OBY’s Dugout – Pompey (H) and Lille (H)

Liverpool 4-1 Portsmouth

Well a home game against Portsmouth and a chance for Liverpool to avenge that 2-0 defeat down on the south coast in December. A match that personally I was looking forward to as it was the first time I would enter heaven on a match day since that memorable 6-0 victory against Derby County in 2007. Unfortunately the omens weren’t looking great for Liverpool as they were going into this game off the back of two fairly embarrassing 1-0 defeats to Lille and Wigan. For our team and a start for Alberto Aquilani which was a very rare but eventually a brilliant choice by Rafa. Perhaps even more unusual was a bench start for Dirkaldinho and Lucas.

So a very lively first half as Liverpool make all the early running but were still too static for anything major to happen. A great performance from the Italian maestro in this half saw several fancy flicks go to the wing, but not just him we saw an apparently revived Fernando Torres and even Stevie G who began to looked like their old selves tonight. In fact my only criticism once Liverpool did begin to manoeuvre was with Torres, who drifted out to the wing a bit too much and left the centre open, this didn’t stop him though as eventually he was the man to make the breakthrough for Liverpool. As a goal keeper, how could you not panic when you see the huge figure of Steven Gerrard running towards you at full pace? Alas Jamie Ashdown panicked and saw his kick hit Gerrard and fall to Maxi who jus slid the ball to Torres who had a simple tap in to make it 1-0 and already the problems of the previous week looking to be behind Liverpool. This looked a sure thing when Liverpool doubled their lead through heavily controversial character Ryan Babel who showed great skill to receive the ball off Torres in a heavily crowded penalty area, then make room for him to slide it home for 2-0. Up to this point top performer Aquilani was looking dangerous and he got his first ever Liverpool goal when a great back heel from Torres got the slightest of touches from Gerrard and was finally thumped home by Aquilani to give Liverpool a comfortable 3-0 half time lead.

Marching out for the second half kopites were in great voice within the ground. And it only got louder when a typical Torres run saw him send the ball in between the two defenders and past the Portsmouth keeper to put the result beyond any doubt on 76 minutes. However, in typical Liverpool fashion, we saw this as a reason to sit back and surprisingly the South coasters threw some pretty heavy pressure on the home side and eventually got a consolation goal on 88 minutes when a neat cross was put in by Belhadj to round off a still very impressive performance by Liverpool.

Man of the match for this fixture can only go to one man. We haven’t seen much of him this season but I don’t think anyone can doubt the brilliance of his performance tonight. Alberto Aquilani- his first goal, his second 90 minutes and a man of the match performance. Of course in a very close second was star striker Fernando Torres whose contribution to the game should not be under estimated.

Finally this week, as promised I must give a mention to regular reader Kevin McCann for the lift home from the game. Thanks Kev.

Liverpool 3-0 Lille (3-1 Agg)

So, a big night tonight, 1-0 down to Lille from the first leg and in need of a big performance from the reds with the mancs at Old Trafford on Sunday. Two changes to the team then from the side which crushed Pompey. Maxi who was ineligible for the Europa League was replaced by Kuyt on the right and unfortunately Aquilani dropped in the place of Lucas due to illness.

The first half then and Liverpool start off the more promising out of the two. All the early running is going towards the Lille end. It only took 9 minutes for Liverpool to make the breakthrough when Lucas made a brilliant run skipping past 1, 2, 3 Lille defenders until he was eventually brought down for a penalty which Gerrard of course converts down in the bottom left corner. Going into half time and Liverpool were playing witness to some amazing changes recently. Most notably the ever improving performances of Ryan Babel. Lille home and away along with the Portsmouth game had provided the Dutch man with opportunities to boost himself in everyone’s opinions and he appears to have seized them. Maybe it’s the world cup influence or he realised it was time to stop whining about the manager picking on him and just play some football, either way Liverpool can only benefit. Tonight we also saw one of the biggest shocks of all time in the shape of Lucas Leiva. One little change of position and he becomes 100% more active and effective.

Second half and although 1-0 was good for Liverpool, it wouldn’t send us through, so all we needed was someone to step up and conquer the French and put us in the lead, how long until we realised we really needed to score? Answer: 3 minutes after kick off. Torres latches onto the long ball from Babel takes a neat touch and puts it over Landreu for 2-0. Great position for Liverpool? No. Although as it stands we’re going through, 1 goal from Lille and the tie shifts. No doubt the next goal in this one will be crucial. The game became very open at this point with the majority of pressure being hurled at Liverpool but the reds having their fare share of chances. Final 2 minutes plus injury time and Lille still push for that decisive goal. But a team on a mission, Liverpool get the goal which guarantees they will be in today’s pot for the Quarter final and Semi Final draw. In the end it took a surging run from Gerrard whose shot was deflected onto the foot of Torres to make it 3-0 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate.

Well, going into the Pompey game I stated that a place in the next round of the Europa League and 4 points from the next 3 games would be a success for the reds. As it stands were on 3 points and are in the next round. No doubt Liverpool’s last two performances have made Sunday’s clash with Manchester United look very interesting.

Finally my man of the match award has to go to our super striker who is currently showing Rooney that he’s not the only one in form. Four goals in his last two games see’s Torres take this week’s award.

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