English success in Champions League

English clubs ran over their French counterparts on Tuesday as Liverpool and Chelsea beat Marseille and Bordeaux respectively in the opening round of Champions League group stages.

A Steven Gerrard double—taking his total to 99 for the club—saw Liverpool to a 2-1 win over Marseille in France, while Chelsea ran out easy 4-0 winners over Bordeaux.

Chelsea’s former boss Jose Mourinho also got off to a winning start as Inter Milan beat Panathinaikos 2-0 in Athens, but there was no such fate for Inter’s Serie A rivals AS Roma who went down 2-1 at home to Champions League debutants Cluj—for whom Juan Culio notched a double.

The two Spanish sides in action also claimed all three points, Barcelona giving coach Pep Guardiola a first competitive win—3-1 over Sporting Lisbon—while Atletico Madrid made a triumphant return to the top European club competition after an 11-year absence, beating PSV Eindhoven 3-0.

Gerrard, not for the first time, brought Liverpool back into a match scoring with a sublime effort four minutes after Marseille had taken the lead, and then adding a penalty before half-time.

Marseille, though, could feel hard done by not to have got at least a point from the encounter but a mixture of poor finishing and good goalkeeping by Pepe Reina allowed Liverpool to hold out.

“We played well in the first half but then they pinned us back in the second half,” admitted Gerrard. “We stopped playing in the second half and we will have to have a look at that and see what the reason was.”

Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez echoed fellow perfectionist Gerrard’s own admission afterwards that “he played well—but he could have played better”. He added: “The key was to score a third goal and finish them off but we couldn’t and we were under a bit of pressure at the end.”

Marseille coach Eric Gerets was downcast.
“I am very disappointed and a bit angry with the result, given the chances we created—more than five. We could have pulled it off,” said the Belgian, a competition winner as a player with group rivals PSV Eindhoven 20 years ago.

Goals from Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka ensured Chelsea made a winning return to European action at Stamford Bridge just four months after their heart-breaking Champions League final defeat to Manchester United.

But the road to May’s Rome final is certain to feature many tougher tests than this and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was determined to keep his team’s feet on the ground.

“We know that we made many mistakes in the second half,” he said. “We tried to attack without the ball and with no good combinations between the players. When you play in the Champions League and are winning 2-0 at half-time you need to work the ball and control the game. You don’t need to win 5-0; it is still the same three points.”

Bordeaux boss Laurent Blanc added: “We were up against a superior team but we showed them too much respect. We weren’t aggressive enough. The score line says it all.”

The score line said it all too for AS Roma coach Luciano Spalletti as he contemplated one of the more humiliating results during his tenure.

“After half-time I thought it would improve as my players are capable of better than that,” he said. “But we got rattled, and it became even harder. The problem is as much physical as mental.”

The faces of Barcelona’s players expressed relief for a victory that Samuel Eto’o, who scored with a penalty, admitted did not come without a few nervy moments.

“It was nice to score with the penalty but winning was the most important thing,” said Eto’o. “We needed a victory after the difficult league start because otherwise the nerves can start to creep in. We had to get some confidence.”

Atletico were far more convincing with Argentinian Sergio Aguero especially impressive as he scored two of their goals—the only downside to the evening was an injury to Uruguayan star Diego Furlan.

Atletico’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre was in seventh heaven. “Obviously I’m delighted about the result, especially coming away from home. It’s fantastic,” said Aguirre.

His PSV counterpart Huub Stevens tried to take the defeat on the chin.

“Three-zero is obviously a huge slap in the face,” said Stevens. “Morale-wise it is not a great thing to happen. But I prefer to lose 3-0 than to lose 1-0 three times.”—Sapa-AFP

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin is a journalist with Agence France Presse , who has been based in Paris for 16 years having initially arrived for just a six month summer stay. Born in Ireland in 1965 and educated at Eton and Institute for Foreign Students in Tours after missing out on University by a large margin. His first name is a gift from his grandfather inspired by Radio Caroline but not appreciated by a Roman Catholic priest at christening.  Read more from Pirate Irwin

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