Thursday, 11 March 2010

Not Great, but Not Bad

It was never going to be easy. Only 3 days after what many supporters consider to be the worst performance of the season, where the Reds failed to register a single shot on target away to Wigan Athletic, and facing opponents who had lost just one of their last 16 European matches on home soil was always going to be an exceptionally difficult task for a Liverpool team starved of confidence after a wretched season.

However, the players showed their commitment to the cause, worked hard and had a few chances which, if converted, would have secured an excellent result. Unfortunately, Eden Hazard curled a free kick into the back of the net 7 minutes from time to spoil an otherwise positive evening, however Liverpool are still favourites to progress.

Before the game ex Red Bruno Cheyrou, now playing for Anorthosis Famagusta, in an interview with, said, "I think that it (Lille's pitch) is the best playing surface in France." This claim proved to be laughable, as Liverpool had to play on yet another awful pitch, with brown patches dominating areas, and bobbles covering the abysmal surface. It was hazardous for Liverpool, and nearly proved costly at one point, when Reina took two attempts to collect a weak shot, due to a massive bobble on the pitch.

The early onslaught from the home side caused Liverpool to remain defensive for the first 20 minutes, however, despite their dominance, Lille failed to seriously test Reina. The best opening for Lille came after only 10 minutes when Hazard easily beat Insua, who was disappointing in the first half but slightly better in the second, before gliding past Agger. Hazard, who was one of Lille's best players, went on to slide a dangerous centre across the face of the goal, but it didn't trouble Reina.

Liverpool survived the early pressure, and then started to create a few opportunites of their own. On 15 minutes Fernando Torres ripped past several Lille defenders, before sliding in a beautiful pass to Ryan Babel, who was clean through on goal. Unfortuantely, Babel just couldn't get to the ball and it was cleared behind for a corner, but it was a great move from the Reds, as Torres and Babel combined well.

10 minutes later, Torres and Babel skillfully exchanged passes once again, before Torres played the Dutchman through on goal, however Babel's poor shot was comfortably dealt with by the experienced goalkeeper, Mickael Landreau.

Liverpool continued to dominate the game for the last 20 minutes of the first half, as Reina was left with nothing to do for large periods.

Gerrard turned neatly and then fired just over the bar on the half hour, a sign that the skipper is regaining some resemblance of his past form. After this, Liverpool went extremely close to taking the lead, with their best move of the match.

Fernando Torres, who was another player to put in a vastly improved performance, sped away out of his own half on a brilliant counter attacking run, before he was fouled on the edge of the 18 yard box. Gerrard whipped in a pacy free kick, which the keeper did well to push to the edge of the area, where Glen Johnson met the ball.

The England right back, who was returning to the starting line up for the first time since 29th December, clipped in a fantastic cross to the back post. Torres leaped highest to meet the ball with his head, and it took a magnificent stop from the keeper, on his goalline, to stop the Reds taking the lead.

Liverpool went into the half time break on top, and came out for the second half looking to score a vital away goal, although it was the French team that began the second period brighter. Lille even had the ball in the back of the net on 49 minutes, but it was ruled out for offside, when replays later showed that the player was never offside, as he was clearly being played onside by Emiliano Insua.

2 minutes later Lucas shot wide of goal, after Torres had flicked on Mascherano's long pass. After this Ryan Babel, who was impressive once again and deserves a run of games to show what he can do, stung the keeper's hands with a fierce effort from 18 yards out.

The home side came back into the game, and went close to scoring on two occasions. Both times it was Lille striker Frau who went very close to giving his side the lead. Firstly, he fired in a powerful shot from 25 yards out that swerved in the air, causing Reina to punch the ball clear.

With 20 minutes remaining Frau had another go, this time sending a thunderous strike inches over the cross bar, from 35 yards out.

It was a wonderful effort from the Frenchman, who was a threat all evening. Liverpool must make sure that they keep him quiet in the second leg, otherwise he could score a crucial away goal, which would almost certainly send Liverpool crashing out of Europe.

Lille's second half control finally paid off on 83 minutes. Hazard, who had dramatically dived in an attempt to win his team an undeserved spot kick only a minute earlier, swung in a tremendous free kick which sailed past everyone in the packed penalty area, before sneaking in at the back post. Reina could have done better, but there was not much the Reds could do, it was simply a beautiful strike from a talened player.

Worryingly, Lille went close to scoring a second, which would have seen Liverpool really struggling going into the second leg. The ball was dinked over the heads of the Reds defenders, and fell to the feet of Lille substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameya, who's shot deflected off Agger and onto the post.

In response Liverpool toiled in search of a critical away goal, however it didn't come. A goalmouth scramble nearly led to Torres finding the back of the net, but the ball was cleared to safety, and then, with seconds remaining, Reina hoofed a long punt upfield. Torres flicked the ball on to Riera, who played an excellent pass out to Gerrard in space on the left, but, unfortunately, the Reds captain couldn't find the back of the net.

As the commentators for Five summarised following the only goal of the match, a 1-0 result isn't great for Liverpool, but it isn't a bad result either, especially considering the unbelievable pressure that both Rafa and the players have been put under over recent days by a media all to happy to label yet another club as "in crisis".

Whilst it is never good to leave the away leg having failed to score an away goal, Liverpool are by no means out of this competition yet, and should progress to the next round if they manage to keep the Lille attack quiet at Anfield.

The Reds can now concentrate on another "must win" game, this time at home to bottom club Portsmouth, who are one of only a handful of clubs in a worse financial situation than Liverpool. Hopefully Rafa can break his Monday night curse (the Reds boss has never claimed victory in a Monday game) and help Liverpool to a crucial 3 points.


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