Manchester United not only opened a five point lead over Liverpool in the race for Champions League football after running out 2-1 winners yesterday at Anfield, but they also brought the Reds run of 13-matches without a loss to a crashing halt. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was completely avoidable.
Juan Mata opened the scoring as Brendan Rodgers side, reminiscent of their win over Swansea City earlier in the week, got off to a slow start with their first half performance far below par. Steven Gerrard, making what will very likely be his last appearance against the Red Devils, replaced the injured Adam Lallana at the break only to be sent off less than 40-seconds after the re-start for an ugly, wholly unnecessary stamp on Ander Herrera as the two clashed in the middle of the park following a poor challenge from the Spaniard.
At this stage of the game, no one cares how you do it as long as it gets done. It was ugly at times, but a win earlier tonight saw Liverpool not only keep pace with fourth placed Manchester United, but record their fifth win in as many outings to make sure their momentum remained steady ahead of this weekend’s showdown.
To be fair though, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that the outcome and not the performance will be repeated come Sunday with Swansea City looking the more likely to take the points — and just about everything else — for large swathes of the match. Jordan Henderson’s deflected winner, his third in as many Premier League games, may have kept their pony in the top four race, but their lack of composure in the first half had the Anfield outfit looking fit for the glue factory rather than the winners circle.
A return to Turkey and the scene of arguably Liverpool’s most famous European win wouldn’t prove to be two times lucky as the Reds crashed out of the Europa League at the hands of Besiktas.
Failing to capitalize on a dominant first half that saw Raheem Sterling’s powerful shot parried away by home ‘keeper Cenk Gonen, the Anfield outfit couldn’t keep up the pressure following the interval as Ataturk Stadium roared on Slaven Bilic’s men. As time ticked down, it looked like the visitors would be relying solely on Mario Balotelli’s penalty in the first leg to see them through to the next round only to have Tolgay Arslan punish them with a spectacular effort from the edge of the box to send this one into extra time.
We’ve gone from being nine points off the Champions League places during the festive period to being a mere two at the end of February. There’s no games in hand to pad those numbers and no creative number crunching either — that’s cold, hard mathematics.
It was contentious at the worst of times and nerve racking at the best, but a first half wonder-goal from Philippe Coutinho and a predatory strike from Raheem Sterling were enough to give Liverpool victory over Southampton earlier today in a match that was marred by controversy. The hosts had no less than three penalty shouts waved away in the first half by referee Kevin Friend, and though they may feel aggrieved not to see at least one go their way, in the end they failed to create too much in the way of real danger from open play despite enjoying the majority of the ball on a rain soaked evening on the South coast.
It’s a slender lead, but it’s one that Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers won’t be arguing with as the Reds Europa League campaign got off to a winning start against a battling Besiktas side.
Despite conceding an embarrassing eight unanswered goals on their last visit to Anfield, the Turkish side weren’t about to park the bus with Croatian manager Slaven Bilic setting his side up to both repel their hosts constant attacks, but also to launch one of two of their own. Former Chelsea striker Demba Ba was unlucky to miss out on one end while Liverpool fullback Alberto Moreno saw his venomous shot tipped over by Besiktas ‘keeper Cenk Gonen as the first-half ended scoreless, but the Reds would find a way through before the final whistle when Jordon Ibe’s tenacity won his side a penalty which Mario Balotelli confidently slotted home.