Clueless. No width. No ideas. No penetration. All of these things could have been said about Liverpool last night prior to Dirk Kuyt’s 118th minute winning goal against Belgium champions Standard Liege.
When Kuyt side footed home an excellent Babel cross at the far post it meant that Liverpool had just about managed to scrape into the group stages of the Champions League. It was a result that the neutral may have felt was slightly unfair.
The fact is that qualification was all that mattered and the manner in which Liverpool have done so is largely irrelevant. If Steve Gerrard is holding the Champions League trophy aloft next May after Liverpool win it for the sixth time, nobody will remember just how poor they looked against this very ordinary Liege side in the qualifying round.
The worry for Liverpool fans is that following this game the prospect of a Champions League win or, dare I say it, a challenge for the Premier League title, looks further away than ever.
Having said that, Liverpool have won their two league games with late goals in unimpressive fashion as well and they would have settled for six points and Champions League qualification a couple of weeks ago. They do say that great teams win when they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t play well. Liverpool certainly arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t playing well. Whether or not they are great team is more open to question.
After Liverpool had been somewhat fortunate to leave Liege with a goalless draw in the first leg they were expected to show an improvement at home. It didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t happen and in last nightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game at Anfield they survived early scares when Pepe Reina produced two excellent saves.
Liverpool’s lack of width was easily exposed by Liege, who comfortably dealt with the home side’s attempted attacks through the middle of their defence.
When Liverpool finally did have a sight on goal from a corner, the enigma that is Dirk Kuyt headed a far post header disappointingly wide just before half-time.
Liege sat back after half-time and attempted to contain Liverpool and hit them on the break.
The game became a less exciting affair as Liverpool huffed and puffed but produced no quality. They continued to struggle to find a way through their well organised opponents without ever really looking like doing so.
Just before full-time Liverpool had a moment of real concern when De Camargo had a chance from a diving header that he put just wide of the post. Had it gone in, few would have begrudged Standard Liege the victory they would probably have just about deserved.
In extra-time Liverpool pressed forward, again without much purpose, but they were then denied an obvious penalty when Oguchi Onyewu brought down Nabil El Zhar. The decision to play on by the Swiss referee was a mystifying one indeed as he was well positioned to see the blatant foul.
Then came the goal that won it by the man who can do no wrong in Rafa BenitezÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eyes. Indeed, Dirk Kuyt has often produced the goods in the big games and will have scored few more important goals than the one he poached last night. The fact is that Benitez is the only manager in Europe who would still have had Kuyt on the pitch in the 118th minute. He had been awful.
Benitez was quick to praise the much criticised Dutch international after the game and so he should have been. He may well owe the fact that he still has a job to him! “We have to give credit to Kuyt because sometimes when he makes a mistake people highlight it. But you could see for the 120 minutes how hard he works and he is an amazing player for every team. He never hides and is the kind of player who is very important and he is a fantastic professional.”
Liverpool fans this morning, particularly hearing the news that Steve Gerrard will be out for a while because of a groin problem and will miss games including Manchester United, will feel a mixture of relief and concern.
They will know that their team contains an enormous amount of quality and that at times, they can be a match for anyone. They also know that this is a season when they need to be proving they are up there with the best.
They have done what they needed to do but they have not done it with any style or with any suggestion that they have what it takes to challenge the top two. Time will tell if they can bridge the gap but the evidence of last night suggests that they still have some way to go.
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