Liverpool 2 Wolves 1
Premier League. 24 September, 2011. Anfield
FOOTBALL loves its clichés and there were plenty that could be brought out for this one so little point holding back. The “one man team” tag will probably be used – Luis Suarez again standing out. But he went off near the end for the player usually referred to in that tag, a certain Steven Gerrard, meaning we have to wait a little longer to see the new “two man team” in action again at Anfield.
Suarez hasn’t quite been as good as we’ve grown used to in his last couple of games, and that still isn’t exactly bad, but in this one Luis Suarez was back to being Luis Suarez.
Is Steven Gerrard the Steven Gerrard of old? His arrival came with 8 minutes left and, added to the 15 he got on Wednesday in the Carling Cup, it’s still far too early to say if that injury has changed his game. Even so, there’s little doubt some will try to say it has – but Gerrard can answer that on the pitch when his match fitness is back.
Another needing to answer the critics on the pitch was Andy Carroll. The Geordie forward got his starting place back from Craig Bellamy who did nothing wrong on Wednesday but will have known that Carroll was going to be recalled for this one. And Carroll answered those critics – without a goal but with a classy performance that included strong signs of a growing partnership with Suarez, one that might just turn into the kind of telepathic frontline understanding so important to Liverpool’s success down the years.
It was a ‘game of two halves’ – Wolves were poor first half but like a different team in the second and substitute Steven Fletcher took four minutes of that second period to get one back and in turn set the scene for a nervy second half.
Liverpool played well in the first half, Wolves played well in the second half, Liverpool got the points. The points above all else will be what pleases Kenny, who said afterwards: “There’s various attributes you need if you want to move forward and one of them is to compete properly and we certainly did that. You’ve got to give them credit. We had a few headers and blocks to make.”
Luck had deserted Liverpool in their last two league games, both defeats from contrasting Reds performances, but maybe the luck came back, said Kenny: “We maybe had a bit of fortune with the first goal. I think it went off Johnson and went in. But we deserve a bit of luck. I don’t think we’ve had too much recently.”
Was that the best he’d seen his front two play together? “Certainly this week, I think,” he joked. “Luis Suarez has been outstanding since he came to the club, not just on the pitch but off it as well. We’re very fortunate to have him. And on Carroll’s performance everything was “good about him – except the goal. I don’t think you’d get much more out of the big fella today. We were delighted with him, and delighted for him.”
That first goal came after a powerful Adam shot, looking like it was going to go wide, was headed into his own net by Roger Johnson. As Adam celebrated with teammates Johnson remonstrated with the referee, claiming Carroll had pushed him in the build-up. His manager agreed with him: “The cross came into the box, Carroll barged into him and Johnson’s still getting up and trying to get in position and it ends up an OG,” said McCarthy, annoyed. “I was annoyed with that. I still think it was a foul.”
The Suarez goal was one for the scrapbook, Enrique’s pass set him on his way and Cristophe Berra will probably have nightmares about the way Luis left him looking like he was trying to dance alone, before falling over as the ball hit the back of the net at the kind of acute angle Luis just seems to love using. With seven minutes left in the half Liverpool were on top and went into the dressing room with perhaps a little too much of that feeling of ‘job done’.
Liverpool certainly started the second half as if they had taken the foot off the gas and Wolves started it like a team who guessed that might just be the case, two substitutions (Fletcher and Doherty) making a difference that saw them get one back four minutes into the half. Fletcher got the goal after a Stephen Hunt cross, Liverpool’s defence looking as lost as Pepe Reina’s hopes of a Golden Gloves award this season. Liverpool fans sensed a nervy second half was in store. They weren’t wrong, Wolves kept getting the ball into Liverpool’s area and at times the Reds were hanging on.
Not that Liverpool spent the second half without creating chances; Wolves’ keeper Hennessey blocking a Suarez effort from close range and foiling Downing’s hopes of getting Liverpool back in the comfort zone, not to mention Carroll heading against the post.
In a couple of years time Jordan Henderson may well be seen as one of the best buys of the second Dalglish era, for now there’s little chance of that because his price-tag gets in the way of any genuinely objective thinking about his abilities. Had he been a product of Liverpool’s own academy, maybe out on loan for experience at Sunderland last season before getting into the Reds’ first team side this season it seems doubtful the criticism would sound the same as it does now, with the word “million” thrown into most critiques of him. Towards the end of the game Dalglish swapped him for Dirk Kuyt, another player who struggled for recognition early in his Liverpool career from those people who always know better.
The people who always know better were also unhappy when Suarez made way for Gerrard. The joy that Gerrard was finally going to play in a league game at Anfield was tempered by the sight of Luis’ number being held up. Dalglish could see that it might be easier to hang onto the 2-1 than to take the risks inherent in going for 3-1. Whether or not Wolves at home is the sort of game Liverpool should be winning without trying isn’t relevant – Liverpool are still a long way away from being able to be that arrogant, not that arrogance is something Liverpool really want to be described as.
Suarez was frustrated – he kicked a water bottle – at going off, something that suggests he’s a winner, not a whiner, but no doubt the pencils are already being sharpened, hatchet sharp, as alternative interpretations are sought.
One standout moment from Gerrard’s return was a volley that didn’t quite dip soon enough and wasn’t quite on target, a reminder of what he can do when he’s fully fit, which he’s not far away from being. Liverpool are not far away from being what Liverpool fans want them to be either, but for now patience is important, as is trust, belief and loyalty.
LIVERPOOL: Reina, Kelly, Carragher, Skrtel, Enrique, Henderson(Kuyt 72), Lucas, Adam, Downing, Carroll, Suarez (Gerrard 82)
Goals: Roger Johnson (og) 11, Luis Suárez 38
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS: Hennessey, Stearman (Doherty 46), Johnson, Berra, Ward, Henry, Hunt (Guedioura 82), Edwards(Fletcher 46), O’Hara, Jarvis, Doyle
Goals: Steven Fletcher 49
REFEREE: Kevin Friend