Kuyt 28, Lucas 34, Torres 59, 82
Perhaps those who belittle the UEFA Cup should take the time to consider this week’s events.
It is easy to criticise but along with Fulham we are the last English team standing in Europe thanks to a victory over a team with a domestic and European record this season that would probably see them easily make the last eight of the Champions League. No complaints we‘ve shot our Champions League bolt but to beat them by such a margin speaks volumes about the performance we put in yesterday. May be it was our best of the season, which is timely given the remaining games to come? It is obviously a pity we had until April for it but thanks for the birthday present lads!
Rafa addressed his left back conundrum by slotting in Agger. Kyrgiakos replaced the Dane in the centre. Benayoun replaced the cup tied Maxi. Benfica started positively forcing a number or corners and free kicks. We struggled to halt their momentum and it took almost fifteen minutes to win our first corner from Gerrard’s free kick. Slowly however, we began to make small inroads nothing tangible but little signs than we were beginning to get the upper hand. Plenty of pressure, a number of close off side calls against Torres and pushing the Portuguese back into their own half. We didn’t have it all our own way and Benfica always threatened but the defence remained watertight as the visitors punctuated our recovery with the odd attack themselves which suggested they were not going to be an easy nut to crack.
Because of this the first goal was something of a surprise. Gerrard fired over a corner Kyrgiakos got up and confused the defence but it was Kuyt who stole in front of the keeper to head home. Celebrations were curtailed as the linesman flagged for offside against the Dutchman however the referee, having, initially appearing to have accepted this, over ruled him. Clearly Kuyt could not be offside from a corner?
My feelings at this stage were still not confident. Surely Benfica would come back? However, more assurance came from the most unlikely source. Benayoun and Gerrard combined in the centre of the field and Lucas, like a shire house let out in a summer field having spent the winter pulling cartloads of barrels, gleefully skipped free into a wide expanse of lush green Anfield turf, evaded Cesar and slotted home with outside of his foot! A simple goal from a well worked passing move that cut through everything Benfica had to offer, from front to back.
Despite this, and the fact that the two goals must have knocked them back, Benfica still pushed forward. Cardozo and Sidnei still tested Reina who in fairness seemed more concerned about the state of his boots than their efforts. The second half would presumably give them time to take stock and compose themselves? Whatever the case they now had a simple task, they had to go forward. A double edged sword as this would mean more pressure on our defence would also leave Benfica vulnerable to the counter attack. As it happened we were to experience both sides of it.
A Benfica free kick was cleared Johnson cleared to Mascherano who found Benayoun. Kuyt, burning down the right side, picked up his pass and crossed hard and low to Torres who finished off a move that took just fourteen seconds to from us dispossessing Benfica. A great goal and I can’t, off hand, think of a better one we’ve scored this season?
So 3-0 up having overcome a 2-1 away deficit! Sound familiar? Comparisons with a our “friends” forty miles away became even more pertinatent when Cardozo drove a fierce free kick through a packed, if not especially rigid, wall after Kuyt had felled Ramires. Tensions rising again leading one to hope that the last minute nerves, that riddled our Champions League performances earlier in the season, wouldn’t resurface? Things threatened to get worse as Remires was felled again, this time by Benayoun, and Cardozo, with Reina rooted to the spot, just flashed the kick past the post. The resulting corner missed everyone and swung dangerously through the six yard box.
Nervy, nervy times and time for cool heads and to work together and the response was first class. Luis was disposed by a crunching but fair tackle from Lucas. Torres eventually skipped free thanks to Mascherano’s pass and this time he was on side. At one stage I thought he had over run it but how dare I doubt the master and, sure enough, he managed to dink it over the reserve keeper who, having replaced Cesar, had yet to touch the ball! Rafa then hauled him off and also, for good measure, Gerrard, but this time there were not shenanigans.
So last four, but now to concentrate on the top four? However, with Atletico Madrid waiting in the semi final Rafa, and especially Fernando Torres, will see this as a tempting side order to what should be main domestic course. Let’s hope they, and the rest of the team, have the stomach for both, everyone connected with the club has been starved for too long this season?
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Gerrard (Aquilani 88), Benayoun, (El Zhar 90+1), Mascherano, Lucas, Torres (Ngog 86), Kuyt Substitutes: Cavalieri, Degen, Ayala, Aquilani, Ngog, El Zhar, Pacheco
Benfica: Julio Cesar (Moreira 79), Luisao, David Luiz, Sidnei, Ruben Amorim, Javi Garcia, Ramires, Aimar (Fabio Coentrao 86), Carlos Martins (Alan Kardec 66), Di Maria, Cardozo Substitutes: Moreira, Pereira, Airton, Fabio Coentrao, Felipe Menezes, Alan Kardec, Eder Luis