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Lille defeat adds to Rafa's woes
11 Mar 2010 - 20:21:11
Liverpool must come from behind if they are to progress to the quarter-finals of the Europa League after losing 1-0 to Lille in the first leg of their last 16 game in France.
Reds boss Rafael Benitez demanded a response from his under-fire players after their hopes of a top four finish in the Premier League were severely dented following a 1-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic on Monday.
But while Benitez will have been heartened by the improved performance on a terrible pitch at the Stade Metropole, he will have been left bitterly disappointed with the way his side conceded the only goal of the game in the 84th minute.
Eden Hazard whipped in a free-kick from wide on the left which eluded everyone before nestling into the back of Pepe Reina's net.
The ineligible Maxi Rodriguez, injured Yossi Benayoun and dropped Sotirios Kyrgiakos were replaced by Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Ryan Babel in the starting line-up.
Lille's pre-match plans were rocked by an injury to leading scorer Gervinho which allowed winger Hazard to come into the starting line-up.
However, the home side almost snatched a lead inside the opening minute when Yohan Cabaye forced Reina into an instant save with a low shot.
Lille continued to boss the opening exchanges but Liverpool could have found themselves ahead in the 25th minute when Babel played a neat one-two with a subdued Fernando Torres but saw his powerful shot turned away by the legs of goalkeeper Mickael Landreau.
Landreau again came to his side's rescue on the stroke of half-time when he stuck out a hand to turn away a Torres header which was destined for the bottom corner following a pinpoint Johnson cross.
Hazard was clearly Lille's dangerman and had the ball in the net soon after the restart but the effort was ruled out for offside.
Liverpool were next to threaten in a pedestrian second half as Babel drilled a shot straight at the goalkeeper with 60 minutes on the clock.
Reina was then let off the hook when he allowed a Pierre-Alain Frau shot to slip through his fingers but looked on in relief as the ball drifted out for a corner.
Cabaye then let fly with a dipping strike from distance which whistled inches over the crossbar.
But any hopes Liverpool had of taking the tie back to Anfield next week goalless were ended six minutes from full-time.
Hazard's free-kick crept inside the far post and it could have been worse for the visitors had substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's late shot not brushed the arm of Reina and ricocheted away off the woodwork.