What a result.
After 90 minutes plus of regulation and 30 of extra time, I’d practically rubbed my beard away. It was everything I thought it might be: tense, exciting, hard-fought and tortuous.
I’d attempted to pen a preview of the match-up yesterday, but bottled it. I simply couldn’t make it through. There was too much to be said and I wasn’t in condition to present it in a special way, to write something that wasn’t going to be pedestrian at best. This is all I managed on Monday:
After having joined a new team in the men’s top ‘Premier’ division, having suffered through a winless season (the sole forfeit victory not counted), having strugged to find my place in a team of relative strangers and cope with the faster pace of league play, I’m thankful Sunday’s game was the last of the Spring season. My legs have taken a severe beating over the past few matches and they could use a few weeks of downtime to heal. I am definately ready for my season to be over.
That, however, only applies in the world of my Sunday beer league. While my legs may ache, there’s nothing wrong with my eyes, so I’m definately not ready for Liverpool’s season to come to an end.
But, it could all come to a crashing halt on Tuesday.
The season will be decided in 90 minutes. No doubt, countless scribes or pundits have written or uttered those very words, though the words ‘a season hangs in the balance’ were probably included. But, be it truth, cliche, or both, 90 minutes will determine whether Liverpool can overcome Chelsea’s one goal lead to advance to the Champion’s League final or whether we watch Evil Incarnate take a step closer to snatching their Holy Grail. 90 minutes will decide whether our boys in red boys march on in search of further glory or whether they see the final two Premiership fixtures out as mere business.
Now, it took a few days to swallow the bitterness from Stamford Bridge. While it could have been, and probably should have, been worse, the lack of an away goal safety net keeps my stomach unsettled. Liverpool could play brilliantly at home, score a goal in each half, make it to injury time with the cleansheet, the air could be filled with the sweet sounds of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’; it all could all go so perfectly until Arjen Robben grabs an undeserved goal in the 93rd minute, ruining it all. Chelsea lose 2-1, but head to Greece as conquerors. Or, even worse, Chelsea score first and park the bus in front of goal.
This is what worries me. For the first time in a long time, I’m living in fear of a single goal.
It’s actually quite exciting.
It’s all pins and needles. Liverpool can not afford to give up a goal. They have to score at least one. Two would be better. Three will be required if they, infact, give up an away goal. Rafa knows this. Rafa knows all the permutations.
That’s it. I had planned to continue on and say that I hoped/thought this was the sort of occasion in which Steven Gerrard had to step up and take a strangle-hold of the game with an All-World performance. I was thinking something like last year’s FA Cup final or even the final minutes in Istanbul.
But, just like Arjen Robben, I didn’t get it done.
No matter now. Liverpool are through to the Champion’s League final.
*taking in a deep breath and savoring the moment*
Now, let me say this….
PEPE, YOU FUCKING BEAUTY!!!
Unbelievable stuff from the Spainard. Man of the Match. I was pulling my chin hairs each and every time Chelsea managed a cross and not once did Reina miss a ball for the taking or punch it back into danger. He was sure-handed all night, and helped keep my gut in check while I watched the clock. (Of course, a special nod has to go to the Drogba save) By the time Kuyt’s goal was disallowed (more on that later), I was dying for PK’s.
“Come on boys, if we can get to the shootout, we can win this fucker”, I kept thinking.
I’m not sure exactly why I fancied a shootout, but it just felt right. Having history on our side didn’t hurt; Liverpool have won something like 9 out of 10 penalty shootouts in Europe. But, it was having Pepe in goal that made me feel safe. And sure enough, he saw us through.
It was certainly sweet to see Pepe start Arjen Robben and Chelsea off on the wrong foot. The Geremi save was just as tasty. But it was Kuyt’s chance to avenge his disallowed goal that put the cherry on top. While I would have loved to seen Fowler put one in, I can’t say I’m disappointed we didn’t make it to our fifth shooter.
Having Kuyt score the winner (*cough*twice*cough*) was a well-deserved reward for the effort and energy he expended this evening. While I fully believe Dirk’s goal should have stood, I am willing to allow that since he was leaning forward, that part of him could have been offsides. But, it’s just a head. The rest of his body is behind and even. Even is on. And there is no way the linesman was that eagle-eyed. But, thankfully, it’s a moot point.
Another thankfully moot point is the inclusion of Zenden in the starting XI. As I’m sure was the case with thousands of Liverpool fans before kick-off, a loud groan escaped my lungs when I saw his name.
“Rafa, I hope you’ve got a pretty damn good game plan.”
Once again, I’m sure it was experience that the gaffer was looking for on that flank, and I’m more than happy to say Zenden got it done. He drew the foul that lead to the cheeky Agger goal.
And what to say about Agger? Both he and Carra did a knock-up job on Drogba. I really believe the key to stopping the Ivory Coast striker is to deny him possession. Once he’s got the ball at his feet, stopping him is ten times more difficult. While there were flashes of danger, the job got done. Can we get the scientists who cloned Dolly the Sheep a crack at Carra’s genome?
Glad to see Steve Finnan back. He did well, and I think he and Pennant work well together on the touchline, overlapping and playing off one another. Another solid, underrated performance from Carra’s look-a-like.
Riise, on the other side, did well enough. He worried me, as he so often does, by letting players get behind him, but he escaped tonight without paying a heavy price. I suppose it’s opportunity cost for having him surge forward in order to deploy that left-footed laser.
Gerrard played his heart out. It was by no means a flashy performance; he had a few speculative pops from outside the 18, but he really put in a full day’s work on both sides of the ball. It was certainly the effort one expects of the captain. Well done.
Mascherano protected the back four nicely. But, his rash tackling is going to bite him and the team in the ass someday soon. I thought us lucky that Mikel chose to go by him instead of going down in the box. There wouldn’t have been much of an argument against a penalty on that one.
Pennant is a completely different player than he was in August. He’s brimming with confidence, his on-the-ball choices are sharper, and his final ball is much better. I think he and Rafa both can share the credit in his development. Should he continue to develop, he may just keep Gerrard in the middle and force Rafa to drop another midfielder.
It’s doubtful, however, that it will be Alonso. The Spainard may have had a slight dip in form recently, but I was surprised to see him start the game on the bench. It is, though, a rather nice card to be able to play in the later stages of such a tight contest, to bring on such a refined passer.
Crouchie worked hard. I thought his header at Cech’s feet was going to meg the ‘keeper, and he was unlucky to be denied by such a class stopper.
I got a kick of seeing Bellamy with his arm around Rafa before entering the fray. Maybe he did mouth off to the BBC this weekend, maybe he didn’t. I’ll say this; I like his pace, his heart and his the all-out effort he usually gives. I do not like his constant bitching, moaning and crap attitude. I’m fine with whatever Rafa chooses to do with him this summer.
Seeing God is always a good thing and today was no different. I thought he might step on, find the ball at his feet and deliver a moment of divine intervention, but it never came about. but, what are you going to do with 3 minutes, anyhow?
I can only hope, for my own greediness, that Fowler comes to MLS after his contract is up. New England is beautiful this time of year, Robbie.*
(* I have no idea if that’s actually true. And frankly, I don’t care)
So, tomorrow we see who our opponents will be. Fancy a repeat of 2005 with Milan? Or would it be more fun to take a trophy off the Mancs?
I’m leaning towards Sir Alex’s men. An all-English final would speak volumes about the Premiership and I rather like the prospect of taking home #6 in front of Rooney, Ronaldo, and Neville.
On the flip side, losing to them would be even worse. But, at least it’s not Chelsea.
So, two more Premiership games and then we ride on to Greece.