By Matthew Spiro at Stade Louis II
AS Monaco FC ensured UEFA Champions League Group A will go to the wire by sealing a 1-0 win against Liverpool FC thanks to Javier Saviola's solitary strike in a tense game.
Saviola's 55th-minute goal secured the win which moves Monaco up to second in the group on nine points, all of which have been earned at home. Liverpool drop to third, on seven points, while Olympiacos CFP remain top with ten points.
Monaco coach Didier Deschamps dropped Emmanuel Adebayor to the bench and handed striker Shabani Nonda his first Champions League start of the season. The Congolese international was flanked by South Americans Ernesto Chevantón and Saviola, while Pontus Farnerud, Jaroslav Plašil and Akis Zikos formed a new-look midfield shorn of the injured Lucas Bernardi and out-of-form Mohamed Kallon.
Liverpool lined up with 22-year-old Neil Mellor as a sole striker in the absence of injured duo Milan Baroš and Djibril Cissé, but were dealt an early blow when Luis García, who had started on the right, strained a hamstring after just two minutes. The Spaniard was replaced by Josemi who slotted in at right-back while Steve Finnan moved to the right side of a five-man midfield that included the fit-again Steven Gerrard.
Monaco's early tactic of playing long balls up to Nonda brought little reward, as Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypiä dominated the aerial exchanges. With so much at stake neither side appeared willing to take risks and Chevantòn's skied free-kick from long range was the only goal attempt in the first 20 minutes.
Monaco's frustration grew as the Liverpool backline resisted their attacks with ease, and the English team almost registered a goal on the counterattack in the 32nd minute, Igor Bišcan sliding a pass through for John Arne Riise, whose control gave Flavio Roma time to race off his line and save at the Norwegian's feet.
Liverpool were presented with an excellent chance minutes later when Maicon headed Josemi's long throw into the path of Bišcan but the Croatian's snap-shot slid wide. Both sides were struggling to find any attacking fluency, however, and it was not surprising that Monaco's best opening of the half came from a set play. Plašil's corner was flicked on by Maicon but Saviola, in space on the left side of the penalty area, dragged his low shot wide of the far post.
Monaco appeared intent on using a more patient approach after the break and began passing the ball with more assurance. Chevantòn's flick found Saviola on the edge of the box on 49 minutes but he sliced his shot wide, then two minutes later Saviola was a fraction away from glancing Maicon's right-wing cross goalwards, as Monaco asserted pressure for the first time.
The home side broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute. Saviola slid Nonda through and though he was tackled by Djimi Traore, the ball deflected fortuitously into the path of Saviola who struck a low shot past Chris Kirkland.
Gerrard, who arrowed an earlier free-kick straight at Roma, burst into the box and saw the goalkeeper again equal to his low shot, but Monaco were playing with more confidence and Farnerud had his stinging drive well saved by Kirkland in the 70th minute. Roma nevertheless had to make a sprawling save to keep out Hyypiä's header four minutes from time, as Monaco clung on to seal a valuable win.