Thursday, 28 April 2011

Liverpool vs Newcastle United - Tactical Preview

A lot has changed since Newcastle won 3-1 at St James Park back in December:

football formations

It was Pardew's first game in charge after Chris Hughton had been unceremoniously replaced, and Newcastle still had Andy Carroll in their arsenal (he provided the knock-down for the first, the flick-on for the second, and rifled in a twenty-yard screamer for their third). Kuyt had capitalised on a mistake by the creaking Sol Campbell to equalise with the softest whimper of a deflected goal you're ever likely to see but it will, above all, be remembered as the scene of Woy's bizarre face-rub, a slightly disturbing sign (if any were needed) that he wasn't cut out for the job.

Although, at times, Liverpool had played fairly well - there was, after all, some genuine quality on the pitch - the game represented the real dark depths of the Hodgson era. The flat, narrow, rigid 4-4-2 looked stodgy and predictable, the Torres-Ngog strike partnership proving particularly fruitless, and aimless deep crosses from Paul Konchesky were a regular feature. The change in Liverpool's fortunes since, though, is remarkable.

Probably only four or five players of the same players will feature in red on Sunday, and the formation will be quite similar in terms of notation, but the real revolution has been in the momentum, strategy and optimism of the side (examined by others here and here). Assuming Carroll regains his fitness in time, he should return to face his old club. If not, Kuyt will probably move up front and Maxi Rodriguez will retain his place after his hat-trick against Birmingham at the weekend. Pardew's favoured team seems to be the one which faced Blackpool, so they will probably be unchanged unless he decides he'd prefer Ranger to Ameobi:

football formations

Newcastle tend to play fairly narrow, especially away from home, so the fledging full-backs Robinson and Flanagan may still have to wait for their first serious test at professional level (although Gutierrez's pace and skill may cause Flano some problems if Kuyt doesn't track back). Kevin Nolan is something of a dark-horse in the scoring charts this season (he has 12 in the league, level with Chicharito and Van der Vaart), though he has been less prolific since Carroll and his knock-downs went west. The athleticism of the young Nile Ranger, who looked dangerous when he featured against us as a substitute at St James' Park, could cause some concern for Carragher and Skrtel if he is selected, and Barton's creative influence has been genuinely impressive since he moved to the right-wing, but, on the whole, they do not look like a team particularly equipped with the attributes to frighten a Liverpool side high on confidence.

Tiote and Enrique have been good for Newcastle this season, but both are liable to panic in possession when under pressure, so if Kuyt and Suarez do a good job of closing down, Liverpool might capitalise on their mistakes. Barton defends well, so the home side might struggle to make attacking progress down their left unless Suarez pulls wide to take on the comparatively erratic Danny Simpson.

On paper Liverpool should win this comfortably - they have won 5 of their last 6 league home games, patently have the stronger squad, and have a variety of effective strategies for attack, whereas Newcastle's away form has been poor all season. However, even under Dalglish Liverpool have been prone to bouts of inconsistency this season, so will need to be careful if they are to continue their push for one of the European qualification spots.

(Just as an aside, this article by Paul Tomkins and Paul Grech shows how Liverpool's excellent performances against teams with higher reputations this season sees them in 1st place in the top-six mini-league. If only the English Premier League winner was decided, as in Major League Soccer, by a knockout play-off tournament between the top 8 teams!)

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Real Madrid v Barcelona - Preview

Time for another brief foray away from writing about Liverpool. This is how I think Madrid and Barcelona will line up tonight:

football formations

Khedira and Carvalho are unavailable for Real Madrid. This would normally mean that Albiol would come into central defence, but I am not convinced that Mourinho trusts him. Remember he was sent off in the most recent league meeting between these two sides. As a result, I think Pepe will drop into the centre-back position, vacating the defensive-midfield role he has filled so well in recent weeks. This allows for a slight reconfiguration of the Madrid line-up, bringing in the disciplined Diarra in place of the comparatively energetic and impetuous Khedira, and reverting to their usual formation for home matches - 4-2-3-1.

Mourinho had moderate success fielding three defensive midfielders against Barcelona in their previous two meetings - the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu in the league (Madrid claiming an equaliser with 10 men), and the 1-0 AET Copa del Rey final victory - and will have learnt some important lessons from the way that his side was humiliated in the away league fixture earlier in the season when they fielded a more offensive side. So why would he risk getting soundly beaten again when his defensive line-ups have had more success?

For one, it's a matter of strategy for Mourinho. Like when his Inter side faced Barcelona at this stage of last season's competition, he will probably want to go out and attack aggressively and energetically at home, in the hope of having a lead to defend when Madrid travel to Camp Nou.

And, although tactics aren't crucially distinct from strategy, there are more traditional tactical benefits to be noted. Firstly, the 4-2-3-1 makes it easier for Madrid to press Barcelona high up the pitch, in comparison with the comparatively passive 4-3-3 which would leave Busquets unattended in the centre. In addition, the above formation allows CR7 to be positioned on the right-wing where he can attempt to expose whoever Barcelona choose to play at left-back in the absence of their first three choices (Abidal, Adriano and Maxwell).

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Arsenal 1 - 1 Liverpool - Talking Points

An exhilarating end to a tense game, Liverpool relied on a moment of naivety from Eboue in the 112th minute for the chance to equalise from the penalty spot. Dirk Kuyt maintained his extraordinary 100% conversion rate to snatch a point from a game which, in the end, the away team had no right to draw. Liverpool could thank a mixture of good fortune, a determined/solid defensive performance, and, frankly, Arsenal's wastefulness, for winning the point which leaves them with a chance of finishing above Tottenham in the race for Europa League qualification.

Despite deploying the same starting 11 as at Anfield on Monday, Liverpool displayed little of the exuberant attacking quality which had terrorised Man City. The game-plan seemed altogether more cautious, based around swift counter-attacking and direct passes to the forwards. Overall, their pass-completion rate was a mere 69%, and their 39% share of ball possession reflected their own wastefulness rather than Arsenal's efficiency. See Reina's passing stats (which look like a throwback to the Hodgson era), and it is worth noting that Carroll's propensity to find Suarez with knock-downs and through-balls largely deserted him:

For most of the game, Liverpool fans watched nervously as Arsenal asserted their dominance, threatening to break the deadlock but never quite finding their cutting edge. The loss of Aurelio and Carragher to injury left their backline oozing a distinctly makeshift quality - teenage Scouse fullbacks John Flanagan and Jack Robinson were each playing their second game for the club, and the central pairing of Kyrgiakos and Skrtel looked creaky at times. Still, a solid shape and some committed tackling from the whole team kept Arsenal at bay until, deep in stoppage time, Jay Spearing tripped Fabregas in the box to concede a penalty which Van Persie duly dispatched.

Spearing does, on the whole, deserve credit for his performance. He had the highest pass completion rate (83%) of any of the Liverpool players who played the full 90 minutes, and was often seen chasing back to make glamorous tackles (see, for example, the impressive effort he put in to cleanly dispossess Diaby after he himself had lost the ball midway through the second half). I have written before of how his game resembles Gerrard's in some respects. Today we saw both sides - the committed, all-action performance which made him a creditable contender for Man of the Match, as well as the occasional positional indiscipline/naivety which left him dangerously out of position, not to mention the lamentable foolishness of his decision to challenge Fabregas from behind in the penalty area. Still, he has been important for Liverpool in Gerrard's absence, and rightfully claims a starting place ahead of Christian Poulsen.

Also, to follow up on my preview of the game which examined Meireles' role, take a look at his passing, intercepting and tackling stats which show that he generally featured centrally, despite being ostensibly positioned on the left of midfield:

There did seem to be a marked change in Meireles' role after about 15 minutes, when Arsenal's midfield dominance was becoming too much of a threat to Liverpool's backline, and the Portuguese was instructed to move infield. The extent to which Suarez was instructed to cover the left-flank is uncertain, because he didn't make a particularly diligent job of it. It is credit to the young Robinson that he came out of occasionally dangerous battles with Walcott and Eboue largely unscathed. He did have to count on help from Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva at times, though, the latter sprinting across to cover the left-back position after the youngster had been beaten higher up the pitch late on. Lucas' performance, in my opinion, was not one of his best (at least by recent standards), as his tackling was occasionally ill-timed, but he was involved in 19 possession duels, more than any other player on the pitch, which shows that his positioning was generally good, and his influence in the Liverpool midfield was important.

All in all, Liverpool will need to improve on this performance, particularly in an attacking sense, if they are to claim the now-hallowed 5th spot (although some question the value of Europa League qualification, it helps to attract players, increases club income, and, above all, it would be a tremendous reward/achievement for Dalglish since he took over the club in January, when they were down in 12th place with a -3 goal difference). But there is pride to be taken from this result - the odds were stacked in favour of the home side, and it is encouraging that a team featuring various youth and squad players could claim a result at the Emirates.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Arsenal vs. Liverpool - Tactical Preview

When Arsenal welcome Liverpool to the Emirates on Sunday, both teams will know that only a win will keep their respective seasons' faint hopes alive. The Gunners are 7 points behind league-leaders Man United, with a game in hand, and must record a home victory if they have any hope of winning their first league title since 2004. Liverpool have altogether more humble ambitions - they must finish above Tottenham if they are to qualify for the Europa League next season, but Spurs are 5 points ahead with a game in hand (although they have yet to play Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City and Liverpool).

Dalglish and Clarke will probably line their team up in the fluid 4-4-2 formation which served them so well against Man City on monday, with Suarez in something of a free-role behind Andy Carroll, and the youngster John Flanagan retaining his place at right-back. Spearing seems to have made the central-midfield position his own (especially while Gerrard is injured) after good performances against Sunderland and, more recently, City. If Aurelio is fit enough, he should start at left-back.

football formations

Now, Liverpool had success with this formation on Monday against an admittedly lacklustre City side primarily because of the supreme work-rate and commitment offered by each and every player (especially Dirk Kuyt - see my review of the game). But is it the best tactical option for the long-term? Jonathan Wilson pointed out some key weaknesses of the 4-4-2 in his excellent article for the Guardian last week, from which I'll quote a few paragraphs:

"Football is not a predictable game. A team can have 20 chances and still lose to a side that musters only one. All a coach can do is manipulate the percentages as best he can in his favour. With that caveat in mind, though, a prediction – in the next decade, no side will win a major international tournament playing an orthodox 4-4-2.

"When a good side play with three central midfielders, whether in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 (or either of their close cousins, 4‑2‑1‑3 and 4-1-2-3), they will almost inevitably dominate possession against a side playing only two central midfielders. The old defence of a high offside line simply is not as effective as it used to be thanks to the liberalisation of the rule.

"Even if the three do not dominate possession, fielding only two central midfelders leaves a side vulnerable if one of those central players pushes forward, a problem that dogged Manchester United in European competition for much of the late 1990s..."

Clearly Wilson focuses exclusively on the negative aspects of the 4-4-2 - it does, of course, have its merits - but the points he makes are important ones. Due to a numerical disadvantage in central midfield, teams playing a 4-4-2 will generally struggle to dominate possession, and will often leave too much space between the lines for the opposition to exploit.

With this in mind (I am not, generally, a fan of the 4-4-2 formation), and also on the basis of the different players we had available at the time (since the 25th of March, Agger, Johnson, Kelly and Gerrard have all been ruled out injured for the rest of the season), I suggested that Liverpool should be playing a 4-3-3 formation with Suarez stationed ostensibly on the left-wing in my piece 'A few tactical points for the rest of the season.'

The side we fielded against City and will probably field against Arsenal is not greatly different from this 4-3-3 - the key change being that Meireles now takes up a left-sided position and Suarez moves more centrally (although of course he is free to move across the entire pitch in search of space). In reality, despite the change in notation from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, the differences are not overly insignificant, because Meireles will regularly look to cut inside, doing much of his defensive and attacking work in the centre of the pitch, and Suarez will often move to the left touchline to receive the ball (see the chalkboards below). It seems that Meireles played as a 'wide-central-midfielder' against City (see Zonal Marking's 'central winger' article if you find my terminology counterintuitive).

There are pros and cons of giving a central-midfielder a wide role. On the plus-side, if wide players 'tuck in' it can create more simple passing options for the central midfielders, making it easier for teams to retain possession and counteracting some of the weaknesses of the 4-4-2 formation in general. Wide players cutting in also creates space for the full-back to charge forward, which is increasingly important in today's game, but it also ensures that there is player with adequate defensive skills always available to help double-up on opposing wingers. Watch how Aurelio combined with Meireles, and occasionally Suarez, in this compilation of his performance vs. Man City (via @milankakabaros):

On the other hand, wide-players who don't offer much in terms of pace, skill, and ability to beat their man can often become passengers, and leave the team stunted in attack. Maxi Rodriguez (sometimes unfairly) has this criticism levelled at him - despite often playing a similar role to Meireles, it is expected that a certain degree of flair and creativity come from the wide-players, especially in terms of beating the full-back, getting to the by-line and crossing the ball for the likes of Carroll to attack. This is part of a more general problem, that playing central midfielders on the wing can mean the team severely lacks width, making them predictable and staid, especially if the full-backs can't get forward, or the forwards don't pull wide often enough.

Fortunately, Liverpool's energy and inventiveness against City ensured that this wasn't a problem, but at the Emirates on Sunday this system might be tested more sternly. For starters, we can assume that Van Persie will do a better job of occupying Liverpool's centre-backs than Dzeko did, which will leave Carragher less free to move across and support the fledgling Flanagan. Kuyt will have to produce a similarly heroic performance in terms of tracking back, tackling and closing down if Arsenal's left-sided players - i.e. Clichy and (probably) Arshavin - are to be stopped. Also, there is a hell of a lot more creativity in a midfield containing Nasri, Wilshere and Fabregas than was offered by Barry, Milner and Toure, so Lucas and Spearing (and Meireles) will have to be vigilant in their closing down and denying them space between the lines. Still, Suarez should be able to find space if Arsenal's midfield pushes forward, and Carroll is exactly the kind of physical, fearsome forward that can cause the likes of Koscielny and Squillaci/Djourou problems. It should be an interesting game.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Liverpool 3 - 0 Man City

A superb first-half performance sealed the win for Liverpool tonight. A mature, patient second-half followed, but the game seemed to be comfortably over. During the first forty-five minutes, our fans had relished an exuberantly fast-paced, energetic brand of distinctively Liverpudlian football which blasted its way through City’s expensive defence on three occasions. In truth, City never threatened us in an attacking sense – the debutant right-back John Flanagan was comfortable and untroubled throughout – whereas we looked like scoring whenever we went forward.
It’s great to have a game-plan which can work so effectively. Lucas and the excellent Spearing found the feet of Suarez time and time again who, although slightly shy of his best form, scared Lescott and Kompany when he turned and ran at them. And long balls to Carroll never look aimless – his hold-up and link-up play was absolutely superb, and he was rewarded with two goals. He scored his first goal for Liverpool – a 25-yard blast – in euphoric style, and sheer determination and brute force saw him direct Meireles’ deep cross beyond Joe Hart, against the odds, for his second.
There is little more to add, except to pay testament to the incredible energy and desire of the team – especially Spearing, who seemed to account for Gerrard’s absence quite superbly. Kuyt, too, was absolutely fantastic, grabbing a goal but also tackling and harrying the opposition to great effect. Flanagan should thank him for making his job at right-back a hell of a lot easier, both in terms of the Dutchman’s defensive work, and his effort in making passing angles for the Scouse debutant.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Champions League Quarter Finals First Leg - Talking Points

Real Madrid 4 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur

My favourite quote of this week was this from Redknapp, referring to the fact that Lennon withdrew just before kick-off due to an illness (which he had apparently been suffering from since Sunday):

"He went out for a warm-up, I picked the team, put the team-sheet in and he came back in. We were sitting almost waiting to go out and I looked at him and he was sitting there looking like death warmed up."

The part I'm interested in is the "I picked the team" bit. I'd love to know how literally we are to take this. I can't believe any manager could prepare for a game as important as this without informing players of their individual roles etc. some days before hand. Of course, I can only guess, but Spurs didn't look like a team which had been particularly primed to counter Madrid's strengths. They were dominated the whole game, even before the second of Crouch's ridiculous lunges.

Re: the game - it takes something special to get a result against Madrid at the Bernabeu. It's almost impossible to do so with 10 men. And it's definitely impossible to do it with 10 men who haven't been prepared properly. There didn't seem be a specific plan to deal with Alonso in particular, who dominated the game very comfortably. The fact that Jenas was marking Adebayor for the first goal has already been pointed out as a big mistake, but there were other, simpler strategic oversights which aren't satisfactorily mitigated by the excuse of last-minute upheaval.

Also, it is amazing how much power Ronaldo seems to have in the Madrid team. He was, in the main, quite wasteful, and almost every Madrid attack ended at his feet. He must've been instructed to shoot at every opportunity, because he always spurned the simple pass, preferring to aim straight for glory. One (deflected) goal is not a great return for a total of 14 attempts.


Chelsea 0 - 1 Manchester United

Ferguson will have been delighted when he saw how Chelsea had lined up. Their 4-4-2 (however "fluid") made them predictable, and never allowed them to build up sustained pressure. (It is worth noting that their best period - when they should've had at least one, maybe two penalties - was in the final 15 minutes after Malouda and Anelka had taken up wide positions).

Neither Drogba nor Torres enjoys playing as part of a front two - counterintuitively, it actually gives them far less freedom, and it makes them easier to be man marked. As a lone striker at Liverpool, Torres would distract and confuse defenders by moving across the entire back four, but ultimately ending up in a central striking position when attacking moves reached their conclusion. Since signing for Chelsea, Torres has spent too much time lurking at the far post and pulling out to the touchline in search of space.

Chelsea's fluidity was actually something of a problem in this game. Zhirkov, Ramires, Lampard and Essien are all dynamic midfielders who like to make runs, swap positions, and are comfortable defending and attacking. They really lacked a specialist holding midfielder, though, and it was a mistake not to use the substitute Mikel earlier. Chelsea never really asserted any sustained dominance until the Nigerian came on to anchor the midfield, maintaining a deep position to break up United counter attacks and direct the ball back towards their goal.

Also, you'd think it would be taken for granted now that a team fielding three central midfielders (Rooney constantly dropped deep to offer more passing angles for Carrick and Giggs) will dominate one with two. People have noted Carrick's positive performance, but, apart from the pass to Giggs for the goal, he played his usual solid, simple passing game - he just had a lot more space than usual. Despite being the away side, United dominated possession, especially in advanced positions, for most of the first half, and then were happy to sit back in the second.

It is also surprising that, once Malouda had come off and Rafael had been replaced at right back by Antonio Valencia, Chelsea didn't direct the ball down their left-wing more regularly. It seemed like they missed a trick in that sense.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Tottenham Hotspur vs Real Madrid - Brief Tactical Preview

I'm going to step outside my usual remit (and comfort zone) of just writing about Liverpool to offer my t'penny's worth on tonight's exciting Champions League clash.

If I was Mourinho, this is the team I would pick:
Real Madrid C.F. 4-5-1 football formation

Admittedly, this formation is in some sense designed to achieve a scoreless draw, which might seem a bit too unambitious for a club like Real Madrid. Although not entirely devoid of attacking merit (RM's three deep midfielders will force Spurs to patiently concede them possession, or go and press higher up the pitch, leaving space in front of the defence for Ozil or Khedira to break into), it is indeed reactive, in the sense that it is designed to counter Tottenham’s strengths. But it should actually allow Madrid to be less passive in the game overall, by stemming Spurs’ attacks at the root (i.e. Modric, Bale), rather than risking a regular flow of balls to Crouch which would surely cause Pepe (6”1) and Carvalho (5”11) some serious problems.

Also, Spurs are often (in this season's Champions League at least) most threatening on the counter attack, especially when they get the ball wide quickly and let Bale and Lennon run at their opposing full-backs. 60 or 70 minutes of patient defensive play with three defensively capable midfielders employing some energetic pressing should frustrate Tottenham, and may see them losing their discipline, at which point attacking quality and pace could be utilised from the bench. My recommended omission of Marcelo and Ronaldo (two of Real Madrid's best players) is primarily due to their lack of fitness, but a cameo role for one or both from the bench could really terrorise Spurs' less-than-watertight defence late on.

Ramos will be nervous about his battle with Bale on the wing, but if he is likely to have some success if he stays fairly deep and shows Bale inside, onto his right foot where he will run into a congested midfield. Also, Di Maria is hard-working and capable defensively, and Khedira is a strong, dynamic defensive-midfielder who is comfortable pulling wide to double up on wingers. Diarra is well placed to mark Van der Vaart (who, I believe, can sometimes struggle to impose himself on games when denied space). All three defensive midfielders will have to make sure they close down the excellent Modric too, as he really makes things work for Spurs. If they can stop him from being able to play balls into the wide spaces, to the feet of Van der Vaart, and up to Crouch, then much off Tottenham's threat is quelled.

Tottenham, though, will likely face Madrid's usual 4-2-3-1 system, with Ozil behind the striker and Ronaldo wide on the left. Side Lowe has noted that Madrid can sometimes be guilty of Ronaldodependencia - i.e. seeing him as their only attacking option, despite having generally played well in his absence this season - so Sandro or Palacios (whoever Redknapp chooses to play alongside Modric in the midfield) will have to get tight to Alonso, who has played more passes to Ronaldo than any other Madrid player this season. If the Madrid midfield is given time to pick out Ronaldo time and time again (and he is at his best, i.e. fully fit) he could definitely cause the relatively slow Vedran Corluka some serious problems.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

West Brom 2 -1 Liverpool - Talking Points

After a promising first 15 minutes, we depressingly devolved into the familiar Neanderthal image of Hodgson-era Liverpool. Lamentable injuries to Johnson (torn hamstring) and Agger (knee strain?) forced us into extreme defensive functionality early on, and the game was never particularly exciting (despite some late scrappy goalmouth action). To be fair, we might still have won this. Skrtel scored a header from a corner early in the second half and after that we looked comfortable until Kyrgiakos clumsily gave away a penalty. The big Greek had a nightmare all in all, and was consistently embarrassed by the excellent Peter Odemwingie. As it was, West Brom deservedly won thanks to two penalties. They were more dominant in midfield and looked more dangerous in attack.

1. All in all, attempts to pass the ball out from the back were half-hearted and impatient. Without Agger, Johnson and Kelly, the link between the defence and midfield was absolutely terrible. Carragher just functions as a right-sided centre-back more or less, always getting drawn inside, closer to his own goal, forcing Kuyt to come deep to defend. His passing is very poor – his inevitable punts forward to Carroll looked more aimless than usual. Young Danny Wilson, too, is solid and shouldn’t be judged solely on his performances at left-back, but he was poor. He doesn’t possess the attacking instinct necessary for a modern full-back. Suarez looked particularly lonely when he came to find space on the left wing. As Brom's average position diagram shows (below), their right-back Steven Reid (no. 12) and for the last few minutes Gonzalo Jara (no. 36) stayed relatively deep, preferring to keep goal-side of Suarez. Chris Brunt, their right-sided midfielder (no. 11), regularly looked to move inside which would've made the presence of a quality ball-playing left-wing back all the more useful for Liverpool.

2. Lack of quality on the wings meant that Liverpool had to hope they could wrestle control of the midfield, but for various reasons they were unable to. In all honesty, Jay Spearing was pretty poor, and fairly anonymous. Meireles had one of his most peripheral games for Liverpool too. Lucas wasn’t at his best, but his positioning and closing down was good as usual, particularly in terms of his ability to show players onto their wrong foot or to quickly get goal-side when opposing players were in dangerous positions, which obviously isn’t reflected in the statistics. It was hugely disappointing that we never managed to get at the West Brom defence more, which had looked decidedly shaky for the first few minutes. Liverpool were rarely able to sustain possession in WBA’s half, and almost never managed to attack the space behind Carroll effectively. Perhaps Dalglish should’ve brought on Maxi for Spearing or Meireles early, to allow Suarez to move inside and get closer to the big Geordie who was, on the whole, pretty poor as well. He wasn’t helped by physical defending from Olsson in particular.

3. As noted above, Kyrgiakos was very poor, but Skrtel was pretty good as usual, as was Reina who, despite conceding two goals and giving away the second penalty, could lay claim to Liverpool’s man of the match by virtue of the sheer number of saves he had to make.

All in all, WBA deserved the win, but I think we would’ve taken the three points if it weren’t for the early injuries. This doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season, and we’ll have to pray that Johnson and Agger (as well as Aurelio) return sooner rather than later.


Opposition fan's view - Josh Harris (@JoshMDH)

Olsson and Meite are strong, hands-on defenders in a very literal sense, and I didn't fancy their chances against Suarez's pace and quick feet. As it turned out this didn't matter because he saw so little of the ball.

Carroll was wound up by Olsson from the beginning. This frustration led to his being given a yellow card and left him unable to exert his physical presence. Conversely, Odemwingie was excellent, as he has been all season, and several times embarrassed the very sluggish Kyrgiakos, a match-up which ultimately led to both penalties.

Mulumbu and Scharner provided toughness in central midfield, leaving their counterparts Meireles and Lucas nowhere in an attacking sense. This toughness however sacrificed creativity, and with Dorrans, Morrison and Tchoyi unavailable Brunt often drifted in from the right wing to try and make something happen. The space this freed up on Liverpool's left was thoroughly unexploited by Meireles who was anonymous throughout. In the second half Suarez moved into the left channel more regularly and looked a lot more dangerous up against Reid who is not a natural full-back.

Ultimately, Liverpool looked uninspired, and Dalglish was hampered by the two enforced substitutions leaving him little opportunity to change things up. That said, Spearing should probably have been swapped out in the second half in favour of a more creative Liverpool midfielder.