Roy Hodgson's Liverpool Retrospective: 'Judge Me After 10 Games'
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This season Liverpool fans have been treated (or tricked) to the often lacklustre and often deeply dissatisfying agony of watching their team fall through the table and culminate in the club's worst start in the top flight in 57 years. With a club of Liverpool's stature languishing in the depths of relegation it no wonder that fingers are pointing everywhere, some blame the players, some the previous owners, even Rafa Benitez has not escaped the elite circle but one name which stands out when attempting to deduce why a team like Liverpool Football Club were in 19th position, is Roy Hodgson. Many fans have been quick to clamber on the former Fulham manager's back as the pressure increased week in week out and the results became... bedazzling. Yes, bedazzling.
"Judge me after 10 games." Hodgson pleaded and now ten (league) games have come to pass. The time for his self imposed evaluation is at hand and it remains to be seen whether he will remain at the helm of the ship or asked to make way for a new face.
Match 1: Liverpool Vs. Arsenal
There was no better platform for new Liverpool manager to impress anyone involved with the club than an opening game at Anfield against Arsenal. With Hodgson and new signings, Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic, keen to impress the stage was set for a turnaround of fortunes after last season's 7th place finish.
The game saw Hodgson employ similar tactics to Bentez's Liverpool and the team struggled in the first half to retain possession and culminated in the sending off of league debutant, Joe Cole. Both sides failed to capitalize on any chances and it was only minutes into the second half that Javier Mascherano threaded in a ball for David Ngog to put in at the near post. Determined not to let the numerical advantage roll them over, Liverpool held on to their slender lead and Mascherano put on a good show towards claiming an opening day victory. This was unceremoniously prevented by a rare gaffe by Pepe Reina in the dying minutes of what seemed to be a certain victory, granting Arsenal a point after a staunch display of defensive play from Liverpool. Steven Gerrard nearly grabbed the home team all the points but was denied by Manuel Almunia and the sending off of Laurent Koscielny did little to even the odds.
Having taken the lead with ten men only to have it snatched away at the last second was a bitter blow but one which left people in high spirits. The ghosts of last season seem to have been cast aside.
Final Score: Liverpool 1 - 1 Arsenal
Match 2: Manchester City Vs. Liverpool
Looking back, Liverpool traveled to the blue half of Manchester in high spirits, their fans eager to show that money doesn't buy trophies. The shock and awe at the complete domination displayed by Manchester City stunned many supporters who were treated to a 3-0 goal fest, with Javier Mascherano making noise offfield. His presence was missed as City dominated possession and staked a resounding claim for the the top four. Repeated saves from Joe Hart denied visitors as they attempted to get back in the game but it was not to be as two goals from Carlos Tevez and one from Gareth Barry exposed what was a giant deficiency in Liverpool's squad. Late substitutions from Hodgson did little to quell the storm and many were wishing for a more immediate reaction to being 3-0 down after 68 minutes.
Hodgson defended his team, stating they were only two games in and had played two of the league's strongest sides but 1 point from a possible 6 against sides Liverpool were expected to beat left a bitter taste and signaled the beginnings of a run that would see the manger literally fighting for his job with every passing game.
Final Score: Manchester City 3 - 0 Liverpool
Match 3: Liverpool Vs. West Bromwich Albion
A return to home soil after the defeat at Manchester saw Liverpool desperately trying to bounce back to form against West Brom. The game was seemingly poor with Liverpool maintaining possession but failing to capitalize and West Brom threatening to undo their hosts early in the season. Despite the poor quality of play, Fernando Torres grabbed his first goal of the season to put the Reds ahead. Hodgson had rested key players in the week leading up to the fixture and having two holding mid fielders in a home game against a newly promoted team did not sit well with most. Christian Poulsen played in his first league game for the club but failed to impress and was only eclipsed by Jovanovic's lacking efforts.
Despite the team not settling into any groove yet the 3 points was welcome and a late flourish of chances flashed across goal as Liverpool seemed revitalized by Torres' goal. The only other incident in the match came in the form of a red card as James Morrison's effort to shackle Torres earned him an early bath.
Final Score: Liverpool 1 - 0 West Brom
Match 4: Birmingham Vs. Liverpool
If Liverpool fans had been aggravated by their team's lack of flair or creativity, this game proved it as the Reds gave their worst performance of the season so far. Hodgson lined up his men in the all too familiar 4-5-1 and whilst being able to keep possession they were hassled by the home side and forced to increase their tempo due to the effective pressing. Paul Konchesky's debut was almost marred when he almost let Sebastian Larsson past him and deliver a ball into the box only for Cameron Jerome to force Reina to make an excellent save. This was pretty much the story of the first half as Reina continued to give a goalkeeping masterclass, saving his side numerous times. Support for Torres was evidently lax and Raul Meireles jogged on late in the game to make his debut after replacing the ineffectual Lucas. Birmingham held steady and kept the Reds shut out for the rest of the match to end a disappointing performance. Liverpool showed little in terms of attacking prowess and looked like a team headed for disaster. Head sunk and the morale dipped as the Reds looked forward to a return to Manchester.
Final Score: Birmingham 0 - 0 Liverpool
Match 5: Manchester United Vs. Liverpool
This match is among the biggest and high tension rivalries in football. The meeting of England's two most successful teams is always an occasion worth watching and Liverpool were desperate to repeat the 4-1 drubbing they'd issued Man Utd not too long ago. But this was a new Liverpool under new management and where previous encounters were ignited long before the match was played, Hodgson chose to keep hostilities to a minimum.
Both teams started cautiously but United got the better of the first half when Dimitar Berbatov headed home after poor marking from Torres. The Liverpool squad, with four new signings, struggled to make a solid impression as the second half started as Berbatov added to his tally. Only when Johnny Evans brought down Torres in the box did the Edwin Van Der Sar get a touch of the ball after Steven Gerrard sent him the wrong way. Torres again proved to be a menace as he was brought down by John O'Shea just outside the box leaving Steven Gerrard with no option but to strike home in a match that seemed to be gaining momentum with each passing minute. That man Berbatov popped up again six minutes from time to complete his hat-trick and give United the win against a side that struggled to make the most of their possession in open play. Service for the isolated Torres was irregular with the forward having to come deeper to get the ball and being out numbered by the United defense. Needless to say though, he had been involved in all of Liverpool's goals in the season so far.
Final Score: Manchester United 3 - 2 Liverpool
Match 6: Liverpool Vs. Sunderland
After suffering a shocking defeat to Northhampton in the League Cup in mid-week, Anfield played host to Sunderland. Dirk Kuyt capitalized on a "mix-up" to score a controversial goal and put the Reds in front after five minutes. This was nullified by after a Christian Poulsen hand ball gifted Sunderlnad a penalty 20 minutes later and Darren Bent stepped up to drive it home. Things took a turn for the worst as Daniel Agger was called in to replace Konchesky on the left before half-time and then Sunderland went ahead just after the interval when Darren Bent headed home to put his side in front. Torres was visibly displeased with the goings on and was awarded a yellow card, his frustrations at the state Liverpool were in boiling over as he showed referee Stuart Atwell what he thought of the booking. Hodgson's critical post match comments about the Spaniard did little to smooth things over.
This game saw Meireles adopted as a right midfielder as Poulsen and Lucas held the middle. Poulsen was eventually later substituted for David Ngog. Despite appearing displeased Torres managed to beat Philip Bardsley close to the right touchline and swung over an inviting cross which Gerrard headed in at the near post for an equalizer.
The result did little to change the growing feeling of discontent in and around Liverpool and protests against then unpopular American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett after the match only spotlighted problems yet to be overcome.
Final Score: Liverpool 2 - 2 Sunderland
Match 7: Liverpool Vs. Blackpool
In what can only be described as a bizarre week in which problems off the field began to take headlines away from the footballing aspect of the club, it was all but made worse by the loss that Liverpool suffered under the knife of Ian Holloway's Blackpool. In what was to be Hicks and Gillette's final game as Liverpool owners, the team put on a dismal display to slump to a 1-2 loss on home soil, and the second time a promoted side had caused them problems at home.
More woe for Liverpool as Fernando Torres was substituted with a groin injury in the tenth minute. Glen Johnson's suspicious defensive attributes came into question when he brought down Luke Varney in the penalty spot allowing Charlie Adam to convert. Blackpool played the ball around with confidence and scored a second when Varney managed to score a flick on at the near post.
The second had Liverpool out of the blocks in 53rd minute when Sotirios Kyrgiakos got on the end of a Gerrard free-kick and powered home a header. Liverpool pressed on only to see the wind leave their sails in the last 15 minutes of the game failing to capitalize on their home advantage and what few chances they scrapped together. The final whistle heralded cries for Kenny Dalglish as Hodgson had now led the mighty Liverpool to 5 matches without a win in all competitions.
What would follow would undoubtedly be fit for golden globe nomination as the battle for the club's ownership raged on during the international break.
Final Score: Liverpool 1 - 2 Blackpool
Match 8: Everton Vs. Liverpool
There is little doubt that the 214th Merseyside derby was all about Liverpool and the new American owners. People waited anxiously to see whether the problem was solved. With both teams fannying about at the rear end of the table, they both had everything to play for, more so for Liverpool as Joh Henry was in the stands to witness his first game after successfully taking over the club from Gillette and Hicks.
Everton took the initiative in the opening minutes and had the lions share of opening exchanges until Tim Cahill latched onto a Seamus Coleman cross and guide the ball into the back of the net. Confusion surrounded Liverpool's chances as a mix-up between Torres and Meireles let a golden opportunity slip by. As if any more evidence was needed of Torres' declining form, he was matched for pace by Sylvian Distin after a great ball from Gerrard. Te second half belonged to the home side as they continued to dominate but Liverpool were showing signs of frustration as Torres mis-hit an effort high over the goal only to flail his arms about. Mikel Arteta added a second after collecting a cross and firing it home from the edge of the area. Unsurprisingly Gerrard was the only beacon of light as he strove to create some form of a comeback, getting the ball forward whenever possible. Despite this the team now found themselves in 19th place on the table, a sign that something was amiss on the field too. This was especially prevalent after Hodgson's post match comments dubbing the Liverpool performance as their best of the season so far.
Final Score: Everton 2 - 0 Liverpool
Match 9: Liverpool Vs. Blackburn Rovers
The first home game under the new owners held a tremendous amount of importance for Hodgson and his men. A loss would put them in a position that could potentially render his services surplus. With rumours of Frank Rijkaard and Manuel Pellegrini being considered as potential replacements the pressure on Hodgson to deliver was immense, irregardless of the authenticity of said rumors.
Unlike their previous games, Liverpool controlled the ball in the first half in a way that supporters had not seen displayed on home soil. Blackburn were offered little in terms of ball possession and spent most of the half chasing after it. The home side had two glorious chances before the break but failed to capitalize.
The break proved useful as Liverpool came out and managed to get a goal through Sotirios Kyrgiakos when he headed a Steven Gerrard corner past Paul Robinson. In the following 10 minutes Blackburn would equalize through an unfortunate own goal by Jamie Carragher but Torres was once again on hand to put the finishing touch on an instinctual ball from Joe Cole just outside the area. Cole was later replaced by Ngog and Blackburn did their best to scrape a point but were not rewarded in their endeavor and Liverpool claimed their first league win since August.
Should Roy Go?
Final Score: Liverpool 2 - 1 Blackburn
Match 10: Bolton Vs. Liverpool
The Red's most recent outing saw them travel to the Reebok Stadium to take on Sam Alardyce's men. Coming off the back of a win at home, Liverpool were eager to climb back up the table amid a week of speculation that key players were looking to leave Anfield.
Liverpool controlled the early stages before Bolton slowly coming out of their shell with a flurry of chances. Gerrard had the pick of Liverpool's opportunities when he was set up just outside the box only to slash it wide of goal in injury time. The second half saw Bolton's attacking unit put more pressure on the Liverpool defense with Johan Elmander threatening the Liverpool goal several times. The somewhat ineffective Maxi Rodriguez was at the end of a great passing move that saw his overhead kick go marginally over. Elmander and Kevin Davies continued to torment the Liverpool defense but it was not until the 86th minute that Torres managed to put Maxi through with a display of his truly magical quality and the Argentine did not disappoint, slotting it home despite a touch from Jussi Jaaskelainen. Bolton surged late on for an equalizer but it was too little too late.
Final Score: Bolton 0 - 1 Liverpool
So what have we learned?
Aside from the fact that Hodgson has become increasingly erratic in his comments to the press (to the point of taking a pop at Frank Rijkaard and shameless self promotion), it seems that maybe, just maybe Roy is beginning to get things right. What remains to be seen is his approach to the Chelsea match which could be a defining moment for his managerial career at Liverpool. It is easy to misinterpret the current state of the club without adequately looking at the point that separate Liverpool from the top 4. The gap is not impossible to cover and having already played the 3 of the teams in the top 4 of the table already, life after Chelsea is considerably more hopeful. But what of Roy? At this point in time I would suspect that a loss to Chelsea will not be well received by Liverpool's new owners who have a reputation for ending the reign of managers who are not fit for the bill. So i ask you, would you keep Roy or give him a run?
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