Unfortunately what conspired on Wednesday night didn’t follow the usual Anfield European tie script. In a somewhat more polished outing compared to the shambles that happened in Liege, we still couldn’t contain the youthful and energetic Standard team. Their quick counter attacking play kept our defenders and Pepe on their toes throughout the entire match.
We showed glimpses of good buildup play early in the 1st half with great interlinking play around Standard’s penalty box at the Kop end. But our final balls, touches and shooting were still pretty poor. On the other end, our defense was barely able to contain their fast counter attacking through Mbokani and Fellaini. Pepe was called into action twice to palm away two very good efforts from them. Skrtel, who was paired with Carra, was a lot more comfortable compared to Agger in the first leg.
Keane and Torres were both struggling to find their foothold throughout the entire game and were not helped by limited service from the midfield. But when clear chances did come their way, their finishing was poor. El Niño was not his usual self and was clearly put off by the physical marking on him. Keane was running everywhere trying to link up the play to no avail. We ended up resorting to long range speculative shots from beyond the penalty box through Gerrard and Alonso when we could not break down the stubborn and resolute Standard defense.
Our severe lack of width was cruelly exposed time and again when we were crowded out in the midfield area and could not penetrate their flanks through Benayoun and Kuyt. The gaffer finally saw the need to solve the problem and brought in Babel to replace the Israeli international in the middle of the 2nd half. But the young Flying Dutchman was still not in his element after missing a chunk of preseason through injury and Olympics duty.
The turning tide came when El Zhar was brought in late in the second half to replace a Keane that is still trying to find his feet in the team. Kuyt was then moved next to Torres while El Zhar was given specific instructions to stay and hog on the right by-line. Our attacking play improved tremendously and we resumed more control over the remainder of the match. Arbeloa then came close to breaking the dreadlock right at the end of normal time with a ferocious drive that was palmed away by Arogon, the Standard keeper.
The same pattern of play continued as we pressed on for that elusive goal in extra time. Most would have been mentally prepared for the penalty lottery, but our Dutchmen conspired otherwise by working together to finally score THE goal. Babel did great work down the left and sent in a perfect cross for Kuyt to score with a tap in at the far corner. It was enough to send Anfield into a frenzy and £12million into the club’s coffers. That strike alone was enough to pay his entire transfer fee and then some from Feyenoord.
The indifferent start to the season has dumbfounded a lot of Reds even though some have argued that we are perennial slow starters. I personally disagree and believe that we cannot afford to repeat the slow starts anymore, especially when the standard among the teams in the EPL and UCL have been raised so dramatically. We risk being consigned to being “also rans” before we even hit the usual dramatic holiday period and knock-out stage.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt, Gerrard, Alonso, Benayoun (Babel 61), Keane (El Zhar 83), Torres (Plessis 120).Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Agger, Spearing.
Goals: Kuyt 118.
Standard Liege: Aragon, Camozzato, Onyewu, Sarr, Dante, Dalmat (Jovanovic 86), Fellaini, Defour (Nicaise 118), Witsel, De Camargo (Toama 101), Mbokani.Subs Not Used: Devriendt, Goreux, Mikulic, Ingrao.
Booked: Sarr, De Camargo, Dante.
Ref: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland).