Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Aurelio
Pennant Gerrard Babel
Gerrard 75’ (pen)
Surprise, surprise, Liverpool leave it until the last 15 minutes to score the winner. And they have Papa Bouba Diop’s moment of madness – an attempt at a punched clearance from a corner – to thank for it. James guessed correctly on the subsequent spot kick, to his right, but Gerrard had hit it too hard into the bottom corner.
To be fair, Liverpool had upped the pressure before the penalty, with best two chances of the half coming in the minutes right before the goal. Benayoun should have slotted in Gerrard’s delicious throughball, but lingered just long enough to allow Distin the block before Aurelio’s wicked shot after a Pompey mistake led to the corner that Bouba Diop handled.
The first half was better fare, and once again, a team came to Anfield and put everybody but Crouch behind the ball. It didn’t help that another former Liverpool keeper was having an excellent match. James palmed Kuyt’s blast onto the post, smothered Carra’s shot from distance, and pushed out Gerrard’s effort from the right edge of the box, while Lucas headed over from a corner and Kuyt shot into the side-netting.
But Pompey, despite not offering a lot offensively, could have scored in the 26th when Bouba Diop got between Carra and Hyypia, but could only head directly at Reina.
Liverpool was on top throughout the second half with Pompey defending even deeper. But, the home side couldn't find the finishing touch (with Gerrard playing a couple of gorgeous crosses that Kuyt couldn’t get onto), it looked like it could be one of those days. Once again, it’s better to be lucky than good, no matter how good this team’s looked at times.
After the goal, Liverpool almost seemed content with what they had as Pompey started to press, with Defoe finally coming off the bench. Utaka should have made contact six yards out in the 83rd minute, but Liverpool, with 11 men behind the ball by the end, held on for the three points.
And for vast stretches, there really was only one team that looked like winning. There was a fair bit of Arsenal-esque poking and prodding, while the team was often narrow (although Kuyt as a lone striker isn’t really the best option for crosses coming into the box). But Pompey, even with a worse goals-against average of late than in seasons past, was stingy and resolute in defense. I guess Tony Adams has stamped his likeness of the team quickly. In addition, I also thought Lassana Diarra played well in midfield.
The penalty helps, but Gerrard was probably man of the match regardless. I don’t think it’s coincidence that he’s had two good games in a row playing in a freer role further up the pitch, even if the 4-2-3-1 formation has been more malleable than in last season. Alonso also kept up his form, and I have to say, I think it’s the beard. Hope it continues. I also thought Arbeloa was good getting forward and in the tackle today.
With Kuyt plowing a lone furrow up top, Liverpool looked toothless at times, but Torres should be back soon, and that rest should do Keane’s groin good.
Benitez rotated players as expected, and yes, Liverpool were probably lucky to come away with all three points. But, and it’s become something of a cliché with this team, today’s was a game that would have finished all even in previous years. And with the team on a roll, any win’s a good result.
Tottenham, which scored in 89th minute and again in injury time to draw with Arsenal 4-4 today, on Saturday.