THIS was a great European night to saviour - a marvellous result and an outstanding team effort by Liverpool.
It was a magnificent cup tie, played on a knife-edge for most of the time, but the crucial difference is the belief the Reds have.
Most teams, having taken the lead and then seen their rivals snatch a late equaliser that tipped the tie in the Gunners’ favour, would have just buckled.
But Rafa Benitez has this team believing anything is possible – that incredible night in Istanbul will forever be in their minds – and back they stormed.
Some might feel sorry for Arsenal after their performance early on in the first half, but I don’t. They have terrific players, but what their team lack are older players good enough to control what the young ones are doing.
And, irrespective of Arsene Wenger’s view of the penalty, he should be pointing fingers at his defenders for their lapses at crucial moments – Senderos leaving Sami Hyypia a free header, two defenders allowing Torres to turn and put the Reds ahead in sensational style, Babel being allowed to run past two defenders before he was brought down.
But it was not down to those errors, in particular, more the togetherness of this Reds team who just don’t know when they’re beaten when it comes to the Champions League.
A lot has been said about the Dirk Kuyt incident at The Emirates. I thought that was a penalty, just as I thought it was a penalty last night. But the Reds still got a fourth as Babel showed a coolness in slotting home the clincher.
Where the Reds were in the first 20 minutes, I just don’t know. Arsenal were going like the clappers, they scored a well worked goal and really looked a good side.
But the Liverpool spirit shone through and Hyypia’s header gave them the lift they needed. The goal brought back memories for me of 1977 with its importance, but it was the signal for the Reds to start to get a grip on the game they had been chasing for much of the first period.
Second half we were right on top of them and started to dominate. I have seen some goals in my time, but how Torres created the space and got a tremendous shot in across Almunia I don’t know. I could not believe how quick he was in controlling the ball, turning and then firing in a magnificent cross shot.
We looked set for victory at that stage, but the introduction of Theo Walcott changed it completely. He just ran amok (and almost the length of the field) to set up Adebayor, and it left us staring down the gun barrel.
But in Babel, the Reds had someone themselves who could run at the defence with pace, and his charge into the box before being brought down left the referee with no alternative.
Steven Gerrard was not as effective in his left-sided midfield rolewith Peter Crouch having been selected. He is far more dangerous in that central position, but this was a night when there was no man of the match – more a team effort – although the back four did well despite conceding the goals and Hyypia and Torres made telling contributions.
The Reds took the game to Arsenal and not many teams do that. Incredibly, it’s Chelsea next up after they struggled to dispose of Fenerbahce, and Anfield is set for another tremendous night.
Benitez once again proved he is a master tactician when it comes to Europe – and the fans were outstanding in their backing of the team, even after that heartbreaking equaliser. What a night!
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