Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Insua
Benayoun Gerrard Alonso Babel
Santa Cruz 85’
Well, I didn’t expect that scoreline after the first half.
For 68 minutes, it was frighteningly same old, same old, despite the changes to the team. Liverpool had some intricate passing in the middle of the pitch, and dominated possession, but broke down in the final third time and time again. With the team patient and passing, Blackburn had time to get two solid lines of four behind the ball, and Kuyt was often isolated alone in the box against two six-foot defenders.
Liverpool didn’t manage a shot on target in the entire half. The best, and really only, opportunity came when Gerrard put through Benayoun through, but he couldn’t get the shot off before Warnock got back to cover. And only Reina’s fingertips prevented Pedersen from scoring in the 29th when Gerrard gave the ball away, and Pepe had to push the midfielder’s shot onto the crossbar.
It was marginally better to start the second half – Alonso’s shot from the top of the box was too close to the keeper in the 57th and Babel’s nice run from the right teed up Gerrard, who forced a save from Robinson, in the 62nd. Immediately after that good work from the Dutchman, which was one of his few highlights today, he was taken off for El Zhar. And seven minutes later, Alonso finally got the goal that Liverpool have been waiting for.
Benayoun got the ball to Gerrard on the right, and the captain centered looking for Kuyt. Typical for the match to that point, the striker couldn't connect for the first-time shot, but Alonso was there to cover, and perfectly placed a side-footer past Robinson.
After the goal, Blackburn opened up, and this Liverpool team is built for taking teams apart in that situation. Kuyt’s gorgeous diagonal found Benayoun in acres of space on the right, and he was able to get around Warnock and beat the keeper with a lovely shot inside the far corner from a narrow angle.
It should have been done and dusted at that point, but Liverpool fell asleep in the 85th, when a quickly-taken short corner was flicked on for Roque Santa Cruz open at the far post, which made the final minutes much edgier than they should have been. But Liverpool stood firm, and again countered in the final seconds. Riera tried to put El Zhar through with a smart pass, but Robinson was quick to come out and block. However, Riera followed up and found Gerrard wide open on the right with the goalmouth gaping. He doesn’t miss those. And it’s a far more flattering scoreline than the first two-thirds of the game merited.
Alonso’s performance was impressive; his range of passing was as usual, he was often further forward than Gerrard, and he was there for the crucial goal. But Hyypia’s probably my man of the match – the Finn was consistently awesome in defense, heading out long balls pumped forward and corners, and keeping Blackburn from getting much of a sniff. Aside from the one moment of madness, the entire defense was excellent – even Insua, who never looked out of place, although he was under orders to stay home more often than not. And the defense is the reason that Liverpool's done as well as they have this season while still struggling to score.
It was surprising to see ninety minutes go by without Keane. Liverpool got the right result, and it’s dangerous reading too much into this, but that can’t be good for his confidence. It was also a big game for Babel, and for the most part, he disappointed – during halftime, he was utterly excoriated by Pat Dolan on Setanta. And while Dolan's often just a loudmouth reliant on hyperbole, Babel did give the ball away too often and made the wrong decision too many times. And his best bit of play was followed by him being hauled off – another move that probably won’t help the player’s confidence.
But Liverpool won. And that's all that matters. The team kept working, finally got the break-through, and got two more in twenty-five minutes for good measure. Aside from one piece of lax defending, the backline was awesome. Hopefully, this result will snap the attack back to attention.
PSV on Tuesday, with a chance to win the CL group.