Thursday, December 10, 2009 by Paul Grech
The big fear before the start of this game was that Liverpool, with nothing to gain, would take this game lightly and in doing so give Fiorentina an opportunity to subject them to a trashing.
As for this game, it was another one which highlighted Liverpool's apparent lack of confidence and inspiration that has dogged much of this season. For all the belief that there exists that fourth place will be achieved, the time has come for the team to start playing like a side that can actually get to that position because, in reality, it has been some time since they showed anything like good form.
Given the presence and continued excellence of Pepe Reina, it is unlikely that Diego Cavallieri will get too many opportunities. He was given a chance here, however, and replied with a series of fine stops and an overall very good display. My man of the match.
Apart from a short back-pass in the first half and an excrutiating miss in the second, Daniel Agger had a very good game against a player - Alberto Gilardino - who is very much in form. In reality, neither he nor Martin Skrtel - who also was very good in his return to the side - could do anything to prevent either of Fiorentina's goals.
Rather anonymous in the first half, Yossi Benayoun then came to life by scoring Liverpool's goal which seemed to boost him during the second half when he was much more alive. He still seems short of the level he achieved in the latter half of last season yet there aren't many players in the Liverpool squad with his ability to create things. The hopes are that Alberto Aquilani could be the one to help out Benayoun in the creativity department and showed what he can do in flashes this evening. With the game lacking slightly in intensity, he never really got going but, overall, this was an encouraging debut.
The disappointment on Steven Gerrard's face at the end of this game said everything about his feeling both after this defeat and the elimination from the group. He tried as hard as anyone to get things going but still managed very little.
This might seem harsh on Steven Darby but the right-back, making his first Liverpool start, committed a grave mistake in the final minutes letting in Juan Vargas who eventually had all the time he needed to set Gilardino up for the winner. Darby is a decent player and he showed that on this occasion, yet it is doubtful as to whether he is good enough for this stage of football. The contrast with Martin Kelly, the young defender who made an excellent debut against Lyon, couldn't have been greater.
Before the game, Benitez hinted that he was willing to give Emiliano Insua break and, by the looks of it, he should have. The player clearly needs a rest both physically and mentally (his confidence sems to have taken a bit of a battering lately) and he struggled to hang on against Fiorentina. Javier Mascherano has been in great for of late but against Fiorentina it looked on occasions that he could really bben otheres.
It could be argued that Andrea Dossena did a lot of running and harrying, when you analyse it, his actual contribution was minimal and he failed to track back enough to help out Insua.
A damning statistic flashed across the screen at the end of the first half stating that Dirk Kuyt, playing as Liverpool's lone striker, had had zero shots. That's not shots on target: he simply hadn't had a shot in the general direction of the goal. That says everything about how poor - and he was very, very poor - Kuyt was.
The sight of Fernando Torres coming on boosted everyone at Anfield and in the few minutes that he was on the pitch he showed exactly why that was the case with a couple of moves that left the Fiorentina defenders wondering where he had gone.