Liverpool 3 (3), Zenit 1 (3): One Moment Short of a Miracle

Alex Livesey

A heroic attacking effort was almost enough to put Liverpool through to the Europa League's Round of 16, but in the end it couldn't overcome the one moment of defensive madness that instead sees them exit the competition on away goals.

Liverpool 3 Suarez 27', Allen 43', Suarez 59'
Zenit 1
Hulk 19'

After failing to put away their chances in St. Petersburg the week before, Liverpool headed into the return leg of their Europa League tie against Zenit needing to overcome a two goal deficit and without an away goal to help should the aggregate scoreline end level. The match would also offer a chance for Joe Allen to overcome a recent run of poor form, as the diminutive Welshman joined Lucas, Jordan Henderson, and captain Steven Gerrard in a midfield meant to dominate the centre of the park both with and without the ball.

Meanwhile, with Martin Skrtel suffering a knee injury in training, it meant Brendan Rodgers had little choice but to turn to Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger as his centre back pairing—with Carragher on the verge of retirement and playing his fourth match in eleven days. With the vice-captain in good form, though, the biggest question wasn't Carragher's legs. Rather it was whether Liverpool's midfield could make up for the absence of a cup tied Daniel Sturridge and help Suarez turn the spurned chances in Russia into goals at Anfield.

Or so it seemed. In the end, though, despite Liverpool's best efforts, it would be a momentary lapse by Carragher combined with the lack of an away goal that sealed Liverpool's departure for Europe.

liverpool blog fc sbn

A lively crowd greeted the players as they emerged from the tunnel. It wasn't quite the kind of atmosphere Anfield was always known for on European nights in the Champions League, but it wasn't too far off it. Zenit, meanwhile, would try to counter the crowd and the hosts' attempts to overload the final third by playing on the counter, with Hulk looking dangerous as he replaced an injured Aleksandr Kerzhakov through the middle.

From the opening whistle, Liverpool attempted to match the energy coming from the stands, though at times nerves got the better of a side that knew it needed at least three—and probably more—goals to advance. Then, in the 19th minute, Jamie Carragher let the ball bounce with Hulk closing in. A panicked attempt to recover and send it back to Reina only served as a perfect through-ball for the Brazilian, who cooly slotted into the bottom of the goal to give the visitors the away goal that all but sealed the tie.

Despite that goal, Liverpool's heads didn't drop, and in 27th minute Suarez blasted a free kick through the Zenit wall to breathe life back into the tie. But with Liverpool needing three more and Zenit looking dangerous when given the chance to counter, it still seemed an almost impossible task. However, almost impossible became a slightly less daunting prospect in the 43rd minute when Jose Enrique's low cross found Joe Allen. The midfielder headed straight at Malafeev, but the rebound fell kindly and gave the hosts a second goal heading into the break.

liverpool blog fc sbn

Liverpool opened the second half as they did the first by pushing hard for goals, and a 50th minute handball in the Zenit box looked as though it should have given Liverpool a penalty kick. But the Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers wasn't impressed by the protests of Liverpool's attackers and waved play on. And again, rather than letting their heads drop when faced with adversity, Liverpool only seemed to push harder as a result of what on replay appeared an exceptionally harsh decision.

It paid off when Neto brought Suarez down right on the edge of the area, and for the second time the Liverpool striker scored from a free kick, this time curling the ball around the wall and just past Malafeev's outstretched hand to draw the score level on aggregate. At the restart, Rodgers brought Jonjo Shelvey on for Joe Allen and Oussama Assaidi for Henderson, a pair of attacking changes that saw a clearly rattled Zenit penned back in their own third for the next twenty minutes.

Lucas and Gerrard were especially dominant in midfield during that stretch, providing a base for the relentless attack, and in the 71st minute it was Gerrard who hammed a volley into the ground on Liverpool's best chance to win the tie. Malafeev, though, was up to the task, the Russian 'keeper diving brilliantly to palm away the ball as it bounced back up towards the top corner from fifteen yards out. Almost immediately afterwards, Reina stopped a Hulk effort at the other end as Zeinit had their first good chance of the second half.

While Liverpool would continue to press in attack, Zenit had weathered the worst of the storm. Rodgers made his last roll of the dice in the 84th minute, bringing on Raheem Sterling for Stewart Downing, but the pressure that had followed Suarez' second goal of the night had finally broken without Liverpool getting the fourth they so desperately needed. And so the tie ended level on aggregate but with Liverpool out on the away goal rule, their heroic efforts at home not quite enough to make up for their profligacy on the road and one moment of defensive madness by Jamie Carragher in the final European appearance of his career.

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