Gerrard 75, 88, 89
Many have said Roy Hodgson has gambled with his team selection for this season’s UEFA Cup ties by resting players for the league and fielding sides with just enough to get through the games.
However, last night proved this wasn’t necessarily the case. Calculated risk is a more appropriate term? May be that’s also wrong as we seemingly have the luxury of players such as Steven Gerrard to mitigate it?
Remember all those seasons ago when Gerrard would seemingly win games on his own? He would jump into the proverbial phone box, don his red hero garb, and burst out and banish the mediocrity and inertia with something decisive and often spectacular. Even Gerrard would admit that those games have been few and far between lately and, until he came swooping off the bench last, our so called season’s recovery looked like a case of two steps forward (the last two league results) and one back. However Gerrard appeared, and, with a leap and a bound, we were away!
HRH sprung something of a minor surprise. Prior to the game he said he would field a strong side but, back four excepted, this wasn’t the case. Torres was rested and, as intimated before, Gerrard was benched. Johnson returned from injury leaving Carragher to move back into the centre and Skrtel to rest/make way. The midfield was disappointingly defensive. Shelvey was given the chance to achieve another notch on his European bed post, but Spearing AND Pouslen also started with Ngog at least providing some attacking options up front.
The first half began fairly brightly with both sides seemingly intent on going for it making for end to end stuff even though there were no serious attempts on goal. The best chance came from Cavani who blasted high into the Anfield Road end when he should have least hit the target. Ngog at least achieved this but his low, weak shot on the near post was easily dealt with by De Sanctis in the Napoli goal.
On the run of play either side deserved to go in front but in terms of creativity Napoli just deserved it so it was no surprise when the impressive Lavezzi broke free to slide the ball past Reina. The goal was easy for the visitors. Two poor, indecisive or mistimed headers were to blame, one from Carragher and then Poulsen. With Carragher out of position Johnson was exposed allowing the Italians to pick their way past him and make it count.
We had an opportunity to level immediately however a Napoli interception caused Ngog to fire wide. Then Johnson brought out the first meaningful save from De Sanctis forcing him to dive low to his right to stop his long range effort. That was the last effort of the first half and after the break HRH responded and perhaps realised, for the first time since he took over, the power of some the players we have. Gerrard’s impact notwithstanding he must have instructed his players to go out be more positive. It paid dividends immediately raising questions as to why this wasn’t done earlier ie. right from the start as we did against Blackburn, even allowing for the weakened side.
The chances rained in. Ngog’s shot from six yards was well saved by De Sanctis’ trailing leg after a good build up involving Meireles and Shelvey. Meireles was also involved in the next two chances picking up Ngog’s miss control and firing just past the wrong side of the post and then firing straight at De Sanctis from distance. Next Gerrard fired a free kick just wide. The missed opportunities were racking up and the worry, that we might not make them count, increased. Thankfully, the breakthrough was made with only quarter of an hour to go. The chance wasn’t clear cut Shelvey was dispossessed however the resulting short back pass, from Dossena of all people, saw Gerrard cleanly sliding in on the keeper to knock it home.
Perhaps many would have settled for a draw however our second half performance deserved more. Johnson picked up the ball from Shelvey and cut into the area beating one defender only to be blocked and felled by Aronica. A sure fire penalty and justice for the Napoli defender as earlier he had committed an appalling, potentially leg breaking, tackle on Ngog. He escaped punishment from the referee on that occasion but Gerrard made him pay giving De Sanctis no chance even though he guessed right. Relief at edging ourselves in front so late after the set back then turned to a feeling “oh it’s alright after all” with Gerrard again picking up, after the defence had been dispossessed by Lucas, and chipping over De Sanctis to make it all OK.
So it was a long time coming and no doubt some smartarse will say we are over reliant on Gerrard as that is what they always say when he plays well. For once I don’t give a sh*t! For those involved and those watching, last night was a reminder of why Steven Gerrard is so valued, of why Gerrard is Gerrard, the heartbeat of Liverpool.
Liverpool: Reina; G Johnson, Konchesky, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Raul Meireles, Spearing, C Poulsen (Eccleston 65), Shelvey, Jovanovic (Gerrard 46), Ngog (Lucas 82), Substitutes: Hansen, Wilson, Kelly, Skrtel, Gerrard, Lucas, Eccleston
Napoli: De Sanctis, Aronica, Dossena, Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Pazienza, Maggio, Hamsik (Yebda 84), Gargano, Cavani, Lavezzi, Substitutes: Gianello, Grava, Santacroce, Zuniga, Yebda, Sosa, Dumitru