Dropped, wins penalty and scores – a crazy evening for Babel
Ryan Babel has found Liverpool a bewildering kind of place in the past 12 months. He has often resorted to dodging the ice baths which his manger insists his players take after games and admits he has found rotation difficult to deal with.
But nothing could have prepared him for the crazy events of this crazy night. First he is dropped to allow Steven Gerrard the left wing birth he detests, then he watches Theo Walcott skip past five of his Liverpool team-mates to set up Emmanuel Adebayor's equaliser. Then he finishes off Arsenal single-handedly – winning a penalty in a tangle with Kolo Touré and running 20 yards to dispatch a goal of his own.
"Physically I'm not yet at the point that I'm able to play 90 minutes in the crazy tempo of the Premier League," Babel said recently. "Even against the smaller clubs it's difficult for me." But if every 10 minutes on the field gets results like this then Benitez will be more sparing with him again.
This was a priceless substitution made by a manager whose decision-making had proved rather less than convincing as the night wore on. Benitez decided he would fiddle, even in the game which would effectively end the season of one or other of the sides. So much for all the value of the legendary Anfield 12th man – the vocal Liverpool faithful which, even as the sides lined up, had Arsenal's players exchanging nervous glances. Benitez banked on his nearly man, Peter Crouch. For 10 minutes, the Spaniard appeared to have been vindicated. That was the time it took Crouch to win half a dozen headers, reducing Philippe Senderos to pulp and even making William Gallas wonder whether it was really worth marking him. But Adebayor was threatening even more. Twice, he was narrowly ruled offside as he raced through the central channel off Sami Hyypia's shoulder. Then a turn of pace which took him past Jamie Carragher proved decisive in the move leading to Abou Diaby's thumping opener.
There were some anxious faces around Anfield in the half hour after that. When Mathieu Flamini was carried off with an ankle injury Benitez, notebook in hand, placed his hands on Alonso's shoulders to force his point.
Crouch had more than validated his appearance before setting up Liverpool's second goal, with another mighty jump which put Fernando Torres through. Torres then showed, with the exquisite two right-foot touches which he needed to swivel around Senderos and the third which sent an electrifying shot past Manuel Almunia, why Crouch might always struggle for a place here.
But a night whose closing stages defy much tactical talk belonged to Babel. "We needed pace and ability. I could see Torres was tired," Benitez said of the Dutchman's introduction last night and his late contribution assigns him a place in Anfield legend.
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