FC Debrecen 0-1 Liverpool
The omens were set. Liverpool needed to win their last two group games in order to qualify along with a defined goal difference in the final game. Almost a mirror image of the road to Istanbul. Throw in the fact that the team we play in the final game would be the team we eliminate and our struggling league form; It was like Olympiacos all over again. Alas, it was not to be as despite 3 points in Hungary, Lyon couldn’t lend the Merseysiders a hand by beating Fiorentina.
To the team then and yet another bench start for Italian Alberto Aquilani. Kopites haven’t seen him much since that 15 minutes of fame at the Emirates in the Carling Cup. Personally I would have preferred to see him partner Mascherano in the centre of the park and replace Lucas who despite a few decent performances this season lacks the creativity of Aquilani and what the team as a unit needs. Good came in the form of Aurelio and Johnson being declared fit for the game.
The game itself appeared to be one of the biggest in Debrecens history as they saw the stadium almost full. However, the momentous occasion was ruined on 4 minutes when a corner headed back across the 6 yard box by Carragher took the faintest of touches off French striker David Ngog. Here Liverpool fans could be forgiven for thinking that the grand miracle could be on the cards after all. Even more impressive for Liverpool was our style of play as we combated Debrecens very defensive tactics with passing play which eventually led to several chances from decent crosses. Unfortunately we saw these crosses go just under Kuyt’s head and between his legs. Unfortunate, but not disastrous as Debrecen never looked like causing a problem. But as always for Liverpool, things weren’t going to be straight forward as over in Florence, Fiorentina are awarded a penalty which they convert. So as it stands Lyon and Fiorentina going to the knock out stages, us going to the Europa League and Debrecen going nowhere. Once this news spread around the ground, it either gave Debrecen a second wind or kicked us in the guts but Debrecen found a foothold and was suddenly finding space and had a foothold in the game. At the end of the half both sides seemed a little deflated.
Going into the second half and the reds were given the impression that Fiorentina were starting to break with the introduction of Lisandro; the very player that scored the last minute goal against the reds in Lyon three weeks ago was now their potential saviour. But meanwhile, over in Budapest Liverpool started the 2nd half the same way they started the first, dominant. So far several players were putting in a strong performance for the reds; players such as Agger, Aurelio, Kuyt and Gerrard. However I feel the best performer by far was David Ngog. His development over recent weeks has been very impressive and is the only upside to El Nino’s injury. In the last few minutes Debrecen became much more active and even had a last second chance where only a spectacular save from Pepe was enough to stop the Hungarians.
The last big event of the evening was when Sky began their coverage of the last few minutes of the Fiorentina and Lyon game. We tuned in just in time to see Lisandro fire the ball into the arms of the Fiorentina keeper Frey. For that moment Liverpool hearts were in mouths but unluckily Fiorentina emerged victorious.
So in the end, Liverpool in the Europa League. Not a great leap forward but not a huge leap backward. It is still good to be in Europe and perhaps its set in stone for the Reds to set another record by being the first team ever to win the Europa League in its current format? Now to the issues. Still the ever growing concerns persist over Benitez’s future as Liverpool Manager. In my opinion I think it is time for Rafa to leave, but not because he’s doing a bad job, but because he’s took us as far as he can go. Last seasons second place was the best we will do in the league and I don’t feel we can match Istanbul’s success. Also the lack of pitch time given to Italian international Aquilani. I feel that if he is fit enough for the bench than he is fit enough to start. He is a good player who I personally would like to see more of.