Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Chelsea 1 Liverpool 0 - Review of the League Cup Semi Final

Yesterday, Liverpool faced off against Chelsea in the deciding leg of the semi final of the League Cup. The tie was held at Stamford Bridge with the aggregate score at 1-1 from the first leg at Anfield. It was a feisty encounter with an early Eden Hazard penalty cancelled by a good finish by Raheem Sterling. While the Reds played really well, it was a mixture of brilliance from Thibaut Courtois and wasteful finishing that prevented them from holding the advantage. So, how did the Reds fare at the Bridge?

It was a very serpentine encounter with lots of twist and turns. There was a cornucopia of controversy as is the case when Jose Mourinho and Diego Costa are involved. Costa could have been easily sent off for what looked like two stamps on Liverpool players. On the other hand, Martin Skrtel could easily have conceded a penalty and players like Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva could easily have been sent off. There was an onslaught of attacks from both teams with numerous saves made by goalkeepers Courtois and Simon Mignolet. In the end, the tie could not be settled in the full 90 minutes but was made peremptory by Branislav Ivanovic’s thundering header.

The game heated up with Diego Costa involved a lot
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There were a lot of positives to take from this game as has been the case with most of Liverpool’s recent games. Most of those seem to be the same. Yet again, the defence held resolute to most of Chelsea’s threat. The Blues are known for their home dominance and the fact that the Reds were the first team to stop Chelsea from scoring in 90 minutes is a testament to the newfound resolve of the defence.

Of course, none of this would be done without the protection of Lucas Leiva who was imperious yet again, making game saving challenges. 

Also, Martin Skrtel deserves plaudits for his resilient performance. While Can and Sakho were also good, they were unmatched to Skrtel on the night and kept Diego Costa relatively quiet the entire game. Skrtel seems to get this sudden burst of invigoration when playing Costa and it was on show.  The other positives were the relentless pressing of the team in whole and the brilliance of Phillipe Coutinho. These points have been noted on in the past and hopefully will be continued in the future.
Simon Mignolet had a solid game
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But, while the positives were abundant in this game, it is the flaws that need to be highlighted if the Reds are to move forward. The Reds were yet again profligate in their finishing. The Reds had 4 clear-cut chances on the night that any top team would have finished. Raheem Sterling, for all his brilliance, is not yet an efficient striker and cannot be counted on regularly. Sterling has a problem with composure, as was apparent when instead of squaring to an open Steven Gerrard, Sterling decided to take on two defenders and failed. Sterling is not as reliable as he is touted out to be and needs time to work on his finishing.

Phillipe Coutinho, singled out before as being a positive, is in the same boat as Sterling in terms of finishing. One moment in the game perfectly epitomized Coutinho. He evaded four Chelsea defenders with a wonderful piece of skill only to waste the following shot by shooting straight at Courtois. Jordan Henderson was also guilty of this on numerous times. The three players took a total of 7 shots with only 1 on target. This kind of output is not good enough for top team players.

Phillipe Coutinho was a constant menace
the entire game.

 The biggest problem the Reds have now is that they have no one to rely on always. Goals are what win games and no one player can get them consistently. There is not point in intricate and deft build up play if there is no one to finish it. The perfect analogy would be a Ferrari without an engine. It has an amazing fa├žade but is in the end useless. Liverpool have to dip into a transfer market soon or hope that Daniel Sturridge remains fit and fires on the same rates as last year. Even then a striker is arguably a must. This all points to Brendan Rodgers’ incompetence in the transfer market but that is another article.

Another huge problem is the Reds defending of set pieces. While the defence has been really solid in open play, it still leaves much to be desired on set pieces. Brendan Rodgers has been here for two and a half seasons and yet the Reds are still susceptible to the set piece. It is a frankly worrying fact that despite having so much time, Rodgers has not been able to fix this problem. The goal from the Chelsea game came from a set piece. We never see Chelsea concede from set pieces and that in part is what makes them so strong.  That is something Rodgers and his team has to work on if they are to achieve success.

On a final note, Glen Johnson appears to have entered the fray again and with Mamadou Sakho’s injury, it remains to be seen how the defence will be structured in future games. I. for one, hope that Johnson is nowhere near the first team as he does not deserve to be. There was a visible dip in the Reds’ performance after Johnson came on and all he does is cause imbalance in the team. The defence is starting to maintain a good level of consistency and Johnson will ruin that. The same thing should be said for Joe Allen who left many gaping holes against Bolton in the FA Cup. Now is not the time for underperformers to come in.

In the end, it was a promising performance and one light years away from the drivel that was served up earlier in the season. Jose Mourinho has built Stamford Bridge as a fortress so the fact that the Reds shut Chelsea out for most of the game is really encouraging. Not many teams go there and stifle Chelsea as much as the Reds did. The important thing is to consolidate on this and push on in the league and other competitions. Chances will come in the FA Cup and Europa League so this must not dishearten the Reds. Instead, they should be invigorated and fight till the end. 

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