Carragher Kyrgiakos Agger Insua
Kuyt Lucas Mascherano Benayoun
This season in a nutshell, except it’s the first draw in 17 games. Ecstasy and optimism followed by a kick in the teeth. A brilliant Babel opener off the bench, but a sloppy Lopez equalizer in the 90th after Liverpool couldn’t completely clear late pressure, ending with a Bastos flick-on to Lisandro, who out-muscled Kyrgiakos to beat Reina. You can’t say it was Liverpool’s lone mistake – Lyon were almost through thanks to blunders in the 74th and 79th – but they’d looked to have dodged a bullet and resurrected the Champions League campaign. Now, not only does Liverpool have to beat Fiorentina (ideally by two or more goals) and Debrecen, an already-qualified Lyon needs to get a result in Florence.
And Ryan Babel should have been the hero after Liverpool were the better side on the whole. Other than spurning the three excellent chances presented in the first 45, you couldn’t help but be pleased with the half. A typical Liverpool performance in Europe, if you will, which is the highest compliment I can pay the team given the circumstances.
Good workrate and, more importantly, composure, led to Liverpool seeing the majority of possession, the better chances, and increasing strength as the game went on. The home side was limited to early shots from distance, while only Hugo Lloris’ keeping kept Lyon level. After his saves in the first match when Liverpool was a goal to the good, and his stops in this match, I’m never forgetting that name.
A clearly half-fit Torres had the first, in the 12th, when Insua’s deflected cross fell to him at the top of the box, only for the striker to shoot centrally, saved by Lloris’ shins. Kuyt had the second in the 17th, sliding in to collect a cross before fashioning a clever rising toe-poke, prompting Lloris’ best save. 11 minutes later, Voronin was through on the keeper after a long free kick, but saw his tame shot kick-saved away. Both Torres and Voronin’s efforts could have been better, but Lloris still had to keep out all three.
Lyon weren’t helped by injury problems comparable to Liverpool’s, as right-back Reviellere went off in the 18th followed by Pjanic in the 40th. But despite those impediments and Liverpool’s fortitude, Gomis looked capable of creating one needed moment, while Lopez was clearly out to test Carra down that flank.
Chances were fewer and farther between in the second half, as Lyon resorted to cagier tactics only needing a draw to qualify. Liverpool again should have taken the lead but for Lloris in the 69th, when the ball fell to Lucas open on the left in the box. It was a well-struck shot, but a better save, and Kuyt’s weakly bicycled rebound was easily cleared off the line.
Lyon nearly struck through the two aforementioned mistakes – Kyrgiakos let a long ball bounce before a soft back header put Lisandro through, but Reina saved with his face, then Kuyt picked the wrong pass in the final third, Lyon broke, and Lisandro danced into space only to curl an 18-yard shot around the far post.
Bringing on Babel for Voronin (the lone attacking change until Ngog replaced a spent Torres in the 86th) helped matters, and it was the oft-criticized sub who provided the moment of inspiration. Liverpool broke through Lucas to Benayoun, Babel received the ball in Lyon’s half, strode into the center, and unleashed an unstoppable blast from 25 yards out. It was probably the best goal he’s scored. And I hope it ends the debate as to whether he’s better off the bench.
It’s saddening that a draw’s only disappointing because of the Champions League implications. It’s certainly better than other recent results. And with the amount of players either missing or half-fit, taken out of context, it’s not a bad result. But there’s a context. With two games to play, Lyon’s on 10 points, Fiorentina’s on 9, and Liverpool has 4.
Liverpool deserved better for having the better chances, but couldn’t take them until the 83rd, and gave up an ignominious equalizer, which isn’t exactly a rare occurrence this season. It was especially cruel given that the makeshift backline had been excellent on the whole. I’ve few complaints with anyone’s performance, but at the same time, there were few standouts (Mascherano on the whole, Babel’s goal, Insua excellently rebounding from a poor performance in the previous meeting, Lucas' passing, Agger’s composure).
It’s a performance that can be built upon for Monday’s match against Birmingham. Hopefully, the five-day interlude will help the casualty list, especially with Torres (it was reassuring to see him last 86 minutes). But at the end of the day, qualification for the all-important, flash-the-cash knockout rounds is now out of Liverpool’s hands.