By Kevin Koczwara
Liverpool lost to Wigan this week for the first time in the English Premier League era. It was a sad display from last year’s runner up.With Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham all looking on, they must have been excited to see this uninspired squad.
Liverpool looked flat in their attack. They lacked the finishing touch and didn’t even register a shot on goal.Wigan was playing with 10 men behind the ball, but that didn’t stop Liverpool last year and it doesn’t stop the teams with Champions League aspirations.
If Rafa Benitiz is to keep his promise he needs to show some faith in his squad and stop being critical of his team in the media. He needs his team to win the games they are supposed to. The situation his squad finds itself currently is more his fault than the players. He has picked this team, built it (for the most part) and the strategies he imposes are supposed to be followed each week. And it just hasn’t work this season.
There are many missing parts to this team. The forced sale of Xabi Alonso this summer was a major setback for the squad. They haven’t been able to gel since the sale and have been missing his passing and counter-attacking skills all season. No more evidently than on Monday when they couldn’t break down the Wigan defense in the final third or turn a quick Wigan attack into an offensive opportunity for Liverpool in a flash.The lack of the quick counter-attack glares the most when Fernando Torres is the lone striker and the only service he is getting is through the air or too shallow for him to turn the corner.
In the last two games Torres has not been himself. I know, I know, he isn’t 100% yet. But he has been getting frustrated more often on the field the last two games because he is getting more attention from defenses and roughed up more with the lack of space. He has not been able to make the killer runs where he is able to out run the defenders and get one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Rafa has been short on defenders all year, but the last few games he has decided to play his best holding midfielder at right-back for the second game in a row. He has decided that Javier Mascherano can fill the void all the injuries left, even though he has two capable youth players, Stephen Darby and Martin Kelly, in the ranks that he has played this season.
The results are showing that Rafa needs to stop being so stingy and start playing some different players and experimenting with his squad.
One move that benefited the squad during the game was the introduction of Alberto Aquilani. He showed some class on the pitch with his on the ball skills, passing skills and creativity. He made some cross field passes that opened space. He was able to move the ball from end of the field to the other quickly, something the squad struggled to do when he was off the field.
Wigan did a great job taking advantage of their chances and playing good defense. They marked well, tackled smart, didn’t give away too many bad fouls, and countered when the opportunity arose. Their goal came on a defensive mix-up in the Liverpool end, and they put away their chance, something Liverpool never did. They definitely deserved the win and maybe this could catapult them far away from the relegation zone.
If Liverpool hope to gain the coveted fourth place spot, then they need to pick up the pieces here and win out for the rest of the season. Their opponents have some games in hand and that will pose a big problem come May for Liverpool when they are fighting for their Champions League berth.
Real Madrid Move Top With Comeback
Sevilla went up 2-0 at the Bernabéu with an own goal by Xabi Alonso in the 10 minute and a goal from Ivica Dragutinovic in the 54 minute. They had the game in hand, but Madrid did what all top teams do when they are in a fight for a top spot, they mounted a comeback.
And of course it started with Ronaldo. He scored in the 60 minuted to put the comeback charge on. With a goal from Sergio Ramos only four minutes later, Real Madrid had started and accomplished their comeback. They were getting the one point they needed to stay in the race for the La Liga title with Barcelona.
Not only did they keep pace, but with a goal in stoppage time from Rafael Van der Vaart to take the lead 3-2. With the win, Real took the top of the La Liga table on goal differential.
This game wasn’t as close as the scoreline says. Real took 35 shots. 35, that’s a remarkable amount. 13 of the shots were on net, and plenty more hit the woodwork, from all distances. Real dominated this match with a top competitor in Spain. They flexed their muscle and showed why they are going to be a tough team to keep up with for the remainder of the season. Barcelona will have to stop drawing matches and start winning again if they hope to keep pace with the powerhouse Real Madrid.
The next challenge for Real Madrid is tomorrow. The Los Blancos have a tough challenge in trying to eliminate Lyon in the Champions League round of 16 (they are behind 1-0 to the Ligue 1 side).
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at email@example.com.