AND NOW THE UPSET

February 16, 2008 |

Funny old game football, and no funnier competition than the FA Cup. It’s the classic tale of little versus big, minnow versus shark, Liverpool versus Barnsley.
What was the Holy Grail of cup competitions when English teams were booted out of European competition (as a result of the Heysel disaster, ironically during a Liverpool game) has long been the setting for some Cinderella stories.
Today was no exception.
Liverpool went down 2-1 on a late goal to Championship team Barnsley in what was an exciting game to watch for neutrals and infuriating one for fans.
There was a touch of absurd in the game with opportunity after opportunity going begging for the Premiership giants. To say that Liverpool had a raft load of chances says nothing for the cruise liner of miscues and poor decisions that saw chance after chance squandered. I can’t remember a game in which a team took 31 shots – 20 of which were on net – and lost.
It must be said, 3rd string on-loan goalie Luke Steele played absolutely standing on his head. And the ones he missed, his defense was there to hold up the “Closed” sign in his absence.
The writing has long been on the wall for Liverpool in this competition, having been stretched to a replay by Luton Town and then going down a goal – twice – to non-league team Havant and Waterlooville before beating them.
Rafa was on record as having stated that he knew he would have to be respectful of Barnsley, and it was this unheeded advice that was the cause of Barnsley’s second goal.
A very casually headed ball right back down the middle by Jamie Carragher from a non-entity cross found Barnsley’s Captain Brian Howard who then proceeded to waltz around (in order of appearance) Xabi Alonso, Spanish international, Jon Arne Riise, Norwegian international, Jamie Carragher, ex-English international, and then score a cracker on Charles Intandje’s short side in the 93rd minute. That’s 3 minutes after the game officially ran out of time.  
As yet, I haven’t read the post-game report, but I’m pretty sure this is exactly how it will go:
“We were the better team going forward. We had some good chances that we couldn’t finish. We were unlucky.” And then there will be a couple of questions about his future in charge of Liverpool to which Rafa will reply “I am focusing on my team, right now.”
Frankly, this mantra is becoming tiresome, and a tad trite for a beseiged manager who is very much on the edge of losing his job. If not better expressions, he needs to come up with better answers to a season-long performance that has posed some serious questions to his abilities.
It is true, no one has taken more shots than Liverpool this season. And no one has more ties. As it stands, Liverpool are “better chancing” themselves into sixth spot in the league and an impending exit from Europe.
And Rafa’s suspect substitutions can’t be overlooked. For a man who is widely-renowned for his tactical expertise, he made some interesting switches. He tugged Ryan Babbel who was the only real offensive spark as he torched right back, Bobby Hassell, with practiced ease, replacing him with an out-of-form Harry Kewell. And then in an “inspired” move, he put Steven Gerrard on the pitch for Lucas with 15 minutes to go. The freezing conditions didn’t help a frigid performance from Gerrard any who never quite heated up.  
There are almost too many quality scoring chances to highlight. What should be highlighted is what I can only imagine is Peter Crouch’s imminent departure from Anfield. He has stated his desire (reads begged) to stay with the club more than once this season, a season in which he has quite obviously fallen out of his manager’s favor, becoming the cup-tie guy and “non-essential” outing man. And today he showed why.
In a season most benignly dubbed as sputtering, fans have long maintained that the 6’7” striker should’ve been used more frequently to turn fortunes around. Today had nothing to do with fortune unless it represents the changing of his for the worse. Apart from laughable attempts on goal, he spent much of his time on the deck, moaning about untoward challenges from behind.
Dirk Kuyt wasn’t much better. A striker doesn’t get the luxury of two touches inside the 18-yard box when there are 10 men with different colored jerseys in there with him, and a good striker doesn’t need them. Yet he consistently, and maddeningly, insisted on trying to polish the ball off with numerous touches before taking the shot.
Xabi Alonso will more than likely be plying his midfield trade elsewhere in the 08/09 season. Since his injury, and then the reinjury, he hasn’t had the same swagger. He has said it himself, he needs to be better and he is just not. He does have a nice souvenir of today’s effort. A nasty collision with team mate Lucas Leiva saw him carted off the pitch for some repair work to a bleeding gash on his forehead.
And so, it’s onto Tuesday to face Serie A leaders Inter Milan (3pm, ESPN 2) on the hallowed sod in the UEFA Champions League – the same sod that is withering under the tons of compost that has characterized the majority of Liverpool’s performances this year on it. It will be interesting to see how the Reds recover. Torres is said to be healthy again, as in Skrtel. All we need now is the Almighty on speed dial and some compromising photos of the referee.
 
As I sit here, Man U is handling Arsenal, being up 3-0 at the half. Looks like it’ll be another FA Cup on the mantle this year for the Red Devils. God, I hate Man U….

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