Arbeloa Skrtel Carragher Aurelio
Kuyt Alonso Gerrard Benayoun
These games are not doing my heart any good. Four games into the season, and the earliest goal Liverpool’s scored has come in the 83rd minute. And Kuyt striking the winner after suffering a ton of stick makes it even sweeter.
Liverpool should have been ready for Standard’s tactics. Liege were content to let the home side have more possession, but did an excellent job pressing the ball whenever Liverpool neared the final third, and looked to counter attack swiftly once they regained possession.
And each time they attacked they looked threatening. Once again, Liverpool owes Pepe Reina a huge debt of gratitude, coming up with two huge saves in the first half. First, he narrowly kept a bolt from the blue by Mbokani out in the 7th minute, and in the 18th, had to make another incredible stop on Fellaini’s effort when the defense was at sea.
For all the possession Liverpool had, Standard had the better chances, especially in the first half. In addition to the two saves Reina had to make, the right back Camazzato's audacious half-volley in the 35th didn't miss by much. Meanwhile, Liverpool rarely tested Espinoza, often unable to get shots on goal under pressure from the defense.
The away side were content to sit deeper in the second half, but were as resolute in defense. Attackers were often crowded out, Liverpool wasn’t getting enough width (or decent crosses) from Kuyt, Benayoun, Babel (who replaced Yossi in the 61st) or the fullbacks, and chances were still at a premium, with the best coming when Torres was able to run at the defense, only to see his shot deflected harmlessly towards the keeper in the 62nd.
Mention must be made of Liege’s central defenders, Onyewu and Sarr. Onyewu was outstanding in the air and both were able to keep Torres and Keane quiet for long stretches. They ate up crosses when Liverpool attempted to go wide, although far too often Liverpool tried to play through a congested middle where Liege didn’t give attackers an inch of space. However, there wasn’t a player in white that had a poor game. Liege had little to lose, and played tremendously in what had to be a huge match for most of the players.
And with Liverpool struggling, there was always the chance to be hit on the counter, especially as the home side got more desperate. In the 90th minute, Liege almost snatched it, with a cross from nowhere narrowly headed wide by Decamargo.
Extra time was more of the same, but Liverpool continued to press, and started to make headway after the break. In the 109th, Liverpool finally got a shot on target when Arbeloa’s screamer from the right channel was well saved. 4 minutes later, Liverpool should have had a cast-iron penalty when El Zhar (who came on for Keane in the 83rd) was clearly tripped by Onyewu in the box. However, the referee, who had been good to that point and had an excellent vantage point, played on.
Penalties seemed certain until Babel (who had failed to make an impact and gave the ball away cheaply far too often) sent an inch-perfect cross in from the left that Kuyt volleyed home at the far post. Once again, Liverpool underperforms, only to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the dying moments.
I can’t remember the last time Liverpool won so many late games in a row. I was impressed by the amount of games where Liverpool scored in the final 15 minutes last season. Winning three out of the first four and scoring all those winners after the 83rd minute is jaw-dropping.
But as written in the run-up, the team’s good fortune cannot last. Hopefully the addition of Riera will add decent width to the side, but I’m far happier about the return of Mascherano. Lucas will help as well, but Mascherano’s defense allows Gerrard to play further up the pitch, where he should be far more influential in attack. The captain’s sat far too deep in Masch’s absence, although he hasn’t been helped by the thigh strain.
In addition, hopefully, this will stop some of the needless Kuyt bashing. Some of the criticism is deserved; he’s not an ideal winger, and in games where Liverpool’s consistently on the attack, his deficiencies show (in contrast to games against more attack-oriented sides, where Liverpool needs to press opposition fullbacks and hassle like Standard did today). But he’s also a big game player, puts in 110%, and scores goals in Europe (7 last season). Even after 120 minutes, he was running the pitch from end-to-end, defending corners and counter-attacks before getting on the end of Babel’s cross.
Now Liverpool can take their eyes off of Europe and focus on the league form. With the full squad finally back and a few days left in the transfer window, we need to start seeing some overall improvement.