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Downing's strike sends Liverpool top as Anzhi fail to deliver

By Tim Rich

Liverpool 1 Anzhi Makhachkala 0: Their shirts were bright yellow but that is as far as Anzhi Makhachkala came to providing Liverpool with a banana skin. The boys from Dagestan never threatened the kind of victory suggested by their salaries. Coupled with Udinese's surprise defeat in Switzerland to Young Boys, Liverpool are on top, if not of a group of death, then one where you might be very easily hurt.

When Brendan Rodgers was managing Watford, his chairman, Graham Taylor, observed he was a young man who liked to coach players he had bought himself, something that Andy Carroll quickly discovered.

Stewart Downing remained but relations between winger and manager have never been comfortable with the Ulsterman insinuating that Downing lacked the requisite "fight" to go with his ability.

Nevertheless, as he did last season in the League Cup, Downing has revelled in the sideshows. He had sparkled in last month's 3-2 defeat by Udinese and now he provided one of the few lasting memories of a flat, uninspired fixture, cutting inside, looking up and then sending a shot into the net beneath the Kop with force and precision.

They may not get on but his manager walked towards the touchline, clapping and beaming. On the final whistle Rodgers directed the winger towards Anfield's great stand to take its applause. "Football has its ups and downs," said Downing. "But that was a nice gesture by him."

You felt for Rodgers last night. His squad had been stricken by injuries and some inept transfer business in the summer, defeat might be terminal for Liverpool's hopes in the Europa League and there was the small matter of the Merseyside derby on Sunday.

He gambled on a strong side and he won, inflicting only the second defeat of the season on Guus Hiddink. "We are not used to losing," Russia's favourite Dutch manager reflected. "The journey home always seems longer when you lose."

As if to illustrate how much they think their money will buy, Anzhi's ambassador and coach, Roberto Carlos, had talked of the day when Wayne Rooney might be tempted to Dagestan only to be gently chided by Hiddink. "It is nice to talk out of the blue sometimes," he said. "But let us not confuse fantasy with reality." This was not a night for fantasy.

As there has been throughout Rodgers's early games at Anfield, there was plenty of movement and possession but, until the second half, not a great deal of threat – just a shot by Glen Johnson and another from Oussama Assaidi, who sparkled along Liverpool's left. Luis Suarez produced a single slice of real brilliance, turning his marker at astonishing speed and then squaring the ball in front of Christopher Samba for Jonjo Shelvey, who sent his shot high into the night sky.

Before the interval, Johnson had been the outstanding player of an indifferent evening and, when he did not reappear after the interval, a flicker of anxiety spread around Anfield. His withdrawal was, however, only precautionary.

Eto'o may have won the European Cup three times but he produced nothing to suggest that he is still among the world's best footballers, as opposed to the best-paid member of the fraternity. It took him until the game was 70 minutes old to produce a shot on target.

Anzhi's owner, Suleiman Kerimov, may be wealthy enough to withstand a $14bn loss in the 2008 crash but even he must wonder if last night represented value for his money.

Belfast Telegraph


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