Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Bordeaux last night took them through to the last 16 and the knockout phase of the Champions League, with two games to spare. Luis Garcia scored twice but what may prove to be even more important is the one scored by Steven Gerrard. The captain has had a tough season, not always playing to his own level, having to endure numerous false stories both in the press and on the internet, all of which seem to have originated from fans or officials of other clubs. The goal was his first one of this season, and he so desperately needed it. Gerrard’s goals played a big part in Liverpool’s improvement in the league last season.
Gerard played as if he had something to prove last night, and when he was interviewed after the game he was asked about those rumours claiming he was unsettled. Not a bit, said Steven: “You look at my performance tonight, it didn't look unsettled. I will be at Liverpool for many years to come and I'm loving every second.”
He smiled when asked about Rafael Benítez naming an unchanged side after not doing so for the last 99 matches, joking that it was a shock to the players: “He named the side an hour before kick-off and the lads were looking around in astonishment.” He was asked whether he agreed with the rotation policy himself, but wasn’t biting: “Rafa’s the boss; you have to believe in what he says, whatever team he puts out. Our form has been inconsistent and it is up to the players to improve that.”
The boss himself was delighted his captain had got off the mark: “Steven has been searching for that goal. When you have scored 23 one season and it takes a long time in the next campaign to get off the mark, then you do get worried. But he has been playing well and this goal will give him confidence to go on and reclaim his best form now. I believe he will be a lot calmer now.”
Rafa resisted the opportunity to say his own piece on Noel White, the director who went anonymously to the Mirror on Friday to launch an astonishing attack on the Spaniard. The club had released a statement a couple of hours before kick off confirming that White was responsible for that moment of cowardice. Rather than attack White, Rafa chose to draw a line under it all: “It is a pity, I have not had a bad relationship with Noel White and I am sorry this has happened. Now, though, I would prefer to look to the future.”
David Moores had said in the statement that White’s actions weren’t “the Liverpool way” and Rafa agreed: “The important thing is the club, and such things as this do not normally happen here. This is a big club and there is a way of doing things here. But I am sorry that it has had to end this way.”
Now that the Reds have guaranteed qualification, the target in this competition is to win the group and – theoretically – get the better draw for the next round. A victory over PSV Eindhoven in the next game would guarantee that and would mean the final group game against Galatasary was just a formality. According to Benítez, that’s how he’s hoping it pans out: “This is important for us, and it gives us the chance now to go on and win the group in our next match here against PSV Eindhoven. Then we can maybe make changes for the last game and give young players European experience.”
When the game was still 1-0 Liverpool were in control but there was always a fear that Bordeaux could get lucky and get it back to 1-1. Then Fernando Menegazzo got himself sent off. Liverpool had taken a quick free kick and this upset Menegazzo who decided to head-butt John Arne Riise. Menegazzo tried to protest his innocence but Riise was covered in the evidence. Rafa said: “It was a head-butt and you could see the blood. You do not like to see things like that on the pitch – you prefer to talk about good football.”
Rafa’s opposite number at Bordeaux, Ricardo Gomes, said that red card ended his chances. He claimed Liverpool were acting in an unsporting manner and that resulted in – but didn’t justify – the actions of Menegazzo: “The sending off for Fernando was the turning point. We were disappointed that Liverpool raced away from a throw and did not give the ball back to us after a stoppage. That was not fair play, but it was an incident that you cannot condone. In the end it gave Liverpool the extra man and the incentive to go on and win the game. Beforehand, we certainly had a chance of an equaliser.”
Liverpool have now won three games in a row, all at home, and the memories of that defeat to Manchester United ten days ago seem distant now. They’ve scored ten goals in those three games and if they can win the next home game this weekend against Reading they’ll be full of confidence going into their away Carling Cup game against Birmingham next week. A win there could see the start of some long-awaited away form because that confidence will be carried through to the game against Arsenal the following weekend.