New Olympique de Marseille coach Erik Gerets enjoyed a dream debut at Anfield as Mathieu Valbuena's memorable strike 13 minutes from time earned a deserved 1-0 victory against Liverpool FC in Group A.
A trip to Merseyside appeared a daunting proposition for Gerets as he made his bow on the touchline for OM following the departure of Albert Emon. But his side never looked overawed and they took the game to the Reds, eventually crafting a breakthrough on 77 minutes when Valbuena was teed up 20 metres out following a Mohamed Sissoko error, and curled a stunning shot past Pepe Reina and in off the underside of the bar.
It was enough to seal the points on a night that began with a deluge of rain and featured an eye-catching contribution from Marseille's Mamadou Niang, operating as a lone striker with Djibril Cissé confined to the bench. The Senegalese international had the first chance in the 12th minute when he forced a good block from Reina, and he worked another opening ten minutes later when found by Taye Taiwo's searching long ball but he failed to make proper purchase with his volley.
Liverpool had to wait until 32 minutes before Steven Gerrard – whose most notable contribution had been a yellow card for a foul on Benoît Cheyrou – finally got a shot on target, albeit a tame effort comfortably gathered by Steve Mandanda. Liverpool were disjointed, repeatedly muscled off the ball by the visitors who gave another scare on 34 minutes when Karim Ziani found the net from close range, though an offside flag had already come to the hosts' rescue.
Valbuena repeated the feat as the interval approached, the effort again being ruled offside, as Marseille ended the half in the ascendancy. They picked up where they left off in the second period and within five minutes another former Red, Boudewijn Zenden, released Niang, who had Reina diving low to keep out the goal-bound drive. For Liverpool fans, there was little more than mounting frustration as passes went astray and Rafael Benítez's men could not impose themselves on proceedings.
Jamie Carragher joined Gerrard in the referee's notebook for a clumsy foul on the tricky Valbuena and Niang, a thorn in Liverpool's side until he was replaced by Cissé in the 70th minute, fizzed the resulting set-piece straight at Reina. Gerrard tried to rally the troops with a curling attempt, but Marseille rarely seemed troubled and finally got their reward through Valbuena.
The home team fought back and fashioned a frenetic finale that saw Fernando Torres crash a shot back off the upright – but it was too little, too late. At the other end Cissé almost doubled the lead when he lobbed just wide after capitalising on a misunderstanding between Sami Hyypiä and Reina, though it mattered not as Marseille, so poor in Ligue 1, made it two UEFA Champions League wins in two.