Liverpool hope for power surge
By Phil McNulty - BBC Sport Online
Liverpool's great European nights at
Anfield can - according to managing director Christian
Purslow - supply him with a surge of energy on a par with
being plugged into the National Grid. This was not one of
The particular occasion Purslow had in mind was the 2005
Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, so comparisons
with an opening group game against Debrecen, Hungary's first
representatives in this phase for 14 years, are unfair.
If ever a game needed a few thousand volts shot through it
to jolt it into life, it was this undistinguished affair
settled by Dirk Kuyt's goal in first-half stoppage time.
This was more power cut than power surge. Even Anfield
itself was lacking its usual electricity, with the rare
sight of empty seats and a wave of supreme indifference
sweeping around Liverpool's supporters at the final whistle.
Liverpool's win was more memorable for milestones than the
match itself. It was their 100th win in Europe's elite
competition in Rafael Benitez's 300th game as manager.
And yet, for all the failings of a disjointed performance,
this was a satisfactory end to a satisfactory week for
Liverpool, with Purslow rightly proclaiming the benefits of
a new £80m shirt sponsorship deal with investment bank
As with Chelsea on Tuesday, the currency that counts at this
stage of the Champions League is points not performances.
Liverpool's subdued display will not be recalled if they
reach the knockout phase, which they surely will
A win was what was required to round off a spell where they
have reasserted a measure of authority on the pitch with
victories over Bolton, Burnley and now Debrecen and flexed
muscle off the pitch with the new shirt deal and a positive
blizzard of statements of intent.
Of course, when Purslow delivers messages along the lines
of: "We're Liverpool. We're not interested in being second
best" he is pitching to fans who feel lines of trust have
been broken with American owners Tom Hicks and George
And when he adds: "I'm not embarrassed to say we are
Liverpool Football Club - the most famous football club in
the world" then there may be some who might mischievously
suggest that one is aimed in the direction of Old Trafford.
It does not take a massive leap of the imagination to hear
Sir Alex Ferguson's teeth grinding as some brave soul plucks
up the courage to read those words to him.
Time will tell whether more actions will follow these bold
statements. There is no bad news in signing such a lucrative
deal, but Liverpool's fans will only feel the warm glow of
Purslow's words when they see how much of Standard Bank's
cash lands in Benitez's lap and how long it takes for
foundations to be laid for a new stadium on Stanley Park.
The new deal is a promising starting point and there is a
sense around Anfield that the club is finally moving forward
again and that there is, although you should whisper this
one, a semblance of normality returning after recent
There was also renewed talk at Anfield on Wednesday that
Hicks has instructed bankers to seek out investment in the
Middle East to bolster Liverpool's finances even further.
It was against this backdrop that Liverpool's latest
Champions League pursuit began. Benitez admits Liverpool's
priority this season is the Premier League, but offer a
proud son of Madrid a place in the final at the Bernabeu
next May and he might just reconsider.
And the sight of Fernando Torres, the one-time icon of
Atletico Madrid, strolling around the Anfield pitch cradling
his baby daughter an hour after the final whistle while deep
in conversation with another team-mate from the city Pepe
Reina, was a reminder that there are special incentives at
work in this tournament for Liverpool.
It was hardly an auspicious start against the unknowns of
Debrecen, whose delight at simply playing at Anfield was
illustrated by members of the club's hierarchy cheering
wildly when they won a corner - then producing cameras to
record the moment for posterity.
And their spirits were helped by a Liverpool team who
struggled for rhythm. Kuyt did well in the role Steven
Gerrard has made his own just behind Torres. The captain
dropped to a deeper role, but the sooner he is restored to
riding shotgun with Torres the better as far as Liverpool
Gerrard kept Lucas company in central midfield while Javier
Mascherano remained on the bench. The Argentine's season has
simply failed to get going and it is to be hoped, for his
and Liverpool's sake, that this is a temporary blip and not
leftovers from the blocking of a summer switch to Barcelona.
It does not take a long memory to recall that Liverpool have
had their struggles in group games in the past before
emerging as contenders in the closing stages of the
This win, however scrappy, offers early security against the
sort of anxiety they have suffered before escaping into the
group stage. European giants such as AC Milan, Inter Milan,
Barcelona and Real Madrid know the dangers Liverpool pose
when that happens.
Not a night that will live long in the memory - but the
first tentative steps on the road back to Madrid for
defends misfiring Reds
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez admits his
side should have scored more goals during their 1-0 win over
Debrecen, but is happy to get off to a winning start in the
UEFA Champions League.
Dirk Kuyt's first-half strike was the difference between the
two sides after he slotted home a rebound from a Fernando
Liverpool racked up 23 shots on goal with only seven of
those hitting the target on a night which saw the home side
dominate without playing particularly well.
Captain Steven Gerrard endured a miserable afternoon,
picking up a yellow card and missing the target with
numerous efforts, but Benitez insists the win is the most
important aspect of the game.
"I think the main thing was to get three points," Benitez
told Sky Sports.
"OK, we could have done it a little better by scoring
another goal with the chances that we had, but because we
didn't score (a second), we were thinking that they could've
scored so it was more difficult until the end."
For all Liverpool's dominance, their Hungarian opponents
offered a genuine threat on the break as the Reds searched
for an elusive second, prompting Benitez to introduce Javier
Mascherano and Fabio Aurelio late on.
"Their last two or three attacks gave them some options,
some hope, so I think we needed to score a second goal and
always in football until you finish the game you have to be
awake," he said.
The Reds boss was also keen to point out Debrecen's
defensive qualities as they made a modest impression on
their Champions League debut.
"I think they were well organised, efficient with intensity
so it was not easy to find the spaces," added the Spaniard.
The win means Liverpool sit joint top of Group E along with
Lyon, who beat Fiorentina at home by the same scoreline in
the group's other game on Wednesday.
Reds weren't vintage
ITV - Football
Jamie Carragher admitted Liverpool were a
long way from their best in beating Debrecen 1-0 at Anfield
in their Champions League opener.
Dirk Kuyt got the only goal of the game just before
half-time, taking advantage of a goalkeeping error to prod
home the ball after Vukasin Poleksic failed to hold Fernando
Liverpool struggled to create clear chances, but Carragher
was happy simply to take the three points.
"We didn't play well, we know that, just the 1-0 tonight,
but we wanted to get a win as quick as we could to qualify
from the group," he said on ITV.
"It's not our best performance but we got the result."
But despite the close scoreline, boss Rafael Benitez was
happy with his team's effort.
"We had three or four good chances and if we take our
chances it would be easier," he said. "But it's 1-0, and the
most important thing is to get the three points.
"In the first half we had two or three very good chances and
in the second half it's the same. People didn't know what to
expect because they didn't know the other team, but they
showed they're not bad."
Kuyt was asked to play behind Torres with Steven Gerrard
dropped deeper into midfield, and the Dutchman was forced to
admit the formation did not produce enough openings.
"It was difficult to create chances," he said. "In the first
half we should have scored more than one goal to make the
game a lot easier.
"Like Jamie said, it's not the best performance, but we got
the clean sheet and won the game. That's the most important
thing in the first game."
Kuyt, who spent most of last season playing on the right
wing for Liverpool, added that he was happy to switch
position to wherever Benitez asks him to go.
"It doesn't matter which position I play if I can be
important for the team," he said.
"I have played (in the middle) before. Last year I played
most of the time on the right, and this year most of the
time behind Fernando. Maybe on Saturday it will be a
different position, but that is up to the manager."
Dirk Kuyt's strike on the stroke of
half-time gave Liverpool a 1-0 win over plucky Debrecen in
their Champions League Group E clash at Anfield.
Kuyt's 12th goal in 35 Champions League games for Liverpool
saw the Anfield men claim three points - but there was
nothing to suggest a Madrid final in May is on the cards.
The Dutchman is now Liverpool's third-highest scorer in this
competition and they were more than thankful for his
eventual winner in the final seconds of the first half.
The Hungarian champions did their best, while Liverpool were
some way short of their peak.
Rafael Benitez took charge of his 300th Liverpool match as
the Reds produced their 100th victory in this competition -
their first was 45 years ago - but the Spaniard would have
wanted a better display than this to mark a little piece of
This was Debrecen's debut in the group stages but if they
cannot improve on this showing they may well not win a
Liverpool kept faith with the side that had produced their
best performance on Saturday in beating Burnley 4-0, with
Fabio Aurelio on the bench for his first involvement of the
season following a knee injury.
But they were sluggish and uninspired and it took them an
awfully long time in the first period to get some reward for
their total domination.
In fact there were barely a couple of seconds left in the
half to restart the match when Kuyt forced the ball home
after Vukasin Poleksic had palmed out a Fernando Torres
Before that it had been one-way traffic towards the
Hungarian champions' goal.
Such was the general wastefulness, even Steven Gerrard was
squandering chances regularly. Three efforts sailed wide, a
header dropped over the crossbar and a low drive flashed
Albert Riera was equally at fault. Three times he was put
away, and on each occasion Poleksic got a hand on the
Gerrard even found himself booked for taking a free-kick too
quickly by Portuguese official Pedro Proenca, who had
clearly pointed to his whistle telling the Liverpool skipper
It was unnecessary, and could come back to haunt the England
star as the competition progresses and suspensions become
And so it went on. The nearest Liverpool came before Kuyt's
strike was after 30 minutes when Norbert Meszaros kicked off
the line from the Dutchman after another Poleksic save from
The only time Jose Reina was called into action was to touch
over a 20-yard effort from Meszaros.
Liverpool improved after the break, which was not difficult,
and Gerrard smashed a swerving 25-yarder against the
crossbar before Yossi Benayoun went on a brilliant run past
a string of defenders before forcing Poleksic into a
fumbling save at the foot of the near post.
Lucas, having another fine game in midfield, saw a powerful
header flash wide but Liverpool were seemingly playing with
a belief that one goal was enough.
But that is a dangerous policy, and Debrecen caused some
worrying moments towards the end as they almost took
advantage of a succession of set-plays.
Ryan Babel came on with 10 minutes left for Riera, his first
appearance since yet another outburst over his lack of
matches, and he produced one clever juggling act to fire
But Adamo Coulibaly, Debrecen's French frontman, almost
punished Liverpool by forcing his way through and stabbing a
shot wide after 82 minutes.
That Liverpool sent on the defensive Javier Mascherano for
the inventive Benayoun with three minutes left, and then
Aurelio for Kuyt in injury time, said everything about
Benitez's concerns and frustrations about what he was
He certainly could not afford to see a couple of points
thrown away by a piece of sloppy defending and there were
certainly a few of those.