Not vengeance, respect for a team of humility
Bayer Leverkusen last night missed a significant number of players, Juan, Ponte, Freier, Roque Junior and Nowotny. They had the home crowd but they seemed slightly despondent, and Liverpool managed to capitalise on it. Teams have managed to do that to Liverpool, with our injuries and the odd suspension. Morientes and Pellegrino cup-tied, Alonso, Cisse, Pongolle recovering. Traore recovering....from his own goal at Burnley. Liverpool have endured a rollercoaster of a season, particularly when one notices that Liverpool and Everton fail to take advantage when the other side loses in the Premiership.
So it was a weakened Bayer side last night, but Liverpool have had to play likewise themselves, and its a majority opinion that we have suffered results wise because particular players are missing, the gel of the team is disrupted. However, despite the current availability of players at any club, a match is to be played and 11 players including a goalkeeper must be selected to start. To conclude on this point, Bayer were weakened but we had to win to progress, and while they have my sympathy, we needed to take advantage and win.
And so it begun. Bayer started to hold possession in the beginning stages of the game but then Liverpool kicked into gear. Baros was the ever-running player, causing contention and concern when he ran with the ball. The German side seemed to settle into stride, since they need a 2-0 win, but as they did, Liverpool struck. Gerrard crosses from the right and the running Garcia gets a slight touch as he is followed by a defender, Butt beaten. Then to make worse of their plight, Bayer had to see Berbatov come off through injury, Voronin coming on having initially made way for the Brazilian Franca for the kick-off.
Seconds after that, Liverpool gained a corner, Gerrard took, very well, Biscan used his height to head down and Garcia wandered across to touch the ball in. 5-1 aggregate, we needed at least 1 goal to help our nerves and settle, we had 2 around the half hour mark. Looking superb. A sweet ball from Baros found Garcia and the Spaniard's left foot effort was well saved by Butt.
Yet second half Bayer aimed for the throat. They needed 5 to win and they had one half to do it in. Bierofka managed to evade the Reds' defence and found Franca but the Brazilian shot over the bar. Bierofka found Franca again and his second effort was stopped by Dudek. As Bayer pressed forward, Liverpool held firm and their reward came. The ball deflected fortuitously into the path of Baros, and with time and space to tee up his shot, he found Butt's bottom right corner, something he deserved for his efforts all night.
And to cap it off, having begun a minute's silence prior to kick-off in memory of former Bayer coach Rinus Michels, who died on Thursday, the BayArena played the Liverpool anthem. Both teams deserved to be applauded, Liverpool for their performance, Bayer for their humility in defeat and ceremony. Both sets of fans deserved reciprocation.