Liverpool 4 (5) Toulouse 0 (0) - Proplus for the back row please.

Posted by Mark_P on August 30, 2007, 03:07:19 PM

Ahhh, the return of European football at Anfield.  No warm ale for £3 sold under the stands, the opposing side getting a chant off the Kop at the end, and a thousand madcap foreign fans jumping up and down for the entire game paying no attention what so ever to the match.

But, whereas the last time Europe’s premier competition came to Anfield saw a tense, emotional night as the Reds booked their seventh European Cup final, when French side Toulouse came to Anfield it felt more like a warm up to the group stages, both on and off the pitch.  A chance to get back into not understanding what the away fans are on about (What is “You’ll never get a job” in French) and listening to George struggle with pronouncing the opponents left back over the microphone.

Whereas recent years have seen AK Graz and CSKA Sofia push us to the limit, and Maccabi Haifa looking likely to come away with a priceless away win just a year ago, Toulouse looked like a Conference outfit that had come to Anfield in a FA Cup tie.  They tried to keep the score down, but in the end they looked happy to have given their fans a day out and to get a souvenir of their day.

Before the game, the Mother and Father of murdered eleven year old Rhys Jones were on the pitch as Z-Cars played over the tannoy, followed by an emotional You’ll Never Walk Alone.  I’m not going to go into it here, I think it’s been said better elsewhere, but it was a fitting tribute, and hopefully gave the family even a bit of a lift in what must be a situation most of us could never even think of.

The one name on the Red’s team sheet that no-one predicted was that of Sebastian Leto, a left winger signed for £1.85m from Lanús.  Where does Rafa keep on getting these Argentines from? 

Pepe Reina, who earlier was given the news that Spanish team-mate and close friend Antonio Puerta had died, kept goal, with Alvaro Arbeloa on the right, Daniel Agger and Sami Hyypia in the middle, and John Arne Riise on the left.  Leto took the left side of midfield, Yossi Benayoun made his Anfield debut on the right, with Javier Mascherano and Momo Sissoko in the middle.  Dirk Kuyt and Peter “who?” Crouch started up front.

The formation was a simple 4-4-2, with two wingers who hogged the touchline and hit the byline to whip in a cross, and a steady back line throughout, marshalled expertly by Hyypia, who was captain for the night.

Despite a rather bizarre opening, which saw both Mascherano and Riise (Go way!) slice the ball, forcing Leto to take control of the ball (Only to over hit his control into touch), it didn’t take long for Liverpool to start controlling the game.  Mascherano started dictating the pace of the game, and Kuyt, Benayoun and Leto all combined well around ten minutes in, only to seem to try and score the perfect goal, playing one pass too many as the sea of purple took the ball off the Israeli playmaker.

Sissoko looked as if someone had put him in a time machine and enter “May 2006” as he combined his usual harassing of the opponent in possession with some smart tackles and even smarter play on the ball.  Although, as a side note, on the dreadfully funny “Shoot” chants – let’s not encourage him, eh?
It wasn’t going to be lone before the Reds got an opener, and, after Kuyt managed to miss from about eight yards with a header, it was good work by Benayoun who fed the Dutchman, who produced a super cross onto the head of Crouch.  The beanpole striker (What exactly is a beanpole?) finished with an outstretched leg and the first Anfield European goal of the new season was scored. 

Any lingering doubts that Toulouse might pinch a place in Thursday’s draw for the group stages were quashed, and Crouch could’ve made it two as he did well on the edge of the area only to fire a shot across the face of goal. 

By this stage, it was clear that Kuyt needed a goal.  He should have scored twice by this stage, and, whilst his link-up play was superb throughout, you sensed the lack of a goal in the early stage of the season was irking the former Feyernoord man.  A few shots were, at very, very best, hopeful.

Half-time came, and, as the toilets resembled a 1950’s pub (or 1990’s rave party with extra smoke machines), George thanked each and every Reds for playing their part in helping “Anfield become smoke free”, bring a cheer in the lavs. 

The second half began as the first half ended, and it was from Benayoun’s excellent corner that Hyypia had a free header which he put past Nicolas Douchez in the Kop goal. 

Momo Sissoko was replaced by debutant Lucas Leiva, with the Malian receiving a standing ovation from the Kop.  Lucas joined fellow South American Leto in showing some promising touches, and the left winger was given a good ovation as he went off moments later, being replaced Ryan Babel.

As series of attacks and passing movements took place after this, but I took no real interest really (What a match report I hear you cry), as the Kop tried to decide at what pace to sing every song in the “A-Z of Liverpool songs”.  “No, Scouser Tommy should be sung in Presstissimo, it’s supposed to be in fucking Moderato” came one cry from the back of the Kop section, while 202 replied with a “We all agree Campione is Moderato” chant. 

Kuyt got the goal he needed and richly deserved.  His pass to Babel was followed by a great run into the box, and, just when it looked like the Dutchman (Babel that is) was going to shoot, he passed the ball through to, erm, the other Dutchman who finished superbly, with a little deflection from the post. 

Mass euphoria erupted on the Kop, shins were cut and this wonderful moment saw arld men dancing in the aisles.  We could finally say we’d finished the job and were now in the European Cup.  Or maybe a half arsed celebration and a half arsed “Come all within etc” chant for Kuyt.

One tempo the Kop did decide on was for the superb “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the end, which was sung rather than chanted and sounded excellent.  Kuyt did the right thing and waited until we’d finished the second chorus before slotting home his second, a good passing move finished by Kuyt.

The ref brought the game to a close and we could finally get on to a well earned bevy.

Reina in goal looked a bit hit and miss which is extremely unusual for him, although recent reports about him learning of his friend’s death just hours before kick off mean his performance was brilliant in the circumstances.  Arbeloa had little to do, but covered well when Agger or Hyypia were out of position and looked good support Benayoun.  Agger and Hyypia were solid in the middle, thwarting any attacks Toulouse did have (not many), while Riise was average.  Although he was full of running he was wayward with his passing (Which included the ‘big hoof’ and, erm, the ‘big hoof’) although he played a part in a solid backline.

Leto played well, and got in a few good crosses.  He needs to make sure though that he has the mental toughness now to deal with those cold December nights when we’re being held by Portsmouth at home and the crowd are on everyone’s back.  It’s easy to play when the fan’s know the game’s over, but it’s a good start anyway.

Sissoko was magic (y’know) in the middle, and, if he keeps up this form throughout the season will prove that Rafa’s decision to rebuff several big bids for midfielder was the correct one.  Mascherano was, yet again, the heart beat of the side as he decided how the other nineteen players on the pitch played.  When he took the ball and kept hold of it before passing backwards, the game took a slower pace.  When he picked the ball up burst forward and passed to an attacker, the game took a higher tempo for a while.  These two were excellent in the middle, as Lucas showed some nice touches and tackles when he came on.  Methinks the media will again be having the “Gerrard on the right?” discussions at some point this season.

Benayoun was superb all night.  Every player so far has got a positive review from me, but against such poor opposition it was always going to be the case.  But Benayoun, much like Mascherano and Sissoko, looked like it could have been any left back in the World he was up against, and he’d have still caused him a major headache.  Let’s hope that, with the bit now between his teeth, he pushes Pennant for a place on the right.  Still though, no sign of a rehashing of a Ronnie Rosenthal songs for the new boy though which is disappointing to say the least.

Kuyt was excellent in his link up play all night, although there are times when you just want him to stay on the last man and started banging them in like we know he should and can.  Crouch did well, and deserved his goal, showing the options we now have upfront, a far cry from his early days when Crouch was the only striker who was doing the business, next to Cisse and an out-of-sorts Fernando Morientes. 

The match will be remembered for the tribute to Rhys Jones before the match, rightfully so, but on the pitch there was little to remember other than a good professional performance, a lot of bright displays and a few debuts. 

And now, to finish with the obligatory jokes.

As they said before the match, Toulouse or not Toulouse, that was the question.  Toulouse had nothing Toulouse, yet they made me at times Toulouse the will to live.

Watch out for many other great European team name jokes over the coming year!

REDS:  Reina; Arbeloa, Riise, Agger (Finnan), Hyypia;  Sissoko (Leiva), Mascherano, Benayoun (Babel (According to Geroge on the tannoy)), Leto (Babel (What the rest of us saw));  Kuyt, Crouch.

© Mark_P 2007

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