Talk lfc match report

by Anthony Jones at Talklfc

If it wasn't for the joys of European competition last season, Rafa Benitez might not be held in such high regard by Liverpool fans. With a less than spectacular start to the Premiership campaign this time around, it is once more Europe which offers the most hope for Liverpool so far. Having collected four points from the opening two games, including the away victory over Betis, Liverpool knew a win in Belgium would give them a strong footing in the group.

Depending on who you believe there is something visionary in Benitez's team selection policy, though others would claim a degree of madness. This was a game where a negative result would reinforce the claims of the madness brigade as the Spaniard opted to retain Cisse in attack but as a lone frontman. He was flanked by Riise making a rare start this season and most surprisingly, Mo Sissoko on the right. With Garcia in behind and the effective pairing of Hamann and Alonso in midfield it was the expected shape but an unexpected line-up. With Hyypia returning to make his 53rd consecutive European appearance alongside Carragher, the usual European full backs, Traore and Josemi completed the defence in front of Reina.

Anderlecht were desperate to end a run of defeats that would culminate in them setting a Champions League record should Liverpool depart with the three points. In a lively opening they carved out the first chance with Bart Goor played through but his shot lacked the necessary composure and was cleared by Reina. It was an early warning that Liverpool took notice of. With Anderlecht pushing forward at every opportunity, demonstrating a refreshing naivety compared to the normal European affair, Liverpool were finding space.

In the initial stages, Djibril Cisse was enjoying the space he was being afforded, as was Garcia who was central to all of Liverpool's play. The biggest threat to Anderlecht was coming down the left where Riise was pushing forward into the space afforded by Anderlecht's talented young attacking full back Anthony Van Den Borre. It was from one such surge down the left, a move initially started by some clever control by Josemi that a good chance arose. Riise drew in his marker and then shifted the ball past him which allowed him to move into the box. With Liverpool players angling for position, Garcia stopped in space and was found by a low pass from Riise. With the goal at his mercy, Garcia side footed the ball over the crossbar, a crime he is guilty of committing a little too regularly.

It was not all Liverpool as Anderlecht showed a great deal of enthusiasm, Goor mishitting a shot when played into a good position whilst Van Den Borre's shot from distance allowed Reina to make a picture book save. Riise was also denied a rare right footed goal by Silvio Proto, the Anderlecht stopper. Again cutting in from the left, the Norwegian demonstrated a rare moment of brilliance off his right side as he curled a shot which was heading into the top corner until the keeper touched it just around the post. Proto would make a couple more excellent saves in the game.

From the resulting corner the game got the goal it deserved. With Liverpool looking to have an obvious height advantage, it was a surprise that Anderlecht's marking was not as tight as it should have been. Despite this when the ball was swung in, there was still some work to be done and Cisse hammered the ball home in emphatic style. The ball had travelled over the heads of Hyypia and Carragher and was dipping towards the penalty spot when Cisse launched a savage volley which left Proto with not chance.

Another corner later in the half was not cleared by Anderlecht and after the ball struck Traore the defender turned and struck a right footed shot which Proto did well to stand up to and push away from goal.

Whilst Liverpool were the superior side in the first half, Anderlecht upped the pace in the second and will be frustrated they failed to seriously test Reina. Liverpool were dropping deeper now with Cisse looking increasingly stranded whilst his hold up play was becoming more erratic. Garcia looked to continue from his good first half and whilst he remained a constant thorn in the side of Anderlecht, his and the side's attacking play became increasingly disjointed. There were still chances though and early volley from Riise whilst Sissoko was denied by an excellent reflex save after he'd been played through.

Van Den Borre and Wilhelmsson were the main threats from the Belguim side. The Swedish midfielder Wilhelmsson was denied a penalty when Carragher blocked a cross with his arm though the official waved play on. It was a lucky break for Liverpool as questions could be asked of the position of Carragher's arm, though he would argue back that Chelsea have got away with greater offences in recent times. The best attack from open play saw Van Den Borre played in with a clever back heal, but on the stretch he failed to hit the target.

For Liverpool Kewell replaced Cisse making his first appearance since the Champions League final 5 months ago. He received a mixed response and had little opportunity to prove himself though there were a few nice touches. Sissoko and Riise were replaced by Zenden and Warnock in the closing ten minutes and whilst Liverpool had the odd opportunity to counter nothing came of the forward movements.

With the three points secured Liverpool know that a home win against Anderlecht in the return fixture will all but guarantee progress into the second stage of the competition. There is a continuing frustration around the consistency of Liverpool's performance with them showing far more adventure in the first half compared to the way they dropped deep in the second. However the positives for Benitez will be another clean sheet, an away victory and a number of chances created.

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