Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Champions League Preview: LiverpooL vs Marseille

Wednesday’s encounter at Anfield will pit two traditionally heavyweight teams from their respective leagues against each other. In England, Liverpool have a long and rich history which includes more than a fair share of epic European adventures, whilst French giants Marseille have also enjoyed significant success at home as well as abroad.

By wining the inaugural Champions League, albeit with post match-fixing scandals, the French outfit highlighted the lofty heights to which they aspire, as did Rafael Benitez when he admirably steered the Reds to their fifth European Cup in 2005.

Aside from winning trophies these two clubs share many other things in common. They both have historically been seen as the antithesis to their country’s capital cities, via geographically, culturally and of course, through football. However, recently both sides have been forced to step aside as another major force in their leagues have emerged to dominate domestic success.

Manchester United have run amok since the Premiership formed, whilst Lyon have constantly blown away the Ligue opposition over the last six years, leaving Liverpool and Marseille to occupy that un-wanted and un-fancied position of scrapping for leftovers under the shadow of their rivals. But here is where the similarities end.

Very recently, under the stewardship of Rafael Benitez, Liverpool are steadily but surely starting to look like their all-conquering selves again. Unlike Marseille, who with a succession of managers coming and going through the Stade Velodrome doors, have flattered to deceive whilst at other times just plain flattered no-one.

Their contrasting league forms this year tells the tale of the different directions these two fiercely supported clubs seem to be heading in. Liverpool are genuinely looking like title contenders this term, whilst Marseille are frankly expressing depressing relegation form, as they lie just outside the drop zone with only one win from nine games to show for their efforts so far.

Their opening results had been so poor that initial manager Albert Emon was replaced by Eric Gerets only seven days ago, and the new man has managed a loss and a draw to his name so-far.

The form guide suggests Marseille will struggle at Anfield, but then again how many times in football’s lush history has the form-book been completely and utterly thrown out of the window, especially when a European cup competition offers a release from the constraints of domestic league troubles.

Past Encounters, Old Nemeses And Returning Heroes

Surprisingly for two clubs of vivacious history in European competitions, the Reds and l’OM have only met each other on two occasions, both coming in a two-legged UEFA Cup fourth round tie in 2003-04. France prevailed 3-2 on aggregate from that Anglo-French tie and they subsequently went on to reach the final.

No players from the current Marseille squad played in either of those games, although incidentally Liverpool stalwarts Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, John Arne Riise and Steven Gerrard all were involved and will undoubtedly feel a touch of revenge is in order, for no players forget a previous loss in European fixtures, as the chance to redeem yourselves may not come along again for a while.

Though that is not to say Marseille do not have reason to seek retribution, for who was the man who masterminded their downfall in the 2004 UEFA Cup final of which they beat Liverpool to reach…yes please arise Mr. Benitez, in charge of Valencia at the time and winner of a prestigious double: the Spanish league and UEFA Cup.

Once again, this time with Liverpool, the tactician seeks the double and after the expensive signing of Fernando Torres, he may well have found the last piece to the jigsaw needed to pull off an unthinkable Premiership and Champions League haul. An intriguing and sure to be closely followed subplot to this affair will be the Anfield return of the sometime ordinary, always entertaining ex-Liverpool forward Djibril Cisse.

The blond-haired, leopard-print underwear wearing striker only braced Merseyside for two largely ineffective seasons, yet his infectious personality warmed many a Kopite’s heart, and with his outlandish style he became a cultish hero for the younger generation (including many a female admirer).

On analysis his contribution overall isn’t something to be lauded, especially when one considers the fanfare that followed his £14m price-tag, and yet, there were highly poignant moments in his brief Liverpool career that really stand-out. He scored on his debut before suffering a horrific potential career-ending leg-break a few weeks later, from which he recovered to score a significant penalty in the now famed 2005 Champions League final shoot-out against AC Milan.

He also scored an important equalizer and then went on to heroically play through the pain-barrier in the 2006 FA Cup Final against West Ham United. Liverpool fans do not forget such vital roles in their clubs recent rebirth and will thus extend Cisse a hero’s welcome.



29 Sept v Wigan (A) WON 0-1 (Prem)

25 Sept v Reading (A) WON 2-4 (Carling Cup)

22 Sept v Birmingham (H) DREW 0-0 (Prem)

18 Sept v Porto (A) DREW 0-0 (CL)

15 Sept v Portsmouth (A) DREW 0-0 (Prem)

01 Sept v Derby (H) WON 6-0 (Prem)


22 Sept v Auxerre (A) LOST 2-0 (Ligue)

18 Sept v Besiktas (H) WON 2-0 (CL)

15 Sept v Toulouse (H) LOST 1-2 (Ligue)

02 Sept v PSG (A) DREW 1-1 (Ligue)

29 Aug v Nice (H) LOST 0-2 (Ligue) 2

5 Aug v Caen (A) WON 1-2 (Ligue)



Liverpool’s last forage into Europe came with heavy losses. Dan Agger and Xabi Alonso both picked up the dreaded metatarsal injury when training for the Porto game, and are now expected to be out for a further six weeks. Which means Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia will be expected to start at the back against Marseille, with possibly Momo Sissoko or Javier Mascherano anchoring in the holding midfield position.

Much has been made of Rafael Benitez’s rotation policy, and when one considers the employment of similar tactics in Manchester and West London, it seems rather unfair for the Spaniard to be labeled, rather belittlingly, as the “new tinkerman”.

No such cries of ‘wanton rotation’ were heard as Benitez’s changed eleven beat Wigan on the weekend, so no groans of another anticipated changed line-up for the game against Marseille should be made.

It is not the case of ‘anyone guess’ who will start against Marseille, merely an educated one, which leads one to suggest that because Torres and Kuyt started on the weekend, Peter Crouch and Andriy Voronin, fresh and playing at home, should start against Marseille.

Rafa will probably think the under-performing l’OM will defend in numbers at Anfield happy to pick up a draw, so he shall look for the combination of height, game intelligence and ability to play between the lines from Crouch and Voronin to break them down. Although it didn’t work at Birmingham, he does have players who can change the game if things are not working, as Yossi Benyaoun showed on the weekend. Squad to be announced


The biggest problem for newly installed boss Eric Gerets is the unavailability of star midfielder Sami Nasri. The young Frenchman is widely coveted by Europe’s elite and is routinely praised in his own country as the natural heir to the throne of Zindene Zidane.

He shares the French icon’s flair and creativity, yet lacks the physical necessities to be a great star. But at 20 years old, he is still young and has time to grow in physique and footballing craft. His loss through a virus which hospitalized him will mean Marseille shall lack a player who will be able to unlock the usual watertight defence of Liverpool.

Along with Cisse, Liverpool fans may also get the opportunity to welcome another former player back to Merseyside. Bolo Zenden was released by Liverpool in the summer and was promptly snapped up by Marseille, although he is yet to win over the fans and may not make the starting line-up. Otherwise Gerets has a reasonably fully-strength, if lacking confidence and form, squad to choose from.


Liverpool – Steven Gerrard

Some of his most swashbuckling performances have come on truly special European nights at Anfield. Who can forget the manner is which he dragged Liverpool into the knockout stages of their triumphant 2005 Champions League run? Needing to score three goals in the second-half against Olympiacos, Gerrard ran the show and scored the all-important third in emphatic fashion.

So far this term, Gerrard has admitted he hasn’t played to his usual standards, but with niggling injuries and national duty behind for the moment, he has issued a war-cry stating his intent to get back to the top of his game. He is fit, strong and raring to go, a fact that shall send shivers down the spines of Marseille, for as Cisse has already said in the build-up, Gerrard is “the best player in his position in the world”.

Marseille – Djibril Cisse

The stage is really set for the ex-Red hitman to prove to Rafael Benitez that he was wrong to off-load him in the summer. Even though at the moment Marseille are experiencing a turbulent period of time, Cisse has still managed to score goals and be their out-standing player in the beginning of the season.

He has three goals to his name already, one coming against Besitkas, so he shall be confident and fired-up to perform well, and even score in front of his former fans. Probably operating as a lone-forward Cisse will have most of the French club’s hopes on his shoulders, and with his sheer pace and explosive shooting he have to be watched closely by Liverpool’s rather slow defence.


Liverpool will be too strong at home, and although their performances have been stuttering of late, contrasted with Marseille’s horrendous form, Liverpool should win comfortably in the end. Although expect Cisse to follow the script and score on his return to possibly create a tense end to the game. If Marseille keep the door shut at the back and score late, then they have a chance, but if they have conceded in the first-half, then they are finished.

Liverpool 3-1 Marseille

Liverpool vs Marseille - Key Battles

Liverpool take on Marseille in the second match of their Champions League Group A campaign. Let us assesses the game's key battles.


The experienced Hyypia is back in the Liverpool backline with Daniel Agger out injured. His lack of pace has seen him slip down the pecking order but he still offers plenty of know-how and aerial strength.

He comes up against a familiar opponent in former Reds striker Cisse, who will be itching to make a point at Anfield. Cisse has pace in abundance and will relish the chance to run at the Liverpool defence. He could give Hyypia an uncomfortable night.


Gerrard will have another former team-mate up against him as he tries to control the game against the French. Gerrard dominates games from the centre and directs the team with his dynamism and influence.

Zenden, a former winger who played in central midfield at Anfield, will need to contain him. The Dutchman is not the exciting player of his youth but is experienced and has the advantage of knowing Gerrard's game well.


Torres is Liverpool's most exciting signing for some time and has already made quite an impact at Anfield. He is not only strong and quick with a deadly eye for goal but a hard worker and is often willing to chase back.

Goalkeeper Mandanda, thrust into the limelight due to serious injury to Cedric Carrasso, will hope his defence can keep a close eye on him. He will certainly not want to be exposed to a striker with such ability or in such form.

Liverpool vs Marseille - Head To Head

Liverpool face Marseille in the first home match of their Champions League Group A campaign. Let us look at how the two clubs compare.


Eric Gerets, Marseille's 15th different manager in the past 10 years, faces a difficult baptism in his first match in charge. He must pit his wits against a man in Rafael Benitez who has led Liverpool to two Champions League finals in the past three years. He does, however, have experience of success in the competition having won it with PSV Eindhoven in 1988. Benitez, who has rotated his squad frequently this season, is again likely to keep his opponents guessing as to his team line-up.


The sides last met in the UEFA Cup fourth round in 2003-04, when the French side prevailed 3-2 on aggregate. A certain Didier Drogba scored in both legs for Marseille. Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia and John Arne Riise all featured for Liverpool but Marseille have no survivors. They do, however, have two former Liverpool players in Djibril Cisse and Boudewijn Zenden.


Marseille won the Champions League in its first season in 1993 but times have changed considerably since then with the club demoted due to financial irregularities. Five-time European Cup winners Liverpool are competing in the group stages for the sixth time.


Liverpool made a flying start to the new campaign before a run of three successive draws last month, including one against Porto in their Champions League opener, slowed their progress. The Reds got back to winning ways with victory at Wigan last weekend. Marseille won just one of their opening nine matches in Ligue 1, a record which cost manager Albert Emon his job. The French outfit opened their Champions League campaign with a 2-0 win over Besiktas.