urged to keep fighting
By Ben Collins - Sky Sports
Rafa Benitez has urged his Liverpool
players to fight until the very end despite facing a losing
battle in their bid to secure UEFA Champions League
The Reds have been regulars in Europe's top club
competition, with Benitez leading them to the 2005 title,
but they could miss out next season.
Tottenham's 2-1 defeat at Sunderland on Saturday allowed
Manchester City to regain fourth place with a 6-1 drubbing
of Burnley, and Liverpool lost further ground as they had to
settle for a 1-1 draw at Birmingham on Sunday.
Benitez's men are now four points adrift of City and three
behind Spurs despite having played a game more than their
Champions League rivals.
But City and Spurs seem to have a tougher run-in and Benitez
believes they could slip up if the five-time winners can
pile on pressure.
"The players were disappointed after Birmingham because it
was a good performance and we had some chances at the end,"
he told the club's official website.
"But I told them, 'There's still five games so we need to
"If we play in the same way then we'll at least win our
games, then we'll see what happens.
"They (City) have some difficult games, so we just have to
win our fixtures.
"Football is so special. You think, 'we'll win there and
maybe lose there', but then everything changes.
"We just have to think about getting three points against
Fulham on Sunday and then see what happens. We have to keep
Liverpool also have to host West Ham and Chelsea in the
league, while they have away games at Burnley and Hull.
And Benfica are also due at Anfield in the Europa League
quarter-finals on Thursday, with Benitez's men looking to
overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg.
"The Europa League now is a very, very important trophy for
us and we have to win against Benfica," added the Liverpool
Liverpool are underdogs
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard admits
his side are underdogs in the race to claim a top-four spot
following Sunday's 1-1 draw at Birmingham.
The Reds missed the chance to close the gap on Manchester
City and Tottenham on Sunday after being held to a
disappointing point at St Andrew's.
Gerrard believes Liverpool must win their five remaining
league games if they are to have any chance of securing
"It will be difficult. We have the experience and we are
hoping that will be vital in the end," said Gerrard. "But I
think it will go down to the wire.
"To give ourselves a better chance, we had to take maximum
points against Birmingham.
"It's going to be really hard now. But I think what you
notice is the race for fourth place seems to change from
week to week."
Gerrard has also called on his team-mates to stop talking a
good game and deliver on the pitch.
"You have to look at the teams above us but they are the
favourites and we are the underdogs at the moment.
"But we will keep fighting all the way to the end.
"That's what we said with six games to go. It's all right
saying we will be fine if we go and win our last five games.
"But we have to go on the pitch and win them rather than
talk about it."
Torres treatment a big clue to how
Benitez sees his Liverpool FC future
Comment by Mark Lawrenson - Liverpool Daily Post
I wish I could answer the questions as to
why Fernando Torres was taken off at Birmingham on Sunday –
but I for one have given up trying to guess.
Preserving players early in the season is one thing – but
doing it in April just doesn’t make sense.
No wonder Steven Gerrard was scratching his head.
I hate harking back to the old days because that’s exactly
what they are – old. But if Rushie had been subbed after 65
minutes of a game we needed to win back in the 1980s there
would have been a mutiny.
And Torres is the modern day Ian Rush – the one player who
you need on the pitch when you are chasing a winning goal.
Yes, he might have been having an off day but looking at the
way Liverpool pressed late on, he would have only needed to
stand there and swing his leg at the ball to have an impact.
He would surely have buried the couple of chances David Ngog
had when he came on to replace him.
But the most baffling thing about the decision to haul him
off was, if you really need to wrap him in cotton wool and
make sure he doesn’t do any long term damage, why didn’t
that happen in Portugal on Thursday night?
There were only eight minutes left when Torres made way for
David Ngog that night and by the time he came off he had
been kicked from pillar to post.
Taking him off would have been justified on that occasion
because he was getting no protection from the referee and
the Benfica defenders were having a field day.
That would have been the time to give Torres the safety of
As it is, the 2-1 defeat Liverpool suffered still, for me,
gives them a 60/40 chance of qualifying at Anfield, as long
as they don’t concede an away goal.
One thing is for sure, after missing half an hour of action
at St Andrew’s, Torres should be flying!
But the other thing I really don’t get about the whole
tiredness argument is, why not send Ngog on for someone else
and give Torres some help? Ease the burden on him a bit.
If you have someone who can do the running and occupy
defenders, then Torres can just stand around and be as worn
out as he likes, all he needs to be there for is to add a
That’s all you need in such a finely-balanced game and I’ve
lost count of the times a decision by Benitez has
jeopardised his side having the best chance of winning a
When your own captain is looking at the number board in
utter disbelief, you know you’ve got problems.
Gerrard was playing really well, had scored a great goal and
he knows that when he is in the mood he and Torres can
destroy a team in an instant.
So what conclusions are we supposed to draw from all this?
Is it that Benitez wants to go all out to win the Europa
League rather than push for fourth place? A fourth place
that he has already ‘guaranteed’?
After failing to deliver on that, success in Europe is an
absolute must if you’re going to make sacrifices elsewhere
Of course, if we do win the trophy then great, happy days.
But how are we going to attract top quality players to the
club for next year if we are not in the Champions League?
Or maybe Rafa knows that come the summer that won’t be his
problem – and if he does go he will at least have gone out
with some silverware.
by Reds decline
Yossi Benayoun has revealed the
disappointment and frustration in the Liverpool squad at
failing to match last season's performance levels.
The midfielder admits the Reds hopes of qualifying for the
Champions League are now out of their own hands after being
held to a 1-1 draw at Birmingham on Sunday.
They are now four points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester
City - and have played a game more - with just five matches
Benayoun accepts Liverpool tossed away a golden opportunity
to keep the pressure on City and Tottenham with the result
at St Andrew's but insists they will keep battling away.
The former West Ham player said: "It is hard to explain.
There is a big difference between last season. Performances
were much better then and we had more confidence.
"This season we started badly in the very first game. Yes,
there was a moment when we thought we were coming back but
then we disappointed ourselves with a few bad games.
"It is very difficult when you are not close to the top and
you do not feel as if you have the chance to win something.
It is disappointing but we will keep going.
"We are fighting for fourth place. I know it is important
but it just isn't the same. We have made it harder but all
we can do is play the last five games and see what happens.
"We are now depending on other results and this makes it
more difficult. It was a big chance at Birmingham. They are
a good team but we had to win, especially after Tottenham
lost at Sunderland.
"We have to keep believing but it is very disappointing. All
we can do now is think about the next game. We know we need
to win and we have to play much better."
Striker Fernando Torres looked unhappy at being substituted
midway through the second half shortly after Liam
Ridgewell's goal had cancelled out Reds skipper Steven
But Benayoun said: "Substitutions are part of the game and
it is the job of the manager to do what he thinks is best
for the team.
"We changed and tried to create but we missed three good
chances. We put lots of pressure on in the last 15-20
minutes and some days, you score those chances and you end
up winning 3-1 or 4-1.
"But when you are unlucky and hit a defender, or there is a
great save by the 'keeper, it's part of the game."
Gerrard concedes Liverpool are now underdogs to secure
fourth spot but believes the battle will continue right to
the conclusion of the season in mid-May.
He said: "To give ourselves a better chance, we had to take
maximum points at Birmingham.
"It's going to be really difficult now. But I think what you
notice is the race for fourth place seems to change from
week to week.
"You have to look at the teams above us. They're the
favourites and we're the underdogs at the moment. But we'll
keep fighting all the way to the end.
"People say we are capable of winning our last five games
but that's what we said with six games to go.
"It's all right saying 'we'll be all right if we go and win
our last five games.' We have to go out on to the pitch and
win them rather than talk about it.
"It will be difficult but we have the experience and we're
hoping that will be vital in the end but I think it'll go
down to the wire."
Gerrard took advantage of a mis-hit shot from Glen Johnson
falling into his path to open the scoring a minute into the
But the Liverpool defence went missing nine minute later in
failing to pick up the run to the far post of Ridgewell, who
converted a cross from James McFadden.
Miracles now needed
for Champions League spot
Comment by James Pearce - Liverpool Daily Post
It's the time of year when miracles happen
but Liverpool now require one of biblical proportions.
What was already an uphill battle to secure the final
Champions League spot, looks almost impossible today.
Yesterday’s desperately frustrating stalemate at St Andrew’s
delivered a hammer blow to hopes of clambering into the top
With Rafael Benitez’s side four points behind fourth-placed
Manchester City having played a game more, only the most
optimistic of Kopites can honestly believe the club will be
dining at Europe’s top table next season.
This was a golden opportunity to turn up the heat on their
top four rivals but Liverpool blew it.
Benitez’s search for a cure to his side’s travel sickness
goes on after their weaknesses at both ends of the pitch
were laid bare in the Midlands.
Having taken the lead early in the second half courtesy of a
fine strike from skipper Steven Gerrard, they proceeded to
shoot themselves in the foot as some woeful defending gifted
Liam Ridgewell a soft equaliser.
A spirited response in the closing stages should have
brought a winner for the visitors but, infuriatingly, a glut
of chances were passed up.
The best of them fell to substitute David Ngog but he lacked
the composure to make Birmingham pay.
The fact that the young Frenchman was on the pitch was a
major talking point after he replaced Fernando Torres with
25 minutes to go.
Torres may have been flagging but he looked less than
impressed by Benitez’s decision to take him off. And the
striker’s mood will have darkened still further on seeing
his replacement waste an array of opportunities.
Even a shattered Torres would surely have netted at least
one of the glorious openings Ngog spurned.
The lack of quality cover for the 20-goal top scorer has
undoubtedly been a major contributing factor in Liverpool’s
struggles this season.
Rather than boost his strikeforce last summer Benitez opted
to splash the lion’s share of his transfer kitty on an
Italian midfielder who has spent most of his time on
Merseyside lying on the treatment table.
Alberto Aquilani’s sole contribution after coming off the
bench late on yesterday was to inadvertently block Maxi
Rodriguez’s goal bound shot. It was that kind of day.
Of course there is no disgrace walking away from St Andrew’s
with a point. That’s all title contenders Manchester United,
Chelsea and Arsenal picked up on their visit.
Alex McLeish’s Birmingham are on course for their highest
league finish for 56 years and are unbeaten at home since
However, such is Liverpool’s current predicament that
nothing less than victory was ever going to be acceptable. A
draw felt like a defeat.
There could be no complaints about the commitment and in
truth a point was scant consolation for their overall
performance. But this was the latest in a long line of hard
luck stories this season.
If Tottenham’s defeat at Sunderland 24 hours earlier had
given Liverpool hope of claiming fourth place, then wins for
Aston Villa and Manchester City provided a reminder that
there was little margin for error.
Benitez had to go for broke and clearly concerned about the
effects of the draining European clash with Benfica three
days earlier the manager rung the changes.
Yossi Benayoun, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Rodriguez were all
recalled with Javier Mascherano, Ryan Babel and Daniel Agger
dropping to the bench.
The fact that Mascherano was deemed too tired for action was
a big setback and his physical presence was sorely missed
during a dour opening 45 minutes.
The first half hour was played at such a sedate pace that it
had the feel of a meaningless end of season clash rather
than a win or bust contest in the pursuit of Champions
As has so often been the case on their travels this season
Liverpool saw plenty of the ball but did precious little
Only Spurs have a better home defensive record in the
Premier League than Birmingham and Torres got no change out
of reliable centre-backs Roger Johnson and former Kop season
ticket holder Scott Dann.
Neither keeper was seriously troubled until 10 minutes
before the break when Liverpool went agonisingly close to
grabbing the lead.
Pepe Reina started a sweeping counter-attack with Dirk Kuyt
and Benayoun combining to find Torres on the edge of the
box. The Spaniard picked out the impressive Rodriguez whose
shot rattled the bar.
That finally brought the game to life and Liverpool soon
enjoyed a let-off of their own.
Reina made a hash of Cameron Jerome’s shot and then
compounded the error by flapping at the ensuing corner from
James McFadden. However, to the keeper’s relief Johnson’s
header landed on the roof of the net.
Liverpool were in need of inspiration and Gerrard provided
it just two minutes into the second half.
Glen Johnson’s mis-hit shot landed at the skipper’s feet and
he cut inside Lee Bowyer before curling a shot inside Joe
Hart’s far post.
It was a stunning strike and put Gerrard into double figures
for the season. By his own high standards he has had a
disappointing campaign but there were more signs yesterday
he’s rediscovering his form.
That goal should have settled any nerves and given Liverpool
the belief to go on and clinch victory.
But inside nine minutes they carelessly tossed away their
McFadden was allowed far too much space to turn and bend a
cross to the far post where the unmarked Ridgewell bundled
the ball home.
Glen Johnson was so far away from where he should have been
Benitez needed to send out a search party to locate his
The Liverpool boss responded by taking off Torres and
putting on Ngog, who got a hot reception from the home fans
following his apparant dive to win a penalty in the 2-2 draw
at Anfield back in November.
It was a gamble which didn’t pay off. The Frenchman’s every
touch was booed and on his 50th appearance for the club he
wilted under the pressure.
Ngog had only been on the pitch three minutes when Johnson
found him out with a great cross but he nodded wide with
Liverpool were still ruing that miss when Birmingham broke
away and Bowyer scuffed wide with the net gaping.
With Babel and Aquilani replacing the ineffective Benayoun
and Kuyt, the visitors’ attacking threat grew and in the
final 20 minutes it was one-way traffic.
Ngog lashed another effort wastefully off target and when
Rodriguez’s shot struck Aquilani on the back Benitez must
have known it wasn’t going to be his day.
The chances kept on coming but Rodriguez and Babel both
missed before at the death Gerrard’s pin-point 60-yard pass
put Ngog clean through.
His first touch was perfect but the substitute scuffed
tamely at Hart and the game was up.
Birmingham are the only team that Liverpool haven’t managed
to beat in the Premier League under Benitez.
They haven’t managed it in eight attempts and this latest
failure looks like being the most costly of all.
explains Torres call
Rafa Benitez insists his decision to
substitute Fernando Torres at Birmingham in Sunday's draw
was simply an attempt to freshen up his flagging Liverpool
With the game evenly poised at 1-1 with 25 minutes left to
play the Spaniard surprised everyone in St Andrews with his
decision to withdraw Torres in favour of David Ngog.
Torres has been in fine form since his return from injury
and while Benitez will point to an exerting Europa League
tie on Thursday that saw Liverpool play for an hour with 10
men, his front-man looked perplexed by the decision.
Benitez thought his star striker looked tired and was in no
mood to make apologies for his call post-match. Of the
impression Ngog played well in his cameo off the bench,
Benitez insists there is no reason for Torres to feel
"He was tired, he was really tired," Benitez told Sky
Sports. "We needed fresh legs so I went with Ngog.
"It was a really good substitution because he was working
very hard and had a few chances, so perhaps the movement and
energy he had made him fresher.
"Sometimes maybe the player wants to play 90 minutes but we
needed the energy and I think Ngog was really good."
The stalemate leaves Liverpool four points off Manchester
City in fourth, and three behind Tottenham in fifth, with
both having played a game less than Benitez's side.
Benitez concedes his team have it all to do if they are to
secure UEFA Champions League football for next season but is
adamant there is still plenty to play for between now and
the end of the season.
"Tottenham and Man City are in a better position but there
are still many games to play. We have to win our games and
then see where we are," he continued.
"We were talking about winning the six games or maybe
drawing one. Now we have drawn the one so we need to win the
"It was a pity, it was a great performance from the team. We
made a lot of chances in the first half and then in the
second half. We had to win."
Reds hopes hit
by battling Blues
Liverpool's Champions League hopes were
hit on Sunday as Birmingham came from behind to earn
a 1-1 draw in the Premier League at St Andrew's.
Steven Gerrard had put Liverpool ahead a minute into the
second half with a fine curling effort but Liam Ridgewell
levelled matters nine minutes later to leave the Reds four
points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City having played
a game more.
The draw leaves Rafa Benitez still searching for a first
Premier League victory over Birmingham - after eight
attempts spanning his six seasons at Anfield.
Blues again showed the resilience which has been their
trademark in preserving a seven-month unbeaten home record
and Sunday's stalemate means they have now drawn at St
Andrews with every one of the current top six this season.
Benitez made three changes from the side beaten at Benfica
in the Europa League on Thursday with Sotirios Kyrgiakos,
Yossi Benayoun and Maxi Rodriguez replacing Daniel Agger,
Javier Mascherano and Ryan Babel respectively.
Blues boss Alex McLeish fielded an unchanged side as he kept
faith with the players who had held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw.
The first half-chance fell to the in-form Fernando Torres
after he was picked out by a pass from Maxi Rodriguez but
his first touch was surprisingly poor and took him away from
Gerrard was operating mainly in a deeper role but he
ventured forward to find the overlapping Rodriguez in space
only for his shot to be blocked by Roger Johnson.
Torres tried his luck from 30 yards out but his curler was
high and wide of Hart's goal.
Then after 35 minutes Joe Hart produced a superb reflex save
to prevent Rodriguez from giving the Reds the lead.
Torres was the creator with a menacing dipping cross and
Rodriguez's powerful first-time shot from 10 yards out was
tipped onto the crossbar by the on-loan Manchester City
The game started to come to life and Jose Reina beat out a
shot from Cameron Jerome at the expense of a corner,
although the striker appeared to be offside.
Then Reina failed to deal with a deep centre from James
McFadden and Johnson's header at the far post was only just
Lucas became the first player to be booked after 38
minutes for a shirt pull at McFadden.
Gerrard needed only a minute of the second half to break the
deadlock although there was an element of fortune about the
Glen Johnson's attempted shot was well off target but
dropped nicely into the path of Gerrard on the left side of
the Birmingham box.
The England player had time to cut inside before unleashing
a fierce curling shot which flew into the corner of the net.
Keith Fahey became the first Birmingham player to be
yellow-carded after 51 minutes for a challenge on Lucas but
Gerrard's free-kick flew well wide.
Birmingham responded in positive fashion to going behind,
with full-backs Stephen Carr and Liam Ridgewell getting
forward at every opportunity.
And after 56 minutes Ridgewell brought the home side back
on level terms.
Former Everton player McFadden was the creator with some
neat trickery on the right flank before floating over a
teasing cross which left Ridgewell with the simplest of
tasks from close range.
Benitez made his first change after 65 minutes with David
N'Gog replacing Torres, who looked far from happy at being
N'Gog was greeted with a crescendo of boos from the Blues
fans who clearld had not forgotten the controversial penalty
he won in the 2-2 draw at Anfield earlier in the season.
N'Gog had a great chance to restore Liverpool's lead but he
headed wide when well placed from Johnson's cross.
Then Lee Bowyer was guilty of an even more glaring miss.
Ridgewell's cross found him unmarked six yards out but he
poked the ball wide with the goal at his mercy.
N'Gog squandered another golden chance, drilling his shot
wide from 12 yards after Dirk Kuyt had dispossessed Bowyer
to set up the opportunity.
Substitute Alberto Aquilani inadvertently blocked a
close-range shot from Rodriguez as the visitors searched for
a late winner.