Arbeloa Carragher Agger Dossena
Benayoun Gerrard Riera
It’s a fair result, and one I would have taken before kickoff, with a vital league match four days away. But after the first half, it’s a bit annoying, especially since a defensive mistake led to Atletico’s equalizer.
Liverpool started the better side, and got the needed early goal through Keane. Without Aguero (Balague’s blog post was completely correct), Atletico looked like a team that had lost its last three games. And in the 14th minute, Gerrard’s through ball allowed Keane to easily slot past Leo Franco, although there was a hint of offside about the goal. It wouldn’t be the first contentious decision.
Keane should have had a second in the 23rd minute, but tried to be too fancy making contact with Gerrard’s inch-perfect cross, and the chance went begging. Little by little, Atletico began to see more possession, but it took until the 41st minute for their first chance at goal, with Forlan blazing a shot just wide.
However, it was two decisions which were more noteworthy. Riera should have had a penalty in the 38th, when an Atletico defender stuck his back leg out, but the ref gave the left-winger a yellow for diving. On the stroke of halftime, Maniche saw yellow for simulation as well, theatrically falling down after it looked like Arbeloa grazed his leg.
Aguero's introduction to start the second half, for Luis Garcia, made an immediate impact, but again, decisions from the officiating crew denied the goals, with Benayoun, Forlan, and Maniche all called offside. Both Benayoun and Maniche had the ball in the net, and all three calls looked dubious.
In addition, Reina had to make a fingertips save on Simao’s shot in the 57th, but around the hour mark, the pace began to die back down. Kuyt came on for Keane (in the 53rd) and Babel for Gerrard (in the 61st) as Liverpool looked to rest players, but the away side seemed to have settled themselves, and were content with the one-goal lead.
And in the 83rd minute, they paid for it. Carragher allowed a ball over the top to bounce, which Forlan collected and centered for a wide-open Simao. Babel nearly won it with a diving header in the 89th, but there was no late winner this time.
A draw isn’t a bad result. It’s the toughest opposition in the group at their place. But, shipping a late goal is always a kick to the groin, and it’s made worse by the sense that Liverpool could have finished the game early. It’s hard to see how a struggling Atletico could have come back if Keane made it 2-0 in the 23rd or Claus Bo Larsen would have given the rightful penalty in the 38th. But at least the refereeing was consistent in its awfulness.
No one had performances to write home about, although Alonso did himself the most credit (which is becoming standard this season), but no one had an especially torrid time either. It was surprising to see Kuyt left out – I didn’t think the Dutchman needed to be rested – and Benayoun didn’t make any great claim to the right wing berth. I’m also still concerned about defensive lapses like the one that gave away an equalizer.
Although I'm upset about the miss, it's great to see Keane keep scoring in the Champions League. Other than the 15-minute spell to start the second half, Masch and Alonso were on top in midfield, and Lucas looked good after he came on. Reina made some top saves. And Dossena seemed a lot more assured than he was in the last couple of outings.
To be honest, I’d be far more upset if I were an Atletico fan. Liverpool played with little urgency as the game went on, probably with an eye on Sunday, and were there for the taking in the second half (of course, it shouldn't have gotten that far). Much of Liverpool's second half attack was ‘hit and hope’ long balls. It took at least half an hour for Atletico to get their strikers in the game, and Aguero – while I can’t speak to his fitness (and he did slow down even though he only came on at halftime) – was a handful.
While the majority of this is coming off negative, I’ll reiterate that a point serves Liverpool just fine, and at least the team was able to give Kuyt, Keane, Gerrard, and Alonso some rest before Chelsea. Let’s hope it pays off on Sunday.