x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Red-hot Fiorentina make Reds' Benitez eat his words

Having sounded a "we can beat anyone" rallying cry on the eve of Liverpool's clash with Fiorentina, the Reds manager's mood was somewhat more conciliatory after a shock defeat.

Having sounded a "we can beat anyone" rallying cry on the eve of Liverpool's clash with Fiorentina, the Reds manager Rafa Benitez's mood was somewhat more conciliatory after a shock 2-0 defeat on Tuesday. Benitez, whose exemplary record in Europe's elite club competition has fostered his reputation as one of the game's pre-eminent tacticians, was left rueing a frustratingly meek first-half display.

"I cannot really recall a performance like that," said the Spaniard. "We certainly will never be as bad again. We knew it would be difficult and we gave the ball away too much; it's difficult to explain." Contrary to Benitez's dismay, however, it is not. A laborious looking Liverpool were over-run in the middle of the park. Javier Mascherano's absence - the Argentine is expected to overcome a groin strain in time for his side's crunch Premier League clash with Chelsea this weekend - rendered them shapeless in possession and toothless without the ball.

The final scoreline, inflicted courtesy of a terrific brace by the Montenegro teenager Stevan Jovetic - a replacement for the hosts' suspended striker Alberto Gilardino - flattered Liverpool. The Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli was delighted with the gusto that his Serie A side displayed to dispatch Group E's top seeds. "We were fantastic. I believe we can still improve - and we will have to if we are to qualify from this group. We must not waste this and we now need to keep winning," said Prandelli.

Liverpool must now negotiate a tricky double-header against the group leaders Lyon - 4-0 conquerors of the Hungarian minnows Debrecen. Forty-two thousand fans filled Budapest's Ferenc Puskas Stadium for the hosts' first Champions League home tie, but goals from Kim Kallstrom, Miralem Pjanic, Sidney Govou's deflected header and Bafetimbi Gomis ensured that Lyon will top the group ahead of their trip to Anfield.

Elsewhere, late goals from Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin gave Arsenal a 2-0 home win over Greek giants Olympiakos. The result preserves the London side's unbeaten start in Europe and, coupled with their Group H rivals AZ Alkmaar struggling to 1-1 home draw against Standard Liege, means that successive wins over the Dutch side will guarantee the Gunners' progression.

"I'm encouraged because to dominate like we did is outstanding," said the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. "We now have two back-to-back matches against Alkmaar so let's try to qualify quickly." emegson@thenational.ae