Sunday, 16 August 2009

Tottenham Hotspur 2 - Liverpool 1

Premiership Match report

Reporter: The Main (Stand) Man

With all reds fans heartened by the drubbing handed down to our blue brethren a day earlier, Liverpool travelled to White Hart Lane to commence their Premier League campaign in the London sunshine. Several questions remained until shortly before kick off when the team was announced, not least who would form the central defensive partnership given the injuries to Carragher, Skrtel and Agger during the pre-season. In the end it was Carragher and Skrtel who made the line-up, joined by Insua and Johnson as the full backs. The midfield saw Kuyt, Mascherano, Gerrard, Babel and Lucas take to the field, and Torres was passed fit to play leaving Voronin and Ngog on the bench.

Spurs started the brighter of the two sides, forcing a corner within the first three minutes after some sloppy play by Liverpool near to their own corner flag. Liverpool soon began to show some promise, however, Torres looking eager to drive at the heart of the Tottenham defense and Babel unlucky not to go clean through after he failed to control a difficult long pass from Carragher. Johnson then linked up with Kuyt down the right to win a corner, but the resultant cross came to nothing, sailing as it did over all heads in the penalty area. The game settled down after these initial exchanges, with both teams finding space at a premium thanks to some hard work to close each other down.

A bizaare incident then threatened to leave the reds without any centre halves on the pitch at all. Carragher and Skrtel both went for the same high ball under no pressure from any Spurs players. The two collided with Carragher ‘heading’ the underside of Skrtel’s jaw, leaving both prostrated on the turf. Thankfully, Skrtel was able to continue and Carragher returned to the fray after a couple of minutes with a Terry Butcher style bandage round his head. Moments later a half chance for Tottenham saw Lennon and Keane getting in each others way with the former ready to pull the trigger.

Lennon was then booked for a late challenge on Skrtel, leaving his foot in after Skrtel had manoeuvred the ball round him. In all truth, moments like these were to prove the only interesting moments of the first 30 minutes, with no clear chances created by either side. Shortly after the half hour mark, Gerrard let fly with a 25 yard shot which went narrowly wide. Pepe Reina then proved the hero with a stunning save from Keane. A long cross found Modric at the far side of the Liverpool box, his control was good and he stabbed the ball back across the goal to find Keane in yards of space. With the goal at his mercy, Keane did as the textbooks say and directed his header downwards, but it went too close to Reina who showed good reactions to dive to his left and claw the ball clear. Mascherano was then ridiculously booked for not being able to get out of the way of Lennon as he made his way across the field in front of the Liverpool penalty area. Reina then made a second great save as Modric’s ball found Keane racing through. His attempted chip found Reina standing tall and he was able to parry the ball to safety.

Liverpool’s most promising move of the half resulted when Gerrard picked the ball up in midfield. A typical driving run towards the Spurs box allowed him to find Babel on the left but the Dutchman was unable to find Torres in the middle after the striker had made a good run in front of the defender. Assou-Ekotto then attempted to get Kuyt booked with a dive more deserving of an Oscar than a freekick, but thankfully Phil Dowd had the sense to award nothing more than. Unfortunately, the defender was then able to put Spurs ahead with an unstoppable shot.

Skrtel fouled Palacios on the edge of the area, and the subsequent shot from the set-piece rebounded off the wall to Assou-Ekotto. He unleashed a left foot shot which gave Reina no chance from all of 25 yards out right into the top corner of the net. Liverpool looked to respond immediately, with Skrtel’s long ball finding Kuyt just unable to control the ball for a one-on-one situation. All of a sudden the reds began to come forward with more purpose, looking to attack the Spurs defense at last. The referee, though, blew the half time whistle with all of the Liverpool players no doubt fearing some harsh words from Benitez in the dressing room. In truth, it had been an extremely disappointing 45 minutes, with poor passing, no penetration and, from some, a lack of desire seeming to show through.

Liverpool won an early corner following the restart, which Gerrard took and swung out to the edge of the area. The ball ended up close to the opposite corner, and Insua was dispossessed, with Lennon picking up the loose ball when played forward. The youngster went on a surging run, skipping past three Liverpool players before finally being robbed of the ball by Lucas on the edge of the reds area. Liverpool then went close themselves, with Kuyt finding Torres who laid off for Gerrard, but the skipper’s shot went inches wide of the upright.

It was beginning to look like more of a contest, although still Liverpool’s passing play was not good enough to provoke hopes of an equaliser anytime soon. It was Spurs who again went close on 53 minutes, with Defoe finding Palacios in acres of space just outside the Liverpool area. His rasping shot was just within reach for Reina, however, and his outstretched arm tipped the ball over the bar.

The reds were awarded a penalty moments later, though, after a jinking run from Johnson led him into the area. With Gomes rushing from his line to challenge, Johnson flicked the ball past him leaving the keeper with no chance of avoiding a collision. Gerrard stepped up and dispatched the penalty with aplomb, despite the taunts of the Spurs fans attempting to distract him.

The referee then put Jamie Carragher’s name in the book for a foul on Defoe, and from the freekick Spurs retook the lead. A floated ball into the box found Bassong’s head highest and his flicked effort went past the despairing dive of Reina. Benitez soon after decided to introduce Yossi Benayoun into the proceedings in an attempt to spice up Liverpool’s attacking play. Babel was sacrificed having failed again to make any kind of significant contribution to the game, although in his defense he was far from the only one. Peter Crouch also came on for Robbie Keane, the two ex-Liverpool players swapped in a tactical move from Harry Redknapp.

Torres then went close from a Glen Johnson cross following the best passage of play in the entire match from Liverpool. Some fluent passing went through much of the team before the chance was created, and this seemed to inspire the reds that they could actually get something from the game. Another good move ended with a shot from Gerrard’s left foot, and although he was able to draw a save from Gomes, the shot from his weaker side did not carry the required pace to seriously trouble the keeper.

Daniel Ayala then replaced Skrtel at the heart of the defence, the Croatian still troubled by the head injury received earlier in the game. Kuyt was replaced by Voronin soon after in an attacking move from Rafa, with Spurs just starting to sit back on their lead leaving a little more space in the middle of the park for Liverpool to work in. The home side had begun to look to floating balls up to Crouch to keep the ball in the Liverpool half, a move which would seem to provide hope that Liverpool could begin to pick up more possession. This proved to be the case, with Gerrard swinging in a ball towards Torres which King was lucky to deflect back into the arms of his keeper with his outstretched leg.

O’Hara replaced Modric for Tottenham, with the clock ticking ominously onwards towards the final whistle. A shout for another penalty soon followed, with a beautiful ball from Benayoun almost finding Voronin on the end of it. The forward was bundled over with no attempt by the Spurs defence to play the ball, but Phil Dowd shook his head and refused to grant the spotkick. When Assou-Ekotto was struck by the ball in his penalty area shortly after, again the Liverpool players were vocal in their appeal for handball which was again turned down. Sammy Lee was then dismissed from the bench for complaining about the decisions a little too vocally for the liking of the officials, which only served to waste more time. As the game went into time added on, Redknapp brought on Pavlyuchenko to waste a few seconds, and shortly afterwards Dowd blew the whistle to condemn the reds to their first opening day defeat for seven years.

All in all, Liverpool did not deserve to take three points from this game, taking too long to get into their stride and allowing Spurs far too many opportunities after surrendering possession too easily and standing off the attackers for too long as they surged forward. With a home game against Stoke to come on Wednesday night, Liverpool will need to kickstart their season immediately to prevent a gap opening up this early in the season, and to do this there must be a more concerted effort from all concerned. It was only the introduction of Benayoun which seemed to open the game up, with Torres hounded off the ball on many occasions and Gerrard unable to exert too much influence from his advanced midfield position. Whilst the nay-sayers will no doubt imagine their opinions surrounding the departure of Alonso to be reaffirmed by this result, in truth the Spaniard would have been unlikely to be able to provide inspiration for the entire team, and this collective lack of drive is the true reason that Liverpool lost today.

Match time and date: KO 16:00. 16 August 2009

Goals: Tottenham Hotspur: Assou-Ekotto 44, Bassong 59. Liverpool: Gerrard (pen) 56

Yellow cards: Gomes, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Mascherano, Skrtel, Carragher

Referee: Dowd

Attendance: 35,935

Tottenham Hotspur: 01 Gomes, 19 Bassong, 22 Corluka, 26 King, 32 Assou-Ekotto, 06 Huddlestone, 07 Lennon, 12 Palacios, 14 Modric (O'Hara 83), 10 Keane (Crouch 68), 18 Defoe (Pavlyuchenko 90+2)
Substitutes: 23 Cudicini, 02 Hutton, 16 Naughton, 05 Bentley, 24 O'Hara, 09 Pavlyuchenko, 15 Crouch

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 02 Johnson, 22 Insua, 23 Carragher, 37 Skrtel (Ayala 75), 08 Gerrard, 20 Mascherano, 21 Lucas, 09 Torres, 18 Kuyt (Voronin 79) 19 Babel (Benayoun 67)
Substitutes: 01 Cavalieri, 34 Kelly, 38 Dossena, 15 Benayoun, 26 Spearing, 40 Ayala, 10 Voronin

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