Europa League, Last 32, First Leg
Anfield, Thursday, 18th February 2010
David Ngog’s late goal from close range spared Liverpool’s blushes and gave them a 1-0 win over Romanian side Unirea at Anfield on Wednesday night.
It was a frustrating evening for the Liverpool faithful, with their opponents happy to sit back and the home side struggling to find the creativity to break them down – as has often been the case for Liverpool this season.
Rafa Benitez started Jamie Carragher at right back despite the defender’s recent groin problem and Sunday’s crucial clash with Man City. The Liverpool stalwart has himself admitted he doesn’t enjoy playing in a role which requires a lot of energy, especially in these kinds of games when the full back is needed to help break the opposition down. While Carra did little wrong, and in fact was one of the better performers, it can be asked why a more attacking and natural full back such as Philipp Degen or Stephen Darby wasn’t used against a side which were never going to cause any real problems on the night.
Alberto Aquilani replaced Lucas Leiva in midfield and showed the odd glimpse of skill but very little else, much like his Liverpool career so far it wasn’t what you’d have hoped for or imagined.
It could have been the perfect side for Liverpool, playing in Europe’s second tier for the first time since 2004, when Steven Gerrard burst into the box and forced a good save inside 30 seconds.
But, from then on, chances were a lot harder to come by as the Romanian champions defended deep and in numbers.
Liverpool did have opportunities – Kuyt went close with a deflected effort that flew across the face of goal, Gerrard missed the target and Ngog turned to fire a shot inches wide – but Arlauskis was far from over-worked before half-time.
The game continued in the same pattern after the break, with Unirea rarely venturing forward but Liverpool seeming unable to find a way through their packed defence.
Martin Skrtel headed over from six yards out and Fabiano Aurelio forced Arlauskis into a fine diving save but, if anything, Unirea, who have not played for more than two months because of Romania’s winter break, looked more comfortable as the game wore on.
The introduction of Ryan Babel and Dani Pacheco finally led to the goal, with the two combining to set-up Ngog in the 81st minute. Their arrivals into the match gave the home side some much needed, and until then lacking, pace and creativity, particularly out wide.
Liverpool dominated possession from start to finish but apart from the one goal struggled to break down their less illustrious opponents.
Up next for the Reds is a key trip to Man City on Sunday.
Steven Gerrard’s Post Match Comments:
“Unirea were very stubborn tonight. We expected that because their manager has set up a team against us before and we knew they’d be difficult to break down.
“We have to be more clinical and I am confident we will get more joy away from home against them. They will have to try to beat us and we can kill them off.
“Maybe we lacked five or ten per cent on the pace of the ball tonight but I am sure we will be better next week.”
LIVERPOOL: Reina, Carragher, Agger, Skrtel, Aurelio, Mascherano, Aquilani (Pacheco 74), Kuyt, Riera (Babel 62), Gerrard, Ngog (Lucas 89)
Subs (not used): Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Degen
Goals: Ngog (81)
UNIREA URZICENI: Arlauskis, Manel, Galamez, Fernandes, Brandan, Paraschiv (Vilana 86), Onofras (Marinescu 74), Paduretu (Rusescu 90), Apostol, Frunza, Bilasco
Subs (not used) Tudor, Mehmedovic, Nicu, Bordenu
Booked: Brandan, Fernandes
Referee: Eric Braamhaar (Netherlands)
Return Leg: Thursday 25th February (6pm kick off)