Nervy Liverpool survive Galatasaray onslaught

Merseyside is used to reverberating to recollections of a heady night in Istanbul though, in a frantic finale last night, that city's dominant team almost conjured a comeback to choke the chants in the throats of those on the Kop. The madcap splendour of this occasion was worthy of the Ataturk stadium, though Liverpool are supposed to recover three-goal margins in the Champions League, not threaten to toss them away this carelessly.

Resplendent and completely dominant following Peter Crouch's stunning second goal, plucked with an elastic right-footed scissor-kick seven minutes into the second period to give the hosts a threegoal lead, Liverpool came close to late capitulation here. So spirited was Galatasaray's revival in the last half-hour that the hosts were gasping for the final whistle. Had Sasa Ilic and Hakan Sukur not fluffed presentable chances at the death, this could have been a night of humiliation, not celebration, for the home side.

There was relief to be had in victory. "It shouldn't have been that close because we were comfortable, but if you step back against Galatasaray they'll come at you," conceded Crouch, though few could have envisaged the 2005 winners clinging desperately to a slender lead after their early flourishes. For almost an hour this was a saunter, players refreshed by the manager's rotation policy relishing the space afforded them by dawdling opponents. By the end, roles had been reversed.

Rafael Benítez will have been encouraged by much of his side's approach, even if their fallibility at full-back and, at times, in the centre of their midfield was alarming. This was the 94th game in succession that the Spaniard had made changes, a rather redundant statistic given that his approach has always been to select players best suited to dismantling specific opponents. In truth, any combination of his forwards might have thrived initially against such porous resistance.

The Turks were obliging visitors at first, utterly overwhelmed at the back with their propensity to implode on European travels exposed yet again. They had been pierced twice by the quarter-hour mark, their defence disintegrating at the merest hint of an Liverpool attack, with those who have benefited - or suffered, depending on the spin - from the manager's squad system thrusting them ahead.

Steven Gerrard, beginning in a central berth for the first time in over a month, zipped a fine ninth-minute pass to the flank where Fabio Aurelio, ignored by the flustered Sabri Sarioglu, collected and conjured a glorious cross which veered into the six-yard box. Crouch, enjoying a first start in five matches, eased gleefully in front of Orhan Ak at the far post to volley beyond Faryd Mondragon.

Galatasaray were still dawdling when, five minutes later, Cihan Haspolatli sliced a clearance which was gathered by Jermaine Pennant, another fresh face running riot, bursting between Arda Turan and Orhan. The winger is set to be included in Steve McClaren's England squad, named tomorrow, and his national coach will have been impressed by the pinpoint cross which an unmarked Luis García nodded into an unguarded net.

"We forgot to play football in the first half," said the visiting coach, Erik Gerets, when Mondragon should have conceded also to Dirk Kuyt and Gerrard. His pummelling was not complete, even if there was no disgrace in stumbling to the majesty of Crouch's second goal.

Pennant and Steve Finnan dispossessed Ayhan on the right touchline with the full-back's centre met by the back-flipping Crouch with an overhead kick to defy belief. It was his 10th goal in eight starts for club and country this term, though he will never score a better.

"It was amazing, showing all the quality Peter has but, from then on in, it became so difficult for us," said Benítez. "They just went for it after that and we had problems in wide areas, especially with the second ball, and needed more control in the middle." The hosts' fullbacks were duly exposed, the reluctance of their wingers to track back and the lack of grip in the centre offering Galatasaray hope of redemption.

Initially, they seemed to have passed it up with Sabri, Sukur and Karan denied in a rat-a-tat of chances. Yet the pressure eventually told. There was joy to be had from either flank, Arda and Sabri providing the centres nodded beyond the exposed José Reina by Karan to prompt memories of Milan's implosion in Istanbul.

Had either of the late chances been converted, Liverpool would have experienced the Italians' misery; as it is, from the top of the group, they can breathe easier.

Copyright - The Guardian

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