So--yeah, about that title thing. Before everyone starts cussing the yank owners for their inability to fund an immediate replacement for Alonso, I would like to point out that we should not have to have a huge transfer budget to beat the likes of Tottenham and Aston Villa. Those teams certainly don't. The only ones that do are Man Utd, Man City, and Chelsea.
The match was started with a good energy that quickly faded. Liverpool never lacked opportunities, having taken 24 shots, with 11 of them on goal. That may not be a fair statistic, because it does not show how well the Villa back four and keeper played. I would put Brad Friedel as man of the match for Villa as he had a nearly flawless performance. In the first minute, he somehow managed to get a foot to Gerrard's shot that came in from a short header by Benayoun off of a chip by Torres. We should have scored there and it was at that time that I thought to myself, "it's going to be one of those days."
The only change to the lineup was Martin Skrtel back in his place. He and Carragher did much better together this time and made a number of crucial tackles. Glen Johnson was unable to get forward much as he was having to run against Ashley Young. Insua looked a bit shaky and was also not getting forward as much which led to a cluttered midfield.
Why is it that when someone on this team makes a mistake that could be considered where it all went wrong, it's usually Lucas? The Brazilian international did not do well in hushing his critics today when he gave up a free kick that should have been too far away too worry the Reds. Instead, Ashley Young's shot was deflected into the net by none other than Lucas for an own goal at 34', and it pretty much went downhill from there. There was supposed to be only one minute of added time at the end of the first half, but Aston Villa earned a corner just before it was out and ended up scoring at 47". I thought Benitez was about to strangle the fourth official and wish he had because it would have been far more entertaining than what was happening on the field.
Andriy Voronin was brought on for Lucas at 66', who seemed to have no problem in running off the pitch to hide, and had seemed to contribute to a better flowing attack. A pass by him setup play that led to Torres getting his head on the ball at 72'. Call me crazy, but at this point I would much rather have Voronin out there than Lucas. If this performance has not shown that the current formation will not work consistently, I don't know what will.
It seemed that Liverpool was going to launch one of the club's famous comebacks. The Kop had woken up and the passing was quicker and more fluid. It seemed that the addition of Voronin was just what the team needed until a harsh challenge by Gerrard led to a penalty kick being given to Aston Villa. Ashley Young calmly slotted home the final blow at 75' with Reina diving the wrong direction. After that, the energy was gone and the players seemed resigned to dropping three points at home.
I would really have liked to seen Riera on at some point; he was named as a substitute. With Fabio Aurelio out, we are really missing a good left foot to take free kicks and corners. Ryan Babel was brought in for Benayoun at 76' and did absolutely nothing but take wild shots that went wide whenever he got a touch on the ball. I guess he thinks to earn a position in the starting XI, he has to score.
Rafa Benitez had told Torres to stop talking to defenders and just worry about scoring. Apparently, he did not say anything about talking to the officials as #9 whined to the referee pretty much the whole match. It was just a matter of time before he was finally booked after claiming that Young was wasting time after being injured.
I had thought about an alternate title for this post. Such things sprang to mind as "Calls for Benitez's Head in 3...2...", or "Now Playing for Fourth." The truth is, I am too deflated to say anything witty. This club should have won the league that season and the only thing that really changed is the absence of one player. Unfortunately, we cannot keep blaming our short comings on Alonso not being with us and cannot say that we don't need him when we roll a team like Stoke. We have good players and should be able to cope. If they are not being used properly or are not inspired enough to play for the shirt, then that is down to the manager. I usually try to put my own feelings aside and believe in the words, "In Rafa We Trust." After all, I'm just a guy in front of a computer. I don't know what goes on behind the scenes or at training. However, there's a lot going on with the team right now that is leaving me to scratch my head.
Bolton on Saturday.