BERN, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Liverpool FC celebrate after scoring against BSC Young Boys during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between BSC Young Boys and Liverpool FC at Stade de Suisse on September 20, 2012 in Bern, Switzerland. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
With names like Luis Suarez, Pepe Reina, and Steven Gerrard all left at home, everyone knew that Brendan Rodgers would be fielding a young, inexperienced side against BSC Young Boys in Bern on Thursday night. Still, it was a bit of a shock to actually see a teamsheet with names like Dani Pacheco, Suso, and Andre Wisdom all in the starting eleven. All the more shocking was that Liverpool's highest scoring player on the pitch to start the night was Jamie Carragher, whose four career goals put him ahead of fellow senior players Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, and Jose Enrique.
And in the end, the manager's decision to gamble on kids while keeping his more proven players rested for Sunday's league match against Manchester United paid off with the most convincing attacking display of the season to date for Liverpool.
Young Boys 3 Nuzzolo 38', Ojala 52', Zarate 63'
Liverpool 5 Ojala (OG) 4', Wisdom 40', Coates 67', Shelvey 76', Shelvey 88'
The match kicked off with Liverpool holding possession for three minutes straight, the relatively senior Jordan Henderson and Nuri Sahin providing a base in midfield and the young visiting side happy to start at a patient pace. At least until the ball went out to Stewart Downing on the right. Rather than looking to pass, Downing put his head down, only ever thinking of the cross—even though Liverpool had nobody in the box. Yet somehow his right-footed effort found its way pinball-like off a pair of defenders' heads and into the back of the goal.
It was a blind cross with nobody in the box; Downing looked to be playing a different game than the rest of his teammates; and it should have been an easy clearance for any of the four defenders in the area. Yet just over three minutes into the match, Liverpool found themselves up 1-0, finally getting that bit of luck they've been wishing for for almost an entire calendar year.
After the goal, Downing continued to end most of Liverpool's spells of possession through over-ambitious long-ball attempts—only with none of them managing to ricochet into the back of Young Boys' goal—while neither side created much in the final third despite a generally enjoyable and open game. Two exceptionally hopefully penalty claims by Young Boys likely signalled a slight edge for the home side, but it was a narrow one at best.
Meanwhile for Liverpool, it was a largely anonymous first half for Pacheco, Assaidi, and Sahin. All did what they were asked to do, providing a solid foundation through patient possession and smart movement, but none looked likely to provide the cutting edge Liverpool lacked for most of the opening frame. Liverpool's only notable move from open play in the half was almost entirely thanks to Suso, whose quick feet took him on a slaloming run into the box and to the byline in the 37th minute. Unfortunately it ended when he squared the ball across the six yard box while nominal striker Pacheco loitered on the edge of the area and no other Liverpool player showed any intent to follow him in on goal.
With Liverpool having trouble creating much in the attacking third, Young Boys got their chance to draw level late in the half when a scuffed pass dribbled between Jamie Carragher and Jose Enrique and into the Liverpool penalty area. Brad Jones initially looked to be charging out to collect or clear, and as a result the two defenders sought to screen the onrushing attacker. Then, half way to the ball, Jones pulled up.
The resulting poor attempt to play out of trouble by the surprised Enrique ended badly, and Raphael Nuzzolo drove the ball past the goalkeeper's outstretched hands. However, the goal seemed to wake Liverpool up, and minutes later a powerful Wisdom header off a corner gave Liverpool the lead back—and provided the first goal of the night that wasn't the result of an embarrassing defensive error.
Liverpool continued to look the more dangerous of the two sides in the early stages of the second half, with Young Boys pushing for an equaliser and plenty of space for the visitors to counter into. Liverpool were unable to put away one of their chances, though, and as Young Boys kept pushing forward another goal for the hosts seemed inevitable. And it was, as only seven minutes into the half Juhani Ojala made up for his own goal opener with a headed effort back across goal and past Brad Jones.
Then, ten minutes later, striker Raul Bobadilla overpowered Jamie Carragher to bring down a long pass and sent Eulogio Zarate clear, putting Young Boys up for the first time. Last season, Liverpool would have collapsed following Young Boys' third. Perhaps even the Liverpool that has struggled to score in the league so far this season would have collapsed. This time, with a little help off the bench, they didn't.
Fabio Borini had come on just before Young Boys' third goal, and the 21-year-old striker led Liverpool's immediate push for an equaliser of their own. A chance to level came quickly when, minutes after the restart, he lost his defender and went clear on goal as Suso sent the ball down the right channel. It was an intelligent run from Borini, and a quality pass from the impressive Suso, but from a bad angle the striker could only drill the ball against the keeper.
It led to a corner, though, and that corner gave Liverpool their third of the night when Sebastian Coates directed a ball towards the bottom corner. Borini kicked at it on the way by, perhaps unsighting the man stationed at the post—and the officials even credited the goal to Borini at first—as the ball bounced twice on its way from Coates' forehead to where it settled in the side netting.
Soon afterwards, Borini broke down the left and drilled a cross that just missed the charging Shelvey, introduced off the bench for the largely anonymous Assaidi. On another night it might have ended up a wasted opportunity, but on this night Jordan Henderson was trailing the play and smartly cushioned the ball back to Shelvey in the middle. A calm side footed finish gave Liverpool the lead back on a free-scoring night in Bern.
The sudden goalfest would be capped with two minutes remaining in the ninety, and again Shelvey and Borini were running at the defence. This time, it was Shelvey with the ball as he charged down the centre of the pitch, and when Borini's run across the face of the centre back dragged the Young Boys' defender out of position it gave the midfielder the time and space to step up to the edge of the penalty area and drill a left-footed effort through the keeper.
In all it was a strong showing for Liverpool, though not one without its problems and question marks. Jordan Henderson deserves praise not only for the saving assist on Shlevey's first, but also for doing the largely anonymous dirty work with Joe Allen left in Liverpool with an eye to Sunday's match against Manchester United. There were also top performances from youngsters Wisdom and Suso to point to, even if neither Assaidi nor Pacheco did much to impress—though the Moroccan winger did have one good chance before he was substituted and Pacheco at least worked hard to get back and help when Liverpool didn't have the ball
At the back, Coates another strong showing in addition to scoring, and Andre Wisdom looked assured both on and off the ball at right back—though he didn't get forward much, as might have been expected for a natural centre back. Next to them, however, both Carragher and Jose Enrique appeared willing but overmatched at times, while in goal Jones looked shaky whenever he was called on to come for the ball either on the ground or in the air.
Still, on the whole there will be more positives than negatives for Brendan Rodgers to take away from the match—not to mention all three points—and one has to think that Jonjo Shelvey has played himself into contention for Sunday in the league while players like Wisdom and Suso have likely guaranteed they'll see lots of action in the cups in coming weeks.