Not a bad night to be beside the seaside all told.
A nice sunny evening, too bloody sunny when you’re right onto the west coast and the sun is on its way down behind the goal Liverpool are attacking, but enjoyable no less. Disclaimers out of the way, my seven year old was with me and has a habit of asking questions at inopportune moments in matches. Add to that the bloke two rows behind who took great pleasure in answering his phone and then commentating on the game loudly enough for Jurgen to hear 50 yards away, for ten bastard minutes! It is safe to say my attention wandered, then again I wasn’t the only one.
The first half, they were good enough to save me some typing by putting the team on the scoreboard for the first twenty.
The game itself felt different from the start. Early on it became obvious that Fleetwood were going to try to pressure us in our own half and make use of what felt like a very narrow pitch. Speed of thought and foot was obvious in tight situations on the touchline and the sometime claustrophobia of the centre circle. For 12 minutes it felt a bit like Tranmere again in an attacking sense. Mane doing plenty of running but falling short with his final ball on a few occasions, Markovic tried to catch Fleetwood’s keeper unaware by thumping a shot into the near post when he shaped to cross, but the keeper stood firm to beat it away. (Benefit of the doubt at this point, he may have just made a bollocks of the cross – it looked impressive in silhouette!)
On 13 though, Marko Grujic makes an impressive run from midfield, bypassing a couple of Fleetwood tackles on the way before being brought down in the box. Danny Ings steps up for the penalty, but the Fleetwood goalkeeper made the save. To be honest, from the other end of the pitch it looked slow. I have a theory that Ings is a great finisher when he doesn’t have to think about it. Friday and tonight seem to back that up so far. That and he’s not played a lot in the last nine months. Five minutes later, some good play between Mane and Alberto Moreno (who was as Alberto Moreno as he could be tonight, in every sense), saw the ball played across the box to Grujic.
His powerful finish underlined the influence he had throughout the half. Liverpool inspired by Grujic, would dominate the remainder of the half except for the final five minutes of it. The order of events is a little mixed up in my head I fear, but it was along the lines of; Moreno attempting to pass to Lovren whilst facing his own goal and instead playing in the winger who was right behind him. As I said, the full Moreno experience. That comes to naught but Flanagan, Matip and Grujic conspire to all win the ball back at various points from corner flag to 18 yard line, before all giving it away cheaply. This allowed a Fleetwood player to slalom past a despairing Lovren and Flanagan before stuffing a shot into the side netting.
I think (I was interrupted at this point by the daughter so I’m guessing at how the ball came back to Karius), Loris Karius presumably gives the resulting goal kick to Lovren and gets it back as Lovren is pressured. This was a common them in the first half with keeper and centre halves, on this occasion the ball seems to skid under his foot though. To his credit, he saves the corner under massive pressure from the Fleetwood forward (someone mentioned afterwards he’s Andy Cole’s son by the way). In saving the corner, he manages to play the ball across the box to Matip, who himself is closely guarded and dispossessed. The ball ends up fired across the six-yard line, and is about a foot from being turned in at the back post.
Other than that, the main things I took out of the first half were Grujic looking like he finds the entire concept of football too easy. He took about five minutes to take it all in, decided he would just boss it and did so wonderfully. He pretty much gave a masterclass in being an all-round midfielder. Fleetwood players took to trying to foul him, and he saw them coming. Just as well in one case, which any other day would have seen some form of card. Imperious is the word that springs to mind.
As for my pet subject of Karius, even the missed back pass didn’t seem to faze him. He was doing exactly the same thing about 30 seconds later! I’ve still to see him make a save, but he did claim a cross tonight under pressure that my old mate Simon Mignolet would have let fall onto an unmarked Fleetwood head. To me, he’s looking like a massive upgrade – but there’s a more in depth bit on that around here soon. I also got to see and hear how much he’s communicating with the rest of the team, it’s constant. Good info too, no doubt at all as to what he wants from them. As a card carrying member of the GK Union, I’m impressed at his confidence.
The second half saw all change again. Bogdan enjoying what must be his farewell tour before being left behind in Wigan on Sunday, has had more saves to make than Karius. Which says a lot about the defenders on show. To be fair, the freshly shorn Andre Wisdom looked solid enough as did Brad Smith. Smith did some lovely work down the left hand side with the second half’s stand out performer, 16 year old Ben Woodburn.
It was Woodburn who would score the second of the evening, Ryan Kent picking him out from the right hand side after Lucas had provided a great ball. Woodburn sweeping home before being roundly congratulated by his teammates. The floodgates would open as Liverpool created chance after chance in the second half, squandering plenty with poor decision making but ultimately scoring three more times.
If Woodburn stole the second half, Kent was a willing accomplice. Another cross providing that rarest of things, a Lucas Leiva goal. His celebration somewhat muted for reasons that I’m sure will fill some web storage in the next day or so. A minute later, Ejaria played Woodburn through again running into the box. The result shot smothered just inside the area by Fleetwood’s second keeper of the evening, unfortunately for him Roberto Firmino was on hand to put away the loose ball. On 88 minutes, the Fleetwood sponsors announced their first half keeper as the man of the match on the back of that penalty save, just as the second half lad was kicking the ball out. You had to feel sorry for the lad, especially when the ball went out for a throw in.
Firmino’s second and Liverpool’s fifth came in added time, courtesy of Woodburn’s wonderful control to the left of the Fleetwood box. The touch and ball fizzed across capped a great performance from the youngster, Firmino turning home from all of a yard in front of a despairing lunge by a Fleetwood centre half. By this point the sun was hidden, the child cold and wearing my hoody, and the old fella behind had finally shut up. Add in the result, it wasn’t a bad old night.
Written by Lee Andrews (@BigLee01)