15 Goals For, 1 Against In Last 3 Games
UEFA Champions League
LIVERPOOL 4 - 1 FC Porto
LIV - Torres (19, 78), Gerrard (83), Crouch (87);
POR - Lopez (33);
Stormy clouds were gathering fast over the skies of Merseyside as Rafael Benitez's relations with the US owners was thought to have been broken down. It was continued to be stirred relentlessly despite the comfortable 3-0 win over Newcastle over the weekends.
But in typical Scouser fashion, Liverpool fans showed unity in strength and the willingness to overcome the odds as they sang at their top of their voices in support of their 'beleaguered' manager.
They're not willing to let slip a legend in the making.
Problems didn't stop there, really. After investing heavily in the summer, it would be a nightmare not to get into the knockout phases of the Champions League. But for the past few weeks, the nightmare was almost turning into a reality.
Whether is it doing it the hard way all the time or not, Liverpool showed enough persistency and doggedness to get their result last night against Porto. A must win game at Anfield sounds easy enough for the Reds but Porto was a test of character.
The Kop faithfuls were singing Rafa Benitez's name throughout, even prior to the game when hordes of Scousers congregated outside Anfield to give Rafa a vote of confidence. But it was another Spaniard who took centre stage and ultimately lifted a huge volume of pressure from the shoulders of Benitez.
A big money transfer from Atletico Madrid last summer, he was purchased with the expenditure provided by the US owners, Hicks and Gillett. But ultimately, Rafa believed and trusted in his ability to get goals for the club.
And he did just that.
It justified Benitez's transfer policy and it sounded as clear as an alarm to the owners that they need to put faith in someone who understands football more than they do. They opened the checkbook but Rafa picked him.
Fernando Torres grabbed a brace as Liverpool put 4 goals past Porto in a somewhat flattering manner. It was end to end stuff at times and both teams, especially the home side, looked stretched as the game went on in a break-neck tempo.
He put the Reds ahead in the 18th minute with a header from Steven Gerrard's corner kick. Dreadful defending from Porto allowed the Spanish marksman to evade the defence and planted the ball past Helton.
The great escape is alive and truly kicking.
But Liverpool took their foot off the pedal in spectacular fashion and was utterly punished, yet totally against the run of play. Despite dominating possession, the Reds didn't threaten and Porto scored from their first attempt on goal in an incisive move.
Kaz (his name is too long and difficult to be spelt) whipped in a cross after he muscled Mascherano off the ball and Porto top scorer, Lisando Lopez, got the better of Alvaro Arbeloa as he launched an acorbatic header which gave Porto the equaliser.
And Liverpool panicked. It was apparent that the goal took them by surprise and indeed, they looked shell-shocked.
For the next 15 minutes after the Porto goal, the Portugese giants took hold of the game and launched waves and waves of attack on Pepe Reina's goal. Close shaves and edge-of-your-seat moments abound and suddenly, the Liverpool fans were taken aback as to what is happening right in front of their eyes.
A draw would be the end of their Champions League campaign. It would also pile pressure on Benitez, with his job already seemingly under serious threat.
And it just didn't looked like it was their day. For the next half an hour, Liverpool toiled and found no rewards. Voronin was quiet, Benayoun off-colour and Babel disappointing. Only Torres looked threatening.
Passes were misplaced and tension was apparent. Anxiety gets the better of the players at times and frustrations led to the disappearance of composure.
Then came the turning point of the game. Rafa Benitez decided enough is enough for the trio of under-performers for this game. On came the much maligned Harry Kewell and the under-utilised Peter Crouch.
Both gave the Reds an extra option up front and no, it's not really the aerial prowess of Crouch. It was the way they held up the ball and controlled it in the spaces so tight that Harry Houdini would have problem getting out.
And it was Kewell who provided the ammunition for Torres to find the net, albeit it was a lucky one. Yet, take nothing away from the wonderful finish of the Spanish striker, as he curled it past Helton and the acrobatic defender on the line.
Anfield was in raptures. I myself jumped out of my seat with my fist pumping in the air. Just the goal we need!
Then just like how most Liverpool game goes this season, it triggered a landslide thereafter. Milan Stepanovs handled the ball under pressure from Hyypia and up-stepped Steven Gerrard to score and equal Michael Owen's European goal record.
Icing was on the cake finally when Gerrard's corner kick once again caught the Porto defence cold. Crouch headed the ball into an empty net after Helton decided to go for a walkabout.
Half the job is done at Anfield but Rafa's men know that what matters the most now is the result at Velodrome the next time round. A must-win game not only for Liverpool, but also the French giants, Marseille. All teams still stand a chance to qualify at this stage. What an intriguing outcome it will be!
Huge pressure lifted off the stands of Anfield and with the 90 minutes of constant singing, Rafa was pleased enough and acknowledges the fan's support. His post match interview was a heart-warming and positive one, in comparison to the one he had on Saturday.
An overwhelming win which didn't truly reflect the real complexion of the game. Yet the class of the Reds prevailed till the end.
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