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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Liverpool turn on style for third Champions League semi-final in four years again with Chelsea

For the neutrals, the game had goals and controversy regarding a penalty claim yet again between these two sides. The Arsenal - Liverpool trilogy at an end, fixtures that set an enthralling anticipation at who will be the victor in all three games, with Premier League points and Champions League progression at stake. Fundamentally, the underdogs in all three games, practically in most fixtures between the two, in Liverpool would have to thoroughly impress to maybe match, if not overawe, the stern Gunners team.

Arsenal were the better side in the 1st leg, and last night they carried a quicker start and stronger fight for the first 25mins, culminating in Abou Diaby's goal early on. As much as Arsenal are known for not giving up, coming back from being behind, sometimes quickly, Liverpool are less know for that and to do so within 17mins of Diaby's goal was crucial, Phillippe Senderos outwitted by Sami Hyypia for the Finn's placed header off the post.

Liverpool scored a crucial second goal via Peter Crouch's flick-on for who else but Fernando Torres to chest control, turn and fire past Manuel Alminua. A fiercely taken goal from the Spaniard. Arsene Wenger made prominent changes in bringing on Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie for Emmanuel Eboue and Diaby some 20mins from full time, while Liverpool made their first in Ryan Babel for Crouch, both proving pivotal. A mis-kick by Steven Gerrard found Walcott with a run that bounced off Liverpool players and a pass that just escaped Martin Skrtel to find Emanuel Adebayor for Arsenal's equaliser. Arsenal were then six minutes from the semi-final and Liverpool looked to face what they had to in the 2007 final, the need to find a goal in mere minutes before the whistle.

And they did, from their first attack thereafter. The apparent adage is you are more vulnerable after you score, and here that adage is debatable. Babel went between two players and emerged into the box, only to stumble down. Kolo Toure was the nearest at the time and he was judged to have impeded the Dutchman, was booked and a penalty given. I felt it was genuine enough, less genuine than Alexander Hleb's in the first leg, and the captain stepped up, in front of the Kop, to score. Very very important.

Arsenal had to push for an equaliser again and having all gone up to leave Fabregas alone in their half to deliver a free-kick, the ball was cleared out superbly by Dirk Kuyt towards Babel, and with Fabregas failing to thwart him even with a pull of the shirt, Babel remained strong and determined to deposit Liverpool's 4th goal in late injury time. Having faced Juventus and Chelsea, Barcelona and Chelsea and now Arsenal, Liverpool have emerged from some of the best in Europe to face another in Chelsea, again, one step away from the final. It's a good feeling.

Arsenal look to pick up their season quickly to focus on a travel to Old Trafford at the weekend, another crucial game. Utd face Roma in their 2nd leg tonight.

Chelsea booked their semi-final place with a 2-0 win over Fenerbahce. With the aggregate at 2-1 to the Turkish side, there was a small element of concern Fenerbahce would be as difficult at The Bridge as they made it at Sevilla, but with an early header by Michael Ballack Chelsea held the advantage and had to soak up a number of Fenerbahce pressure which stand-in keeper Hilario, in for hamstring victim Carlo Cudicini, did great to thwart and keep confidence in the side. Late towards the end Michael Essien remained rugged to deny challenges by the touchline to thread a pass into the box, Frank Lampard touching in from yards.



Anonymous Alex Butterfield said...

I think there are two issues here.

First the penalties. Wenger has been upset by the one not given to Arsenal and the one given against Arsenal. But for me there are not just two controversial penalty decisions, but three.

Hleb was brought down by a slight tug on his shoulder - he decided to fall under the contact as he was running the ball out anyway, but this allowed Kuyt to clear the ball. There is no doubt that contact was made with the player before the ball - the only issue is whether the initial contact was a foul. And it should have been given. It was minimal, but it was there and only Hleb's eagerness to fall over saved Liverpool in the first leg.

In the second leg, Kuyt was fouled by Toure (I think) as he burst into the box. As toure tried to nick the ball away he caught Kuyt full on in the hip with his knee. It was 1-0 at the time, and Kuyt allowed the contact to knock him off balance and threw himself to the ground. Again the referee felt the fall was exaggerated and that overshadowed the actual foul.

Then at 2-2, Babel had his wrist tugged by Fabregas as he burst past him, this genuinely unbalanced him and as Toure came across and tried to cut behind Babel and get goal side, Babel couldn't keep his feet. This was quite an interesting foul to me as there was a foul - by Fabragas (although the ref gave it against Toure) - but it took place outside the area. That is, Babel's outstretched arm was the only part of his body outside the area when Fabregas pulled it. Strictly the foul took place outside the area, but it was a strange one that the rules don't really compensate for.

The second interesting issue is the one that I'm sure every commentator around the world made a point of. At half time, at 1-1, this was the fourth game in which it was impossible to separate Arsenal and Liverpool - all three previous encounters this season finishing 1-1 also. Last night was a game where there had to be separation and I think that Liverpool playing at home was telling in such a tight tie.

Over the four games the home team has been the strongest. Admittedly Arsenal's away performances have been much stronger than Liverpool's. At Anfield in the league they hit the post and missed a couple of good chances before and after Fabregas poked home the equaliser. And last night they were the stronger team until Hyypia equalised.

However I think that the experience of the Liverpool team - see the contrast between Hyypia's celebration for his equaliser (he ran back to his position with a few high fives on the way), and the ecstasy of Arsenal's players having an orgy after Adebeyor's goal. Admittedly it was a better goal, reminiscent of Owen's run against Argentina. But I feel that had the tables been turned, Liverpool would have shown more reserve and focus. Indeed they were turned minutes later and while they did celebrate, they also got back to shape-up and concentrate. Saving their wild celebrations for the real winner - Babel's goal, which was effectively an early final whistle.

While Arsenal were unlucky and Liverpool the contrary, each team made their luck in this tie. And the difference was the experience of a Liverpool team who are making this kind of night a habit, and, it has to be said, the freshness of a full squad of players that Liverpool had available - perhaps because of Rafa's rotation system. Contrast that with Fabregas - who had yet another poor game, he was responsible for the penalty and his poor delivery (and positioning thereafter) when he was the only man back played a big role in the fourth. He looks like a player frustrated with the burden placed on him. And a shadow of the player touted as the best midfielder in the world before Christmas. This game showed the serious lack of depth to Arsenal's squad, even Liverpool whose fringe players aren't Champions League class had the bench to beat Arsenal last night. When commentators point out that Benitez has outspent Wenger in each of the last four seasons, they never point out that he has built a larger squad. The players may not all be great bargains that demonstrate an ability to spot potential but they are players who contribute to the last minute of the last game of the season - Liverpool always finish strong under Rafa - for two teams that can't be separated, that's another stark contrast to Arsenal, particularly this season.

4/09/2008 5:06 pm

Blogger SKG said...

thank you redsman for the article and to alex for an excellent, honest appraisal of the Arsenal/Liverpool trilogy.

I think Arsene Wenger summed it up when he said that it was a mixture of poor refereeing decisions and immaturity and lack of experience on the part of his players who made "big mistakes".

Arsenal were the better footballing team but Liverpool's experience (and home support) saw them through.

4/09/2008 6:32 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Games do not always fall on who is the better side, its core element relies on who scores the most. A lot of people consider the best team on paper should win. A lot consider the best team on the day or night should win, for the impression is the win accommodates they who play the best.

A lot has been made of the Hleb penalty denial and the Babel one given, and it's as if they do not see the woods for the trees. One moment in football does not, despite the contrary perception, detail a whole match. The exception to this is Mascherano's dismissal at OT, which severely hampered Liverpool's focus. However, if a decision is not given for whatever reason, there is or was time before and after it where a team's football should improve to score goals.

For example, the contentious goal by Garcia in 2005 with Chelsea. It occurred so early in the game that Chelsea still had 90mins+ to forged an equaliser, and that was so significant because just the one goal would have put Chelsea through to the final, just one. But they couldnt score and then they as well as the media feasted on that one moment as the pinnacle of their exit.

I am still surprised the Hleb decision wasn't given. I do feel that the referee, with such a spot-on position and his posture in scrutinising the moment as it happened, must have felt as Alex mentioned above that Hleb made more of the contact than there was naturally. That is quite a pivotal conclusion from the referee and a setting of standards. Players should learn that contact in the box is not an automatic requirement for a penalty, and neither is going down. The element of trying to fool the referee should be erased to keep decisions as rigidly fair as possible.

This could explain also why Fabregas did not get the decision in the league game on Saturday, with Leiva making contact. Sky Sports were making a point that it was a penalty by merely making out Leiva made contact and Leiva's body had blocked Phil Dowd's view. But the linesman would have a view and he didnt give a indication. Moreover, the contact for me was slight and Fabregas simply went down to get the decision. It is possible that the referee from the first leg and Mr Dowd formed the same opinion why those two decisions didnt go Arsenal's way.

As for Babel's penalty, football has incorporated a covenant for such circumstances. Something definitely impeded Babel's run and with Toure coming across as he did, he collected the blame. Toure came across just as Babel entered the box and it appeared, despite showing no hands to all, that the referee gave the decision for Toure using his body to make contact instead to impeded Babel. He also felt such contact was deliberate why he booked Toure.

The thing is the referee may have seen Fabregas' pull yet played advantage and if Toure hadn't come across as he did and Babel went down, the decision could have then been given outside the box, and not a penalty. Alternatively, Toure could have tracked Babel and relied on Gallas to stall Babel, allowing Toure to take up a different defensive position. This is easy to detail with hindsight and not at the time where you are five-six minutes from the semi-finals and immediately under threat after scoring.

A lot is made of just one moment in a game but that one moment is surrounded by time where players coudl still make a difference, and if they don't they have themselves to blame and not the officials. Case in point against Liverpool in the 2007 final. We could have made more of our football and yet fell to a bad deflection. We could have equalised but we didnt and AC got a crucial second. We scored late and it was too late. Some LFC fans laid blame on Rafa for taking off Mascherano who marshalled Kaka, and there after Kaka delivered the pass for Inzaghi's goal. But that was very immaterial, Liverpool had chances to score before that and didn't. Blame goes towards the players if blame needs to be adjudged.

The league game at Anfield against Chelsea and the infamous Rob Styles penalty decision. We were incensed he could make such a decision, yet nonetheless we still had time prior to that to score and we didn't, so it ended 1-1. The referee didnt drop 2 points for us, the players did.

With Tuesday night, Liverpool responded to the Diaby goal instead of huffing and puffing and not getting anywhere, they responded in the second half through Torres and they responded after Adebayor's goal almost immediately. Playing against Arsenal, those moments were crucial for us.


4/10/2008 7:02 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought it was brill for Arsenal to be brought down to earth. Who said this

“Liverpool have the same kind of support, but Everton are a bit more aggressive because they are up at the moment....Over the last one or two years, it has been one of the noisiest grounds and has a great atmosphere. Liverpool is the same, but now a little bit more genteel.”

Not so much gentle now is it, Wengie!! What about this before Tuesday

"We have belief we can win everywhere in the world...There is a little comfort when the game starts when you are at home, but in Europe that doesn't matter very much. They have the support, but it's down to us to keep the crowd quiet. It is difficult here because they're a little bit louder than anywhere else, and they have had a bit more stamina than anywhere else - but we will try."

Ooh, Wengie, getting worried now you opened your trap earlier!! LMFAO!! Thought you were all that because of the San Siro, you can win anywhere but you didnt Tuesday night!! Hahahahahahaha!! Frying pan to friar come Sunday, get your plates ready I hear Gooner pork sizzling!!

4/10/2008 9:08 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got this from a forum and wanted to ask the same question to arsenal fans

"I've long thought that Wenger has steered away from spending big money because it gives him a safety net. He fails to deliver, and its okay because he nurtures young talent and keeps the club in a great financial position. The fans are given a glimpse of a future that may, or may not, ever materialise, so they stay positive. He has engineered for himself a unique reputation as a manager, and it provides him more slack than any other manager receives.

This isn't a thread designed to attack Wenger. He is clearly an excellent manager, and has his own way of doing things that on occasion work spectacularly. I'm just wondering how many of his actions are designed to keep this reputation intact, and whether they are detrimental to the club.

No trophies for three seasons, no league title in four, no CL win at all. He is the manager of a very big club that aren't winning any trophies, yet is seemingly under no pressure from his club, or from the fans.

Why is this? Even Ferguson finds himself firmly in the firing line during Uniteds barren patches.

Gooners on here - how far does your patience stretch? What are your thoughts on the situation? Are you still 100% happy with him?"

4/10/2008 1:05 pm

Anonymous Striker said...

In a game were winning is everything & lossing is nothing, you have to add that a loss of this proportion causes total memory loss for te losing team & its supporters of the past good times.

It´s 90min, that is all, where factors as varied as crowd support, the wind conditions, the moral state of players, referee decisions, the post, the bar, the grass, the pressure, the nerves, the time left, the last hard tackle, a yellow card, a red card, a substitute change... all play their part.

We all know this beforehand, we all accept it as possible influencing elements, & I am sure we all wish nothing will change, because it is the essence of the game of football, they are the building blocks of the passion & its for some people their way of life.

Liverpool won because they did the right things at the right time. Arsenal lost because they did not do what was needed when it was needed.

Thats football!


4/12/2008 4:51 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Yes, that is a good point. So much furore yet what about the time before and/or after? Blame is proportioned elsewhere other than the players. The referee is mostly the scapegoat, in some cases its because of the home crowd, the linesmen, the opposition manager. Otherwise, Striker, I cannot sum up further from your point.


4/12/2008 11:04 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

WTF is going on with our season? We lost it when we should have had it, the league, the cups, the champs league what the fucks going? Can someone tell me cos its fucking me off. We could have had the manc scumbags but Adebayor coulndt score and then when we do we give it away from a penalty and free kick.

Where this Wenger masterplan you speak of? Self-destruct, did it? Bollocks

4/14/2008 2:08 pm


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