Thursday, August 10, 2006

COMEBACK KINGS AT WORK, AGAIN !

Advantage Liverpool As Two Debutants Came To The Rescue

UEFA Champions League
3rd Qualifying Round


Anfield, Liverpool

LIVERPOOL 2 - 1 MACABBI HAIFA

Scorers:
LIV - Bellamy (33min), Mark Gonzalez (88min);
MAC - Boccoli (29min);


We edged closer and closer to an embarassing one all draw with Israelian side, Maccabi Haifa. We're left with 4 minutes and many things gone through my mind. 'What about Gonzalez on for a rather lethargic Riise and just go for it and leave the 3 defenders at the back?' I thought to myself.

Finally, I saw number 11, our new signing from Chile, Mark Gonzalez, stripping off his training gear and putting on the awesome red jersey for the first time since his transfer from Albacete last year. But when the electronic board went up, I was incensed, at the same time bermused. Gerrard coming off for Gonzalez? What the h*ll is Rafa thinking?! The person whom rescued Liverpool from 3-0 down in 2005 Champions League finals and 05/06 FA Cup final, was being replaced! The only player I could ever think of if we're to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

But, this happened.....



Quite unbelievable. Hands up if you're one of those Liverpool fans whom lost all hope when you saw Gerrard being hauled off. I think I'm one of them and I was pretty anxious at that time as well. But seriously, what a way to score on your debut. This goal is gonna be a platform for Mark as he continues to find his feet and adapt to the pace of the English game. It's gonna be a morale booster for the youngster, who probably had a couple of poor performance over the last 2-3 friendly matches. But when he's ready to step up and take responsibility, he took it well with calm and composure, and showing years of maturity that is beyond his age.

But I have to admit that we're plucky and lady luck was smiling at us this time, just like the many times she had smiled on us. Macabbi put up a strong fight and defended valiantly, but couldn't do anything as Xabi Alonso placed a wonderful chip over the head of the Macabbi Haifa defenders for Mark Gonzalez, who cut in from the left and arrived just in time. His touch was poor as he left the ball behind, but this is when his flair and technique shows as he picked his spot and fired the ball into the top corner of the net. A wonderful finish and heart break Macabbi Haifa.

Not to be outshone, Craig Bellamy and Jermaine Pennant, the other 2 debutants for Liverpool, were lively and productive. I was pleased that Bellamy didn't take as long as Peter Crouch to break the duck and scores for Liverpool.

We went 1-0 behind when some defensive errors and misjdugement from Xabi leads to an opening for the Israelian side. He should've at least caused a foul as Carragher and Hyypia were scrambling back, after being caught off position. But Boccoli then used his pace and outran Riise before firing past hapless Pepe Reina.

But the new Liverpool spirit, inculcated by none other than Rafa Benitez himself, was ever present, as Liverpool fought back once again, just like they did for the past few occasions. Pennant was impressive as he hugged the touchline before cutting in and placing the ball for Gerrard, who in turn flicked the ball masterfully for Sissoko. Momo, still searching for his first ever goal for Liverpool, smacked the ball hard and th goalkeeper saved it, but could only parry into the path of the onrushing Bellamy, who rifled the ball into the roof of the net. In the process, he pushed Gerrard away as well, as they both went for the loose ball.


Talking about Mohamad Sissoko (pictured above), he was colossus last night. He covered every inch and blade on the field, ran his heart out and was unlucky not to score at least once. His role as a destroyer is a blessing to every team as of ManYoo having a Roy Keane and Arsenal having Paddy Vieira. Now we have a 21 year old Malian, who ran like a 'crazy ostrich' as I've always nicknamed him and I was quite surrised how much improvement he has made over the past few months. He's now more composed then he was months back and his passing has improved vastly.

His midfield partner, Xabi Alonso was disappointing though. It seemed like he was well off the pace and had several miscued passes and surrendered possesion to the opponent. His reaction was slower than usual, as Macabbi Haifa actually had a man marking Alonso for much of the match, neutralising his playmaking ability from the back, and wearing him out as well, knowing that players returning from World Cup are still not the freshes of fishes.


I have a question for Rafa though, that is why he's so stubborn when it comes to tactics and formations. I was really surprised as we started out with a 4-5-1 with Bellamy the lone striker. Obviously Bellamy (the shortie above) is not the type of lone striker that's effective and therefore in the first half, we're pretty poor, as Gerrard and Alonso could only keep trying to find spaces behind the defence, which is pretty difficult considering how well they defended.

Then when we really had the score goals, he replaced Bellamy with Crouch (the tall bamboo stick above). Why not just stick both of them upfront and see how things works. It was stubborness on his part, but at least the trick went right and we won the game. I could imagine if Mark Gonzalez did not score the winner and the newspaper will surely have a field day on why Rafa replaces Gerrard when Liverpool needs him the most.

Poor performance really. I was expecting more from the team. But seeing how some players are still recuperating from the World Cup, they'll have to get their fitness back fast. We'll be playing the Chelscums this Sunday and it's never gonna be an easy game, eh?



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