Monday, 15 March 2010

Turning Point or Another False Dawn?

1 year and 6 days ago Liverpool thrashed Real Madrid 4-0 at Anfield, sending us through to the quarter finals of the Champions League, with goals from Torres, Gerrard (twice) and Andrea Dossena securing an emphatic victory for the Reds.

It was the catalyst that set us off on a wonderful end of season run, which yielded an impressive 9 wins out of the remaining 10 League games, and an unbelievable return of 32 goals from only 10 matches, including 4 goals at Old Trafford, 5 at home to Aston Villa and 4 against Arsenal (although admittedly Liverpool did also concede 4 goals in that game, thanks to the ruthlessness of a certain Russian.) This magnificent run left Liverpool with a second place finish, only 4 points behind Manchester United.

Fast forward 370 days and Liverpool were facing bottom of the table Portsmouth, one of the few clubs to have financial difficulties worse than Liverpool, in a game that Liverpool simply had to win if they were to stand any chance of finishing in the top 4.

Rafa Benitez selected a positive starting 11, in at attempt to break down the parked bus that was Portsmouth FC, with Alberto Aquilani starting in place of Lucas and Maxi Rodriguez in for the misfiring Dirk Kuyt.

It was an inspired move by the Spaniard as Aquilani was instrumental in all of the Reds attacking play, and Maxi Rodriguez terrorised the Portsmouth defence with his direct runs. Maxi's performance last night, alongside his display at home to Blackburn, have made a mockery of Adrian Durham's insane claim that he is "the worst player he has seen in a Red shirt." I have two words for Durham, Salif Diao.

Liverpool started the game on the front foot, with a pacy tempo required in order to break down Pompey's defensive wall. The Reds had an early penalty shout turned down by Stuart Attwell, as Torres' shot hit the arm of a Portsmouth defender. The claim fell into the "seen them given" category, however it was not a stonewall spot kick.

Following this, intricate build up play involving Maxi, Aquilani and Torres led to Gerrard shooting over the bar from 20 yards out, as the skipper tried to curl the ball into the top right hand corner. It was a brilliant, free flowing move from Rafa's Reds, and indicative as to how they would play for the rest of the match.

Aquilani's ambitious effort went just wide of the left post before Liverpool finally took a deserved lead on 26 minutes, thanks to the determination of Steven Gerrard, who was back to top form last night. Our Scouse captain ran down Ashdown's poor clearance and the ball fell to Maxi. The Spaniard squared the ball to Fernando Torres, who had the simple task of passing the ball into the back of the net from 6 yards.

2 minutes later Liverpool had doubled their lead, easing all nerves and allowing the Reds to play an open and expansive game. Johnson chipped a dangerous cross to the back post and to Fernando Torres. After controlling the ball using his chest and knees, Torres laid the ball back to Babel, who poked the ball home from the edge of the box. It was an impressive goal from the Dutchman as he had little time in which to convert Torres' pass. His well taken goal should earn him another start against Lille on Thursday night.

Liverpool's 3rd goal came after 32 minutes, completing what was a sensational 6 minute spell. Gerrard, who was starting to spend most of his time attacking down the left, passed to Torres in space. Torres returned the pass with a beautiful back heel that fell to the feet of Aquilani. The Italian struck home with his weaker foot, beating Ashdown at the near post to score his first goal in a Red shirt.

Just before the break Liverpool nearly made it 4 as Torres, who was thriving thanks to the support he was receiving from both Gerrard and Aquilani, cut in from the left, beating Steve Finnan, who was returning to Anfield for the first time since his move away in 2008. Torres' shot smashed against the upright before it was cleared to the edge of the box by Pompey. The ball fell to the feet of ex Portsmouth player Glen Johnson, who fed Maxi down the right. Gerrard was waiting in the box, and he duly received the ball from Maxi, however his effort disappointingly flew wide of the post.

The second half was an exhibition for the Reds as the game was already won, and it was just a chance to boost our goal difference.

A lovely move ended with a 1-2 between Aquilani and Babel on the edge of the area. Babel played the ball out to Gerrard who tested the Portsmouth keeper with a decent strike. The ball went out to the left hand side of the pitch, where Stevie and Aquilani combined to set up Ryan Babel, who's scorching effort from the edge of the box stung Ashdown's fingers before htting the crossbar and going behind for a corner kick. It was a magnificent move from the Reds, with all attacking players involved, stretching the Pompey defence to breaking point.

Brown called Reina into action midway through the half after Belhadj had beaten Glen Johnson too easily. Our Spanish stopper was more than up to the task as he produced a fantastic save to prevent Brown's drive bulging the back of the net.

Michael Brown was involved in a controversial incident with Steven Gerrard later on, as he tangled with Stevie, and replays showed that Gerrard accidentally elbowed Brown. It was a nasty incident, and one which was immediately followed by the skipper's substitution, however Brown must take his fair share of blame, as he was illegally obstructing Gerrard, preventing him reaching the ball.

Liverpool saved their best for the last as Aquilani played an exquisite pass into the feet ot Torres, who was on the left hand side of the box. He cut in onto his right foot before burying his shot, as Jamie Ashdown was beaten at his near post once again, in what was a miserable night for the Portsmouth goalkeeper.

A brief lapse of concentration in the closing stages led to Belhadj grabbing a late consolation for the visitors, however it did little to sully what was a fantastic night for Liverpool.

My only worry now is that this is another false dawn, rather than the start of a revival, like the Madrid match was last season. Liverpool have had plenty of false dawns already this season. After a 2-0 victory over Manchester United, Liverpool went 5 games without tasting victory. Following a 2-0 win at Goodison Park, the Reds only managed a single victory in their next 5 matches, and that win was only a nervy 2-1 triumph over lowly Wigan Athletic.

If Liverpool can get positive results in their next two games (at home to Lille on Thursday then at Old Trafford on Sunday) then this game could be seen as the catalyst for a fantastic late surge that hopefully guarantees Liverpool 4th place, much like the Madrid match last season. If Liverpool crash out of the Europa League on Thursday and are then beaten at Old Trafford, then this match will be seen as yet another false dawn in what has been a season of dashed hopes for Reds supporters.