Liverpool wasted the chance to improve their hopes
of finishing fourth after a dull 0-0 draw against
Both teams lacked any thrust going forward due to their nervous play and the match always looked to be heading for stalemate, with an alarming lack of clear opportunities.
Rafa Benitez may take solace in a point but a win would have allowed the Reds to steal a march on their rivals in the race for the final Champions League place.
In typical fashion, Benitez’s team selection surprised many, with outcast Ryan Babel brought into the starting line-up and Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun returning from injury on the bench.
Liverpool started on the front foot and the hosts were actually the more negative of the two teams, looking for their quick forwards to counter-attack.
Emmanuel Adebayor went closest with a powerful strike from the edge of the box but Pepe Reina, Liverpool’s best player this season, saved well at his near post. That was one of just two shots on target either team managed.
It was disappointing show considering that these are meant to be two of the league’s best teams, with plenty of flair players on the pitch. Neither manager truly went for the three points and both might regret their lack of bravery come the end of the season.
This match was effectively a play-off match for fourth place, with Liverpool needing a result to prevent City from gaining a four-point lead with a game in hand.
Liverpool’s improved results since the New Year, coupled with Tottenham and Aston Villa falling away slightly, had left the Reds and City as the favourites for fourth.
But this draw has allowed Spurs and Villa to claw their way back – both won today, meaning just a point now separates the four teams.
Ironically, the idea of introducing play-offs for the final Champions League qualification berth was raised by the Premier League this week, something given short thrift by Benitez.
A positive for Liverpool supporters will be the return of striker Fernando Torres, who played 15 minutes at the end. Benitez’s side lack potency without him at the spearhead of the attack and his goals will be vitally important if the season is to be saved.
Easier games are ahead for Liverpool but better performances are necessary as the battle to retain Big Four status looks likely to continue right until the end of the season.
By Chris Shaw
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Both sides set up defensively, making for a dull affair with little excitement at either end