Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Benayoun Mascherano Gerrard Riise
Crouch 19’ 89’
Benayoun 32’ 53’ 56’
Babel 79’ 81’
Well, that was an emphatic response to the request for more goals and the previous European performances. Much like in the Derby game, when the goals come, they come in bunches. This was a performance that deserved to set the record for the biggest win the Champions League.
The team was simply on-form, and it didn’t hurt that luck was on their side as well (Babel scored the 7th goal with his back!). Liverpool could have had more than 5 after the first half, and it’s with little exaggeration that I say Besiktas was lucky not to concede double-digits. After 45 minutes, I was afraid the result might paper over some cracks, with 5 good chances not taken, but the second half certainly allayed those fears.
I realize that there was a distinct gulf in class between the sides, Besiktas came to defend, not play football, and everything went Liverpool’s way, but this was also the best performance of the season.
The most encouraging thing is that Liverpool’s chances came from different styles of play. Aurelio and Arbeloa were active on the wings and drove forward at will. Aurelio was able to pump in crosses (and Liverpool has missed his long range passing, especially in Alonso’s absence), while Arbeloa and Benayoun combined brilliantly down the right. Crouch laid off knock-downs, Gerrard stormed through the middle. Babel and Kewell looked to beat defenders. We even saw some of the old ‘pass and move.’ Liverpool did everything today, and did it well.
The difference was the four players who returned to the starting line-up today: Crouch, Voronin, Arbeloa, and Aurelio. The fullbacks were integral parts of the attack, as both players are wont to do (although Besiktas camping in their own half helped). Voronin got two assists (one of which was an insane back-heel to put Gerrard through), showed up everywhere in the final third, and deserved a goal of his own, while Crouch made his case for inclusion with a brace. More surprisingly, I don’t think Crouch committed a foul today, and he drew a few free kicks of his own; he held up the play beautifully and filled his role to a tee.
Don’t get me wrong -- everyone played well. Yossi got a hat-trick from midfield, two of which came from rebounds in the box (3 of the goals came from spilled saves, which showed how many players Liverpool was able to get in the box), and picked up two assists with crosses for Babel’s first and Crouch’s second.
Babel’s first goal, back-heeled in to the net from Benayoun’s low cross, was absolutely out of this world. Henry-esque is the only way to describe it; I still can’t believe he tried it or that it came off. It's amazing what can happen when the team's brimming with confidence. His second came thanks to a stroke of luck, with a clearance ricocheting into the net off his back, but only the crossbar prevented him from a hat-trick of his own as a substitute.
Kewell got another 20 minutes off the bench, made some mazy runs, and looked to beat his man at every opportunity, while Gerrard scored his 4th in five games. Mascherano held it all together in the middle and played those short, incisive passes to open the attack. I can go on and on with praise for individual performances (and that of the manager, who deserves the credit when it goes right as he has to suffer so much stick when it doesn't).
But no matter the euphoria of today’s performance, with Porto’s win over Marseille, Liverpool will still need help from other results. Porto’s now 1st with 8 points, while Marseille’s still on 7. That help will probably need to come from today’s opponents. If Besiktas is able to take points off Marseille (in Istanbul) or Porto (in Porto), Liverpool’s still in with a shout if they win out.
I am admittedly worried that this result will gloss over some problems. Besiktas were not good today and for all intents and purposes gave up after Gerrard’s goal, while Liverpool did get lucky at times today, and absolutely everything that could go right did.
But if Liverpool continues to play like this, they can beat any opposition. Any. Opposition.
Now let’s see it in the league on Saturday.