It is much easier writing gloomy posts about football rather than upbeat ones. By that rationale, I should be devoting a blog or two to the continuing woes of Ballymena United. But rather than wallowing in the ceaseless misery which accompanies every supporter of the Braidmen, I will attempt to accentuate the positive and comment on Liverpool’s remarkable week.
At the outset I must confess that I was unable to catch the entirety of last Saturday’s match. Instead, I deduced its progress from a series of initially ominous and then progressively delirious text messages, before enjoying hugely the BBC’s highlights. Although I might not have watched it live, nevertheless I feel bound to offer those readers with an inclination toward Manchester United hearty and heartfelt taunts.
I was fortunate enough to attend Liverpool’s previous victory against the Mancs, when Peter Crouch secured a 1-0 FA Cup win in February 2006. Prior to that match, Liverpool had last beaten United in 2004, when Danny Murphy’s goal stunned the home crowd at Old Trafford. Saturday’s 2-1 triumph was a splendid result, its significance underlined by Torres’ absence and the limited contribution of Steven Gerrard.
From the highlights which I watched, Liverpool’s victory could be ascribed principally to tackling United with a positive attitude. After fifteen poor minutes, during which Benitez’ men ceded possession, the Anfield reds began to press their opposition, seeking out the ball and using it positively after it had been confiscated. The acquisition of Spanish winger Riera, provided the team with natural width which has previously been missing.
For periods of last night’s Champions’ League fixture against Marseille, Liverpool showed a similar attitude. Although Benitez set his team up more narrowly, a similar pressing game prevailed for much of the first half. The French side’s tricky forwards capitalised on Liverpool’s high line on occasion, evading the offside trap, creating several chances and scoring one. However Rafa’s men soon asserted their superiority, with Gerrard striking back instantly and then converting a penalty won by Saturday’s hero, Ryan Babel. There were a number of additional chances and the reds were good value for a 2-1 half time lead.
Rather than continue in this vein, in the second half Liverpool reverted to deep lying defence, offering Marseille the ball and inviting their forwards to break down the resistance. Consequently the match was narrowly won, with no goals in the second half, and the French team could count themselves unfortunate not to capitalise on a clutch of opportunities.
In fairness to Benitez, his players began to look a little weary in the second half, following Saturday’s exertions. Additionally, matches in Europe do require a different approach, and Rafa is a past master at setting up his teams along those lines. However, I can’t help but feel that Liverpool would have won at a canter last night and actually allowed their manager to turn his mind to the weekend’s league action, had the manager urged them to continue pressing in the second period.
An away win in the Champions’ League is nevertheless a good result, and no doubt Rafa will continue to oversee effective European performances. The proof of the pudding will come in the Premiership. Will Liverpool continue in Saturday’s vein, or will the cautious approach soon prevail again?