CL Qual: Standard Liege 0 Liverpool 0

Liverpool’s 2008-2009 campaign got underway with a match that players, staff and fans would rather forget. Belgian champions Standard Liege came out fighting in the first leg of this Champions League qualifier, determined to ensure Liverpool didn’t get an easy passage to the group stages. With the game ending 0-0, Liverpool know there’s a risk of embarrassment in the return in two weeks’ time.

Pepe Reina was man-of-the-match; saving a penalty and clawing a ball back from either off or over the line, depending on your point of view. Replays weren’t too conclusive, but without Reina in goal perhaps there’d be no need to look at replays to decide if it had crossed the line or not. The point of view that mattered on the night was that of the referee and his officials, and the ‘goal’ was ruled out.

The official’s point of view again differed from that of some watching the game when it came to the penalty incident. There was no disagreement that new signing Andrea Dossena had handled the ball on his competitive debut, but not everyone agreed it had happened inside the area. Again though the referee’s decision was final, and so Pepe Reina faced a penalty. Dante Bonfim was handed the duty and the chance to put Liege in front, but to beat Pepe Reina from the spot it needs to be a good kick, and this wasn’t.

Liverpool’s starting line-up wasn’t the one Rafa Benitez would have liked to have chosen, with Lucas, Javier Mascherano and Ryan Babel all out of contention, on international duty in Beijing for the Olympics. Steven Gerrard was on the bench due to injury, the idea being that he’d stay there unless absolutely necessary. His arrival on 67 minutes shows that Liege had Rafa worried. Had Rafa’s transfer plans gone as he’d have liked, Gareth Barry would no doubt have been in the starting line-up, and Xabi Alonso would have been training with another team’s squad. Instead the one-time England captain was with Aston Villa, and the Spaniard started in the green away kit of Liverpool alongside the youngster Plessis. Whether Barry would have been used centrally or on the left is something that can only be speculated over, but along with Babel’s Olympic absence and Fabio Aurelio’s injury, Rafa is lacking choices on the left.

Up front it would be difficult for Rafa to complain about his choices – his decision to start with over £40m worth of talent for his front two shows how much respect he had for the Belgians. It was Keane who made way for Gerrard mid-way through the second half. Jamie Carragher captained the side, starting alongside Daniel Agger who made his first competitive appearance since suffering a metatarsal injury early last season. Sami Hyypia was on the bench; Martin Skrtel was still in the treatment room.

Rafa knows that this side should have performed better, and should have returned to Anfield with the job half-done. After the game he was trying to look for the plusses, whilst acknowledging the shortcomings: “We were not playing well. The only positive thing you can take is that we didn’t concede a goal. We know we have to win at Anfield and have confidence we can. We will have had more games and more players. There were a lot of things that we were not doing well and everyone is upset that it was a bad performance.”

He admits that the two first-half incidents could have seen Liverpool go behind: “I think we were lucky not to concede. You never know what is going to happen when a game gets underway but clearly we didn’t play well. The performance was poor but the result was good. We didn’t concede away from home which is always important and to play the second-leg at Anfield could make a massive difference.”

There wasn’t a great deal the boss needed to tell his players after the match: “We didn’t have to say too much about the display in the dressing room because everybody already knew it wasn’t good. I was a little bit surprised because we were playing well in pre-season with a lot of confidence, but this game was different, it was difficult and I think the entire team didn’t play well. The strikers, midfielders and defenders didn’t play well and Pepe Reina was man of the match.”

Liege seemed to have worked out how Liverpool can struggle against the more physical sides, and their tactics worked: “They were very aggressive and we could not keep the ball. Our passes were bad and we always lost the first and second ball. In the first 20 minutes they were on top of us and after that we controlled it a bit more. In the second-half they started the same way and played more long balls and continued to win the first and second balls and if you don’t win them you will continue to be under pressure.”

Liverpool’s hopes of challenging for the league will be nothing more than hopes if they can’t deal with the sides that play the less-pretty version of the game. And they knew before the game kicked off that Liege were that type of opposition: “I told the players before, after watching their Super Cup game against Anderlecht, that it could be like this. We knew they could be very aggressive. They were organised and pressed well and it was difficult for us to keep the ball.”

The dispute over whether or not Rafa has been given enough money to spend is one that will play out all through the season – certainly whenever Liverpool struggle – and he hinted again that he wants more players in his squad: “We have a lot of players away or injured and the competition for the places needs to improve. Gerrard couldn’t start and he is a player who can change a game and if you have two or three players of this level on the pitch it is different. We were talking with the doctor before the match and we knew he couldn’t start and we were thinking maybe we could use him and in the end we did need him.”

He did admit that the competition for places will improve soon with the return of players from injury and international duty: “Fabio Aurelio and Skrtel have been training and when they are available we will have more options. Argentina play Holland in the Olympics too, so one player will return earlier. If you have more players competing for places it is better for the team.”

His opposite number, Standard Liege’s coach Laszlo Boloni, was of course delighted with the way the game turned out, other than a touch of disappointment about the disallowed goal: “Liverpool maybe came here asleep and not expecting this sort of game. Maybe, though, we have woken them up for the second leg, which will be much harder for us. We felt that if we did not lose this first leg, we would still be in with a chance. We know, though, that we still have to score and that could be the problem. But I want to praise my team. They attacked Liverpool from the start and when their goalkeeper pulled the ball back from behind the line, maybe the referee was asleep too.”

Standard Liege:
Aragon, Dante, Dalmat, Defour, Mbokani, De Camargo, Mikulic (Nicaise, 90), Camozzato, Sarr, Fellaini, Witsel.
Unused subs: Devriendt, Goreux, Toama, Benko, Ingrao, Dembele.
Booked: Camozzato, Mikulic.

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Dossena, Carragher, Agger, Alonso, Plessis, Benayoun, Kuyt (El Zhar, 83), Keane (Gerrard, 67), Torres.
Unused subs: Cavalieri, Hyypia, Voronin, Pennant, Insua.
Booked: Alonso.

Attendance: 25,000

Referee: Tom Ovrebo (Norway).

7 thoughts on “CL Qual: Standard Liege 0 Liverpool 0”

  1. I thought we were poor. but i also think that we shouldn’t worry….
    I’m still going to log onto VC bet to lay some money on us for this season….

  2. Same old complacent Liverpool. Went thinking it would be an easy game and when put under pressure it all went wrong. No plan B at all to fall back on as usual.

    A poor display that could see us out in a fortnight.

    Who to blame…

    The owners will no doubt be in for it again in relation to funding etc, but Rafa picks that team and he is the one who is supposed to be motavating those 11 men in red.

    Its just not happening again. I’ll hold back the anger til Saturday night, hoping three points and a decent display will come our way.

    We could at least look like we want to win. Thats whats so frustrating. Theres just no urgency in anybody. Poor, poor show Liverpool.

    And for gods sake lets get a true winger in the side or at least a left sided player with some ability.

  3. Worst performance from a Liverpool side in a long time.

    With the exception of Reina there wasn’t any bit of an encouraging performance outfield.

    We are known for our slow starts to the season and hopefully this is all that this game was , a slow start but I already fear for the season ahead especially our first game at the Stadium of light.

    I am a firm backer of Benitez and I don’t think he can consistently challenge United and Chelsea for the premiership without the proper financial backing. BUT I do blame Rafa for nights like last night, Liege are not a Man United or Chelsea and we should be taking teams like them apart.

    Sometimes I question the effectiveness of our pre season training programme because sub standard early season performances are very much a reoccurring problem for a number of years now. People point to rustiness but is that not exactly one of things pre season is aiming to prevent.

    This year is massive for Rafa. The lack of backing from the two f*cking idiotic owners aside Rafa has to be held accountable for any lack of title challenge. This is Rafas fourth season in charge and yet the squad is still lacking fundamental creativity on both the left and right side of midfield. People may point to Babels absence but if Dirk Kuyt is considered the right sided creative spark that will help fire us to glory above united and chelsea well then on last nights performance I am starting to wonder if this season will be Benitez’s last.

  4. This site 12.07.08 “The only reason Rafa is still with us is because he and his family love the club and the city but his personal ambition will eventually overide this.”

    Now this
    And this
    Connected to Liverpool’s poor performance in Belgium on Wednesday ?? Make your own mind up
    Can’t get any worse ?? You ain’t seen nothing yet
    We’re in a mess

  5. Well, the season hasn’t even kicked off yet and the club is seen to be divided. You win nothing when so!

    Yesteday wasn’t Rafa’s finest hour BUT it at least sends a clear signal to all who like a bit of openess that all is still not well at the Club.

    Rafa’s a good man. Has the best interests of the club at heart, I’m sure. But you cannot say transfer dealings are to be dealt with by the CEO and when everything goes wrong says ‘It’s the CEO’s fault’ – without expecting the world to know that your saying the CEO’s not good at his job. Timing is everything. The day before the season starts, after a poor performance in the week, is not the day to start the troubles again.

    It’s tell us though that Liverpool is still a political hot-bed. The Parry-Gillet axis versus Hicks with Rafa feeling the brunt. Since when did a club put out a press release about another clubs player to say the price is too high. Worst still to say that the owners have supported the manager, when it appears the money spent has been brought about by his own sales and the progress of the team. Snoogy Doogy, this high-profile costly player they promised, seems a long way away now.

    Portsmouth this week made the most honest announcement – the credit crunch is affecting its ability to spend. Why can’t our lot come out and say that – rather than send mixed messages to the manager and supporters – ‘The money’s there but not for Barry!’ You can’t tell me that they did not know the Barry figure from the off. Why wait 3/4 months. Either they are real amateurs or Parry is the worlds worst negotiator.

    The only relief we might get is if the result today is a win. If not, then once again we go into a campaign in disarray!

    To think, only yesterday I was looking back at Newspaper articles in April 2007 when the Americans talked about Rafa having £40m to spend last summer – those heady, now mythical, days are long gone.

  6. We’re very lucky that Real Madrid are not in turmoil….because with all this nonsense at our beloved club i’m sure that Rafa would have finally said ‘enough is enough’. We were desperately poor on wednesday night and in fact it was quite possibly the worse performance i have ever seen aka tepid.

    People talk of manure and chelski winning the league because of their strength in depth and yet what have we had to do during the summer? Sell OUR strength in depth with Riise, Crouch etc all leaving. Absolutely essential is to get a left winger…to play when Babel tires. Gerrard will have to sacrifice himself somewhat by doing the right wing job and then we might look like getting it right.

    We’re being lied too left right and centre by the yanks…and understandably the dubai lot sit and wait for the engineered ‘credit crunch’ (aka grab everyone’s savings and become dependent on govt handouts) to get worse and buy up at a reasonable price.

    Meanwhile we suffer.

  7. Barry is Europe tied til Feb so does that bring his price down? Nope…
    So wenger bids 10 mil for alonso…
    but it turns out that we would have to give 4.75 of that to Real Sociedad as a sell on clause!
    So what is the point of selling Alonso in the first place unless we can get at least 16 mil for him!
    Alonso and Mascherano in the centre, gerrard on the right and babel on the left!
    Enough of this Barry/Alonso stuff now. It’s gone beyond the realms of Pathetic now.

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