Who were we watching? Standing in the pub, we made the irresistible jokes about how Barcelona had flown to Anfield and donned our side’s red jerseys. The Liverpool side that couldn’t carve out a goal against Wigan or Lille was nowhere to be seen. This was a flowing, determined outfit. Just about everybody was playing healthy for once. Aquilani was starting to look like he might just be worth his transfer fee. Torres was his cunning old self. Maxi was deftly turning players and making space. Glen Johnson was getting forward and influencing attacks. Even Babel remembered to pass the ball to his teammate’s so consistently, I thought aloud, He really is Dutch!
“Well, where’s Lucas?” demanded Kevin, one of the owners of the pub.
“On the bench,” replied someone, not realizing he’d fallen into Kevin’s trap.
“Exactly! That explains it!”
But this was definitely a big factor. Against Wigan and Lille we couldn’t win our midfield battles with the diminutive Lucas in the mix. But with Alberto Aquilani commanding the space and pushing forward, we kept Portsmouth on the back foot. Gerrard wasn’t playing his best, and he missed a couple of chances we are used to seeing him seal, but with Aquilani there he was able to get forward and draw defenders away from Fernando Torres.
Torres was wide open when Maxi knocked the ball to him and he fired it into a nearly empty net. An easy goal for such a talent, but it clearly got his fires stoked and that was as satisfying as a goal that defies the laws of physics.
When Babel had the ball in traffic, I thought it would come to nothing. But the young Dutchman kept his head and took the shot through the congestion. If Babel plays like this more often, he’ll live up to the potential we’ve seen in glimpses but never for long stretches of time.
Then there was Aquilani’s goal. I didn’t believe it in the moment. First, it didn’t look like the ball was going to make it to him. It was moving too slowly. The Portsmouth defender was surely going to get there first. But Alberto charged in from the side and fired. Then I didn’t think it had gone in. It was too good to be real. It had to be rattling against the back of the net and not bouncing around inside the goal. But the pub was shaking. Friends were screaming. Aquilani had just scored his first goal to Liverpool and put us three nil up with some sixty minutes of game still to play.
In moments like this I always feel like Liverpool will score seven or eight. We never do. We always slow it down. Or they always tighten up. Whichever. But with Gerrard being off target a couple of times and Aquilani having one other clear chance, we really could have scored a few more times on Monday.
My favorite near chance came from Torres. Someone passed him the ball and he was out wide. “Why’s he playing out there?” cried my friend Niall. Followed by a parenthetical: “Of course now that I’ve said that he’ll probably score.” That’s when Torres cuts in, streaks into the box and fires the ball… off the far post. So close. Niall nearly bit off his own wrist. “Oh My God! Did you see that! I almost predicted it!”
Torres would get another before the end. Pompey would get a consolation goal, and we were all sad to see the clean sheet gone. But the four goals brought us that joy that Liverpool supporters have been missing. This season has had so many stumbles, it was refreshing to see our side dominate, even if it was against a team that’s lost 11 of their 15 away matches and only has ten points to their name.
Today, Lille will be a much tougher opponent. But with those goals and this form going into it, I feel a lot better about today’s outing then I did a week ago. Aquilani may be out with another virus. (Doesn’t the kid take his vitamins?)
I say, put Gerrard in the midfield as we did against Blackburn. Let him get the plays going and while helping keep the pressure high. Then some combination of Torres, Dirk, Maxi and Benayoun or Babel can set themselves to cracking Lille’s safe. Please tell me the form from Monday wasn’t a freak occurrence. We need to replicate it today.