Liverpool kicked off their 1st leg Europa League play-off at a rainy Anfield tonight and there was a debut for new Liverpool midfielder Christian Poulsen. A player who had only 25 minutes of pre-season football under his belt. There was also a few of the regular first team players like Gerrard, Kuyt and Mascherano having a rest in the stands ahead of the game on Monday night against Manchester City.
The match kicked off to an adventurous start with the team from Turkey taking the game to Liverpool from the whistle. But it was the reds who were to cause some real danger in the 5th minute. Liverpool won a corner and the ball was nicely floated in for Kyrgiakos to head across goal. But the keeper was equal to it.
But Trabzsonspor were not afraid of any Liverpool advances and went close with an effort just over the bar in the 11th minute. Liverpool were giving the ball away in the middle of the park and as you all know, that invites pressure. Poulsen was understandably finding it tough to keep up with the pace of the game and Lucas along with Maxi were looking slightly outnumbered. Not much was looking easy for Liverpool. Things had to improve.
In the 25th minute Babel was fouled outside the Trabzonspor box and Aurelio stepped up to take it. His cultured left foot wasn’t enough on this occasion though and the ball curled over the bar. In the 29th minute Trabzonspor were awarded a free kick which was delivered into the Liverpool box with dangerous ease, but Pepe Reina was quick to collect.
Liverpools play was flat, almost as flat as the Anfield crowd. There would be a few passes strung together but then someone would lose control of the ball or give it away. Players were getting frustrated. In the 41st minute Carragher gave a free kick away yards outside the Liverpool box. But the Trabzonspor number 12 gave an attempt that was similar to Aurelios earlier effort and it glided over the bar.
Liverpool looked to be heading down the tunnel at half time with some questions to ask themselves. But in the 45th minute, Joe Cole and Ryan Babel combined to break the deadlock and send the reds in, one nil up. If you give Cole the ball whilst he’s facing the goal, he can set anyone up. And this is exactly what he done when Liverpool broke into the Trabzonspor half. Cole slipped the ball in to Babel who directed the ball past the keeper into the bottom corner of the net. Always an excellent time to score a goal – especially after an unconvincing first half of football.
Into the second half we went and Torres was on for Babel. The whistle had barely left the ref’s mouth after the kick off and Torres had already introduced himself to the Trabzonspors goalkeeper – his fingers stinging from a ferocious shot from Liverpools number 9. Corner to Liverpool. The ball was floated beautifully into Lucas who could only take his free header wide of the goal. The brazilian should have made it 2-0 to the reds.
In the 51st minute Lucas made up for his miss when he made a driving run into the Trabzonspor box and was fouled. A penalty was awarded and up stepped Joe Cole. The anticipation of Cole getting his first goal for the reds was overflowing around Anfield but it wasn’t to be. Maybe nerves hindered Cole slightly, as he kicked the ball too close to the keeper and the opportunity was gone.
But Liverpool had certainly taken a talking to from Roy Hodgson at half time. There was more intent and desire from the reds. The sideways or backwards passes were not as apparent and there was more drive about the men in red. In the 55th minute Torres set up Jovanovic with a slip of the heel but Jovanovic could only shoot at the keeper. Another chance gone.
In the 58th minute Liverpool found themselves under attack and Pepe pulled off an almighty save from a one on one to keep the reds in the lead. He simply is one of, if not the, best goalkeepers in the world. There was a bit of a goalmouth scramble that followed but Carragher and co cleared the danger. The game was opening up as more space was available at either end of the pitch. Maybe good for the neutral perhaps, but for both sets of fans, it wasn’t too relaxing. This was a tricky game.
But Liverpool definitely looked more dangerous than in the first half. Torres was back looking his usual dangerous self and being a general nightmare for the Trabzonspor defence. In the 69th minute Aurelio put in a freekick from the wide right of the penalty area. The keeper saved but the ball ended up at Coles feet. He gave in sublime pass along the goal line which was aching for a Liverpool player to slide the ball home. But there was no one there.
In the 72nd minute Jovanovic put in a great ball from a corner which Kyrgiakos headed in. The keeper couldn’t hold the ball and debutant Poulsen was there to slot the ball home from a yard out. But the goal was disallowed for what was claimed to be offside. Certainly a debatable decision.
Liverpool brought on Ngog for Maxi, to bolster the attack. Although Liverpool kept pressing, Trabzonspor still posed some sort of threat with their work rate and desperation to get an away goal. But after a shaky first half from the reds, it was clear that Liverpool were the more dominant in the second half.
As the second half fizzled out to the refs whistle, Liverpool will have been glad that Cole and Babel combined to give the reds an advantage going over to Turkey. This tie by no means over, as the Liverpool players will have witnessed a hunger from the Trabzonspor players tonight. And this will no doubt be bolsted by their home support. The second leg will require some preparation. Some homework from the Liverpool boss and a lot of hard work from the Liverpool players. Thankfully, what Liverpool fans have seen so far into Roy Hodgsons reign at Anfield is just that – a lot of hard work.