Reds Left in a Daze in the Purple Haze

Nabeel KhokharCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2009

FLORENCE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 29: Liverpool players show their dejection at the final whistle during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Fiorentina and Liverpool at the Stadio Artemio Franchi stadium on September 29, 2009 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

All in white, the Reds were left reeling by a first half purple haze led by a teenager who was only playing as Fiorentina’s star striker Alberto Gilardino was unavailable.


The young Montenegrin striker could well become the next idol of this idyllic city’s famous football club. Stevan Jovetić has all the making of following in the footsteps of former greats to have pulled on the famous purple jersey, such as Roberto Baggio and Gabriel Batistuta.


From the moment the men from Merseyside step onto the pitch, the barrage of noise from the home fans should have been a warning that this was not going to be an easy night.


The loss of Javier Mascherano, Liverpool’s midfield enforcer, was a major blow and it would prove even more so as veteran Italian Zanetti slowly started to take over control of the central areas of the pitch.


After sparring for the first 15 to 20 minutes, Fiorentina emerged unscathed and began taking the game to their lacklustre visitors.


Fabio Aurelio, playing only his second competitive match after recovering from a knee injury that has kept him on the sidelines since last season, partnered Lucas in the heart of the Liverpool engine room. And although Aurelio’s touch and passing surpasses that of his Brazilian team-mate, the pair together was still no match for veteran Italian Zanetti.


The Reds sorely missed the tough tackling Mascherano, who patrols and protects the back four like a Rottweiler. Liverpool needed that bite, steel and tenacity in an environment where the crowd made them very aware that this was not going to be a stroll through the Florentine night.


With the powerful running of Vargas and Marchionni on the flanks and the excellent Jovetić upfront, Fiorentina began to peg Liverpool back.


With the pressure growing on the pitch and the vociferous home support urging their players on, a goal from Fiorentina came as no surprise.


Jovetić ran on to an incisive pass from that man Zanetti and up went the arms of the Liverpool defenders but more importantly the referee’s assistant’s flag did not. On went the talented Montenegrin, out came Reina, but the finish was calm and confident and suddenly Liverpool were in a battle.


If the away fans and the Reds thought the home supporters could make some noise, they suddenly understood why most of the stadium does not have a roof. It has been blown off in the past by the level of decibels generated by these passionate Italians.


This is where Liverpool needed their big players to step up and calm things down. But instead the men from Anfield were caught in a purple haze as the goal lifted their hosts to greater attacking ventures.


Vargas smashed a ferocious pile driver from the left flank that Reina did well to punch away.


It was another ball fierce ball in from the left flank by Vargas that required the faintest of touches from Jovetić to deflect it past a helpless Reina that gave the hosts a 2 – 0 lead. It was a lead that they were to hold on to for the rest of the half.


The second half began with a floury of chances for the Reds none of which they could take. Lucas stole into the area to rise unchallenged and power a bullet header which left the keeper rooted but flew agonizingly inches over the bar.


But the home side weathered the storm and settled into allowing Liverpool the lion share of possession, as they had done in the first half, only challenging Liverpool once the ball crossed the halfway line.


Although there were a few chances at end for Torres, Gerrard, and even Carragher, the Italians held on for a famous victory.


Where the Reds lost the game last night was in the full back positions and in the centre of the pitch.


Insua never got to grips with Marchionni, although Benayoun did little tracking back to provide any cover. Prior to the end of the first half, Benitez switched Kuyt from right wing to the left and this stemmed the tide and Insua looked far more comfortable.


Johnson in the right back position was caught out of position on several occasions and did not close down Vargas quickly enough in the build up to the second goal.


However, the biggest error of the night was from Rafa. The decision to play a player who was well short of match fitness in the most crucial of positions, in such an important game, was a mistake. Aurelio has played, and played well, in this position in the past and even did so while under Benitez at Valencia.


But while lacking match sharpness, he was never going to excel there last night.


Rafa could have picked from a number of options, the most obvious would have been to pull Gerrard back into central midfield and play with Benayoun just behind Torres or even a 4-4-2 with Kuyt partnering Torres.


Jay Spearing, who performed so commendably in the Champions League last season would have provided the tenacity, energy, and aggression that was so badly required and but so lacking last night.


It became very evident in the first half that Liverpool were getting over run in the central midfield area. But Rafa is never one to make a change before at least the 60th minute in most games. Surely, once the problem appears the sooner it is fixed the better.


Last night, a Jose Mourinho style switch in the first half may have shored up the team and provided a better platform for attack and defense.


As always in recent years, Liverpool seem to want to do things the most difficult way possible. The next two matches will, more than likely, see Fiorentina pick up six more points in their double header with Debrecen.


While Liverpool’s two games against Lyon have suddenly taken on far more significance in the Reds’ bid to qualify for the next round.