Liverpool

Has Rafa Woken Up Or Did Avram Drop Off?

Liverpool finally found the sort of performance expected last night at Anfield against debt riddled relegation certainties Portsmouth.

Monday night football has not always been a great prospect for Liverpool; the last time they won a game on a Monday was way back in 2001 against fellow Merseysiders Everton. That duck was surely going to be broken against a Portsmouth side who despite fight and heart in their ‘us versus them’ mentality were never really going to threaten a Liverpool side. What Liverpool fans saw last night was not only a resounding victory, but a performance from a certain Alberto Aquilani.

Liverpool showed their intent straight from kick off with Spaniard Fernando Torres run towards the box in the first minute was only stopped by a Marc Wilson tug. Liverpool dominated pressure in the first 25 minutes, Portsmouth could not get much of the ball, and it was the type of Liverpool dominance we have been expecting all season. Steven Gerrard and Torres had weak penalty shouts turned down; quite rightly before a six minute devastating spell effectively ended the match. Newly installed Portsmouth keeper Jaime Ashdown making only his fourth appearance for Portsmouth due to a David James injury poorly cleared a back pass from Portuguese centre back Ricardo Rocha. The ball hit Gerrard and fell to Liverpool winger Maxi who simply squared the ball to Torres to tap home on 26 minutes.

Only two minutes later Glen Johnson crossed deep to Fernando Torres who turned former Liverpool right back Steven Finnan inside and out before slipping in Babel who stabbed home. Liverpool were beginning to be rampant. Step up Alberto Aquilani, the £20 million Italian international, making only his 5th Premier League start of the season scored the goal of the game on 32 minutes. Again Torres was involved after being played through by Steven Gerrard he cross the ball back to his Captain who beautifully dummied the ball for Aquilani to smash into the back of the net in front of the Kop. A much needed and deserved goal for the Italian midfielder. Liverpool could have made it 4-0 when Torres rattled the post with a curling right foot short after cutting inside.

3-0 at half time and the game was over as a contest. Portsmouth still looked in shock when they came out for the second half and that was evident further as Liverpool again dominated possession. Maxi, Babel, Aquilani, Torres and Gerrard were all passing the ball beautifully and on the same wave length. Everything just seemed to click into place for a side that have looked so devoid of ideas of late. Ashdown was called into action early in the second half when he tipped Babel’s shot onto the crossbar and it was looking like a rout was inevitable. Yet in the 55th minute Portsmouth had their own chance with a fantastic save from Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina as he instinctively pushed over Michael Brown’s effort over the bar. Liverpool should have extended their lead when Maxi fired wide and Glen Johnson was hauled down by Nadir Belhadj in the penalty area. Referee Stuart Attwell decided not to award what appeared a straight forward decision.

Steven Gerrard will almost certainly be facing an FA investigation after lashing out at the ever angelic Michael Brown. Gerrard appeared to thrust an arm into the Portsmouth player’s face which the referee awarded a free kick. Gerrard’s frustration was evident and he was quickly taken from the field by manager Rafa Benitez. If a ban is imposed, he could miss Sundays clash against Manchester United. Liverpool finally wrapped up the points when Torres, who was sublime throughout, blasted a shot inside the near post after a delightfully threaded ball from the resurgent Alberto Aquilani. Portsmouth gained little consolation when Belhadj knocked in Piquionne’s volley across goal in the dying minutes. A 4-1 victory for Liverpool was a fitting scoreline after a brilliant performance.

So why has it taken Liverpool this long to play so well? Firstly Portsmouth are not the most challenging of oppositions. That must be taken into account considering some of the quality Liverpool have. Furthermore the return to fitness of Torres obviously has an impact with a sublime performance from the Spaniard. Yet for me we learnt of Benitez’s failings this season. As improving as Lucas may be, playing two holding midfielders is stifling Liverpool creativity. Last night Benitez played Aquilani in a central role and the playmaker did not disappoint. Benitez needs to look at the performance and trust his side a bit more. Let them attack, there pretty good at it if given the chance.

You can follow all Matthew Balmforth’s blogs on twitter:http://twitter.com/Soccer_Opinion

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