Talk lfc match report
by Anthony Jones at Talklfc
They say you shouldn't go back, and Michael Owen might just be pondering that advice this evening. Playing for Newcastle, his return grabbed the headlines before his new sides' encounter with his one time employers. However there was no Christmas hospitality on show at Anfield as Liverpool dominated this game from start to finish. Owen was rarely a factor in the game, with his former room mate Jamie Carragher marking him out of the game. To top it all, the Kop decided to remind their former idol that his move to Newcastle was a step back by querying his whereabouts on May 25th, and commenting on the difference in quality between the two sides.
For Liverpool this was a vital game having returned from their around the World travels. They were boosted by Scott Parker's suspension which robbed the Geordies of the only midfield player with the ability to get in amongst the Liverpool players. Given this, Rafa Benitez opted to attack, as has been the recent theme in a number of home league games. The now regular back four of Riise, Finnan, Hyypia and Carragher found themselves shielded by Alonso and Gerrard. Luis Garcia and Kewell were fielded out wide and tasked with the responsibility of supplying Morientes and Crouch.
The game saw Liverpool start as they meant to continue, by challenging Shay Given in the Newcastle goal. The Irish keeper at times seemed the only player on the Newcastle side capable of keeping them in the game. Given wasn't brought into the action immediately as the first chance was fired over his crossbar. Morientes won the ball thirty yards out and guided the ball into the path of Kewell. With the ball bouncing up invitingly Kewell struck his volley with plenty of power but with insufficient direction. Shortly after Morientes went closer after capitalising on some sloppy play in the Newcastle defence he then ghosted past the defender. However with the ball moving away from him and Given quickly off his line the striker was unable to loft the ball into the net instead pushing it into the keeper and it drifted out for a corner. Given was to make an even better save moments later when a Crouch knockdown found Kewell unmarked inside the six yard box. Kewell seemed to do everything right as he volleyed the ball goalwards, sending Given the wrong way. Yet with the ball seemingly past him, Given managed to swing arm at the ball and pushed it away from goal. It was a remarkable save.
Liverpool were not to be denied though and Steven Gerrard opened the scoring. The goal was a victory for the work done on the practice pitch. The arrival of Peter Crouch to Anfield brought a lot of doubt with him, however he has slotted into the team well. Acting as the point of the attack, his team mates know they can confidently play the ball into him and run off him and that Crouch will ensure the ball is received, controlled and effectively moved on. That was the case of the goal as the ball was played forward into the feet of Crouch. With Gerrard already anticipating the lay off, Crouch simply took one touch to guide the ball into the path of his captain. If Crouch's touch was good, Gerrard's was even better as he dummied the first defender and then drilled a shot across Given and into the top corner.
Newcastle were confined to a couple of half chances in the first half. A cross from Luque stretched the Liverpool defence but Riise headed over from under his own cross bar. Another crossfield ball from Luque would have found Shearer unmarked on the edge of the eighteen yard box had Reina not been so alert to rush off his line and punch clear. A speculative shot from Charles N'Zogbia forced a save from Reina, with the keeper failing to hold the ball initially as the shot dipped just in front of him.
It was Liverpool though who were in clear control and they made effectively ended the game as a contest when Peter Crouch headed goalwards. Rising high to get on the end of a cross, his effort was pushed onto the post by Given. The ball bounced out and appeared to strike Given on the back before just crossing the line. It may however have been the spin on the ball that caused the ball to cross the line. Not for the first time this season there were doubts on whether the goal should be awarded to Crouch and the dubious goals panel will be back in session for this one.
Showing an incredible balance in their side, Liverpool maintained control throughout the second half. Crouch and Morientes were linking up well with their midfield team mates with Gerrard, Garcia and Kewell all moving off the ball intelligently. Morientes thought he'd added to his season's goal tally when he rose majestically to flick a corner goalwards. With the ball set to slip just inside the post, Nobby Solano who was guarding the line appeared to lunge with his arm to block the shot. The cries for a penalty fell on deaf ears, whilst Hyypia fired a shot back on goal, only for that to be deflected out off Solano with Liverpool not even receiving a corner. With Manchester United stealing a lead whilst Liverpool were on World service, there was some pressure on Liverpool to turn the victory into a rout. However, with fatigue a real concern, Liverpool eased off the pressure.
There task was made easier when Bowyer saw Red in an ugly incident. Having lost the ball to Alonso, Bowyer flew back into the action and took Alonso out long after the ball had been played away. Demonstrating the team spirit in the current Liverpool side, Peter Crouch quickly became involved, pushing Bowyer away. With Shearer and Gerrard also getting involved the officials did well to quickly take the heat out of the situation. For their parts in the incident Bowyer saw red, with Crouch receiving a booking - arguably both deserved the same punishment.
With the extra man advantage, Liverpool took the sting out of the game. Moving the ball around easily, they carved out a few chances. The best fell to Cisse who was brought into the action with twenty minutes remaining. Latching onto a ball over the top his first touch possibly could have moved the ball out from underneath him a little more, though his second touch, a powerful drive, forced a great save from Given. With Gerrard rampaging through on a couple of occasions only to hit shots over, the scoreline remained unchanged.