Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal (5-3 agg)
Wow. That was a hell of a game.
Rafa surprised everyone by switching things up and giving Peter Crouch a start alongside Fernando Torres, with Ryan Babel left on the bench. Crouch certainly deserved a chance after his performance against Arsenal last weekend, and he combined with Torres for Liverpool's second goal, but even so I wonder if it was a mistake to change from the formation that they were used to and that had been working so well. With Steven Gerrard nominally on the left, it meant that they had one fewer player in centre midfield, which is always dangerous against a team like Arsenal that can pass around you, and certainly for the first half-hour Liverpool were being overrun.
Emmanuel Adebayor was giving the defence problems from the start -- although fortunately he kept being flagged offside -- but it was Abou Diaby who scored the opening goal, beating Pepe Reina at the near post. Up front for Liverpool, Torres wasn't seeing much of the ball, and it took a set piece for them to equalize, as Sami Hyypia broke away from Philippe Senderos at a corner to power in a header. The goal seemed to give Liverpool confidence, and they started to get more of a grip on the game -- helped by Mathieu Flamini being forced off with an injury just before halftime.
They were much stronger at the start of the second half than they were in the first, and eventually went ahead with an utterly fantastic goal from Torres -- a long ball forward from Reina, flicked on by Crouch to Torres, who spun around and fired it into the far corner as the hapless Senderos strugged to keep up. With 20 minutes left, Arsenal brought on Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie, flinging everything at Liverpool in an attempt to survive. It was Walcott who created their second goal, bringing the ball forward from deep in his own half and dodging four Liverpool players before setting up Adebayor in the 84th minute.
But they barely had time to savour the goal when Liverpool scored again. Ryan Babel, who'd looked lively since he came on as a substitute for Crouch, was pulled down in the box by Kolo Toure for a penalty, and Gerrard coolly stepped up to smash it past Manuel Almunia. The tie may have come down to a tale of two penalties -- the one given to Liverpool here, and the one not given to Arsenal last week -- and I have to admit that both incidents looked pretty similar to me. But Babel made it all moot with a fourth goal in stoppage time, racing onto a clearance from Dirk Kuyt and outmuscling Cesc Fabregas (who was carefully stubbled, just to remind everybody that he's a big boy now) to put the game away.
So-called football purists will lament the fact that Arsenal and their beautiful football are out of the competition now, but ultimately I do not give a damn. Beautiful football is meaningless if you don't have the balls to win games, and I will take Steven Gerrard and his magnificent hairy thighs over Arsene's boy-toys any day. And now we get yet another Liverpool-Chelsea semi-final, which even I am not going to pretend is likely to be a scintillating match-up. Although there is always the opportunity to make John Terry cry.
United 1-0 Roma (3-0 agg)
Sir Alex might have claimed not to be taking anything for granted ahead of this game, but the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney started on the bench tells you everything you need to know about the relative importance of Roma versus Arsenal this weekend. Even without those two players, United still had enough to win, with Carlos Tevez scoring the only goal. But there were some nervy moments, particularly when Wes Brown brought down Mancini for a debatable penalty -- it's hard to tell, but I think he might have got the ball first -- which Daniel de Rossi blasted over the bar. (And I laughed, because I dislike de Rossi for no apparent reason.) The clean sheet was encouraging, with Mikael Silvestre making his first start in ages (I'd almost forgotten about him), Rio Ferdinand making it through the game despite a foot injury, and Gary Neville finally returning from injury as a substitute. Player of the game, though, was Owen Hargreaves, who worked his socks off for 90 minutes and even set up Tevez's goal with a perfect cross.
Chelsea 2-0 Fenerbahce (3-2 agg)
Okay, somebody out there has a voodoo doll with a Chelsea goalkeeper kit, right? Because they are totally cursed. First Petr Cech gets his face all cut up in training (50 STITCHES! That is ridiculous.), and then Carlo Cudicini takes over from him and pulls a hamstring. And didn't this happen last year too? Voodoo doll, I'm telling you. Anyway, third-choice keeper Hilario made a few good saves to see Chelsea through to the next round. But they made things a bit tougher for themselves than they needed to. Michael Ballack's header gave them an early advantage, but they waited until the 87th minute to put the tie away with a second goal from Frank Lampard. Michael Essien, who set up that goal, however, will be missing the first semi-final game at Anfield through suspension, which is a boost to Liverpool.
Barcelona 1-0 Schalke (2-0 agg)
Barcelona did enough to get themselves into the semi-finals with another 1-0 victory over Schalke, but they didn't exactly look convincing in the process. There's been a constant stream of dressing-room drama, with Ronaldinho and Deco supposedly being dropped for partying too much, and Thierry Henry being generally mediocre now that he's left his Arsenal harem. Leo Messi will probably be back from injury for Barca when they face United later this month, but the bad news is that Carles Puyol will be suspended for the first leg after picking up another yellow card here.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal (5-3 agg)