Liverpool 3 Zenit 1: Four lessons as Reds run out of steam at Anfield
Liverpool 3 Zenit 1: What lessons did we learn as a Luis Suárez-inspired Reds side narrowly miss out on a place in the last 16?
Liverpool denied another great European night
Steven Gerrard recalled his memories of great European nights at Anfield ahead of the return leg against Zenit. The 32-year-old has experienced his fair share of memorable games during a decorated career, with a scintillating strike in a 3-1 victory over Olympiakos in 2005 a personal highlight. Hulk’s early strike mirrored that of another Brazilian in that famous Champions League group stage decider as Rivaldo’s free-kick left the Reds on the brink of exit. On that occasion, Neil Mellor, Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Gerrard scored second-half strikes to ensure their passage into the last 16 en route to winning a fifth European Cup. With Luis Suárez at his magical best and Lucas Leiva dominating in midfield, it felt like Zenit would join illustrious names such as Chelsea, Roma, St Etienne and become the latest victims of a resurgent Liverpool comeback. With Joe Allen’s goal handing the home side a boost before half-time, Suárez’s second free-kick left the Reds on the brink of an aggregate win. But Rodgers’s substitutions disrupted Liverpool’s rhythm as Oussama Assaidi, Jonjo Shelvey and Raheem Sterling failed to adjust to the game’s demanding pace and the home side’s churning motor ground to a halt – along with their prospects of a last-16 spot.
Carragher’s 150 and out
Jamie Carragher’s decision to retire in the summer coincided with a late revival in his first-team career at Anfield. The 35-year-old has played a supporting role this season with Rodgers preferring Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel at centre-half. However, in recent weeks, Carragher has been back in favour largely thanks to commanding displays at Arsenal and Manchester City. So, in a must-win clash, Rodgers handed the veteran a starting berth and his 150th appearance in European competitions, with the defending joining an elite band of greats such as Paolo Maldini, Raul and Javier Zanetti. But disaster struck inside 19 minutes. Acutely aware of his diminishing pace, Carragher stiffly turned towards his goal to deal with a looping ball and under hit a back pass to Pepe Reina. Zenit striker Hulk pounced and calmly slotted his strike past Liverpool’s goalkeeper. It was a cruel way to end his career in Europe after magnificent performances in the club’s run to Champions League finals in 2004-05 and 2006-07.
Suárez banishes St Petersburg demons
Rodgers refused to attach any blame to his clinical frontman Suárez for their 2-0 reversal in the first leg at Zenit. The Uruguay international, who has 17 Premier League goals this season, squandered four clear-cut chances in Russia but the 25-year-old almost made amends at Anfield. Suárez was at his devastating best from kick-off, revitalised by his goal against Swansea, giving Zenit defender Luís Neto a thorough workout. Denmark international Daniel Agger played a key role in Liverpool’s equaliser as the defender’s rare foray into the Zenit half was halted on the edge of the visitors’s area. The Russian side employed their best time-wasting routines to leave Suárez with plenty of time to weigh up his options and the striker thumped a sumptuous shot through a hole in the Zenit wall. With Suárez out of his Europa League funk, the South American continued to terrorise Neto and drew a foul within shooting distance of Zenit’s goal. The Kop urged their captain to launch one of his powerful efforts in Vyacheslav Malafeev’s direction but Gerrard conceded to his in-form team-mate. The former Ajax striker’s strike arched over the Zenit wall before curling inside Malafeev’s left post. It was the Uruguayan’s sixth goal in his last six outings at Anfield but it is those misses in Russia which ultimately cost Liverpool.
Hulk starting to justify hefty price tag
Hulk was certainly not affected by reports of dressing room discontent at his gigantic wages at Zenit. The former Chelsea target has made a mixed start to his new career in Russia but appears to be turning a corner. The €40m signing had managed four goals in 15 appearances prior to the first leg before smashing an outrageous long-range strike past Reina. The former Porto man scored his second goal against the Reds, albeit receiving a helping hand from Carragher. And he continued to threaten throughout the away leg. With Suárez scoring free-kicks for fun in Zenit’s half, Hulk produced a venomous effort which viciously dipped within inches of Reina’s goal. When Zenit did enjoy a rare spell of domination midway through the second half, it was their talisman again who came closest to breaking Liverpool’s resolve, with Reina showing sharp reflexes to palm the striker’s shot to safety.