Saturday, April 22, 2006

Liverpool 2-1 Chelsea (FA Cup)

I was a bit disappointed when we drew Chelsea for the FA Cup semi final, as reflected here. I still think it would have been better if the two obvious 'big' teams had a chance to contest the final. (Though I don't share the view that May 13th against either Middlesbrough or West Ham will be a formality). Still, today was the day for what was billed as the battle of good vs. evil. Thankfully the game was again on the BBC. That's every round bar Birmingham that has been.

Mourinho sprung a surprise starting a team that included no wingers - though he did have three on the bench (what if Terry had got injured?) It didn't really work, and Liverpool dominated the first hour - with Kewell in particular bothering Geremi.

Now, I'll admit, the free kick leading to Riise's first may be described as dodgy - but I though Graham Poll was generally poor. I wasn't happy with either Reina's booking (he was waiting for a substitution) or Carragher's (he hardly touched Makalele - and if that was a booking, then I think one Chelsea player escaped a red card for bringing down someone - Riise? - later on). Plus the commentators made a big deal of the fact that if that was foot up, Crouch's collision with Cudicini could have been penalised for the same reason. True, but it wouldn't have mattered much to us - conversely, if that wasn't foot up, some refs might have given Crouch a penalty. Shades of last season's CL semi all over again...

Anyway, the fact is whatever the ref did, Mourinho got his tactics wrong and Chelsea were poor. No width or creativity until the wingers came on, some wayward finishing, bad defending, Lampard anonymous (even Chelsea fans now acknowledge this) and a wall that - whatever you say about the award of Riise's free-kick - parted like the red sea.

As for Liverpool, Garcia showed how frustrating he can be. Missing two relatively easy chances created by Gerrard, before being in the right place at the right time to latch onto a bad back-header and curling an unstoppable half-volley into the net. Opinions are split (here vs. here), but as long as he keeps giving us moments like this - and the goals that took us the the CL final last season - then I'll be happy to keep him. Our defenders did a solid job, and Gerrard and Sissoko battled on despite late cramp/knocks.

The only bad performance was Cisse I've defended him at times (at least if 'he's not that bad...' counts). After he replaced Crouch, we had no threat up front, and no ability to keep possession. Usually I think his pace is useful against a team chasing the game, but today Traore and Morientes were better. I wouldn't be disappointed to see Cisse shot - never mind sold - after playing like that.

Still, time to focus on the good. Only our second win over Chelsea in ten attempts - but we can pull it out when it counts (and the CL draws were enough for us too, don't forget...)

Our three remaining Premiership fixtures include what could be a dress rehearsal against West Ham. Nonetheless with second looking very unlikely, I’d rather we rested our key players and gave the youth/fringe players (particularly Agger, Kromkamp, Warnock, Hamann and Anderson) chances. It’s May 13th that will decide whether this season has been a good transitional one, or a very good success.

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