Monday, April 20, 2015

Return of Skipper does little to lift Liverpool

Liverpool players left mulling after their dismal loss to Aston Villa.
When word filtered through that Steven Gerrard had been put back into the starting line-up for Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final clash with Aston Villa, fans would have felt a sense of confidence, even relief. No more stuffing around with line-ups, formations or tactics, just the Reds back to doing what they do best, with the skipper leading from front. They would have thought the coach, Brendan Rodgers, had learnt from his mistake of holding back the captain on the bench, the team would be brimming with confidence with their big-game leader back in the middle of the park and a display would be put on full of grit, attack and force.
What they got was a performance that had smidgens of the real Liverpool, but was smudged of a weak, tedious and depressing show.
Right from the moment the players left the tunnel you could tell things weren't going to be succinct. Gerrard's face spoke of a player and team lacking confidence; he looked uncomfortable. Was it because of his lack of match time? The occasion? The coach’s instructions? The line-up? The repugnant yellow kit?
The game unfolded with a 30th minute goal from Philippe Coutinho that put the Reds one-nil up. An important early goal, but this is Liverpool here, who always go goals up, only to let some in just moments later. Typically, Aston Villa hit back through Christian Benteke just six minutes after, locking the scores up at one a piece. Liverpool continued on for the rest of the first half in unassuming fashion; they needed halftime to come, and a change in attitude and tactics.
Rodgers rolled out the changes to both line-up and formation in the second half, but much of the same remained for the rest of the game. Villa’s Fabian Delph put the claret and blue in front with a well-worked strike in the 54th minute. The rest of the second half featured some moments of possibility for Liverpool, but it just wasn’t to be. 

Indeed there was a lack of heart. At times, a lack of desire or will. But there was always a chance though, right till the end.

You were left waiting on the edge of your seat, desperately hoping for one last act from the legend, some Steven Gerrard brilliance. Even the commentator still gave them a chance, noting how Liverpool are notoriously late scorers in big games. Gerrard had his moment in the  92nd minute with a cross-goal header from Coutinho’s corner. The placement was near perfect, beating the keeper only for a Villa defender to head out it out standing right on the goal line. The chances were there for Liverpool, many will argue of Balotelli’s offside goal but the lack of synergy in their play was the forthright factor in the defeat.
Rodgers at least brought Gerrard on from the start and gave the captain the opportunity to make up for lost time. But some of Rodgers own purchases from the buy up last summer failed to make any real impact. Lovren, Can & Markovic were all poor. Alberto Moreno should never have started, while Mario Balotelli was particularly lazy as usual.

The Liverpool we've seen over the last few months seemed to disappear. The return of Skrtel and Gerrard to the line-up should have bolstered the team, not changed the dynamics. The loss of Lucas Leiva was a huge disappointment, with the Brazilian midfielder missing a chance to play at Wembley again. Daniel Sturridge's absence would have affected the team's faith and confidence right from the time his name was left off the team sheet. The zipping-speed and pestering of Adam Lallana up front could have prevented the "passive" display as Rodgers summarised it.

Aston Villa played for their jersey, for their fans and for themselves. They were full of heart and wanted it more, to put it simply and in colloquial Australian terms, they had a dig. As a fan that is all you hope for in a sporting team, that they turn up on the day and give it their all, with the genuine self-belief they can win the game. Liverpool, unfortunately, did not turn up with that self-belief, and the fans will be brooding over how that can happen being one of the biggest sporting clubs in the world.

But who do you blame for that lack of effort and belief? The coach is responsible for instilling belief in the players, and getting them ready for a game but the players control their own effort and ultimately their destiny when their on the pitch.

Whatever the case, questions will be asked, people will be evaluated and someone will probably be held accountable.