Lille 1 Liverpool 0
Lille winger Eden Hazard’s late goal inflicted Liverpool’s first defeat on French soil in six visits and left Rafael Benitez’s side with an uphill battle to make the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
The visitors appeared to have survived a testing examination by Les Dogues only for Hazard, who had been a threat all night, to curl in an 85th-minute free-kick.
Despite being territorially dominated Liverpool had the best two chances with Ryan Babel shooting too close to Mickael Landreau and Fernando Torres’ header being brilliantly saved by the goalkeeper in the first half.
However, the scoreline was no real surprise as The Mastiffs, as Lille are known, had scored in 20 of their previous 21 games at the Lille Metropole.
Their impressive record has seen them lose just once at home in Ligue 1 since the opening day of the season on August 9, with only one defeat in 17 home European fixtures.
For Liverpool – unbeaten in France since a 1-0 Champions League defeat to Monaco in November 2004 – it was the worst possible result coming so soon on the back of a woeful performance at Wigan on Monday.
Their difficult task was outlined to them in the first minute as Lille came out in no mood to admire their more illustrious opponents as Yohan Cabaye forced Jose Reina into a save within 38 seconds.
One of the most intriguing battles was between winger Hazard and Emiliano Insua, who was destroyed on a regular basis by Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia.
The 19-year-old Belgian struck an early blow by skipping past his opponent and drilling a cross through the six-yard area but no team-mate was close enough to take advantage.
Lille were more Arsenal than Wigan in their approach – despite their heavily-sanded patchy pitch – and passed the ball around with ease to often leave their opponents chasing shadows.
However, for all their possession they looked like they were missing top scorer Gervinho, the Ivorian who was sidelined by injury.
Bizarrely, Liverpool had the best two chances of the first half.
Babel should have given the visitors the lead in the 26th minute after a neat exchange with Torres but shot too close to Mickael Landreau and the goalkeeper deflected the effort with his legs.
Hazard was proving Lille’s best outlet and his cross saw Pierre-Alain Frau deflect a shot over after being pressured by Jamie Carragher.
Gerrard responded with a dipping 35-yard strike just over Landreau’s crossbar before, in the 41st minute, Landreau produced a brilliant low save to repel Torres’ close-range header from Johnson’s deep cross.
Hazard had the ball in the net soon after half-time but was flagged offside.
Liverpool at least began the second half better than they had the first and six minutes after the restart Lucas volleyed Torres’ headed flick-on wide.
Lille, by contrast, had lost some of their attacking verve as they were drawn into a more attritional contest unsuited to their style.
On the hour Babel had a fierce shot parried away by Landreau, before Insua was booked for a foul on Hazard as he threatened to break away.
Five minutes later Reina allowed a long-range shot from Frau slip through his fingers but fortunately for the Liverpool goalkeeper it ballooned behind for a corner.
Torres was then booked for his persistent complaints to referee Claus Bo Larsen.
Cabaye drilled a dipping strike inches over Reina’s crossbar before he was replaced by Stephane Dumont, with Albert Riera coming on for Babel with 17 minutes remaining.
Hazard went down in the area under Carragher’s challenge with seven minutes to go but Larsen waved away protests.
However, a minute later the winger made sure when he curled in a free-kick which missed everyone in front of Reina, who could only watch as the ball crept into the far corner.
And it could have been far worse had substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot not hit the post and gone wide.