Steven Gerrard scored what must be a contender for goal of the season last night, as Liverpool struggled to a 2-1 victory against Marseille in France.
Despite masterminding a victory over Manchester United last Saturday, Rafa Benitez was not afraid to ring the changes for the first match of this season's Champions League.
Robbie Keane was the surprise omission from the starting line-up; he was replaced by Fernando Torres. Aurelio, Alonso, Riera, and Benayoun were replaced by Dossena, Lucas, Babel, and Gerrard in a 4-3-1-2 formation.
Marseille came flying out of the blocks from kick off, pressing Liverpool and utilising their pace to try and carve Benitez's side open. Bakari Kone looked particularly threatening with his mazy runs down the right hand side. Benoit Cheyrou and Modeste M'Bami effortlessly threaded balls through to Mamadou Niang, only for the striker to be thwarted by Liverpool's offside trap.
After settling into the game Liverpool started to string together some attacks of their own, with Steven Gerrard coming close with a low drive, Ryan Babel blasting over after an excellent turn in the box and Fernando Torres heading onto the roof of the net.
The Reds were looking most likely to score, but were hit with a sucker punch after 23 minutes when Marseille captain Lorik Cana beat the offside trap and latched onto Cheyrou's pass, before calmly tapping the ball underneath Pepe Reina. Reina should have cleared the ball, but he hesitated and edged back towards his goal, allowing Cana to score.
Marseille's lead lasted all of three minutes, however, when Torres picked up the ball in midfield and dribbled menacingly towards the goal. He squared the ball to Dirk Kuyt on the right, who laid the ball into the path of Gerrard. With his back almost to goal, the skipper struck magnificently from 20 yards out. Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda was rooted to his spot as the ball flew into the top left hand corner of the net.
The Stade Velodrome fell silent with disbelief.
The few thousand Liverpool fans in the ground were ecstatic; their Captain Fantastic was back.
Liverpool began to attack with more purpose, and Ryan Babel posed a constant threat. His skill in the box caused Ronald Zubar to bring him down, and the referee pointed to the spot without hesitation.
Gerrard scored the penalty, but the referee ordered for it to be re-taken after a few players strayed into the box before the ball was kicked. On the second attempt Gerrard still made no mistake, slotting the ball into the bottom corner to give the Reds the lead within eight minutes of falling behind.
The second half started much like the first, with Marseille on the front foot. However, despite their attacking menace, the quality of the final pass and shot left a lot to be desired.
Liverpool passed sloppily and the midfield were below par, especially after Gerrard was substituted. The introduction of Albert Riera gave them more attacking options though, and within minutes of being on the pitch his low cross found Ryan Babel, who looked certain to score but Mandanda saved well from close range.
There were a few scares near the end of the game, particularly when Niang headed narrowly wide in the dying seconds. Rafa's men held on however and despite it not being a breathtaking performance, they have got off to a winning start in the Champions League and are still unbeaten so far this season.
Lets not also forget that amazing goal by Gerrard; a sublime strike that will stick in the memories of Liverpool fans for years to come.
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