UEFA Champions League Group A – Result
Tuesday December 11th 2007
Marseille 0 Liverpool 4
Tom Hicks will find it harder to sack Rafael Benitez as Liverpool qualified in style for the knockout phase of the Champions League. Liverpool knew that a win in Marseille was the only way they could guarantee qualification, and with Porto beating Besiktas that proved to be the case. Rafa sent his players out telling them to treat it as a final – and they did.
The only time Liverpool fans were really worried was for the split second that passed between Mandana saving Gerrard’s penalty and Gerrard smashing the rebound into the net. That was after 4 minutes, and considering Marseille should have been a man short after the professional foul that led to the penalty Marseille were perhaps lucky that they went in at half-time only 2-0 down.
That second goal was one that we’ll see again and again, a special goal from a special player. Fernando Torres received the ball from Harry Kewell – who had an excellent game – and bamboozled the French defence.
Straight after the restart Dirk Kuyt put the tie beyond the reach of l’OM who had just substituted one ex-Red for another, Djibril Cisse replacign Bolo Zenden. Rafa waited until 67 minutes before he felt comfortable enough to start resting players with the Manchester United league game in mind, Harry Kewell first to be brought off. Fernando Torres was also brought off ten minutes later, and on this showing will be no doubt the subject of many hours of DVD viewing over in Manchester this week.
The final goal came in stoppage time, Ryan Babel using his pace and strength to turn a good ball from Fabio Aurelio into a goal that sees Liverpool end the group with a goal difference of plus thirteen, the highest in the competition this season as things stand.
George Gillett was expected at the game tonight, with Tom Hicks no doubt watching from his Texas offices. If they really do want to sack Rafa, despite the fans’ wishes and the performances (bar one) that Rafa’s players have put in of late, then they’ll be disappointed that their opportunity still hasn’t arrived. Not only should they be making their backing of Rafa public, they should be backing that up with transfer funds to allow Rafa to add more players of the calibre of Torres to the squad. After all, Rafa’s just ensured a little bit more prize money.
Progression to the knockout phases only guarantees two more games however, and Porto’s win means Liverpool are in the draw as on of the group runners-up, meaning they’ll play one of the group winners. They can’t play Porto of course after being in the same group, nor can they play Chelsea or Manchester United as fellow English sides. Of the other group winners already decided they could play Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan or Barcelona. The only group with winners not yet decided is Group H, where either Arsenal or Sevilla could finish top, of which only Sevilla could be potential last-sixteen opponents of the Reds.
Reaction to follow.
Marseille: 30 Mandanda, 24 Bonnart, 4 Rodriguez, 32 Givet (5 Faty, 45), 3 Taiwo, 7 Cheyrou (22 Nasri, 34), 6 Ziani, 10 Zenden (9 Cisse, 45), 19 Cana, 28 Valbuena, 11 Niang
Unused subs: 40 Mate, 8 Oruma, 15 Zubar, 17 M’Bami
Bookings: Cana 41
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 17 Arbeloa, 23 Carragher, 4 Hyypia, 6 Riise, 7 Kewell (12 Aurelio, 67), 20 Mascherano, 8 Gerrard, 11 Benayoun, 18 Kuyt (21 Lucas, 86), 9 Torres (19 Babel, 77)
Unused subs: 30 Itandje, 3 Finnan, 15 Crouch, 46 Hobbs
Goals: Gerrard 4, Torres 11, Kuyt 48, Babel 90
Bookings: Carragher 29, Aurelio 89
Stats: (Marseille – Liverpool)
Possession: 41% – 59%
Shots on target: 0 – 5
Shots off target: 5 – 8
Corners: 6 – 2
Fouls: 12 – 17
Referee: Terje Hauge