In an interview at the end of the deciding Ashes Test at the Oval, Ricky Ponting, the Aussie captain, said that despite the statistics of the series, Australia lost the Ashes due to playing poorly in the critical moments of matches.
The exact same could be said of Liverpool’s loss to Villa last night. A quick look at the pertinent statistics. Shots: Liverpool 24, Villa 8. Shots on goal: Liverpool 11, Villa 4. Corners: Liverpool 10, Villa 4. Goalkeeper saves: Liverpool 2, Villa 10. Possession: Liverpool 68%, Villa 32%.
These stats would suggest a comprehensive victory for the Red. But the most important statistic of all was the final score, Liverpool 1, Villa 3!
This was a game that we won convincingly in all aspects except the score. So why did the stats lie?
Simply put, Liverpool could not break down a stubborn well organised team that came to Anfield to defend deep and try to nick a goal on the break. Sound a tad bit familiar?
It was Rafa who assured us Reds fans that this was the season that we would put teams that did this to the sword. But why did we fail once again to break this tactic that we’ve come up against countless times before?
We were promised the acquisition of Johnson was to be the panacea of this ill, but sadly this did not materialise and we saw too little of Johnson’s attacking threat.
It was all down to tactics and for once was Rafa, the master tactician, actually out thought? Did the Irishman pull the wool over our Spaniard’s eyes and run off with three points? It seems so.
Martin O’Neill got it all right, he realised, quite obviously, that with the loss of Alonso Liverpool were not going to be the creative force they were last term. Therefore when Rafa played two defensively minded players in the centre of their midfield O’Neill realised that there would be little creativity to worry about.
So the only thing left to do now was to stop the dynamic duo influencing the game.
He nullified the threat of Torres by making sure that every time (except for the goal of course) he got a sniff of the ball there were two, sometimes three Villa players converging on him. They would hurry, cajole, tug, pull at him, even rip his shirt and in the end they succeeded in what they wanted to do and that was to frustrate Torres into not playing his natural game.
Gerrard was outplayed by Petrov, who was his shadow all night. Not only that, but O’Neill understood that if he put two banks of four deep across the park, Liverpool would be left playing in front of them. Then they would look for the ball to Gerrard’s feet, which he told Petrov would be coming.
That pass was picked off countless times last night, thereby nullifying Liverpool’s attacks.
With Liverpool left toothlessly playing the ball around looking for a way through, frustration would begin to creep in and mistakes would be made and Villa hoped to capitalise on them.
O’Neill played a master stroke. He saw that without Alonso, Liverpool lack flair and creativity, so therefore if he organised Villa to play deep, Liverpool would have no way through. Then by squeezing Gerrard and Torres out of the game, he realised that Liverpool would no longer be a threat. All that was left was to make the most of the inevitable mistakes that would come along as a result of his tactics.
Liverpool will improve, there is no doubt. A change in tactics is required. The creativity of Gerrard in midfield until our new Italian acquisition is fit could be the answer.
But for now, hats of to Martin O’Neill, he was the master last night.