Liverpool win 3-1 on aggregate
Johnson Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Babel
Gerrard 9’ (pen)
Torres 49’ 89’
That’s the Liverpool we've expected to see, even if it got nervy after the hour mark before Torres settled the tie. And it’s nice to finally see it, even if it’s mid-March.
More specifically, those were the tactics and formation I expected from the start of the season, at least for the first 60 minutes. I’ve drawn it up as 4-2-3-1 for ease; that’s how it looked when Lille had the ball, but there were arguably five bands when Liverpool were in possession, with Lucas truly taking up a role between Mascherano and Gerrard, and getting forward to much greater effect. Both he and the fullbacks spent as much time in Lille’s half as possible until the second goal, which was what we wanted continued from Monday.
It was one of Lucas’ bursts forward that brought the early equalizer. Nice interplay between Babel, Insua, and Lucas led to a darting run past two that forced Rami to bring the Brazilian down. Gerrard – whose penalties are much improved since hesitating to take them in ’07-08 – blithely sent the keeper wrong way to level the tie before ten minutes were off the clock.
But despite continuing possession (most impressive in the first 20 minutes) and a series of decent chances, it remained in the balance. The aggregate scoreline, where if Lille scored Liverpool would need two, still stressed.
Torres could have had a quick second less than a minute after the opener, taking the ball from corner flag and delightfully turning two defenders inside out before his close range shot was deflected wide. Gerrard found Agger with an in-swinging corner in the 31st, but his clean header got caught up in a crowd of bodies and was gathered by Landrieu. A minute later, Lucas again strode down the center of the pitch, only to shoot straight at the keeper from inside the D.
Hazard had been kept quiet, but he nearly leveled immediately after Lucas’ chance. Lille quickly attacked down the pitch, Hazard picked up Agger’s clearing header and charged into the box after a one-two with Obraniak and splitting two defenders. But Reina, with his first threatening touch of the game, somehow blocked the shot with his head. Once again, thanks Pepe. And thankfully, that’d be the biggest threat from Hazard, who often nullified himself by playing far more centrally than in the last leg.
Lille quickly demonstrated Liverpool’s precariousness after the restart, forcing Carragher into a last ditch tackle near the byline 90 seconds in. But Torres subsequently put that notion to bed with a superb striker’s finish. Rami allowed Babel’s ball over the top to bounce and Torres immediately latched on, holding off Chejdou and deftly dinking over Landreau.
While Liverpool had a succession of half-chances during the next ten minutes, the best being Torres’ low shot from distance wide after intercepting Balmont’s loose pass, but the roles reversed around the hour mark. Lille pressed, Liverpool looked to counter, and while it was unsurprising, it still worried as an away goal would mean a Lille win. But Liverpool, firmly marshaled by Carragher, Agger, and Mascherano, limited Lille chances, the best being an Obraniak free kick flicked onto Aubameyang ghosting in at the back post, only to see him blaze over. The lone difficult save Reina made was with his face in the 32nd.
And then that man made it certain with a minute left. Kuyt, maybe lucky to get away without a foul, won the ball in the final third, with Lucas picking up and finding Gerrard. The captain’s strong shot was parried, but Torres coolly controlled the rebound and again chipped the keeper.
Prior to that, Liverpool were limited to two fierce drives from distance by Kuyt well-saved by Landreau in the 83rd minute. It goes without saying Liverpool were under threat for the last half an hour, and it definitely frightened with how this season’s gone. But this time the team hung on. The key attackers, Torres, Babel, and Lucas (today helped demonstrate why I defend the kid), were men of the match in the first half. The defenders, Carragher, Agger, and Mascherano, were in the second. But no one played poorly, and that just may have helped the result.
The last two games have been a serious tonic. Liverpool looks like Liverpool, and that’s no small matter. It’s been nice to see the team react to adversity; for a minute there, it looked like Liverpool (and Benitez) might have jumped the shark.
Make no mistake, Liverpool is by no means out of the woods. It’s still a massive uphill fight for fourth, contingent on rivals dropping points. There are some big sides left in this competition: Atletico, Hamburg, Valencia, Benfica, among others (the draw takes place tomorrow morning). And Liverpool face that lot on their pitch in three days.
Just keep doing this.