(You can find my story at A Different League)
Sunday 23 January 2011
As Raul Meireles’ stunning volley dipped and swerved into the top corner of Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey’s net in the 49th minute, Liverpool fans could be forgiven for hoping that maybe the good times will start to roll again for their beloved club.
The 27-year-old Portuguese gave a consummate performance from midfield. As well as scoring the second of the game with the 25-yard contender for goal-of-the-season, Meireles’ key contribution arguably came in the 35th minute, making a clever run and selflessly setting up Fernando Torres for the opener. It would not be foolish to suggest that a Liverpool midfielder has not looked as comfortable on the ball since Xabi Alonso left for the white shirt of Real Madrid.
The former Porto playmaker constantly pulled apart the Wolves defence, getting into the space behind their midfielders on numerous occasions. Liverpool did not appear to miss captain Steven Gerrard one bit. While Kenny Dalglish will be delighted to see Roy Hodgson’s signing finally settling in to the pace of the Premier League, his impressive run of form could present a few headaches for Liverpool’s manager once Gerrard has finished his suspension.
It was noticeable just how much freedom Meireles was given to get forward throughout the lunchtime match, and his teammates consistently looked to get the ball into his feet as often as possible, highlighting the trust they put in his range of passing and vision. Nervous defending and high balls from both sides stunted the early stages, but once Liverpool found their rhythm, they rarely looked back. Dirk Kuyt linked well with Torres and Meireles, and the much-maligned Lucas Levia appeared more comfortable with a ball-playing midfielder alongside him.
It will be intriguing to see whether Meireles’ attacking ambitions are tactically curtailed once Gerrard returns, or whether he will be given more freedom to get forward and influence the flow of the game, as he did at Molineux. If Dalglish can find a formation that gets the best from both Gerrard and Meireles, he may be on to a winner.
Another issue raised was the worrying propensity for Wolves’ back line to collapse into confusion over how to play the offside trap. For the first goal, right-back Ronald Zubar played Meireles onside despite the rest of the Wolves defence having already stepped up as a unit. While nobody could predict Meireles’ stunning volley, the third goal was more of the same – Christophe Berra was the guilty party this time, getting badly caught out and allowing Kuyt to stroll through to (fortunately) assist Torres.
In their defence, Wolves’ back line was not helped by a sluggish midfield that failed to track the runs of Lucas and Meireles from deep. Perhaps the memories of the 1-0 victory at Anfield last month led Mick McCarthy to play 4-4-2, but the formation back-fired badly. Whatever the cause, McCarthy will have to figure out a way to instil some order into his defence. While Wolves have looked impressive going forward this season, they will struggle to remain in the division if they continue to commit the same catastrophic mistakes as they did against Liverpool.