Gerrard sends Reds through to knockout stages

Liverpool 1 Marseille 0
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The Independent Online

Steven Gerrard's 30th goal in Europe sent his side into the last 16 of the Champions League.

The Anfield skipper returned after a torn groin muscle to continue his personal vendetta against the French side in this Group D clash.

Last season Marseille won at Anfield in this competition and started a crisis that almost cost boss Rafael Benitez his job.

Since then Liverpool have beaten Marseille three times, with Gerrard scoring four goals.

This time a first-half header gave him his eighth goal of the season, and fifth in Europe, but it was not a convincing Liverpool victory.

Marseille were the better side after the break and it needed the considerable defiance of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger to keep them out.

This game was Benitez's 66th European game in charge of Liverpool and produced his 39th victory in that run, equalling Bob Paisley's record.

As for Gerrard, there is no doubt about his love for European competition.

The man who has just passed a century of club goals - he now has 104 - has seen 30 of those in Europe from 98 games, roughly one in three. His league ratio is one in six.

Marseille needed to win to stay alive in the group, and they started with three up front - Mamadou Niang as the main attacker with width provided by Bakari Kone and Hatem Ben Arfa.

But although the French side had the right intentions, they seemed unsure about committing too many men forward.

It meant that for the opening phase, Marseille never quite got at a somewhat hesitant Liverpool, who struggled to get their own game going.

Benitez had fielded arguably his strongest available side, with Robbie Keane on the bench and Gerrard back in his supporting role for Torres.

Eventually the game spluttered into life when Torres got to the line and laid the ball back for Dirk Kuyt to see a good header fumbled away by Steve Mandanda.

And that, after 23 minutes, paved the way to Liverpool's opener. From the resulting corner by Gerrard the ball was half cleared away to Alvaro Arbeloa.

He guided the ball out to Xabi Alonso, who fired in a far-post cross allowing Gerrard - still moving into the box following his corner - to plant a firm header wide of Mandanda.

Albert Riera could have grabbed another from 20 yards just before the break, and that would have extinguished much of Marseille's desire.

As it was they still believed they had a chance and it needed a good save from Jose Reina to keep out Niang's low drive at the start of the second period.

Andrea Dossena replaced the injured Fabio Aurelio, and Yossi Benayoun was soon to take over from Riera as Liverpool sought to finish the contest.

But belief still coursed through Marseille, and Reina did well to turn away a fierce 25-yarder from Taye Taiwo, with Ronald Zubar going close with a header from the resulting corner.

And when the clever Ben Arfa's low cross flashed into the Liverpool box, Benoit Cheyrou was too close for comfort with his run into space.

Ben Arfa was now on the right to attack the erratic Dossena, and it was only inches that denied him a penalty from a lunge by the Italian.

And when Reina needed to hurl himself full stretch to keep out a swerving Ben Arfa free-kick, the alarm bells were clearly ringing.

And after 78 minutes a familiar foe arrived to give Liverpool more worries. Mathieu Valbuena had scored the winner here 13 months ago, and a knee injury was supposed to force him out for a month.

But on he trotted to replace Kone, and Liverpool continued to be under pressure. And when Javier Mascherano hauled down the midfielder, enraging the French team's players, he was rightly booked.

Niang was also cautioned for his part in the pushing and shoving that followed. Lucas replaced Kuyt as Liverpool tried to see out the game, but it was a nasty atmosphere now, with tackles flying in.

But Liverpool clung onto their victory to reach the knockout stages again.

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