Kelly Carragher Kyrgiakos Aurelio
Maxi Cole Jovanovic
Well, it's a win, but it's somewhat an unhappy one, one reminiscent of struggling against "lesser" sides last season. Liverpool were dire throughout the first half only to be saved by a clever attack at pace, with Cole setting up the anonymous Babel for an excellently-taken strike on the stroke of half-time. The home side were far better in the second half, mainly due to the introduction of Torres for the goal-scorer after the interval, but couldn't put the eventual dominance to use, first seeing Cole's penalty saved before Poulsen unluckily had a debut goal ruled out.
Liverpool simply couldn't cope with the away side early on. For the second-straight game, Liverpool didn't have more possession than the opposition at Anfield (granted, only for the first 30-40 minutes), something we're definitely not accustomed to. To be fair, Reina was never tested in the first half, while Liverpool created the best early chance through Kyrgiakos' 5th minute header well-saved by Kivrak, but they couldn't keep the ball or cope with Trabzonspor's relentless pressing. Misplaced passes and a lack of match sharpness from key players were the main themes until Cole fortunately picked up possession in the opposition half, charged forward, and found Babel's smart run, with the Dutchman smashing a cool finish low into the far corner. Somewhat surprisingly, it'd be his last kick of the game. Once again, Cole makes things happen right before halftime. Thankfully, this time it was a good thing.
Torres' entrance clearly fortified the home side while unsettling Trabzonspor. He nearly scored after a minute, reminiscent of his goal-of-the-season against Sunderland, only to see the keeper make a save, while Lucas put a free header wide from the subsequent corner. Five minutes later, Liverpool should have had a penalty when Maxi was taken down, and forty seconds after that, Liverpool actually got one – Torres running into the box, Lucas picking up possession and winning the spot kick. Cole immediately grabbed the ball (and said in his post-match interview that he was the designated taker), but saw his tame penalty in front of the Kop saved by a keeper that was four feet off his goal line. Joey just can't buy a break, but – a yard inside the post and waist-height for the keeper – it was not a good effort.
Trabzonspor bringing on Brazilian winger Alanzinho in the 56th helped settle the away side, even though both Jovanovic and Torres tested Kivrak with good strikes in the 57th and 63rd, bracketing Reina's one necessary save, beating away Umut's shot in the 59th when the striker timed his run perfectly. Liverpool's lone excellent opportunity in the final half-hour was Poulsen's disallowed goal: a corner headed on goal by Kyrgiakos, hitting Cole before Poulsen stabbed it over the line, only to see the referee blow his whistle. I'll buy that Poulsen was offside – and I needed two replays to see it – but it looked as if the referee called a foul that never was, solely because the keeper rolled around on the ground as if he was shot. Frustrating, just like the majority of tonight's proceedings.
As said in the run-up, Trabzonspor are not easy opposition, and a one-goal lead for a trip to Turkey is slim, to say the least. There were a fair few bright spots: Torres looked outstanding, Maxi and Jovanovic both had excellent matches (Jova especially, probably man of the match), Kyrgiakos was huge at the back, and Poulsen grew into the game very well. But there's also a bit to worry about. Liverpool could and should have killed them off during the 20 minute stretch to start the second half. That first half performance cannot be replicated (although, admittedly, it was an unfamiliar XI); Babel, Lucas and Aurelio (and Poulsen in the first half) looked incredibly rusty; and Liverpool got next to nothing from either fullback going forward (although Kelly was good defensively). I want Joe Cole to succeed so badly – it's clear he'd kill to do well for Liverpool – but little came off outside of his assist, he was anonymous for long stretches in the middle for the second straight match with a pressing, high-line defense, and the saved penalty cannot be good for his confidence.
But at least it's a win, a clean sheet, and a good workout for Torres – who looked fit enough to start on Monday. Liverpool will need to score in Trabzon, but that's never out of the question, especially if the #9's playing. The pressure's now on Trabzonspor to perform in front of their baying crowd; another clean sheet and Liverpool's through to the Europa League proper. The only problem is that long trip – where Liverpool will probably need to play more big names than they'd like – will come after an immense early season match at Manchester City, and the result there will go a long way in dictating the team's confidence come next Thursday.