THE LITTLE PRINCE SHINES AS LIVERPOOL CRUISE TO POMPEY WIN
By Phil Dickinson.
Three goals in six first-half minutes, including midfielder Alberto Aquilani’s first strike for his new club, made it a comfortable evening for Liverpool against Portsmouth, a 4-1 victory easing some of the mounting pressure on manger, Rafael Benitez.
The Reds went into this Monday night clash knowing that anything other than a victory would leave them with a mountain to climb in their bid to reclaim 4th place.
Benitez made the bold decision to drop regulars Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt, handing starts to Maxi Rodriguez and 20 million pound summer signing, Alberto Aquilani. And the young Italian repaid his manager’s faith with a sparkling display in an overall team performance which showed much more confidence and fluidity.
Although, in the game’s opening exchanges it looked as though it could be another frustrating evening for Rafa’s men, as Portsmouth began defending deep, denying space and restricting Liverpool to a series of well-defended free-kicks and corners.
But Liverpool still looked in a more determined mood than they had been in last Monday’s defeat to Wigan and took full advantage when Portsmouth pushed the self-destruct button on 26 minutes, Fernando Torres tapping in the opener from Maxi’s cut back after Gerrard had charged down Pompey keeper, Jamie Ashdown’s hurried clearance.
Having been gifted a goal and with their tails now up, Liverpool put Portsmouth to the sword with little fuss, Ryan Babel showing good skill before finishing precisely from just inside the area on 28 minutes and Aquliani smashing home Torres’ back heel from 12 yards only 4 minutes later.
Aquilani’s first goal for the Anfield club was just reward for an impressive attacking performance from the former Roma playmaker, who got forward into the final third at every opportunity. And with Maxi and Glen Johnson bursting down the right and Torres and Babel swapping positions down the left, Liverpool looked more balanced and much less rigid than they have appeared in recent weeks.
With a 3-0 cushion, the Reds spent the 2nd half enjoying their football without ever really hitting top gear and, resigned to defeat, Portsmouth showed more endeavour and athleticism, causing Liverpool a few more problems.
But Liverpool continued to create chances, on 52 minutes good interplay between Aquilani and Gerrard allowing the skipper to force a save from Ashdown and a follow up shot by Babel cannoning off the angle between bar and post. Even in second gear, Liverpool looked dangerous with Aquilani in a more advanced position.
And it was Aquilani involved again as Liverpool made it 4 on 77 minutes, his sublime pass finding Torres in the box, who cut inside the Pompey defenders and fired clinically into the left of the Anfield Road net.
With the job done and with Lille’s visit to Anfield on Thursday almost certainly in mind, Benitez brought off Fernando Torres on 80 minutes and from that point on Liverpool seemed to lose their attacking edge. Portsmouth responded by bagging a consolation goal with 2 minutes of normal time remaining, courtesy of Algerian, Belhadj.
But Benitez’s main concern from the evening’s play will be whether the FA choose to discipline captain Steven Gerrard, who appeared to elbow Portsmouth’s Michael Brown in the back of the head. Gerrard has been showing his undoubted frustration in recent weeks and last week escaped punishment for flicking a V-sign at the referee during their game at the DW Stadium.
The win will put the Liverpool squad in a better frame of mind going into a huge week of football, a week in which they’ll battle to remain in the hunt for silverware and travel to Old Trafford to meet title-charging, Manchester United. It also moves them up to 5th in the Premier League, one point between 4th placed Spurs, having played a game more.
Liverpool fans will certainly be encouraged by the performances of squad players who have flattered to deceive so far this campaign, particularly the enigmatic Ryan Babel, and will be lifted by the sight of Fernando Torres consistently finding the net once again. Time will tell whether this is the turning point Liverpool fans have been waiting for all year or whether it simply papers over the gaping cracks in the Reds’ sorry season.
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