Steven Gerrard’s quick fire double was enough to earn Liverpool a hard earned victory against a tough Marseille side in the Stade Velodrome.
The skipper added a twice taken penalty to a spectacular effort from distance as the reds had to come from behind to win for the second time in four days after Lorik Cana had put the hosts ahead.
Rafa Benitez signalled his intent to get off to a winning start as both Gerrard and Fernando Torres were included from the off as well as Saturday’s match winner Ryan Babel. Lucas Leiva replaced Xabi Alonso in midfield and Andrea Dossena was in for the injured Fabio Aurelio in what looked like a very attack minded formation.
The game was unusually open for a Liverpool side away in Europe and from the first whistle the pace of the home sides front two of Mamadou Niang and Bakary Kone looked to be causing Carragher and co. problems, whilst the front four of Torres, Gerrard, Babel and Dirk Kuyt looked immediately dangerous.
Niang had the first chance ‘“ firing over from a tight angle when well placed before Babel did the same thing up the other end after brilliantly turning on Kuyt’s pass.
The deadlock was broken on the 23rd minute when Cana finished calmly past Pepe Reina after beating the offside trap. The midfielder latched on to an excellent through ball from Benoit Cheyrou ‘“ brother of Bruno – whose excellent performance throughout left reds fans wondering whether Gerard Houllier had bought the wrong one.
It was only a matter of minutes before the scores were level and every football fan watching was treated to a moment of sheer class from Gerrard. This entry into the charts of memorable goals from the captain will be somewhere near the top as he bent the ball from 25 yards straight into the top corner ‘“ leaving goalkeeper Steve Mandana, who had denied him excellently five minutes before, firmly rooted to the spot.
Gerrard completed his brace after holding his nerve from the spot ‘“ twice. Babel won the penalty after his trickery was too much for defender Ronald Zubar who scythed the Dutch winger down. The first effort was ruled out for encroachment from Torres but the captain went the same way as he netted his 99th goal for the club.
Marseille dominated the second half as Reina and Carragher took over from Gerrard as the team’s heroes. Liverpool were struggling to string two passes together as the home support were getting louder ‘“ anticipating a change in fortune. Kone went close first with a volley before Brazillian defender Hilton headed into Reina’s arms after a corner.
Rafa began to ring the changes – Gerrard and Torres were taken off for Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun as Liverpool looked to keep more of the ball. This almost paid dividends as the Spanish winger played a lovely low ball into the box that the French defence couldn’t deal with ending with Babel’s powerful shot somehow diverting over the bar off Mandana’s right arm.
Liverpool never seem to make it easy for their supporters and they nearly threw the points away as Marseille, Niang to be precise, squandered two late glorious chances. The first was a header wide from six yards before Reina made an excellent save with his legs when it looked easier to score.
It took four games to earn a victory in last years group stage so everyone will be delighted that three away points have been achieved already. Elsewhere in group D, Atletico Madrid cruised to a 3 ‘“ 0 win over Liverpool’s next opponents PSV Eindhoven as the two favourites for progression both showed what they are made of with winning starts.