So, Liverpool secured a comfortable 3-0 win without the services of Carragher, Gerrard and Torres -who would have thought it? Certainly not me when I heard the team sheet shortly before the game against Aston Villa on Monday night.
The absence of Carra and Stevie G was expected of course, given their injuries, but at the time the late withdrawal of ‘El Nino’ as his wife went into labour (a boy, Leo, future England prospect?) signalled imminent disaster to me, well, maybe another home defeat anyway.
I am pleased to say that not only was I proved gloriously wrong, but also that the players I least expected to make an impact did just that; David Ngog gave Liverpool the lead with a superb header after 14 minutes, Ryan Babel added to that two minutes later and Lucas was outstanding in midfield.
Meireles also impressed and scorer of the third goal, Maxi Rodriguez, played well enough to show us why he’s a regular for Argentina.
I never thought I would ever use ‘outstanding’ when applied to Lucas, but his performance on the night certainly merits such an adjective. His tackling and distribution were excellent, and, as well as showing tenacity and a will to cover the defence, he also got forward on plenty of occasions. What was especially pleasing was that he worked really well in tandem with the ever-improving Meireles, who finally looks settled.
In fact, I am not the only one who is now thinking that Meireles should not be moved to make way for Gerrard when he comes back. Rather, the former should play in the centre alongside Lucas in every game, with the captain ahead of them and in behind the front two.
Babel was also impressive; his workrate was superb, and he never stopped running. He also held the ball up well, allowing the midfielders to get forward, got the team defending high up the field and produced some great touches. It was arguably his best performance in two years, although there is an argument that he has never been given a decent run in the side to prove himself.
Ngog is also growing in stature. He will never be a Torres, but he tries his heart out, and on paper his goal tally is not that bad. He also did some great work last night, particularly in setting up Maxi’s goal.
Ngog and Babel received some well deserved praise from team mate Dirk Kuyt after their Anfield displays. The Dutchman said: “I thought David and Ryan did really well for us. They both scored a goal but it wasn't just that. They also worked really hard for the team and kept the ball well for us. It was a great performance from both of them.”
The all-round team performance against Aston Villa was certainly very encouraging, but will it continue? One of the reasons that the three absentees are key players is their consistency. With Carragher, Gerrard and Torres, by and large they are predictable; you know what to expect, and you know they will likely deliver. Can the same be said of Babel, Lucas, Ngog et al?
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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