Carragher Hyypia Agger Insua
Benayoun Gerrard Alonso Riera
Keane 53’ 58’
That’s what Liverpool needed to deliver. For 60 minutes, that was as complete a performance as any this season. Liverpool dominated possession from the off, spread play beautifully with Alonso and Gerrard as pivots in the center, got excellent width from the wingers and fullbacks, and got the needed first half goal to relieve the pressure of the previous home draws.
Bolton’s sniff through Nolan in the 2nd minute was as close as they came to scoring, and from there, Liverpool throughly controlled proceedings. Without Kevin Davies as a frontman, Bolton struggled to keep hold of the ball, and Liverpool pressed constantly, with Benayoun and Riera frequent targets on the flanks.
Pressure truly started to mount 15 minutes in, and Jaaskelainen had to save Insua's long-range low drive in the 19th before Kuyt narrowly headed over in the 20th. The number of corners shows Liverpool’s superiority, and they opened the scoring on their 8th in the 26th minute when Riera met Gerrard’s whipped low ball at the near post with a neat flick.
For all their supremacy, Liverpool only had a one-goal lead to show for it at halftime, with Carragher’s shot (left footed, from the left channel no less) only just over the bar in the 41st and another Insua blast from distance blocked before it could hit the target. But, for all the worry when Liverpool’s only a goal to the good, it never looked like Bolton would get back in it.
Davies came on after the break, and it led to more possession for the visitors, but Keane put the game to bed before the hour mark. First, he took advantage of a perfect through ball from Gerrard with one touch and a left-footed shot past Jaaskelainen. Five minutes later, Reina’s distribution led to a gorgeous goal on the break, less than 10 seconds after the visitors threatened with a free kick. Reina claimed and quickly threw the ball out to Alonso, who charged forward into space and found Benayoun on the right. The Israeli’s first-time ball released Keane, who made no mistake. Maybe his goal against Arsenal really will be a springboard.
After the third, Liverpool took the foot off the gas and was content to see out the match. The home side was able to rest Riera, Gerrard and Kuyt, bringing on El Zhar, Lucas and N’Gog. I can't help but read into the fact that Babel again was left on the bench, especially with January just around the corner.
Bolton almost pulled one back in the 84th, but Smolarek dragged his shot wide, while Liverpool had a couple of opportunities of their own. And although it would have been nice to see Liverpool go all out for the full 90 and add a couple more to the scoreline, a comfortable 3-0 home win while resting some players before a busy Christmas program will certainly suffice.
Leaving Mascherano on the bench, Liverpool looked good in the 4-4-2, although they were helped by Bolton’s willingness to sit back and defend. That's stifled Liverpool in the past, but thanks to Gerrard and Alonso’s vision spreading the play from side to side, and Riera and Benayoun’s willingness to run at defenders (with both fullbacks doing well to support), they were finally able to break down a stingy defense at Anfield. And once they got the first, more goals always seemed imminent.
It probably was the best Liverpool’s played all season. I’ve got no complaints, and could go on in praise of every player on the pitch. As I said, I was most happy about the range of passing, as well as the support from fullback. Insua’s on his way to making the left back position his own with another heady performance, and Carragher was excellent on the right – positionally in both attack and defense, and getting forward better than I expected. Not to downplay Arbeloa’s importance so far this season, but when Skrtel’s fit, I hope to see Carragher-Skrtel-Agger-Insua as the regular backline.
And while Alonso was again in the middle of everything, man of the match probably has to go to Keane. Always busy in attack, and willing to drop deep with Kuyt playing furthest forward more often than not, he’s tallied three goals in two games. His run for Gerrard’s throughball was exact, as was the one on the break for Benayoun’s center. He said he’d come good, and on the basis of the last two games, he just might be right.
With Chelsea and United both doing the business, a win here was essential. But not only did Liverpool win, they won convincingly, and did it in style. It’s the perfect start to this stretch of four games in the 15 days, which continues with Newcastle on Sunday.