Ojala (og) 4'
Shelvey 76' 88'
Well that was all sorts of preposterous. There was a full complement of good, bad, and ugly, but thankfully more good – especially in the final 25 minutes – than bad or ugly.
Hilarity and/or misfortune typified the first five goals, but the last three demonstrated Liverpool's quality. It was a makeshift line-up – with an average of 24, five players who are 22 or younger, three players making their Liverpool debuts, and a 21-year-old appearing for the first time in 18 months – but it was Liverpool's young players who impressed, the veterans who made the match closer than it should have been.
The insanity seemingly started in the best, and most fortunate, manner. Within four minutes, Ojala accidentally headed the ball into his net, through no fault of his own, as Veskovac headed Downing's cross to nowhere off his teammate's noggin. That goal made "own goal" Liverpool's top scorer in the competition. By the end of the match, it'd just be joint-top scorer.
Despite the makeshift line-up, Liverpool settled into its possession game fairly quickly, but were unable to extend the lead – as per usual – because of a lack of any threat in the final third. Henderson, Şahin, and Suso were tidy in midfield, while Assaidi raised hopes with some clever, strong runs, but the Pacheco-as-striker experiment was a complete failure. Downing added little, and all too often, Downing or Assaidi crossed to a 5'8" Pacheco marked by two or three defenders. Set plays, typically corners, and a wicked Assaidi shot from distance curling wide of the far post were Liverpool's best chances at extending the lead.
Liverpool susceptibility to counter-attacks and continued, mind-boggling ability to make unforgivable defensive errors also reminded sadly consistent, leading to Bern's equalizer. Both Carragher and Enrique had looked shaky throughout, and both Carragher and Enrique lost the plot in the 38th, "aided" by Brad Jones' strange positioning. Farnerud and Bobadilla combined to easily blow by Carragher, but Enrique looked able to shield the ball back to Jones. But Jones was late in coming out, and Enrique took it off his own keeper, then cleared directly to Nuzzolo, who slotted into an empty net. Enrique will never have an easier assist in his Liverpool career. Pity it, like the opener, was at the wrong end.
To Liverpool's credit, the score stayed level for less than three minutes. Enrique's dangerous cross won the corner, almost another Ojala own goal, then Şahin found Andre Wisdom, out-jumping and out-muscling Scott Sutter, to head in a debut goal. But Young Boys' threat remained evident just before halftime, as Farnerud blistered a long-range shot off the outside of the post.
The next two goals, both from the home side, further demonstrated Liverpool's failings: lapses on set plays, then individual mistakes on counter-attacks. In the 53rd, Liverpool cleared the initial corner, but Ojala somehow found space between Coates and Wisdom for the ball back in, with Jones late to react to the not-quite-bullet header. Ten minutes later, Bobadilla undressed Carragher then turned away from Suso after Young Boys broke following a Liverpool corner, feeding Zarate storming down Liverpool's left. Neither Enrique nor Şahin retreated fast enough, compounded by Brad Jones charging out to nowhere's land – ignoring Enrique's shout to get back onto his line – leaving him wholly exposed on Zarate's chip. Just a cavalcade of ineptitude.
Then, simply put, the substitutions made the difference. Shelvey gets the headlines by scoring twice, but the first substitution – Borini on for Pacheco immediately following Zarate's goal – was just as important. The Italian, who's actually a few months younger than Pacheco, was infinitely more effective, his runs vastly contributing to Coates' goal and both of Shelvey's. The defender tallied Liverpool's equalizer, Liverpool's second from a corner, seconds after Shelvey entered the fray. Coates' flicked on Downing's corner, but while Borini missed contact at the far post, his movement took the Bern defender off the post, allowing Coates' flick to somehow sneak in. Sure, slightly lucky, but it's hard to argue Liverpool aren't perpetually due for some luck, even considering how the opening goal came about.
Four minutes later, Liverpool scored the pick of the bunch to re-take the lead. Shelvey harassed Zverotic into a bad backwards pass, allowing Borini to smartly intercept. He ran at Veskovac before smartly centering across the box to Henderson, whose one-time pass to Shelvey for a side-foot tap-in can't be done justice with words. Most players would have taken a touch, whether deciding to pass or shoot. Henderson, without breaking stride, redirected it perfectly – perfectly – for Shelvey, whose first-time finish was also impressive. Pressure on the halfway line leading to an interception in the opposition's half, a strong run to put the defender on the back-foot, the right decision in centering across the box, a one-touch pass, and a one-touch shot. Just three players involved. Beautiful. Also, it's worth noting that both players Borini had the option of passing to were midfield runners storming into the box from deep. You cannot overemphasize the importance of midfield runners getting into the box, especially in a team that has such trouble scoring.
The final substitution, Sterling – on in the 77th – contributed in an unexpected way: his most important attribute was in giving Enrique some much-needed defensive help. Wrap your minds around that one. Which made Liverpool more secure when pushing for a game-sealing fifth, in addition to preventing yet another Young Boys' comeback. Farnerud's blast from distance, this time well-saved by Jones, was Bern's lone chance to draw level. Then Shelvey sealed the match. Liverpool drew the sting out of the game by keeping possession before Henderson's pass to Shelvey, who had cleverly found acres of space between the lines. Borini's shifting run took one center-back completely out of the picture while setting a pick on the other – while Sterling's threat kept the right back marking him – allowing the midfielder to stride into the box before unleashing an unstoppable left-footed rocket, an excellent way to cap a frenetic game.
First half not so good, last thirty minutes very good. Young players very good, certain veterans very bad. Suso and Assaidi played well, as did Coates and Wisdom despite Liverpool conceding three, while Henderson was the star of the show. Both Shelvey and Borini – just 20 and 21 in their own right – were outstanding. Şahin's assist was his highlight, otherwise, similar to the Arsenal match in doing little wrong but making little impact as well; nonetheless, it's outstanding match fitness. Enrique, despite the many, many flaws, also has the "match fitness" excuse in returning from his knee injury. The less said about Downing, Carragher, and Jones, the better.
I doubt today will be replicated often. Oddly enough, it's been exactly 500 days since Liverpool last scored five goals away from Anfield, only scoring five or more in FA Cup matches against Brighton and Oldham last season. Liverpool scored more goals today than in its first four league matches combined, just one fewer than the total tallied in the four Europa League qualifying matches.
Overall, it's a confidence boost for almost all involved and the team in general. An away win in European competition, regardless of how earned, is always an excellent result, especially when compared to the drudgery often suffered the last time Liverpool were in this competition (under both managers that season). Most importantly, it was an incredibly strong argument for selecting this type of side in this competition. But they'll assuredly face tougher opposition against the other two sides that comprise Liverpool's group.