by Anthony Jones at Talklfc
A game against struggling opponents in Europe in a group in which you're expected to qualify would not normally take on such importance. However when your form has been inconsistent, your defence vulnerable and your attack lacking in cohesion then a return to winning becomes vital. This was the case for Liverpool as they travelled to Bordeaux a side who looked capable of providing the team from Anfield the boost they needed having failed to find the net in Europe for longer than they cared to remember.
Going into the match a checklist of requirements could easily be reeled off. Win the match, keep a clean sheet, avoid injuries and put in a convincing performance. Liverpool managed three of the four and going by his reaction after the game, Benitez was thankful for that. However with a game against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday he, like the fans, will know that there has to be significant improvement if a result is to be gained.
With Steven Gerrard not travelling and neither Kuyt or Sissoko deemed fit enough to start Liverpool were again fielding a changed side. The back four was recognisable, as it was the one that played the majority of last season. In midfield Zenden partnered Alonso, a combination that looked like it might struggle against Bordeaux's central trio. Luis Garcia came in to try and work his European magic with Gonzalez on the other flank. Upfront Crouch and Bellamy were given an opportunity to develop their little and large combination.
From there the tale of events is short. This was a game similar to Liverpool's match against PSV earlier in the competition in terms of match action. Liverpool seemed incapable of taking control of the game, leaving Bordeaux and their toothless attack to hold onto the ball without ever appearing certain of what they intended to do with it. The stalemate led to few chances. Johan Micoud missed contact with a well flighted free kick when the slighted touch would have resulted in a goal. That in truth was the sum total of Bordeaux's threat with the exception of the odd wild hack from distance.
At the other end Liverpool rarely offered much better. The arrival of Craig Bellamy has given the side a different attacking option this season. Yet rather than using his intelligent and willing running as an option, it seems that it has been deemed the only pass available. Not for the first time this season his team mates, the back four in particular were rushed in their attempts to get the ball forward. Rather than building play up and then finding the run of Bellamy in an advanced position, the route instead was to get the ball forward as quickly as possible, bypassing the talents of Peter Crouch en route.
On the rare occasions Liverpool cherished possession and built an attack in the Bordeaux half they threatened. A clever flighted ball from the left flank by Alonso created an opening. The ball looped over the Bordeaux defenders leaving three Liverpool players onside. Luis Garcia leaped to head the ball, just missing it, and in the process possibly putting off Peter Crouch who stabbed his effort wide of goal from yards out. Moments later a good run from Crouch was found by another lofted pass from Alonso. Bringing the ball down cleverly with the outside of his foot to the side of the six yard area, he then failed to make sufficient contact with his effort as he lost balance.
The second half was little better as the pair of Laslandes and Darcheville continued to show why they failed in England. Zenden and Gonzalez continued to remain on the periphery whilst Alonso and Garcia for all their effort failed to gain any measure of control. Liverpool's only fear at the back was from set pieces where Bordeaux's delivery was occasionally good but it wasn't quite a case of hanging on at the end.
With Dirk Kuyt poised to enter the match, Peter Crouch literally rose to the occasion. A rare delivery of quality from a set piece, this one from Craig Bellamy, went just over the head of Hyypia. This time Crouch was not put off by his team mate and using the pace of the delivery he guided his header goalwards. Benitez soon made changes with Kuyt, Sissoko and Warnock getting game time. Warnock could have sealed the game after good close control allowed him to ghost into the box only for his shot to lack composure.