Liverpool went into tonight’s game with a 3-1 lead from the first leg
at Anfield. The emphasis before the game was on that one Leverkusen
away goal, which came from a fluffed Jerzy Dudek save right at the end
of that first leg.
The first goal was always going to be important. An early goal for
Leverkusen would have ensured a difficult night for Liverpool – the
scored would then have been 3-2 on aggregate, but thanks to that
infamous away goal, only one more would be needed by Leverkusen.
For twenty-five minutes Liverpool played comfortably. The main chance
in that first part of the game came when Milan Baros was brought down
in the area, right in front of the linesman. Replays clearly showed it
should have been a penalty. It wasn’t though, and Leverkusen did look
like they had the potential to keep Liverpool at bay and to get that
first goal themselves.
Then along came Luis Garcia. The Spaniard has shown a lot of promise
for Liverpool this season, but has often seemed to be struggling with
life in the Premiership. He’s more comfortable on the European stage
though, and scored two goals in 4 minutes, leaving Leverkusen with an
unsurmountable task to get back into the tie.
Both the Garcia goals came from pressure Liverpool put on from
set-pieces. For the first goal on 27 minutes, Steven Gerrard collected
a ball that had been cleared from a corner to put Garcia through. For
the second a Gerrard corner after 31 minutes was headed down by Biscan
and Garcia’s simple touch wrong-footed the goalkeeper and in it went.
Garcia almost got his hat-trick towards the end of the first half but
was denied by an excellent save.
Overall Liverpool took more and more control as the game went on, with
Dudek rarely troubled. The second half goal from Milan Baros was as
much as he deserved for tireless work as a lone-striker. Baros has been
complaining in the press recently, saying he’ll leave if he doesn’t get
more games. The previous Liverpool manager might have taken that as a
cue never to play him again, but Benitez stuck with him, partly due to
Morientes being both cup-tied and injured, and tonight Benitez was paid
back. Excellent, confident passing from Liverpool, and once again Mr
Gerrard was involved.
Liverpool felt sufficiently confident in the game to bring off Didi
Hamman and Jamie Carragher with still a fair amount of time remaining,
and in the end it would have taken six goals for Leverkusen to save
their place. As it was Liverpool did concede, but by then they’d pretty
much taken their foot off the pedal.
The sound system at the German stadium rang out to the sound of "You’ll
Never Walk Alone" at the end of the game. An excellent gesture by the
Germans, and recognition of an excellent performance.
Benitez was "very proud" of his team tonight, and had every right to be
so. He’d joined the Liverpool fans in Germany last night for a couple
of drinks. He’s returning to England tonight, but he’ll probably be
having a small tipple on the plane.
Steven Gerrard told Sky Sports that tonight’s performance was the best away from home by Liverpool for some time.
The draw for the next round takes place on the 18th of March, and we
now know that Michael Owen won’t be making a playing return to Anfield
this season. Real Madrid, 1-0 up from the first leg, were beaten 1-0
over the 90 minutes, leading to extra time, where Juventus scored
again, leaving Real to join Barcelona in exiting the competition before
the quarter finals. Also leaving the competition tonight were Arsenal,
who won 1-0 but were beaten 3-2 on aggregate. In tonight’s other match
PSV knocked Monaco out.
Liverpool proved tonight just how good they can be. The key now is to
continue this form in the league to close the gap on Everton for that
final Champions League place. Or can they win the Champions League this
season? Jamie Carragher thinks they can.