Lucas Leiva proves critics wrong and shrugs off his scapegoat status...
Liverpool can boast semi final status after successfully knocking out Portuguese rivals Benfica last night with a scoreline reading 4-1 to the home team. Although there were some nervy moments when Benfica's Cardozo got one back, the lads worked hard and it was a superb and well deserved result come 90minutes.
After all the questions about how the back four would be set up, Benitez fielded Agger in the left back position with Carra, Soto and Johnson making up the the rest of the defence. With Reina in goal and Torres up front it was Gerrard, Masch, Lucas, Kuyt and Benayoun that completed the starting XI.
For the first twenty minutes or so it was quite a scrappy affair for Liverpool. With the added input of Benfica bashing players like Torres around, the fouls and stop-start feel to the game was becoming frustrating.
Frustration was nearly a continued theme after the revelations of the first Liverpool goal.
When Steven Gerrard sent an in swinging corner into the box, Dirk Kuyt was there to head the ball home. 2 seconds into his celebration though he saw his goal chalked off as the linesman held his flag in the air. To the fans, manager and players dismay, appeals began immediately and rightly so.
The reason why the linesman flagged is still a mystery, most thought it was because he was claiming there was a foul, others that Kuyt was offside but you can't be offside from a corner when nobody else has got a touch. Totally baffling.
After a nervous few moments or so, the referee overruled the linesman's decision and the first of Liverpool's goals was put back onto the Anfield scoreboard.
They are trialing two extra officials on the pitch in this competition and STILL they cannot get it right, its just lucky that we had a decent referee this time out who made the right decision.
Our second goal came just 6minutes later, not even mystic Meg could have predicted this one though!
When Steven Gerrard makes a superb outstretched through ball pass to the feet of the already forward pushing red shirt, the camera angle for those who unfortunately had to watch on television, like myself, was still zoomed out.
Without my glasses, and with the pubs television sound down very low (its a pretty crap local lol) all i could make out was pace, blonde hair and an absolute sweet finish. As i was celebrating, i was still in belief that i had just seen another fantastic goal from the man we call El Nino.
Only when the camera zoomed in to show Lucas Leiva running away celebrating did it become clear that it was the Brazilian who had crafted such an excellent goal. I was ecstatic for him! Could not believe my eyes, i was convinced from the other angle that it was Fernando Torres, and to me, that simply proves how good the goal was.
Lucas had the confidence and the composure to take it past the keeper and then still managing to remain calm, dinked the ball home in sheer Torres style.
I hate to make comparisons because Lucas is his own player and nothing should be taken away from his performance last night, but comparing his goal to Torres for me just allows us to understand how much credit he actually deserves.
The lad has taken a lot of stick from some of the fan base, not to mention the media, yet he has continued to do as is asked, keep his head down and work hard. Absolutely delighted for him.
Liverpool managed to keep a clean sheet for the remainder of the first half and we were already two nil up going into the second. This was no time to feel settled though, as we all saw in the Manchester United V Bayern Munich game, anything could happen. Just a good job Benfica don't have Arjen Robben ain't it? Haha.
Liverpool's third goal was the best display of team effort and counter attack that i have seen from the lads in ages. From an initial Benfica corner it was Mascherano, Benayoun, Kuyt and finally Torres who were involved.
When Masch makes a great long pass to Yossi Benayoun who is already pushing forward, he collects the ball and continues his run up field. Despite now many of the Benfica players getting back and pressuring Yossi, he spots Kuyt on the wing, with another great pass, Dirk Kuyt just about manages to get there, completely out stretched he manages to get in an excellent cross, Fernando Torres meets the ball with ease and from close range makes it 3 nil for Liverpool.
Dirk Kuyt and Lucas Leiva as many people rightly pointed out are often unsung heroes in our squad but no matter how much they frustrate you on their off days, when they bring their game, they are a vital link in our team. Absolutely fantastic performance form both players.
Liverpool weren't set to have it all their own way though. When Cardozo, Benfica's top goalscorer lined up for a free kick just outside the box, most fans like myself were on tenterhooks.
Cardozo converted the free kick which flew low and straight through the wall. Reina could not do much in attempt to prevent the ball from going into the back of the net and suddenly Benfica, just as Bayern Munich did the night before had a lease of life.
At this point it was as if all our hard work had been undone, if Benfica had scored just one more goal, we would have been out of the competition.
Nobody wanted that though, especially not the eleven players on the pitch who had put in so much graft. To go 3 up and throw it away would be devastating.
As the clock pushed closer to that famous 80-90minutes mark, the visions of conceding were becoming more prominent. After all the horrors of late goals in the Champions League, particularly the recent one against Lyon. It was hard not to think of the worst.
All of this was soon forgotten though when none other than Fernando Torres got himself a second in the atmospheric quarter final.
As soon as he collected the ball you just knew that him versus the keeper was only going to result in one outcome.
After calmly lifting the ball over the Benfica stopper and watching it slowly find its way into goal, Torres celebrated and it was almost certain that Liverpool would now be in the semi finals of the Europa League.
The dying minutes saw N'Gog, Aquilani and El Zhar replace Torres, Gerrard and Benayoun.
The final whistle was blown and Liverpool could finally celebrate after a hard shift.
And just to end on, lets not forget the hard work last night of fans who were at the game, not only providing that famous Anfield atmosphere but the hard work of the Spirit Of Shankly members/supporters who were present and helped out with the protests at the game.
After learning that Hicks and Gillett would be at the game, the organisation who is constantly working hard for the benefit of our beloved football club (Twitter: @spiritofshankly - Website: www.spiritofshankly.com) held peaceful protests via chants & banners but also with a mass gathering on the car park after the game.
Which ever way you look at it, the two yanks must be getting some sort of message as this morning revelations about them possibly stepping down and employing a stand in chairman have been revealed.
Although this would not oust the parasites from the club, it is certainly a step forward.
Liverpool Football Club is in the wrong hands. Hicks and Gillett OUT!