Liverpool through as Benítez stops the merry-go-round

Rafael Benítez choked last night like a batsman stumbling in the nervous nineties and, not for the first time, he was proved right to do so. After 99 matches, the Spaniard passed up on a century and named an unchanged side here but, for the instinctive tinkerer, there will be consolation ahead. With Bordeaux swept aside, Liverpool have secured their passage into the knockout phase with two group games still to play, ensuring at least one dead rubber ahead in which the manager can rotate to his heart's content.

There is no questioning his approach this morning. Victory in three weeks against PSV Eindhoven would secure Liverpool this group. Admittedly, this game was threatening to prove more troublesome than the group table had suggested when the French obligingly self-destructed midway through the second half.

Fernando Menegazzo, enraged by John Arne Riise failing to return the ball at a throw-in after Bordeaux pumped the ball into touch with a team-mate on the turf, thrust his head into the Norwegian's face. It was more rut than butt, but it left blood gushing from Riise's brow. The Brazilian was dismissed, departing with a scowl, and Bordeaux's hopes went with him.

Bordeaux's coach Ricardo Gomes offered no excuses for Menegazzo's conduct, though he was just as scathing about Riise's behaviour. "I thought English football was about fair play," he grumbled. "Just before the sending off we put the ball into the stands and Liverpool were supposed to give it to us back, but they didn't. They tried to score a goal instead and I was disappointed with that. Liverpool should not need to resort to that."

They should not have needed to here, but life proved easier against 10. By the end Liverpool were slicing through flustered opposition with ease, Steven Gerrard skipping on to Boudewijn Zenden's pass to steer his first club goal of the season beyond the exposed Ulrich Ramé to relieve the tension. Benítez hoped the goal might allow his captain, who had missed two previous chances, to play with less pressure from now on. "I'm not unsettled," Gerrard insisted. "A lot of people have been talking about me but I'm letting my football do the talking for me. I've got a lot of years ahead of me here."

Bordeaux were spent after that, David Jemmali's horrible error presenting Luis García with his second goal- his 10th in the Champions League in 23 appearances - five minutes later, with the substitute Robbie Fowler unfortunate not to score amid a succession of late chances. There was a verve to Liverpool suggesting they may be embarking on a winning sequence to match their 11-game streak a year ago. Bordeaux hardly stood a chance.

Only in an early period and at the start of the second half, when José Reina did well to deny Jean-Claude Darcheville and Florian Marange, did they threaten to block the home side's progress, and that early French hope was wrecked by Gerrard's 23rd-minute cross, looping over those in the six-yard box drawn to Peter Crouch, for García to volley down past Ramé at the far post. The Spaniard was a prime candidate to have surrendered his place after playing last Saturday.

Benítez reflected on the resignation of the director Noel White, whose public criticism of the management team had not been shared by the chairman or fellow board members. "The most important thing at the end is the club," Benítez said. "These things don't normally happen here, and I didn't have a bad relationship with him, but this is a big club and we have a way of doing things."

Qualification allows Benítez to focus on reviving a floundering Premiership challenge, with this presumably the start of another long stretch of rotations. "It was a shock when the boss named the side," admitted Gerrard. "All the lads were looking around in astonishment."

Copyright - The Guardian

Article links



We've got all the results from official games, appearance stats, goal stats and basically every conceivable statistic from 1892 to the present, every single line-up and substitutions!