Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Santa Cruz 90+2’
For the first 60 minutes, it looked like a typical comedown game after a big Champions League match, as well as a typical cagey match between Blackburn and Liverpool.
The away side had the first notable opportunity when Roberts sidefooted past Reina (who had stopped playing), but was flagged for offside although it was Santa Cruz (I think) who was actually off. But from there, Liverpool were the better side with much more possession, and created more chances even though they were often content play backward when under pressure and just keep possession.
Gerrard had a penalty shout rightfully turned down when he stuck a leg out trying to draw contact from Friedel, which probably went against him when Samba wasn’t called for a free kick on the edge of the box (it looked at least a yellow) six minutes later. Liverpool’s best chances at goal were Torres and Kuyt both heading wide, while Gerrard should have done better from Kuyt’s pullback in the 27th minute.
Liverpool were even more methodical in the second half (despite Torres’s cheeky Alonso-esque attempt at goal from the restart) until they brought on Benayoun for Babel in the 58th minute. Less than two minutes later, Benayoun intercepted Santa Cruz’s sloppy clearance and found Gerrard, who played a neat 1-2 with Lucas, breaking through Blackburn’s defense and beating Friedel.
Blackburn wanted a red card on Skrtel when he took down Roberts on the break, but other than a Bentley free kick narrowly wide in the 79th minute they had few opportunities to equalize. Liverpool kept at them, and Gerrard and Torres finally took advantage in the 82nd when Torres tallied his thirtieth of the season (again, in front of the Kop, and he’s scored in seven straight league games at Anfield) with a header from Gerrard’s cross.
I guess Liverpool being the stronger team in the last 30 minutes would suggest the benefits of rotation. Voronin added a third in the 90th with the game stretched, with the three subs (Yossi, Voronin and Riise) combining on it, which made Santa Cruz’s pretty volley two minutes later even more of a consolation.
Despite the scoreline, it was a game that felt like at best it’d be a 1-0 win for two-thirds the match. Credit the second half performance, which was very good after the first 5-10 minutes. Benayoun had a big impact, and probably should be man of the match for it, while Blackburn could only keep Gerrard and Torres quiet for so long. Lucas is up there as well for being solid and disciplined in the first half, while getting forward more (and providing the assist for the first goal) in the second. It was also nice to see Voronin get the third finally back from injury.
Both teams will feel aggrieved with the referee’s (and linesmen’s on Blackburn’s part) performance today, so at least it was consistent. Gerrard’s first penalty shout was a good no-call (going down with little contact is different than diving, mind); I’m less convinced about the others. Besides ignoring Samba’s foul in the 26th minute, nothing was egregious though. Blackburn will rue the early offside most, as Roberts was level with Skrtel, but I’ve seen that called offside time and time again, and you could argue Santa Cruz (again, I think) was interfering with play by being offside. The rule needs to be clearer.
And other than the lack of a clean sheet, with the defense switching off in injury time with the game won (and an excellent goal from Santa Cruz), there’s little I’m upset about. Blackburn are always tough to beat, games between these sides are frequently close, and putting three goals past them, including another two in the last ten minutes, is an excellent result.
The gap between 4th and 5th is now five points with four games to play. The next is away to Fulham in six days.