6 Liverpool Europa League Winners and Losers
The Reds were at the summit of an unforgiving group prior to the late afternoon kickoff but this tie was always liable to test their credentials as front runners.
The task was made all the more challenging considering manager Brendan Rodgers once again decided to keep his first team regulars well away from the affair. Accordingly, he was left to field a largely young and inexperienced side against a team who are only a point behind leaders CSKA Moscow in the Russian Premier League.
Ultimately, Liverpool left—as has so often been the case for the Merseysiders this season—with an ill-deserved loss but their esteem still intact as Rodgers learned further about his squad with several players putting in encouraging performances and others bombing dreadfully.
It’s somewhat implicit that, though this exercise in squad rotation has become a necessity for keeping Liverpool’s stars shining brightly, there is also an element of presentation involved that sees those on the fringes of Rodgers’ revolution polished, primped and placed in the proverbial ‘shop window’ for any potential suitors to scout.
But, on a bitterly cold night in Moscow, who was able to give a good account of themselves and who merely flattered to deceive?
Winner: Stewart Downing
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The winger has come in for a lot of warranted criticism following his transfer to Liverpool. However, very recently, the 28-year-old has strung together a series of competent performances that suggest there is still life in the old dog yet.
In yesterday’s match, considering the hostile environment, Downing embraced the mantel of seniority in the youthful team of upstarts and debutantes, putting in an impressive demonstration of what he has to offer.
He worked well in the wing back position, on his preferred left side, providing decent delivery into telling areas on occasions but, most prominently, excelled in his defensive duties as he was often on hand to thwart opposition attacks generating on his flank.
If one criticism can be bestowed upon him on the night, it’s that his reluctance to take on defenders with the direct conviction he was previously synonymous for at his former clubs is becoming a worry. Too frequently the England international opted to either roam infield onto his unfavoured right swinger, or pass infield to avoid confrontation.
Winner: Brad Jones
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The big Aussie continues to put concerted pressure on assuredness Liverpool’s first choice keeper Pepe Reina once had as he shone on his sixth consecutive match.
His efforts were all the more admirable considering the state of the playing surface which was exhaustingly soft and patchy all over. Yet, Jones exhibited cultured footwork, sticking to Rodgers’ passing philosophy in sensible increments.
Additionally, his handling against the tribulations of the turf meant that the defence needn’t worry about spillage from speculative efforts. Anzhi gambled from time to time but got no joy from Jones throughout the 90 minutes.
Besides conceding a goal from an attack that he would have been better advised to stay on his line for, Jones pulled off a number of notable reactionary saves to keep Liverpool well in the game with a chance of nicking something.
Winner: Suso Fernandez
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Jesus Joaquin Fernandez Saez—or Suso as he is more commonly known—continued his astonishing progression with a reputable cameo during a period in the game that was crying out for some offensive ingenuity on Liverpool’s part.
Such is his ascent that Rodgers would have preferred to have retained the teenager as an unused sub but desperate times dictated his introduction. Suso was immediately the most direct and capable attacking threat as his tricky skills and ability to manoeuvre within restrictive situations meant trouble for the weary Anzhi back line.
His most memorable highlight was a jinking run leading to a rasping drive that the keeper fumbled. Joe Cole was on hand to latch on to the mishandling but Jones’ opposite number atoned for his error.
If there was still any doubting Suso’s quality, those concerns were allayed further in his latest appearance. Curiously, his impact seems at its most potent coming off of the bench than starting which is a method Rodgers would surely rather adopt with his academy starlets.
Loser: Joe Cole
Gone are the days of his trademark dexterous pirouettes and dribbling—long gone. Cole now exudes the demeanour of a man who recognises this and has all but given up hope of impressing his current employers and those associated with the club.
He still remains a trier—the kind of player you sympathetically describe as having “a lot of heart,” but his body can only allow him to do so much these days without succumbing to its latest debilitation.
Against Anzhi, he had the daunting task of facing up to the towering Congolese defender Christopher Samba to add to his woes and the former Blackburn Rovers captain gave him a torrid time.
Cole made frequent runs, finding pockets in dangerous areas yet remained largely ineffectual as an attacker, only fashioning a single goalscoring opportunity seconds prior to being substituted.
This section of analysis wouldn’t have been written differently had he converted the chance he was presented with either. The exit door surely awaits the Englishman.
Loser: Seb Coates
It’s difficult to be overly negative about a player with as much promise as Coates; still, too consistently, the Uruguayan's inadequacies are being exploited in games.
The Russian outfit’s 6’8" striker Lacina Traore gave the slightly shorter centre back the run-around in the manner of a player half his size.
Now and again Coates’ reading of the game was exceptional—it’s his strongest attribute and nothing less than what we have come to expect from him. However, there were times when his decision making was found wanting; at one point, late in the game, he was practically immobile on the halfway line as Anzhi mounted a devastating counterattack that saw the leggy defender scampering desperately back to prevent and Traore narrowly miss what looked a certain goal.
The move was reminiscent of the situation leading up to Swansea’s second goal in Liverpool’s recent Capital One Cup elimination and signifies why Liverpool shouldn’t elect the languid 22-year-old as the last defender on set plays.
Loser: Dani Pacheco
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His buddy Suso is looking at him in the rear view mirror currently.
Pacheco has long been a fan’s favourite yet he hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in the first team, despite awesome displays in the reserves.
For all his endeavour, Pacheco’s influence, given several senior opportunities this year, has been little to none, and yesterday’s match emphasised his lack of preparation for the top level.
On Thursday afternoon, he rarely saw the ball and when he did, his touches were either inaccurate or regressive. It appears that, when flung into football’s main arena, he is a far cry from the typical technical Spaniard we get to admire neatly knitting together attacks for the under 21s.