When Liverpool played Spurs in April, the Reds were awarded a penalty. That game followed their second-leg Champions League quarter final against Juventus, which saw them through to the Champions League semi-finals, where they would beat Chelsea en route to Istanbul and winning the competition. The patter of Liverpool being unable to win after playing in Europe in midweek continued that day – the Anfield fixture ended 2-2 and included a missed penalty from Steven Gerrard.
When Liverpool get a penalty these days there’s mixed feelings as the fans wait to see who will step up to take it. Djibril Cisse seems to be the first choice taker these days, but he was already off the field by the time yesterday’s was awarded. Xabi Alonso scored in Istanbul, but it was from the rebound after his penalty was well-saved. Perhaps his confidence has gone and in the end it was a surprise to see Gerrard step up for the nerve-wracking task.
In April, after he’d seen his penalty saved Gerrard said never again: “I should have scored the penalty and I apologise to the the fans and players. I should have won the game for Liverpool. That’s the end of me now on penalties.” Gerrard has changed his mind on other issues in recent months – something or other happened in the summer, what it was escapes us just now. Certainly Villa keeper Sorenson was looking useful in goal, making important saves, so it took a lot of courage for Gerrard to put the ball on that slot. In the end it was a well-taken penalty and Gerrard looked relieved.
One player who did not look likely to try and take the penalty was Peter Crouch, but he deserves the credit for winning it. Ridgewell and Crouch were tangling in the box, and whether or not it was a penalty was open to argument, certainly in the eyes of under-pressure David O’Leary. He and Ridgewell claimed after the game that these types of incident happen all of the time and a foul is never awarded. Crouch said he was stopped from getting up to head the ball, and so it was a penalty. Crouch’s role in getting the penalty wasn’t just the fact he was in the box waiting to get up for Zenden’s cross. He had kept possession for Liverpool 40 yards out when surrounded by numerous Villa players, found a team-mate and then darted into the box. By the time he got there Zenden was ready to cross the ball over to him and that’s when the penalty was awarded.
Alonso’s goal came after Crouch had seen the ball kicked off his toe in front of goal, an excellent block from the Villa defender. Villa were unlucky that the ball fell to Alonso, who is unlikely to miss when given a clear sight of goal like that.
Crouch is going to continue to hear about his “duck” for Liverpool, but he can take heart from the impact of his twenty-minute appearance. He’ll get that first goal soon, and when his goalscoring matches is all-round contribution to the team and his attitude, Rafa’s reasons for signing him will become clear to those in doubt. Those in doubt though, or those wishing to stir things up, are still asking questions, but Rafa says he still happy with Crouch: “People keep asking me about Peter’s failure to score but I say many times that if he plays well and we win, it is enough. He has done a very good job for us and definitely gives us more options and alternatives in attack. Of course, he will be more confident if he scores but if he plays as well as he did against Villa I will be happy.”
Liverpool have now won three games in a row and have finally shaken off that statistic of not winning after playing in Europe. Unfortunately for Liverpool though is the arrival of another international break. World Cup play-offs start next weekend, and many Liverpool stars will be away from Melwood either on duty in those play-offs or involved in friendlies. Rafa will be hoping they come back without injuries and ready to continue from where they left off at Villa yesterday.