Football: Gerrard Sends Lacklustre Liverpool Through
Posted November 27, 2008on:
LIVERPOOL, England: Steven Gerrard celebrated his return from injury by firing Liverpool into the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 1-0 win over Marseille on Wednesday.
The Liverpool captain’s first-half header from Xabi Alonso’s cross proved enough to secure a victory over opponents who deserved better after a display every bit as spirited as the one that had seen them become the first French club to win at Anfield 13 months ago.
Ultimately it was the sloppy marking that allowed Gerrard to claim his fifth goal in as many games in this season’s competition that snuffed out Marseille’s last chance of progress to the last 16.
ut Erik Gerets’ men could also count themselves unfortunate not to have enjoyed the breaks that would have enabled them to capitalise on a string of good chances as they put Liverpool under intense pressure after the interval.
It was a night of milestones for Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. His 66th European match in charge of the club eclipsed Bill Shankly’s record while a 39th victory on the European stage saw him draw level with Bob Paisley’s mark.
The Spaniard, though, could scarcely have been satisfied with another lacklustre display from his side which, even with Gerrard returning at the expense of Robbie Keane, lacked the attacking intensity he had promised in the wake of Saturday’s sluggish display against Fulham.
Marseille were fortunate not to be punished in the opening minutes when Dirk Kuyt charged down Taye Taiwo’s attempted clearance, the Dutchman failing to pick out Torres with his cross, and Daniel Agger’s long-range strike required Steve Mandanda to make his first save of the evening.
More than 20 minutes had elapsed before the visitors’ goalkeeper was called into serious action however and he did well to block Kuyt’s header at close range after Torres had skipped past Vitorino Hilton on the right of the box.
Marseille failed to clear their lines and they paid the price less than a minute later after Alvaro Arbeloa sent Alonso overlapping down the right.
The Spanish midfielder’s first-time cross was struck with his customary precision over a Marseille defence that had neglected to pick up Gerrard lurking beyond the back post.
Unchecked, the England midfielder was able to advance to the edge of the six-yard area before powering a header past Mandanda’s right hand.
Marseille’s best moment of the opening period came ten minutes before the break, when Taye Taiwo’s skidding freekick forced Jose Reina to get down smartly at his left-hand post.
Liverpool’s goalkeeper appeared less accomplished as he flapped at the resulting corner and was relieved to see Ronald Zubar head wide from a tight angle.
A rare right foot effort from Albert Riera drew another stop from Mandanda in first-half stoppage time.
But Liverpool were far from comfortable and could count themselves fortunate that Mamadou Niang’s boot swiped at clean air when the Marseille striker got clear in the penalty area shortly after the restart.
Minutes later, the Senegal striker turned Jamie Carragher 40 yards out but, with a clear run at goal, opted to shoot too early and his effort failed to trouble Reina.
The trickery of Hatem Ben Arfa on the right was also giving Liverpool problems and the France midfielder came agonisingly close to equalising midway through the half with a beautifully struck free-kick from the corner of the box that drew an equally pleasing fingertips save from Reina.
A slip by Agger then presented Niang with a sight of goal but the Danish defender’s blushes were spared by substitute Andrea Dossena, who threw his body into the line of fire for an important block on what was to prove Marseille’s last clear-cut chance of an equaliser.
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