Torres keeps Liverpool afloat

Liverpool will surely require more of Fernando Torres’ glorious technique if they are to survive and then thrive in this campaign, writes Kevin McCarra.

It has the air of a handsome victory, yet there were ugly interludes. Much of that will be forgotten now that the overall appearance of Group A is somewhat more comely. Nonetheless it can only look bewitching if Liverpool now go on to win in Marseille on December 11. With a draw, the French club would enjoy a superior head-to-head record.

A draw in France might just suffice so long as Besiktas, conquerors of Marseille on November 28, pull off a virtually inconceivable victory in Portugal. That would see the Turks, outlandishly, winning the group. The fate of the remaining three clubs would be settled by drawing up a mini-table of their fixtures against one another. Liverpool would prevail on goal difference.

All that is abstruse and such a turn of events verges on the inconceivable, but there is the merest possibility that the eventual splurge of goals for Rafael Benitez’s men did more than simply cheer up the fans. The expert Fernando Torres had struck twice to give Liverpool a 2-1 lead but the match had been tied when there were a mere 12 minutes left.

Despite any criticisms, the victors have achieved their aim and rejoiced as they left the field with news of the feats elsewhere of Besiktas, who had rallied after the 8-0 defeat at Anfield. There will, though, be other matters on Liverpool’s mind. This was an uneven display.

It was enhanced by the ultimate collapse of a Porto side who had enjoyed periods of authority before being overcome by the tempo and endeavour of Liverpool. The inadequate centre-back Milan Stepanov handled a Steven Gerrard free-kick to concede a penalty that the midfielder himself converted for the home team’s third after 84 minutes. Peter Crouch, a substitute, headed in a Gerrard corner for the concluding goal.

The introduction of Crouch had delivered great impact and Harry Kewell, on leaving the bench, had a contribution to make. In some respects Benitez does have a variety of options at his disposal. Nonetheless there were patches that could have borne out the manager’s claim that plans for the January transfer window have to be settled immediately.

The visitors did not look initially as if they had an ebullient approach in mind with the manager Jesualdo Ferreira even naming his playmaker Raul Meireles among the substitutes, yet the languor of the group leaders was deceptive. After falling behind Porto reacted with a simple yet efficient equaliser and might have been ahead by half-time.

During that interlude it looked as if Liverpool, for all Benitez’s tactical acumen, could not stop the flow of passes from Lucho, whom Everton attempted to buy for £11m last summer. The midfielder had still found a way of making an impact on Merseyside. At the start, though, it was the Premier League side who seemed to pose an easy threat.

They took the lead from a Gerrard corner in the 19th minute. Torres placed himself between Lucho, who belied his usual poise by slipping, and a static Stepanov. The Spain centre-forward headed in simply for his first Champions League goal with Liverpool.

Benitez would have been mortified by an equaliser that was as preventable as his team’s goal had been. The midfielder Przemyslaw Kazmierczak broke on the left after 33 minutes and Alvaro Arbeloa could not attend to the cross, allowing Lisandro Lopez to head past Pepe Reina.

The crowd had taken stock and, belatedly, there was lusty encouragement. By the same token the volume climbed steeply in instants of frustration, as when Yossi Benayoun slipped the ball off-target at the start of the second half.

There was not enough impact from Liverpool, with players such as Ryan Babel subdued. Andriy Voronin was removed after 64 minutes, with Benitez depending on Kewell’s individualist skill.

The Porto goalkeeper Helton did at least need to impress by clearing a Javier Mascherano cross with his feet as Babel bore down on him. Benayoun made way for Crouch. Liverpool had attained a higher energy level, preventing Ferreira’s line-up from imposing their more studied style.

For all that, it was not too difficult to discern here why Benitez’s team should have been chasing merely a second win in the group. There was incident in abundance, including a speculative appeal or two for penalties before Stepanov’s offence, but it took sheer excellence of technique to bring about the breakthrough.

After 78 minutes Kewell fed Torres and he turned Stepanov before finishing with a firm and sure shot. The striker does bring another dimension to Liverpool. It is only just to note that the side has now scored 17 times and been breached only once in their last four matches.

The anxiety is eased by that kind of form but Liverpool will surely require more of Torres’ glorious technique if they are to survive and then thrive in this campaign.

THE RESULTS

November 28: Benfica 1 (Pereira 20) drew with AC Milan 1 (Pirlo 15). Half-time: 1-1; Besiktas 2 (Tello 27, Bobo 88) bt Marseille 1 (Taiwo 65). Half-time: 1-0; Celtic 2 (Jarosik 45, Donati 90) bt Shakhtar Donetsk 1 (Brandao 4). Half-time: 1-1; Lazio 1 (Pandev 30) lost to Olympiakos 2 (Galletti 35, Kovacevic 64). Half-time: 1-1; Liverpool 4 (Torres 19 & 78, Gerrard pen-84, Crouch 88) bt FC Porto 1 (Lopez 33). Half-time: 1-1; Rosenborg 0 lost to Chelsea 4 (Drogba 8 & 20, Alex 40, Cole 73). Half-time: 0-3; Valencia 0 drew with Schalke-04 0; Werder Bremen 3 (Rosenberg 4, Sanogo 40, Hunt 58) bt Real Madrid 2 (Robinho 14, van Nistelrooy 72). Half-time: 2-1.

November 27: CSKA Moscow 0 lost to PSV 1 (Farfan 40). Half-time: 0-1; Dynamo Kiev 1 (Bangoura 62) lost to Roma 4 (Panucci 4, Giuly 32, Vucinic 36 & 77). Half-time: 0-3; Inter Milan 3 (Cruz 55, Ibrahimovic 66, Jimenez 90) bt Fenerbahce 0. Half-time: 0-0; Lyon 2 (Juninho 7 & pen-80) drew with Barcelona 2 (Iniesta 4, Messi pen-58). Half-time: 1-1; Manchester United 2 (Tevez 61, Ronaldo 90) bt Sporting 1 (Abel 22). Half-time: 0-1; Sevilla 3 (Keita 24, Luis Fabiano 34, Kanoute pen-89) bt Arsenal 1 (Eduardo 11). Half-time: 2-1; Steaua Bucharest 1 (Badea 12) drew with Slavia Prague 1 (Senkerik 78). Half-time: 1-0; VfB Stuttgart 3 (Cacau 45, Pardo 62, Marica 85) bt Rangers 2 (Adam 27, Ferguson 70). Half-time: 1-1.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007