JUST how good are Liverpool? We'll have a better idea in a fortnight. For, if they go out of the UEFA Cup to Strasbourg, then something is very seriously wrong. Last night's 3-0 second round, first leg defeat in France means the Reds require a superhuman performance at Anfield on November 4 - even greater than against Paris St. Germain last season - to avoid an embarrassing elimination.
And not only that. There's a small matter of pride, too. Now let's see what they're made of.
Don't go kidding yourselves by believing Strasbourg are good. Yes, they played very well, but it would be irresponsible not to take into account their thirteenth place, the fact that they are three points off the drop zone - and that they were without five players.
Sorry, but good sides don't find themselves thirteenth in an 18-team league.
I accept that the absences of Karlheinz Riedle and Patrik Berger were significant, and that Liverpool created enough chances to have hope at Anfield.
No, I don't think this tie is over, but if they defend half as badly at home as they did abroad, all their attacking will be in vain.
One searches for positive points. Well, there was Jamie Redknapp's return and Robbie Fowler's effort, but that was it. For the second consecutive game, the Reds gave their supporters nothing to shout about; sporting supporters who had the decency to applaud Strasbourg.
Liverpool were as sluggish as on Saturday. If this fixture had been designed to restore their reputation both at home and abroad, then it failed miserably.
From the third minute, Stephane Collet's right wing cross forced the stretching Neil Ruddock to turn the ball towards his own goal, David James' save conceding a corner.
Evans' decision to revert to a back three was a questionable one, even though something had to be done to the rearguard after Saturday. The solution is surely greater organisational work in training (again) - or to purchase a new defender. Preferably one with pace.
Okay, it may be premature to talk of elimination with a second leg pending, but Liverpool haven't really convinced this season. Things are so worrying that Evans may just realise that greater talent is required if those calling for his head are to be silenced.
David Zitelli's 20th minute opener was marvellous. Collet?s left wing corner was headed back by the impressive Godwin Okpara, and Zitelli, whose left foot is his chief weapon, struck a stunning right foot volley from 20 yards which flew into the roof of the net. The talented striker is unsettled at Strasbourg and wants a move abroad. His two goals may help him acquire one.
Evans gambled by giving Redknapp his first senior outing when lacking match practice, but he justified his selection with an accomplished performance.
Liverpool had caused their opponents only occasional first half flutters with their one-man attack. But they almost drew level in the 41st minute when Steve McManaman took Fowler's pass and brought a low save out of Alexander Vencel.
However, six minutes after the break, James' left post prevented the dangerous Zitelli's header from converting Frederic Arpinon's cross.
The Reds reacted well, with Redknapp skipping onto McManaman's pass, only for Jan Suchoparek to intervene and concede a corner. Then Fowler superbly controlled a Stig Inge Bjornebye centre, drilled a low shot goalwards and saw Vencel save with his legs.
But, after James had clutched a shot from Arpinon, Strasbourg extended their advantage in the 63rd minute as Zitelli beat Bjorn Tore Kvarme to Gerald Baticle's right wing cross and bulleted a near post header into the net. Poor defending.
Fowler, to his credit, tried hard to ease the damage, seeing the sprightly Vencel backpedal to tip over his fine 25 yard volley.
It was a significant stop, for in the 69th minute, Denni Conteh took advantage of more sloppy defending by teasing his way into the box, and although James touched his drive, he could not prevent it entering at the near post.
Liverpool's unimpressive record of never having scored against a French side on French soil was preserved by Vencel's late saves from McManaman and substitute Michael Owen.
They will just have to make amends at Anfield - if they're good enough. Otherwise . . .
STRASBOURG (4-4-2): Vencel; Okpara, Raschke, Suchoparek, M'Ghoghi (Rott 77); Collet, Baticle, Dacourt Arpinon; Conteh, Zitelli (Rabbah 87). Subs (not used): Klein, Keller, Avril, Mezriche.
LIVERPOOL (3-5-1-2): James; Kvarme, Ruddock (Owen 74), Harkness; McAteer, Redknapp, Leonhardsen, Ince, Bjornebye; McManaman; Fowler. Subs (not used): Jones, Wright, Nielsen, Thomas, Matteo, Murphy.
GOALS: 1-0: Zitelli (20); 2-0: Zitelli (63); 3-0: Conteh (69).
BOOKING: Ruddock (foul).
REFEREE: Melo Ribeiro (Portugal).
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Jamie Redknapp.
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