Relief and expectations — How the newspapers reacted to Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets

It wasn’t pretty, but Liverpool returned to the Champions League after a five year hiatus with a customary dramatic victory over Ludogorets on Tuesday night. Here we round up Wednesday’s back pages.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, September 16, 2014: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring the second goal after his injury time penalty sealed a 2-1 victory over PFC Ludogorets Razgrad during the UEFA Champions League Group B match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Perhaps in fact it was simply fitting that an injury-time Steven Gerrard penalty would give Liverpool their first three points in UEFA’s elite competition this season. Until then the game certainly hadn’t lived up to the hype.

The pre-match entertainment was provided by the fans, pouring into the ground early to unfurl huge banners, flags and scarves, whilst the five European Cups mosaic on the Kop was particularly spectacular.

Tim Rich of the Independent described the scene:

The Champions League is football’s grand theatre and Anfield is its Old Vic. As the Tannoys played the Champions League theme, a sound that Steven Gerrard said he craved to hear, the Kop held up cards depicting the club’s five European Cups.

Like Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, Anfield is a stadium of banners as their return to the European elite was marked by a vast, traditional one, the kind that could have been unfurled against St Etienne in 1977 that said bluntly: “We are Liverpool”.

Ludogorets will leave Anfield disappointed, having put on a performance that deserved so much more from the game, whilst the Reds may feel fortunate to have stolen the rewards right at the death, as Paul Wilson of The Guardian explains:

Relief, more than anything, was detectable when the dust settled on a frantic last few minutes. The Bulgarian champions had proved capable and clever opponents and Liverpool were making such heavy weather of breaking them down that the visit of Real Madrid next month could only be imagined with dread.

Jonathan Liew of The Telegraph believed Dejan Lovren was Liverpool’s best starting player, but also had mixed praise for Mario Balotelli after the Italian international scored his first goal for the club in the 82nd minute:

[On Lovren] Safe enough. Not significantly tested either in the air or on the ground by Ludogorets’s lone striker Bezjak. Had one header at goal, which went over the bar.

[On Balotelli] Needless fouls, an unusually heavy first touch, and the work rate of a fever victim. And then he goes and scores a crucial goal. Just another night at the office.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, September 16, 2014: Liverpool's Mario Balotelli scores the first goal against PFC Ludogorets Razgrad during the UEFA Champions League Group B match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Finally, there was a more sobering conclusion from the Daily Mirror‘s Oliver Holt:

There is so much to live up to after last season and so far Liverpool are struggling to reproduce the intensity and the quality that took them to such heights a few months ago.

What are your thoughts on Liverpool’s victory and performance? Let us know in the comments section below…