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Defensive blunders like knife through Reds’ heart

Oct 8 2007

by John Thompson, Liverpool Echo

LIES, damn lies and soccer statistics. Or, if you like, pride comes before a fall.

Last week, ahead of that wretched Champions League performance against Marseille and as Liverpool's Premier league form hit the wall, it was being pointed out by those who preferred to see the glass as half full, that the Reds were in the middle of their best defensive run for 30 years.

French league flops Marseille may have punched well above their weight to put a dent in it last Wednesday, but that at least was via a sweet piece of footwork and an unstoppable strike from outside the box.

But yesterday, Liverpool surrendered their supremacy and then almost all three points, too, with defensive lapses which unfortunately will have set alarm bells ringing at Anfield today.

Sami Hyypia deserves to go down in Anfield history as a Liverpool great. For the best part of a decade now he has been a tower of strength on the field, a scorer of some vital goals, a model professional and, as an ambassador for the club, has done it proud.

Never blessed with outstanding pace – though never the slouch such a cruel and thinly disguised observation seemed to suggest – if there was one thing you could always rely upon big Sami for was his sheer dominance in the air.

But yesterday, perhaps as the rigours of a run of appearances caught up with him, Hyypia's aerial invincibility went briefly but crucially missing.

Twice, long, route one punts into his domain saw him contesting balls with Dimitar Berbatov – a man whose feet have a magical and graceful touch to them, but who should not get the better of a towering centre half when the ball is coming out of the sky for them to contest with their heads.

Yet twice Berbatov out manoeuvred Hyypia to the high balls down the middle. And twice the ever dangerous Robbie Keane profited to finish well.

Hyypia is entitled to question the cover behind him – no centre back wins every such ball in every game. But these almost carbon copy goals are the sort that have even lower league managers moaning at their central defenders. Good Premiership sides don't crudely concede possession and goals like these. Certainly not sides with the highest ambitions of all.

Both lapses proved intensely annoying for Benitez as he sent out a side intent on giving him and the supporters the reaction they wanted after the Marseille debacle.

Anyone who somehow expected the Reds to suddenly turn on the style yesterday was frankly expecting too much. The loss of form recently has been worrying and you don't sink as low as Liverpool did last Wednesday only to suddenly rise to the heights five days later in majestic fashion.

All that was expected, indeed required, against Spurs was a more professional display all round, with plenty of heart and soul battling at every challenge and hopefully a well-earned victory to restore some confidence.

For much of the first half, Liverpool gave their manager and their supporters what they wanted, including a goal from Voronin which seemed to steady nerves just as the doctor ordered.

That strike should undoubtedly have been added to before Berbatov gave Hyypia a crafty nudge before beating him to the ball to set up Keane at the Kop end.

It was an annoying, undeserved equaliser for Liverpool to concede. And as they regrouped a half time it must have tested their nerve and resolve, knowing they had to start all over again and respond to the setback in the right way.

But when another defensive lapse let in Keane again, Liverpool utterly lost their way for long periods.

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