Football: Marseille crushed by Reds revival
Liverpool marched into the knockout stages of the Champions League
MARSEILLE, France, December 12, 2007 - Liverpool marched into the knockout stages of the Champions League with a convincing 4-0 win over an outclassed Marseille here on Tuesday.
An early strike from captain Steven Gerrard was followed by a superb solo effort from Fernando Torres, a Dirk Kuyt goal early in the second half and a stoppage time effort from substitute Ryan Babel as Liverpool became the first English club to win at the home of France's best-supported club.
From the fourth minute, when Gerrard knocked in the rebound from his own penalty, there was little doubt that Liverpool would complete a remarkable turnaround in their fortunes in group A.
A 1-0 defeat by Marseille at Anfield in October had left Rafael Benitez's side with just one point from their opening three matches.
Since then however they have beaten Besiktas 8-0 and FC Porto 4-1 at home and the equally comfortable nature of this win will send them the five-times champions into the last 16 - and Sunday's Premier League showdown with Manchester United - in confident mood.
Despite recent talk about differences between Benitez and the club's American owners, the Spaniard was tight lipped about those issues.
"It was a fantastic performance by the players," said Benitez, who guided the side to a remarkable 2005 Champions League title.
"The players were up for the game and I am now just thinking about the match with United and that we are in the knockout stages and now I want to be with the players."
Gerrard was equally discreet about his boss's future, despite there always being talk about where his best position to play for the club was.
"We were just concentrating on the game," he said.
"Having said that I believe that despite as usual leaving it to the last game we showed character and put in some hard work."
Having become the first French club to win at Anfield, as well as having won all six of their previous encounters with English opponents at the Stade Velodrome, Marseille kicked off with good reason to believe they could progress.
But within 11 minutes, the home side's confidence and chances of survival had both been shattered by a combination of some casual defending and the brilliance of Torres.
Benitez's decision to start Kuyt at the expense of Peter Crouch was vindicated inside three minutes when the Dutch striker clipped a simple ball beyond a flat-heeled back four to send Gerrard steaming towards the Marseille goal.
Tripped by Laurent Bonnart's desperate lunge, the Liverpool captain got up to take the resulting penalty himself.
Marseille's goalkeeper, Steve Mandanda, did well to block a rising strike but the rebound fell kindly for Gerrard, who gratefully side-footed the ball home from six yards.
Softened up by that sucker punch, Marseille were left reeling seven minutes later by the brilliance of Torres.
Collecting a pass from Harry Kewell in the inside left channel just outside the box, the Spaniard swept past Lorik Cana, sidestepped Julien Rodriguez and coolly threaded his shot beyond Mandanda's dive and into the far corner of the net.
Torres's 12th goal of his first season at Liverpool failed to silence the defiantly boisterous home supporters but it certainly drained the life out of their team.
Not until mid-way through the half, when Karim Ziani's clever pass put Mathieu Valbuena in on goal, did the home side managed to generate a sniff of a chance.
Valbuena, Marseille's match-winner at Anfield, was let down by a heavy first touch as he attempted to go round Pepe Reina and the ball trundled safely into touch.
Facing defeat, Marseille opted to throw highly-rated young playmaker Samir Nasri into the fray ten minutes from the end of the half.
But it was the visitors who continued to dominate and they might easily have added to their advantage in the minutes before the interval, a Gerrard freekick falling just the wrong side of Mandanda's right-hand post before Kewell volleyed an inviting chance over the bar.
The Australian winger made amends for that miss soon after the restart by smartly teeing up Kuyt for Liverpool's third after Mandanda had sliced a clearance straight to him on the left touchline.
Kewell gathered the ball and immediately picked out the unmarked Kuyt, who was left with only the goalkeeper to beat and calmly tucked his shot inside the near post.
Former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse went close with a header just after the hour mark but that was to be as near as Marseille came to mounting the fightback and Babel rounded off the rout in stoppage time after being sent clear by John Arne Riise.