|Saturday 11th September 2004
Anfield Stadium, Liverpool
LIVERPOOL 3-0 WEST BROM
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|Benitez competitive matches record: Played 6 Won 3 Drawn 1 Lost 2|
Liverpool 3-0 West Bromwich Albion
Liverpool fans have lost a glut of heroes this summer but now have a new star to idolise in Luis Garcia.
Michael Owen may have gone to Spain but, coming the other way, Liverpool have acquired a clever, mobile creative force from Barcelona who stole the show with an outstanding display.
He flits from attack to midfield, finding space with ease, and produced a display which had the Kop purring their approval.
He had been denied a perfectly legitimate goal at Bolton on his debut a fortnight ago by a wrongly-raised linesman's flag.
This time he capped an excellent first appearance in front of the Kop with Liverpool's third, having been a nightmare in blurred red for Albion all afternoon.
Albion, with 10 new signings since their promotion and only six of last season's side on the pitch at the start, found the gap in class is still as vast as it was the last time they were in the top flight for just one season two years ago.
Liverpool needed this performance to send them into the Champions League on Wednesday full of confidence but boss Rafael Benitez will be just as pleased with the intelligent, adaptable display of his side.
Benitez sprung a surprise after successive defeats in Europe and a fortnight ago at Bolton.
New Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso was left on the bench, as was Milan Baros while Steve Finnan made a return in a midfield.
Luis Garcia will be employed as a support striker behind Djibril Cisse and the ex-Barcelona man's Anfield debut was a cracker.
He led Albion a merry dance with his clever runs and the way he found space almost everywhere he appeared.
This was not the sort of creative player Albion had encountered in the first division before last season's promotion.
Albion had £3.5million new boy Robert Earnshaw on the bench along with another new face, former Atletico Madrid defender Cosmin Contra.
Benitez had asked for adaptability and movement from his side and Djibril Cisse, Garcia and Harry Kewell produced the goods.
Baros had been the lone striker in this system at Bolton last time out but this time it was Cisse's turn and he showed more imagination and thought about his movement.
He had two efforts before Garcia almost forced Martin Albrechtsen into an own goal as he stuck out a foot to deflect the ball to Russell Hoult, who had to dive to his left to keep the ball out.
Finnan and Cisse had further shots blocked before Liverpool's increased tempo earned them the lead on 16 minutes.
Luis Garcia found space to take a Finnan pass and then laid it into Gerrard's path. The England man initially lost control but Albion were slow to react and the midfielder ran on to lash it left footed past Hoult.
Albion struggled to contain Liverpool and Jonathan Greening almost headed into his own net before Sami Hyypia's powerful header from a corner went straight at a relieved Hoult.
Garcia delighted the home fans with his vision and pace and should should have scored with a header when he was unmarked on the far post.
The second goal finally arrived three minutes from the break. John Arne Riise sent a searching crossfield ball towards Finnan's run on the right and the Irishman got the better of Paul Robinson in a tussle for the ball before cutting onto his left foot and drilling the ball inside Hoult's near post.
Cisse was heavily involved in a couple more openings as Liverpool fought for their third before Albion almost hit back when Jerzy Dudek needed to save well from a Riccardo Scimeca header.
Earnshaw finally got his first taste of Premiership football when he came on for Horsfield but it was Luis Garcia who surely finished off Albion on the hour. He carried the ball from his own half, exchanged passes with Gerrard and then Cisse before cruising into space on the left.
He shaped to cross and then cracked a low, angled shot which Hoult pushed away but only as far as the 26 year-old who slammed the ball home from six yards.
Liverpool brought on Alonso, Baros and then Djimi Traore for Gerrard, Kewell and Luis Garcia - the later receiving a standing ovation as he left the pitch.
Dudek needed to be at his best to turn away a 25-yarder from Koumas but Liverpool were in cruise control and Cisse almost scored with a clever, deft flick from an acute angle that skimmed the far post.
Earnshaw, after 100-plus goals for Cardiff and eight in 15 for Wales, barely got a kick as Albion were forced back, leaving him isolated between Hyypia and Jamie Carragher, but he was unlucky to be given offside as he ghosted into the box to clip a shot wide.
Liverpool: Dudek, Josemi, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Finnan, Hamann, Gerrard (Alonso 65), Kewell (Baros 68), Cisse, Luis Garcia (Traore 74).
Subs Not Used: Diao, Luzi Bernardi.
West Brom: Hoult, Scimeca, Purse, Albrechtsen, Robinson, Haas (Gera 66), Koumas, Clement, Greening, Horsfield (Earnshaw 53), Kanu.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Dobie, Contra.
Ref: S Dunn (Gloucestershire).
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|Match Report filed: 11th September 2004|