The Reds progressed through to the next round of the Champions League with a superb away performance in Leverkusen last night. The win built on the first leg win at Anfield and meant the Reds finally went through 6-2 on aggregate. Bayer were poor but the Reds really took them to task and ensured they won in comfort. Luis Garcia and Milan Baros grabbed the Reds goals on the night when in truth it could have been more.
The game was a return to the Bay Arena for the Reds and as last time they arrived with an advantage in the goals department. The Reds took to the field in their all yellow away strip and after a minute's silence for the late Rinus Michels the game was ready to start. Leverkusen kicked off attacking their own fans but it was the Reds who came out the traps quickly.
In fact the Reds could have actually been ahead after just three and a half minutes had Baros been more aware. Garcia played the ball to him and had he taken the ball towards goal initially he was actually clear with no-one in the way. After his touch away from the goalward direction he turned and hit a weak shot straight at Butt in the Bayer goal. Eight minutes later and Baros who was ploughing a neat furrow up the pitch was brought down in the box. A stone cold penalty not given for some reason despite both ref and assistant being near the incident. Thankfully it turned out to be no problem.
Midway through the half as Bayer started to try and up the tempo a little they missed a golden chance to test Dudek. They broke forward well and a cut back to Donovan just needed to be hit goalwards but he air shot at it. The Reds grabbed the ball and charged down the pitch. Gerrard played it through for Baros who turned and tried to play the ball back for Gerrard coming in but it was cut out before it reached him.
With Bayer looking to build some pressure on the Reds there came a turning point and one that virtually meant game over. Baros and Gerrard played a one two up field which saw Gerrard unleash a great shot on target but Butt pushed it behind for a corner kick. That corner was cleared to Hamann. He played it on to Gerrard who looked up and as Finnan broke down the wing and dragged the man with him Gerrard fizzed the ball to the box where Garcia managed to poke it past the keeper for a dream start. That was the away goal and you really did start to feel comfortable now.
That comfort zone expanded even more just five minutes later when Luis Garcia bagged his second goal of the night. It again came as a result of a corner from Gerrard. This time Biscan rose well to head goalwards but just in front of the line Garcia deflected it the other way and past the keeper to put the Reds two up and game over as Bayer now needed five to win through.
The Reds now looked to really dominate and Baros seemed to get round the back at will. He was in on thirty four minutes and tried to pull the ball back for Garcia to complete his hat trick but it didn't reach him. Four minutes later and Baros was free again and this time he got it Garcia but his shot on goal was well saved by the keeper.
Baros had to leave the pitch on forty one minutes for treatment to his bloody nose. He got the bang on it from a definite flying elbow as he tried to breakthrough the back line again. He managed to return pretty quickly though after Dave Galley checked him over. Before half time arrived Bierofken picked up a booking. As half time arrived though Bayer looked out for the count as the Reds were going into cruise control.
The Reds got the second half underway and seven minutes into the half they broke forward through Riise. He put Gerrard through and he went to cut the ball back to Baros. It was cut out from him but fell to Garcia but his shot flew over the bar. Bayer were trying to move forward still. They didn't necessarily have much will to get through but were looking to hold pride at least in their performance and they deserve code for this. Franca blasted over on fifty five minutes after good work down the Bayer right.
Just as three years ago, as the clock struck sixty one minutes Dietmar Hamann was replaced by Vladimir Smicer. It was exactly the same move at exactly the same time but this time around it was just to protect him from injury and tiredness and this time the Reds were in the comfort zone. Within a minute the Reds had a great chance to extend the lead as Baros was put through. He set up Gerrard whose shot was blocked and then his follow up lay off to Baros was missed as well.
The Reds finally made it 3-0 on sixty six minutes through Milan Baros who deserved a goal for all his hard work. A lucky break of the ball high up the pitch allowed Baros to chest the ball down in the area and smash it home. It was now a case of will the Reds try for more or just sit and be bored. Carragher was replaced by John Welsh on sixty nine minutes which saw Biscan slot into the back line and five minutes later Nunez came on to right back in place of Finnan. Time to rest up now and just don't get injured.
The Reds finally conceded a late goal to Bayer. There was just three minutes left on the clock when the goal went in and it was a good finish from Krzynowek. He got the ball and sold John Welsh a dummy before firing home much to the disgust of the Reds back line. Even though the game was all sewn up it was good to see such disappointment at conceding the goal in that sense. They nearly conceded a second in the final minute as a mistake from Gerrard let Voronin through but Dudek stood up well to save with his feet.
All in this was basically the end of two great games for the Reds. Admittedly Bayer didn't look the same side that had come through their group stage so well but the Reds still had to do the job and for that they deserve great credit. This is a way forward for the Reds and long may it continue. It doesn't come through in every game but they should use this game as a yard stick for the rest of the season.
MotM : Luis Garcia - played superbly well on the night and got two goals at a great time of the game to finish the night off early. This was also another game where Garcia looked to work harder throughout the midfield and slowly looks to be settling down to the pace and power of English footie. Milan Baros and Stephen Warnock also played superbly on the night within an excellent team performance.