Liverpool 1, Olympique Lyonnais 2
There is saying in French: Il n’y a pas de petit chez soi. There is no place like home.
A demoralising, and in many ways humiliating, defeat at the Stadium of Light invariably meant that Liverpool was relieved that its crunch-clash with Lyon was being played out in front of the Kop as opposed to the Jean Jaures stand in the Stade de Garland.
The absence of Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson meant that Rafa Benitez had to draft in the inexperienced David N’Gog and the debutant Martin Kelly. Meanwhile Steven Gerrard retook the captain’s armband after his absence over the weekend.
The home crowd was edgy, and the nerves seemed to transcend upon the players donned in Red on the pitch. Liverpool endured a cagey start, content to apprehensively find a foothold in the game.
Meanwhile Lyon threatened through attacking right back Cissokho. The French fullback whipped in three dangerous crosses with the third delivery being met by the leaping Lisandro. The striker’s powerful header was directed straight at Pepe Reina, with the Spanish keeper blocking the headed attempt.
Minutes later the visitors threatened once more. Swedish international Kim Kallstrom unleashed an impulsive left-footed volley. The shot drifted wide of Reina’s left post but it was another warning sign from the fluid French side.
Rafa Benitez was forced to bring on the Brazilian Fabio Aurelio for Gerrard midway through the first half. The Liverpool skipper trudged off the pitch clearly disconsolate and his injury left the home side without its two indispensible icons.
Gerard Houiller, who was present at his beloved Anfield, might have been uttering another French proverb: L’union fait la force, or "United we stand, divided we fall."
Indeed Liverpool’s players answered the rousing roars from the Kop crowd. Aurelio made an instant impact, cutting open the Lyon defence which had been depleted by the loss of stalwart Cris.
The left back’s cross created an opening for Kuyt. The Dutch striker, who has a habit of scoring crucial European goals over the years, fired his attempt straight at Lloris.
Another dangerous cross into the Lyon box caused confusion once more. Kuyt’s shot was closed down, with the ball eventually falling to N’Gog. However his effort was well saved by the Lyon keeper.
The increased pressure exerted on the makeshift away defence finally paid dividends for Liverpool.
Aurelio was afforded time and space on the left of midfield to fire a low drive into the Lyon area. Kelly mistimed his effort but the ball trickled to Yossi Benayoun.
The Israeli international calmly slotted his effort high into the net to give Liverpool a crucial lead in the match. An invigorated Reds side pushed for a second, but were unable to capitalize on several well-crafted openings.
The best opportunity came when Kelly, who was drafted in for the injured Johnson, produced a marvellous cross which was met perfectly by the head of the onrushing Aurelio. The Brazilian’s thunderous header was beaten away by Lloris.
The referee blew the whistle at an unfortunate time for Rafa Benitez and his men.
The impetus was lost. The teams kicked off after the break with Liverpool content to retreat into its own half and surrender possession to the talented Lyon midfield.
Sidney Govou tormented Insua on the right wing. The Lyon captain ran the Argentine ragged, outpacing and outsmarting the fullback on every available occasion.
The prolonged period of pressure from Lyon finally paid off at 71 minutes.
A sixth corner for the away side procured Reina from his line. The Spanish shot stopper missed the cross before producing two truly inspirational saves. Yet despite the best efforts of the keeper, Gonalon headed into the net to restore parity in the match.
Expect the inevitable debate over the effectiveness of Rafa’s zonal marking system.
The game was finely balanced and it was the away side that pushed for the winner with Liverpool looking decidedly flustered and jittery.
Benitez hauled off Liverpool’s one truly creative player, Benayoun, and brought on Andrei Voornin. The decision was met with a chorus of jeers from the Anfield audience—a rare display of dissent from the loyal Liverpool followers.
A draw would have been tolerable, but with the game creeping into added time, disaster struck.
A delightful exchange saw Cesar Delagado poke home a Govou cross with atrocious Liverpool marking affording the visiting French side the freedom of Anfield.
Jamie Carragher composed his thoughts to give a frank post-match interview. Amid joyous cheers emanating from the Lyon locker room, the centre back called for the players to regroup and show the “great character” that is synonymous with the Liverpool football club.
For Rafa Benitez it truly was a case of matters going from bad to worse, or as they say in France: aller de mal en pis.
Liverpool: Reina, Kelly (Skrtel , 74), Carragher, Agger, Insua, Kuyt, Lucas, Mascherano, Benayoun (Voornin, 85), Gerrard (Aurelio, 25), N’Gog.
Lyon: Lloris, Reveille, Cris (Gonalon, 43), Toulalan, Cissokho, Pjanic, Makoun, Kallstrom, Govou, Lisandro (Delgado, 86), Ederson (Gomis, 61).
Man of the Match: Hugo Lloris (Lyon)