Benitez tactics have started to pay off
By Mark Lawrenson - Daily Post
Looking at Liverpool's half-term report, I'd say that
is a positive one too - although not as good as
Given the situation and squad he inherited in the
summer, Rafael Benitez has had to earn his money so far
and at times he has struggled to impose his desired
tactics on the team, especially away from home early on.
As the season has progressed however, they have looked
better and better, even with the injury problems they
Playing either 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, which I believe is the
Spaniard's favourite formation - they now look capable
of giving anybody a game and I believe they will push on
for the fourth Champions League position.
My reason for saying this is the way he has got the team
playing - aggressively and positively, with the emphasis
on pressurising the opposition, with and without the
Liverpool fans will tell you they have grown up watching
that kind of style, but under Gerard Houllier, they
stopped doing that and Anfield did not like it. Just
seeing the players go after their opposite numbers lifts
every supporter, especially when Liverpool continue in
the same vein when they have the ball, moving it
intelligently and purposefully.
One of the reasons they have been able to increase the
tempo of their game has been Xabi Alonso, who can't come
back quickly enough. The Spaniard looks a class player.
There haven't been as many players performing to their
maximum as at Goodison Park, but the ones who have have
been nothing short of brilliant.
Obviously one of them is Mr Liverpool - Steven Gerrard -
who looks better and better in every game. Jamie
Carragher has come into his own at centre back and Milan
Baros also looks better than he has before, despite his
I would also add Benitez himself to the list of stand
out performers. Given all the knocks he has had to
withstand this season, with Michael Owen leaving, the
injuries, the poor decisions, he has kept his focus on
what he can control - motivating the players and getting
the team to play how he wants.
He will now be turning that focus on to bringing in the
play-ers he wants, with Fernando Morientes top of the
list. Don't believe any of that nonsense about the new
manager in Madrid keeping the striker. It is the
chairman who buys and sells players, they're just trying
to up the price.
That won't work on Benitez, who projects an air of calm,
efficient achievement which I think has transmitted
itself to the play-ers already. You only have to look at
them to see they believe in what he is doing and where
the club is going.
To me, that destination is fourth place in the
Premiership and in the Champions League, who knows? As
long as no-one under-estimates Leverkusen, then the
stage could be set to go on to the final rounds.
* Mark Lawrenson was talking to NEIL MACDONALD
looks for quality signings
Rafael Benitez admitted everyone at Liverpool is
"working hard" to bring quality players such as Fernando
Morientes to Anfield but insists he will not be rushed
into any signings during this month's transfer window.
The Reds recovered from the disappointment of their 1-0
home defeat by Chelsea on New Year's Day by beating
struggling Norwich at Carrow Road to maintain their push
for a top-four finish.
With more than his fair share of injury problems - Xabi
Alonso the latest to be sidelined with a broken ankle -
the Spaniard knows he has to strengthen his depleted
forces for the battles ahead on both domestic and
European fronts this year.
However, Benitez insists any decision on new faces will
be made for the right reasons, rather than just to add
numbers to the Anfield ranks.
"This week were are working hard and trying to buy new
players to increase the level of competition between the
players but I am very happy with the squad," he
"If we find some players, then OK but if we don't find
[them] then we will go on with our players."
The Liverpool boss added: "We have some possibilities,
but I cannot say."
Benitez's side could have done with an injection of
fresh legs at Carrow Road as they - along with the hosts
- looked a bit lethargic during the first half.
However, they found the net twice in quick succession
after the break through Luis Garcia and John Arne Riise.
Norwich pulled a goal back with two minutes left from
young striker Ryan Jarvis but it was little consolation
for another home defeat which leaves them facing a
struggle to keep out of the relegation zone.
"In the first half, I think both teams played almost
similar. Then in the second half we controlled the game
and had many chances," said Benitez.
"Only at the end, after they had scored, we could have
He added: "It is important always to win but if you win
three games in nine days, then only lose against Chelsea
when playing a good game, then that means we can think
about being in the top four - and that gives us more
"We have played well with different players and have
have three more victories."
Liverpool were left cursing their misfortune at Anfield
against Chelsea, where they looked to have strong claims
for a penalty turned down following a clear handball by
However, they were somewhat fortunate not to conceded
this afternoon when, with the score at 0-0, Darren
Huckerby's cross from the by-line clearly struck Jamie
Benitez commented: "I have not seen it but if you are
talking about when he went into tackle for the cross, he
was very, very close to the ball.
"It is different when you see a long ball. When you are
close, you do not have time."
Canaries manager Nigel Worthington was left to
reflect on what might have been but had few complaints
over his side's performance.
"I thought the effort and commitment from the players
was first class," said the Norwich manager, who lost
striker Leon McKenzie to a hamstring injury during the
second half and will now be without midfielder David
Bentley next week after his fifth booking of the season.
"Up until the first goal, there was nothing in it. Their
opening goal was a quality finish and then after Robert
Green produced a great save, they made it two.
"The players, though, never dropped their heads. We got
a great goal to come back into it and might even had a
"Over the last four games we have worked very hard but
with little return - but that is the Premiership."
On the handball incident with Carragher, Worthington
said: "It is a fine line, but we are not going to moan
and groan about it.
"Life is cruel sometimes but we will battle through. We
will not have a whinge, just get on with it."
with "tough" win
By Mark Platt - LFC Official Website
Jamie Carragher was a relieved man after seeing
Liverpool emerge with maximum points from what he
described as a tough game against Norwich City at Carrow
Goals from Luis Garcia and John Arne Riise put the Reds
two up in Norfolk before a late reply from youngster
Ryan Jarvis ensure a nervous finale.
After dropping points against Chelsea on New Years Day
Carragher believes it was important to bounce back
positively and he was pleased to do just that.
"It was a tough game and full credit to Norwich, who put
us under pressure," he said afterwards. "We were
disappointed to concede a goal near the end and in doing
so we made it difficult for ourselves.
"We were in control of the game after scoring our second
goal but then put ourselves under pressure by giving a
stupid goal away. Fortunately the lads stuck together
near the end and we needed to because it was quite
tough. To get the three points was very important."
Liverpool's opening goal - a delicate Luis Garcia lob
over Robert Green - was a quality strike and Carragher
adds: "As he hit it I think some of the Norwich fans
were laughing because they thought it was going over.
"Fortunately for us it went in because at that time the
game could have gone either way. It was a touch of class
from Luis and it set us on our way."
Carragher admitted that some of the club's foreign
players have found the festive schedule of games very
demanding and insists the result was more important than
the performance against the Canaries.
"There were a few tired legs out there at the end," he
added. "Some of the foreign lads can't believe we play
four games in such a short space of time. To be fair
though, it's new to them and the most important thing
today was the result, not the performance."
The win moves Liverpool to within three points of Mersey
neighbours Everton and boosts their aspirations of
gaining qualification to next season's Champions League
via fourth place.
Carra concluded: "It's the Champions League place that
we're after, not Everton. So are Middlesbrough, while
Tottenham are up there now as well. It's good for us to
get a result in the bag before they play this week and
it puts a bit of pressure on them."
go fifth with win
By Peter ORourke - Planet Football/Sky Sports
Liverpool climbed up to fifth spot in The Premiership
table with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Norwich at Carrow
Road on Monday.
Second half goals from Luis Garcia and John Arne Riise
were enough to give Liverpool all three points although
they were made to sweat for the victory after Ryan
Jarvis pulled a goal back late on
Liverpool forced the early pressure and Simon Charlton
got in a vital block on six minutes to keep out Riise's
shot heading towards goal.
Norwich defender Gary Doherty had a sight of goal three
minutes later when the ball dropped to him inside the
box from a corner, but he sliced his shot well wide of
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard tried his best to lead
by example and he fired in a fierce shot from long-range
wide of Robert Green's goal.
Doherty had another half chance for Norwich on 19
minutes when he rose above Riise to meet Phil Mulryne's
free kick, but he could not direct his header on target.
The home side almost caught Liverpool on the break on 21
minutes when Darren Huckerby burst down the left and
crossed for Mattias Jonson on the right only for the
Swede to hit a weak shot straight at Jerzy Dudek.
Gerrard went close to breaking the deadlock on 25
minutes when he worked a short free kick with Stephen
Warnock wide on the left and hit a ferocious shot just
wide of goal.
Riise had Liverpool's best chance of the half five
minutes later when Craig Fleming's header fell nicely to
him inside the box, but the Norwegian dragged his shot
wide on his weaker right foot.
Doherty continued to look dangerous from set-pieces and
close to half time he got on the end of Charlton's free
kick to fire a header straight at Dudek.
Garcia had a chance right on the half time whistle when
Gerrard picked him out unmarked on the edge of the area,
but the Spaniard wastefully blasted his effort over the
McKenzie had a half chance on 53 minutes when he rose
highest to meet Mulryne's free kick, but his header
lacked the power trouble Dudek.
Norwich had claims for a penalty turned down two minutes
later by referee Howard Webb when Huckerby's cross
appeared to come off the hand of Jamie Carragher.
Liverpool made the vital breakthrough on 58 minutes with
Garcia latching onto Riise's superb through ball and
coolly lobbing his shot over the onrushing Green into
The visitors doubled their lead six minutes later when
Riise slotted home into an empty net after substitute
Florent Sinama Pongolle's shot was pushed out into his
path by Green.
Liverpool were now enjoying themselves and Gerrard
forced Green into a good save on 68 minutes with a shot
from the edge of the area after good work between Garcia
and Pongolle. Norwich gave themselves hope two minutes
from time with substitute Ryan Jarvis pulling a goal
back with his first goal of the season.
Jonson played in Jarvis wide on the right and he cut
inside substitute Djimi Traore before sending a
brilliant shot past Dudek, but it was too little too
late for Norwich.