Torres 26, 77, Babel 28, Aquilani 32
Well that’s a bit more like it even though it was against bottom of the league. A performance that showed signs of the fluidity of movement that everyone expects to see from the team and one or two encouraging signs from personnel who have yet to fire.
Rafa, perhaps swayed by current opinion about our style of play or mindful that we’ve a game on Thursday, dropped Lucas and Kuyt. Maxi and Aquilani returned. Babel was employed wide on the left and of course we had Johnson bombing forward on the other side. A much more attacking line up. This was reflected in our play from the very start, Torres and Aquilani went close in the first fifteen minutes, however given our form of late one would never expected what was to come, three goals in six minutes. Shades of Robbie Fowler against Arsenal all those years ago?
The first was a straight forward effort. Ashdown’s attempted clearance was intercepted by Gerrard, Maxi picked it up the resulting loose ball and squared a simple pass across the box for Torres. Two minutes later Torres returned the favour emerging from befuddling Finnan and crossing from the back post to Babel to toe-punt into the far corner.
Babel had another decent game providing us with much needed width and proving what he can do if he stops moaning, concentrates and works hard. Although occasionally some of his crosses went astray and he chose to shoot when perhaps a pass was a better option, he continued his good run of form. However when you see him like this compared to how he was playing at the beginning of the season all it does is underline what annoyingly frustrating player he is?
The game was effectively finished on 32 minutes when Aquilani got on the end of Torres’ back heel via Gerrard’s dummy to finish into the bottom corner. This was Aquilani’s first goal for us and his relief was there for all to see. The Italian arguably had his best game for us, pinging long accurate balls and linking up well with Gerrard in particular. Many have said that because of his injury we will only see the true Aquilani next season however, he has had plenty of time to rest thanks to Rafa’s nurturing and protecting him so why not now? It would be handy in the run in and he owes us something for our patience and the way the club has helped him recover from injury?
The second half was a more sedate affair. Portsmouth came out of their shells slightly with Brown producing a great save from Reina. Perhaps many of us were hoping to see us increase the lead however Rafa, no doubt mindful of Thursday and the Mancs this weekend withdrew Gerrard and Johnson. Gerrard has been flying close to the wind recently, there was last weeks V sign and now, prior to be substituted, he was involved in an off the ball incident where he appeared to elbow Brown, or at least give him a forearm smash, on the back of the head. Brown certainly wasn’t the innocent party as he obstructed Gerrard as he tried to move forward. Sometimes, given the pedantry of some officials and the willingness of players go down at the slightest hint of contact it is easy to forget that football is a contact sport? Although the referee was well positioned to see this, he did nothing however, I guess there is the risk of retrospective punishment which would disappoint but not surprise me.
Torres finished things off cutting in and firing low into the bottom corner between Rocha and Finnan who gave him too much space. Two goals and hopefully finding form just at the right time for us? Belhaj banged a consolation for the visitors
So a good win and points gained on some of those around us however the games in hand are still an issue. We could desperately do with getting something from Old Trafford and tonight’s win will do wonders for the confidence. However, before that there is Lille. Fail to get past them and the criticism ringing in Rafa’s ears will return again. Perhaps not the best time given the alleged behind the scenes moves? The soap opera continues and it is likely to do so for some time?
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson (Kelly 70), Agger, Insua, Carragher, Aquilani, Gerrard (Benayoun 73), Maxi, Mascherano, Torres (Ngog 80), Babel Substitutes: Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Kelly, Benayoun, Lucas, Kuyt, Ngog
Portsmouth: Ashdown, Rocha Hreidarsson (Owusu-Abeyie 75), Finnan, Belhadj, O’Hara (Webber 85), Diop (Mokoena), Brown, Wilson, Piquionne, Dindane Substitutes: O’Brien, Mokoena, Mullins, Owusu-Abeyie, Hughes, Webber, Kanu