Reds survive Standard scare
Liverpool survived to draw 0-0 with Standard Liege in their UEFA Champions League qualifier.
By Peter Fraser
Last Updated: 13/08/08 11:06pm
Liverpool's place in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League is far from certain following a goalless draw in the first leg of their third round qualifier with Standard Liege.
The Reds won the competition in 2005, to add to four previous successes in the European Cup, and Rafa Benitez's side are eager to repeat those heroics this season.
But they were forced to survive a real scare at Stade Maurice Dufrasne as Belgian champions Standard dictated the tempo from start to finish and Liverpool looked well off the pace.
Benitez named Steven Gerrard among his substitutes as he decided the midfielder had not sufficiently recovered from his recent thigh strain and the Reds missed their inspirational captain as Standard dominated the first half.
In the opening 10 minutes Jose Reina was fortunate to scoop a Marouane Fellaini effort off the line and the Liverpool goalkeeper was also called on to save a Dante Bonfim penalty after debutant Andrea Dossena was harshly adjudged to have handled inside the 18-yard area.
After the interval Standard continued to enjoy the better of proceedings as Liverpool's strike partnership of Robbie Keane and Fernando Torres failed to threaten when offered limited service.
However, Standard were unable to find a way past Reina and the result sets up a knock-out meeting in the return leg at Anfield on 27th August.
Standard could easily have won by two or three goals, but Liverpool now know they have the chance of progressing to the lucrative group stages in front of their own fans.
Benitez named French teenager Damien Plessis in central midfield alongside Xabi Alonso, which means the Spaniard is now cup-tied in Europe if the Reds do sell him during the transfer window.
Italian full-back Dossena and £20million new boy Keane made their first competitive starts as the five-times winners sought the expected comfortable step towards the group stages having never lost an away leg at this stage of the competition.
However, it was a far from comfortable evening for the Reds as after just six minutes Reina looked to have clawed the ball back from behind the line after a close-range effort from Fellaini had bounced across goal off the far post.
And Liverpool were still in a daze when they conceded a penalty soon after, but Reina - a penalty saving expert - rescued his team again when he made a fine stop with his legs from Dante's penalty.
Justice was done. Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo had adjudged that Dossena handled a cross from Wilfried Dalmat, although the infringement looked outside the box.
Liverpool were in disarray at the back as crosses rained in, and their zonal marking at set-pieces looked ready to crack at any moment.
Alonso was booked for a tackle on Deiu Mbokani, and still Liverpool had barely got into Standard's box.
And when they did get that far up field, Torres was taking a fair bit of stick from the home defenders, Marcos Camozzato was eventually booked for one late assault on the Spaniard's ankles.
The second half continued in much the same vein, Liverpool being hounded into mistakes all over the pitch.
One 40-yard punt up field cleared the entire Liverpool defence and Axel Witsel almost got on the end of it in the box with Reina scrambling.
Belgian youngster Fellaini was dominating midfield from what was a holding role, with plenty of licence to attack. The 20-year-old continually broke up play and surged forward.
Standard were still moving forward, and they almost took the lead after 65 minutes when Igor de Camargo got in front of Daniel Agger to head a deep, angled pass from Dante just wide of Reina's right-hand post.
That was the cue for Gerrard's arrival in place of Keane, who had struggled desperately to make any sort of impact.
But Standard still came forward and it took a Yossi Benayoun clearance in front of an open goal to stop a Deiudonne Mbokani header that had beaten Reina, from bouncing home.Gerrard clearly was not really right, but his influence calmed frayed nerves to ensure Liverpool held on.
|Standard Liege||Team Statistics||Liverpool|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|2||Shots on Target||1|
|3||Shots off Target||4|