Liverpool turned around a one-goal deficit to comprehensively beat Lille in their second impressive performance in 3 days.
With goals at either end of the goal, sandwiched by an early second half strike – the reds eased past a Lille side who had been effectively subdued.
Liverpool’s 3 goal margin on Monday night was hailed as a step in the right direction and due to injury (Aquilani) and cup-tied players (Rodriguez) – the two forgotten men of mid-week were returned. Lucas partnering Mascherano and Kuyt returning to the right wing.
Were either of them prepared to respond to being dropped? And can Liverpool show steel for the first time in Europe this season and turn around a deficit?
Liverpool started brightly, and it was the returning Lucas who was key. After skipping past a few players he was eventually fouled as he closed down on goal – in the 8th minute Steven Gerrard converted the spot-kick.
The goal was scored in front of the Kop, as yet again Liverpool lost the toss. Opposing sides have been keen this season to change which end the reds kick towards, and on every occasion Liverpool have run out winners.
The pre-match build up had been tainted by Albert Riera’s comments about the reds being a ‘sinking ship’. Rafa moved swiftly, suspending the player from the club, fining him heavily and transfer listing him. Within 8 minutes it was clear that was all forgotten about.
The reds continued with an expansive first 25 minutes, more often than not Lucas the man providing the perfectly executed forward pass and Torres was a constant danger. Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel were both struggling on the wings, and Emiliano Insua (a player who has come under some well deserved criticism) was a lot more confident – at one point himself passing through an array of Lille midfielders and defenders.
A couple of Torres chances arrived – an attempted flick over the keeper, a header and a couple of shots narrowly wide amongst his forays in the first half.
Half time and the tie even, but the reds needed to score again to avoid extra time.
Within 3 minutes Fernando Torres, set up by Ryan Babel’s long range pass, chipped the Lille keeper to double the reds lead.
The game opened out a little. Liverpool fans nerves set in. After seeing so many European leads ebbed away in the final minutes this was understandable. The pressure from the crowd began to build on the players who began to lose their attacking prowess.
But the reds powered back and ensured the last few minutes would be one for celebration.
Gerrard turned on the pace and it was Torres who grabbed the reds third goal on the night.
With the return of Maxi Rodriguez to the squad, Dirk Kuyt is one player who may be under the most threat.
In the end a comprehensive win. Liverpool go in to the Europa League quarter finals 3-1 on aggregate.
Man of the Match: Lucas Leiva
Post Match Comments
“It was difficult because they are a good team. The atmosphere was great and everybody is happy now.
“We needed to score the third goal just in case and it was a bit of a relief.”
“We knew Lille had to push from the beginning and if we did not score an early goal they could carry on with some hope, so this goal gave us some time and some confidence too.
“You could see they were working very hard so it was really good. Lille were dangerous and have some good players with ability and pace.”
“He (Benitez) is the manager and he’s allowed to criticise the team at the right time,” said the England midfielder.
“But I think the reaction over the last two games has been superb and the plan is to maintain it against Man United.
“It was vital this game didn’t go to extra-time [against Lille]. We know how difficult Sunday is going to be.
“We’ll enjoy this result and we’ll get a warm-down on Friday and we’ll look forward to Sunday.”