Thursday, December 11, 2008

PSV v Liverpool - Dr. Joel Rookwood



Consolidating a position at the summit of a league is becoming Liverpool Football Club’s established pattern of behaviour. With Saturday’s victory at Blackburn Rovers ensuring the men from Merseyside remain clear at the top of the Premier League, the next task involved securing first place in group D of the Champions League. This required subjecting PSV Eindhoven, a side who languish in fifth place in the Dutch Eredivision, to their fifth defeat in six European games.



On paper this did not seem particularly likely, when having already qualified for the so-called Super Sixteen round of Europe’s elite football competition, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez unveiled his squad for the final European tie of 2008. The Brazilian Cavalieri replaced the dependable Pepe Reina in goal, with the unfancied Dossena, Leiva and Ngog also taking their place in the starting eleven. But it was the second half substitute appearances of inexperienced trio Stephen Darby, Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing coupled with the inevitable Liverpool victory that illustrated the gulf in class between the two squads. Liverpool could afford the luxury of offering young hopefuls valuable exposure to continental competition at the ‘highest level’, without compromising a result or the position of Liverpool Football Club. In truth however, this was as much an insult to PSV manager Huub Stevens and his squad, as it was to the credit of his opposite number Rafael Benitez.



Despite conceding the opening goal via a corner that never was, Liverpool recovered to level the game before half time. Lazovic’s opener was cancelled out by former Ajax winger Ryan Babel on his return to Holland. The Dutchman has experienced a dip in form in recent weeks, culminating in an ill-advised request for a loan move back to his former club. But having been told in no uncertain terms to forget about a temporary move away from Merseyside, Babel showed glimpses of guile in Eindhoven, heading Liverpool level in timely fashion during first half stoppage time. The second half illustrated more clearly the chasm in class that currently exists between the evening’s contestants. Albert Riera’s beautifully crafted strike gave Liverpool the lead midway through the second half, with French youngster David Ngog scoring his first goal for Liverpool twelve minutes from time. The third goal confirmed a result that the population of the Philips Stadium knew would prove an inevitability.



The midfield was orchestrated by Lucas Leiva and Javier Mascherano, who captained Brazil and Argentina respectively during the Olympic football tournament in Beijing. Whilst the commanding performance of the latter was expected, the influential role played by the former was considered more surprising by the 2000 Liverpool fans in attendance. The much-maligned Brazilian has not performed to the standards expected of a Liverpool player in recent months, but shone in Eindhoven, clearly relishing the limelight and a break from the incessant pressure that Premier League football brings by definition.



Disappointingly however, Robbie Keane could not add to the four goals his eighteen club appearances have produced thus far during this his debut season for Liverpool, making him a frustrated and frustrating player to watch at the moment. Apologists for the 28-year old Irishman advance claims that he is yet to be given the opportunity to excel in a Liverpool shirt, with Benitez regularly substituting the former Tottenham striker in the latter stages of matches. Yet by the time we were exiting the stadium on a bitterly cold evening in East Holland, it had become overwhelmingly obvious that Liverpool’s quest to remain at the Premier League summit heading into the concluding stages of the season, and to be a similarly commanding position in the latter phases of the European Cup rely on Liverpool’s strikers producing clinical form. As Liverpool look forward to next week’s Champions League draw in Nyon, everyone connected with the club knows the importance of the ten league games that lie between now and the next European fixture in February. If the club have held on to top spot by the time Inter Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Villarreal, Real Madrid or Lyon entertain Liverpool, Liverpudlians might be about to experience something very special indeed.

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