The analyst’s curse: Liverpool shutout against Chelsea

Goose eggs by Kat Dodd

Goose eggs by Kat Dodd

So I go on and on about how Liverpool are now such a potent offensive force, are scoring goals at a record pace, and haven’t been shut out in eighteen league games and you know what comes next. They get blanked by Chelsea (and Fiorentina in the Champions League during the week) and looked rather tame doing it. So what went wrong and is it just a blip or did Chelsea expose a critical flaw in Liverpool’s team?

Even in the disappointment of defeat we have to remember that Chelsea deserved to win the game but it was far from one-sided. Liverpool started by far the brighter side, but as the first half wore on Chelsea gradually took control of the game. By the time Nicolas Anelka slotted in from Didier Drogba’s cross on the hour, no one could deny that Chelsea had a firm grip on the match even if chances were at a premium.

While Chelsea took their best chance, Liverpool missed a few good ones of their own. Once in each half, Fernando Torres failed to make solid contact on opportunities that he has been putting away recently. A great Dirk Kuyt cross found Torres in front of his man just ten yards out, but he headed the ball into the ground and straight at Hilario in goal. A nifty run of play from Liverpool ended up with the ball squirting to Torres about ten yards from the left post. But the ball didn’t settle and he scuffed his shot wide when he looked more likely to even the score.

Torres wasn’t firing on all cylinders and neither was Steven Gerrard. The pass tracker in the Guardian shows that Gerrard misfired on nearly as many passes as he completed. The team’s top two stars didn’t play well and that could be reason enough for Liverpool to lose such a tough match at Stamford Bridge.

But that isn’t the only story. The new look Liverpool with fullback Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua adding more bite to the attack misses Xabi Alonso’s calm control in the midfield. Matches on the road against top opposition like Chelsea are going to be harder for Liverpool to win than they were last season just like it’s now easier to beat Hull and Stoke at Anfield.

That trade off will hold at least until Alberto Aquilani recovers from off-season ankle surgery and finally makes his debut. Lucas is fine playing alongside Gerrard in central midfield against weaker opposition, but he is out of his depth playing with Javier Mascherano matching up with top foes. We don’t know if Aquilani can settle quickly and provide some class in the midfield. He has a similar passing style as Alonso but plays farther up the pitch. If it works, it could be the best of both worlds. If it doesn’t, Liverpool could continue to struggle against better teams.

No team is going to play at peak level when its best players aren’t on form, but Liverpool is more susceptible to this than any of the other contenders for the league title. For Liverpool, it’s all about Aquilani and when he can get on the field. Three loses is not the end of Liverpool’s title push, but the margin for error is clearly narrowing. The most important man in the Liverpool organization right now is the physio.

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