Pistols were drawn in the salute that accompanied Robbie Keane's first goal for Liverpool but that was as close as Anfield came to witnessing a duel last night. This was a procession for Rafael Benítez's team and a self-indulgent one at that, as Liverpool used PSV Eindhoven to reach several personal landmarks while easing towards the Champions League knockout stage almost as an afterthought.
The 250th game of Benítez's Anfield reign yielded first the 100th Liverpool goal in the Champions League, qualifiers included, since the Spaniard arrived at the club, then Keane's first since his £20.3m move from Tottenham Hotspur and finally the 100th goal of Steven Gerrard's glorious Liverpool career. The outlook in Group D appeared inconsequential next to the roll-call of milestones but, with Marseille losing to Atlético Madrid, Liverpool are close to a comfort zone after only two games. Or as close as it is possible to be with Benítez in charge. "It was almost the perfect night. A clean sheet would have been better," said the Liverpool manager.
Hard on the heels of Steve McClaren's "Dutsch" accent PSV provided the latest feeble offering from the Netherlands and their performance was a sad indictment of a proud football heritage. "I think the financial gap is too big now," said the PSV coach, Huub Stevens. "When you see the players in England, Spain and Italy now compared to the players in the Netherlands, there is a big difference. We are just happy to be in the Champions League, which I think is a problem for the Netherlands not the Champions League."
Confidence is gathering apace at Liverpool and this, their 11th game unbeaten this season, developed into an exhibition for the movement and pace of Fernando Torres, the intelligence of Xabi Alonso and the leadership of their captain, Gerrard. It was also reflected in Stevens' defensive line-up, with five men strung across the Dutch defence. After just four minutes, however, they trailed to a familiar foe.
The former Feyenoord striker, Dirk Kuyt, extended his outstanding goals record in the Champions League following the first corner of the game from Gerrard. Torres easily escaped his marker, Jérémie Bréchet, to force the goalkeeper, Andreas Isaksson, to save with his legs but the rebound fell kindly for Kuyt who drove Liverpool ahead through a crowded area. The former Manchester City keeper Isaksson must have feared a repeat of his last appearance on English soil, the 8-1 humiliation that Middlesbrough served up to Sven-Goran Eriksson on the final day of last season.
It was Kuyt who scored the late extra-time goal that took Benítez's team into the group stage at the expense of Standard Liège in the third qualifying round, and whose seven goals in last season's Champions League were instrumental in Liverpool's advance to the semi-finals. Remarkable then, that the £10m Dutchman has not scored a Premier League goal for Liverpool since November last year. Yet this was not a night for ruminating over Anfield goal droughts.
Torres, Gerrard and Benítez had all showered Keane with praise for his derby display at Everton but the love-in could never satisfy the striker's lust for goals, no matter the calibre of the company kept, and there was extra depth to Anfield's roar when the Republic of Ireland captain opened his account after 10 games and 34 minutes for his boyhood club. Again Kuyt and Torres were involved, the latter delivering an inviting cross from the right wing that Keane converted with an instinctive flick of his instep into the far corner. "It's a monkey off my back," he admitted. "He could have been feeling the pressure because all strikers are ambitious for goals," added his manager. "This was important but it was just one step forward."
It fell to Gerrard to complete Liverpool's evening when, with a 25-yard free-kick into the Kop goal, the captain reached his century in characteristically emphatic style. A swift reply from the PSV substitute Danny Koevermans barely qualified as a consolation.
Final score Liverpool 3 – 1
(HT 2 – 0)
Bookings Marcellis 75
Liverpool's Percentage PSV Eindhoven's Percentage
Corners 3 75% 1 25%
Goal attempts 11 55% 9 45%
On target 6 75% 2 25%
Fouls 8 36% 14 64%
Offside 1 14% 6 86%
Liverpool Jose Manuel Reina, Fabio Aurelio, Alvaro Arbeloa, Martin Skrtel, Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt, Steven Gerrard (Ryan Babel, 82), Robbie Keane (Lucas Leiva, 75), Fernando Torres, Albert Riera (Yossi Benayoun, 68)
PSV Eindhoven Andreas Isaksson, Jan Kromkamp, Carlos Salcido, Dirk Marcellis, Jeremie Brechet (Erik Pieters, 46), Timmy Simons, Stijn Wuytens (Danny Koevermans, 60), Edison Mendez (Balazs Dzsudzsak, 76), Otman Bakkal, Nordin Amrabat, Jason Culina
Referee Brych, F
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