We won. At home, granted, on a potentially controversial call, granted, but still. I didn't expect to get any points out of this match, but felt we needed to get at least one to contend for Europe. Does it make up for losing to Wolves or looking truly awful for most of the match? Not really, but beating Bolton should be viewed as a pretty great achievement this year. Bolton is a team in our league in terms of talent and ability, and has really overachieved, so beating them is a nice affirmation that, yes, Liverpool has a few players who belong in the Premier league.
This win is one of the biggest results of the season- I think it's up there with the Chelsea match as the two biggest wins of the year. I think this is a worthwhile comparison, and deserves comparison with the worst matches of the year- that of the Wolves match last week and the Blackpool match earlier in the year.
(more after the jump)The first thing you notice right away is the spread of tackling, seen below, first the Chelsea and Bolton matches, then the Blackpool and Wolves matches:
Right away I noticed that we were a lot more assertive up and down the pitch in the Bolton match. We owned possession in this one too- 63 to 37 according to ESPN. That didn't happen against Chelsea, but you also see that we didn't let the ball get into the middle of the pitch, where we did (and missed a lot of tackles) in the matches we lost. In the Wolves match we apparently owned possession, but if my memory serves correctly they owned it until we went a goal down. We needed a goal, and they locked up, which they are quite, quite good at. Blackpool, a team with a totally different style, dominated us on our home pitch and were up two at the break. I will say this- Aurelio is a revelation at left back, certainly when compared to Konchesky. Kyrgiakos played well as well, leading me to believe that if he is given more time off in a rotation he will look less like a disaster (true for Konchesky as well, probably).
One problem evident in all these matches is an overdependence on Gerrard and Torres to create and score chances. The most encouraging thing about the Aston Villa match was that we thrived without them- with Babel and Ngog showing a great deal of promise and skill. Torres bagged both against Chelsea, and but for Gerrard's substitution I would be writing about Hodgson's sacking, I'm sure of it.
While we will probably always be on the counter against Chelsea (because that really is how you beat them, given how immobile their back line is), the other three matches show that we must, absolutely must, take the attack to the other teams sooner in the match. We got a bit lucky against Bolton, but the second half showed that we have to press and play with abandon. There is no shortage of athleticism and skill on this team- witness how well Lucas played from end to end once he didn't have to hold so fast to his position. If we let the other team hit long balls to us (Newcastle) or play around us (Blackpool and Wolves), we tend to make silly mistakes and let goals in.
We start matches off really, really tight. The only match where I thought we played loosely from the very beginning was against Aston Villa, and we hammered them. We only gained superiority over Bolton when we began to flow up the pitch. This whole two banks of four thing is making the team nervous, and a nervous team gives Andy Carrol goals from 35 yards out or Wolves their first away win on the season. Tactics and tactical instruction will only get you so far- your team has to trust the tactics and their role in them to thrive. The two banks of four 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 is like telling your team you don't trust them to take the game to the other team, and their nervousness reflects that. If there's anything Mourinho has shown, it's that confidence can be as good as talent on the field. The problem with this team is belief, and we need to know that we have the athletes and the skill to play with winning verve. If we trust the back line they won't play so tight. If we let the midfielders range forward they will track back in confidence. If we supply the strikers they will score goals and create them for others. This isn't a talent problem, this is a mindset problem.
If Roy is going to keep his job, he's going to need to get this team to believe in itself. I know it sounds cliched, but it's certainly true. We can talk about transfers, but the truth is this team is Class. Babel has shown it. Ngog has shown it. Maxi and Lucas, amazingly enough, have shown it. There is class up and down this squad sheet, and few holes (again, Konchesky might be better if we actually rotate the squad). They have looked their best when rampant and going forward, so, maybe, we should spend most of the time pressing and going forward.
Looks like we have an away match against Blackburn. We had better get a win to keep the pressure up- we have Man U immediately after. I think if we go into that match in the right mind and on the right run of form, we can give them their first loss.