Joe Cole opens his Liverpool account as Reds beat Steaua
A strong second-half showing at Anfield ensured Liverpool picked up all three points in their opening Europa League fixture against Steaua Bucharest, with Joe Cole, David N’Gog and Lucas Leiva all getting their names on the score-sheet.
Roy Hodgson’s men made a dream start to the evening, with a sloppy back pass by a Steaua defender being intercepted by Cole, who proceeded to place a beautiful shot past Tatarusanu to open his Anfield account and give the hosts the lead.
Liverpool weren’t prepared to sit on their lead, either, with youngster Jay Spearing hurtling forward before firing off a shot from just outside the box. Unfortunately for the academy star his shot glided just over the bar.
Hodgson spoke before the game of Liverpool’s need to press Steaua and impose their game on the visitors. Unfortunately for the Reds boss it was a tactic which came back to haunt him, with Steaua breaking on the counter after 15 minutes, allowing Bogdan Stancu to play an immaculate through ball to Christian Tanase who placed it beautifully past Pepe Reina to bring the visitors level.
Some light relief came after a period of Steaua pressure when the Romanians were forced to make a substitution, with Banel Nicolita heading on for the injured Ifeany Emeghara.
Whilst Liverpool showed signs of pressing for a second Steaua’s ability to break quickly on the counter made the Reds more conservative in their approach, with Cole occasionally having an effort on goal and Maxi Rodriguez making some well-timed breaks down the right-wing, though ultimately the attacking moves came to nothing.
Raul Meireles showed glimpses of his potential in the middle of the park, always looking to be in position to receive the ball, tracking back when Steaua broke and also pushing forward when Liverpool were on the attack.
Next to him Jay Spearing defended well, often breaking down a number of potentially dangerous moves from the visitors, though his passing often let him down, with a number of clumsy balls finding their way to the opposition as opposed to those in Red shirts.
After a couple of efforts from Ryan Babel and a long-distance shot from Rodriguez, it was up to Paul Konchesky to try and give Liverpool a lead to take into half-time. The former Fulham defender, however, saw his free-kick from fly wide of the post as the referee’s whistle signalled the end of the first half with the score all level.
Liverpool started the second half with a burst forward, with Spearing attempting to play a through ball to Cole, who had broke in to the box, but the midfielder misjudged the weight of the pass and the ball rolled to Tatarusanu who collected with ease.
Just five minutes into the second period Steaua made their second change of the evening, bringing on Bonfim Eder for Stanislav Angelov.
Then, with ten minutes gone in the second-half, Liverpool were awarded a penalty after Pantelis Kapetanos brought down Sotirios Kyrgiakos during a Liverpool corner, with French youngster N’Gog stepping up to fire a shot in to the bottom left-hand corner after Tatarusanu dived the wrong way.
Just as in the first-half Liverpool looked to trouble the Steaua goalkeeper from long distance. This time it was the turn of debutant Meireles, who controlled the ball well and blasted a shot towards goal from around 30-yards out, forcing a save from Tatarusanu.
Steaua looked to push forward after conceeding, though not with the pace and conviction seen in the first 45 minutes, with Liverpool looking considerably more solid in the second period than they did during the first.
With just under fifteen minutes left Liverpool decided to make their first substitution of the evening, with Babel departing and Lucas Leiva taking his place.
The Brazilian midfielder made an instant impact. With his second touch after coming on, Leiva hit an absolute thunderbolt of a shot straight in to the back of the Steaua net from 25 yards.
As the game was coming to its end, it fell to N’Gog to put the icing on the cake of a strong Liverpool display with a well-placed strike into the bottom corner from just inside the box.
Despite a shaky start from both teams Liverpool walked out with a deserved victory against a strong Steaua Bucharest side, with a host of positives to take from the performances of some of the Reds lesser-seen players.
Following the win at Anfield, Cole talked about the importance of getting off to a good start in the competition, stating winning home games during the group stages is essential to ensure progression to the next round.
“You’ve got to win your home games, it’s very important,” said Cole. “I think if you win your three home games and get one draw on your travels it will see you through”
Liverpool’s next fixture is a crucial clash against north-west rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford.