Lacklustre Liverpool held by Utrecht
Liverpool fans were forced to endure another poor display as their side were held to a goalless draw by Utrecht.
Yesterday manager Roy Hodgson had pledged to play his one fit star name, Fernando Torres, but had a last-minute change of heart after being persuaded otherwise by his medical staff. With the Reds already qualified for the final 32 stage of the UEFA Europa League, it led to a turgid and uninspiring night which highlighted the lack of depth in the squad.
Hodgson had initially planned to give Torres pitch time to rediscover his goalscoring touch - goalkeeper Jose Reina was also expected to start but he was left out of the squad altogether - but was forced to watch the entire 90 minutes from the bench instead. There was some semblance of logic behind the idea but to play the striker in a game which was a dead rubber, with Liverpool already through as group winners, was always going to be a risk.
"I had a change of heart (on starting Fernando Torres)," admitted Hodgson prior to kick-off. "I was seriously considering giving him a start but I had a talk with our fitness people and they convinced me it may not be the wisest move."
Torres' absence robbed Liverpool of their one genuine attacking threat and, as a result, the first half was not one which will live long in the memory of those young fans who benefited from the club's generous ticket offer. The one piece of excitement they witnessed was when Milan Jovanovic, who scored against Steaua Bucharest in Romania a fortnight ago, rattled the crossbar with an eighth-minute long-range shot.
Aside from that the home side never established a rhythm, which was partly down to the fact Hodgson made ten changes to the team which lost to Newcastle at the weekend with only Martin Skrtel, captaining the team on his 26th birthday, surviving.
The team still contained the likes of Joe Cole, Ryan Babel, Jovanovic, Christian Poulsen and Fabio Aurelio but also included 19-year-old Nathan Eccleston, making his first start, and 18-year-old Danny Wilson on only his second appearance.
Utrecht, for their part, arrived at Anfield knowing they could not qualify for the last 32 but even with that freedom they too could not muster a display to excite their 4,000-strong travelling contingent. And they suffered a blow just before half-time when top scorer Ricky van Wolfswinkel left the pitch on a stretcher and was taken to hospital with a suspected broken collarbone after falling awkwardly.
Hodgson made a change at the interval but it was not the one the crowd were wanting, with Sotirios Kyrgiakos replacing Skrtel. Babel was first to threaten ten minutes after the restart when his run to the edge of the penalty area saw him fire wide of Michel Vorm's right-hand post. Eccleston then departed to allow another promising youngster, Dani Pacheco, to enter the fray. But Babel was looking Liverpool's most likely goalscorer and he came within inches of connecting with Kelly's low cross into the six-yard box.
Hodgson's final substitution had more than a touch of sentimentality about it, giving Dirk Kuyt a run-out for the final 18 minutes against his former club when he replaced Jovanovic. It posed the question quite why Torres was included in the match squad at all. Late on Cole looked certain to score but had his low shot charged down by Keller after Vorm had spilled Aurelio's cross. That summed up the England midfielder - and Liverpool's - night.