Tuesday, March 16, 2010 by Paul Grech
At long last something that approaches a perfect night: great win, good goals, some impressive performances and an indication that this side can actually play a bit. It is easy to write this off as an expected result against a side that is all but relegated but Liverpool have struggled in so many other supposedly easy games this season that nothing can be taken for granted.
The only blemish of the night is that Portsmouth were allowed to score late on. At least it was something to celebrate for the supporters who had made the trip and who are going through such a troubled time. It bears thinking about that whilst Liverpool's biggest worry is not qualifying for the Champions League, here is a set of fans who are being faced by the very real posibility of not having a side to support next season.
Otherwise there was a lot to be positive about, not least the way in which the team moved. The big question now is whether they'll manage to build on this. With two tough games coming up there might be the temptation to rest some players so as to protect them. But it is a temptation that has to be resisted: this result breathes a new confidence in the players and it is something that should be exploited rather than stifled.
One brilliant save in the second half was the pick for another exceptional game from Pepe Reina who was always found ready when needed. As he has been, after all, throughout the whole season. Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger didn't concede a lot despite the fact that Piquone didn't give them an easy time. It was also pleasing to see their anger after letting in that goal as that is the sort of reaction you need to see from your players. There were moments where Glen Johnson seemed reluctant to punish his former side any more than necessary but those were swept away when he sprinted in the box only to be stopped by what surely was a clear foul. That was just one of the number of occasions where Johnson's running caused serious problems for Portsmouth, a reminder of just what he adds to the side.
Teams seem to be targetting Emiliano Insua as the weak link in Liverpool's back four and that was certainly what Portsmouth were doing here. However, he stood his ground well and showed that the defensive side of his game, although not the best, is certainly improving.
A more in-form Steven Gerrard would have scored many more than the one that he got. Yet it was his chasing of what seemed a loose ball that led to Liverpool's first while a dummy from him gave Aquilani th chance to shoot for the third. This wasn't his best game for Liverpool but it sure served as a reminder of what he is capable of.
If Gerrard was reminding people of what he can do, Alberto Aquilani was showing off his skills. And boy did he impress. A great first goal in a Liverpool shirt was perhaps the best moment but throughout the game he produced an incredible amount of passes that, irrespective of the range, always seemed to find their intended recipient. My man of the match.
Equally as good was Maxi Rodriguez, a player who id a lot of running but has a touch of class about him. His passing is always precise and he can certainly spot gaps in defences: he'll be quite an addition when he has fully settled.
On the other side of the pitch there was Ryan Babel. The tendency to run into blind alleys remains but there is a passion and determination about him that wasn't always there at other times during the season. The goal will also boost his confidence a good deal as well.
Fernando Torres is one of the breed of players who can be deadly when fully fit, a condition he is approaching. Two goals proved his worth, particularly the second one which was pure class.
Passion, determination and good skill were all on show in this game so no one can really be said to have had a bad game.
It shows just how much Martin Kelly is rated that he was sent on for the last half an hour rather than the usual handful of minutes that Benitez usually grants younger player. Kelly is definitely good enough to play in the Premier League for a side as big as Liverpool and, although perhaps he should have done better for the Portsmouth goal, he has everything needed to became a fantastic player.
David N'Gog and Yossi Benayoun both came into a side that was assured of a victory so they had to fight more than anyone to make an impact. The little time that they had didn't really put them in the situation to shine.