1. When The Going Get’s Tough…
…the tough get going. That’s how the song goes at least. But Liverpool fans could be forgiven for thinking that line should be rewritten to “when the going get’s tough, Steven Gerrard goes missing.” It’s quite alarming how a midfielder of Gerrard’s undoubted quality who has had his way with football for years can continue to play so poorly in a whole-heartedly unremarkable season. He made a good start tonight, as did Liverpool as a whole. In seasons gone by, this would usually be an indicator of Gerrard carrying Liverpool, but this season (and the first 10 minutes tonight) the roles have been reversed. As soon as Benfica started to exert serious pressure on Liverpool, the skipper pulled yet another disappearing act. Gerrard claimed a few days ago that he could improve when he wanted to – Liverpool fans are waiting Stevie.
2. Stupidity Rules
For all their dominance and attacking craft, Benfica never looked like scoring from open play. Had it not been for two moments of stupidity from Insua and – to a lesser extent – Carragher, Liverpool would be returning to Anfield with not just an away goal, but a clean sheet as well. Pepe Reina can be hero for Liverpool weekly, but rash decisions from those in front of him restrict his ability to be that hero. Benitez will be furious with the manner of the defeat because of the soft goals, and so he should be.
3. Stupidity Rules…errr…again…
Ryan Babel will be lucky if he plays for Liverpool again. With question marks over his future at the club already, pushing an opposing player in the face right in front of the referee is lunacy. Doing it twice is beyond that. Sure, there was nothing in it, but referees on the continent love to give red cards for this sort of stuff. Albert Riera may not be alone in leaving Anfield this summer, as Benitez must surely be losing patience with Babel.
Despite getting the two penalty decisions correct, Jonas Eriksson had an awful night. Sure, Babel was stupid in doing what he did and there’s no excuse for what he did, but relatively early in the game you’re looking for the referee to exert some sort of common sense. A booking for Babel and a strong word in his ear from the likes of Carragher and Mascherano would have been the kick up the arse he needed. Torres’ disallowed goal was borderline, while Benfica escaped two clear bookings for shockingly high boots. Luiz should have seen red on a number of occasions considering he was already on a yellow card. Fernando Torres will be hurting come tomorrow morning for all the kicks he was on the end of.
5. Angelic Stuff
Angel Di Maria did his growing reputation as one of football’s hottest properties no harm with a very impressive performance. He caused problems for the Liverpool backline all night, and was generally at the centre of everything Benfica did going forward. It’s refreshing to see one of these wonderkids with all the tricks and technique being able to strike a ball properly – his crossing and deliveries tonight were spot on. If Benfica can hold onto this kid until after the World Cup, they’ll make a pretty penny.
6. The Cauldron Boiling Over
Having witnessed Man Utd get knocked out of the Champions League at Benfica years ago, I knew this was never going to be an easy night for Liverpool, regardless of both teams’ form. Estádio da Luz must be one of the most intimidating arenas in Europe, and Benfica’s squad is not the only aspect of the club heavily influenced by South America. The crowd were fierce tonight, and Liverpool were thrown by it as United were all those years ago. But UEFA must surely take action on the select few fools who took things too far by throwing objects onto the pitch.
7. What’s Left?
A new left back must be high on the list of priorities for Rafael Benitez this summer. Insua, while still young, has so far failed to deliver on the potential he had promised at Liverpool, and tonight was another example of that. He was the worst player on the pitch, and gave away a silly penalty for a reckless tackle on Pablo Aimar. Fabio Aurelio was once again missing through injury – something Liverpool fans are sadly used to at this stage.
8. Onwards and Upwards
However disappointing Liverpool’s performance was tonight, they can be optimistic for the return leg. Benfica didn’t show me enough to prove they can go to Anfield and progress. Like I said, they never looked like scoring from open play, and the Anfield atmosphere will give Liverpool the same lift that Benfica had from their own fans tonight. 2-1 away from home with 10 men against an in form Benfica side is not the worst result in the world. I think Liverpool will take this back at Anfield.