Liverpool Loss to Rivals Manchester United Puts Roy Hodgson's Head On the Block
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In a week where Sir Alex Ferguson has had further digs and swipes at former Liverpool manager and arch-enemy Rafa Benitez, it was Benitez's successor that needed to come up with some answers; but did not.
At a rain-soaked Old Trafford, Roy Hodgson put out what commentators described as an attacking lineup. But as the game began, this could not be further from reality.
In a first half where the Reds registered not a single shot on goal or chance, they passed and passed but created absolutely nothing. With a disturbing lack of width in the side, Liverpool plodded through the middle of the pitch with the speed of passing of a pack of snails.
Much has been written on the lack of sharpness and fitness of Fernando Torres and some reports have even gone so far as to question his commitment during recent matches. But if the quality of service, or complete lack of it, is what the Spaniard has to deal with, then little more than the solitary goal can be expected from him.
Hodgson's selection lacked any sort of width, with Maxi Rodriguez almost non-existent, let alone flying down any wing, and Joe Cole clearly wanting to play in a more central roaming role as his constant forays infield illustrated.
As the first half closed, it looked like Liverpool might be lucky enough to go in still on level terms. But slack marking allowed Dimitar Berbatov to head in from a standing position and Liverpool were going in at half time one down.
Hodgson needed to rally his men and also to give some support for a lonesome Torres up front. It seemed that he did neither and Liverpool plodded out and carried on where they left off.
Sublime skill from Berbatov gave Pepe Reina little chance and the Reds were two down on the hour.
Hodgson finally decided to alter his formation and brought on David Ngog for the ineffective Rodriguez. Torres finally got some support and became a different prospect. His penetrative run, led to Liverpool's equaliser from the resultant spot kick converted by Steven Gerrard.
The game was on and finally we had a Liverpool versus Manchester United derby on our hands.
Torres once again caused havoc and was fouled at the edge of the area. John O'Shea should have been shown red, but World Cup Final referee Howard Webb only showed a yellow card.
From the resulting free kick, Gerrard side footed through the wall and past Edwin van der Sar. The Liverpool captain was off again looking for a camera lens to kiss and duly found one.
But Liverpool had not defended well all afternoon, and once again Berbatov got the better of the Liverpool defenders to head in with six minutes to go.
In honesty, Liverpool did not deserve a point and were lucky to be in a game where they were as toothless as a new born baby.
From the first whistle, this game just did not have the same needle and tension of previous Liverpool-Manchester United tussles of the past.
Sir Alex Ferguson attempted to wind up Liverpool with his comments on Benitez and bring some of that old hatred back. But Roy Hodgson seemed to be attempting to close open wounds rather than want to pour salt on them.
It was not until Gerrard scored from the spot, that this felt like a Liverpool versus Manchester United match. Hodgson has not had such passionate derbies to deal with in the recent past and this was evident from his team's first half insipid display.
Liverpool's new manager needs to remember this is Liverpool FC and games against Manchester United are our biggest of the season. He needs to get his players fired up and ready to do battle.
In the first half, his Reds looked more like they wanted to take the sting out of the game than play with any tempo or fire.
Hodgson needs to get with the pace; his honeymoon period is rapidly ending. He has guided his Liverpool team to five points from five games and currently two places above the relegation places.
Excuses such as off the field antics from the owners should not be effecting the players. For one of the primary reasons for installing Hodgson as manager, was that he would be the calming influence on the players, ensuring off the field dramas would not effect their performances.
Hodgson needs to start to get his tactics, formations, and team talks focused and get his Liverpool team performing to the levels the fans know they are capable.
The swords are already being sharpened and if the Reds' results do not begin to improve, then Hodgson may well become a very early casualty and Liverpool may well be looking for another new manager.
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