Liverpool eased into the quarter-finals of the Europa
League after an efficient 3-0 win over Lille, overturning a
deficit from the first leg to triumph 3-1 on aggregate.
Steven Gerrard converted a penalty to put the Reds in front after just nine minutes, with Fernando Torres
scoring twice in the second half to ensure the side’s progression to the last eight of the tournament.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg in France, Liverpool began with a quick tempo, trying to pressure the visitors into a mistake. Brazilian midfielder Lucas did just that, bursting into the box and going down after a clumsy challenge. The referee did not hesitate to award a penalty and Gerrard kept his cool from the spot to give Rafa Benitez’s side exactly the start they were looking for.
Fernando Torres continued his return to form as he scored twice in the second half to make it four goals in
two games. First, the Spanish forward pounced on a defensive mistake to deftly chip the goalkeeper and put Liverpool ahead in the tie. Then Torres sealed the victory in the final minute, finishing a rebound after Gerrard’s shot.
Liverpool controlled much of the game but despite the early goal, Lille still caused problems, missing several good chances to score an away goal and change the course of the tie. Eden Hazard, who scored Lille’s goal in the first leg, missed a fantastic opportunity when through on goal, shooting straight at Pepe Reina.
At 2-0 Lille needed just a single goal to go through on away goals and Liverpool did grow nervous as the game wore on. The French side adopted a more adventurous mentality but could not find a way past a stubborn defence.
However, it was another encouraging performance by Liverpool and the team had clearly taken confidence from the 4-1 win over Portsmouth in the Premier League on Monday. Gerrard put in a committed performance to drive the team forward, with Ryan Babel and Emiliano Insua offering width and pace down the left wing.
Ahead of the game, winger Albert Riera had attacked Benitez’s man-management and claimed the club is a “sinking ship”, but Liverpool are now strong contenders for the Europa League title, which would provide some consolation in a disappointing season.
The Reds will now turn their focus to the ongoing battle for fourth place in the Premier League and begin preparation for a daunting trip to face rivals Manchester United on Sunday at Old Trafford, where Liverpool ran out 4-1 winners last season.
By Chris Shaw
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Torres scored twice in the second half after Gerrard had converted an early penalty kick