Liverpool 2 Juventus 1: A Sign Of Things To Come

Posted by Paul Tomkins on April 5, 2005, 10:48:43 PM

How can the best performance, and the best win of the season 末 against as good a team as there currently is in Europe 末 feel, in some strange way, like a defeat? You can go two-nil down and score a late goal in a tie like this, and feel buoyant at the final whistle. And yet, in this instance, beating Juventus didn't feel, well, like beating Juventus. It will take time to sit back and realise the magnitude of the result, even if Liverpool are ultimately defeated in the second leg.

   The disappointment was no doubt largely down to the soft nature of Juventus' goal, but anyone who wants to be too harsh on Scott Carson needs to realise that he made an outstanding save in the first half, and at 19, is a total novice in goalkeeping terms 末 the equivalent of a 16-year-old outfield player, in terms of how they develop at different rates, and in different stages. Carson's save from Del Piero was possibly the best 末 and almost certainly the most important 末 of any made this season by the club's three 'keepers. Had that gone in, it was 1-1, and then the game would have taken a completely different course.

   Before the game anyone connected to Liverpool would have taken a 2-1 victory, but as with the Leverkusen game, it was the sting in the tail that gave the result a different complexion. But it also helps Liverpool retain some underdog status, and that will help 末 just as the Leverkusen goal served as a warning for the second leg, and led to a scintillating display in Germany.

   Once again the whole world was watching Liverpool take on Juventus. This time it was a carnival of football, and what went before the match was friendship, and nothing more sinister. Heysel remains a confusing and complex disaster, surrounded by rumours, hearsay and conflicting stories, where the one clear truth is that a series of unpleasant events combined, leading to unexpected and unintended deaths. The club was dignified in again offering its apologies, as no one deserves to die in the name of football. Thankfully the teams, unlike 20 years ago, were able to concentrate on the match at hand, and the events did not affect what took place on the pitch in the slightest.

   Benitez's detractors are running scared. Everton's double-figure gap is down to just one point in the league, and Rafa "beneath us" might soon be an outdated chant. It's been a difficult first season for the Spaniard, but things are starting to look up 末 and the return to the bench of Xabi Alonso could not have come at a better time. Nor could Djibril Ciss's rehabilitation, which sees him back in full training. The boss needs all the fit players he can get his hands on at the moment, as April will be very testing for the club.

   Against Juventus at Anfield, tempo would be everything. When Rafa's Reds team play quick, incisive passing they look as good as any team Europe 末 they really do. The difference is that the best sides are able to do it consistently, but in fairness that is something Liverpool have done in Europe this season (if not the Premiership), with the exception of two poor performances (away at Olympiakos and Monaco early in the campaign). Over the course of the season in the Champions League, it's hard to believe any team has played better.

   A shame, then, that fatigue set in to Liverpool legs in the second half, after the tough game against Bolton on Saturday, and all the international travelling last week. Juventus had the weekend off due to the death of the Pope, and as such were able to recouperate, and prepare for this game 末 no doubt the reason they were able to get back into the game in the second half. That said, the scoreline was perfectly fair: Juventus having their own clear chances, but Liverpool having twice as many 末 and for once this season the Reds had a little luck, with Del Piero's onside header incorrectly ruled out.

   It all started so positively it was almost surreal. In the first half a young and largely inexperienced Liverpool side did to Juventus what Benitez's Valencia had to Liverpool late in 2002, and absolutely tore through them. (I am being very careful with my words, as most footballing metaphors call on the terminology of war, and destruction, and the scenes at Heysel are all too fresh in the mind after a week of serious contemplation).

   This was a Juve team top of Serie A, who had conceded just two goals in the first eight Champions League games, and one of those a penalty 末 the only goal Read Madrid could manage against them in 180 minutes. Furthermore, only one was conceded with Buffon in goal. As with Bayer Leverkusen, Liverpool made the opposition look distinctly average 末 something no one had done to Leverkusen before in this season's competition, and yet that didn't stop people writing them off as 'substandard'. No one can say Juventus are a substandard or average side.
   
   Luis Garcia gave ample of evidence of why he's so special 末 he never lets his head drop, and keeps trying to do something creative. A few sloppy passes in the early stages didn't make him think twice about hitting a 30-yard half-volley, and after that, he was popping passes about and taking players on. He is in sublime form. When Alonso is back to link with him, we can expect further improvements.

   Sami Hyypia was back to his best, although spanking left-foot volleys are not in his job description. What a finish! It is worth noting that zonal marking 末 which Rafa was castigated for implementing (I know I was far from happy, initially) 末 would have prevented Hyypia's goal, had Juventus used that system. Zebina lost Hyypia, and Sami scored from an area of the pitch where Rafa, if his team were defending, would have had someone stationed.

   Elsewhere, Carragher was his usual brilliant self (how much better can he get?), and Steve Finnan's improvement continues apace, to the point where he is now playing as well as any full-back around. Anthony Le Tallec showed a lot of maturity for a 20-year-old, and no little class on the ball, and yet again Antonio Nunez pulled a superb moment out of the bag, when he bamboozled two Italian defenders on the right wing; his volley against Bolton, on Saturday, being another example of what he was bought for (even if his all-round game is not quite clicking into full gear yet).

   No one let the side down, and even if Liverpool are knocked out in Turin, the promise and the potential is there for all to see. It will be a massive task to go to Turin and avoid defeat, but this Liverpool team has proved it can score goals 末 and it only needs one to negate Canniavaro's goal at the Anfield Road end. While Juventus must now be slight favourites, Rafa has his Reds nicely poised.

ゥ Paul Tomkins

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