For 60 or so minutes, I was getting ready to write a reprise of this weekend’s Middlesbrough review, the only difference being injuries to 3 Liverpool players (which I’ll return to). The game looked certain to finish 0-0, with neither site creating any great opportunities. PSV was content to sit back with 10 men behind the ball, and Liverpool was unable to break through. Same old, same old, except for the fact now the game was at Anfield.
Liverpool finally turned it on in the 65th minute. Kuyt, who probably had his worst game in a Liverpool shirt until then, spun away from Alex (PSV’s Brazilian, and arguably best, defender) magnificently, and laid a perfect pass for Gerrard to run on to. Typical Stevie finish, slotting the ball in the bottom right corner for his second goal of the season (both in Europe).
Liverpool’s second came right before injury time, and was close to the team at its best. It was a fairly quick attack, but had a lot of passes and players involved. Reina hoofed the ball long, it fell to Zenden who beat two men through the middle, passed it out to Garcia, who crossed into Kuyt, who knocked it back for Crouch to head into an open net from maybe a yard away. I’m certain Rafa was quite pleased with the move that sealed the game, even though PSV was never likely to get a goal back.
Another clean sheet in the books, as well, which is comforting. PSV played defensive soccer to be sure, but Arouna Koné was dangerous as usual, and a clean sheet’s a clean sheet. No one had a bad game; I say Kuyt was off, as his first touch and movement wasn’t what it usually is, but he still gave his all (as always) and ended up with 2 assists.
There’s always something to complain about however, and the leg injuries to Xabi Alonso, Mark Gonzalez, and Jermaine Pennant make this game no different. Pennant is okay, with Benitez quoted afterwards saying it was simply a spasm. However, Alonso and Gonzalez are far more serious; Gonzalez appeared to have a hamstring tear, and Alonso’s been reported to have anything from a dead leg to a severe ankle or hip injury, and was seen leaving Anfield on crutches.
Nothing will match Benitez’s first season for injury woes; I remember both Salif Diao and Igor Biscan (I loved Igor, but really…) starting games in central midfield. But having both Xabi and Sissoko out at the same time will clearly impact Rafa’s plans. Gerrard and Zenden seem certain to be the central pairing for the foreseeable future. Gonzalez’s injury doesn’t help matters either. Thankfully, Garcia’s getting back to fitness, but I think I’m going to get my wish, and we’ll see more of Riise at left midfield, with Warnock or Aurelio (if he’s ever healthy) slotting in at left back. Pity the hand is being forced, however.
This is why Benitez has gone out and bought so many players, why Liverpool has so many “possibilities.” The squad should be able to cope with the absences; there is enough depth and enough talent. What bothers me is now Liverpool’s seemingly set in a line-up; I reckon it’ll almost always be Gerrard and Zenden in the center and some combination of Riise, Pennant, and Garcia on the flanks until Alonso and Gonzalez return. And while admitting that Liverpool misses the players, critics should be pleased that the line-up is now mainly set in stone, after slagging the rotation policy for long. I’m pretty sure Liverpool will be poorer, not only for losing the players, but losing the possibilities as well.
But I refuse to end on a down note after a 2-0 win. Not after a resilient performance that saw Liverpool assure themselves of qualifying top of the group, and two winnable games at home in the league coming up.
Roll on Man City.