked the most likely to find the back of the net in a tight opening half. Pepe Reina had to be at his magnificent best, first to deny Cameron Jerome at full stretch, and then to keep out Gardener’s effort.
On the first occasion, an excellent Lee Bowyer cross from the left found Jerome, who rose above Martin Skrtel and appeared to have guided his header into the far corner but for Reina to spring to his right and push the ball away.
Later, Reina bravely challenged with Jerome to punch the ball off the striker’s head. Before producing probably the best save of the lot. Gardener timed his run into the box excellently to elude the away defence and get his head to Stephen Carr’s right wing cross. The midfielder’s header appeared to be destined for the back of the net, only for Reina to instinctively fling himself to his right and somehow palm the ball away.
The superb Spanish stopper had certainly been needed to keep Liverpool in it at the interval. There was a case for a penalty late in the half when Roger Johnson appeared to take out Torres before taking the ball, when challenging the striker in the six-yard box. However the Reds were lacklustre in possession of the ball and largely devoid of attacking threat.
Gerrard finally provided Liverpool’s first attempt on target at the beginning of the second half. But it was a relatively tame effort from outside the area which Ben Foster saved easily.
Dann was presented with another great chance for the home side soon after. Failing to test the keeper when rising unchallenged for a header from Sebastain Larsson’s free-kick. Whilst, at the other end, Torres eventually got a sight of goal having been released by Gerrard. Although the forward opted for a shot from an angle when squaring the ball to Gerrard and Maxi Rodriguez may have been the better option.
The Reds were too slow and stilted in possession to cause genuine concern to a well-drilled Birmingham side. It was not until debutant Raul Meireles came on to replace Lucas and Gerrard moved back into midfield, that Liverpool began to generate more of a sustained threat and demonstrate any kind of cutting edge.
Paul Konchesky also had to be removed through injury. The former Fulham full-back gave a good account of himself on debut and showed enough to suggest he can add an extra attacking dimension down the left flank.
On the balance of play Liverpool will have to be content with the draw, whilst in his post-match analysis Hodgson suggested he still has much to learn about his squad. Hopefully those lessons can be learnt sooner rather than later, and the addition of Meireles and Joe Cole can give the Reds a, much needed, greater attacking dimension.
Man of the Match
The only contender really. Produced some truly brilliant saves to once again reaffirm himself as a world-class goalkeeper. Showing no ill-effects from any recent, uncharacteristic errors.