25 February 2010

Liverpool 3-1 Unirea Urziceni

Liverpool win 4-1 on aggregate

Carragher Skrtel Agger Insua
Lucas Mascherano
Benayoun Gerrard Babel

Bruno Fernandes 19’
Mascherano 30’
Babel 41’
Gerrard 57’

Three goals in a match, coming from behind, and a comfortable win. Oh, it’s been way too long…

It was a substandard first half, with a somewhat-unexpected front four, in which Liverpool sloppily conceded from a corner. And for a moment it felt like we’d returned to the beach ball days that had thankfully looked behind us. But the team finally showed some resiliency in getting two very good goals to take a dominating 2-1 lead into the break, and coasted to victory in the second half.

Two early chances, one for each side, was an encouraging sign that this game might be a bit different than the last. But after Frunza shot over when Liverpool failed to clear a corner followed by Gerrard forcing Arlauskis into an excellent save from Lucas’ throughball, it soon turned into a carbon copy of last week. Liverpool absolutely took the air out of the ball, getting little going while the home side racked up the corners when they got forward.

And on Unirea’s seventh corner, with only 19 minutes off the clock, the defense finally broke. And this time, pundits can blame zonal marking. Fernandes hesitated outside of the penalty spot before a static Insua didn’t pick up his smart late run, allowing the last leg’s best defender an easy free header.

Although the leveler clearly knocked Liverpool off their stride, it didn’t take long to put the tie to bed, from two fairly unlikely scorers with supremely well-taken goals. But Liverpool were definitely helped when Unirea’s captain, Galamaz, went off in the 26th. Still, you can’t let that take away from the quality of the strikes.

30 minutes in, Mascherano slammed in his second for the club, another from 25 yards out, after Carragher’s cross that Gerrard knocked down was cleared. Unirea had a spell of pressure starting around the 36th, in which Insua nearly put the ball in his own net when another dangerous corner skidded across the box, but Babel iced the tie by slotting in Gerrard’s right channel free kick in the 41st.

On first glance, Babel appeared a bit lucky, getting in a mix with Skrtel before prodding over the line. But the replays made his lovely control to bring the ball down in a shooting position clear; whether or not the Unirea flick-on led to the good fortune, it was an exceptionally clever goal.

With Unirea needing three to win, Liverpool were in a better position to play the keepball they wanted to from the off. And after Gerrard added a third in the 57th – Benayoun mazily ran through the box and trickled a pass to the captain, who slammed a shot in off Arlauskis – they were able to sit deeper and break at will, although I use the term “break” very lightly, as Liverpool casually spilled forward when in possession.

Kelly replaced Carragher soon after the hour mark, before the night’s worst news: Skrtel injured coming together with Semedo in the 63rd, going off on a stretcher with Kyrgiakos taking his place. Hopefully it was mostly precautionary, but that Kelly was able to see 30 minutes (and didn’t look out of place) is comforting; if Skrtel can’t go on Sunday, the backline will definitely be Kelly-Carra-Agger-Insua with Kyrgiakos still suspended.

From there, neither side saw much goalmouth action until the last five minutes. First, Reina had to conjure a brilliant save, somehow keeping out Bilasco’s stabbed effort after a dangerous left-wing cross in the 86th. Yet Liverpool finished strongest and could have added a fourth, but Gerrard’s narrow low shot was saved, as was Lucas’s last-minute curler.

Unirea were tougher opponents than the aggregate scoreline suggests (Paduretu and Bruno Fernandes both impressed), but we finally got the things from Liverpool we needed to see. Three goals – in an away game where Lucas and Mascherano manned (read: bossed) the midfield, no less. A couple of unlikely scorers, including a marvelous Masch and an in-form Gerrard (who’s now the top English goalscorer in European competition). The backline was superb: Agger probably man of the match where Skrtel was on Sunday, and Kelly back in the fold. Hopefully the Slovakian won’t miss much time.

Benayoun also made a big difference, a willing runner in midfield, while Babel got on the scoresheet. He may infuriate at times, just like Garcia did, and sometimes it feels like I have to reel in my bias, but he performed today, and will probably continue to get chances to. Hopefully the runs and tricks come off, and his ability to bring teammates into the attack improves, as he gets game time.

I seriously hope people don’t use Kuyt’s absence as a stick to beat his attacking contribution with. I’m fairly certain his omission today came down to rest, and I honestly think he would have done a better job as a lone striker in place of Ngog. But those are minor complaints, and along with the soft goal and fears over Skrtel, my only complaints.

Job done, and with a bit of style, even if the scoreline does Unirea little justice. Both the result and the way it was achieved were exactly what Liverpool needed.

Fenerbache and Lille are currently playing for the right to face Liverpool in the next round, with the French team taking a 2-1 home win into a second leg that’s currently 0-0.


Marc said...

Couldn't catch this one today, and I'm super sad about it as I might've actually been able to sit back and just enjoy the final 30 minutes for a change.

Skrtel's injury sucks; he was in the form of his life at Man City. But if Glen Johnson comes back and Kyrgiakos comes off suspension, we really only have the Bolton game to fret over.

I'm excited about the Europa League. There are lots of good teams left, and it would feel good to beat a few more of them.

drew said...

Broken metatarsal for Skrtel, good thing Johnson's back soon. Obviously Carra-Agger on Sunday but it will be interesting to see who makes the bench since the reserves haven't played in ages. Either Ayala or Irwin I'd think.