by Anthony Jones at Talklfc
Anfield was full on the day the European Champions returned to competitive football. Facing TNS in the first qualifying round in their defence of the Champions League was not part of the original script when the cup was held aloft on the 25th May by Steven Gerrard. For that matter, in the period between then and now, neither was Steven Gerrard's part in this game in the story line. Following a dramatic change of heart the Liverpool captain reinforced his importance to the club last night.
There was talk of upsets and potential embarrassments before this game began, yet the reality was that nobody believed TNS could walk away from Anfield with anything other than a respectable defeat. The early passage of play suggested that TNS would not even get that. With Morientes supported by Anthony Le Tallec in attack, with a midfield four of Riise, Gerrard, Alonso and Darren Potter Liverpool were quickly into their stride. Having rearranged their pre-season plans, Benitez still plans to take the first team abroad this coming week. As a result, Benitez was keen to see the tie put out of reach of TNS in this first leg to ensure the first team players do not need to make the flight back for the return leg.
John Arne Riise was prominent on the left flank in the opening exchanges and it was no surprise that he played a part in the opening goal. A low cross was flicked on by Le Tallec. The ball was quickly moved on by Morientes to Gerrard who opened the scoring. It wasn't long until the second arrived, with TNS fearing a hammering. A ball over the top of the defence was seized upon by Gerrard amidst hesitancy from the Welsh side's defence. With Docherty the TNS keeper advancing Gerrard lobbed the ball carefully over him.
Liverpool's back four until now had been relatively untroubled. Reina made his competitive debut in goal in front of Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher and Warnock and will probably not enjoy a quieter game in goal for the Reds. He was forced into a regulation save when Xabi Alonso mishit a pass 30 yards out. A little later, with TNS attacking from a corner, Reina showed good command of his six yard box, punching the ball clear whilst catching Riise in the process.
From the second goal onwards, Liverpool dropped down the pace more in keeping with a pre-season friendly. Rafael Benitez was clearly keen to see his side put the tie out of reach but things were not quite falling into place. This was no more the case than for Fernando Morientes who has endured a tough settling in period on Merseyside. Presented with a couple of relatively easy chances, the Spanish striker failed to connect properly on both occasions gifting Docherty the chance to save.
The second half moved along with the same pace the second half had ended with. The back four remaining untroubled. Xabi Alonso showing an outstanding range of passing. Gerrard occasionally clicking into full pace leaving TNS behind. Yet for all that the goals weren't flowing. Darren Potter who enjoyed a good first half and Anthony Le Tallec who had worked half both started to fade. Benitez brought on Bolo Zenden for his debut, replacing Warnock with Riise moving to left back. He added a bit of urgency down the left, but he also failed to break the TNS rearguard. It was a brave display from the Welsh Champions.
With time moving on, it was surprising that Benitez delayed in making further changes. All eyes were on Milan Baros, a player who many expect to depart Anfield before the league season starts. His inclusion on the bench was a surprise in itself, but he rarely moved from his seat, leaving open the debate as to where his future lies. It was Djibril Cisse who was eventually brought on to stir things up. Replacing Darren Potter, he took the young player's position on the right flank. Benitez seems keen to have Cisse as an option for the wing. His pace and trickery will cause any left back trouble, whilst he demonstrated the ability to put the ball into the right places when crossing from wide.
Cisse was giving the TNS left back a torrid time and finally opened up the TNS defence for Liverpool to add a third. Sadly, especially for Morientes who converted the cross, the ball was ruled to have gone out of play in the build up. It was left to Steven Gerrard to finally wrap up the game. Picking up the ball in centre midfield he drove forward in typical style and then drilled a left foot shot in the bottom corner of the net.