For better or worse, the Europa League provides a distraction from the bread and butter of the Premier League. Many bemoan the amount of games it involves, and insist it lessens your chances of success at the weekend. To a degree, of course, there’s some truth in that. But it’s not entirely without merit. It’s still a competition of decent pedigree, and a great platform from which youngsters can attempt to prove themselves to their respective gaffers. Especially in the group stages.
Last night Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool took on Switzerland’s Young Boys, fielding a completely fresh eleven. Not only that, but the team was young. Very young. I think somebody did the maths, and if Jamie Carragher wasn’t on the pitch, the average age of Rodgers’ team would have been 13 years old…
The line-up offered competitive Liverpool debuts to Andre Wisdom, Suso and Ousamma Assaidi. Couple that with the overall youth of the squad, and I couldn’t help but hope we might snatch an early lead – to offer the lads a chance to take control and settle in from the off. I was delighted, then, when Stewart Downing whipped in a cross from the byline and it ended up in the net, courtesy of Juhani Ojala’s face. Had to feel sorry for him – but not for long. It was exactly what we needed.
Things soon settled down into a familiar rhythm, with Liverpool controlling the game and looking perfectly comfortable, without offering much bite upfront. Pacheco in particular struggled to get involved, with the front three of Downing, Assaidi and Pacheco a little more static than I imagine Rodgers had hoped.
Just before half time the game received a much needed surge of activity, with Young Boys equalising after poor defensive play from the Reds. Jose Enrique looked to have nimbly danced the ball past danger, but a bit of a mix-up led to a poor toe poked clearance, straight to Raphael Nuzzolo, who lashed the ball home. Thankfully, however, we took the lead once more when Andre Wisdom rose to meet Nuri Sahin’s corner, powerfully nodding the ball home for a debut goal. HT, advantage Liverpool. Get in.
Young Boys fought back early in the second half, however, with retribution for Ojala, who steered a cracking header past Brad Jones. Perhaps Wisdom should have done more, and/or Coates could have launched himself just a little higher in front. Either way, nothing should be taken away from Ojala – it was a really great header, so far into the corner that Jones may as well have stood still. He was never saving that one.
11 minutes later, and Young Boys took the lead. Not only was this bad news in and of itself, but it was a sublime finish by Zarate (not that one), and I feared we might crumble – our confidence surely bruised by such a classy goal. Zarate dinked the ball over Jones with beautiful delicacy, and although for a split second it looked as though Carragher might race to clear it, he could only stretch and grimace as it found itself behind the line.
I’m sure most fans of opposing teams were licking their lips and hoping for us to buckle completely, but we didn’t. Driven on by an impressively mouthy, industrious Jordan Henderson, we ploughed onwards. With Pacheco traded in for Fabio Borini, it was soon 3-3. Just four minutes after they took the lead, we fought back when Coates headed home. Borini tried his best to nick the final touch, and I wish he had, but it was Seba’s all the way. Still, Fabio’s presence was key. Distract them, lad, and keep them guessing.
And then, Liverpool’s hero-to-be strode onto the pitch. Replacing Assaidi (who had done well in his first game for the club), we suddenly looked to have that extra bit of gusto in midfield. But whilst Shelvey grabbed the headlines for his two finishes (the first a lashed right foot drive, the second a left peg shot to finish a good solo run), Jordan Henderson must be acknowledged for his contributions. He set up Shelvey’s second by playing him in and setting him on his way, but it’s the first assist that I really loved. A pacey ball whipped in from the left made it’s way to Henderson, who could easily have taken the shot on himself. But he didn’t; instead, he played a great first time ball into his team mate, who made it 4-3. Unselfish, and quality technique from Hendo.
It was a fantastically entertaining game, although it’s never nice to see us concede three goals. Unless we’re in a cup final, it’s never good news. Collectively, however, the team overcame a few wobbles quite strongly and bagged the club three away points. So for the team, it was job done. But how did they get on individually? Time for a run down with the player ratings.
Brad Jones – 6.5/10 - He could have done a little better for the opening Young Boys goal, but that was a collective mistake, really. Otherwise he had a solid game, making some smart saves and offering the cameras a nice photo opportunity with his second half Superman punch. No dramas.
Andre Wisdom – 8/10 – For a young man making his first competitive appearance for the club, he deserves a lot of praise. Right back isn’t his most familiar role, but he looked comfortable, assured, strong, quick and – of course – how about that header? Great debut.
Jamie Carragher – 5.5/10 – I’m afraid he didn’t have his best night, really. Out-muscled prior to Young Boys making it 3-2, he just doesn’t seem to be able to play as well as he once did. I’m sure it’s all still there in his head, sharp as ever, but with the legs a little worse for wear, I don’t think he can recapture his best form. Still, his experience is a phenomenal asset, and I’m sure every player on the pitch can learn from him and follow the example he sets with his attitude and commitment to the cause.
Seb Coates - 7/10 - I thought the Uruguayan had a solid game. Borini tried to nick his goal, but failed; it was definitely Seb’s. He looks good to me, and I hope he gets a few more chances in the Premier League.
Jose Enrique – 5.5/10 - An off night for the Spaniard, who gave Young Boys their initial equaliser on a plate. He used to try and play his way out of trouble with only occasional mistakes. Now they seem to be happening with more frequency, which is worrying. But the important thing is that the team won and he did help, often coming across to the right side of the park during a Young Boys break to help cut their attack short.
Jordan Henderson – 9/10 – I thought Henderson’s attitude was fantastic. You might think he’d be less than enthused after his recent spell out of the team, but he showed real fight and determination. His passing was tidy, he made a lot of interceptions, willed his team on with a vocal display we haven’t seen much before, and produced two solid assists to help us kill the game off in the second half. Mature, assured, and worthy of Man of the Match. Take a bow, son.
Nuri Sahin – 7/10 – Sahin was good, if unspectacular with the bulk of his play. He took an assist with a very good corner for Wisdom’s header, and enjoyed some solid one-touch football with Henderson and Suso. Great to see him complete the full game.
Suso – 6.5/10 – When he got on the ball, Suso looked comfortable, and showed some real moments of class and ability. The problem is, albeit as you might expect for a young man making his first competitive appearance, he was a bit anonymous at times. Drifted out of the game for periods. But as I say, when he had the ball, he looked good. I hope to see more of him.
Oussama Assaidi – 6.5/10 - His first game for about six weeks, so it wasn’t surprising that he didn’t complete the match. But whilst he was on the field he always seemed a threat, looking to take people on and get balls into the box. He didn’t end up affecting the game too much, but certainly played his part and helped to stretch the play. A promising debut.
Daniel Pacheco – 5/10 – I hoped he’d have a big game, but it wasn’t to be. He was largely anonymous, and struggled to make an impact of any kind. Not much to say, sadly. Maybe he’ll get another chance and show us that this was just a blip.
Stewart Downing – 6/10 - He kind of gets the assist on the first goal (cross in, defender’s boot, defender’s face, goal), which is good. Apart from this he had an unspectacular game; no real mistakes, not much to shout home about. He was replaced by Sterling in the second half.
Subs: Borini (7/10) played a part in a few goals, getting in the way and causing confusion for the defenders, as well as opening up spaces with his runs. Shelvey (9/10) scored two great goals to deliver the three points; a big contribution from a player many forget is still only 20 years of age. Finally, Sterling (6.5) looked lively enough, and helped to stretch play and give Young Boys something else to worry about as the game wore on.
Overall: Some poor goals conceded, but it was great to see us overcome a series of wobbles with collective strength. And of course, it’s always brilliant to see us score so many. We haven’t notched more than four in Europe since we spanked Besiktas for eight in 2007. About time too! The Europa League journey continues, but next up in the league… our old pals from Manchester.
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