Written off nearly two months ago, Liverpool FC completed their incredible UEFA Champions League comeback with a 4-0 victory at Olympique de Marseille, catapulting themselves into the knockout phase thanks to an explosive start at the Stade Vélodrome.
FC Porto's win over Beşiktaş JK elsewhere in Group A meant a draw would have sufficed for Marseille, but their dreams of progress were in tatters within eleven minutes after Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres stunned the hosts with a goal apiece. Marseille never recovered from that and their resistance was ended by Dirk Kuyt striking right after the restart before Ryan Babel's late fourth salted the wound for the Ligue 1 side who now go into the UEFA Cup.
An intimidating crowd whistled every Liverpool touch in the early exchanges, but Rafael Benítez's men helped settle any nerves with a dramatic early breakthrough. Marseille's rearguard foolishly let Gerrard race clear in midfield and a clumsy Gaël Givet challenge in the area allowed the Reds captain the chance to convert from the spot. Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda denied him down the middle, yet Gerrard dispatched the rebound with characteristic big-match calm to give Liverpool a fourth-minute lead.
If that goal had caught Marseille napping, the French side simply looked helpless just seven minutes later. This time, Harry Kewell fed Torres on the left and the Spain striker danced gracefully past three tackles before slipping the ball inside the far post. The lions promised by Marseille coach Erik Gerets were looking decidedly tame in the face of such a devastating start and the Belgian tactician was forced to play his joker ahead of schedule, introducing injury-doubt Samir Nasri for Benoït Cheyrou on 34 minutes.
Marseille gradually began applying pressure towards the end of the half, but the better chances still transpired at the other end, with Gerrard curling a free-kick narrowly wide, left-wing nuisance Kewell volleying a loose ball just over and Torres also firing too high with a lob. And Gerets' team suffered another blow before the return to the dressing rooms when Givet picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Jacques Faty. They started the second half with a switch too, replacing one former Liverpool man with another. Boudewijn Zenden made way for marksman Djibril Cissé, yet it was a current Liverpool striker who delivered the next blow, following a poor kick from Mandanda.
Kuyt ends contest
Kewell intercepted and played an excellent pass inside for Kuyt who, rushing through the middle, jabbed high into the net to effectively end the match as a contest with 48 minutes gone. Cissé then headed Marseille's best chance the wrong side of the post in a rare moment of panic for Pepe Reina, but by that point the crowd were resigned to defeat. Liverpool increased the damage when Babel sidestepped Mandanda and rolled the ball home a minute into added time, and they can now start to plan another assault on the continental title having been staring into the abyss not so long ago.