Every Little Helps – Reds climb the table ahead of mammoth Madrid trek
By Phil Dickinson.
Liverpool brushed aside a despondent West Ham United at Anfield last night, hauling themselves back into 6th place with 3 Premier League games to play.
For the most part, it wasn’t a particularly fluid or free flowing performance from The Reds, but an opening goal within 20 minutes crushed the Londoners’ stomach for their relegation fight and made it an exceptionally comfortable evening for Benitez’s team, who eventually ran out 3-0 winners.
Without the injured Fernando Torres, who will miss the rest of the domestic season after knee surgery, it was left to Steven Gerrard to supply the ammunition to shoot the Hammers down. The Liverpool captain was given free rein in the middle of the park and was a constant threat when crossing from wide areas.
And it was Gerrard’s delivery from a free-kick which created the opening goal, Yossi Benayoun losing the half-asleep England centre-back, Matthew Upson, to deflect the ball in off his midriff on 19 minutes.
From that point on, Liverpool comfortably out-battled their opponents. Stray passes and sloppy first touches were more or less nullified by the home team’s ability to regain possession and rebuild attacks with consummate ease.
Liverpool made it two only 10 minutes later, David Ngog getting ahead of his marker to meet Maxi Rodriguez’s low cross with a powerful half volley. The young Frenchman’s shot was straight at Rob Green, but the pace of the strike took it beyond the West Ham keeper and into the net.
In truth, West Ham’s defending was an absolute horror show and Liverpool players were consistently able to waltz into goal scoring positions. West Ham, looking every inch a side teetering above the relegation places, weren’t able to exploit any of Liverpool’s recent problems. Whereas Fulham and Birmingham, who both sit in mid-table in the Premier League, were able to match Liverpool’s work rate and make them frustrated and nervous, West Ham’s performance fully justified the 25 points which separated the two sides before the game.
Having already inexplicably headed over the bar from 6 yards, it was Soto Kyrgiakos who was involved in Liverpool’s third goal. On 59 minutes, the big Greek prodded another dangerous Steven Gerrard cross onto the post and it bounced in off a helpless Rob Green.
With the game won and a long, gruelling, ash cloud disrupted trip to Madrid next on the cards, Benitez was able to bring off his captain, Gerrard, and goal scorer, Benayoun, two men Liverpool will rely on a great deal in the remaining weeks.
In terms of securing Champions League football for next season, the win leaves Liverpool with a glimmer of hope, but it is just a glimmer. With Manchester City next travelling to the Emirates and Spurs facing a Manchester United side refusing to surrender their title without a fight, Liverpool could perhaps return from Turf Moor next Sunday in and amongst their rivals for fourth place on 62 points.
But Benitez and his team know that Spurs only require 4 more points from their remaining 4 games to match Liverpool’s maximum possible total of 68 points. For Liverpool to sneak into fourth place now would be in keeping with this season’s ludicrously unpredictable Premier League run in, but it would still represent a turn around that neither bookie nor punter would dare to predict. The games in hand Tottenham and Man City hold over The Reds will surely see Benitez ruing those desperately disappointing draws with Birmingham and Fulham.
The most important outcome of last night’s game, however, is that it lifts some of the prevailing gloom that news of Fernando Torres’ injury left hanging in the air.
With fans coming to the realisation that fourth place will almost certainly be a bridge too far, they have been forced to cling to the Europa League in the hope of glory. Unbelievable as it may seem, Liverpool have plenty to play for and, as lacklustre as West Ham were, the result at least reassures the squad that they are capable of scoring goals and winning games without their talismanic front man, Torres.
The inaugural Europa League has been a competition for struggling old giants and underachieving Champions League drop outs. The Reds’ next European challengers, Atletico Madrid, sit tenth in La Liga, a full 14 points adrift of Spain’s fourth Champions League place. Despite boasting a number of top international players, including former Manchester United striker, Diego Forlan and ex-Arsenal winger, Jose Antonio Reyes, unlike Liverpool’s previous Europa League opponents, they are not a side brimming with confidence.
Torres’ old club, Atletico, are almost Liverpool’s Spanish equivalent as things stand, their mirror image, but arguably playing even further below their par than Benitez’s men. Like Liverpool, they are also without one of their star players, Argentine striker, Kun Agüero, who is suspended for Thursday’s tie at the Vicente Calderón.
The travel chaos caused by Iceland’s erupting volcano and the insistence by UEFA that all this week’s European fixtures should go ahead as normal, means Liverpool are being forced to travel to London by train in the hope of catching a flight. It seems more likely however that they will have to stop over in Paris this evening and continue on the train to Bordeaux, catching a flight to Madrid from the South-West of France. It is an arduous trip symptomatic of Liverpool’s sorry season, a season consistently complicated by obstacles they could have done without.
An injured Spanish starlet and travel arrangements disrupted by the smouldering contents of Iceland’s volcanoes is hardly ideal preparation; an incoming chairman and the “For Sale” signs going up around Anfield won’t be much help either. But Liverpool fans still have pride to salvage from a broken season and Benitez’s much berated and scrutinised squad still have much to prove to the watching millions. Needless to say, a European trophy would be a relatively positive end to an utterly miserable campaign.
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