Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Super Mario strike secures crucial win

Liverpool emerged from a thrilling game against top four rivals Tottenham Hotspur with a crucial 3-2 win at Anfield last night.

Markovic opened the scoring early on, before the prolific Harry Kane levelled for Spurs on the half hour mark. Gerrard put the Reds ahead again from the spot after the break, but Dembele controversially equalised soon after for Mauricio Pochettino’s men. With time running out and a draw not good enough for the hosts, remarkably substitute Mario Balotelli popped up to net the winner from close range, which takes Liverpool within a point of Spurs and only three off fourth spot.

With Lucas Leiva out for a month and Raheem Sterling also injured, Steven Gerrard began alongside Henderson in midfield, while Daniel Sturridge, starting his first game since returning from injury, formed a front three alongside Markovic and Coutinho. Ibe also deservedly retained his starting position at right wing back after impressing in the Merseyside derby on Saturday.

The match started surprisingly open, with both teams creating chances right from the off. Although Harry Kane probably should have been awarded a penalty on nine minutes after going down under a risky challenge from Mignolet, Liverpool were in the ascendancy and warranted their early lead when it arrived after a quarter of an hour.

Sturridge had been denied twice by Lloris, Gerrard had sent a 25-yard free kick inches over the bar and Markovic had volleyed off target before the 20-year old Serbian linked up with Sturridge to open the scoring. The England international plucked the ball out of the air and found Markovic in plenty of space. He advanced on goal before finishing low into the right of the goal, beating Lloris, who should have done better, and netting the opener.

Unfortunately, the seemingly unstoppable Harry Kane was in confident mood, as evidenced by his ambitious Alonso-esque attempt from the halfway line, and soon levelled for Spurs with a little help from Mamadou Sakho. The French defender, whose form has dipped slightly after previously putting in many good performances, slipped at the crucial moment, affording Kane the room to finish through Mignolet’s legs after receiving the ball from Lamela.

Markovic opened the scoring...

...but Kane quickly equalised
Spurs’ main threat and talisman, Kane continued to cause the Reds’ defence all sorts of difficulties, seeing Mignolet make a good save when he was one-on-one with the Belgian, although he’d already been incorrectly flagged offside. He even also tracked back to tackle his opposite number Daniel Sturridge as he ran goalwards, showing exceptional work rate and desire and a tackling ability that some defenders would be envious of!

Not one to be overshadowed by Kane, Sturridge almost produced a piece of magic to give the Merseysiders the lead in first half injury time. Ibe reached the by-line and cut the ball back for Sturridge, who hit the post with an ingenious improvised back flick from six yards out. If he’d scored, it would have been a fitting way to mark his return to the starting line-up, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.

Liverpool’s number 15 was involved, however, when their second goal arrived eight minutes after the restart. Twisting and turning in the area, Sturridge was felled by Rose and referee Phil Dowd rightly pointed to the spot. Steven Gerrard stood up and coolly scored his tenth goal of the season.

Gerrard made no mistake from the penalty spot
Frustratingly, what Dowd gave with the one hand, he took away with the other, and, after Mignolet made a magnificent save to tip Lamela’s piledriver over the bar, Liverpool suffered from some shoddy officiating.

First, Gerrard was harshly booked for bringing down Kane with what would have been considered a brilliant tackle only a few years ago. Kopites’ annoyance at that decision was only magnified when Dier produced a very similar tackle on Sturridge in the penalty area seven minutes later but no penalty was given.

Then, the linesman failed to notice that Kane was in an offside position, allowing the striker to square to Dembele after Mignolet had done well to palm away Eriksen’s effort on goal. The former Fulham midfielder turned the ball into the back of the net from close range under pressure from Emre Can.

Dembele's goal shouldn't have stood
The German utility player, who could do nothing to stop Dembele levelling, was moved into his preferred midfield position with 20 minutes remaining as Lovren replaced skipper Steven Gerrard, who was struggling with a hamstring injury.

The change was inspired, as Can put in a fantastic performance in the middle of the park, releasing the pressure with a marauding run on 73 minutes that culminated in him being fouled by Walker, who also sneakily kicked Can after he went down. Can, who seems to be a target of thugs who want to kick opponents while their lying helpless on the turf, did well to not react to the provocation or exaggerate the injury to get Walker sent off.

When Mario Balotelli entered the fray with 15 minutes left, replacing Sturridge, it was billed as his ‘make or break’ moment for the umpteenth time. I must admit, when he came on I proceeded to rant about the folly of giving him another chance and expecting him to finally come good. I was delighted when he well and truly made me eat my words on 83 minutes.

Fellow substitute Adam Lallana was put through by Ibe down the right and the former Southampton skipper squared to Balotelli, who completed the relatively simple task of turning home unchallenged from four yards out before ‘celebrating’ in his characteristically nonplussed manner.

Better than Aguero and Rooney? Maybe not
It was the Italian’s first Premier League goal since November 2012 but, spun in a more positive light, he has now scored more Premier League goals in 2015 than Aguero and Rooney combined!

Whether or not Balotelli has turned a corner still remains to be seen, but it is beyond question that Liverpool have recovered from their early season plight and now are back on track for a successful season. The Reds have lost just one game in 21 in all competitions now and are firmly in the fight for fourth spot. It is crucial that they beat another competitor for Champions League qualification next time out in the League at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium.


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