25 September 2007

Liverpool 4-2 Reading

Finnan Carragher Arbeloa Aurelio
Benayoun Lucas Sissoko Leto
Torres Crouch

Benayoun 23’
Convey 28’
Torres 50’
Halls 54’
Torres 72’
Torres 86’

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.


Ace Cowboy said...

Alright, I held my tongue, but now I feel the need to vent. Long time Rafa defender, first time blaster. What the fuck is this guy thinking? Is it the goatee? Is it affecting the synapses in his Spaniard brain? Why on Earth would you start Torres in a fairly meaningless domestic cup competition alongside a bunch of youngsters if he couldn't make the starting XI at the weekend? Is there any logic to explain that? No. No, there's not. The rotation policy is classic overthinking and overtinkering, and it's fucking foolish.

Of course Torres scored a hat trick...why? Because he's peaking as a soccer player and as a physical human being, and he's shown he can adjust to this league very easily. He was going to do it eventually, and he should be given every available opportunity to pressure the opposing defense. He's physical, good in the air, and his pace is incredible. The fact that he was left out of the starting side in the last two Prem matches shows is inexcusable. He proved today he should be run out every single match until he's not fit. Every single one. Voronin and Crouch can sub for Kuyt and play the lowly Carling Cup, and get some spot starts in the middle of the season. But for now, not using him is like Riise not using his left foot for the irrational fear of breaking it.

Anyone see the highlights? His first goal was all pace and a beautiful flick, Torres showing his knack for the net. The second goal was a clever one-timed flick from an incoming ball, something Liverpool hasn't had in years, a guy who can score in the area off good service. The third goal was an impeccably timed run past the defense that led to a one-on-one with the Reading keeper -- it was all so...professional. He's the striker they haven't had, the one they needed all season last year. It's baffling that he needs rest this early, only to play in some bullshit cup that nobody really cares about. It's criminal. Lock this fucker up.

I will say this...if he sits again in the next few, I will join those people who want Rafa's head. If he doesn't learn a lesson from this, he's too thickheaded to manage this squad.

nate said...

Too far. Putting back on the apologist hat...

1) I'll re-post what my comment at Sven's place:

"I’m surprised Torres played, but I think today just shows that Benitez really does believe that Kuyt/Voronin were better suited to the Birmingham game, and that’s it. And it was a mistake, mostly because both underperformed, and Liverpool moves on.

Hopefully today will have proven that Torres should play every game if possible, but given all the talk about Torres “exploiting space” and “using his speed” Benitez will probably continue being Benitez and rotate amongst all four, hopefully less as the season goes on and players hit a groove.

I’ve not given up on rotation yet, because I know it’ll keep players fresh and there’s a clear reason for it, but I’ll agree that Benitez has gotten too cute at times, especially with the front line."

2) The more I think about it, the more I reckon that the strength in tonight's squad shows Benitez thinks Liverpool can compete on 4 fronts, not just 1 or 2 as in previous seasons.

3) Never blame the goatee. Blasphemy.

I don't take back any of my critique over Saturday's selection or the many times I've said I'd like Torres starting every game possible, but sorry Ace, even contemplating sacking Benitez is laughable, at best.

And I'll bet anything Torres starts against Wigan.

wss said...

I think Torres should play in every match as long as he is fit. He was the difference between the two sides and he went on to score three superb goals. The second one was a real beauty!

Ace Cowboy said...

Eh, I was a little too impassioned in that one. I agree, I don't want him to go anywhere...I have been an ardent supporter of Rafa, but sometimes I just don't get it. And *that's* where the frustration lies.