Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Crouch brace saves Liverpool

Oh what a goal, and what a game. More on the sensational goal, but aside from the first fifteen minutes, where Liverpool went up two goals to none, this matchup of Galatasary and Liverpool at Anfield was a real open end-to-end affair.

In press conferences leading up to Gala’s visit to Merseyside, coach Erik Gerets expressed his delight in watching his team in action on what he called the "holy ground" of Anfield. While the Belgian claimed he’d be content with a draw, he stressed: "If we have the feeling that we have a little bit of a chance to win this game, we will do everything that we can." Perhaps a draw may have been a bit pessimistic for Gerets, but he probably didn’t see his side being two down within fifteen minutes.

Liverpool began their quest for goals in the competition quickly, attacking Gala from the start. Peter Crouch side-footed in a pinpoint cross from Fabio Aurelio, strikingly similar to Emanuel Eboue’s new penchant for finding Theirry Henry’s head with perfect balls in. With the Turkish side a bit sloppy in defense, Liverpool took advantage of this, and Luis Garcia put the Reds two goals up with a textbook header. The Jermaine Pennant did well to keep the ball in at the end line, and looped a ball back out and over the Gala defense, where Luis Garcia was waiting, unmarked.

The Turkish leaders were seemingly on the back foot the entire first half, but were able to create a few chances in front of Liverpool’s goal. Cihan broke out on the right when he caught Luis Garcia napping and snuck in behind him, where he collected a cross and unleashed a shot at Reina from a tight angle, but the keeper deflected it with his legs. Another dangerous cross skipped in front of Pepe Reina, moments later, and Gala’s star striker Sukur, couldn’t get a boot onto it.

Gala walked into halftime with nearly 50% of possession, but they did little with the ball when they had it, and Liverpool’s 10 shots to Gala’s 3 pretty much summed up the first half. Gala began the half with two offensive substitutions, Hasan Sas in for Topal and Umit Karan in for Cihan. Gerets’ choices paid dividends, but not before Crouch added one more for his brace.

And that incredible goal, coming in the 52nd minute from Crouch. The lanky forward tossed his hat in the ring for best Liverpool goal of the season with his second CL goal and second of the game. Finnan whiped a nice ball in to the Gala box, where Crouch, with back to goal, overhead kicked it into the far post. An unstoppable strike for the England international, his 10th in 11 games.

Gala’s first chance of the second half came in the 53rd, on a free kick in front of Liverpool’s box. Sabri hit the post with a shot whipped over the wall and down from 20 yards, and then Hakan Sukur's follow up was blocked by Reina. Steven Gerrard was unlucky to miss as Kuyt’s strike from the left hit the far post, and the Liverpool skipper wasn’t able to put the rebound away, his shot deflecting off of the keeper’s shin.

In the 54th, Umit Karan did what he came on for, taking a nice ball in from Arda on the left, and found himself between two defenders, slotting it home with his head for his 5th CL career goal. The pace picked up and the game fell into a wonderfully open game, with both teams trading possession and an ample amount of counter-attacking.

It became a game just ten minutes later, when a lovely cross from Sabri on the right to find Umit Karan splitting the defenders again to powerfully head the ball home. From there, Liverpool struggled to hold the ball and take time off the clock, still allowing Gala to whip those dangerous crosses into the Liverpool box. Hakan Sukur missed a sitter in the 93rd minute when Hasan Sas sent a floater behind the Liverpool defense, only to chip it indecisively wide.

You really got a sense that Galatasary did well to make this a match, and were it not for defensive lapses early in the game, the Turkish side pulled two back with stunning balls in, and give Liverpool a challenge. Gala had numerous chances to equalize, moving the ball well on counter-attack through the midfield, and Liverpool never really controlled the tempo with possession, save for a minute or so at a time. Gerets will likely face more criticism from the Turkish press over his attacking side, but it were his substitutions that gave them a chance, despite a shaky defense.

But will Rafa face any knocks for his tactics? Already criticized for his rotational policy, playing Gerrard out of position, his team failed to really close down the game, and Gala's attacks from the right consistently harassed the Liverpool defense. You can be sure we'll hear about the need for Sissoko in midfield to bolster the back line, as Gerrard wasn't able to do so. In the end, much needed goals for Rafa's men, and a heartbreaker for Galatasary.

Reds fired by Crouch double []


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