This piece on Liverpool’s recent victory against QPR was written for World Football Columns. However, it was not published during this past week as it should have been. Rather than waste it, I thought I’d publish it here.
It’s getting increasingly difficult to try to write these pieces without sounding repetitive, though at least for the first time since September I can say that Liverpool won a game at Anfield. It was only their third win in their last eight league matches, though as that run has included Chelsea away and both Manchester clubs at home, then that’s not perhaps quite as bad a run of form as it initially sounds.
But aside from the result itself, it was the same old story for the Reds on Saturday as it has been throughout this season.
Were Liverpool denied a good shout for a penalty? Did they contrive to miss a bag full of chances? Did they hit the woodwork? Did Downing play well but be denied his first assist by poor finishing? Did the Reds endure a nervy finish due to their profligacy in front of goal? Did the opposition goalkeeper give probably his best performance of the season?
The answer is ‘yes’ to all of the above, much as it has been in numerous matches this season. Aside from Queen’s Park Rangers, the other two newly promoted sides have already headed home from Merseyside with a point each, and the recurring issues I have mentioned above ensured that the Hoops from West London were in with a very real chance of doing the same.
Liverpool definitely deserved to win though. By putting eight of their fifteen shots on target they recorded their most accurate match in front of goal for the season so far.
Likewise, the Reds had 62% possession, their best figure for a home match this term, and had seventeen corners (five more than their previous highest corner count, and over double their average for the season), so it truly was a dominant performance by Liverpool in all but the scoreline.
In terms of individual performances, Luis Suárez looked a little livelier than he has in recent weeks, and he was able to consolidate his position at the top of the ‘total shots in the Premier League’ table for this season. That said, as he only has five league goals so far, I’d prefer it if he was as prolific as second place Robin van Persie, who has had two less shots than Suárez, but has ten more goals to his name.
After Jay Spearing’s harsh-but-fair dismissal against Fulham last week, it was the turn of Jordan Henderson to step into the breach caused by Lucas Leiva’s season ending knee injury. On the whole he did well, which was hugely encouraging to see, what with Spearing being banned for the next two matches too.
In fact, it had been great to see both Henderson and Charlie Adam show consistently good form in the last few weeks, after slightly slow starts to their Anfield careers.
Adam was on hand shortly after half time on Saturday to place a pinpoint cross onto the head of an unmarked Luis Suarez, who steered it past the otherwise excellent Radek Cerny in the Rangers’ goal.
The Czech keeper was making only his third league appearance of the current campaign, yet he coped admirably; in his first two games he had made a total of seven saves, yet he was required to make that many again in ninety minutes at Anfield. Similarly, opposing keepers have averaged 4.1 saves per league game when facing Liverpool, so it was clearly an excellent performance by Cerny.
He was beaten by his own player towards the end of the game though, but luckily for him Shaun Wright-Phillips diverted the ball onto the frame of the goal rather than into the back of the net.
This kind of attacking near miss has become so recurrent for Liverpool that I’m thinking of renaming this column ‘The Woodwork Report’. The tally now stands at fifteen for the season; more than any other team, and already three more than the Reds mustered in the whole of 2010/11.
To ensure the list of recurring themes is complete, the luckless Stewart Downing also found Suárez with an excellent cross, only for the Uruguayan to put it into Cerny’s hands rather than the net.
Whilst he is still without an assist or a goal, Downing is creating chances more regularly on average than he did for Aston Villa last season (one every thirty-six minutes as opposed to one every forty), and he was the Villan’s player of the season don’t forget.
The three points put Liverpool’s assault on the top four back on track, and all of a sudden they are only three points off a Champions League finish (unless Chelsea beat Manchester City on Monday night that is). It is clearly going to be nip and tuck for the rest of the season, but the Reds’ immediate concern will be a trip to face Aston Villa in the west Midlands on Sunday.
Liverpool lost there on the final day of last season, to a Stewart Downing goal ironically enough. With any luck he can break his duck this weekend to return the favour and put Liverpool in fine spirit ahead of Christmas weekend.