Friday, October 20, 2006

Champions League Matchday 3: October 18

Bordeaux 0-1 Liverpool
I think Rafa got scared by the Galatasaray match, where Liverpool took a 3-0 lead and then gave up a couple of cheap goals. Because although they started the game with a supposedly attacking formation -- 4-4-2, with Gonzalez and Garcia on the wings -- they played very cautiously. Sure, a safe away win is a good thing, but against a team like Bordeaux, you shouldn't have to sit back and let them bring the game to you. Liverpool spent way too much time just hoofing the ball up to the strikers, rather than trying to work possession through midfield. Not only does that waste Xabi Alonso's talents in midfield, but it also puts too much pressure on a defence that's been proven to be shaky this season.

So what is wrong with Liverpool's back line? Well, it's possible that they've all suddenly been infected by Titus Bramble syndrome. But here's my theory: They don't completely trust each other any more. Last year, they had a run of clean sheets, a solid lineup game after game, and Pepe Reina having a great first season in the Premiership. This year, they've had Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio trying to get settled in the starting lineup, a few blunders from Reina, and the clean sheets are gone. You can't point to one element or another as the root cause, but the result is a lack of confidence, both individually and collectively.

If you're not 100% sure that the man next to you is going to do his job, you can't focus on your own job properly either. That means that players are more likely to get drawn out of position, just in case they have to cover for the person beside them. It means you get two players both half-marking a man, and then neither of them going with him when he makes a run. And I think this is why Liverpool have looked particularly vulnerable on crosses -- it's easier to keep your shape when you're moving up and down the pitch, as opposed to being pulled sideways by a ball in from the wing. Compounded, of course, by Reina being in a bit of a slump, so the defenders aren't sure when to go for the cross, or if the keeper is going to get to it or not.

I do think they'll get it worked out eventually, but it'll take a run of games to build that confidence back up. And the upcoming game against Manchester United this weekend -- with Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo running at them for 90 minutes -- is probably not going to help.

Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona
I didn't think it was possible to hate Didier Drogba any more than I did last year. But now that he's actually playing well? And still being an ass? Yeah, I was wrong.

Much as I don't like to admit it, Chelsea were the better team. The £24 million they spent on Michael Essien is looking a bargain. (I still wish that United had bought him, instead of Michael Carrick. Yeah, Essien's kind of a thug. But at least he doesn't put you to sleep watching.) And Khalid Boulahrouz kept Ronaldinho in his back pocket all night -- which is more than you can say about Ashley Cole against Lionel Messi. But without Samuel Eto'o to head up the attack, all of Barca's fancy-schmancy passing was essentially useless. They're like an orchestra without a first violin. Chelsea, on the other hand, are a sledgehammer. (Insert your own Frank Lampard joke here.)

Other results
Werder Bremen 2-0 Levski Sofia
Inter Milan 2-1 Spartak Moscow
Sporting Lisbon 0-1 Bayern Munich
Galatasaray 1-2 PSV Eindhoven
Olympiacos 0-1 Roma
Valencia 2-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

No comments: