Gerrard gifts glory to Reds with last gasp penalty
The question on many Liverpool fans’ lips after 90 minutes against Aston Villa, and then the first 80 minutes against Ludogorets Razgrad, was, ‘when is Brendan Rodgers going to bring on Luis Suarez’?
It was a night where all the build-up failed to live up to the billing. Champions League football had returned to Anfield after the club endured a five-year absence from the competition. Following their narrow 2-1 win against their Bulgarian opponents, they are 28/1 outsiders to win one of Europe’s most coveted trophies.
There have been some special European nights in the red half of Liverpool in the past, though this personified the word anti-climax. Steven Gerrard, who has saved the team so many times before in the Champions League, struck a last-minute penalty in front of the Kop.
The response from fans wasn’t quite as emphatic as the one Gerrard’s volley against Olympiakos sparked 10 years ago, to secure Liverpool’s qualification into the last 16; however, it did placate fans’ frustration after an exasperating performance.
While Liverpool had plenty of endeavour, they just didn’t seem to click in attack. What supporters will start to notice is, for all of his faults, Suarez was a special player in a similar vein to Lionel Messi. He made things happen, and was above all instinctive.
Mario Balotelli endured an infuriating game, being marked closely, though his lack of movement and industry was almost destabilising for the home side. Philippe Coutinho’s touch was poor, and Adam Lallana was only half-fit. Only Raheem Sterling represented a player who could eventually replace the threat Suarez gave the Reds. To give credit to their new Italian striker, Balotelli kept his cool, and carried on knocking at the door.
Eventually, with the match entering the last 10 minutes, Alberto Moreno, who was perhaps Liverpool’s best player broke forward and delivered. Using his strength Balotelli brought the ball down and converted at the second attempt.
There followed perhaps the kind of naivety that you may associate with a team that had an average age of just over 24. Pushing forward for a second, rather than protecting their lead, the Reds were caught on the counter-attack.
Dejan Lovren failed to pick up Dani Abalo’s run, as Younese Hamza sent through a perfectly weighted pass and then Simon Mignolet was caught in no man’s land, as the Ludogorets substitute scored.
It looked like game over, however, as seconds later right back Javi Manquillo rushed forward and was brought down in the area by Milan Borjan. Needless to say, it was left to Gerrard to save the day once again. The final assessment of Brendan Rodgers’ Champions League bow; must do better.