I don’t know whether you have noticed but since the arrival of Rafa Benítez at Anfield, Liverpool have tended to do things in dramatic style, some would say “the hard way”, whilst playing in the Champions League. There have been too many of those “special Anfield nights” to mention here, but let’s just say this one isn’t joining that list! This Qualifying tie against Belgium’s Standard Liege may have ultimately been dramatic, but it was done the hard way and it was most definitely not special. This, to be brutally honest, was extremely hard work, extremely difficult to watch at times.
For long periods of this tie the team from Belgium, who let’s face it Liverpool should have dismissed without too much trouble, dominated the 5 times winners and more illustrious opponents. Although watching these two games, if you had just stepped off a spaceship you would have said the Belgium team were the better known team, were the ex-champions of Europe.
Another telling sign I thought last night as I gritted my teeth watching this, was that the fans also sensed something wasn’t quite right as their team toiled to try to break down this well organized and determined underdog. They were very quiet, especially for a European night at Anfield, and not just any European night either. The result of this game is supposed to net Liverpool at least £10m (approx $19.5m) in revenue. This was an extremely important game. However, for long periods the 3,000 traveling supporters out sang their, yet again, more illustrious opponents. The television pictures kept cutting to fans on The Kop. Just about every time they did so, we saw anxious fans biting nails, hands positioned in front of their faces as if in prayer. These fans know their football, they know all is not right in the State Of Anfield!
I still think Robbie Keane will prove to be a great signing for Liverpool, however it would be fair to say that he is struggling after his arrival at the home of his childhood idols. Both Keane and Torres seemed to work hard last night but they simply haven’t clicked yet as a partnership and both were very well marshaled by a physical Standard Liege defence.
When you watch Liverpool you do not need to be a footballing genius to work out they have absolutely no width. They continually try to attack and break teams down through a very narrow corridor in the middle of the pitch. They tried this all night and it got them nowhere. Very one dimensional. Then, very late on, Benítez brought on Ryan Babbel. This did seem to give Liverpool something a little different. Well, they had to do something.
It was Babbel who finally produced, in the 206th minute of this tie, Liverpool’s first bit of quality. And where did it come from? Yes, wide out on the left. Babbel produced an exquisite cross that Kuyt managed to get his knee to on the far post. Deadlock broken and the sense of absolute relief that swept around Anfield was palpable even watching on TV. Kuyt has scored some very crucial goals in the Champions League for Liverpool over the last couple of years but you have to think this was his most telling contribution so far in a red shirt.
Talking about Liverpool and their lack of width, there have been reports in the last couple of days that they are trying to sign a winger from Espanyol called Riera. Hmm! I think he spent a very short time at Man City about 2 years ago and did absolutely naff all. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say anything bad about the guy, the point I’m trying to make is this…. Is a player like Riera the type of player Liverpool should be targeting if they want to truly progress and challenge at the very top domestically and in Europe? Yes, Riera is a wide man which is what they so desperately need but is he the right quality? Only time will tell but……. I’m not convinved.
Whilst Liverpool were making extremely hard work of Standard Liege, Arsenal were cruising past FC Twente and were putting their truly awful display against Fulham at the weekend to bed. If you are in the UK, did you watch Lee Dixon’s “rant” on Match of The Day at the weekend? Very funny! Let’s just say he wasn’t impressed. It looks as though Wenger may have used it to inspire his players. But to be perfectly honest, FC Twente were appalling. There can’t be too many worse teams who have played in the Champions League. I’ll be totally honest with you here. I turned this game off. I simply couldn’t bear to watch this inept team knock the ball between themselves at the back for minutes on end without gaining one foot of territory. It was truly painful. It looks as though Steve McClaren is already working his magic on his new side!
The Soccer Blogger