Finnan Carragher Hyypia Arbeloa
Babel Gerrard Mascherano Benayoun
59’ – Riise for Benayoun
65’ – Sissoko for Gerrard
78’ – Torres for Voronin
With the line-up set out coupled with the pre-match comments from Benitez, it appeared we were going to see a more attacking Liverpool. Don’t get me wrong; Liverpool got a very nice and much needed away goal, was never going to completely dominate on the road, and it was so hot that Carragher wore short sleeves. But all in all, it was similar to how Liverpool’s played in the past, especially in Europe: the better team with more possession, but patient, cautious, and content to soak up Toulouse’s attacks after getting the crucial first goal.
It wasn’t the best of games to watch (to put it nicely), but it is job done, and there can be very few complaints about that, especially in the conditions. It was, however, a superb goal by Voronin.
Again I was impressed with Liverpool’s new #10. He worked hard as usual, showed good strength in holding off defenders, and what a goal it was. With halftime approaching and Liverpool unable to make the breakthrough despite an advantage in possession, Finnan’s long ball found Crouch, who flicked it on nicely. Voronin controlled beautifully with his chest, turned, and unleashed a rising shot from 25 yards that the keeper had no chance on. And credit to Gerrard for his run to pull the defender away from Voronin and allow him the space to take a stride and unleash his shot.
After the goal, Liverpool seemed content to slow the pace further and soak up Toulouse pressure. Emana had a snatched chance at an overhead kick right before the break, and the home side came out for the second half stronger, although they rarely looked like equalizing. For the first 20 minutes or so after halftime Toulouse attacked more often than throughout the rest of the game, but in the end, Reina only had one challenging save to make, from Elmander’s header after a lovely Mathieu cross, which he did with aplomb.
Liverpool had more chances on the counter in the closing stages of the game, and the fresh legs of Riise, Sissoko and Torres helped ease the pressure, but, as Toulouse rarely looked like equalizing, the second goal didn’t really seem to be coming. Crouch, who didn’t have the best game, could have done more, and Torres had a good opportunity on the counter after making space but instead chose to try and set up Sissoko, only to see the pass intercepted. Still, a one-goal advantage will be hard work for Toulouse to overcome at Anfield.
The aforementioned Voronin and Mascherano vied for man of the match in my mind. And while Voronin’s goal will be the lasting memory of the game, Mascherano was better on the whole. He didn’t have the quickest start, which wasn’t that surprising given his busy summer and lack of time in preseason, but grew into the game excellently. He was his usual impressive self in the tackle, but what stood out was the way he looked to run with the ball and get forward when the opportunity presented itself, which hopefully is an added dimension gained at the Copa America, where he scored twice. Hyypia, who will always be dominant in the air no matter his age, and Arbeloa are also due a mention for their solid defending, but no one in defense did themselves any injustice today, even if Toulouse didn’t present the biggest threat.
None of the other new players excelled, but neither did they have poor games. Benayoun and Babel again showed their versatility in switching flanks. Yossi worked hard and popped up all over the pitch when he was on, but was subbed out before the hour mark to bring on Riise to further solidify the defense. Babel was nowhere near as effective as he was against Villa, but he was helped on that occasion by appearing as a sub. He did show some glimpses though, like in the preseason; one moment sticks out in the mind when he had the ball on the left in the first half. I was getting ready to shout at the television for a cross when he put his head down and beat his man beautifully leading to a Gerrard shot fired wide. Torres came on as a late sub, and showed good movement in providing an outlet up top to eat up the clock, but he never really got into the flow of the game.
So while it wasn’t the greatest spectacle, I’m happy with the outcome. A second goal would have been nice, but bringing an away goal lead to Anfield should be enough. My main worry is when Sissoko came on Gerrard went straight down the tunnel. Hopefully he was just being rested with the Chelsea match in mind, but the last thing Liverpool needs is an injury to the captain. I may just be reading too much into it though.
After all the talk, Liverpool’s started the season with two wins from two away games. They may not have been flawless performances, but a win’s a win, especially at this stage of the season. And it puts Liverpool in a good position to continue this trend going into the game against Chelsea on Sunday.