Europa League: Unirea Urziceni 1-3 Liverpool FC

28/02/2010 § Leave a comment

My only regret is that my rather modest prediction last time around was beaten by leaps and bounds.

And as the newspapers are abuzz smirking with the fact that this is apparently the first time Liverpool have scored more than 2 in one game since September or something, I’m not going to let the negativity affect me and will most certainly be carrying my upbeat mood into the weekend.

It was a bittersweet game for a Liverpool fan. The Europa League, despite its merits, still reminds you of how we were unceremoniously kicked out of the Champions League. A different anthem, and a not-so-glamorous sounding opponent and a home stadium which wasn’t exactly there.  Sigh. Let’s not go there again.

Due to Unirea’s lack of a good enough stadium, which conforms to the UEFA standards, the game was played in the UEFA-certified stadium of another Romanian club, Steaua Bucharest. What UEFA saw in it to certify it, I cannot say, because it was hardly half-way into the match that the stadium started looking quite like the stadium we have here in Pune, India. Absolute rubbish. And here again, I’ll take a moment to sigh.

Unirea had a good attacking gameplan in mind. Started of with a positive looking 4-3-3 from what I could make of it. The intention was clear. We defended last time around, now we attack and get the 2 goals we need to complete yet another bit of giant-killing.

Liverpool on the other hand started with some funny looking pyramidal formation, with N’Gog as the lone striker. Babel started too, which means that fortunately for Liverpool, we still have 2 fit strikers to call upon, should the need arise.

The intent of both the teams was fairly clear. Unirea wanted to attack, Liverpool wanted to make another flawless shutout and protect that one precious goal we scored last time out.

And so Liverpool seemed to start pretty slowly, doing that aimless Carragher-Agger, Agger-Carragher passing, intermittently involving Skrtel, who’d promptly push the ball back to Reina. Same old, fearful and tearfully pointless football which Liverpool have had to adopt since September last year.

Unirea who, on the other hand, were pretty lively had players all over the pitch, trying assiduously to try breaking the absolute monotony and monopoly of possession that Liverpool were enjoying thus far. A couple of challenges flew, the odd Gerrard shot on goal was well saved by the Unirean keeper, who by the way had a great game.

The turning point of the game though was, when after a series of very well taken corners, Unirea caught Liverpool short and scored the first goal of the game. Some Bruno Fernandes rose highest to the corner and slammed the ball into the goal. 1-0 to Unirea Urziceni.

At this point here I would like to blame Rafa Benitez’s continued adherence to the zonal marking policy. Either it is a outright ridiculous defensive tactic, or Liverpool defenders just can’t wrap their heads around what’s to be done. 8 players in the box + Reina. And who goes to tackle hulking Bruno Almighty? Little Insua. Ridiculous in the extreme. Which again furthers the case for at delicate balancing act which Benitez needs to learn between zonal and man-to-man marking strategies.

But either way, the goal had a galvanizing impact on Liverpool. Or atleast Babel in particular. The whole attack suddenly came to life, realizing that the little glimmer of hope, the goal they had labored to score last time around over a sustained pressure of 81 minutes was all undone over the first half hour itself.

The attack showed a lot more intent. Even the normally defensive-minded Carragher at right back, was running and overlapping the midfielders, crossing into the box. Arsenal stuff truly. Babel was mightily impressive. Gerrard took a couple of shots himself. Yossi Benayoun made some flashy runs which unfortunately were successfully tackled each time. N’Gog ran all over the final third, but unfortunately just kept getting fouled. Mascherano and Lucas showed purposeful tackling and passing respectively. The whole gameplan had changed. We needed a goal. The game suddenly got a lot more interesting.

And then just as one Unirea player cleared the ball out of their box which had caused a dangerous scrapheap in the area, Mascherano came running and smacked the ball to the back of the net. What a goal that was. No deflections either. This goal was Mascherano’s and his alone. 1-1.

But the moment of the match for me was Babel’s goal. What a piece of work. Gerrard lobbed a freekick in exquisitely as he alone can and Babel took a first touch which was worth every penny in the 12 mil pounds we paid for him and smartly kicked it in at the near post. He was coming closer and closer and this was it. It was his moment. 2-1.

The game was then rounded off in the second half when Steven Gerrard grabbed what would be the winner. The goal made him, and fittingly so, the highest British goal scorer in all European competitions, beating Alan Shearer’s record of 32 in the process. Not bad for a midfielder.

Unfortunately the game ended with some bad news as Martin Skrtel was stretchered off in the second half with an injury which is now confirmed to be metatarsal related. But with Johnson coming back and Martin Kelly ready for action, Carragher will be able to slot back into his favorite center-back position, which gives Rafa Benitez the luxury to be able to play 2 fully fit center-backs at Blackburn on Sunday.

MOM for me was, despite some other very good performances, Ryan Babel for the remarkable turnaround and work rate he’s shown since THAT bust-up where he twittered Benitez’ bile upwards with rage. Babel has now featured in three consecutive matches, a Liverpool record for him certainly, and has put in some fairly good performances on the left side of the midfield. I always thought he was more talented and physically a stronger player than N’Gog and is complimenting his talents with his strengthened character as well.

So on to Blackburn now.

YNWA.

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