Liverpool v Newcastle: Squad Limitations
A dissapointing 2-1 defeat against an injury ravaged Newcastle is very hard to swallow indeed, especially when we were all over them in the first half and should have had it all wrapped up by then. The two problems that hampered the team was squad limitation and Benitez's continuing incomprehensible substitutions.
First, as poor as he has been this season, I must re-evaluate my criticism of Xabi Alonso. We dearly missed his quality passing, especially given the very wet pitch that almost caused the game to be called off. We had to play both Sissoko and Zenden for their first matches in quite a while and with Zenden playing out wide on the left he was never going to last 90 minutes. Sissoko also looked just a touch slower than usual and it's a wonder he escaped a booking from a very lenient Mark Clattenburg.
We were 2-1 down when Benitez decided to apply his black magic. Removing Zenden was no real surprise given his lack of match fitness but our limitations were exposed when 19 year old Danny Guthrie came on for him. First time I've seen him, but it seems a case of him getting a run due to injuries (Kewell, Garcia, Aurelio, Gonzalez) rather than forcing his way through the squad. The big surprise was removing Pennant for our new right back Arbeola when we're chasing the game!! Befitting his inconsistent season, Pennant's been up and down all season but in this match was quite good, repeatedly taking Babayaro to the cleaners and setting up Bellamy's goal. Removing him to push Finnan up was flabbergasting as Finnan does not beat players-he's a fine overlapping right back and an adequate right sided midfielder when need be, not when we need to score a goal.
Then, lo and behold, we bring on Crouch for Finnan with a few minutes left. So no more crosses from the right for the big man to win, epecially with Gerrard playing all over the park by this point and Guthrie totally annonymous on the left. Truly a breath-taking range of substitutions from a man who continues to frustrate me.
Overall, this reminded me of our last defeat away to Blackburn when we totally dominated the 1st half and should have cantered home. Then, as now, we wasted too many chances. We need a 20 goal a season striker, and that we don't have. Perhaps Kuyt maybe, but he was a hell of a culprit too. Agger finally had a poor game, but that's part of the learning curve, and hopefully he'll learn well from this experience.
It was frustrating, but as with the Blackburn game, stil very promising. We simply must be more clinical in front of goal and maximise Bellamy's pace. Love him or hate him, Kewell's impending return cannot come soon enough-we're stretched to the limit on the left.
Finally, kudos for Babayaro playing despite his brother dying the night before-not just that, but it was his first game back from injury suffered in December. He might well have been their weak link all night, but didn't he show some guts and determination?