With a 3-0 away win in Europe, in the last 8 of the Champions League no less, I should be jumping up and down for joy. Don’t get me wrong; I’m exceptionally pleased with the result. It’s just that was quite an uninspired three goal victory.
Liverpool dominated the game, and yet, it wasn’t even close to a dominating performance. I’d go so far as to say they never really got out of first gear. No one was really superlative, but no one was poor in the slightest, and now the tie looks to be over before it ever came near Anfield.
So job well done, but in truth, PSV really never offered that much. They certainly looked a team struggling for both form and confidence. Koeman was true to his pre-match comments, where he explicitly stated he’d be happy holding Liverpool to a 0-0 draw. Once that was a lost cause in the 27th minute, there really was no Plan B. Given the injuries PSV’s currently facing, there wasn’t much on the bench for Koeman to work with.
I stand by my statement that no one on Liverpool was superlative, but Steve Finnan was easily the man of the match. Arbeloa rightfully earned buckets full of praise following the Arsenal victory, and then Finnan came back into the side with aplomb and a very good all-around performance, most notably supplying the crosses that led to two of the goals. That’s surely heartening, to say the least.
The first goal came after Alonso and Finnan neatly passed through the shaky PSV defense, and Finnan ran into space to deliver a cross for an on-rushing Gerrard, who looked to be shouting at Kuyt to duck to make room for his run. Finnan’s cross for the third goal, coming in the 63rd minute, was even better than his first, putting in a ball from the right for Crouch to smash into the net for his fourth in two games. Much like Aurelio’s cross for Crouch against Arsenal, Finnan put the ball high enough and far enough in front of Crouch for him to attack it. Lovely to see Crouch’s fine vein of form include a heretofore unknown heading prowess.
Those goals were bracketed by a typical Riise left footed smash. PSV’s makeshift backline, with Belgian midfielder Tommy Simons at center back, had been shaky all game long, and soon after halftime, Simons cleared the ball up the middle directly to Riise (by the way, what was Riise doing so far in field for a fair amount of the game?), whose cracking shot veered away from Gomes and into the net.
If Liverpool were as rampant as they were against Arsenal, the scoreline could have been a lot worse. I can’t overstate how apathetic PSV looked at times, and they were very much there for the taking. Many times, Liverpool didn’t press forward in any hurry, as they had no need to, and many times, a long ball went up for Crouch, only for the referee to whistle for some mysterious offense committed by the tall striker. Sometimes, officials have no idea how to deal with Crouch. Today was one of those days.
Unfortunately, as seems to happen in these situations, once the game was sealed Aurelio went down clutching his leg with no one around him. It’s awful to see that happen to any player, but it’s even worse to see it happen to Fabio again. He’s battled injuries all season (and all career) long, but when fit, as he was Saturday, he can be a very special player, and his crossing from the left was proving a big boon to Liverpool’s attack. Hopefully the injury won’t be as bad as it looked, but I’m not optimistic.
I also want to mention that I thought Gerrard played well today. Much like the rest of the team, there was little urgency in his game, but he was effective cutting in from the right, saw a good deal of the ball, and worked hard for the team. Gerrard’s been slated a fair amount, especially when turning up on the right, it’s only fair he’s congratulated when he plays well for the team, in a position that clearly isn’t his favorite. And getting the goal that broke the deadlock had to have been good for his psyche.
As frequent readers may have noted, I never take anything for granted with Liverpool. I try to never forecast what will happen in the future, partly out of superstition of jinxing the team, partly because I’ve seen enough odd things occur. But this tie should be done and dusted. There is little avenue for PSV to climb back into this stage. Outside of those two aberrations against Arsenal in the cups, Liverpool’s been exceptionally stingy at home. The only times other teams to score more than once at Anfield were Galatasaray and Reading in the Carling Cup. Both of those games took place in dramatically different circumstances than the PSV match will, and in any case, Liverpool won both.
As a supporter, I couldn’t have asked for much more. Of course the football could have been prettier, but job more than done. For all my indifference to the match itself, 3-0 is a great, fantastic result, surpassing my wildest hopes. And I’ll always point out it’s a good football team that gets wins (and decisive wins at that) when they don’t play to full capacity.
Reading on Saturday. Roll on.