Gerrard fires Reds in Marseille

Steven Gerrard stole the show on his full return to the Liverpool side Tuesday with both goals to secure a 2-1 win in his side's opening UEFA Champions League Group D encounter at Marseille.

Coach Rafa Benitez's decision to put both Gerrard and Fernando Torres back in the starting line-up after injury - the former played only a cameo role in Saturday's win over arch-rivals Manchester United - was a sure sign Liverpool meant business as they recovered from an early deficit.

Gerrard - who took his tally to 99 for the club - said that it had been a pleasing performance - at least in the first-half.

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

In last season's corresponding fixture, Gerrard and Torres had killed off Marseille with a goal apiece in the opening 11 minutes of a 4-0 win that sent the five-times English champions through despite managing just one point from their three opening fixtures - including a home loss to Marseille.

This time the opening quarter brought no goals - but it was not for want of effort on either side, with Marseille's French international midfield star Hatem Ben Arfa proving almost as inspirational for the hosts as Gerrard was for the Reds.

In a frenetic opening Liverpool almost drew first blood with France goalkeeper Steve Mandanda tipping over a towering Torres header on six minutes.

Marseille's riposte saw Bakari Kone find Mamadou Niang, who brought the ball down but then fired high of Pepe Reina's goal.

Liverpool stepped up the tempo and Dirk Kuyt fed Ryan Babel adroitly, but after a wonderful turn, the youngster lifted his shot just over.

But just as Liverpool had slipped into the ascendancy Marseille took the lead with skipper Lorik Cana beating the offside trap to fire low past Reina on 23 minutes after Benoit Cheyrou's pass had split a static defence.

Liverpool immediately regrouped, however, and levelled inside four minutes with a sublime finish from Gerrard, who in scoring here last December had netted his 23rd European goal to break Michael Owen's club record.

Torres and Kuyt swapped passes before Gerrard swept an unerring right-foot shot curling neatly inside Mandanda's right post.

Four minutes later and the visitors were ahead. Ronald Zubar tripped Babel as the Dutchman cut in from the left hand side of the box and Austrian referee Konrad Plautz immediately pointed to the spot.

Stress on the spot
Plautz then complained the ball was not on the spot before making Gerrard take the kick twice after Kuyt intruded into the box. Unfazed, the Liverpool skipper coolly tucked the ball away the second time, as he had the first, sending Mandanda the wrong way to take his competition haul to 27.

Marseille reacted by sending on Mathieu Valbuena, whose goal settled last season's encounter at Anfield, for Modeste M'Bami shortly before the break.

Marseille switched things around thereafter with Ben Arfa, increasingly peripheral following his bright start, replaced by Karim Ziani on the hour.

As Marseille rallied, an acrobatic left-footer from Kone did not trouble Reina, who then did well to gather a Vitorino Hilton header on the line.

In a final flurry Ziani fired just over before Gerrard got the whistling treatment as he gave way to Yossi Benayoun.

Babel saw Mandanda block a point blank range shot and then hit the post as Liverpool, who sent on Robbie Keane for the last five minutes, finished strongly - though Reina still had to save at the death.