Reds plunge to new depths as season goes from bad to worse

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Liverpool 1-2 Blackpool
Sunday, 3rd October 2010

Just when it seemed that things could only get better and an opportunity presented itself for the season to begin to take an upturn, Liverpool reached a new low.

Defeat to Ian Holloway’s Blackpool leaves the Reds in the relegation zone, with a measly 6 point and one win from their opening 7 fixtures.

An Anfield defeat to newly promoted Blackpool would be embarrassing at the best of times. But, whilst in times gone by it could perhaps be considered merely a blip, at present it serves to confirm Liverpool’s dramatic fall from grace. In the past, such a result could be quickly dismissed as an off-day, unlikely to be repeated. But the most worrying aspect of this result is the nature of the defeat and performance – and indeed many others this season – meant that this was hardly even the great surprise it should be.

A Liverpool fan holds up a banner in protest after their English Premier League soccer match against Blackpool at Anfield in Liverpool, northern England, October 3, 2010.  REUTERS/Darren Staples  (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER) NO ONLINE/INTERNET USAGE WITHOUT A LICENCE FROM THE FOOTBALL DATA CO LTD. FOR LICENCE ENQUIRIES PLEASE TELEPHONE ++44 (0)

Large numbers of fans once again voiced their protests against the clubs ownership both before and after kick-off, as a potential solution to that particular problem looms ever closer. However, the truth is that those protests could almost as easily be directed at what they are seeing on the pitch at the present moment.

Defeat to a Blackpool side, who were willing and hardworking but ultimately made up of largely Championship standard players, is significant in the fact that it transforms Liverpool’s situation from worrying to desperate.

This was no Northampton Town. This was Liverpool’s first XI – bar a stand-in Jamie Carragher at left-back – beaten, and often out-played, by a team they would be expected to beat convincingly, in a game identified as “must win” prior to kick-off.

In the first half the Reds were lacklustre at best; abysmal at worst. And, although the performance improved after the interval, Roy Hodgson’s team lacked direction, intent, confidence and cutting edge.

Hodgson could hardly have dreamt of a less auspicious start to life in the hot seat at Anfield. Though, the reality is, the manager is now already under grave pressure. He has done little thus far to win over the Anfield faithful. Not necessarily simply because of poor results but more due to the nature of the performances and style of play.

The ironic thing is that many of the points which some people chastised the previous managerial regime with – settled team, two up-front, Gerrard in the middle, manager who understands the English game and prioritises the Premier League – have now become a reality and yet do Liverpool find themselves in better shape.

As I have written before, Liverpool have a limited squad but do possess some good international players who are capable of playing good, effective football. Certainly good enough to overcome the likes of Blackpool. But something – be it tactics, mentality, or something else – is thwarting this.

Some criticism has to be levelled at the players. There should have been enough quality within the team to beat Blackpool in front of their own fans. But the players simply did not perform, gave the ball away too cheaply and lacked composure in the final third. Whilst an evidently ever-growing lack of confidence within the squad is also hindering many players ability to make the right pass or have a shot at goal.

Some praise should be reserved for the visitors and this will have been a memorable day for the Seasiders. But once again Liverpool contributed to their own demise and allowed Blackpool to play.

Lacklustre first half displays have become common-place at Anfield this season and this performance epitomised it. The Reds were once again slow out of the blocks, sat back too deep and afforded Blackpool the space and time to play. For an enthusiastic, gung-ho manager like Holloway, this played into his hands.

There seems to be something fundamentally amiss with the mentality and direction being instilled into the Liverpool team at present. Too inclined towards caution and defence, the Reds rarely pressurise the ball up the pitch and grant the opposition too much time and space. Whilst, when in possession, they are too slow to get men into attacking positions and surrender possession far too readily.

Liverpool’s cause was not helped by the loss of Fernando Torres early on, as his replacement David N’Gog struggled to make an impact. Yet Blackpool were the more threatening side throughout the opening half and it was not greatly against the run of play that they took the lead in the 29th minute.

DJ Campbell had already misfired a good chance wide from a Neil Eardley cross, when the poor Glen Johnson was caught out by Luke Varney and recklessly tripped the Blackpool forward. Pepe Reina got a fingertip to the spot-kick but Varney dusted himself off to fire Holloway’s team into the lead and stun the Kop end.

Kyrgiakos had a header cleared off the line by Eardley before the opening goal and N’Gog’s shot was saved comfortably by Matt Gilks having robbed Charlie Adam of possession. But Liverpool offered little and even struggled to string a few passes together or gain any momentum for much of the half.

And the Reds were to be punished for their inept display moments before the interval. Blackpool opened up the Liverpool defence and Gary Taylor-Fletcher played in Varney who again caught out Johnson and fired past Reina from 12 yards.

The Reds were admittedly somewhat improved in the second half. Although this was largely the result of a few simple tactical alterations, which surely should have been in place from the beginning.

Liverpool should be playing to their strengths and playing the best players in their best positions if the simplest way of achieving this. Christian Poulsen – ineffective defensively and none existent in attack – was replaced, Raul Meireles reverted to his preferred midfield role, Joe Cole was moved into a more effective central role and Milan Jovanovic slotted in on the left. And it was little surprise that the Reds improved.

Liverpool finally began to pressurise the Blackpool defence and Kyrgiakos granted them a lifeline. The Greek defender came forward for a Steven Gerrard free-kick and powerfully headed past Gilks.

Joe Cole then came very close to finding an equaliser as his drifted agonisingly the wrong side of the post having run clear of the away defence. Yet Liverpool still lacked cutting edge and struggled to maintain much momentum.

Blackpool had an excellent save from Gilks to thank in injury time as Kyrgiakos almost scored his second from another header. Although ultimately Liverpool’s performance was not worthy of such a dramatic equaliser and the Reds were roundly booed off the field at the final whistle.

Hodgson will of course be afforded more time but some serious cracks are already beginning to show so early in his reign. He and the players have plenty to ponder before a trip to Goodison Park in two weeks time.

Man of the Match

SOTIRIOS KYRGIAKOS
No one stood out. But the Greek centre-back showed he was up for the fight, as well as scoring the goal which got the Reds back into the game with a good header and almost getting a second. Kyrgiakos was at least one of the few leaders on the pitch.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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