Reds through to quarters despite defeat

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Liverpool 0-1 Barcelona (2-2 agg, Liverpool progress on away goals)

Another brilliant European night at Anfield against Barcelona. The stage was set after the first leg, handing Liverpool the advantage, and left Barca needing two clear goals to progress. The pre match hype shaped for a cracking game… and what a game it was!

Liverpool exploded out, knowing exactly how, where and what was required of them. Benitez stuck with the same team that won 2-1 in the Nou Camp, whilst Eto’o was restored for Barca.

Liverpool started so well in fact it looked like they were needing the two goals, more than Barcelona. Straight away Liverpool settled and set the tempo, closing down Barcelona and not allowing them space. Liverpool were happy to allow Barcelona their lions share of possession in their own half, but as soon as they neared the half way line that signalled Liverpool to close down, Bellamy & Kuyt starting the defensive wall.

Liverpool continued to press Barcelona, with Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Messi barely seen in the first half. The visitors showed little creative invention, and looked frustrated the more the first half wore on. Jamie Carragher proving to be the rock at the back – yet again, throwing himself in to block Barca attacks and prevent Ronaldinho’s tricky as well as Eto’o’s. Liverpool capitalised on this, attacking and harrying Barcelona. Liverpool’s dominance showed, raining in ten shots on the Barca goal.

The first real chance fell to Riise’s mighty left foot flashing his volley wide of the right left post after 7 minutes, and Riise’s trademark shooting was used again used minutes later when he rattled the bar from 20 after a defensive error of Thuram not closing down and giving him time to steady himself.

Momo Sissoko was everywhere first half, breaking up Barca’s attacks and closing down, but at times his tackling was rash and he gave away a free kick for lunging in and earnt himself a yellow card which rules him out of first leg of the quarter finals.

But after 25 minutes Victor Valdes produced a stunning double save from Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt before captain Carles Puyol scrambled Riise’s header off the line. Barcelona were clinging on.

And Barcelona’s clung on further, they’re nerves frayed even more when Valdes’ poor clearance landed at the feet of Sissoko 40 yards out, but his speculative shot bounced off the top of the bar with the goal unguarded.

At half time Liverpool were clearly on top and started the second half the same way, Barcelona still looking flat. But Ronaldinho burst into life seven minutes after the interval, as Carragher stayed tight to him, Ronaldinho spun, escaping a further two defenders before striking the ball past high past Reina, only for the ball to hit the outside of the post. Anfield held its breath.

Eto’o looked short of match fitness, and was later substituted on the hour by Ludovic Giuly.

Steven Gerrard kept raiding around, providing a vital outlet for defence, surging down the left and the right, and tested Valdes with a powerful effort he failed to hold, and whipped in several dangerous ball from wide.

Barcelona’s desperation grew and soon former Chelsea star Gudjohnsen was sent on for defender Lilian Thuram and as they went 2-5-3. Sadly for Liverpool, Bellamy had departed for Pennant, his pace surely would have revelled in the added space at the back of Barca’s defence. Barcelona’s move paid off, when Loinel Messi played in the Icelander, who slipped away from Pennant and rounded Pepe Reina for a cool finish 15 minutes from the end.

Liverpool clung on, breaking down attacks. Alonso, Gerrard, Momo, and Carra throwing themselves into tackles and blocking out shots, while Agger and Arebola coolly finished off the pieces clearing the ball. Finnan was twice called into action bravely and camly tackling twice preventing Gudjohnsen from getting free to supply Barca the second goal they needed.

But Gerrard was again forcing Liverpool forward, and once again Valdes was forced to block at the near post as Barcelona knew they had to go for broke, and Pennant and substitute Peter Crouch both went close in dying seconds and very nearly gave Liverpool the goal they deserved. The final score finished 1-0 Barcelona, 2-2 on Aggregate but Liverpool advance deservedly after two magnificent matches as the Reds march on for a sixth European Cup!

Andrew Grenfell

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Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa, Gerrard, Sissoko, Alonso, Riise (Aurelio 77), Kuyt (Crouch 89), Bellamy (Pennant 67)
Subs Not Used: Dudek, Hyypia, Mascherano, Zenden
Booked: Arbeloa, Sissoko, Pennant, Reina

Barcelona: Valdes, Thuram (Gudjohnsen 71), Marquez, Puyol, Oleguer, Xavi, Iniesta, Deco, Messi, Eto’o (Giuly 61), Ronaldinho.
Subs Not Used: Jorquera, Zambrotta, Edmilson, Sylvinho, Saviola.
Booked: Thuram
Goals: Gudjohnsen 75

Att: 42,387
Ref: Herbert Fandel (Germany).

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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