Finnan Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Well that spanned a gamut of emotions: excitement, amusement, frustration, anger, elation, and finally, sweet relief.
For the first 15-20 minutes, it looked a lot like the Marseille game without the goals. Liverpool pressed from the whistle and was moving well with and without the ball. Chances came with it, but Inter held firm, led by Cordoba in central defense (Zanetti was also outstanding).
Inter then began to see more of the ball, but 30 minutes in, Marco Materazzi (as if it would be anyone else) picked up his second soft yellow card. Yeah, they were soft yellows, but both were deserved yellows, and it was his own fault. And to be honest, the sending off really didn’t help Liverpool.
Backs against the wall, Liverpool had to start brightly, and with Inter built to attack, the home side had space to operate. But with the sending off, Inter camped in their own half, denied absolutely any space in the final third, and forced Liverpool to methodically try and carve them open.
Which is where Liverpool’s struggled of late. When Liverpool’s had to open up stingy defenses is when the attack’s been prone to breaking down, leading to players standing around waiting for something to happen. And it’s also when Liverpool’s been open to the counter.
With Inter down to 10 men there was little opportunity for them to push forward, and Liverpool saw nearly all of the possession, but the home side didn’t get a real chance at goal until halftime was imminent.
As the second half opened, Liverpool continued to pile on the pressure, and there were signs of unlocking the defense. It looked like the breakthrough would finally come in the 58th minute when a mistake put Torres through on goal, but Cesar got a hand to the shot to turn it wide. It was just the type of opportunity Liverpool needed with Inter stingy, and that they were denied was the first time it looked like it could be one of those days.
And when Vieira clearly handled in the box two minutes later (which was something like Liverpool’s fifth handball penalty claim of the match, and easily the clearest), it looked like the Materazzi sending off would be Liverpool’s lone stroke of luck.
But finally, after the entrance of both Crouch (for Lucas) and Pennant (for Babel), the pressure paid off with five minutes remaining (although it wasn’t a coincidence that both goals came after Cordoba’s was forced off through injury in the 75th).
Liverpool had been spreading the field from flank to flank looking for an opening, and in the 85th minute, Pennant’s dangerous cross finally found Kuyt at the far post. He had the time and space to lash it past Cesar, giving the keeper little chance despite the angle. You could clearly see the relief on Kuyt’s face; if anyone needed to score that goal, it was certainly Kuyt after the last few weeks.
Liverpool could have understandably sat back for the remaining minutes, but with Inter reeling and blood in the air, they kept going forward, culminating with Gerrard's low shot from distance eluding three defenders and the keeper before sliding in off the inside of the post.
I can’t emphasize enough how much the addition of both Pennant and Crouch helped. Babel and Kuyt were willing workers all night, but Pennant provided much-needed width and ability to beat the left back, and was involved in both goals, although the cross for Kuyt’s will be the highlight. Crouch, although he missed an excellent chance when the ball rebounded to him at the top of the box, settled the side by being able to win and control the ball in Inter’s half, and was unlucky not to score when he worked out a chance in a minimum amount of space in the box, only to be expertly blocked by Maxwell.
Once again though, Mascherano’s probably the man of the match; although 10-man Inter had few chances to counter, Mascherano snuffed all possibilities out, winning the battle between he and the heralded Cambiasso. I’ve also made mention of the subs, but really, it was a true team performance. No matter how it was earned, there can be no complaints about 2 goals against a stubborn defense and a clean sheet against the likes of Ibrahimovic et al.
I don’t know what it is about European nights. Yes, the team was playing well throughout, but given fortune of late, after 50 minutes of a man-advantage nil-nil certainly looked likely.
But the team kept pressing, kept their heads down, and kept working for the cause and to the manager’s plan. I’ll admit it, it’s not the easiest thing to see the players spread the field and pass laterally when looking for a goal with time running out, but the team kept at it, and it paid off in the end. And not only that, it’s a clean sheet and Inter without an all-important away goal.
A 2-0 advantage, although warmly welcomed, doesn’t mean the tie is over. Inter can score at the San Siro, and players like Ibrahamovic, Cruz, Crespo, and Suazo can take a mile if given an inch. But that’s not for three weeks.
Now hopefully this takes some of the pressure off the team, and Benitez, going into this Saturday’s home match against Boro.