Finnan Carragher Arbeloa Aurelio
Benayoun Lucas Sissoko Leto
I sincerely apologize for second guessing Rafa Benitez, I really should know better by now. Of course after all that was written, Torres would score his first hat trick for the club and be the difference between the two sides. Then again, it will probably just make the “why didn’t he start on Saturday?” discussion that much louder.
I am still surprised at the strong line-up. I realize how much better the squad is this season, but that’s quite close to a full strength back-line, not to mention the inclusion of Benayoun, Sissoko, Crouch, and, oh yeah, Torres.
The game was always going to be more open than against Birmingham. That’s the way Reading plays and they aren’t about to change, and as Benitez said, Torres can exploit it brilliantly. It opened sloppily, but with end-to-end action, and despite a dearth of shots, goals always looked like coming.
In the 23rd minute, Benayoun broke the deadlock with a superb solo goal. Picking up the ball in front of a Reading defender, he strode forward, sidestepped Bikey and smashed the ball past Federici from the top of the box.
But the lead didn’t last long. Bobby Convey, recently back from a long-term injury, replied with an even better strike, volleying home from a corner. It was Liverpool’s first goal conceded from open play, but it sure looked like at least 3 players were offside and Lita impeded the keeper, and it should have never stood.
It was cagier after the equalizer, but only a great save from Itandje in the 45th minute to prevented Convey from a second. However, the story of the half was Torres being kicked all over the field. He got a harsh introduction to English football and no respite from the referee.
Which is why his second half performance was so heartening. Reading equalized after he notched in the 49th minute, but Torres went on to score twice more, and should have gotten a clear penalty when Bikey brought him down in the box (which would have been Bikey’s second yellow).
The first goal came from an inch-perfect throughball from Leto. The second was side-footed in from Riise’s cross, and it’s worth pointing out that it was the type of goal that Liverpool struggled (and failed) to get against Birmingham. Gerrard, on as a sub for the last 15 minutes, sent Torres through one-on-one for the final goal, and he absolutely embarrassed Federici before slotting home, brimming with confidence.
It’s petty to complain about the referee after a win, but I feel the need to anyway. Martin Atkinson had a shocker today. I’m biased, but it seemed to me that a lot of Reading fouls were ignored (including the penalty shout) while Liverpool was whistled at every opportunity. There were at least 6 clear fouls on Torres not called, and Liverpool’s lucky no one came away injured. Atkinson didn’t even want to give Torres the match-ball after the game, although he finally gave it up with a smile. I guess he still holds a grudge for the balls kicked at him after the postponement last year.
I still am unconvinced of the merits of such a strong side in the Carling Cup, and within the first five minutes it looked like Liverpool’s greatest fear was realized when Torres went down and didn’t get right up. The Carling Cup's not a priority, but Liverpool looked better than they have in the last three games. And the class on display will surely renew questions about Torres’ exclusion over the weekend.
He clearly thrived in today’s game, which was tactically quite different from Saturday’s, and he exploited gaps with his pace just as Rafa said he would. But the traits shown -- his strength, character, vision, touch, and movement, in addition to that pace, sets him apart from every other striker on the roster. Chelsea doesn’t leave out Drogba unless they have to. The same goes for Rooney at United, and did for van Nistelrooy, and Henry at Arsenal, in the past. Torres’ clearly has the potential to be mentioned in the same breath as those players.
Torres was head and shoulders about the rest, but I’ve few complaints about any of the players. Sissoko had a dominant game in midfield, and even played a few cross-field passes reminiscent of Alonso. Neither Lucas nor Leto stood out, but Lucas played smartly and looked composed throughout, while it was Leto’s pass that got Torres off the mark (although some of his other touches were questionable). Aurelio settled right in, and his vision and ability from set plays will add tons to the team. Carragher was a stalwart at the back. Benayoun played well, and scored a great first goal for the club.
The fact that Liverpool shipped two goals is a bit disconcerting, but I can’t single out any flaws in defense other than Itandje flapping at the second goal. The first surely wasn’t his fault (even without the obstruction from Lita he had no chance), and he redeemed himself with two stellar saves.
Liverpool played some good football today, and showed good resiliency to break the deadlock twice, while keeping their wits about them as Reading stuck the boot in again and again. The passing was far more fluid than in the last few games, and Aurelio, Sissoko (!), and Torres were key to that.
Now, the important part. Doing it in the league against Wigan on Saturday.