A just result in a game where we gave the ball away more than we had done in total until now in 2008. The first half was a horror show of misplaced passes and only one team looked likely to score and it wasn’t us. Yes, many of us will point to Mike Riley bottling an obvious penalty call when Mascherano tripped Joe Cole in the box, but even then it was in an unthreatening position.

Crouch whistled one shot inches wide of the post in the first half and Ballack cushioned a volley inches wide of the post with 10 minutes to go, but that was about it for goalmouth action as neither goalie had a decent save to make. We barely strung three passes together all game and Liverpool were well-organized, so well that even Kuyt looked menacing in the first half. Every loose ball in the midfield was picked up in the first half by a player in red and on the rare occasions a man in blue got there first, it was usually passed straight back to the opposition.

Chief culprits were Makelele and Lampard, with willing assistants in SWP and even Joe Cole whose flicks and tricks never came off. This wasn’t the best game for Lampard to make his first appearance since Boxing Day. There was no time in midfield and his rustiness was there for all to see. It might have been better to bring him off the bench late in the game when tiredness would allow more than a split-second on the ball.

Should Arsenal win tonight, the gap will be eight points with 12 games to play, almost certainly too big. The only consolation is that second place is closer now thanks to Manure’s capitulation to their city rivals.

RATINGS:

CECH – 6. Never stretched and handled everything else as we have come to expect.

BELLETTI – 6. Up against it early on after a yellow for handball and with the speedy Babel looking like he would run at the Brazilian at every opportunity. Fortunately, Babel quickly lost his appetite and Belletti nullified his threat. However, it meant he wasn’t able to get forward like he usually does.

ALEX – 7. Struggled with Crouch in the air, but did enough to ensure the Liverpool man couldn’t cause damage.

CARVALHO – 7.5. Swept up everything around him and was steadier in his distribution than most of his teammates.

A. COLE – 7. It’s fashionable to knock him these days, but was our most dangerous provider in the first half and put in a good performance.

MAKELELE – 5. It’s near heresy not to laud his every game and he has seemed in recent games to have discovered a creative role hitherto unseen. Well, Liverpool seemed happy to let him have the ball rather than Ballack and Lampard and it paid off for them handsomely. In the first half his pass success rate must have been about 30% and that’s not counting the number of times he was caught in possession.

LAMPARD – 5. A poor return for the dynamo of our team who needs to find his feet quickly if he is to justify his place in the team. I can’t remember a single good pass from the man we have relied upon so much in previous seasons.

BALLACK – 7. Not the German’s greatest game, but anything we created usually went through him. Pushed up when Lampard was taken off and so nearly won it near the end when our best move of the match ended with him cushioning an awkward ball just by the far post.

WRIGHT-PHILLIPS – 5. Could have been a mismatch up against Riise, but Liverpool’s swarming defence mostly kept SWP, back again on the right wing, a peripheral figure.

J. COLE – 5.5. Rarely had the space or time to produce anything special. The one occasion he got room — when Gerrard gave the ball away in the final third — he inexplicably chose to play an early long ball instead of running at goal.

ANELKA – 7. Grant will have to play two up front when Drogba returns because he cannot leave out Anelka. The man ran willingly and won his fair share of ball against a tigerish defence led by Carragher. With him and Drogba marauding up front, I can’t see a defence that will be able to control them.

Subs:

MALOUDA (for SWP, 64) – 6. His left-foot delivery into the box gave us more options and we looked instantly more dangerous when he came on, though that wasn’t difficult.

MIKEL (for Lampard, 71) – 7. Played in front of Makelele, allowing Ballack to get forward more. Glad he’s back. No silly lunges, either.

PIZARRO (for J. Cole, 86) – 6. Only on for a few minutes and caused discomfort to the previously assured Liverpool back line. Chased around madly and used some close control to fashion a shooting chance. Kind of spolied the effect, though, by concluding with a virtual air shot with his left foot.