Liverpool opened the group stages of the Europa League with a 4-1 win over Steaua Bucharest at Anfield Thursday thanks to goals from Joe Cole, Lucas Leiva and a brace from David N'gog.
Cole saw his first action for almost three weeks, but he certainly wasn't rusty as he scored inside the first 30 seconds to get his first goal as a Red. Roy Hodgson was also able to rest some of his stars and relax a bit on the bench toward the end.
It wasn't all smooth sailing as Steaua bounced back from the early goal well, their fans in particular. Cristian Tanase leveled the scores on 13 minutes with a superb effort, and after that it was like a home game for the Romanians. They played with more intensity, had more possession and opportunities, and with large parts of the stadium empty and their fans going wild, you had to think twice about whose ground Anfield was.
Unfortunately for Steaua, the half-time whistle came and Hodgson's team talk was a lot better than what they expected. The Reds came out full of fire in the second and controlled the ball until the final whistle.
N'gog gave the Reds the lead back a few minutes later with a well taken penalty after Sotirios Kyrgiakos was pulled down during a corner. Substitute Lucas then gave the Reds breathing room in the 81st minute with a cracking shot from about 30 yards out. Liverpool continued to dominate while Steaua could barely get out of its own half, and N'gog got his second goal, his sixth of the season, during stoppage time.
The Anfield crowd may have been rather quiet in the first half, but they came out of their shell in the second and really started to enjoy themselves. Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Jamie Carragher and the other Liverpool players who had the night off were enjoying themselves as well by the last 20 minutes. The only person who can't have enjoyed the game was Ryan Babel.
Hodgson has promised to give him a shot after he was almost traded in the last hour of deadline day, and Babel has tried his best to endear himself to Liverpool fans. He's even tweeted about coming in to practice on days off, but he's never really materialized at Anfield after the hefty sum Rafa Benitez paid for him. He got another chance against Steaua but again failed to make anything happen only having one shot that was easily saved.
In his defense, he's been played mostly on the left when he's said he'd prefer to play up front. Although, Lucas has said many times that he is more naturally suited to going forward and not as a holding midfielder, the position he is often given. Lucas has had plenty of stick, more than Babel because he plays more, but he's never tried to blame his problems on anyone or anything else, and his goal tonight was well deserved.
Moreover, if there's one person Babel didn't want to see scoring, it was N'gog. N'gog has always gotten his favored position of deputy striker to Torres or playing alongside him. Unlike Babel, N'gog has never really come in for too much criticism because of his age and the fact that he didn't cost much. Also, N'gog has a much better goals to games ratio than Babel. They've scored close to the same number of goals but Babel has played over twice as many games including more starts.
So, while Liverpool had a great night and will be hoping to take that feeling to Old Trafford Sunday, Hodgson might want to consider whether Babel should join them. He can't be feeling too good right now, and that's the last feeling the Reds want against United.