After the draw at St. Andrews I contended that Liverpool needed to change the way they played to get results. They were too narrow, with no pace and their full-backs went nowhere. It led to a dour game of football and a nil all draw that kept Liverpool in the lower regions of the table. The problem then was a lack of invention, a resistance to change and a team still getting to know each other, yesterday that all changed.
When the game kicked off and Chelsea kept the ball bouncing around their defence for 1 solid minute I felt a cold sense of dread as I expected a dour game of Football as Liverpool would kill the game by sitting behind the ball. I was wrong, whilst the plan was to allow the Chelsea back line (and Mikel) on the ball the rest of the team would be hussled and harried all over the pitch. I thought Kuyt would be on the right, he wasn’t. He popped up ‘in the hole’ and played off Torres whilst providing the Energy in the middle of the park to keep Ramires (one word, woeful) off balance whilst allowing Lucas and Gerrard to keep Florent Malouda quiet. It was a terrific team effort and showed a cohesion and unison that had been hitherto missing.
Also, I didn’t expect to see young Martin Kelly in the line-up which was as brave as it was successful. With Malouda being choked in midfield, Kelly and Meireles (nominally on the right) kept Zhirkov and Ashley Cole quiet, which was a truly remarkable achievement given his particular form this season. Throwing the young Englishman into a match against the Champions could’ve easily back-fired and left Hodgson in the lurch. It wasn’t the only brave decision that Hodgson has taken over the past fortnight – his decision to leave Torres and Gerrard out in Naples was justified by the result as was putting his captain on the bench for the return leg. It has been said that it is better to be lucky than good but there is no luck involved so far in this Anfield turn-around.
In terms of the match itself it was (sigh) a game of two halves – the first Liverpool showed verve and dynamism during the game. Martin Kelly was encouraged to get forward and Kuyt exploited the space he was afforded to exquisite effect as he released Torres. The second goal came from a similar position as the much maligned – by me – Raul Meireles was in the same position but laid the ball off to Torres. In the second half the tables were turned, Didier Drogba’s introduction coincided with a ‘you shall not pass’ performance from Liverpool’s defence and midfield. Helped by the ever-excellent Pepe Reina, whose stop from Malouda was only eclipsed by Cech’s later save, Reina has and always will be key this season if only he had captured that ball on opening day(without his lone mistake, Liverpool would be joint fifth).
Of course, all this Liverpool talk takes out of the equation the other team on Sunday. If this was Liverpool’s best performance of the season (almost certainly so) then it was Chelsea’s worst. The forced omission of Drogba (reports of a fever) and the continued absence of Essien and Lampard stripped Chelsea of any industry in midfield, Ramires looks a very good player when he has time but he was roughed up on Sunday to good effect, something that would not work on Essien. Nicolas Anelka continues to be a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma. On the right side of an attack he can drift in an out of a game but as the central attacker he needs to be more disciplined and going up against a fired-up Jamie Carragher he was ineffective to say the least. However he was Fernando Torres in comparison to Salmon Kalou whose completely inept display rivalled only that of Theo Walcott over the weekend for record breaking futility.
Speaking of ‘El Nino’, this really couldn’t be an analysis without the temperamental Spaniard. Channelling the form of the striker who burst onto the Anfield scene against, who else, Chelsea. Torres picked apart the Chelsea rear-guard, on a day that John Terry would like to forget, he hussled and harried and generally looked like he was fit. His omission from the Europa League has been a success as he really hasn’t been ready for two games a week; in fact he was barely ready for one game. If he continues this level of fitness his form will continue, look at the picture at the top is that a man dissatisfied with his club? For me, he has been carrying an injury rather than being unsettled (of course I thought that about Rooney).
Finally, how is this winning the Liverpool way, well as I indicated earlier I’ve written about Liverpool before this season and had this to say:
“On the player front Liverpool still rely (too) heavily on three players. Steven Gerrard ( who is now playing better for his country than his club), Fernando Torres (who is far from his imperious best) and Pepe Reina”
Perhaps I can add Dirk Kuyt to that list but the point remains salient, Liverpool are relying heavily on their very best players (then again who isn’t) but until now they had not been performing. In one match it all clicked, Liverpool took the lead through Torres and then showed the defensive resilience which has not been evident until now either. Under Benitez this was Liverpool’s forté, relying on Torres, Gerrard and at one point Alonso to unlock defences whilst relying on Finnan, Carragher and Hyypia to be consistently solid at the back. This was the form that led them to a European Cup and to second in the league. A lack of investment strangled the quality out of the squad so only the core remains. The players have changed, the squad is thinner but the future looks brighter for Liverpool fans.
Yesterday, the formation had changed, the team has been refined and more importantly form and confidence has been restored. Whether this is due to new ownership, a time to adjust to Roy and his training or just a regression to the mean (Liverpool couldn’t be that bad all the time). Whether this positivity is as ‘knee-jerk’ as the negativity was earlier in the season, only time will tell. For me though the changes have been made since St. Andrews, they’ve worked and there is only one man to take credit for that, Roy Hodgson.