Arbeloa Carragher Agger Dossena
Babel Mascherano Lucas Riera
A mediocre first half (at best), with Liverpool falling behind to a goal that shouldn't have been, and the night still ends on an excellent note, winning by two goals and getting three Academy lads time on the field. That’ll do fine.
Liverpool was disjointed throughout the first half, which was little surprise with all the changes. Babel was an out-and-out right winger, Keane kept dropping deep off Ngog, and the away side struggled to link the midfield and attack. PSV had the best chance of the opening half-hour, with Cavalieri forced to palm away a stinging shot from Simons in the 16th, but they still rarely looked like scoring.
However in the 36th minute, PSV took full advantage of a corner that should have been a goal kick (the referee, fussy to an extreme, had a stinker throughout, and wasn’t helped by one of his linesmen). Unlike last Saturday, when the defense fell asleep, Liverpool was simply unlucky – Mascherano’s attempted clearing header bounced off Marcellus’ face and to the feet of Lazovic, who stabbed home through Cavalieri’s legs.
It looked like Benitez would have to deliver another halftime screed, but seconds before the whistle Liverpool earned a free kick on the right flank. Lucas stepped up and sent in a gorgeous ball that Babel glanced past Isaksson.
Parity at halftime was fair despite Liverpool’s failings. Keane and Ngog were struggling to link up, Babel was running into too many dead ends down the right, and PSV’s central pairing, especially Marcellus, was playing well. But once Liverpool drew level, there looked only one likely winner.
Keane should have given Liverpool the lead in the 50th minute, but tried to put in Ngog instead of lashing it with his right, and Marcellus was there to block. I honestly feel bad for Keane – he’s not playing poorly, but he’s not in sync with the rest of the side. Too often, either Babel or Ngog (mostly Babel) tried to go it alone, and left Keane wide open clamoring for the ball and shaking his head. His off the ball movement – however much you miss watching on TV – looked excellent compared to others in the team.
But at the same time, when he had chances like the one in the 50th minute, he passed them up. He looked loads sharper in the second half, not surprisingly given that the game opened up, and it’s a pity he couldn’t tally a goal. I still think it’ll click, but I’m hopeful it’ll be sooner rather than later for Robbie’s sake.
However, Riera finally broke the deadlock in the 68th with a thunderous strike from distance, giving the keeper no chance at the near post thanks to an awesome left-footer. It was an absolutely wonderful goal, his second for the club, and if Riera can keep chipping in with those from the flanks, he’ll more than pay for his £8m fee.
Ngog sealed the points in the 77th with his first Liverpool goal after an outstanding ball from Keane released him on the break. But the striker still had much to do, and used his pace to keep Brechet out of the picture. Lucas could have had a fourth two minutes later, but volleyed wide after another superb Keane pass. Liverpool used the two-goal advantage to send on Darby, Spearing, and Martin Kelly, and it was fantastic to see the young English lads get time on the field. None disappointed, even if they didn’t have much to do.
Lucas and Mascherano were the best players on the pitch for me, with Lucas probably shading man of the match. Mascherano was Mascherano, mopping up as only he does (I loved that he got the armband after Carra went off), while Lucas was everywhere in midfield. He delivered an outstanding free kick for the first goal, and covered excellently on the right flank after Spearing replaced Riera. Dossena also had another good game, his second in a row.
While I’m thrilled Babel scored – it should help his confidence and lessen this idiotic loan talk (it must be December – agent season) – the rest of his game needs some work. He was a willing runner down the right, and constantly tried to go at Salcido. But he lost possession more often than not, and combined with some poor decision-making on the break, I'm still a bit wary. Here’s hoping he uses these 90 minutes to go forward and make me eat those words.
All in all, this is a fantastic result, and coupled with Atletico’s 0-0 draw at Marseille, means Liverpool wins the group. There were seven changes from Saturday’s team, and Liverpool still won by two goals. The team showed excellent character to come from behind away from home. Ngog scored his first, Spearing and Kelly made their first-team debuts (Darby previously played five minutes in the Carling Cup), no one got injured, and Benitez was able to rest Alonso, Gerrard, Reina, and Kuyt,
Now Europe’s wrapped up until February. All eyes are on the league. Hull City on Saturday.