Ahead of today’s match, Liverpool paid respect to murdered youngster, Rhys Jones, by playing the Everton theme ‘Johnny Todd’ before the match, followed by a minute’s applause. The players also wore black armbands during the game. A classy gesture for a sad story.
Rafa used the full depth of his squad by making a few subtle changes from Sunday’s match. Kuyt and Crouch took over up top, Mascherano and Sissoko in the center of midfield, Benayoun on the right wing, with Leto making his debut on the left. The backline looked slightly more familiar with Sami partnered with DAgger, as Arbeloa moved to right back so Riise could occupy the left. Reina, as always, was between the sticks.
And why not? We’ve got the talent, so we’re going to use it.
It all went according to plan as the boys notched a 4-0 win (5-0 aggregate) and secured qualification and all the money that comes with it. Job well done. At no point were Liverpool not in control of the game, and should everybody come through injury-free, that’s about as good of a result as I could ask for.
Speaking of injuries and the team’s performance, I have serious reservations about playing Gerrard this weekend. Why risk him? We’ve certainly got the central midfield talent to see us past Derby. Mascherano and Sissoko both looked in great form today, lest we forget Senor Alonso.
Plus, with more England qualifiers beyond the Derby game, I think holding the captain out gives Rafa a stronger argument to have Stevie G sit out for England. Not to suggest that Captain Fantastic would willingly sit and watch his Three Lions in a qualifier, but I’m taking club over country each and every time.
Rafa has said this to say about Stevie’s condition (before the Toulouse game):
I hope Steven will be okay for the weekend but the Champions League game will be a risk. It is better to keep him training here. The doctor needs to decide after talking to the player when he can be risked.
I do not want to lose Steve for a long time when you have enough players now for every game. If you push him too much it will be a risk, I want to keep him training and fit but ready. Maybe when he is not always 100% we can leave him out, that is what we will do.
I would hope Steven will be a possibility to play against Derby, but I am not sure, it is up to the doctors. Then we will have to see about England. It is too soon yet, it will depend very much on what England’s medical people feel and our own medical staff.
More generally, the Gaffa had this to say after the match:
First of all I want to pay my condolences and respect to the family of Rhys Jones. As for the game, I am very happy with my team and we showed the strength and quality of our squad.
We scored four good goals and could have scored a lot more. We now have two players for each position and everyone can see our squad is a lot stronger than it was before. It was good for Crouch and Kuyt to score and they both worked very hard for the team. It was also good for me as a manager to give Sebastion Leto and Lucas Leiva their first games.
5 Questions Answered:
- Will Sami be healthy enough to start and last 90 minutes or will the Reds be forced to defend with a makeshift centerback pairing? (paging Jack Hobbs…) Sami didn’t miss a beat. It’s as if he’s been playing regularly, even getting himself on the scoresheet.
- Will/should Stevie G play or will Rafa hold him on the bench, only to deploy the captain should a dire situation arise? We knew he wouldn’t. I have my doubts about the Derby game too.
- Will Crouch and Benayoun see some quality time on the pitch? They did, each putting in effortful performances.
- Will Babel continue on the left or will experience reign supreme with Riise’s restoration? It was a nice surprise to have Leto start on the left, but Babel eventually saw the pitch in his place. Good work to assist on Kuyt’s goal.
- Are the floodgates going to open now that Momo has scored? Will his game be completely and utterly revolutionized, his offensive talents unlocked and he’ll now score at will and for fun? *smirk* It was a joke, but he really does look like a slightly more refined player. After having regressed at the end of last season, I was especially impressed with his passing tonight.
Read a match report here. My thoughts on the match:
- Before the game, I got ten minutes of uninterrupted commercials without so much as a blip in the feed, but the very second the teams come out to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, my internet feed starts with the buffering problems. FUCK YOU. I know I should have gone to the bar.
- Riise announced his intentions early with a well-struck free kick that seemed headed for just inside the far post if not for the Toulouse GK’s heads-up save.
- The word was ‘go’ as Liverpool came out of the gate looking thirsty for goal.
- It was almost odd to see Crouch out there. It’ll be interesting to see how he copes with the increased speed of attack over the course of the season. The quick touches and passing, not dwelling on the ball — I have my doubts about how fast he can play. Ironically, minutes after thinking about this, Crouchie knocked in Dirk’s cross, with the outside of his foot, for the opening goal.
- Leto made himself look useful with a good run down a channel and a shot (albeit wide) on goal. He took two successive and opposite corners, one short, one traditional – both led to good opportunities for both the strikers.
- You could hear Anfield take a breath of anticipation as Momo cut the ball to his left, outside the 18, in order to get a clear line on a shot. It was well-deflected, but methinks somebody got a taste and wants more.
- Benayoun made a great effort to sprint a ball down that’s headed out-of-touch and slid to save it and send it up field. That’s precisely the type of effort the fans (and Rafa) want to see. He also seems quite adept at unlocking defenses and space with perfectly slotted passes. Just ask Dirk.
- A half hour in, Crouchie missed a header off a corner. He probably should have had that one.
- Momo looked a bit more elegant, almost as if his game is just that much more silky, but without losing his industriousness. His passing is a little sharper, quicker and smarter, if not flashier (sly side footed passes). What a lot of training and a little confidence can do, eh?
- Kuyt went inches wide after Benayoun spoon-fed him into the box. Dirk would love to have that one back. A tough miss. Minutes later, another header flashed past the wrong side of the post. He’d miss another in the second half off a Crouch cross. His skull just wasn’t working tonight. As you’d expect, Dirk never stopped working and a minute later found the crossbar (via a deflection) with fury. Eventually, he got the goal he deserved, making the most of a quick touch from Babel and firing home with a defender literally on each side of his body.
- Toulouse manager Elie Baup is wearing a ballcap, which looks silly. He looks just like a tennis coach giving instructions from the stands. Maybe he was watching some US Open action before the match.
- Except for some harmless counter-attacks and a dangerous corner that went from touchline to touchline untouched (but not for lack of attempt), the first half was all Liverpool.
- Captain Sami showed ’em how it’s done by netting a finely headed goal minutes into the second half. I’m not sure why he was afforded so much space, but the old dog has some life left in him yet. The tie was effectively ended then and there.
- Arbeloa got shouldered off the ball and down to the ground, quickly picked himself up and charged the ball to dispossess. Once again, the never-say-die mind set is displayed and I’m eating it up.
- A quiet game from Leto. Certainly not a bad one; he worked hard and looks to possess all the necessary skills. Plenty of promise in this one…
- Lucas Leiva and his headband made their debuts as well, coming on for Momo in the 68th minute.
- One youngster for another as Babel replaced Leto in the 75th. With the result sealed, that’s always the perfect time to get the youngsters some action. The young Dutchman looked comfortable operating on both flanks. He even set Dirk up for his late goal nicely.
- Crouch came agonizingly close with a wonderful effort in the 80th minute. He took a ball into the box with his chest, created space away from goal with his right foot (not letting the ball hit the ground), and with the ball still airborne, hit it on the volley. Granted, it skied high, but it was a fine demonstration of technique nonetheless.
- Finnan came on for Agger in the 81st minute. Interestingly, Finnan slotted in at DAgger’s spot instead of making the swap with Arbeloa. Is Rafa implementing a Dutch Total Football system? *smirk*
- With the announcer having adopted a refreshing minimalist approach to the game and no buffering problems, I got to enjoy the sounds of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at the game’s end. That is, until Benayoun and Kuyt recreated their early close call with a better outcome. The song got cut short by cheers, but I’m alright with that.
Next up, Derby at Anfield, 3pm (10am EST) Saturday, September 1st.