Benitez makes winning return to Spain

Deportivo La Coruna 0 Liverpool 1

Deportivo La Coruna 0 Liverpool 1

Rafael Benitez heard his name ring around a Spanish stadium in his homeland again but this time it was from Scouse voices rather than those in Valencia, with whom he won La Liga.

Liverpool’s new coach must have wanted this victory so much on his first visit back home since quitting Valencia for Merseyside.

It came from a Jorge Andrade first-half own goal but was fashioned by a performance of desire and grit from an increasingly-stretched Liverpool, who had unlikely heroes like Igor Biscan to thank for the vital Group A points.

And with a side hit by injuries, Benitez saw his men fight for every yard in a battling second-half display.

But with Olympiacos beating group leaders Monaco it means if Liverpool win their next match in Monaco later this month, they will be assured a top-two finish and a place in the knock-out stage.

Liverpool, already without broken leg victim Djibril Cisse, were struck another blow before the start when midfielder Xabi Alonso was ruled out with the calf injury which had been troubling him since Saturday’s draw at Blackburn.

The Spaniard was deemed only fit enough for the bench, stretching Benitez’s resources to the very limits with Biscan coming into midfield.

Such was the obvious concern over Alonso’s fitness that he took no part in the warm-up, spending most of his time leaning against the barriers as he contemplated missing the chance he wanted to perform with his new club back in his homeland.

And it is likely that he would not have even been on the bench had Liverpool had enough players left to fill the void.

Under such circumstances, with Liverpool already stripped of Steven Gerrard and Cisse, a backs-against-the-wall approach would have been forgiven – although chances which came their way would not have to be be wasted.

But that was what happened within 30 seconds of the kick-off when Dietmar Hamann and Garcia fashioned a glorious chance for Milan Baros through the middle.

The Czech was clean away but when he got to the box he tried to go round Jose Molina and the keeper stole the ball from the forward’s toes when he should have buried the opportunity.

But after 14 minutes Liverpool did get the ball in the net. Biscan took much credit for a battling run through midfield before feeding John Arne Riise on the left.

The Norwegian’s fierce cross arrowed into the six-yard box and Andrade – under pressure from Baros – could only turn the ball into his own net.

Liverpool aimed to hit on the break and produced movement and passing of their own which continually threatened to upset the Galician side with Harry Kewell dropping deep to link with the remarkably astute Biscan.

Andrade and Cesar struggled to contain him with the Czech star seemingly enjoying the freedom of his lone striker role without Cisse around. On 37 minutes Cesar Martin was booked for bringing down Baros on the left, a clear attempt to slow him down.

But minutes from the break it should have been two when a fine run and pass from Kewell set up Riise on the left but his first shot was blocked by Molina and the follow-up was cleared from in front of an open goal by Andrade.

The Spaniards took off Cesar at the break and put on Pablo Amo at the back in an attempt to control Baros and Deportivo embarked on the second half with more determination.

That was underlined when Amo hurled himself at a free-kick on the far post which left Chris Kirkland flattened in the back of the net, although the damage was as much done by Biscan who caught the keeper in the face.

The young keeper looked groggy for some time but recovered sufficiently to continue.

Steve Finnan replace Kewell after 58 minutes and filled a right midfield role which allowed Garcia to push forward in support of Baros but it was the hard running of Hamann and Biscan in the centre which was critical for Liverpool.

Andrade was booked for bringing down Baros on a rare break for the Merseysiders, the Czech always posing a problem when he received the ball.

Eight minutes from time Liverpool wasted a glorious chance to settle things when Baros put Garcia through but he failed to control the ball and allowed it run to Molina.

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