Liverpool marked their European comeback with a dramatic 2-1 victory at home vs Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets. All 3 goals were left until very late, and it was Liverpool in the end who was able to secure an important victory.
Like the game on Saturday against Aston Villa at Anfield, Liverpool was stopped time and time again in the final third and seemed short of ideas.
Unlike the game on Saturday, Ludogorets did not sit back and park the bus; they attacked with courage and defended like their lives depended on it.
Liverpool was able to move the ball a little more quickly than Saturday by playing a different shape in midfield, but could not translate that into clear cut chances.
After a switch in formation and personal by Liverpool midway through the second half, chances started to come for both sides. Liverpool went close with Fabio Borini connecting with a header from a lovely first time cross, only to be well kept out by the Ludogorets goalkeeper Milan Borjan.
Ludogorets came storming down the pitch on a counter moments later and had their best chance of the match. Liverpool can thank the post for keeping the scores level after Simon Mingolet was well beaten by Roman Bezjak.
From there, Liverpool was able to make a breakthrough. Alberto Moreno’s cross was met in the box by Mario Balotelli, and the Italian muscled off two defenders and found the side netting for his first goal in a Liverpool shirt.
The celebrations were short lived however. Ludogorets were able to counter on Liverpool once again after Raheem Sterling lost the ball carelessly with men committed forward.
With Liverpool pushing to kill the game off, Abalo Paulos managed to round Mingolet and slot home for a deserved goal.
When all hope had faded, up popped Steven Gerrard to nervelessly slot home a spot kick and secure the 3 points. The Ludogorets goalkeeper had a heavy touch following a terrible back pass from his defender. Liverpool right back Javi Manquillo nicked the ball away and was brought down by the over-eager goalkeeper in the box.
It was an ending that seemed to be scripted months in advance.
Steven Gerrard, captaining Liverpool for another game in the Champions League after a 5 year hiatus. Steven Gerrard, coming off of a terrible few months full of personal disappointments.
Gerrard was able to convert a high pressure penalty and start to put the past behind him by helping Liverpool return to the Champions League with a victory.
Liverpool certainty still have a lot they need to work out. Having fullbacks so keen on getting forward is great, but not when you are 1-0 up in the dying moments of a match.
Alberto Moreno should not have been caught so far forward when Ludogorets made it 1 all deep in the second half. It caused Sakho to be out of position to cover for the Spanish fullback.
This resulted in Paulos finding the space he needed in between Liverpool’s 2 center halves.
Sure, you may say that right back Javi Manquillo was able to win the penalty by being Liverpool’s furthest player forward, but the scores were level at the time. Liverpool was pushing for an equalizer.
That is much different than defending a lead late in the game.
Thats the life of a fullback; criticized if you don’t offer enough going forward, and equally criticized if you are out of position at the back. Full backs must rely on excellent positioning skills, and that is something that Liverpool’s young fullbacks will only learn with experience.
Side note for Liverpool fans, it was very nice to see Balotelli get off the mark.
Ludogorets were very impressive in their performance. Pegged as the easy team in the group, they gave everything they had in this game.
Where most teams are cowed in front of Liverpool’s famous Kop, Ludogorets seemed encouraged by the atmosphere.
They passed well and had some great attacking moves going forward. However, they lacked that cutting edge in the final third.
Defensively, they were very stubborn for a strong Liverpool side to break down and they should benefit from this experience moving forward.
If they played this well away from home, it makes one wonder how tough they will be to play at home, especially in the later months when the weather gets colder.
All in all, it was great for Liverpool to get the 3 points out of this game. Ludogorets should consider themselves unlucky not to get anything from the game.