Arbeloa Carragher Hyypia Riise
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Kewell
Had I only seen Liverpool’s last three Champions League games, I’d absolutely refuse to believe that this team only took 1 point from the first three group matches.
Once again, Liverpool scored 4 in the Champions League, bringing the total to 16 over the final three group games. When backs are against the wall in cup competition, this is one of the toughest teams to come up against in the world.
After all the worries and chewed fingernails, it was over within four minutes when Givet hauled Gerrard down in the box (there will be a lot less talk about Gerrard buying penalties, as this one was clear-cut, but he also suckered Givet into lunging). Mandanda saved Gerrard’s resulting penalty, but Ste was first to the rebound. And the early goal completely took the wind out of OM’s sails.
Seven minutes later, Torres once again summed up his qualities, blowing by three Marseille defenders with a lovely run through the penalty area, making an absolute mug of Julien Rodriguez, before beating Mandanda inside the far post.
Marseille had no answer throughout, and Liverpool was happy to soak up pressure for the remainder of the half. Gerets attempted to change things up by brining Nasri on with 30 minutes barely off the clock, but the ‘new Zidane’ did little to alter proceedings.
An early goal three minutes after the restart made the second half a formality. Kewell kept the ball in on the left and sent in a blistering cross. Torres dummied, Kuyt was into space, and it was 3-0. Liverpool could have added more, but was on cruise control. Marseille rarely threatened, but each attempt was snuffed out.
Babel, who played as a lone striker for most of his 20 minutes after coming on for Torres, finally made it 4 (with yet another goal off the bench) in injury time, beating the offside trap and Faty for pace before rounding Mandanda to cap the game off. Gerrard could have summed up matters even further with a fifth in the last minute of stoppage time, but the shot went high and the referee put an end to the debacle.
After a performance like that, and even with Liverpool going through the motions for much of the match, I can spin effusive praise about all eleven players on the pitch. Mascherano cleaned up everything that came his way, and it was heartening to see him come back on after he looked to be injured going into the tackle with Hyypia. Kuyt gave his usual workman’s effort, and deserved his well-taken goal. Riise had one of his better matches of the season, and both he and Arbeloa supported well from midfield.
But I’ll reserve my most effusive praise for Torres and Kewell. What can you say about Torres? He was a constant threat, now possesses the deed to Rodriguez, and could have scored more. Worth every penny that Liverpool paid for him. He may miss some opportunities you expect him to convert after seeing what he’s capable of, but every time he does, Shankly’s quote about Roger Hunt pops into my head.
And Kewell is slowly proving Benitez’s faith in him. Two pinpoint assists, constant harassment down the left, looking to get to the byline, and a willingness to get back and defend if required. He’s still not fully fit, evidenced by the fact he hasn’t lasted much longer than an hour yet, but on form so far, he’s well on his way.
This is the best possible result after Saturday and before Sunday. It was a comprehensive win, but the team will also know that they can play better. Even with a 4-0 scoreline, some chances were spurned, and after the second goal, Liverpool had little impetus to play full bore. I hate to steal Bill Simmons’ jokes, but I can’t help but quote a Pulp Fiction line here: let's not start sucking each other's dicks yet.
So European football is on hold until February. Now, focus has to be on what’s been Liverpool fans’ main focus all season: the Premiership. A match against Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday can’t sharpen the focus much more.