Yesterday I covered the Perfect Drama Classic. Today, I’ll look at the You Were Right I Was Wrong Classic…
2.) Portsmouth v. Liverpool – 7 Feb 2009
I try to be the biggest proponent of Rafa Knows Best whenever I can. Though I am at times puzzled by some of his decisions and have my own staunch opinion on how things should be done (this is a requirement for being a football supporter—FIFA will fine me if I don’t question starting line-ups 15 times in all competitions). The old which one of us won the Champions League test ussually puts me in my place. Did I sub on Didi Hamann at half time in Istanbul? No. That was Rafa.
That being said, it was veeeery difficult to see what was going on in Rafa’s head on the 7th of February, 2009. He started Alvaro Arbeloa, Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Andres Dossena and Fabio Aurelio against Portsmouth. Six defenders? Six? The old 631? 622? What was going on here?
I was mildly assuaged when word came that Aurelio would play as a midfielder. I knew there really wouldn’t be six at the back. But I still didn’t see where this was going. With Xabi and Torres both unfit for starts, Gerrard hamstrung, and Lucas suspended (even the diminutive Argentine would have been a welcome sight at this point), I was struggling to picture what our shape would look like. This line-up seemed beyond makeshift. When it became clear Dossena and Arbeloa would be playing like wingbacks in a 3-5-2 formation, I started to think: hey, maybe this could work…
Who am I kidding? I was saturated with doubt.
The first goalless hour (hey, that’d be a great name for a bad football show on FSC…) justified my concerns, although Liverpool mostly dominated. One felt if the players could get settled in, this formation could have some merit. They just weren’t used to it yet.
Then, Peter Crouch found David Nugent unmarked and onside. Crouch slotted the perfect ball to Nugent who had more open space before him than Tiger Woods at tee time. Skrtel rushed to try to cut him off, but it was too late. Nugent took his shot and Pompey were up 1-0 on 61 minutes.
Then, in the 69th, there was a moment you don’t see often. Liverpool were awarded a free-kick within the box after Crouch sent a pass to David James who, under presssure, was forced to handle. The whistle blew for back-pass. Xabi (subbed on 3 minutes prior) rolled the ball and Fabio fired it inside the right-side post. It was gorgeous. And Crouchie’s still making assists for Liverpool!
On 77 minutes, Pompey got a free-kick and nobody was covering Hreidesson (have we learned nothing from Tim Cahill’s unmarked goals?) and he headed it in off Belhadj’s service.
Behind again with time winding down. Torres ended up in the danger zone with the ball. He cut it back to Kuyt. Kuyt took it past one defender. Then another. Then he fired it at about the tightest angle one can find without giving up a goal kick. Two all.
And just when I’m saying something along the lines of We can’t have another late winner can we? Surely, we’ve used up all our Get Out Of Jail Free Cards this season. Right? Just when I’m deciding whether or not to believe in miracles, Yossi is down the right side in decent space. He launches in an inch-perfect cross for Torres who nods his head like it’s the simplest task in the world, as if heading the ball past David James a minute-and-a-half into injury is no more earth-shattering than shaking the water off your head after a shower. I’m still not sure I believe it. But the highlight reels suggest I didn’t imagine it.
2-3. Final score.
Coming from behind twice and the late winner. Key ingrediants to a good classic. But add to that the Funky Starting XI and The Manager Takes A Risk And Gets It Right and you’ve got something beyond special. I doubted Rafa and he showed me.
Now… what about this formation against Stoke City next season only with Gerrard, Xabi and Johnson in the starting XI? Hmmm…
Tomorrow: Part 3 or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Beating Manchester United…