If Liverpool are going to land the Premiership title this season, then an effort of more herculean proportions than Istanbul will be needed as Liverpool were sent reeling to their 2nd league defeat of the season at one of the reds most cursed away grounds.
Though starting brightly Liverpool were shocking. The players severely underperformed and both Nabil El Zhar and Dirk Kuyt can consider themselves guilty as charged of wasting at least 4 clear goalscoring opportunities.
Both Arbeloa and Torres are out injured as the reds continue to struggle with injuries this season, and Benitez made 4 changes. After some ropey performances from Carragher at right back, Skrtel was used there with Hyypia returning to the reds defence.
There was no surprise to see Riera dropped to the bench after his continual poor form, with Babel being handed a chance to show his ability. Gerrard returned to the side after injury to make his 300th Liverpool start, however one surprise was that El Zhar was drafted in for Yossi Benayoun – a player who has been excellent in recent weeks.
Liverpool started brightly, passing the ball around well and El Zhar had the first sniff of goal but fired the shot straight at the keeper. Moments later Aurelio whipped in a fine cross which Kuyt did well to control, but he lashed the ball over the crossbar.
Then just past the half hour mark the reds suffered own-goal misery against the run of play. Downing sent in a fine corner which bounced off Alonso’s shin and past Reina. It was a huge blow, and Liverpool never looked the same side after it. Whereas normally such a goal would spring Liverpool in to action their passing game disappeared and they struggled.
After the half time break Liverpool improved slightly, although El Zhar was again guilty of a shocking miss and then, yet again against the run of play, a qucik Boro move down the right caught the reds out and Tuncay fired home to double Boro’s advantage.
The reds had more chances and Kuyt should have scored when a ball flashed across the face of the goal but he couldn’t reach it in time.
In the end, Boro got their revenge for the reds last minute win at Anfield earlier this season and Liverpool’s players should be embarrassed about a lack of pride in wearing the shirt.
The title is looking further away than at any point this season.
Post Match Interviews
Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate:
“We have shown in the our last three games with four points from two league games and an FA Cup win how we can play.
“We have had four clean sheets in six games and the confidence is flowing back through the players and the crowd carried us through at the end.
“This win should give the players an unbelievable amount of belief.”
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez:
“In the first 30 minutes we had around five chances and we did not take them.
“If before this game it was going to be difficult to win the league then it is clearly now going to be even harder.
“We have to think about Sunderland next before preparing to face Real Madrid in the Champions League.”
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher (Benayoun 71), Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Alonso, Mascherano, Kuyt, Gerrard (Lucas 76), Babel, El Zhar (Ngog 68).
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Dossena, Riera, Darby.
Middlesbrough: Jones, Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz, O’Neil, Bates, Arca (Walker 88), Downing, Sanli (Adam Johnson 79), Aliadiere (King 68).
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Taylor, Emnes, Alves.
Booked: Sanli, Bates.
Goals: Alonso 32 og, Sanli 63.
Ref: Rob Styles (Hampshire).