Liverpool wins 5-0 on aggregate.
Arbeloa Hyypia Agger Riise
Benayoun Sissoko Mascherano Leto
Kuyt 87’ 90’
Once Liverpool got the first goal today, the tie was probably over. But it should have been well and truly over by halftime; Toulouse was not good tonight. However, that was more than rectified after the break.
Crouch opened the scoring in the 19th minute, sticking out a long leg to make contact with Kuyt’s cross, his height the key to the goal. And then he missed 2 free headers, both easier chances than the one he scored. By halftime, Crouch could have had a hat trick, and Liverpool could have had 4 or 5, which is disconcerting, but Toulouse never looked liked getting one back, and Liverpool was truly cruising.
Thankfully, Hyypia knows how to head the ball. Sami’s header came from a corner (which is always warmly welcomed) soon after halftime, and was aided by some shocking defending. Oh, and he broke his nose 3 days ago. Players returning from broken noses have a habit of scoring for Liverpool; let’s not forget Crouchy’s performance against Arsenal last year.
Kuyt deservedly got in on the act in the 87th minute to make the scoreline more accurately represent the game. He cut in from the right, played a lovely one-two with Babel, and got off a narrow shot from close range, doing well to get the ball out from under his feet and fire a right-footed shot into the far corner. And with the match ending as a glorified training session, Kuyt got his second with the last kick of the game, chipping over the keeper after a delightfully weighted dinked throughball from Benayoun. 5 games in, and all four strikers are off the mark.
Benayoun, who’s unfortunately been in the media recently, was, along with Mascherano, the man of the match. He was best player in the first half, played a perfectly-timed assist for the 4th goal, and provided the corner for Hyypia’s goal (Liverpool scoring from corners?). This is what he needed to do: seize his opportunity and give Pennant a run for his money as the regular starter. He showed his excellent vision time and time again, made good runs around the box, linked up well with Arbeloa, and looked threatening coming in off the flank.
While this was probably one of the best games to deploy a Sissoko/Mascherano pairing, there are absolutely no complaints with the result, and they looked little like the pairing that struggled to create anything against Aston Villa last season. If Toulouse had presented more of a threat, Masch would have been my man of the match; he didn’t put a foot wrong and played the midfield anchor roll to a tee, despite not playing a lot for Liverpool recently after his busy summer.
Sissoko rarely put a foot wrong as well, and looked far more composed and confident following his goal on Saturday. Momo wasn’t happy to be subbed off for Lucas in the 69th minute, but the game was done and dusted, and it’s refreshing to see his desire to be on the pitch and play well.
And mention must be made of Arbeloa. He’s played great at either fullback position, he can get forward, he can dribble, and he can cross. He’s linked well with every winger he’s lined up with. And he cost £2.5m. Benitez has made some great buys, but it’s with little exaggeration that I say Arbeloa might be the best value for money.
It was good to see some of the young players get time today as well. Leto was a surprise starter, and while he was fairly innocuous for a lot of the match, he showed some good touches and a great work ethic, moments that showed why Benitez has such faith in him. It’s early days, but he looks an improvement over Gonzalez.
Coming on for Sissoko with about 20 minutes left, Lucas paired well with Mascherano, but at this point of the game, Toulouse offered very little competition. The most important thing is both of these players, and Babel coming on for Leto in the 75th minute, got more experience on the pitch, and played with different players than in their earlier appearances.
So that’s Champions League qualification assured, and it was assured with two of Liverpool’s most important players out injured and Alonso, Torres, and Pennant (with Finnan appearing late) also absent. Admittedly, Toulouse was dire, and got worse as the game went on, but Liverpool did score 4 goals, and created bucket loads more chances. How’s that for rotation?
The difference is Liverpool’s squad strength. From top to bottom, this is easily the best team that Benitez has had. The key players have had time to gel, and the summer purchases go a long way to curing some of last year’s problems (pace, goals, creativity, depth in attack). It’s hard to keep from getting carried away, because I can’t say it enough, Toulouse were outclassed from start to finish, Liverpool should have scored more, and Reina could have brought a lawn chair to today’s game. But even with the injuries and the rotation, Liverpool didn’t miss a step. Hopefully they’ll continue on this pace against Derby at Anfield on Saturday, who had to play a full 120 minutes in the Carling Cup today, only to lose on penalties to Blackpool.
The draw for the group stages takes place on Thursday.