Litmanen lifts Liverpool
Liverpool continue to make halting progress in the Champions League.
Last night a goal from Jari Litmanen midway through the first half should have seen them take command of their Group B encounter with a distinctly undynamic Dynamo Kiev. Instead they missed chance after chance to make the game safe until Gérard Houllier was forced to bring Robbie Fowler off the bench, to loud and pointed acclaim from the Kop.
Having lost Michael Owen's speed and finishing power, Liverpool were more likely to have to pick the lock of Kiev's defence rather than rush the door. In Litmanen they possess one of the game's more accomplished cracksmen but without Owen they still did not want to find themselves in the position of having to chase the game.
Last night, Owen or no Owen, Houllier's team wasted no time searching for the lead. In fact the uncertainty of Dynamo's Russian goalkeeper Alexander Filimonov when dealing with high balls suggested a goal for Liverpool was not far away.
Litmanen thought he had scored in the fourth minute only to find his header inside the far post disallowed for offside, and soon afterwards he saw another sharp nod nervously punched away.
Kiev had not come to merely to defend and launch the occasional counter-attack. Having taken only a point from their first two Champions League matches they needed a win as much as Liverpool.
When Kiev managed to keep the ball for any length of time they began to unravel Houllier's often loose-knit defence, although more often than not their movements were stifled at birth by Steven Gerrard or Dietmar Hamann.
Midway through the first half, with the game still goalless and Liverpool's attacks starting to stall, Anfield grew restless. The appearance of Fowler, out of favour with Houllier but still among the substitutes, jogging along the touchline, drew loud cheers from the Kop. It also prompted a goal from Litmanen.
In the 23rd minute Gerrard let fly from 30 yards with his usual power and accuracy. The shot took a big deflection before rebounding from the left-hand post for Litmanen to find the net after hitting the underside of the crossbar. Fowler sat down again.
The goal, if not its bizarre execution, was inevitable. But clever and calculating on the ball and shrewd in their movements off it, Kiev started to get a regular pattern into their attacks as half-time neared. Oleksandr Melashchenko and Valentin Belkevich were beginning to find and exploit space behind Gerrard and Hamann and in front of the Liverpool centre-backs. All Dynamo needed was greater conviction in their final passes.
Liverpool's movements, meanwhile, had lost their earlier momentum. One of the problems was that Emile Heskey, tightly marked by Sergiy Federov, was not cute enough to take his jailor on long jaunts to draw him out of position.
When a late sprint from Heskey did surprise Federov at the start of the second half, although nothing came of the moment, Kiev's defence looked as vulnerable as it had done at the start. If more goals for Liverpool were not exactly there for the taking, it was clearly not going to take much ingenuity for them to arrive.
One of the night's best moments came 10 minutes after half-time when a marvellous tackle by Gerrard set up a slick passing movement between Litmanen and Nick Barmby which turned Dynamo's defence. As Heskey met Barmby's low centre a goal appeared certain, but now Filimonov looked more of a Russian goalkeeper as he saved the striker's close-range shot.
Another minute and another chance for Heskey, this time after Gerrard's long pass had caught the Kiev defence square. Heskey drew Filimonov off his line and slipped the ball past him. Unhappily for Liverpool, and Heskey, it also went past a post.
Just before the hour Barmby popped up to the left of goal for a shot that ricocheted off the foot of the near post. Clearly Houllier had to play his joker. Fowler replaced Litmanen for the last 25 minutes.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Vignal; Barmby (Murphy 61), Gerrard, Hamann, Riise (McAllister 79); Litmanen (Fowler 64), Heskey.
Dynamo Kiev (3-4-3): Filimov; Holovko, Vaschuk, Nesmachnyi; Ghioane, Federov, Gavrancic, Cernat (Peev 69); Idahor, Melaschenko, Belkevich (Serebrennikov 81).
Referee : P Collina (Italy).
Copyright - The Guardian