Liverpool FC returned to the top of Group G and all but clinched their place in the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League with a 3-0 victory against ten-man RSC Anderlecht.
Goals from Fernando Morientes, Luis García and substitute Djibril Cissé mean the defending champions are on ten points with two games left to play having consigned the Belgian side, who had Nenad Ještrović sent off in the closing stages, to their eleventh consecutive defeat in the competition.
Morientes made his first start for Liverpool in the group stage, partnering Peter Crouch in attack with Cissé, scorer of the only goal when the teams met a fortnight ago, dropping to the bench. Frank Vercauteren made three changes to his Anderlecht side following their 2-2 draw at KSC Lokeren OV last Friday with Roland Juhász and Hannu Tihinen returning from injury to bolster the defence.
It was the visitors who created the first real opening when captain Pär Zetterberg picked out the run of Christian Wilhelmsson only for the Swedish midfielder to allow the ball to run harmlessly through to José Manuel Reina. Bart Goor then went close with a long-range free-kick before Liverpool constructed their best move of the match on 22 minutes. Steven Gerrard, still operating on the right, received an astute pass from Steve Finnan before whipping in a cross for Crouch, who squeezed the ball just wide of the post.
Liverpool were enjoying plenty of possession without finding the killer pass but they almost made the breakthrough ten minutes later. This time Gerrard returned the compliment to Finnan, who crossed from the right to find Morientes in space six metres out. The Spanish international instinctively volleyed goalwards but his effort was straight at Silvio Proto, and when the ball broke back for Crouch he prodded wide.
Liverpool were not to be denied though and a minute later they were ahead. Again Gerrard was the orchestrator, the captain drifting infield before flighting a perfectly judged pass into the path of Morientes on the right of the area. The former Real Madrid CF man controlled the ball on his chest before rifling an excellent right-footed shot past the outstretched hand of Proto into the bottom corner.
The hosts continued on the offensive at the start of the second period with Mohamed Sissoko and Jamie Carragher both going close. Rafael Benítez introduced Boudewijn Zenden for Morientes on 52 minutes, leaving García with the responsibility of supporting Crouch. The substitution paid immediate dividends when Liverpool doubled their advantage just after the hour. Finnan swung in another good cross from the right and García nipped in front of Tihinen to glance a perfectly-directed header past Proto.
The Spanish midfielder was given another opportunity moments later when Mark De Man presented him with possession ten metres out but García shot straight at Proto. Liverpool were threatening to score at will although Wilhelmsson - Anderlecht's best player - gave them a fright on 64 minutes when he dribbled in from the left past Carragher before Reina saved.
Anderlecht played the last 15 minutes with only ten men after substitute Ještrović appeared to aim an insult at Sissoko and referee Kim Milton Nielsen immediately reached into his pocket to produce a red card. Substitute Cissé added a calm third with a minute remaining as Liverpool marched inexorably towards the last 16.