Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Riise
Pennant Gerrard Alonso Babel
Gerrard 52’ 64’ 72’
It’s worrying that it’s come to where a thrashing of Luton in a 3rd round FA Cup replay is so warmly welcomed, but any win will do right now. Honestly, after four straight draws, I was just happy to have a match where there would definitely be a winner.
Admittedly, going goalless into the 45th minute, with Liverpool superior and creating chances, brought about some nerves, but with little expectations and the relief of being rescued from administration, Luton was always going to make it difficult. Had the half ended 0-0, Liverpool would have been under far more pressure in the second half, and I’d wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near Benitez’s halftime talk.
But once the goal came, it had the makings of a rout. This match wasn’t at Kenilworth Road, and Liverpool wasn’t going to sit back at Anfield with a one-goal lead after what happened in the last meeting.
It wasn’t surprising that it was Babel who broke the deadlock after the way the match had gone either. Only the inside of the post prevented him from opening the scoring in the 9th minute, and he was the most-threatening attacker throughout the first 45. It was a lovely move as well, with Torres leading the break through the middle and finding Babel on the right, who made no mistake with his low shot past Brill into the far corner.
And in the second half we were treated to some fireworks, most prominently from Steven Gerrard, who had yielded the armband to Carragher for his 500th appearance. Gerrard’s header in the 52nd minute, running onto Crouch’s flick from Pennant’s cross at the far post was just the first in his 20-minute second half hat-trick.
The second goal meant the tie was ostensibly over for Luton, and they gave up 3 more in the next 20 minutes. First, Hyypia scored from a corner in the 58th after a sustained bit of pressure and a number of opportunities in Luton's box. Gerrard added his second 4 minutes later, running on to Torres’ blocked shot at the top of the box and placing it perfectly low into the corner. Finally, he capped his hat-trick with a trademark swerving piledriver from distance after Riise found him in space.
Obviously, I’m pleased with the performance today, even if I would have hesitated in saying that until Liverpool opened the scoring. I have to mention Carragher first on his 500th appearance; even though he had little to do for long portions of the game, he pushed forward when he could and made some smart runs into the box looking to mark the occasion with a goal. He’s been a masterful servant for the club and without a doubt a Liverpool legend. Thanks, Jamie.
And obviously, Gerrard will probably walk away with man of the match in addition to the match ball. Luton’s lack of an attacking threat allowed Gerrard to play further up the pitch and leave Alonso alone to support the defense, and he exploited it in both his goals and his passing. Today’s game was a perfect example of Gerrard at his most threatening, and in his best position.
Babel also did well today, and it was probably his best performance for Liverpool when he played from the start. As said, he was Liverpool’s main goal threat in the first half, and didn’t fade out of the game as he has in the past when starting. He put his pace to excellent use and looked to cut inside more often. And when Torres went off with 15 minutes or so to play, there were moments when Babel threatened playing through the middle with Kuyt, but at that point, Liverpool were 5 goals up and sitting back, and more often than not, Babel was part of a five-man midfield. But there was still some evidence that we might see Babel as a striker more often, which I’m definitely hoping for.
In addition, Pennant was impressive as a frequent outlet on the right, beat his man to the byline well, and put in some good crosses, but Jermaine still needs to offer more of a goal threat, and to cut inside if the fullback is giving him the angle. But it's also early days after his extended injury layoff.
But still, this is a home match against League One opposition in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. No matter how happy I am to have positive news to write about, I have to keep my praise, and expectations, in check. It's just 'job done, next match please.'
And what is it is a building point. It’s a building point to get us past the speculation surrounding Benitez and the bad aura around the club. Liverpool finally had some fluid movement and decent passing, and actually looked threatening in front of goal. They looked like they did in impressive performances earlier in the season before this 'crisis.' Now they need to take that into the Villa match on Monday, because I can’t imagine the team will look very different.
And hopefully, it’s also a lesson to the owners to focus on funding the team and stadium, and supporting the manager.