Arbeloa Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Riera
Another frustrating performance, but it’s job done. A Gerrard goal in his first game back, the first clean sheet of the group stage, and four wins from four to seal qualification for the knockout rounds. But if not for that Gerrard goal, today looked a lot like last Saturday’s against Fulham.
For the first 30 minutes, Liverpool seemed certain to win at a canter. Players swarmed forward, kept Marseille on the back foot, and Gerrard opening the scoring in the 23rd after some suspect defending. The captain took a corner from the left, and although it was cleared, Liverpool reclaimed possession. Three Marseille defenders switched off on Gerrard’s presence, and he easily headed in at the back post after Alonso picked him out with a beautiful cross from the opposite touchline.
But around the half hour mark, the tables began to turn. Liverpool couldn’t keep hold off the ball and the away side started sensing an opportunity, led by Ben Arfa. In the 36th minute, Taiwo forced Reina to palm a low free kick off the post before Zubar put a header wide from the resulting corner.
And the second half was almost all Marseille’s. I’m not pleased with another shaky performance, but credit to Marseille for looking to pass the ball and press forward. And credit to Liverpool’s defense for standing firm and preventing an equalizer. Niang was a frequent threat, while Reina had to make smart saves on two free kicks: first on Ben Arfa’s curler from the right followed by Ziani’s effort which went through the pack.
Dossena came on for Aurelio at halftime, supposedly for precautionary measures, which limited Benitez’s options off the bench (and while he wasn’t the sole cause of the poor second half, Dossena didn’t cover himself in glory either). Benayoun was brought on for Riera in the 63rd, and Lucas for Kuyt in the 85th to add another body in midfield. That Rafa left both Keane and Babel on the bench with Liverpool clinging to the 1-0 lead probably shows what the objectives were for this match.
With the way the home side played, a draw wouldn’t have been an unfair result. But despite Marseille’s possession, pressure, and opportunities, Liverpool held on for the victory. And that’s always a positive.
But it’s still worrisome seeing the side struggle for goals, and even more so to see them lose out in midfield. That’s not a frequent occurrence; Liverpool often had scads of possession even when they struggled to break down sides in previous seasons.
For the first time that I can remember, Mascherano had two off days in a row (although he has played a fair few games recently), and that had a lot to do with Marseille winning the middle. But giving the ball away too frequently didn’t help matters, and that went for pretty much everyone in the side.
Even though Gerrard’s just back from injury, while this is only Torres’ third start after missing six matches, I’d hoped they’d click better with the team back in the 4-2-3-1. And that Benitez returned to this formation, while leaving Keane on the bench for the duration, raises a few questions.
I’m still not sure how much of this was the team switching off after going a goal up, knowing they just needed a draw to advance, and how much was Marseille’s good work. But coming after the Fulham, Spurs, and Atletico (to a lesser extent) matches, it’s frustrating all the same.
Five days until West Ham on Monday.