Liverpool’s first defeat of the season came after Pepe Reina conceded his first goal from open play so far this season – and it was some strike. It leaves Liverpool with a lot of work to do in the Champions League now, having just one point from the six on offer.
The Reds did not look to be at all motivated for the game, perhaps missing the influence of assistant manager Pako Ayestaran. Pako is still officially the assistant manager, but is on ‘gardening leave’ for now after a big rift developed between him and the manager Rafa Benitez. It brought to an end a long friendship, and clearly had a major impact on how the first-team operate.
Despite the long and repetitive arguments for and against rotation, the problem the Liverpool side seemed to have was a lack of interest. Was Steven Gerrard’s mind elsewhere after he had the car accident which left a young boy with a broken leg? He certainly seemed to be less fired-up than he usually is on European nights, and that apathy seemed to spread throughout the team.
Rafa Benitez is a manager who learns from his mistakes. It’s too simplistic to blame this defeat on rotation. After Benayoun’s last two games for Liverpool, including his match-winning appearance against Wigan, Rafa may well have been slated had he left him out. But the Benayoun that played last night was a different one to the Benayoun who had scored two games running before this. He was guilty of giving the ball away too often – but not as often as Momo Sissoko who was having another of his off-nights.
The booing at the end of the game was unfortunate, but hardly a surprise. For Liverpool to do nothing to win this game, except for the four minutes of stoppage time at the end, was always going to frustrate the already quiet home crowd. Rafa now needs to use this defeat to motivate the team into putting something special on against Tottenham at the weekend, but Spurs are no easy nut to crack.
Speaking after the game Rafa said: “It was a poor game. We did not really play well and gave ball away too much. We couldn’t create a clear chance until at the end of the game when we had a few corners, but it wasn’t enough. We know in football you need to win and what we must try to do is win our next match and see what happens in the future.”
In fact Rafa had the courage to admit that this defeat was perhaps the poorest showing of any side he’s put out since he arrived at Anfield in 2004: “That could be the worst performance since I came here, especially at home. We didn’t create much from the beginning. It was a poor game; we were not playing well from the beginning. We were giving the ball away and not creating chances. Only at the end we produced some pressure and created a little bit.”
Marseille have been struggling in the league which meant expectations of Liverpool were a little higher than they might have been. But Rafa said he knew the French side would put on a good show: “We knew Marseille were playing better in the Champions League. They’re a good team and we knew the quality was there. The only comfort I can take from this game is that it’s finished.”
Even though the club have dropped five points, qualification for the knock-out phase is of course still possible – but it will be tougher task than it should have been: “We know in football if you want to progress you need to win. We need to win the next game.” For now though it’s back to thinking about the Premier League: “At this moment in time the best thing is to think about the next game. We’ve got Spurs here at the weekend and we’ll try and get three points and then see what happens in our next game against Besiktas.”
Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina was certainly the busier of the two keepers and must have been as frustrated as the home supporters at the way the outfield players performed. He said: “To lose at home is always difficult, especially for us because we’re used to winning every game here. We have to sort it out. Everything went wrong. It was disappointing because we never play like this. We were late and almost always behind the ball.”
Despite the disappointment, it’s not time to panic says Pepe: “Last year we were brilliant in the Champions League but started the Premier League poorly. Today it looks like it’s the other way round. I don’t know if we are more focused on the league but we need to learn from these mistakes. We have to talk about it today, analyse and stay calm.”
Vice-captain Jamie Carragher says that Liverpool need to believe in themselves now: “We’ve got to be confident. We’ve got a big, strong squad and the players have proved over the last few years that we are very good in this competition, so we will still have the confidence. We know it will be difficult but it’s up to us now to show the character and the quality to go through.”
Liverpool’s next two games in the group are against bottom side Besiktas, which are now must-win games: “We are making it tough for ourselves but there’s still four games in which we can get enough points,” said Carra. “We didn’t play well tonight; we weren’t at our best and credit to Marseille because they played well. They deserved to win. Towards the end was probably the only time we put them under pressure.”
Like Reina, Carra can’t work out why the Reds are struggling in the Champions League: “I don’t know what’s going wrong in Europe at the moment, because we’re doing well in the league and Carling Cup. It’s difficult to put your finger on it. We’ve got a big game now on Sunday and we want to go out on a win before the international break.”
It was the last international break that seemed to halt Liverpool’s momentum. Rafa played a side against Portsmouth in the league that surprised many, a side with which he tried to minimise the number of international he used. That game was the first of three draws in a row.
And he really does sound tired of the “R” word (rotation), saying: “We talk about team selection; we’ve talked about the big names before. We had big names today and we tried to change things.”
Liverpool were particularly ineffective down their left-hand side where Marseille’s Karim Ziani got plenty of joy out of Argentine youngster Sebastian Leto and Brazilian Fabio Aurelio, who is just returning from injury, and both players were substituted in the second half.
However, Benitez refused to let either player be earmarked as a scapegoat for the shock defeat.
Rafa was asked if using Fabio Aurelio – just back from a long-term injury, and Sebastian Leto – an inexperienced youngster on the left was a bad move: “We had a new partnership on the left-hand side but we needed the quality of Fabio and we were giving Leto an opportunity. He’s been playing well and working hard. We need to understand it is a team game. The whole team had a bad game, not one player.” And how true that was, it really is difficult to find a player who performed well for Liverpool
Marseille’s coach Erik Gerets was of course pleased with the win, more so when told it was the first time a French side had won at Anfield: “I feel we’ve created history. It wasn’t me, it was by my players. What they did was fantastic. We made a few technical errors but tactically we got it right. We’re celebrating tonight but we’re nowhere yet. But the club needed a lift and we’ve got it.”