On Sunday, Queens Park Rangers, and its manager Harry Redknapp, shriveled with the game on the line. As a result, they lost to Liverpool. With seconds left, QPR was clasping a precious point when it was given a chance to go for all three. QPR won a free kick in the middle of the opposing half. Liverpool had struggled to deal with high balls all afternoon. It seemed the moment to wheel the big units into the opposing penalty area.
Instead, Richard Dunne, one of QPR’s hulking center backs, stayed back. With Redknapp gesticulating frenetically from the sideline, Dunne ordered Steven Caulker, who had lumbered forward, to plod back to halfway.
Perhaps QPR, which had dragged itself back into the match with two goals in the final three minutes of regular time from Eduardo Vargas, was happy to stick on one unexpected point. Perhaps Redknapp was fixated on the goal the pacy Philippe Coutinho had scored on a counter-attack between the two Vargas equalizers.
So, QPR sacrificed players in the Liverpool penalty area, where they might have scored, for players on the halfway line where they gave the illusion of security.
Caulker, Dunne and the aging midfielder, Karl Henry, are all defensive players, but they are not the trio to cope with the counter-attacking pace of Coutinho and Raheem Sterling. It would have been better to keep the speedier but less-defensive minded trio of Yun Suk-young, Mauricio Isla and Armand Traoré back instead.
Liverpool’s defense, under no pressure, cleared QPR's free kick. Sterling and Coutinho tore at QPR. Despite starting so close to his penalty area, Caulker struggled to keep up. When Coutinho crossed, Caulker, going at full pelt and facing his own goal, clumsily poked the ball into the net, handing Liverpool the winning goal in a 3-2 result.
This was not a game that Liverpool won. It was a game that QPR lost. The London side dominated the first half. Bobby Zamora, a striker who can do everything except score, bullied Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel. Leroy Fer hit the bar twice, the first time with a clear shot from five yards. Liverpool defender Glenn Johnson was forced into a clearance off the line after an effort from Sandro.
Redknapp noticed that in their last match, a pathetic loss at West Ham, QPR’s players had run a kilometer less per man than any other team in the Premier League that weekend. The manager muttered about fitness, but one reason for the lack of energy is his habit of stacking his team with aging veterans.
On Sunday, Redknapp dropped his 35-year-old center back, Rio Ferdinand. His 34-year-old goalie, Rob Green, withdrew before kick off. Another 34-year-old, Dunne, put Liverpool ahead early in the second half, with his 10th Premier League own goal. Henry, who will turn 32 next month, let Sterling escape in midfield to set up Liverpool’s second goal.
Zamora, 33 and nursing a hip injury, did well for an hour and a quarter before fading and making way for Vargas, in what almost proved a masterful Redknapp substitution.
Not all 34-year-olds are liabilities over 90 minutes. Steven Gerrard drove Liverpool forward right to the end. Alongside him, the youngsters, Coutinho, a second-half substitute, and Sterling began to catch the eye as QPR tired and did enough to secure the victory. But otherwise, Liverpool was woeful. Its defense could not cope with high balls. Emre Can and Jordan Henderson were outmuscled in midfield. Mario Balotelli was awful. Like Fer, Balotelli faced an open goal from six yards. Unlike Fer, Balotelli did not even hit the bar, shooting way over.
Liverpool won because QPR did not dare to. Redknapp likes to say he is an attacking manager. He knows it is what fans want to hear. But in the key moment Sunday, he showed a lack of fortitude. That drives fans nuts.
• It has always been easy to dislike Mourinho’s teams because their default position is negative. On Saturday it faced Crystal Palace, a physical side that brought out the same in Chelsea. That focus might explain the lunge that earned César Azpilicueta a red card. But Chelsea won, 2-0, because it was both beauty and beast. Oscar scored with a pretty free kick. Chelsea’s second had the simplicity, geometry, and intelligence of great art. Cesc Fàbregas opened the Palace defense with a series of quick angled exchanges with Oscar and Eden Hazard. “The goal was a scandal,” said, Mourinho, “It was so good.” He was right. His team was playing the beautiful game…
• If referees punished every foul in the penalty area all games would look a lot like the match between Manchester City and Tottenham on Saturday. Jon Moss gave four penalties where many other referees might have given one -- although few would then have further punished Federico Fazio with a red for his tug on Sergio Agüero. Yet none of the decisions were clearly wrong. Defenders get away with a lot in the area because the punishment is so harsh. And most referees doubtless dislike being accused of hogging the spotlight. Moss’ decisions hardly affected the outcome; Agüero’s four goals decided the match. If only, when he knew the camera was on him at those four key moments, Moss hadn’t pushed his chest and chin out and started to strut like a preening pigeon…
• It takes two sides to make an 8-0 scoreline. If Moss had been refereeing at St Mary’s on Saturday, he would probably have give Sunderland a penalty and sent off Fraser Forster, the Southampton goalie, for a wild, late challenge on Steven Fletcher. It wouldn’t have made much difference. Southampton was already two goals up, starting with a smashing own goal by Santiago Vergini that Caulker and Dunne can watch to cheer themselves up. Southampton won 8-0 in part because it was, again, very good. Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic, bargains by Premier League standards, shone brightly. Sunderland, in particular goalie Vito Manone, was awful and, in the end, didn’t seem to care. Despite this display, it’s hard to believe Southampton will stay in the top three. Because of this display it’s hard to believe Sunderland will stay out of the bottom three…