By Joe Behan
Liverpool closed down Robbie Fowler and shut out Leeds on a 4-nil scoreline at Elland Road at the weekend. It was Liverpool’s solid back line and an honest midfield that controlled the pace of the game. Leeds could go only so far in their attack throughout the game. Liverpool played to their strengths, were conservative, and efficient. The Super Reds made their own luck with a superior tactical game over United.
It was a combination of good fortune and dubious defending by Leeds that saw Danny Murphy’s free kick find the net. Way out on the flank Murphy curled a nice ball in that found Rio Ferdinand holding everybody on side. Ferdinand’s desperate attempt to clear the ball under pressure caught him off balance. His deflection then unbalanced Leeds goalkeeper Nigel Martyn and in it went. In claiming his 16th-minute goal, Murphy started a dismal day for Leeds.
David O’Leary had his side put some good passes together with Harry Kewell and Olivier Dacourt playing some silky stuff. However, the promise of penetrating Liverpool’s goal area died a death early on.
Stephen Gerrard mowed down Leeds in midfield. Gerrard was very much in the thick of things from the get go. He was lunging into tackles and winning balls. It seemed the Leeds build-up would find Fowler, and when they did, red shirts were all over the marked striker. By the end of the half it was apparent the Leeds attack had succumbed to poor deliveries into the box or indeed Liverpool didn’t give too much away. Even with time on the ball, the Leeds midfield, Kewell and David Batty, lost possession too many times due to Liverpool’s defensive organization.
Rather than better organization, the Leeds defense was more inclined to bundle over Michael Owen and Emile Heskey. Owen seemed to lack the strength to withstand the physical contact. For Gerrard, it was a strong half where his presence grew in front of a solid Liverpool defense. Overall, though it was a poor 45 minutes with not a lot of fluency in the game itself. Liverpool came to Elland Road and it was obvious that they did not want Leeds to score and in particular Fowler. Neither goalkeeper had much to do in the first half, but 1-nil it was for the Pool.
Follow us on social media
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Irish Echo
The second half started out pretty dull, but in the 57th minute United’s Dacourt carried himself off the field, as the going got too tough. The few knocks he received early on had taken their toll and Jason Wilcox entered the game. The Liverpool defensive shape was proving better on the day, when Heskey was put on the Leeds goal with a through pass from Gerrard. It was a borderline call for offside, but the husky Heskey rounded Martyn and slotted home. Three minutes later, Leeds struggled again defending in front of goal from a John Arne Riise corner; they were not prepared once again for an in swinging set piece. The ball dropped six yards out for Heskey to volley into the roof of the net. The burly striker ended his goal drought convincingly with his third in two games. Three-nil and Leeds did not look like title contenders.
O’Leary’s team had lost their shape as players tried to do it on their own. Kewell and Lee Bowyer were overdoing it on the ball and taking way too much out of it. It was a bunch of individuals versus team, discipline, as Liverpool’s manager, Phil Thompson, bellowed for a shutout. With just a little over 20 minutes to go, Leeds were denied any chance of a comeback by Liverpool’s goalkeeper, Jurek Dudek. After saving a point-blank header from Mark Viduka, somehow Dudek got to a half volley by Fowler. That was it for Leeds, the ball would not go in.
Into the final 15 minutes of the game Leeds had fallen apart, their confidence was shattered. In the 73rd minute, Kewell let his boot fly off his foot at the referee. The Australian was out of control and his yellow card showed his lack of experience. Kewell left the field a beaten man and was replaced by Robbie Keane. The Irish international was never going to get involved as Leeds over and under hit the ball, a lot. Liverpool still played the sitting-in game and for the third time they scored off a set piece in the 90th minute. From a simple throw-in the ball was flicked on for Owen to head onto the crossbar then knock the rebound in, as the Leeds defense stood depleted.
It was a miserable end to Leeds playing against the top EPL teams in their last four games; they have managed only 1 point from Arsenal while losing to Newcastle and Chelsea. On paper, they may have the easiest run in of all the top teams, but based on this performance there will be no easy fixtures.
The only teams right now that are truly struggling are Leicester and perhaps Bolton. It will come as no surprise to see both these teams winning a game or two. Another dark horse is Derby, who beat Spurs 1-nil under the influence of John Gregory in his first game as manager. To make things even more difficult for Leeds, and the rest of the EPL, Ipswich Town is flying right now under the leadership of Irish international Matthew Holland. He hit the winner for the Town against Everton and played very well to keep Irish coach Mick McCarthy happy.
Ipswich has now won seven of eight Premiership games, going from bottom to mid-table.
Arsenal slipped up with a 1-all draw against the revived Southampton and Gordan Strachan. The wee Scot has made a huge impact and it’s good to see him rising in the EPL. Newcastle kept their title hopes alive with a 3-2 win over Bolton with Alan Shearer bagging two for the road to a Champions League spot. Chelsea pulled a big 3-2 win out of the bag over Leicester with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink hitting a brace, the winner in the 90th minute. Manchester United hit Sunderland for 4 with a double for Ruud van Nistelrooy to keep the Devils on top.
It’s been a marvelous season so far and it promises to get even better. It looks that way for Liverpool but not for Leeds. Nevertheless, O’Leary has issued a warning not to write his team off.