Igor Biscan and Djimi Traoré could be excused for shielding their eyes as they alighted in brilliant autumn sunshine from the plane bringing Liverpool back from rain-lashed La Coruña yesterday. As Anfield's forgotten men, they are unaccustomed to the spotlight in which they basked after outstanding displays in the 1-0 victory over Deportivo.
Biscan, 26, was fancifully dubbed the "Croatian Zidane" prior to a £5.5m move from Dinamo Zagreb in 2000. As he became ever more marginalised, featuring more as a stop-gap central defender, he was bracketed with Emile Heskey as the embodiment of Gérard Houllier's follies. Traoré, 24, had fallen so far out of contention at Liverpool that Houllier let him spend last season on loan to Lens. On the eve of the current campaign, the left-back, who arrived from Laval in 1999 but has yet to start 50 games, was about to join Everton before the new manager, Rafael Benitez, stepped in to keep him.
Both shone amid the gloom of the Riazor Stadium. Biscan, in particular, made the most of a rare opportunity to take the playmaking role normally held by Steven Gerrard or Xabi Alonso. His creativity and composure was complemented by tenacious tackling, helping Liverpool establish instant ascendancy. Chris Kirkland, a virtual spectator on a night when the only concern was Liverpool's failure to collect no more than an own goal from a clutch of chances, highlighted Biscan's contribution. "He was up and down the pitch, starting moves and breaking things up, which is how he always is in training," the goalkeeper said. "The fans give him stick, but he takes it in good humour. Hopefully, they'll get on his side now."
Biscan's impact was so all-pervasive that he even managed to lay out Kirkland with an accidental elbow to the chin during Deportivo's short-lived second-half rally. Traoré also took a blow on the head from a stray boot, but recovered quickly to execute a textbook sliding challenge on Sanchez Victor.
Traoré insisted he had not been affected by the criticism he tended to receive during previous runs in the team, yet added: "It's nice that things have changed and people are behind me." He hoped for a similar shift in public perceptions of Biscan and added: "He's a good player, so he didn't surprise me. We're not bad players. We just need a chance to show what we can do."
When Liverpool last triumphed in Spain, 21 years ago, they went on to win the competition. While no one is reading too much into such omens, a place in the knock-out stages would represent evidence that the "regime change" is working. Victory at Monaco in the penultimate group fixture would guarantee their advance and could turn the final match, at home to Olympiakos, into a play-off for first place and a theoretically easier second-round draw.
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