Carragher Skrtel Hyypia Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Jaaskelainen (og) 11’
Sometimes that bit of luck is all the difference, and it could have been very different inside the first 11 minutes.
Bolton has two clear-cut chances within the first ten. Piling up the set pieces early on, Diouf’s 5th minute free kick eluded everyone, bouncing through the box only to careen off the bar. Four minutes later, Joey O’Brien’s flick from a corner went past two Bolton players in the six-yard box before being cleared.
And then Liverpool got that slice of luck in front of goal that’s been sorely lacking. Gerrard’s speculative effort looked to be going wide, but when Jaaskelainen dove for it, it ricocheted off his face and bounced backwards into the net. That’s the sort of good fortune Liverpool’s been on the wrong end of recently, and that it’s on the other foot is a good omen.
Bolton had other opportunities in the first half, most notably when Reina made a magnificent save on Davies’ point-blank header in the 27th. To their credit, Bolton kept going forward, in need of points to keep them out of the relegation zone, but it opened up space for Liverpool, and the away side increasingly dictated play and looked to attack on the break. Babel forced Jaaskelainen into two saves and was unlucky when Cahill got a toe on his chipped shot, while Gerrard began pulling the strings in the middle of the park.
And once Liverpool saw their way through the first 45 minutes, it gave the team the needed confidence to increase their foothold and further set the tempo. Within 15 minutes, Babel finally got his deserved goal, beating Jaaskelainen at the near post when the ball was cleared to him after Kuyt hit the foot of the post.
15 minutes after that and Liverpool finally made use of one of their many corners (it was 10 or 11 at that point) when Aurelio scored a brilliant first goal, chesting down Skrtel’s header and volleying past Jaaskelainen with his preferred left foot. Superlatives don't do it justice; it was a masterful goal, and more proof that despite the look of him, Aurelio is actually Brazilian.
Bolton got their consolation soon after when they finally made use of one of their set pieces, with Cohen’s free header beating Reina from Taylor’s quick corner. Had the game been closer, Liverpool would have had a real grievance, as it looked like Kuyt had cleared the ball before the assistant (who couldn’t have had a clear view) blew for a corner. But with Liverpool 3-0 up and barely 10 minutes to play, it had little impact, although Reina was clearly upset about losing the clean sheet.
Aside from the first 10 minutes, Liverpool was fairly comfortable throughout, and that’s a welcome sight considering the team’s league struggles and their record at the Reebok.
The midfield three was the key to the game. Gerrard, Mascherano, and Alonso were all influential, and their command of the center of the park was the key to Liverpool setting the tempo and tone in the second half. That all three players were on the pitch at the same time and performed well is an excellent sign for the future.
In addition, the defense was miles better, even considering the first 10 minutes, Bolton’s consolation, and the home side rarely threatening in the second half. Skrtel again showed his quality with some excellent tackles and positioning and a willingness to bring the ball out of defense, while Carragher did well joining the attack up the right.
Defending still needs to be better on set plays, evidenced by the consolation, but it will improve as defenders return to fitness, and there are less forced changes at the back. Plus, despite Liverpool’s flaws, they still only gave up one goal from multiple free kick chances, and Bolton can be deadly when given those opportunities.
Babel also played well, and was a constant threat. Bolton may claim Steinsson went off in the 42nd due to injury, but it’s more likely because Babel tortured him throughout the first half. It’s been welcome to see Babel get consecutive starts, especially in the league. He’s obviously brimming with talent, but still makes mistakes, and needs the game time to improve, which he’s been doing. There was little to choose from between Babel, Gerrard, and Skrtel for man of the match in my opinion.
It was one of Torres’ quieter days, with the striker going off in the 78th minute with an eye on Wednesday’s match, but they can’t all be three-goal performances.
That’s 6 points out of 6 during the spell between Champions League games. Liverpool’s scored 3 goals in both, and with Carragher and Skrtel returning, looked more solid in defense. Getting two wins sets the team up well for the matches against West Ham and Newcastle, both at Anfield.
In 3 days comes the much-discussed game-in-hand against West Ham, where a win would see Liverpool continue the push for fourth. But I’m already sick of focusing on the table; Liverpool simply needs to keep winning, and the league position will sort itself out.