It had been a long time coming; that of course being Liverpool’s eagerly awaited return to the UEFA Champions League, but The Reds’ very late win at home to Bulgarian side Ludogorets made it worth the wait for the Kop faithful by the end of proceedings. However, Brendan Rodgers will have plenty to answer for following a pretty lackluster performance from his side, especially against a side that cost a pittance to put together, as opposed to his multi-million pound squad.
Story of the game
Everyone expected Liverpool to come flying out of the traps after Saturday’s disappointing result against Aston Villa, but it was Ludogorets who started the brighter, despite the Reds’ new signing Alberto Moreno having some joy down the right-hand side. The Bulgarian’s played with very little fear in the opening stages and looked a confident bunch with some show-boating in the early exchanges.
Just as the game was about to reach the half-hour mark, Dejan Lovern stuck his arm out in the Liverpool penalty area, making no attempt to play the ball. The referee didn’t make much of the incident and waved play-on, the Ludogorets players feeling rightly aggrieved when the replays suggested that the official was wrong in his decision-making.
As Liverpool soaked up the pressure, they began to get a foothold in the game, new signings Mario Balotelli and Adam Lallana began to show signs of a promising partnership that was just marginally struggling to force an opening through a stubborn Ludogorets defence. Ludogorets conjured up a few speculative efforts in the form of frontman Misidjan, that was about as good as it got for the men from Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian champions also looked dangerous from set-pieces but Mingolet and Co. stood firm in their own box. On 39 minutes, a clever reverse pass from in-form Raheem Sterling set Coutinho free. Thee Brazilian scampered away from his man before the ball finally made its way to Lallana, who’s try at goal was deflected and cleared off the Ludogorets line, sparing the blushes of goalkeeper Borjan. That just about brought a close to the first half, a poor showing from the Reds on their return to European football.
Neither sides made any changes after the break with Liverpool starting the better. Jordan Henderson began to pull the strings at the heart of the midfield, yet Rodgers’ troops huffed and puffed for the majority of the second half until some great recovery work by the impressive Alberto Moreno led to the deadlock being broken. Moreno’s whipped ball found its way to Balotelli, the Italian gathered the ball and wriggled his way past two defenders to poke home from close range, sending the Anfield crowd into raptures.
Just as it looked like Liverpool would take all the points, Ludogorets regained possession on the half-way mark and burrowed forward until Abalo was fed by substitute Hamza, rounding Mignolet to make it 1-1 and silence the home crowd.
And just when you thought that was that, Liverpool won a penalty after Borjan was adjudged to have fouled the rampaging Javi Manquillo. Captain Steven Gerrard stepped up and made no mistake from twelve yards, in a thrilling climax to what had been an ordinary display by both sides overall.
Man of the Match
This easily could have been Mario Balotelli because of his first Liverpool goal, but Alberto Moreno just about pips him to the post in my view. The Spaniard’s explosive runs from defence heavily influenced the game in Liverpool’s favour even when their attacking stars looked out of sorts, particularly in the first half.
Line ups and ratings
Liverpool: Mignolet (6), Lovren(6), Sakho(5), Moreno(9), Manquillo(7), Gerrard(6), Coutinho(6), Henderson(7), Lallana(6), Sterling(6), Balotelli(8). Subs: Jones, Enrique, Touré, Lucas, Suso, Lambert, Borini.
Ludogorets: Borjan(6), A. Aleksandrov(6), Minev(5), Moti(6), Júnior Caiçara(7), Abel(5), Dyakov(5), Marcelinho(6), M. Aleksandrov(6), Bezjak(5), Misidjan(6) Subs: Gospodinov, Angulo, Fábio Espinho, Abalo, Zlatinski, Wanderson, Hamza.
How did you think that Liverpool did in their first Champions League game for nearly five years? Can Balotelli’s goal kick-start an excellent run for him and the side? Just how impressed were you with the quality and exuberance of Ludogorets? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .