Ahhhh that was nice. Lady luck smiled on us a couple of times – Suarez was onside and Senderos maybe should have gone late on – but overally it was a very even and entertaining game where we managed to put one of out shots away when Liverpool couldn’t. Liverpool’s team selection was bizarre, especially considering how they destroyed us last season, but nonetheless it was a very creditable performance, and results like these against the big sides (Arsenal, City, Liverpool, etc) demonstrate that we are a good side and on the cusp of moving up the table. Hopefully our ball-playing attackers can take advantage of Swansea’s open style of play and get another win next week.
Schwarzer – 7.5, Reina demonstrated why Schwarzer should be regarded as one of the top keepers in the league. Three times Reina parried shots, and once could you regard them as effective – from Dembele’s long range strike in the first half – i.e. getting it away from danger. The other two times the ball ended up right infront of him, and on the second occasion Dempsey made him pay. Schwarzer does not let the ball end up in dangerous positions after people shoot at him (unless there’s nothing he can do like Enrique’s 20 yard volley) because his handling is superb, and it’s an attribute of his that I’ve been championing for ages. Hopefully yesterday people will notice how that makes all the difference. Made some good saves, especially when tipping the ball onto the post from a fabulous Downing strike a minute before we scored, and did well aerially.
Senderos – 7, I thought Senderos has done really well these last couple of games. For some reason he gets labelled as a mistake waiting to happen, and maybe thats just because his face constantly looks worried naturally, but our record with him in the side is (I’m pretty sure it is and hopefully my tweet to OptaJoe will confirm it) outstanding, in terms of goals conceded and clean sheets kept. He’s very comfortable on the ball (sometimes too determined to play it out from the back) and one of my favourite moments in that first half was when he did two stepovers and skipped past Suarez I think it was. Had to deal with a large amount of crosses into the box and did well with that. However there were two times when he didn’t close down and we were fortunate to escape, when Henderson and Downing charged forward into space that Senderos left open to run into and hit the woodwork. I’m not sure why he didn’t go to close down. He also misjudged a bouncing ball totally and Suarez threatened to get in behind. But other than that, solid game. Is the time of H&H over?
Hangeland – 7.5, same comments as Senderos really without the errors; was assured all game and got to a load of crosses first. Dealt with Suarez perfectly this time, by getting tight enough as to not allow him to turn but staying far enough off him so that Suarez couldn’t just spin behind or win a free kick anyway.
Kelly – 6.5, defensively again, a very assured performance, and offered himself in possession well. Made numerous blocks and Suarez didnt cause too many problems down that left hand side, apart from on one occassion where he skipped to the byline. Seems to have won over any detractors he did have and is now an important member of the squad.
Riise – 7, struggled at times in the first half, Bellamy was almost allowed to get crosses in at will, but in the second half that side was much more solid. Our play noticably improved when Riise started to get forward more about 20 minutes or half hour in, because then he started offering width, and he provided a frequent outlet from our midfielders wanting to switch play. I’d say infact that second half performance was about as dominant, attacking wise, as we’ve seen from him, brekaing forward numerous times and on several occassions receiving the ball in the box. It was his break forward into space (that Ruiz spotted and played a lovely ball too) which won us the corner from which we eventually scored. When he was far up the pitch the space behind him wasn’t covered well at all which allowed Liverpool to break on us, 3 on 3 or 4 on 3 a few times; fortunately for us they weren’t as clinical as they should have been from those opportunities. It was difficult though because Etuhu, normally the covering midfielder, was asked to play further up the pitch from Murphy when we started progressing into their half with possesion. Talking of which…
Etuhu – 8, OK, after three or four arguably man-of-the-match performances in a row I’m not sure now Etuhu can be dropped (and it looks like he won’t be with Murphy out for a couple of weeks). His range of passing is not the greatest, that’s for sure, and that’s a limitation the players, manager and player alike all accept. However, he DOES keep the ball well, and offers himself to collect the ball off the back four to keep the ball moving. Then, as I say, when Murphy wanted to dictate play Etuhu would then move futher up the pitch, almost alongside out attacking wide midfielders. I didn’t think Etuhu would fit in under Jol but his awareness, confidence and decision making with the ball has vastly improved, and all he does is make 5 or 10 yard passes which he always has done, but they are now more effective. It is nice to see him now playing the ball forward quite often. Off the ball Etuhu was fantastic. Suarez loves to drop off the back four and pick up space infront of it but several times Etuhu nicked the ball off of him, breaking down attacks, which was vital in stopping a fluent attacking performance from Liverpool. He played with discipline and I’d have to say Etuhu’s played his way into the side for me. I don’t think he’d be as effective in games where we’d dominate (we wouldn’t have demolished QPR 6-0 with Etuhu because Sidwell is simply more dynamic in possession and forces the agenda more), but perhaps if we’re going to play with a fluid front four, and stick Murphy in as playmaker, we will need Etuhu to stay anyway.
Murphy – 7, we really started to get going when Murphy started to switch the play. The midfield was quite congested so he had to drop deep to get the ball but suprisingly when he was on the ball he was under barely any pressure, no one went to close him down. Started to float some lovely through balls to get behind the Liverpool defence and it was of course his sweet drop of the shoulder to beat Johnson (!!) that opened up the space to shoot; Reina spilt it and the rest is history. Hopefully his injury isn’t serious.
Dempsey – 8, a constant thorn in Liverpool’s side all night. In actual fact he didn’t make many particuarly incisive passes or runs with the ball but five or six times he was on the end of attacking moves, firing shots in at goal and testing Reina, and his movement inside meant that Riise had a load of space to run into, from which we caused a fair amount of danger down that side. What an utter shame that he hit the crossbar from what was a gorgeous flowing move in the second half, but what a great piece of anticipation to tap the ball into the back of an empty net (check Rich’s second-by-second (almost) analysis of the goal to appreciate just how it was), utter poachers goal. And with that, he’s the highest scoring American in Premier League (and surely English Leage Football?) history.
Ruiz – 7, demonstrated a delicate touch but gave the ball away too often to be classed as effective really, that through ball to Dembele aside which was just lovely. Second half he really picked up, got more involved, floated into the centre to link with play and it was his sweet chipped pass which found Riise in space for the built up to the goal. Coming into his own now just as we’ve entered a run of 8 games in a month so good timing, and in games in which he can be expected to suit his style (Swansea, Bolton, United, Arsenal, all are quite open, or at least will come out and attack). He is so cool on the ball, he does dictate the pace of play when he’s on it. Still not quite up to speed but another player which you can’t really drop now.
Dembele – 8, the sky’s the limit for Dembele. Bamboozled Liverpool players all night with agile turns, drops of the shoulder, gentle touches of the ball just a yard or two in space, leaving them for dead. His finishing leaves alot to be desired still, and while his passing is more intelligent his awareness is still lacking (twice he should have played in players down the left after Johnson had come inside, and they were really in acres of space). However he was constantly probing, creating space for him and others to play in, complete with a work rate and tenacity off the ball which is to be admired. And to think he was once considered a ‘luxury player’. This is why I can’t make my mind up whether I want Dembele or Ruiz to be in behind Zamora; you would imagine that Ruiz, being the better passer and more creative of the pair, would revel in the middle and be allowed to influence games more but you must also consider that Dembele wins the ball back off players so well, using his deceptive strength and tricky feet to nick the ball off players, control it, and start a move high up the pitch. Let’s be very very thankful to that he anticipated the challenge from Spearing and jumped, otherwise his ankle would literally have snapped in two, the replay still makes me wince.
Zamora – 6.5, took a knock early on in the game and wasn’t very mobile for the rest of it which meant it was difficult for him to recieve the ball. However, when he did he was strong up against two big centre halves in Skrtl and Agger, and he layed the ball off pretty well. Our player seemed to pick up pace when Johnson came on but remember it wasn’t long after that when Spearing was sent off. I also worry that we lose our shape when we lose Zamora. He’s still not showing the tenacity and aggression perhaps that was the trademark of his 19 goal season with us, but he is still playing okay, and we are a better team with him in it.
Johnson – 6.5, the game opened up soon after he came on and that’s the sort of thing Johnson would enjoy. We could get the ball quicker up the pitch with him on, especially with the Liverpool fullbacks pushing almost suicidally far forward when they were down to ten men. Was really disappointed with his half-arsed effort when through on goal in the 94th minute, he didn’t even consider trying to beat the last defender and just shot to waste time. Really not on, I don’t know why he decided to do it when he could have cut inside Johnson.
Gecov – N/A, the ball was in play for no more than thirty seconds for the time Gecov was on the pitch. Will he finally start at Swansea, or will Sidwell recover in time?