Wigan 1-1 Liverpool
Had Steven Gerrard’s shot that hit the crossbar bounced down and in to give Liverpool the three points against Wigan, Roy Hodgson’s side would have moved up to fifth in the league – just three points behind Man City in fourth.
However, had Liverpool won this game it would have been a huge case of papering over the, rather large, cracks in their performance and manager’s tactics. Not to mention a huge injustice for a Wigan side who outplayed their more illustrious opponents for 70 minutes.
After three straight league wins Hodgson has been afforded more breathing space than three weeks ago. Suddenly after the Chelsea game there was support for him and heralding his tactics. He just needed time was the chime.
The problem is that a lot of us actually predicted we’d do well against Chelsea. After all, those who have questioned Hodgson’s appointment and reign early on recognise that he is a manager who is suited to being the underdog. His style is to stop opponents rather than enforce his own style of play on the game. His teams do not create, they protect. Perfect for playing against a side with better players than those at your disposal, eg. Chelsea.
Not perfect when you have the better players at your disposal and the onus is on you and your team to create, force play and impose yourselves on the game. To dominate possession and take the game to your opponent, eg. Wigan.
The most disappointing thing, aside from the fact we once again failed to capitalise on the win over Chelsea, is that we started very brightly. We took the game to Wigan, Lucas with an early effort and then Torres with his superbly taken goal from Gerrard’s ball.
Then we sat back. And back. And back. Post-match Roy blamed tiredness for the result, I doubt though that was why we suddenly sat back after just 20 minutes. In Hodgson’s short reign so far we’ve had to get used to seeing how deep we play and this was a huge area of frustration for supporters, and players judging by their body language, prior to this mini run of results.
Tonight we were back to the same two banks of four sat deep, literally watching Wigan stroke the ball around in our half. Yes, Wigan completely out-passing and out-maneuvering us for a good 70 minutes. The number of times Diame had time and space to look up and play a good ball out wide or in to Rodallega was staggering. He controlled the game the way you’d expect Gerrard to do for us.
Time and again balls were played across the face of our goal, eventually one led to their goal. Konchesky was, as ever, found out of position, flat footed or too slow – take your pick depending the exact occasion. While Hodgson laments the squad of “flops” he says he inherited – the vast majority of whom led this club to their best ever Premier League finish just two years ago (8 of this team started the 4-1 win at Old Trafford) – the worst player in this team now is the only player to have followed him from his previous club.
Roy also blamed a “small squad” for the tiredness. Yet in the summer when he arrived he told us we were “hugely overstaffed”. Someone should remind him there’s two players far superior than several of those on display tonight out on loan, Emiliano Insua and Alberto Aquilani.
On Sunday, the manager got his subs spot-on. Tonight they were woeful. With respect, Jonjo Shelvey, Christian Poulsen and Nathan Eccleston are not the three names you want to be brining on when your struggling at Wigan. I doubt Torres was inspired and by reports his face told the story when Poulsen was brought on – taking off a forward. Meanwhile, our joint top scorer sat on the bench.
When NESV first came in, there was huge speculation that Hodgson’s time could be up. The derby defeat and manner of it did nothing to aid his cause. But since then we’re unbeaten, even if – first half against Chelsea aside – the performances haven’t been great. I doub’t they will pull the trigger any time soon but the way things are going it looks bleak on the playing side.
Hodgson said post-match “I would be lying to our supporters if I said there will not be more games like this where we have to scrap and fight and work hard for our points.” The problem is we didn’t scrap at all, we invited the pressure by sitting so deep, especially the midfield.
He added “I thought we started well and finished well but I thought there was a long period in between when we were nowhere near as good as we can be.” That last part is one of the few things the manager got right tonight.
Apparently it’s not the Liverpool Way to criticse the manager. I suggest it’s not the Liverpool Way to sit back against a team in the relegation zone, inviting pressure and allowing their midfielders time and space to pick passes at will.