By Sam Dalton at Anfield
Liverpool’s last three home performances in the league have drawn stinging criticism for a lack of creativity and spark in front of goal, and rightly so, but on Boxing Day the recent Anfield drought came to end quite magnificently, as a Robbie Keane-inspired home side fired three well-taken goals to easily defeat a tricky Bolton Wanderers outfit.
I was at Anfield to see Liverpool control the match against Gary Megson’s side from start to finish, keeping hold of the ball for almost the entire ninety minutes and creating countless chances that should have probably resulted with more goals than were actually scored. Three will certainly do though, especially after the previous triplet of home matches against Fulham, West Ham and Hull City all resulted in disappointing draws, with only two goals being scored by Liverpool in the process.
As well as Robbie Keane’s return to form, which continued brilliantly with a pair of superb finishes against Bolton, there were many more positives for Liverpool to take from the game.
The pressure which they exerted on Bolton was constant, always penning their helpless defenders back with crisp passing and clever movement that the visitors simply could not handle. Liverpool’s width was particularly impressive, with Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun hugging the touchline and providing good options for the central midfielders who were looking to create openings.
When the ball was played wide, to either of the two wingers, or indeed the two rampaging full-backs, Jamie Carragher and Emiliano Insua, crosses were quickly whipped into the Bolton box, allowing the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Keane to attack the ball, with the Steven Gerrard waiting a few yards away incase the ball ricocheted into his path. If the cross was over-hit, then the play was recycled by the winger on the other flank, who would collect the ball before it went out of play and start another move.
It helped that the likes of Gerrard and Alonso were playing magnificently in the centre of the park, spraying the ball around beautifully with a range of short and long passes that were executed to perfection.
Eventually the pressure had to tell and a goal had to come. Gerrard’s near-post corner was flicked into the net by Riera to spark a joyful celebration from the players, who all ran gleefully to the corner flag where a group hug took place.
In the first-half, Liverpool’s performance was more controlled, as they kept the ball moving from left to right patiently before they were rewarded by Riera’s goal. They had to play this way because Bolton were so defensive, though the away side did not close down well enough to prevent conceding.
The second-half was more open, though, with Bolton pushing forward more often. However, their attacking threat was easily nullified by Liverpool’s backline, and the extra space in midfield twice allowed balls to be played from that area into Robbie Keane to score –first from Gerrard’s brilliant through-ball and then from a clever counter-attack involving Alonso and Benayoun. The football was some of the best Liverpool have played this season.
It has to be said, though, that Bolton had a bad day at the office. They did not get close enough to Liverpool’s attacking threats. They allowed them too much time and space to pick out team-mates and create opportunities to score from. Liverpool took advantage ruthlessly and deserved their three points and three goals.
It was an extremely impressive performance that suggested a title challenge will be sustained until the very end. The Anfield drought came to end thankfully, and so has Robbie Keane’s goalscoring blip over the last two games. He scored a terrific goal away to Arsenal last weekend in the 1-1 draw, and added two more brilliant finishes against Bolton. It was a happy day all round on Merseyside for Reds fans, and with more showings like this there is every chance that nineteen years of Premier League despair could finally be over.