Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Round Pegs at Anfield

So the 2006 European champions are out of the Cup, at the hands of a typically cautious Liverpool.

In my view, it is the coach who must shoulder a good proportion of the blame.

I mentioned recently that Frank Rijkaard has been expecting certain players to do the job that Samuel Eto'o has done in the past, even though the players in question are not suited to it. In the second leg, there were plenty of round pegs in square holes, and Barcelona were a mess in the first half as a result.

Ronaldinho, probably the most brilliant player in the world but hardly a central striker, started at the apex of the front three. Samuel Eto'o, not entirely fit but still undeniably dangerous, started on...the left wing. And, as Gary Bloom never tired of mentioning, barely saw the ball in the first half hour.

Moreover, Andres Iniesta - one of the most under-rated players in Europe, in my opinion - was transformed from the influential all-round midfielder he usually is into a virtual left wing-back.

Meanwhile, on the right of Barca's new-look back three, Oleguer couldn't seem to decide where he was meant to be much of the time, with the result that Jon Arne Riise had an embarrassing degree of freedom in the opening stages.

Small wonder that Liverpool dominated the first half, and should have scored more than once.

They hardly deserved to, since they went into the game with the same come-and-get-us attitude with which they had approached the first leg. All very well in the Nou Camp, but misplaced at Anfield, I felt.

Although things got much better for Barca in the second half, Rijkaard managed to ensure with his first substitution that there were no Barca strikers on the pitch at all. And this when they were desperate to score!

When one finally arrived in Eidur Gudjohnsen, he scored the only goal of the game in typical striker's fashion; cleverly beating the offside trap before deftly rounding the 'keeper. A message there, surely.

Victory without glory for Liverpool, then...and hopefully some serious reflection on the part of Frank Rijkaard.

No credit for the reds Mikey? Over both legs some great work closing gaps in the midfield and two assured displays out-of-position from debutant Arbeola.
Credit for them Jaz, but at the risk of sounding like Fozzie, victory was achieved by basically sitting back and playing come-at-us for the most part (in BOTH legs). From an objective POV, I don't really enjoy seeing teams win like that (although I know in cup ties it's pretty common).

Put it this way; I reckon Barca lost the tie rather than Liverpool winning it, to a large extent.
One thing I'd like to add about the sbs coverage. Over the first leg Craig Foster spent most of his air time bagging Liverpool in with his typical uninformed anti-English bias. In particular he spent a fair amount of time comparing coaches and talking about how Rijkaard was a superior coach and Benetiz was out of his depth in the champions league. This despite the fact that in the first leg Benetiz was able to, after a poor start, completely out-think Barca. I noticed in the second leg that not only did he tone down the criticism but he gave Benetiz some praise. I’m not sure whether he went back and actually watched the game or one of the higher ups at sbs had told him to tone down the rhetoric but it will be interesting to watch him in the coming weeks. As for Rijkaard he at least had the guts to change formation when his original plan failed miserably, just too little too late.
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