Thursday, October 04, 2007

Benitez Says Besiktas A Must-Win Game For Liverpool

Liverpool must win their Champions League match against Besiktas later this month to keep their hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stages alive, coach Rafael Benitez said.

His side were beaten 1-0 at home by Marseille on Wednesday to leave them with just one point from their opening two group games. They trail the Group A leading French side by five points and are three behind second-placed Porto.

It is clear we need to win the next game without thinking about numbers you must have to qualify from the group," he told reporters.

"You can set long-term targets, but we just need to win the next game."

Liverpool travel to Istanbul on October 24 having hit a slump in form in recent weeks.

They were held to two 0-0 draws in the Premier League by Portsmouth and Birmingham before earning an unconvincing 1-0 win at Wigan last Saturday.

They were also held 1-1 in Porto in their first Champions League fixture and lost to a Marseille team that had won just one of their opening nine league games.

Benitez's rotation policy has been criticised by frustrated Liverpool fans, but the coach said he is unsure why his side delivered such a poor display in the loss to Marseille.

We were playing badly and maybe had some anxiety and were trying to do too many things at the same time," he said.

"It's difficult to explain why we played badly, but the other team did press the ball very well.

"It is a bad experience, but we are trying to be positive about the future."

LiverpooL 0 - 1 Marseille

Liverpool lost their unbeaten record this season and saw their Champions League dreams take a beating after a home defeat by Marseille.

Marseille, despite terrible domestic form, have now won both their opening Group A matches and appear likely to qualify for the knockout stages.

The French club's winner came from the night's best player, midfielder Mathieu Valbuena with 13 minutes left - but their superiority should have been rewarded a lot earlier.

Porto's win in Turkey against Besiktas makes Liverpool's quest for qualification that bit harder.

Liverpool could not afford to repeat the slow start they produced in Porto in their opening game - but they were again slow out of the blocks.

Marseille, clearly intent on impressing new coach Erik Gerets in his first match in control of the French side, made Liverpool look slow and way off the pace.

The visitors' midfield of Valbuena, Benoit Cheyrou and Karim Ziani dominated, with skipper Lorik Cana effortlessly controlling play from the holding role.

Liverpool were constantly ambushed in possession, or just gave the ball away.

With Mohamed Sissoko let down by his passing and skipper Steven Gerrard forced to do the running of several of his team-mates, it was a miracle that Liverpool were still level at the break.

Marseille were almost ahead early on when Ziani robbed Fabio Aurelio and set up Mamadou Niang in the box, the resulting shot stopped by Jose Reina's knee.

Gerrard was booked for a tackle on Cheyrou before Niang missed a clear volley from Taye Taiwo's deep cross.

Former Liverpool man Boudewijn Zenden was effective on the left, neatly moving into space inside.

Sebastian Leto, preferred on the left to John Arne Riise and Ryan Babel, started competitively but was soon being swept aside as Marseille continually surged forward, Valbuena a constant threat.

It took Benitez just five minutes of the second half to replace Leto with Riise, Sissoko having already been booked for a foul on Valbuena.

It was not much better elsewhere in Liverpool's ranks, and when Valbuena's clever turn exposed Jamie Carragher, the Anfield defender was the next to be booked for hauling back the elusive playmaker.

Benitez was a picture of annoyance on the line, and when he opted to bring on Voronin, he changed his mind about who was to come off.

First it was Fernando Torres, and then after a quick rethink, Aurelio was replaced.

At the same time Marseille brought off Niang and replaced him with Djibril Cisse, who got a warm reception from the Anfield fans.

Dirk Kuyt was next into the fray for Liverpool, taking over from Peter Crouch, who had made little impact even if the amount of decent possession he was afforded was minimal.

Eventually Marseille got the goal they deserved - and it followed squandered possession by Sissoko in the 77th minute.

The ball was quickly moved by Zenden to Valbuena, who saw his 20-yard shot crack against the angle of the bar and post on its way into the net.

Marseille surprisingly took off Valbuena on 83 minutes, sending on Wilson Oruma.

When Zenden limped off with three minutes left, Salim Arrache taking over, Marseille were within touching distance of a historic victory.

Gail Givet had barely given Torres a yard all night, and it says something for the efforts of Liverpool's forwards that it was Sami Hyypia who had their best two efforts before Yossi Benayoun saw a low header pushed away by Steve Mandanda in injury-time.

Torres then hit a post after Gerrard had stormed through to cause chaos in the Marseille box.

But the French clung on and Liverpool just did not deserve anything from this, all their best efforts coming in four minutes of injury-time.


Liverpool Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia,Aurelio (Voronin 70), Benayoun, Gerrard, Sissoko,Leto (Riise 52), Torres, Crouch (Kuyt 75).

Subs Not Used: Itandje, Arbeloa, Babel, Mascherano.

Booked: Gerrard, Sissoko, Carragher.

Marseille Mandanda, Bonnart, Rodriguez, Givet, Taiwo, Cana,Cheyrou, Valbuena (Oruma 83), Ziani, Zenden (Arrache 87),Niang (Cisse 70).

Subs Not Used: Hamel, Zubar, M'Bami, Moussilou.