Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Great Escape Completed

Reds Blitz OM To Squeeze Through Into Knockout Round

UEFA Champions League

O. Marseille 0 - 4 LIVERPOOL

LIV - Gerrard (4), Torres (11), Kuyt (48), Babel (90);


"When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high".

And indeed, as the Liverpool anthem rung within the Stade Velodrome, the scouse never-say-die attitude was epitomised in an inspiring way as Liverpool cruise to a comfrotable 4-0 win.

The first three games in the group stages were potential banana skin and despite being favourites to go clear off the group, Liverpool slipped and only till last night did they book a place in the last 16.

Pressure was mounting on the players as well as on manager, Rafa Benitez, prior to the game as the very result of this game will surely affect the mood of the impending meeting with club director, Tom Hicks. Only fresh from their first defeat of their campaign at Reading, Liverpool knew much was at stake.

The hostile crowd in Marseille was all but ready to welcome Liverpool and extinguish that little glimmer of hope that is still with the visitors. But the Reds treated this game as if they were ready for a cup final, just as Rafa said in his pre-game interview.

Even Harry Kewell turned up!

Nevertheless, the tension and breathlessness were eased as early as the 4th minute, and the rest as said, were history. Liverpool dominated Marseille from start to end and gave them absolutely nothing to scrap for.

The Marseille defence were battered and bruised by the powerful run of Steven Gerrard and turned inside out by the wonderful Fernando Torres. This is the sort of performance that underlines the mental strength and quality of this team that Rafa had built over his 3 year reign.

Liverpool could've bottled it big time, cower under fear and probably lose it under intense pressure. But they were cool and composed, though nerves were only rested when Gerrard tucked in the rebound after missing the penalty.

The early goal gave Liverpool a much needed boost of confidence, a spring in their step. Looking a little intimidated right from the first whistle, conceding possession 3 seconds into the match, they then went on a romp and secure a place in where they really belong.

It was a typical 'European' performance from the Reds all in all. Professional, clincal and no-nonsense. It was like an exorcism for that spectre of the improbable lost to the same in at Anfield, same as they did to Besiktas. It was a test of mental strength and character.

Liverpool surely did pass it with flying colours.

The signing of Torres was a signal of intent that the Reds are ready to mount a serious challenge in whichever competition they're in and he, once again, showed why he's worth ever penny that Tom Hicks and George Gillett had invested in.

His pace, his guile, his body balance and that sudden burst of speed. He looked class above all the strikers that we had for years. Coming nearest would probably be Saint Michael Owen. Though still too early to compare him to Kenny Dalglish, 12 goals in 19 games speaks volume.

He was graceful yet powerful at the same time. To be honest, most of us would've run out of speculative for the Spanish striker if he keeps his red hot form for the rest of the season.

The industrious Dirk Kuyt then added a third with a deserved goal before super-sub, Ryan Babel, puts the icing on the cake. It was a goal of high calibre and one that should have had the public gushing over if only it was the winning goal rather than just one of the four.

Mascherano was prominent in every part of the field whenever a Blue and Orange was on the ball. Harry Kewell looked lively and we certainly missed some of his creativity and ball control down the left flank. Yossi Benayoun pulls defender all over the place while diligently helping out Alvaro Arbeloa in defence.

Ryan Babel too, had a field day and his pace and power was too much for the tired legs of Marseille.

Much strength of character was needed for this game and it was evident that this Liverpool team really isn't any sort of pushovers. We all love the underdogs and this time round, the Reds have yet again did a turnaround when things doesn't go their way.

How did they ended up in such a dire strait at first is a mystery but now we know what to expect from this lot. Man Utd up next and they know they need to deliver once again.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

'Royally Defeated'

Referee Inconsistency Mars An Otherwise Well-Deserved Victory For Reading

English Premiership

Reading 3 - 1 LIVERPOOL

REA - Hunt (pen 17), Doyle (60), Harper (67);
LIV - Gerrard (28);

All good things come to an end, as they say. A crucial week was coming right up for Rafa Benitez and his men as they set out to ensure Liverpool's qualification in the Champions League as well as the Premiership race, with rivals, Man Utd, paying a visit.

But how bad of a start to this crucial week with an appalling 3-1 defeat to a spirited Reading side, which hasn't done as well as they did last season when they appeared as the dark horses.

Truly, their never-say-die attitude, organisation, hardwork, grittiness and the little slices of luck here and there was enough to overcome the giants of the North-west. Liverpool and Arsenal are the only two remaining teams in the entire English football league that have yet to lose a game and now it seemed like Arsenal will hold the honour of being unbeaten, probably throughout 2007 part of the season.

Prior to the game, Liverpool was in their imperious form and the 15 games unbeaten streak is never seen before, record breaking for even the prestigious club. Goals were flying in around from everywhere on the pitch and some statisticians might even lose count on the number of goals scored in the past 4 weeks or so.

Yet how Liverpool looked so impotent yesterday, it was pure baffling. Many questions will be asked as usual as to why Rafa started with the strike trio of Torres, Crouch and Voronin and yet looked so toothless upfront. Or how he had a 'captain-go-round' when they are 3-1 down. The captain's armband changed hands thrice in a single match.

Seemed like a pre-season friendly attitude to me.

With Carragher a card away from being suspended for the United game, speculation had been rife all week about him possibly being replaced by Jack Hobbs in the middle of the defence, partnering Sami Hyypia. Yet he found himself starting the game, partly partnering and partly guiding the young Hobbs.

Starting Jack Hobbs is always going to be a pricey risk to play for Benitez yet itwas Carragher himself who gave Reading the much-needed headstart with a rash challenge on Bryjnar Gunnarsson.

Replays shows that the contact was outside the box but the man on the spotlight, Andy Marriner pointed to the spot after consulting his linesman. One of the many controversial decisions he had to make in the game and in favour of Reading.

Stephen Hunt kept his cool and gave Reading the lead and it definitely opened the game up.

Liverpool's direct approach to the game caused the home side much problem especially with Fernando Torres in red hot form and Steven Gerrard scoring for fun. With Crouch and Voronin to aim at, the visitors were contented to lump it forward and pray that it drops for one of them.

In a fortunate manner, or more like a defensive error from Graeme Murty means that Torres was able to steal in from behind and put the ball under his control. The Spanish striker found Gerrard on his rampaging run and the skipper made no mistake from 8 yards out.

In typical Gerrard fashion, he drove right through the heart of Reading defence.

But Liverpool huffed and puffed, struggled to find the breakthrough. Andiry Voronin drifted in and out of the game and Peter Crouch was anonymous upfront. Momo Sissoko finally appeared for his league start and yet again, didn't impress his critics with careless passing and a little clumsiness at times.

Liverpool then had a stonewall penalty turned down after Torres was obviously tripped by Ibrahima Sonko in the box but Marriner is never going to give away penalty that easily anymore.

The tide turned against Liverpool in an instance and the away side found themselves behind once again. Reckless Gerrard brought down the industrious Stephen Hunt and Reading scored from the resulting in-swinging freekick. Kevin Dolye had the slightest of touch and it zoomed past Pepe Reina.

Then the Madejski stadium was in pandemonium after James Harper nailed the final nail in Liverpool's coffin with a fine counter attack move. He got behind the half asleep defence before rounding Reina, giving Reading an unlikely yet well-deserved win.

It's a fairy tale result for Reading yet utter nightmare for Rafa and his men. Decisions were going against the away side far too often and it really got in the skin of the players and staff alike.

Yet Liverpool's defeat cannot be faulted totally on poor refereeing but some bizarre decisions from Benitez and also, an overall listless display from the Reds, as if already jittery about the visit to Marseille and Man Utd.

With the American owners ready to talk to Rafa about his future plans, this is just not the right result to hand over to them. It is a truly shambolic result in truth and how we all didn't expect this good league start to end in such a terrible way.

Liverpool will need to pick themselves up for the next few games because with their heads down, they won't achieve much.