UPON review of the starting line-up, many Liverpool fans would have been left with limited expectation going into this evening’s match. However, filling a team with fringe players and aspiring youngsters is often a good move, especially when far more important games are to follow.
The players chosen in these circumstances often run the extra mile in their attempts to force themselves into the manager’s plans.
The Capital One Cup win at The Hawthorns was a case in point, but tonight, despite a spirited showing, the decision to rest most of Liverpool’s favoured first XI didn’t produce a result and Liverpool went down to a 1-0 defeat to Anzhi Makhachkala in Moscow.
The game started quite slowly, Liverpool’s players looked tentative – understandable given many players’ lack of competitive action – but fortunately, the home side were also lacklustre. As a result, Liverpool were able to gain a reasonably quick foothold, looking well organised at the back and accomplished in possession (despite a poor playing surface).
The first chance fell to the visitors on 22 minutes, when Adam Morgan held off the challenge of his nearest marker and slotted in Jordan Henderson. A criticism of Henderson in the past has been his reluctance to gamble and he does indeed have a frustrating tendency to play it safe.
He did little to banish himself of such an unfavourable assessment when he attempted to pull the ball back to Morgan as opposed to shooting – it was completely the wrong decision given his proximity towards goal and the ball was intercepted quite easily by Joao Carlos.
In response, the visitors lifted the tempo of their play and started to impose themselves on the game. Their first chance came on 35 minutes when Yuri Zhirkov forced an error from Andre Wisdom (playing on the right-hand side of three centre backs) and pulled the ball back across the box to Samuel Eto’o; with plenty of space to shoot, the Cameroonian fired a high shot towards the roof of the net, but it was met with a brilliant reflex save from Brad Jones.
A satisfying first half looked to be coming towards a quiet conclusion, but Lacina Traore inflicted a painful blow just seconds before the end of stoppage time.
Played in by Mbark Boussoufa with his back to goal, the 6′ 8” Ivorian skilfully chipped the ball over Sebastian Coates and then lofted a fine finish over the advancing Brad Jones. It is easy to analyse the roles of Coates and Jones in the goal, but it was so well executed by Traore that it’s probably a touch harsh on him and Liverpool, if one were to point fingers.
After a slow start to the second period, Liverpool created what should probably be termed a half chance on 50 minutes. Following a long spell of possession, Joe Cole slipped in Adam Morgan, who from a tight angle fired a left-footed shot against the side netting. A ball across the box was probably a better option and he acknowledged this immediately.
The introduction of Daniel Pacheco and Suso for debutant Conor Coady and a tireless but ineffective Adam Morgan freshened things up and Liverpool immediately began to look more penetrative.
After Traore fired the Reds a warning with a free header straight at Jones, Liverpool went straight up the other end and created a great chance on 76 minutes. Suso’s superb trickery gave him space to fire a powerful shot at Vladimir Gabulov, it then fell straight to Joe Cole, but he could only aim his own shot straight at Anzhi’s keeper.
Liverpool were nearly put out of their misery two minutes later when Traore was put clean through by Jucilei, but he could only guide the ball agonisingly wide of the right-hand post.
Although a hard-working Liverpool continued to pass and probe in the final ten minutes, a killer pass didn’t arrive and Anzhi held on for victory.
On the face of it, such a young side being beaten so closely against the leaders of the Russian Premier League, especially after pushing so hard for an equaliser in the second half, was not a disastrous outcome. However, this Anzhi side are overrated and any good team would have fancied their chances here.
It almost goes without saying at this point of the season that Liverpool played reasonably well until they reached the final third. This area of the pitch yet again lacked any real cut and thrust and Anzhi probably felt quite comfortable in defending their one goal lead.
Rodgers described his team’s performance as ‘outstanding’ in the aftermath. Although he is obviously trying to accentuate the encouraging aspects of Liverpool’s display, he should be warned that trying to create too many positives after losing games (unacceptable for a club like Liverpool, no matter what the circumstances) will start to grate on the fans.
He would be better served accentuating the negative aspects of the team’s performance to FSG: that is, the alarming lack of depth in Liverpool’s squad, particularly in attack.
Fortunately for Liverpool, they have ample opportunity to make up for tonight’s loss and still have a good chance of qualifying.
L4L Man of the Match: Suso. This probably appears a strange choice given he was only on the pitch for the final half hour, but his quality shone through in his brief time on the pitch and he looked the most likely to create an equaliser. He was closely followed by an increasingly confident-looking Brad Jones. It will be very interesting to see what Rodgers does once Pepe Reina returns to full fitness.
Follow me on Twitter: @antonyjlfc
Live4Liverpool is recruiting columnists. For further info contact the site editor at firstname.lastname@example.org