Reds end Rafa’s Reebok hoodoo

Liverpool ended Rafa Benitez’s Reebok Stadium run without a win by defeating Gary Megson’s Bolton Wanderers 3-1 on Sunday afternoon. Aided by Jussi Jaaskelainen’s early freak own goal from a Stevie Gerrard shot, Ryan Babel in particular revelled in Rafa’s newly adopted 4-2-3-1 formation and he scored the second before Fabio Aurelio scored his first goal for the club.

Benitez kept with the same shape and formation as he has used in the last three outings – although the media ‘pundits’ still think it involves Gerrard playing right midfield and continually get the line-up wrong in their pre-match build up. Mascherano and Alonso, in for Lucas, in holding midfield with Kuyt, Gerrard and Babel lining up behind Torres – and that attacking quarter, Gerrard and Babel especially, caused the Trotters’ defence problems throughout. In defence, Carragher came in for Finnan after being suspended for the win over ‘Boro last week and Skrtel replaced Arbeloa alongside Hyypia. Carra was employed at right back to counter Bolton’s often aggressive style and angled long balls where they look to take advantage of full backs’ lack of ability in the air.

Bolton looked to cause problems from a couple of set-pieces early on and again showed why Benitez had choosen to use Carra, Hyypia and Skrtel in an attempt to nulify their somewhat one dimensional play. El Hadji Diouf, possibly Liverpool’s worst signing ever back in 2002, hit the post from a crossed free kick which evaded everybody in the box.

The scoring was opened on 12 minutes after Gerrard’s somewhat hopeful shot from the edge of the left hand side of the box, which was in fact heading just wide of the near post, was diverted in via Jaaskelainen’s face and spun back into the net for a bizarre own goal. It was a goal Frank Lampard would have been proud to claim.

Liverpool had Pepe Reina to thank for keeping it at 0-0 when he made a superb save from Kevin Davies’ close range header down at the side of the Reds’ keeper.

At the other end, Babel was turning Bolton right back Steinsson inside out and almost doubled the advantage when he cut inside onto his right foot but his powerful shot was saved by Jaaskelainen. Gerrard later put Babel in again but Gary Cahill made a last ditch tackle to deny the Dutchman.

In the second half though Babel got the goal he deserved, finishing accurately into the bottom corner of the goal after Kuyt’s shot had rebounded off the foot of the post and the ball eventually fell to Babel who controlled before hitting home with his right foot into the near corner to make it 2-0. The Reds’ dangerman celebrated with an emphatic somersault.

By this point Liverpool where completely dominant, Mascherano was, as ever, mopping things up whenever Bolton attempted to break out and Alonso was beginning to influence play a little more than in the first half. Gerrard was finding all the freedom of the Reeobok and Babel was a continous threat.

From an Alonso corner the ball was headed clear and full back Aurelio controlled well for the ball to sit up nicely and he unleashed an unstoppable volley into the top corner to grab his first goal for the club.

Liverpool took the foot off the gas when 3 up and Torres’ withdrawal for Riise signalled the end of their dominance and allowed Bolton back into the game. Moving Babel to play a lone role up front certainly wasn’t Benitez’s smartest move of the day and allowed Bolton plenty of possession. The goal had little to do with the change though, a dubious corner was awarded after Kuyt and from that corner another resulted in former Liverpool player Avi Cohen’s son Tamir heading home unmarked from close range. Que zonal marking being questioned by all – apparently out of 20 goals we’ve conceeded this season, 13 have been from set-pieces.

Arebloa came on for Kuyt leaving only Gerrard and Babel as Rafa went with 6 defenders and two holding midfielders for the last 5 minutes, maybe attempting to invite pressure and give the lads practice for Inter away?! Thankfully Bolton were well out of the game and it was Liverpool who should have made it four when Alonso, Gerrard, Mascherano and Babel all found themselves spoilt for choice and somehow messed it up, resulting in Babel fluffing his shot from close range.

Liverpool move back up to fourth on goal difference over Everton who play later this afternoon, but Benitez’s side play their game in hand against West Ham on Wednesday and a with second home match with Newcastle next weekend they’ll be looking to take 9 points in a week.

Man of the Match: Has to be Babel, looks really good now he’s getting a run and in the formation he played in at Ajax too. Gerrard was good also and Mascherano was, well, Mascherano! Skrtel was solid at the back too, never gave Davies any time on the ball in the first half and Hyypia showed why he’s earnt his contract extension.

Teams and Facts:

Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Steinsson (Rasiak 42), Andrew O’Brien, Cahill, Gardner, Joey O’Brien, Campo, Nolan (Cohen 46), Diouf, Davies, Taylor
Subs Not Used: Al Habsi, Meite, Giannakopoulos
Booked: Rasiak, Davies
Goals: Cohen 79

Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Babel, Kuyt (Arbeloa 86), Torres (Riise 77).
Subs Not Used: Martin, Benayoun, Crouch
Booked: Hyypia
Goals: Jaaskelainen 12 og, Babel 60, Aurelio 75

Attendance: 24,004
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)

Possesion: 41% – 59%
Shots on target: 2-9
Shots off target: 5-3
Corners: 3-10