The Subtle Art of Brinkmanship
You have to hand it to Mick and the boys: every time they really have to win, they do so, never mind the status of the team they are playing against. Now Liverpool, like Manchester City, have succumbed to the crazy logic of MM`s newly-found tactical ploy.
It must be deliberate for how else can a team that played Liverpool off the park yesterday ever have lost to a more mundane Wigan side a mere three days earlier. Ironically, the reports of that game perfectly match the comments being made in the press overnight but, fortunately, they were directed against Liverpool`s manager and players rather than at ours.
Altogether, it was a very satisfying evening`s work, made even more enjoyable because the broadcast drew all the family into the action, viewed on a newly installed big screen. By the end of the match my younger daughter had abandoned her tweeting, my wife had stopped sewing and a commentary of the match had taken over my elder daughter's phone conversation with her French boyfriend. Naturally, we all ended up behind the settee, eyes peeping over the top between latticed fingers, afraid that something nasty might happen (from my daughter`s account, it seems as though Jacques was behind le sofa too) .
And something nasty should have happened. In the sixth minute a glorious pass from Torres put Meireles through on goal with only Hennessey to beat. Fortunately, Wayne managed to block the shot (award him the gold cup) and Stearman was on hand to head the ball away. A goal then and we would have had to scrap our game plan yet again. It always surprises me that we do not incorporate going a goal down into our game plan because it happens often enough. Or, better still, devise a plan that prevents us from giving away a goal in the first place ... like practising and putting into effect basic defensive skills.
Last night it worked. Luck was with us and we survived. The referee even dismissed an Andy Gray shout for a penalty against Berra. His match-long wrestling match with Kyrgiakos was the sort of comedy interlude that Shakespeare used to deploy as a temporary relief of tension in his tragedies. But, from our point of view, it`s not funny ... but enough of that on this occasion ... the play turned out not to be a tragedy after all!
This was one of those occasions when MM`s claim that his players always give 100 per cent was proved correct. They clearly don`t, as their dismal performance on Sunday testifies, but last night they were superb. If the tactic for survival is tight man-to-man marking, they succeeded magnificently. Liverpool were constantly harried and allowed so little space that the default pass seemed to be one back to the goalie. And, given Reina`s part in the ludicrous dismissal of Ward in the equivalent fixture last year, wasn`t it great to see the victim get his revenge this time round?
I was surprised to see Ward start the match, especially as MM had hinted that Fletcher would be in the opening line-up. However, Andy Gray told me that Ward was there to strengthen the defence in those vital few minutes when Wolves are at their most vulnerable. I suppose we should be grateful that he stayed on the pitch but - and I don`t want to be churlish here - I wonder what would have happened had Fletcher come on once we had weathered the storm ... more goals? Great through ball by SEB though: it was no fluke goal as Hodgson asserted. SEB played a blinder throughout. Nice to see Hunt getting back to his best too.
So, is the crisis over? Well, it will be if we continue to play like this, but can we sustain the effort? It`s a really big six-pointer on Saturday and if we do not defeat WHU, we will have undone all of yesterday`s good work. At least, we will be buoyed up by success but let`s hope, unlike in the past, it does not lead to complacency and, with it, the teetering on the edge of oblivion. Were Liverpool the Birmingham of 2½ weeks ago? And consider this: another win would make us a more attractive proposition for potential recruits in the imminent transfer window. Let`s not get carried away lads: we still need to strengthen the team in certain positions.
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