2437: Liverpool vs Anderlecht: It's
by : Stephen Orford
Liverpool can secure a place in the last 16 of this season’s Champions League with victory over Anderlecht at Anfield on Tuesday (November 1).
The Premiership form of Rafa Benitez’s side is patchy at best, but the Reds remain unbeaten in the Champions League since the 1-0 reverse at Monaco almost a year ago. That run stretches to an impressive 11 games, and there is little among the Anderlecht ranks to suggest that they can stop Liverpool from making it 12.
By contrast, Saturday’s 2-0 win over West Ham United (October 29) was only the European champions’ third in the league this season, but a second successive Champions League victory over the Belgians should see them in the knockout stages once again.
Confirmation of Liverpool’s qualification for the last 16 officially depends not only on their own result, but on a likely victory for Chelsea against Real Betis in Group G’s other Tuesday fixture. In truth, victory for the Reds over Anderlecht should be equally likely, given that the Belgian outfit are on a cataclysmic run of 10 straight Champions League defeats. This is a most unwanted competition record, and a statistic which should give heart to those Liverpool fans who, in the absence of a realistic Premiership challenge once more, are holding on to the hope that the team can repeat the momentous victory achieved in the Champions League last term.
As was alluded to earlier, the teams have already met in Group G this season, with Liverpool winning 1-0 in Brussels thanks to a Djibril Cisse volley on October 19. The inclusion of the French striker is far from certain, with Benitez’s team selections becoming more and more of a guessing game with each passing game. However, whichever front-line combination is chosen for this fixture, it is surely a game which offers the goal-shy Merseysiders an opportunity to bolster their confidence in that area.
Triple Champions League winner Fernando Morientes is in contention for a starting role among the strikers, and should he be selected will make his Champions League debut for the Reds. Despite having never turned out in the competition for the Anfield club, Morientes has played in more Champions League games than any other Liverpool player, having already notched up 70 for Real Madrid and Monaco. At the moment the Spaniard is desperately in need of match practise, and the woeful form of Peter Crouch since his arrival at Anfield should increase Morientes’ chances of getting the nod to start this one.
And yet that assertion is based on the idea that Benitez will pick the players on form, and as such is unlikely to come to fruition. Morientes started alongside Cisse against West Ham, and it is incredibly rare for Benitez to resist the temptation to tinker with his forward line from game to game. Indeed, expect changes all over the field, as the likes of Didi Hamann, Harry Kewell and Stephen Warnock all come back into contention for a place.
If there are any certainties in Benitez’s team selections, club captain Steven Gerrard and Champions League specialist Luis Garcia are it. Garcia has scored six goals in the Champions League for Liverpool, equalling Michael Owen’s record in the competition for the club, and seems to save his best performances in a red shirt for the European scene.
For Anderlecht, defenders Vincent Kompany and Anthony Vanden Borre are ruled out through injury, all of which further hinders their plans. It is a tough ask for the Belgians, who currently lie second in their own domestic league, sitting two points behind leaders Standard Liege after a 2-2 draw with Lokeren at the weekend.
Passage to the last 16 will lift the gloom around Anfield and should be achieved relatively easily, whichever combination of under-achievers Benitez sends out for the mission. With a win over West Ham and a fired up crowd behind them, Liverpool may just turn on a bit of style. Only a bit, mind.
Verdict: Liverpool 3 Anderlecht 0
31 October 2005