Wednesday 26 July 2017

Babel gives Reds edge as Cole fluffs lines

Liverpool 1
Trabzonspor 0

Fernando Torres challenges Trabzonspor's Hrvoje Cale during the Europa League tie at Anfield last night
Fernando Torres challenges Trabzonspor's Hrvoje Cale during the Europa League tie at Anfield last night

ANFIELD was treated to the good and bad faces of Joe Cole last night, seeing the wonderful skill that created Ryan Babel's first-half goal and then a penalty that was easily saved. Cole's eagerness to please has a down side.

It seemed that Cole was so keen to take the penalty, to make an impression at the Kop end, that he grabbed the ball when Lucas was brought down.

Cole boasts many strengths, the flicks and tricks, and the elegant way he fashioned Babel's goal, but an unerring accuracy from 12 yards has never been high on his CV. He has never taken a penalty before. It showed. For all the frustration of Cole's miss, this wasn't a bad night's work.

Christian Poulsen gave a promising performance in midfield, looking like he had played there for some time.

The Europa League ranks below the push for a Champions League place on Roy Hodgson's priorities, but this was a decent scoreline to take to Turkey next week.

No away goal conceded and 45 minutes for Fernando Torres, although Babel's future may be a matter of increased debate after this.

For 44 minutes, Liverpool had been largely anaemic, with the only highlight being a saved Sotirios Kyrgiakos header and Babel was particularly subdued.

For a half, Hodgson had put his faith in Babel as his attacking spearhead, a role the Dutchman long craved under Rafa Benitez, but he was slow to find his stride. Groans of frustration rippled through the stands.

Babel's intermittent work-rate and occasionally clunky first touch have hardly endeared him to Anfield. The raw but newly prolific David Ngog seems ahead of Babel in the Liverpool pecking order. If Ola Toivonen arrives from PSV Eindhoven, Babel will surely pass him in reception.

Babel's early inertia was forgiven seconds before the break, although the goal was created brilliantly by Cole. Here was the England midfielder at his best, relishing playing in his favourite position, scheming in the hole, alarming opponents with his touch and sense of adventure.

Cole collected possession and ran straight at Trabzonspor's momentarily disorganised defence. These are the scenarios Cole loves most, the ball at his feet and space to run into with defenders backpedalling.

Cole darted forward, seemingly shaping to play the ball right before reversing it to Babel, who was gliding unmarked down the inside-left channel.

Cole's pass was perfection, placed for Babel to run on to. His first touch teed it up and his second placed it expertly around Onur Kivrak, Trabzonspor's 'keeper.

This was the sort of finishing class that Rafa Benitez had invested in, had hoped would flourish at Anfield. Arriving full of promise after a strong display at the 2007 Uefa U-21 Championships, Babel's career has never accelerated here.

He has moved sideways, shunted out wide, when he clearly prefers a more central role and his days look numbered despite this goal, particularly when Hodgson made his move at the break.

Torres charged on, his pacey presence immediately stretching the Turks' defence. Trabzonspor sat deep, a sign of their respect for the Spanish World Cup-winner.

When Torres sped into the box, Serkan Balci managed to nick the ball away but the full-back was too rash with his next challenge, diving in on Lucas, who had been quick to seize on the loose ball. Serkan clearly caught the Brazilian midfielder, who fell to the floor, and the Austrian referee pointed instantly to the spot.

The Kop stood expectantly, awaiting Torres to supply the coup de grace from 12 yards. Instead, unwisely, Cole took the ball, a surprise to those who have followed his career. Cole's body language never looked right as he addressed the ball. Tests of mettle are not always the little man's strong point.

The Kop sought to show its support, cannibalising their old Harry Kewell chant to serenade Cole, but to no avail. His kick was poor, the penalty placed far too close to Onur, who saved with ease. However naive it had been to hand the kick to Cole, the England midfielder still impressed with some of his link-up work with Torres and the lively Milan Jovanovic, who drew a good save from Onur.

Equally encouraging for Liverpool was the smooth way the debut-making Christian Poulsen had slotted in to deep midfield, winning the ball in the first minute and immediately shouting some advice to Maxi Rodriguez.

delivery

Some rustiness could be seen in a ball that sold Joe Cole short and another inaccurate delivery to Sotirios Kyrgiakos, but Poulsen looks another shrewd signing by Hodgson.

His versatility was seen in the second period when he began playing the ball around, releasing Rodriguez with one fine delivery down the right, although the visitors' defence managed to quell the danger. Poulsen was denied a goal 17 minutes from time, turning the loose ball in when Onur fumbled, but the referee ruled it offside.

The Turks always hinted at a threat. Wearing a strip that looked designed by nostalgic Aston Villa fans, Trabzonspor exuded enough comfort in possession to keep Liverpool on their toes.

Set up well by such a canny coach in Senol Gunes, the mastermind of Turkey's run to third place at the 2002 World Cup, Trabzonspor also boasted an elegant midfielder in Selcuk Inan.

When Umut Bulut wormed his way into the box only the reflexes of Pepe Reina preserved Liverpool's lead. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport