The fight was lost but the war is far from over. Last night at Anfield, Liverpool played out another classic European night of football, though this time the result was not what those special nights are usually associated with, even though the team were victorious on the night, winning the game 3-1, they crashed out of the Europa League on the away goals rule, the aggregate score being 3-3.
European nights return
This season European nights had seemed to be missing that special magic and buzz that would normally be found when entering the Shankly Gates and beyond for European games. That was not the case last night. The magic, the atmosphere, the desire and energy were all evident, the atmosphere before the game, the noise from the crowd when the teams emerged onto the pitch and after each of our goals, the hunger the players showed could not be questioned, yet unlike previous glorious nights, the team eventually came up short.
The result may not have been what we all wanted but we cannot deny the effort and desire the team put in. After going a goal down, an Olympiakos, Istanbul type fight back was needed, and boy did the team try. A goal from the improving Joe Allen and two delicious free kicks from Suarez set up a grandstand finish, which unfortunately did not prevail. Yet in the pain of defeat and elimination can be pride at the performance of the team and encouragement and realisation that the team is improving and are committed in the cause to restore the club to the elite of English and European football. Nobody can question the player’s commitment last night, the expression on Suarez’s face when he scored his second goal and that of the players at the end of the game is more than enough proof.
Europa League – is it important?
For all those naysayers that ridicule the Europa League and team’s involvement and question its value, the roar from the crowd last night, urging, pushing, wanting the team to score the goal that would have taken the game into extra time, showed though it may not be as glamorous as the Champions League, it is still a European cup competition and any competition that a team is involved in means something to the fans and also the players, who looked emotionally drained at the end of the game. Don’t tell me playing in this competition means nothing to them.
(Europa league trophy here http://www.false10.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/el-trophy.jpg )
Despite elimination from the competition, there is a bigger picture emerging from the game. The team is now looking like a side that are comfortable playing together and playing in the manner the manager sees for them. Some of the slick, intricate passing last night was breath-taking. During the second half an instance where Jose Enrique was near his own corner flag being hustled by an opponent, showed exactly how comfortable this team is in its passing ability and style of play, as he did not boot the ball into row z. Instead we saw passing right out of the Barcelona text book, which resulted in the Liverpool players passing and moving into space which then lead to an attack. Small exchanges like this show the methods being employed by the manager are working, slowly but surely.
The battle continues
For all the slick play we saw last night, another and perhaps more important element emerged. The players looked up for the fight and seemed comfortable donning the famous red shirt. Too many times this season we have seen certain players seem afraid to play their own game, too many times we have seen certain players look afraid and nervous, that was all replaced yesterday with a team of confident and determined players. The whole team looked ready for the challenge and even after conceding the first goal, leaving themselves with what seemed an insurmountable mount (which eventually it was), they continued their fight. Never once did we see any of the players heads drop.
The inspirational Suarez was his usual active and hardworking self, but that is nothing new. We expect that every time he steps onto the pitch, but those around him played in his mould, they all worked hard and oozed confidence, even after being a goal down. Henderson, Allen and Assaidi (when introduced) have been questioned throughout the season, but last night they showed signs of improvement. Through defeat we must look at the positives and how the team can move forward. The performance of the three mentioned and the team show that Brendan Rodgers may be right; his plan on returning Liverpool to the top is in motion and may come to fruition.