Liverpool FC Win in Bucharest but Must Be Better Against Blackburn
All those that thought Liverpool FC would have a simple thumping away win in Romania against Unirea Urziceni in the Europa League on Thursday evening, please raise your hands.
My hands are firmly by my sides, as should be those of any followers of European football cup ties, be they the Champions League or Europa League encounters.
In the later stages of both these European football competitions, easy ties come about as often as Santa Claus does in July.
So a tricky tie against the Romanians was what should have been expected, and that was exactly what the Reds got in the early exchanges.
The Romanian coach had obviously done his homework, as his team went about exposing Liverpool’s well documented weakness from set-pieces. And, sure enough, in the 19th minute they took the lead from a corner headed in by an unmarked Bruno Fernandes.
This was not the first scare for the Reds on a night where, early on, they seemed to be rocking from a series of defensive blunders from set-pieces.
At this point, Liverpool could have fallen apart. With their frailty exposed and the Romanians on a high, a second goal would have placed Liverpool’s feet on a very slippery banana skin.
But Rafa Benitez, Sami Lee, and Liverpool Football Club are seasoned European football campaigners, and they know better than most that one of the qualities needed for success in European competitions is patience.
Be it the Champions League or the Europa League, this was still a European football cup tie and Liverpool needed all their well earned European experience if they were to prevail.
The awful pitch did not help their passing game, and they had to dig deep to find the equaliser. But within 10 minutes of falling behind, the tenacious Javier Mascherano fired them level with a rasping drive from outside the area.
The Reds had their precious away goal. But this did little to settle the nerves of a shaky defence that once again saw Carragher and Insua at right and left backs respectively and Martin Sktel and Daniel Agger paired in the centre.
Agger’s unsteady performance in the later stages of the previous game against Manchester City seemed to have followed him to Romania, and, just after leveling the game, the Reds could have given the Romanians a lifeline when another corner caused havoc in the Liverpool penalty area.
Rafa's men needed the comfort of a second goal and just before half time, Liverpool’s enigma Ryan Babel, fired in from close range, and the Reds went in at half time with a 3-1 aggregate lead.
A further goal early in the second half from Steven Gerrard sealed the tie and he and his teammates could now relax and look forward to the next round. Gerrard’s goal took his tally of goals in Europe to 33, passing the great Alan Shearer to become England’s leading marksman in European football.
Martin Kelly came on for Jamie Carragher in the 61st minute, but Benitez was forced to replace Sktel five minutes later, as the tough tacking defender came off worse in a 50-50 challenge, suffering what is suspected to be broken foot.
But the introduction of Sotirios Kyrgiakos into the centre of defence seemed give the back four a more solid look about it.
And with Fabio Aurelio replacing Yossi Benayoun, Benitez was already preparing for the Premier League clash with Blackburn Rovers on Sunday.
Behind Sam Allardyce’s tactics of long balls, precisely drilled set-pieces, and aerial bombardment, Liverpool will face a tough examination of exactly those frailties that the Romanians exposed.
Despite booking their passage into the next round of the Europa League competition, Benitez and his Reds know that they will have to tighten up on their Achilles heel if there are to sustain their challenge for a place in next season’s premier European football cup competition.
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