Praise where praise is due!
Last night’s performance, particularly in the second half, by what was effectively Liverpool’s B team was the highlight of the season for me so far. These Eurpo League games have the potential to be a major disruption to our main aim of getting back into the top 4. However, based on what I saw last night they maybe they can also serve to build the confidence of our squad and fringe players in preparation for them pushing into the first team.
We were basically set up in what is now the standard Liverpool formation of 4-2-3-1. Besides, Reina, Cole and Ngog we did not start with any of the usual suspects from the season so far. This showed a lot throughout the first half as our performance was largely disjointed. We didn’t hold possession well and there was a lot of broken play. We benefited from some charitable defending from our opponents but for much of the half we were marginally second best. Joe Cole took his goal well, managing to be sharp enough 26 seconds into the game to latch onto a woefully short back pass and plant it firmly into the bottom right corner. Typically you would expect us to go on from this brilliant start and dominate proceedings. Our visitors had other ideas. Some inventive play, accurate short passing and a well-executed chip over the keeper soon opened up our defence and they were back on level terms. The rest of the first half was a struggle. Stray passing and Ryan Babel were the major problems for us.
Ten minutes into the second half Ngog forced a corner and from the ensuing delivery Soto was hauled down right in front of the ref. Somewhat to my shock and amazement David Ngog stepped up to take the spot kick. Looking around at the personnel the only other choice to take it in my book would have been Pepe Reina (we all know Cole will never take another penalty for Liverpool ever, ever!). I was still a bit anxious, having never seen the young man take a penalty. Credit to the young man he actually didn’t look phased in the least even though the ref made him wait quite a while. Bottom left, side netting, Liverpool 2-1! Thank you very much. I was suitably impressed. From his run up it was clear he had picked his side and was sticking to it and putting it right there!
Then RH almost costed us. As Lucas prepared to come on Ngog was called over to the touchline. The young man looked somewhat bemused at why his number was up! To that point he had done quite well showing his new improved strength to some effect. Fortunately RH realised quickly that the wrong black guy was being taken off. They quickly corrected and off went Babel who had a terrible game. His use of the ball at feet is horrific. He just doesn’t think like a football player. Add to that all our throw-ins up the right wing that went to him ended up going straight to the Romanians. He can’t even do a simple throw in routine – chest it down pass it back to the guy who threw it in!!!
A short while later the much derided (especially on this thread) Lucas did the amazing. I know many of you reading this would never have thought him capable. He picked up a lose ball 10m outside the box, nudged it forward 5m and unleashed a thunderbolt strike that hit the back of the net just as the keeper was beginning his dive! In zim we say “Oh Charles, the keeper was beaten, all systems out!”. WHAT A GOAL. Reminds me of the kind of goals Gerrard hasn’t been scoring for Liverpool in nearly a season!
Then to seal the deal, on 90min +1 young Ngog received the ball on the edge of the box. A neat turn and push later he was ready to unleash a laced shot into the bottom left to bag yet another brace in the Europa Cup (He must be the top goal scorer in the competition at this point!). In celebration he signalled a substitution with his hands then wagged his finger to say NO! A subtle message to the coach right there – the young man is hungry for more action!
And there you have it, Liverpool 4 – Bucharest 1.
• Babel is junk! The guy just kills every move he is involved in. He shots when he should pass, he shots when he should tackle, he shots when he should be coming off! And the throw in thing is unforgiveable. It’s a basic part of the game. When you win a throw deep in opposition territory it’s an opportunity to create something (sort of like a set phase in rugby). All he has to do is retain possession but he can’t even do that!
• Joe Cole was the class on show. His movement with the ball was good. And was always looking to create and work spaces. Not sure how he will fit into the first team though!
• Ngog is clearly developing as a player. Besides the goal there was one run I noted from the left where he took the ball up against 3 defenders and was actually unlucky not to beat all three and have a run on goal. To try that takes confidence and confidence is the key skill required in any striker. The penalty was dispatched with deadly coolness. At 1-1 it was a bit of a pressure penalty. His second was a strikers goal – being the quickest and sharpest player in the box. He beat two men with his turn and another as he set up the shot.
• Lucas showed he can play do something. I am still a big fan but I will admit that he has to trust himself more. He can do more but he’s got to try.
• Jay Spearing was massively impressive. Playing alongside Raul Mireiles you would have thought he was the international player. Particularly in the second half his use of the ball was really good. He was droppin in nicely to receive and looking ahead for penetrative passes (something he should help teach Lucas). He also made his tackles and had some key blocks. 7.5/10 young man!
• Pacheco came on late but in his few minutes showed he can handle physical pressure when he has the ball at his feet and