Valencia class too much for Reds
By Simon Fudge. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
SPANISH champions Valencia put on a masterful performance to start their Champions League campaign with a convincing 2-0 victory over Liverpool at the Mestalla.
Two excellently-taken goals by Pablo Aimar and Ruben Baraja gave the home side three important points in Group B as Gerard Houllier's men were over-run by Valencia's class.
The Reds started without Michael Owen up front and though he came on after the break, Liverpool were second best throughout the match as Baraja and Aimar dominated the midfield play.
The home side showed more of the initiative from the kick-off as Valencia pushed for the opening goal with fine passing and movement in the Liverpool half.
Their early possession would pay dividends after twenty minutes as Argentine midfielder Aimar got on to the end of a world-class give-and-go passing move involving Baraja and David Albelda.
Running in from the top of Liverpool's penalty box, he coolly slotted his shot past Jerzy Dudek to give the Spanish champions a 1-0 lead.
Gerard Houllier's men were struggling to make the same impact going forward, with balls played into the box being cut out by Valencia goalkeeper Santiago Canizares.
The Anfield side's best chance of the half landed to Emile Heakey, who from a Dietmar Hamann pass, broke in on goal and rounded Canizares but with the angle tight, his shot cannoned off the near post and rolled away to safety.
Valencia's dominance of possession was tormenting The Reds and it would pay off again seven minutes before the break.
A long ball from Mauricio Pellegrino found Norwegian striker John Carew's chest and he controlled and played a pass to Baraja.
He broke in unmarked on Liverpool's goal and struck a right-footed shot that slightly deflected off Sami Hyypia's foot and went low past Dudek to give Valencia a well-deserved 2-0 lead at half-time.
The second half saw Owen come on for Diouf and he would make a difference with his pace keeping the Valencia back-line worried.
However, Valencia looked the more likely side to score again as Aimar, Carew, Baraja and Roberto Ayala all went close with chances of their own in the second half.
Liverpool substitute Bruno Cheyrou - on for Salif Diao at the break - nearly got one back for The Reds when Hamann's free-kick deflected to the Frenchman in the Valencia penalty box but Canizares made a great diving save from his point-blank shot.
With less than a quarter of an hour remaining, Liverpool's task would be made harder as Hamann received a second yellow card for a clash with Valencia substitute Mista and was sent off.
The match ended with the home side continuing to come forward and were unlucky not to increase their lead before the final whistle came.
In the other Group B match, conquerors of Celtic in Swiss side Basel started well with a 2-0 victory at home to Russia's Spartak Moscow.
Two second half goals within the space of five minutes by Hakan Yakin and Argentine striker Julio Rossi were enough to see Christian Gross's side earn three valuable points.
Basel went in front five minutes after the break when Yakin latched on to a Christian Gimenez headed ball and he stuck home to give the Swiss side the lead.
The Saint Jakob Park club would seal the points five minutes later as Rossi dribbled past Spartak's defenders to run in on goal and slot home to make it 2-0 and give Basel an important opening win.
Click below for match stats: