Night of frustration for the Reds
LONELY PLANET, the travellers’ bible, recently published a list of the cities they deem to be the worst in the world.
Along with places such as Los Angeles, Seoul and Accra, Wolverhampton was plonked in at number five; in other words, it’s a place they say you should avoid at all costs.
Rafa Benitez and his Liverpool players will know exactly why today.
Befitting the miserable metropolis they ventured to last night, the Reds rustled up a charmless performance, much to the consternation of those who witnessed it; just when you think a corner has been turned, another dead end appears.
There can be no complaints that Liverpool left with just a point to show for their ‘efforts’ nor can there be any feelings they were hard done by; for all the talent they had on the pitch, rarely did they threaten to impose their quality on the game.
Yes, they battled and scrapped to avoid a defeat and matched the relentless commitment of Mick McCarthy’s men but when inspiration was needed, it was sorely lacking; as a result, the season remains on a knife edge.
Liverpool might have crept up a place in the standings but not even their biggest supporter could say they enhanced their Champions League credentials in the process.
Such is the scrutiny Liverpool find themselves under these days, even something as trivial as names on the teamsheet see people searching to find conspiracy theories and hidden agendas when well known names are absent.
The man to find himself the subject of pre-match chatter here was, inevitably, Alberto Aquilani with sceptics suggesting there must be a sinister reason why Benitez picked the Italian as a substitute after an impressive showing against Tottenham.
No matter that Benitez opted to begin with an attacking line-up – Albert Riera retained his place, there was a first start for Maxi Rodriguez with the fit-again Steven Gerrard in between – all that was of interest was Aquilani’s omission.
Crazy. There are far bigger things going on at Liverpool than worrying about how and when Benitez chooses to use his players but at least it is safe to say that he doesn’t get sidetracked by those kind of issues in the run-up to a game.
His sole focus last night was overseeing another Liverpool win to keep the momentum behind the sequence of results they have steadily built up since getting the better of Wolves on Boxing Day.
It was evident from the off that McCarthy’s idea was to frustrate Liverpool, to squeeze the life out in the hope of pilfering something on the break or from a set play, but it was a dangerous game to play.
Or so you would have thought. While Riera went close with a free header from Gerrard’s corner in the first minute, for the rest of the contest they were pedestrian in their play, a pale shadow of the side that had thrillingly dismantled Spurs last Wednesday.
So frustrating. Wolves’ commitment could not be faulted but they were making mistakes which should have been seized upon, playing short balls across the defence to leave sections of the home crowd gasping anxiously.
Clearly the contest was there for Liverpool to seize it by the scruff of the neck, to impose themselves and show why they feel they deserve to be favourites to snatch the fourth Champion League spot but too often possession was squandered.
With temperatures plummeting and the atmosphere flat, this was a contest crying out for someone to sprinkle some stardust on it.
Nobody, however, was up to the task. Inspiration was in short supply, particularly on the flanks where Riera, despite showing occasional promise, ran down too many blind alleys and Rodriguez found it all too much.
There is no disputing the Argentine has great quality – his CV for Atletico Madrid and his national team screams out that he is an A list performer – but the rat-a-tat-tat of the Premier League in freezing conditions is a new experience.
Patience will be required for him to show his best but the problem he faces is that Liverpool’s perilous position demands Rodriguez get up to speed in double quick time; it will be intriguing to watch his development.
In fairness to the man from Santa Fe, he didn’t hide or shirk the issue; what Rodriguez lacks in inches, he clearly makes up for in heart and it was encouraging that he was prepared to shoot from distance even when things were not going his way.
But with the clock their enemy as much as Wolves and the other sides chasing fourth place, Liverpool needed more than just someone to try a speculative shot from outside the box – they needed poise, panache and pressure.
Watching them labour made for uncomfortable viewing. That, though, is Liverpool this season. Great displays one week, guff the next, say what you like about them but they are consistently inconsistent.
As long as it stays like this, the more intolerable the pressure surrounding them will become; humping the ball forward in search of a goal, as they did here, betrays the pass and move ethos that is synonymous with the club.
On the occasions when Liverpool did manoeuvre themselves into a position in the final third, their attempts to fashion the chance to make a difference were stymied by a wall of old gold shirts. Wolves deserved their point and clean sheet.
Yet when it was over, both Benitez and Gerrard were quick to stress positives. Nothing was lost, a point was gained and another shutout was recorded; that said, both are canny individuals.
Suffice to say they know improvement must come in the pursuit of paradise.
WOLVES (4-1-4-1): Hahnemann; Zubar, Craddock, Berra, Ward; Mancienne; Foley, Henry, Jarvis (Guedioura 88), Milijas (Jones 72); Doyle.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina; Carragher, Skrtel, Kyrgiakos, Insua; Lucas, Mascherano; Rodriguez, Gerrard, Riera (Ngog 65); Kuyt. Bookings: Skrtel (72).
Referee: Peter Walton.
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