Marseille 1Cana 23
Gerrard 26, 32 pen
My how things change. Last night we saw a determined Marseille, a big difference from the team that meekly surrendered to us last season. They made us work hard and put us under a considerable amount of pressure which on some occasions, despite the result, we didn’t really deal with.
Rafa sprung a mini surprise with his line up. In came Torres, Gerrard and Babel which was good news but out went Alonso and Keane which could raise questions over whether Rafa feels he can now accommodate all these players in the same line up. However that debate is for another day?
The first half was not the one that most of us expected. The play was surprisingly open both sides enjoying plenty of space and of opportunity on goal via the counter attack or carving their way through defenders who where, to put it politely, taking a while to get going! Chances were plentiful Marseille through Niang and then us through Babel, with and exquisite turn and poor shot, Gerrard with a better effort and then Torres onto the roof of the net. Surely goals would come, and soon?
Sadly it was Marseille, via Cana, who opened the scoring. I don’t know whether Bruno Cheyrou’s reputation during his spell at Anfield preceded him but we certainly didn’t seem to pay his brother too much attention or the respect his performance on the night deserved. Benoit Cheyrou was allowed to run free in midfield and it was his pass and Cana’s run that beat our rather slothful attempts to spring the offside trap, step forward Jamie Carragher, literally! Cana ran on to slot past a hesitant Reina.
Cause for concern in the sense that it was poor defending however, in terms of the game, we would surely have chances, it was so open and Marseille didn’t look capable of shutting up shop? Three minutes later Torres burst from midfield and fed Kuyt whose cut back found Steven Gerrard. What followed was exceptional. Gerrard produced what can only be described as the footballing equivalent of a pitching wedge to send to ball arcing over a stranded Mandanda and down into the corner of the net. A superb goal. How did he do it?
Minutes later we were in front. Babel latched onto Carragher’s long ball. Zubar bought the Dutchman’s “lollipop” (Andy Townsend’s word not mine) and upended him. Gerrard, after being made to retake the spot kick, kept his nerve and slotted home low and hard to the keepers left.
Game over. No way. One always expected Marseille to come back at us and they did through Hilton’s downward header which was thankfully directed right at Reina. Then Cana combined well with Ziani to cut through our defence only to spoon over. Next it was our turn through two Babel opportunities one which hit the post the other producing a point blank save from the keeper. Marseille continued to press right to the end but we rode our luck thanks to a couple of poorly executed Niang chances and held out.
On paper this looks like an excellent win however, there were worries. All too often we cleared the ball only to give it away in midfield immediately Lucas in particularly looked out of sorts. Torres looked a bit rusty and was replaced on the hour. I guess this was to be expected and he will be better for the run out. Gerrard followed ten minutes later. Perhaps a gamble at the time given the score but then again perhaps necessary given the fact that both player were probably still a bit short of match fitness.
So grounds for satisfaction and certainly a better start than last season. On Saturday we proved what we can do without Steven Gerrard. However last night, as if there was any doubt, he proved just how valuable he is when he’s with us.
Marseille: Mandanda, Bonnart, Zubar, Hilton, Taiwo, Cana, Cheyrou, Kone (Samassa 75), M’Bami (Valbuena 41), Ben Arfa (Ziani 57), Niang.
Subs Not Used: Riou, Zenden, Kabore, Erbate.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Skrtel, Carragher, Dossena, Gerrard (Benayoun 69), Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Kuyt (Keane 86), Torres (Riera 64), Babel.
Subs Not Used: Cavalieri, Agger, Alonso, Degen.