Every great Champions League campaign for Liverpool under Rafael Benitez has been a case of triumph in adversity; of a team of unlikely heroes overcoming more lavishly resourced rivals. If they are to progress this year, you suspect, they will have to do it on the same terms.
The 100th win in the European Cup for the club last night, decided by Dirk Kuyt's scrappy toe-poke before half-time, was no thing of beauty. These are early days yet and, like the three other English Champions League clubs, Liverpool are still finding their feet. But even so there was something woefully one-paced about them last night that had Anfield gloomy right up until the edgy finish.
They should have bulldozed the Hungarian champions but, come the last few minutes, Benitez was still an anxious observer on the edge of his technical area. Fernando Torres of all people looked a touch indecisive in front of goal, electing to pass rather than shoot. Steven Gerrard was not his usual destructive presence.
Preoccupations off the pitch dominated for Liverpool last night. There are strong suggestions that the club's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett – who own 50 per cent of the club each – are trying to sell 25 per cent of the total shareholding. The £100m they hope to raise will go towards building the new stadium, with the pair keeping control of the club. Benitez admitted that it had been a frustrating night but said that the enthusiasm of the Champions League new boys from Hungary had been a major factor. "You play against a team like this in the first game at Anfield and you can see in the first few minutes, even in the warm-up, that they are going to press with intensity for every ball.
"We didn't take our chances and that put us under pressure at the end of the game. Against teams like this who are well-organised you have to score early. We scored too late and they stayed in the game."
As the game limped to a conclusion, it became clear that the result was the thing and pretensions of making a statement should be left to another day. Benitez had picked the same team that beat Burnley on Saturday which meant that Gerrard occupied one of the two positions in front of the back four and Javier Mascherano was on the bench.
Lucas Leiva kept his place in the starting XI although the man who is Anfield's least favourite player had one of his better games. He is patently no Xabi Alonso but until Alberto Aquilani is nursed back to fitness he will have to do. There was a rare sense of apathy in Anfield, evident in the empty seats in the Centenary Stand that were not quite filled by latecomers.
Anfield was still clearing its throat when the game began and their team took even longer to fall into their stride. Gerrard picked up a bizarre booking from the Portuguese referee for failing to wait for the whistle while taking an innocuous free-kick. The Hungarians had some decent chances before Liverpool finally took the lead, most notably a header from Peter Czvitkovics that was tipped over the bar by Pepe Reina.
Liverpool found their rhythm late in the half. Jamie Carragher split the Hungarian defence for Albert Riera to run on goal. His shot was saved by Vukasin Poleksic as was another from the Spanish left-winger a few moments later. On that occasion Kuyt got to the rebound first and Norbert Meszaros kicked the ball off the line.
Emiliano Insua and Riera broke down the left and crossed for Gerrard who had strayed into the penalty area but misjudged his shot. The goal came with Liverpool's last attack of the half. Torres twisted and shot from the edge of the area and this time when Poleksic spilled the shot, Kuyt got a toe to the rebound to score.
There were times when the team from Hungary might have capitulated but they hung on. The 4-1-4-1 formation was not designed to entertain but can you blame them for playing that way? Their French striker Adamo Coulibaly laboured as best as he could up front. Gerrard hit a rocket of a volley just over the bar in the 55th minute.
On the right Benayoun's involvement was sporadic although his dribble after the hour was one of those sequences that you rarely see. He beat four Hungarian defenders with that wonderful lightness of touch before getting in a shot that was saved.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Insua; Lucas, Gerrard; Benayoun (Mascherano 88), Kuyt (Aurelio 90), Riera (Babel 80); Torres. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Voronin, Kyrgiakos, Spearing.
Debrecen (4-1-4-1): Poleksic; Bodnar, Komlosi, Meszaros, Fodor; Ramos (Laczko 67); Czvitkovics, Kiss, Leandro, Szakaly (Feczesin 79); Coulibaly. Substitutes not used: Pantic (gk), Szucs, Bernath, Olah.
Referee: P Proenca (Portugal).
Liverpool's tally of wins in the European Cup after last night's narrow victory.Reuse content