Balotelli Off The Mark In Late Ludogorets Win
It was a difficult night at Anfield for Liverpool as the Reds prepared to return to the magic of the Champions League in front of a rousing Kop. Brendan Rodgers said pre match that he would treat Ludogorets as if they were Real Madrid and it's a bloody good job he didn't expect this match to be a walk in the park!
It was a poor start to the tie from Liverpool who initially just looked as though they were settling in to the game. However the Reds never seemed to reach full stride and as the clock ticked on, the visiting Bulgarians became more and more confident.
Liverpool offered little in front of goal despite having the likes of Balotelli, Coutinho, Lallana and Sterling on. Ludogorets were dealing well with any pressure and causing trouble by attempting to counter attack. A few half chances early on for Liverpool from Sterling and co quickly fizzled out and it became clear that this was going to be a slog of a game for Brendan's side.
The most positive thing for me from the first half was Alberto Moreno. What a star this man looks! He oozes confidence and can cross the ball. Something we have missed!
At half time if you follow me on Twitter you'd of seen me having a bit of a moan about the set up again. If you read the match report for the Villa game you will recall me discussing how I felt the team was unbalanced, that Balotelli needed somebody up top and that Coutinho, Markovic AND Lallana in the same line up was too much.
Well, here I was again, finding myself frustrated. So at half time I tweeted that I wanted to see Lucas come on. An unpopular opinion amongst most but I knew that the calmness of Lucas and his ability to distribute the ball from midfield would aid Liverpool greatly. Not only this but when Lucas is on Henderson is freed up immensely.
Just before the 70 minute mark Brendan Rodgers made a double substitution bringing on Lucas and Borini for Coutinho and Lallana. This for me was perfect. Borini may not be the best player in the world but he'll slot alongside Balotelli with ease.
I'm a big fan of Coutinho but he was just not on it last night, losing possession and all sorts and so replacing him with Lucas in my opinion massively helped the balance in the side.
And sure enough, once the changes had been made, things finally began to click into place for Liverpool. It took ten minutes to find the back of the net but we were so much better after the substitutions.
People get pissed off at Lucas because he gets booked all the time and fouls people, Paul Scholes made a pretty good pissin' living out of that?! It just frustrates me that people are quick to jump on his back, he does a job that nobody else can currently in our team and I personally am so pleased we still have him at our disposal.
The goal came at 81 minutes. Assisted by an Alberto Moreno cross Mario Balotelli struck a right footed shot into the back of the net. I went bloody mental and so did the Kop. I've never wanted a player to score so desperately!
I have a major interest in Italian football and Italy in general and so when I found out we were signing Mario I was over the moon. I just knew that in order for this to even have a chance of working he'd need a goal pretty soon. He's not a player who will use a lack of goals to drive him on, it would do the opposite but thankfully he's done it, in the Champions League on a European night in front of the Kop... Well in!!!
Just when the Reds finally thought they'd sealed this game, Ludogorets came straight back at them.
Nine minutes later the away side had drawn themselves level after a daft decision by Simon Mignolet. A signature quick break from the Bulgarians caught Liverpool off guard. What made it worse though was that Mignolet decided to come out of goal when he should have just stayed put. I've mentioned before how Mignolet frustrates me but there's no point dwelling on that now. They equalised and Liverpool only had time added on to deal with it.
There's no such thing as a European night at Anfield without drama though and sure enough, the drama came! Javier Manquillo was brought down by their hesitant third choice keeper in the box for a penalty with the clock on 90+1.
Captain Steven Gerrard stepped up to the spot as he has done so many times in a Liverpool shirt. And easily slotted the ball home to give Liverpool the win!
And that was that. We never make things easy do we?!?!
I asked you for your thoughts on the game and here are a few of the tweets I received:
@LFCKirstyLFC not liverpools best performance but with a brand new back four still bedding in, plus lallana and ballotelli I'll take the win
— Mr Willow (@markwillow25) September 17, 2014
@LFCKirstyLFC clear that this side is a work in progress at the moment. will come with time.
— Tim Bolton (@timbolton1) September 17, 2014
@LFCKirstyLFC nervous 1st picked up 2nd half scrappy win but 3pts #ucl
— Aidan Mullan (@aidanmullan) September 17, 2014
@LFCKirstyLFC we must play in the diamond if we're to be effective. The game changed when Borini came on.Thanks to everybody that tweets in, I might not always select you to feature but I always read them so cheers!
— Josh Ninja (@TheRemer) September 17, 2014
Next up for Liverpool is West Ham away.