Awesome reds a team to fear
Awesome reds a team to fear
NEVER mind the catwalks of Milan, Liverpool made their latest visit to Europe’s fashion capital look like a cake walk.
On a night when their credentials to compete with the continent’s finest outfits were expected to be put to the sternest of tests, the Reds brushed Inter aside with such ease it ultimately bordered on the mundane.
That is the way of things for Liverpool in Europe under Rafa Benitez – it doesn’t matter how big a club they face, how intimidating their reputation or how greatly the odds are stacked against them, when it comes to the Champions League they have a seemingly innate ability to produce results.
When Liverpool were paired with Internazionale in the draw for the last 16, there were precious few outside Anfield who gave them even the slightest chance of making it through to the quarter finals.
But, such was the emphatic nature of their two-legged victory over the Italian champions that it is unlikely anyone will be making a similar mistake when the draw for the last eight is made in Switzerland on Friday.
And nor should they.
Liverpool have won more European Cups than the other seven clubs who will join them in the hat put together and having earned their seat at the head of the continent’s top table thanks to decades of conquest, they should be among the teams to fear when the latest pairings are determined.
As Inter Milan can testify, Liverpool have developed a way of playing in Europe which makes them phenomenally difficult opponents simply to score a goal against.
Defensive solidity has underpinned their assaults on European football’s top title since Benitez took over at Anfield.
It served them incredibly well en route to the glory of Istanbul in 2005 and it also took them to last season’s final in Athens.
The difference this time around is that they now also have a striker who is capable of terrorising even the very best defensive units.
It is this new added dimension which should give Liverpool all the confidence and belief they could ever need to launch yet another assault on a title which only Inter’s local rivals AC and Real Madrid have won more times than them.
Inter tried and failed to contain Torres but they should not feel any shame about that because the Spaniard is well on his way to becoming one of the very best around.
Before last night’s game, he had been busily gobbling up goals against some of the Premier League’s weakest outfits at Anfield.
Inter on their own patch were an altogether more difficult proposition though and his winning goal in the second half provided proof, if any was needed, that he is no flat track bully.
Decisive goals in such iconic locations are the stuff legends are made of and judging by the way the magnificent travelling Red army bellowed his name long into the Milanese night, Torres is already well on his way to securing such exalted status even at such an early stage in his Liverpool career.
But he would be the first to admit that Inter were vanquished thanks to a supreme team effort rather than his own moment of individual brilliance following a piece of imaginative build up play by the outstanding Fabio Aurelio.
This was a victory which owed everything to the team ethic instilled in Liverpool by Benitez and one which would not have been possible had it not been for the way every player wearing red worked his socks off from the first minute to the last.
Steven Gerrard had called on Liverpool’s players to become heroes in the build-up to the game but the captain knew only too well that even holding onto the two goal advantage they had built up in the first leg might have proven difficult had the Reds not produced as a team.
As expected, Inter did have their chances but with Pepe Reina again showing the kind of form which marks him out as one of the finest keepers around it was always going to be difficult for them to get the goal which would have set nerves jangling in the away end.
Reina made a pair of top class saves from Julio Cruz in the first half as the hosts tried to whip up a storm to match the one which battered Merseyside overnight.
But, significantly, he was not called into action anywhere near as often as many expected before the game and, again, this comes down to the tactical acumen and supreme organisational skills of his manager.
Benitez revels on this stage and it was no surprise that members of the Italian press corps wanted to know if he would be willing to take over from outgoing Inter boss Roberto Mancini when he quits the San Siro in May.
Only a month after it looked like only a win over Inter would keep him in position at Anfield, Benitez is again back in fashion and victory in the European style capital merely confirmed it.
Having reached the last eight of the Champions League for the fourth time in just seven years, Benitez and his players will know that they are unlikely to meet opponents as reckless and lacking in discipline as Inter.
After going down to ten men at Anfield in the first leg, the Italians again left themselves at a numerical disadvantage when Nicholas Burdisso was dismissed for his second booking with 40 minutes remaining.
That was all the incentive Liverpool needed to hammer home the advantage they had fashioned on Merseyside and with one swipe of Torres’ right foot the contest was well and truly ended.
From that point on, Liverpool coasted home in a manner which totally belied their billing as rank outsiders when the fates brought them together with mighty Inter back in December.
It became so comfortable that the 5,000 fans packed into the away end even indulged themselves in a chorus of “oles” as the clock ticked down.
Liverpool have cleared one of the toughest obstacles with the minimum of fuss. The challenge for them now is to repeat the trick.
INTER MILAN: Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lopez, Burdisso, Chivu, Zanetti, Stankovic (Jiminez, 85), Cambiasso, Vieira (Pele, 76), Cruz, Ibrahimovic (Suazo, 80). Not used: Toldo, Figo, Crespo, Mancini.
LIVERPOOL: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Lucas, Mascherano (Pennant, 87), Kuyt (Riise, 81), Gerrard, Babel (Benayoun, 61), Torres. Not used: Itandje, Arbeloa, Voronin, Crouch.
REFEREE: Tom Henning Ovrebo (Norway).