Liverpool: Mario Didn't Do Anything Wrong But Did He Do Anything At All?
The joy of a normal Saturday 3pm kick off is that you’ve seen the lunchtime game. Or at least followed its progress via Twitter and the word of mouth that spreads around the football stand. ‘City have lost to West Ham’, ‘West Ham have done City 2-1’, ‘Win this and we’re only a point behind City’.
A point behind City. A point behind one of the only two teams that anybody believes capable of actually winning the league. A point behind them and we haven’t actually started playing well yet.
Win this and we’re a point behind City. Brilliant. Only one problem then; we didn’t win the bloody thing.
Can we celebrate the fact that our much maligned defensive unit actually managed to keep a clean sheet for the first time in…Ooh, what, three and half years? Something like that? It would be a damn sight easier to celebrate that if Hull had ever looked like they had any interest in the concept of scoring goals.
Hull are a good side. No getting away from the fact. Managed well, set out well. Liverpool fans appear to be developing a grudging respect for Steve Bruce and his capabilities. Long a figure of absolute hatred (United loyalties, beach ball incident), there’s a warmth there now. ‘Steve Bruce, he’s got a big fat head’ we sang last year and he pulled his hood up. Sang it again this year and he pulled his suit jacket up. God help us, we’re beginning to like the guy. Talented manager and seems a decent bloke. Set his team out well. Had a game plan which worked.
Unfortunately Brendan didn’t. The 4-3-3ish thing that he started with and endured (alongside us, God how we endured it) for the first hour didn’t work. Sterling was wasted on the right, Lallana didn’t cut in as much as you’d hope, Allen suffered one of his more wasteful games, Can was good though. Can’s going to be a player; he’s got that box to box burst thing going on, he moves forward, he wants things to happen and he wants to be at the heart of them. Still nobody close to Balotelli though. Nobody giving him the support that he seems to need, nobody alleviating this ‘lone striker pressure’ that he seems unable to handle. Acres of space behind him and nobody to fill it.
Until the hour mark. The hour gave us Coutinho. The hour gave us the utterly brilliant Philippe Coutinho. The hour gave us the most energised Rickie Lambert that we’ve seen in a red shirt to date. The diamond was back. Perhaps this is what we look at now, perhaps we look at the fact that with Allen and Lallana on the field we’ll see a 4-3-3, perhaps with them both on the field the diamond isn’t an option. But the diamond, two up front, two bodies in the box, two men for the opposition back four to deal with? Options. Alternatives. A threat. All the creativity that had been missed in a dull, frustrating first hour was suddenly there. The creativity of Coutinho was suddenly there; running at the defence, weaving, creating. For half an hour we played real football.
And still we didn’t score.
Balotelli worked hard today. Worked harder than we’ve seen him in a red shirt. After Wednesday and the performance that he didn’t bother putting in against Real Madrid and the shirt swapping at half time I (and many others) would have been quite happy to see him never set foot in Anfield again. Put in a decent shift today though. Tracked back, threw in a few decent flicks, looked decent in parts, actually ran once or twice. Still didn’t score.
Didn’t score because he has this ability that we hadn’t realised before; the ability to throw himself at a ball and completely miss it. Three times. Three gilt edged chances that he threw himself at and missed. Two headers where he threw himself at a spot approximately two inches away from where the ball was. A puzzling spot. A spot that nobody else in the ground could quite understand, a spot that they couldn’t see as being pertinent to anything but the spot that Mario seemed to actually choose.
And in the last second. With virtually the last kick of the game. A cross comes in. A sumptuous cross. The kind of cross that strikers dream of. The kind of cross that only needs contact. The kind of cross that, given contact, makes a 0-0 draw into a 1-0 win. The kind of cross that rescues reputation, that creates heroes.
I’ve watched the replay. Many times. I have no idea what Mario does. I know what he doesn’t do though. He doesn’t score.
Ruud Gullitt made this sound on Match Of The Day (last game in the running order, that’s how good we were). Made this ‘tch’ sound. A scornful sound, a sound that indicated how ridiculous he thought the miss was. Rodgers’ post match interview spoke of frustration, spoke of the fact that he didn’t know how Mario hadn’t scored.
Mario did nothing wrong today. I’m not blaming him for not winning. He’s only one of fourteen players that didn’t win and for the first hour he was alone in a role that he seems ill suited to. Mario did nothing wrong but he didn’t do a great deal particularly, impressively right either. He doesn’t offer a great deal. Doesn’t make things happen. Doesn’t threaten. Isn’t the answer.
He was always going to be number two to Daniel Sturridge. January may see him become either number three or on his way altogether. People have used the Peter Crouch argument; the look how long it took Crouch to get his first goal argument. And they may have a point. The Hull game may have been Mario Balotelli’s Peter Crouch day, may have been the day when things just didn’t run but he tried.
Maybe. I hope so. I doubt it.
Win this and we’re a point behind City. Two more dropped lads.