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Friday, December 30

Liverpool 3 - 1 Newcastle United: Carroll Treads Water

A quick look at Andy Carroll's night and Liverpool eventually taking care of business at home against Newcastle United .

Liverpool's 1st Half Movement
With Luis Suárez suspended, much was made leading up to the contest about Andy Carroll's prolonged struggles for Liverpool, however real or perceived they may be.  And although Carroll didn't get on the scoresheet, the pony-tailed striker did show flashes of ability and effectiveness upfront.  It wasn't a continued display of his pre-Liverpool form but there were signs of life, signs of life which could become something worthwhile in Suárez's upcoming eight-game absence.

Kenny Daglish's men started in a 4-5-1, with Carroll heading the shape and Jay Spearing playing a loose holding role in the centre.  Liverpool's bodies in the centre of midfield meant Craig Bellamy and Stewart Downing, the outside midfielders, were free to push forward, and Spearing's often dropping back into defense enabled Liverpool's fullbacks, José Enrique and Glen Johnson, to adventure down the flanks behind them.

Alan Pardew had Newcastle in their familiar 4-4-2/4-4-1-1, with Davide Santon and, much to the chagrin of Newcastle supporters, Hatem Ben Arfa starting on the bench.  Featured for Newcastle were Ismael Cheik Tioté in the centre of midfield and the second-most-prodigious scorer in the Premier League thus far, striker Demba Ba.

The first half saw Liverpool enjoy a 3-to-2 possession and 9-to-2 shot advantage over Newcastle, but it was the away side who drew first blood via a Daniel Agger own goal.  Santon's replacement at left-back, Ryan Taylor, swung a cross in and, upon getting touched on by Yohan Cabaye, the ball glanced off Agger's shoulder, bouncing towards the net in the direction opposite goalkeeper Pepe Reina's already-begun dive.  Agger deserves no blame, as had he not been in the precise spot he was, Ba would've been free to send the ball in himself.  Given the prior twenty-five minutes, Liverpool was unlucky to be down.

It was just, then, that Liverpool pulled level within five minutes.  While the goal didn't come on the end of one of the ample-and-ably-supplied crosses Liverpool spammed the box with, the goal was the result of one: a low drive across the face of goal was unable to be cleared in any successful fashion by Cheik Tioté, and Bellamy was there inside the top of the box to smoothly slot home the free ball.
Average Positions for 1st Half

Liverpool's crosses threatened throughout the entirety of the first half and the game.  Whether it was Bellamy firing across the face of goal or Downing or Henderson lofting the ball in, Liverpool had the bodies forward to pressure Newcastle's back-line and the quality of the crosses meant Fabricio Coloccini and company had to defend surely.  And with Enrique and Johnson pressing forward, ready to overlap or provide support, Jonás Gutiérrez and Gabriel Obertan were pinned back, meaning Newcastle didn't have much in the way of building an attack, especially with Cheik Tioté having an off night.  When they weren't merely clearing or trying balls over-the-top to Ba and had patience in their build-up, they were able to ease the pressure Liverpool was putting on them, but almost every time they'd play a safe pass back to Tim Krul, their goalkeeper, Krul would bomb the ball long even when not under any pressure himself, usually giving possession right back to Liverpool.  While the tied scoreline at half didn't show Liverpool's dominance, their 9-to-2 shot advantage, 5-to-0 corner advantage and gaudy possession told the true tale.

The second half saw Newcastle flip possession enough to give themselves 49% of it for the entire match, but this merely a function of Liverpool's superiority: Liverpool, a team eager to cross, didn't just have a lot of chances to cross, they had quick chances to cross.  They didn't have the time with the ball that they had in the first half, but they also didn't need it with how easily they generated quality looks.  To Newcastle's credit, they were brighter with the ball in the second half, linking play better between their lines, but Liverpool was still the better side.  Bringing Ben Arfa on to start the second with Santon might have helped matters more, but Ben Arfa didn't exactly set the pitch on fire upon entering in the sixty-fifth minute, either.

After Liverpool's second, however, all of their dominance was almost undone as Ba all but tied the game up mere moments later.  After getting on the end of a slick through ball, Ba chipped Reina from not more than one yard away, all while his body wasn't remotely squared on goal.  It was as good of a hit on the ball as there could've been -- hell, it was the only hit on the ball that could've beaten Reina -- and it looked like Newcatle would have a shot to hold Liverpool to yet another draw at home.  But, as the ball bounced beyond Reina and spun towards net, Martin Skrtel made as equally impressive of a play as Ba's flick-over: with the ball about to cross over the goal-line, Skrtel hurled himself at the net, getting into a slide under the ball and lashing up with a strong kick just in time to clear the ball away.  Skrtel slid all the way into the back-netting and cracked his back against the the base support at the rear for good measure, but his defensive heroics meant the recent returnee from injury, Steven Gerrard, was free to put Liverpool up two not ten minutes later with a wonderful strike through quite the narrow angle.

Carroll's night was a mixed bag of indecision and the occasional individual flash.  The best of it came just before Gerrard scored Liverpool's third, when Gerrard sent another gorgeous Liverpool cross into the box for a hard-running Carroll, who then rose up and over the back of his marker to squarely head the cross onto goal.  While the header only careened against the crossbar, it was a reminder of what Carroll can bring to a team with an applied commitment to crosses.  More good came with Gerrard's goal, as Carroll's positioning near the far post meant the defense couldn't flood bodies over towards Gerrard, ensuring Gerrard a one-on-one contest with Krul.

Carroll's positioning wasn't always that good, or even relatively decent.  Numerous times Liverpool players were visibly frustrated with Carroll, whether it was for him staying outside the box instead of crashing hard onto goal or making simple runs through the center instead of starting from the far post and knifing towards the near, with the chief frustration coming in the second half when Carroll would've had himself a sure goal had he run in front of the defense's face onto a low, driven cross instead of sagging back towards the spot hoping for a cut-back.

Andy Carroll was a fish out of water at times, but he at least showed he remembered how to swim, and Luis Suárez's suspension might end up being just the thing to get Carroll back in the swing of things. That, or hasten his departure from Anfield.

1 comment:

  1. Great ananlysis! Just wondering why Maxi isnt playing regularly, while KD seems to prefer Adam, Henderson and Downing.