Lyon 1 Liverpool 1: Rafa Benitez left to walk alone after last-gasp Lopez strike

By Matt Lawton
Chief Football Correspondent reports from
Last updated at 1:50 AM on 05th November 2009

How holds his head up high after this, heaven only knows. It will not be easy.

Not when his side failed so miserably to secure a much-needed victory here in Lyon. Not when they could not defend a lead so spectacularly secured with only seven minutes remaining. Not when they now look certain to fail in their pursuit of a place in the second round of the Champions League.

It will not be easy when from the storm which engulfs ’s beleaguered manager came a thunderbolt that suddenly seemed to have saved him. Babel’s goal was a screamer from 25 yards, the Dutchman emerging as the unlikeliest of heroes and another supersub in true Anfield tradition.

But then came the lightning strike response from Lyon. Then came the equaliser, two minutes into stoppage time and scored, seemingly, after Michel Bastos had put Lisandro Lopez through with a header from an off-side position.

Amid the penalty box chaos Lisandro struck, leaving Liverpool’s dreams of a place in the last 16 tossed and blown.

Lisandro Lopez

Late drama: Lisandro Lopez calmly beats Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina in injury time

Head bowed, Benitez walked alone down the tunnel lost in his thoughts. Lost in the thoughts of what might have been. Lost in the memories of the chances his side had created. One for Andriy Voronin, another for Lucas. Chances that were squandered.

Before this contest, Benitez had tried to summon the spirit of that great Kop anthem. First with his moving pre-match press conference speech and again shortly before kick-off.

You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was delivered in stereo inside the away dressing room at the Stade de Gerland but the message did not get through.

They might have snatched the lead after 83 mediocre minutes but Liverpool’s players did not stand with their manager here, leaving him to battle on alone under ever-increasing pressure. The kind of pressure that comes after six defeats in seven games and a European display as inept as this.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez

Lonely walk: Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez looks dejected after Lyon score their equalising goal

Liverpool’s route to the last 16 did not appear to be that daunting but the winners of 2005 and finalists of 2007 have made it look like the group of death. Four points from four games. A pathetic return for a club of Liverpool’s stature.

Last night Benitez might have had the excuse of so many injuries and the absence of . He might have been forced to send out when the usually brilliant Spaniard may yet need a hernia operation.

But Liverpool had their opportunities to win here in Lyon and it was the manner in which they failed to do so that could yet haunt the troubled Anfield manager.

So many first class strikers have been ignored and discarded during Benitez’s five-and-a-bit year tenure but Voronin somehow remains and what a mess he made of the first-half opportunity that fell to him. Voronin demonstrated exactly why he is not considered good enough to secure a regular place for Ukraine and why he boasts a return of six goals in 30-odd appearances for his club.

Liverpool's Ukranian forward Andriy Voronin

Off the pace: Voronin missed a sitter

Not that it would be fair to let the 30-year-old carry all the blame.

Against a pretty ordinary French team — a pretty ordinary French team that has qualified for the last 16 with two games to spare — Liverpool lacked spark in just about every area. In midfield where they missed Gerrard, on the flanks where they lacked their usual threat and at full-back where was never going to be able to recreate himself in the Ashley Cole mould.

Torres, clearly struggling, was eventually substituted. A lack of service did not help him but the man was impotent by his own high standards.

He had one good chance when Emiliano Insua crossed and took it well with a first-time left foot shot, only for the outstanding Hugo Lloris to make the save.

Lloris then excelled in denying by diverting a perfectly weighted lob over his crossbar with his fingertips, but the French side were causing problems of their own. Not least when they doubled up on Carragher in the role he loathes.

Predictably, Liverpool were missing the drive and invention Gerrard brings to their midfield. But where was the urgency and energy they so memorably produced against Manchester United? Where was the unity and the fight?

Ryan Babel

Belter: Sub Ryan Babel unleashes a thunderous drive into the top corner from 30 yards

Benitez could only watch in horror when Voronin squandered the opportunity that fell to him. A terrific ball from — a ball the pony-tailed striker called for as he accelerated from the half-way line — sent him clear with only Lloris to beat. But Voronin cracked under the pressure and unleashed a shot that was all too easy for the Lyon goalkeeper to block with a foot.

It was the kind of opportunity any number of strikers Benitez has had at Anfield, and released, would have scored. Certainly the kind of opportunity, had Benitez allowed him to return, that would have converted in his sleep.

That Lucas then failed to strike from close range in the 68th minute, albeit thanks again to the brilliant Lloris, only added to Liverpool’s pain. As did the sight of Kuyt’s overhead kick being cleared off the line.

But it compared not to the sight of the hapless Sotiris Kyrgiakos slipping and so allowing Lisandro to seize on Bastos’s headed delivery.

His goal leaves Liverpool in the most precarious of positions. Only if Lyon draw in will Liverpool have a chance of progressing and even then they will have to conclude the first round by beating Fiorentina by three goals at Anfield. On this evidence, they do not have a hope.




Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not debate this issue live on our message boards.

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Why was the match a shirt sponsorless game?
- mango, London, 4/11/2009 22:28

Because France doesn't allow advertising for alcohol on TV.

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The truth is Liverpool fans, and I know the truth hurts, is that since the back pass rule was abolished you haven't won a single EPL and winning the CL is easier to win than the EPL.

You are now a second rate club, but because you still think back to the 70 and 80's, you think you can live with the likes of United, Chelsea, Arsenal but things have moved on now. You should be thinking in terms of Bolton, Stoke, Hull, and try to beat them.

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Why do people defend that Liverpool are not performing!!
The real fans will say exactly what everybody is else is saying from another club!

Look at the mess Liverpool are in !!
Dont have a chance of winning the premier league, champions league

Out of the carling cup and will be out of the fa cup !!

The record speaks for itself - get Rafa out before its to late !

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Why does Rafa use the same old cliches loss after loss.
Lyon could just as easily say that they were unlucky when Babel scored in the 83rd minute. If he hadn't then Lyon would have won!
Maybe Rafa would like the official time to be reduced to 85mins instead of 90.
Liverpool should learn that every minute throughout the game is equally as important as another minute.
I can only imagine the headlines if Lyon had scored first and Liverpool scored the equaliser in the 90th minute.

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Funny listening to all this nonsense about Liverpool "bossing" the game and Lyon being a supposedly "ordinary" team. Lyon had basically their entire back four injured and an ACADEMY boy coming on as a substitute. Not to mention thta Pjanic limped off in the first half- someone who can actually pass the ball unlike most of the Liverpool midfield and would essily get into the Liverpool team even if Alonso, Gerrard, Benayoun etc. are available. Liverpool were completely dominated by Lyon in the second half and most of the first , save for ridiculous long balls that set up their best chance and;ucky deflections falling to Torres and Kuyt.

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A point that some Liverpool fans have missed, and one that explains why Liverpool looked comfortable for so long, is that Lyon didn't need to score for 83 minutes. They were set up to play for a 0-0 draw, that is why Lisandro Lopez played from the left. When Lyon were pressed into scoring, they shifted around and only took 7 minutes to achieve the very thing that Liverpool had been huffing and puffing about for for the previous 83.

An objective view is far more revealing than a partisan one...

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