Johnson Skrtel Carragher Insua
Benayoun Kuyt Riera
Well, they can’t all be 4-0, can they?
That wasn’t good enough by any stretch and yet it was. The performance left a lot to be desired, but three points are all you can ask for.
It was the same line-up as against Burnley, but Liverpool found it a lot harder to break through. A slow start, with 10 determined Debrecen defenders behind the ball, led to Liverpool forcing the play. Too many giveaways and sloppy passes gave the visitors confidence, and they increasingly grew into the game as they kept the home side at bay.
And in the 30th minute, Debrecen got the first shot on target for either side, with Czvitkovics forcing Reina into a smart save after Skrtel cleared the ball right to him. The next six or so minutes saw some sustained Debrecen pressure, although with few efforts. But the warning finally prompted some decent play from Liverpool.
Riera was the catalyst, although he probably should have taken one of his chances. Gerrard and Carragher found the winger with throughballs in the 34th and 38th, with the first shot wide of the far post and the second saved by Debrecen’s keeper, with Kuyt’s prodded rebound cleared off the line. Riera had another shot from distance parried before providing a cutback for Gerrard, who could only place his shot inches wide. Finally, it only seemed a matter of time.
And thankfully it was, with Kuyt scoring the crucial goal seconds before halftime. Benayoun played it through to Torres, who turned and fired. Again, Poleskic could only parry and Kuyt got there first, sliding in ahead of the otherwise-solid Meszoras.
One would hope that’d be the dambreaker, and Liverpool would come out guns blazing in the second half. No such luck. The team was still sloppy and Debrecen was still solid. Liverpool had the ball and the chances – a couple of Gerrard shots narrowly over and a Lucas free header wide among others – but broke down in the final third too often, couldn’t add to the lead, and could have paid the price for it.
No offense meant, but Liverpool’s fortunate that the opposition didn’t have the firepower to punish them. The home side may have had two-thirds of the possession and far more shots, but we’ve seen them penalized for not extending a one-goal lead before, and they’re lucky it didn’t happen today. Coulibaly had chances in the 78th and 82nd, but couldn’t loop it over Reina or round Skrtel respectively, both times going to ground too easily.
Benitez probably waited too long to make substitutions – Babel’s entrance in the 80th definitely helped matters, as he was the impetus behind Liverpool’s two best late chances, before Mascherano and Aurelio came on for Benayoun and Kuyt. In the 83rd, Babel’s pace started the move that ended with Benayoun shooting over, and in the 89th, he showed some lovely ball control before his shot was deflected wide. I’m still a bit puzzled that changes weren’t made earlier even though play was sloppy and players looked tired.
Kuyt was probably the only one I’d classify as “good” today – he consistently got into clever positions in the ‘Gerrard’ role and scored the winner, his 19th in Europe – although Lucas, Benayoun, and Riera had their moments. But, unlike against Burnley, Gerrard didn’t impress sitting deep. It would have helped if he’d remembered his shooting boots, struggling to get shots on target (and he had chances), but the captain was less effective in all regards. And once again, Torres had trouble making any impact.
Credit to Liverpool that they can play so unconvincingly and still win. But displays like today’s won’t suffice in too many matches.