Liverpool Echo report

FIORENTINA dismantled the cage that houses away fans especially for Liverpool’s visit – the 2,500 who made the trip must wish they hadn’t bothered.

Without the high metal fencing in place, there was no hiding from events down below in the Stadio Artemio Franchi and this didn’t make pleasant viewing.

The swagger that has accompanied the Reds’ displays in recent weeks went missing in Tuscany last night.

After six straight wins over Bolton, Burnley, Debrecen, West Ham, Leeds and Hull, this was a step up in class and Liverpool were found wanting.

Wasteful in possession, vulnerable at the back, overrun in midfield and toothless up front they were well beaten as Fiorentina extended their impressive record of never conceding a goal at home to English opposition.

It was the first time in 24 games dating back to February that the Reds have fired blanks.

Of course if Lyon are dispatched at Anfield in three weeks’ time then this will only a minor blip on the long road to Madrid, but what is certain is that progress from Group E will not be the procession many predicted.

Lyon’s emphatic win over Debrecen last night put Liverpool’s lacklustre victory against the Hungarian minnows firmly into perspective.

Of course with Chelsea to come at Stamford Bridge on Sunday the Reds can’t afford to dwell on this setback.

But if anyone was getting carried away with the recent goal rush then this was a major reality check.

Boss Rafa Benitez can only hope that Javier Mascherano proves his fitness in time for the trip to the capital.

The tough-tackling Argentinean was sorely missed last night as the decision to partner Fabio Aurelio alongside Lucas in the centre of midfield failed to pay off.

The Reds struggled to gain any control and while Aurelio might have done a job there in the past against Portsmouth and Leeds, the Viola represented a much tougher proposition.

Aurelio wasn’t the only one to struggle with fellow Brazilian Lucas dropping way below his recent high standards, while full-backs Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua were frequently second best.

Just before kick-off the vociferous home fans unfurled a huge banner proclaiming: “Welcome Reds Your Story Is For Us A Legend”.

A chant of ‘We Love Liverpool’ followed but that was where the admiration ended. Fiorentina, who are fourth in Seria A, shrugged off the loss of star striker Alberto Gilardino due to suspension and showed little respect for big reputations.

Cesare Prandelli’s side forced the Reds on to the back foot and carved them open with alarming regularity.

The hosts were desperate to atone for their 1-0 defeat to Lyon in the opening round of games and their charge was led by talented teenager Stevan Jovetic.

Florence is packed with works of art from the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and in Jovetic the city appears to have unearthed another gem.

The 19-year-old, who grabbed the winner in the Tuscan derby against Livorno last weekend, has already earned himself the tag of the ‘Montenegrin Messi’ and during a stunning first half display he showed why.

Fiorentina forked out £6.5million to buy him from FK Partizan last year and on last night’s evidence he looks worth every penny.

Jovetic, playing just behind former Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu, flourished in the acres of space in front of the Reds’ back four and only Martin Skrtel’s last ditch tackle denied him early on.

Marco Marchionni also went close with an overhead kick and the only surprise was they had to wait until the 28th minute to get the breakthrough.

Former Italy international Cristiano Zanetti provided the pass and with Insua playing him onside, Jovetic raced clear and slotted past Pepe Reina.

It was one-way traffic and Reina had to beat away a vicious strike from Peru international Juan Vargas before Johnson’s sliding challenge thwarted Jovetic.

The teenage prodigy’s pace and guile continued to cause problems and in the 37th minute he doubled his tally.

Insua was beaten far too easily beaten by Marchionni and Jovetic reacted smartly to turn Vargas’ drilled cross inside Reina’s near post.

Jovetic only grabbed two goals in Serie A in his debut campaign but he now has six for the Viola this season.

On the back of a half-time ear-bashing, Liverpool improved in the second half but after such an inept opening 45 minutes they could hardly have got worse.

Initially there was hope of a fightback as Yossi Benayoun finally forced a save from the under-worked Sebastien Frey.

Lucas should have done better when he powered a header just over and then Dirk Kuyt’s strike was beaten away by the keeper

Fiorentina weathered the storm and if Marchionni had picked out the unmarked Mutu in the box the Reds’ night could have got even worse.

Fernando Torres failed to transfer his red-hot domestic form on to the European stage.

The Spaniard was expertly marked out of the game by centre-back Alessandro Gamberini and after appeals for a penalty were waved away his frustration grew.

Steven Gerrard battled to hand the Reds a lifeline but he was thwarted by Riccardo Montolivo’s brave block and then the skipper nodded a cross from substitute Ryan Babel agonisingly wide.

The Reds’ four previous trips to Italy had yielded two wins, two draws and four clean sheets but this time there was no triumphant glass of Chianti.

Fiorentina: Frey, Comotto, Dainelli, Gamberini, Gobbi, Zanetti, Montolivo, Marchionni (De Silvestri 89), Jovetic, Vargas (Jorgensen 74), Mutu (Donadel 83). Subs: Avramov, Kroldrup, Castillo, Pasqual.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua (Babel 72), Kuyt, Lucas, Aurelio, Kuyt (Voronin 80), Gerrard, Torres. Subs: Cavalieri, Riera, Kyrgiakos, Spearing, Plessis.

Referee: Felix Brych (Germany)

Attendance: 33, 426

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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