Torres matchwinner - again. (Photo: Reuters)
Critics of Liverpool boss
Benitez are missing the target
Comment by David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
“The smug look on Rafa Benitez’s face said
“No sign of relief that he had just dodged an embarrassing
“No hint of contrition that he might have got it wrong ...
No glimmer of sympathy for Portsmouth ... Benitez gambled...
Benitez got away with it ... etc etc etc.”
I reckon you’ve got the idea. That was just one Monday
morning report of Liverpool’s last gasp win at Pompey. But
it was a common theme.
In case you’re unsure, Liverpool did actually win at
Portsmouth. They did go back to the top of the table.
But you’d never have guessed from the way Rafa Benitez was
mauled by the media afterwards.
The manner in which the Reds’ title prospects were dismissed
by TV pundit Tim Sherwood was bordering on the contemptuous.
Actually, forget the bordering on, it was contemptuous
bordering on insulting.
It was perhaps a little easier to understand the Sunday
newspaper reports. A tea-time kick-off means those
assessments will have been written with the match in
Liverpool were losing with six minutes to go, and even the
Echo’s Chief Sports Writer can’t turn a 1,000 word report
round in 360 seconds.
The Monday men had no such worries.
But most reports still sneered, still poked fun and still
claimed Benitez got lucky.
But to do so conveniently avoided the facts.
Liverpool forced twice as many corners as the home side –
not a guaranteed indicator of dominance in a match, but a
Attempts on goal? Liverpool 15 Portsmouth 9. On target?
Again in Liverpool’s favour. Possession? Comfortably
Clearly this was no smash and grab raid, regardless of the
lateness of the strikes.
So why the negativity?
It appears to have become a growing trend this season – from
people with entrenched views and mindsets.
Every time Liverpool concede a goal from a set piece, it’s
because of zonal marking, and analysis instantly begins of
Liverpool’s defensive frailties.
Yet zonal marking has been in place at Anfield for four
years – and Pepe Reina has won the Premier League’s Golden
Gloves award in three of them.
Then there’s the attacking focus.
Saturday night’s TV analysis focused on the number of times
Liverpool’s strikers spent outside the penalty area.
The same attacking system which scored three goals and has
outscored Manchester United this season.
Imagine the reaction if Liverpool had just won eight of
their last 11 matches 1-0.
It wouldn’t be a celebration of goalkeeping excellence, it
would more likely be how Benitez was boring his way to the
There is no doubt that the political in-fighting, the
ill-timed outbursts and the bizarre transfer policy have
made criticising Liverpool the journalistic equivalent of
shooting fish in a barrel this season.
But this time, at least, the critics have missed the target.
* TEXAS RANGERS owner Tom Hicks spoke of his despair
and dismay this week at learning that former Rangers’ star
Alex Rodriguez had used performance enhancing drugs. “I feel
personally betrayed and deceived,” said Hicks. Just like
tens of thousands of Liverpool supporters, Tom.
Aurelio: Benitez only does
what is best for Liverpool
By David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
Fabio Aurelio and Rafa Benitez go back a
So when the Reds boss is criticised for sending out
unfamiliar starting line-ups, the Brazilian smiles and
shrugs . . . because he’s seen it all before.
The intensity of the outcry at Benitez’s decision to leave
Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Xabi Alonso on the subs bench
at Portsmouth last weekend was strange, especially as
Liverpool actually won the match.
The decision to use Aurelio in central midfield also raised
eyebrows – but a polished performance, capped by a crucial
goal, suggested the Reds boss got it right.
“The boss had problems in Spain, too, with people saying he
makes too many changes,” smiled Aurelio.
“But he is just the same now. I have been with him a long
time so I know his methods are like that. He always does
what is best for the team.
“He has a personality which doesn’t mind what people think,
which is good for the team.
“We can fight for the title, and we can win the title. If we
do then the boss will be the best coach ever. But if he
doesn’t people will try to say it is because of squad
“The results in football are always the important thing and
we got a good result at Portsmouth. We were very happy with
“People don’t understand the changes that he made, but he
knows how the players are feeling. He knows who is tired and
who is not, and he knows how to use his squad.
“We know when he selects his team for a game, it will be the
best players at that moment to do the job. We are with him.
“If we had lost the game it would have been a terrible two
weeks to be here, with no game. But we did a job and won the
game and put ourselves in a very good position.”
Aurelio admits, however, that he is bemused by the level of
analysis of Liverpool’s team changes.
“It is the same with the other big teams. They all have big
squads with good players, so I don’t understand it,” he
“We are in a good position in the title race and are in a
good position in the Champions League as well, so maybe it’s
people trying to find weak points to try to stop us or
create trouble. But we are used to it.
“We had our job to do and we had to be focused on that and
not what people were talking about.”
The job Aurelio had to do was very different to the role he
has filled since he arrived at Anfield in the summer of
A left-back or occasional left midfielder, injuries and
suspension left him having to reprise the central midfield
role he sometimes filled at Valencia.
“I felt okay because it was a good game,” he explained. “The
circumstances weren’t great, but we had a lot of space to
try and play, especially in the first half.
“It is very different playing in the centre. I had a few
problems because when you play full-back you always receive
the ball while you are facing the game, but in midfield you
don’t know what is around you so it is difficult.
“But I was ready to do it for the needs of the club and the
team and we won the match.
“I think I did quite well, especially in the first half. The
second half was more difficult and I was drifting back more
and more to my natural position, but it was not bad.
“We have some great midfield players here at Liverpool so I
think it won’t be necessary to play there again!”
Regarded as a free-kick specialist, Aurelio was also
thrilled to open his goals account for the season – even
though he admits his equalising strike at Fratton Park was
hit and hope.
“You can’t see a hole there when you are going to strike the
ball,” he added. “Everyone was lining up on the goal line so
you just try to kick it as hard as you can and say ‘Please
God, make way for the ball!’ ”
The ball flew just inside the goalpost and gave Liverpool a
platform to try and build on.
That platform was quickly demolished by Herman Hreidarsson’s
header, but the Reds came again and the 3-2 victory was a
huge morale booster for the injury-depleted squad.
“We are confident and we think that we can fight for the
title,” Aurelio added. “At the same time we know that it is
a long race.
“The United game is like a final for us and we will have to
get the points and see what United do after that.”
dismisses 'nonsense' critics
By Jimmy Rice - LFC Official Website
Kenny Dalglish believes critics of Rafa
Benitez's team selection at Portsmouth are talking
The gaffer raised a few eyebrows with a 5-3-2 formation
without Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt, Albert Riera and Fernando
Despite the fact it took a late goal from Torres to wrap up
the points, Dalglish believes victory was fully deserved.
The Kop icon told LFC Magazine: "To be fair to Rafa Benitez,
in the face of yet more ridiculous nonsense, I think the
formation he chose to play at Fratton Park was excellent.
"Everyone looked happy with their role in the team and when
that happens you've always got a chance.
"The one thing people seem to be missing with Rafa's
selection is the effect it had on Portsmouth.
"I don't know how much work Rafa was able to do with the
players with this idea in mind, but by the time the players
kicked off on Saturday night they all knew what it was they
were supposed to be doing.
"In contrast, Pompey didn't have a clue and were taken off
guard. Imagine you were Tony Adams and you saw that team -
you've spent all week working on a formation, then you're up
against something new and unexpected.
"If we'd taken our chances then Rafa's decision would
rightly have been hailed a masterstroke. It took Pompey an
hour and a sub before they got into the game.
"The two goals they got were avoidable but there was little
the boss could do from the touchline to prevent those.
"The media are hailing it as a lucky result. Even if he'd
picked the team they clearly believed to be the best, would
we still not have needed a wee bit of luck?
"Of course we'd still have needed a slice of luck, but would
anyone really argue that we didn't deserve to win that game?
I don't think so!"
Benitez had perfect response
to silence Liverpool's critics
By David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
The vultures were circling the second
Liverpool’s team-sheet was announced on Saturday night.
But Rafa had the perfect response with a massively important
Like almost everybody else in the country, I was surprised
when I saw so many influential names left on the
I would be lying if I said otherwise.
But unlike perhaps plenty of pundits, I also had some
sympathy with Rafa’s team selection, because I’ve been in
exactly the same position as Fernando Torres.
I wasn’t sure about leaving Dirk Kuyt on the bench, because
he looks like he could play about five matches every week
and still not suffer.
But resting Torres was totally understandable.
He’s still feeling his way back from injury, he was clearly
shattered on Wednesday night and the trip to Portsmouth came
less than 72 hours later.
By introducing him when he did, Rafa ensured that Torres
would be operating on a level playing field with the
Kenny Dalglish did exactly the same thing with me in the
1989 FA Cup final.
I’d been injured and had only made half a dozen substitute
appearances before the cup final.
I thought I could start at Wembley.
I told Kenny I was fit.
I was desperate to kick-off against Everton, but he decided
my energy levels weren’t up to what was required and left me
on the bench.
In the end Kenny did the right thing.
If I’d started the match I probably wouldn’t have been able
to do anything.
But when I came on my energy levels were at the same levels
as the Everton defenders and I was able to make an impact.
It was the same with Torres at Portsmouth.
If he’d played from the start, when the Portsmouth defenders
were fresh, he’d have been tired when the game started to
open up in the last third and probably unable to take
advantage of the opportunity which came his way.
As it was, he was sharp enough to find the opening and
finish it in style just when it mattered the most.
It was good management, because the end result says so.
Just like Kenny got it right back in 1989.
REDS CAN KEEP UP PRESSURE
Manchester United got a very big win at West Ham at the
But so did Liverpool. And so, too, did Aston Villa.
It looks more than ever now that Liverpool are going to be
the only team capable of pushing United all the way this
season, with Villa the likeliest to step in if we falter.
Chelsea are starting to fall away while Arsenal are way off
the pace already.
I’m still confident that the Reds can go all the way.
You have to be.
Everybody has to get behind the team and the manager until
the end of the season – and if it doesn’t work out discuss
the reasons why then.
But for now we have to offer our total support – and I will
say again that Liverpool can win the Premier League title
wants fewer draws
Daniel Agger believes Liverpool have drawn
too many games and has challenged his team-mates to stop
dropping so many points.
The Reds have only lost once all season but they have
slipped behind Manchester United at the top of the Premier
League table following a disappointing run of seven draws in
They have secured late victories in their last two matches
against Chelsea and Portsmouth and Agger was especially
buoyed by the performance at Fratton Park.
Pompey led 2-1 with just five minutes remaining but Dirk
Kuyt equalised and Fernando Torres then fired home a
"You are not going to win a title if you are drawing every
second game, we know that," Agger told the Liverpool Echo.
"So games like this one which we have won after going behind
are a big bonus for us.
"Every game is only worth three points, you don't get any
extra points for coming back but it always gives you a boost
if you can come from behind.
"We worked hard for the win. The way the game turned out was
not the way we had planned for it to be but the most
important thing was to take the three points so we are just
relieved that we did that."
Agger accepts that Liverpool will need to improve
defensively if they are to wrestle top spot back from United
"The way they scored both goals was really disappointing for
us and it was hard work to get back into the game," said the
"All we could do was keep our focus and continue believing
in ourselves and thankfully the goals came.
"We had some really good moments in the game, passing the
ball on the ground where it should be played.
"Even though it was a difficult pitch we passed it really
well at times but sometimes we just needed to attack with a
bit more determination.
"That's maybe the reason why we didn't create as many
chances as we should have done before the goals finally
Rafa proved right
Dirk Kuyt admits Rafa Benitez was proved
right to drop several first-team regulars for Liverpool's
3-2 win at Portsmouth.
Reds boss Benitez sprung a surprise with his team selection
at Fratton Park after leaving Kuyt, Xabi Alonso and Fernando
Torres on the bench, while also changing to a three-man
Benitez's substitutions worked perfectly as Kuyt brought the
Reds level at 2-2 before Torres headed home a stoppage-time
Dutch attacker Kuyt concedes he would prefer to be starting
games, but he understands Benitez's decision to freshen up
"It's the choice of the boss," said Kuyt. "Of course, as a
player you always want to play, but it is the manager's
choice - and he was right."
Jamie Carragher acknowledged Benitez had taken a gamble and
feels the victory at Pompey proves Liverpool's desire to win
the Premier League title.
"There are a few times that we've come back, so that tells
you about the spirit of the team," said Carragher.
"It's always a gamble when your big names are on the bench.
"But we had extra-time against Everton in the week, so it
wasn't about big names but fresh players.
"They came off the bench to make a difference and that's
what they did."
Ngog: I'm learning from Fernando
By Joe Curran - LFC Official Website
French starlet David Ngog has revealed how
much he is learning from watching Fernando Torres in action.
Ngog made his first Premier League start for the Reds in the
3-2 win over Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Saturday before
making way for Dirk Kuyt on 55 minutes.
El Nino was introduced to the action in place of Ryan Babel
shortly after that and went on to score a last-minute header
for Liverpool to snatch the three points.
Ngog admitted that at 19 years old he still has much to
learn, but the former Paris St Germain forward is in no
doubt he can pick up invaluable pointers from Liverpool's
number nine as he looks to forge his own formidable
reputation at the club.
"I have spent a lot of time watching Fernando Torres in
training and in the games he has played," Ngog told 'LFC
"He is a great striker - he moves well, he finds space where
other players would struggle, and more than anything else,
he works hard for the team. I am learning a lot from him.
"Some strikers play for themselves first, they only react
when the ball comes to them. I don't want to be one of those
players, so I have been watching what Fernando does very
"Not just Torres, but Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard too - you
can learn a lot from players like them. Any young player
would be delighted to have these players to look up to, and
I am very fortunate to learn from them every day. I am
picking up things from them all the time."
With Steven Gerrard out injured with a hamstring tear, Ngog
believes he is ready to step in to the breach for Liverpool
and take some of the pressure of his fellow strikers.
"I am excited to be here at Liverpool, and hopefully I can
impress the manager in training every day and play some more
games in the second half of the season," said Ngog, who
scored his first goal for the Reds against PSV Eindhoven in
"It is my ambition to become a player that the team needs. I
am a striker, I am supposed to score the goals - that
doesn't change between France and England.
"It is said that England is the hardest league for a striker
to play in, especially for a player who has come from
another country, but I am confident and comfortable with the
idea that I can do well here.
"Scoring goals is an instinct. But to make the most of this
instinct you have to take up the best positions and you must
be able to understand the way that the attack is going to
unfold in order to be in the right place at the right time.
"I know I have teammates who will create chances. Not just
half chances, but full chances where I must look to convert
them when they come along. I like to think I am a player who
you can rely on to score goals."
Torres: I played too much
Fernando Torres believes his incredible
debut season with Liverpool has taken its toll this time
The former Atletico Madrid ace helped himself to a superb
haul of 24 Premier League goals from 33 appearances last
It proved to be a lengthy campaign as Liverpool progressed
to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League while Spain
went all the way at Euro 2008.
Torres admits he was protected somewhat from burn-out at
Atletico and that maybe playing too much has contributed to
his numerous injury problems that have hampered his form
The 24-year-old marksman is nearing his best form again for
Liverpool after following up his late brace against Chelsea
with a crucial late winner in a 3-2 win at Portsmouth on
"I hadn't played a season like that before and maybe it is
one reason why I've had problems," he told the Daily Star
"I'd never played that amount of games I played last season.
When I was at Atletico Madrid I would only play La Liga and
"I would play maybe 20 games a season less than I played
"It was fantastic for me with no major problems but this
season has been harder simply because of my injuries.
"Starting my second season this way is disappointing. It's
frustrating when you can't help your team."
Aurelio hails winning mentality
By Steve Hunter - LFC Official Website
Fabio Aurelio hailed Liverpool's character
and fighting spirit after the Reds returned to the top of
the Barclays Premier League with a 3-2 win at Portsmouth on
Fernando Torres' injury time winner gave Rafael Benitez's
side the vital three points, and the Brazilian admitted
there was a great feeling in the dressing room after the
"It was really important to win and we kept going right
until the end," Aurelio told Liverpoolfc.tv.
"The manager made a lot of changes to the team because we
had a lot of players who were tired after the FA Cup game
against Everton, so everybody tried to do their best.
"We had difficulties during the game but we twice came back
and we have to be really pleased with the win.
"I thought we controlled the first half but in the second
half it was like the beginning of the season when we were
behind and then kept coming back.
"To win a game like this will help us for the rest of the
season to keep fighting right until the end.
"It was really important three points, because we have two
weeks now before our next game. We have a winning mentality
and it gives us a lot of confidence.
"We will keep fighting hard and keep the pressure on
On his superb free-kick Aurelio said: "Portsmouth had every
player right in front of the goal but all I tried to do was
kick the ball as hard as I could and find a space -
fortunately for me the ball went into the net.
"It was a good feeling and I was pleased with the goal
because it helped the team go on and get a good result."
The Reds number 12 started the match in central midfield and
ended the game at left back, something which he admitted
took some getting used to at first.
"It's not my natural position but I did play some games
there for Rafa at Valencia," he said.
"I haven't played in the centre of midfield for quite a
while and the manager told me on Saturday morning I would be
"It's always difficult when you haven't played in a position
like that for some time but I tried to do the best I could,
and I am happy because I could help the team get a great
Reflecting on El Nino's last-gasp winner, Aurelio said: "It
was an unbelievable goal and a wonderful header from
"It was a good cross from Yossi Benayoun with his left foot
for the winning goal. We were joking with Yossi in the
dressing room about him using his left foot. We were happy
need their big names
Comment by Steve McManaman - Setanta Sports
It was a fantastic game between Liverpool
and Portsmouth, but it is clear to me that Liverpool need
Dirk Kuyt, Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso on the pitch.
Liverpool have got away with it today, they have scored
three great goals, but they need the main men on the pitch
and in the end they have come on to rescue them.
Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Xabi Alonso have not been
rested today, they warmed up for most of the game and have
had to come on the pitch to save the game for Liverpool.
Certainly the defensive mistakes from Portsmouth helped
Liverpool and that little bit of luck is what you need at
Liverpool looked like they would score at will towards the
end, the tempo they were playing, Portsmouth were forced
further and further back. They need to keep playing like
the importance of it all
By Adam Bryant - LFC Online
Goal hero Dirk Kuyt was delighted with
Liverpool's win at Portsmouth and believes the Liverpool
side showed a lot of character.
"Today was a massive game for us," he said after the match.
"It doesn't matter how we won today but we needed to win and
we did. We showed a lot of character today and it was a
"We got beat with two minutes to go at Everton in the FA
Cup, which was a big disappointment for us and we knew
another important game was coming up today at Portsmouth and
twice coming back from behind is really good.
"The pitch was a bit rubbish. I think Ryan was really
unlucky with his chance earlier on. The Portsmouth defender
missed the ball and I just tried to hit the target. I was a
bit lucky but sometimes you need to be a bit lucky.
When asked about Fernando Torres, who's injury time goal won
the game, the Dutchman added: "I think he is really
important. We are very happy that he's back from injury. He
was very important against Chelsea, very important today and
I'm sure he'll be very important for the rest of the season.
"It's very important to stay close behind Manchester United
and hopefully they'll drop some points tomorrow, we'll see.
We're just focused on our own game and that's the next game
against Manchester City."
Rafa delighted with his team
By Adam Bryant - LFC Online
Rafael Benitez was happy with his
inexperienced Liverpool side, after their 3-2 win over
"Every victory is important but especially now when you are
so close to the top of the table, in this case at the top of
the table," said the Liverpool manager.
"I'm really pleased because we showed character and I think
we played really well. We made some mistakes and needed to
come back but it's very positive.
"We were playing well and the team was doing what we needed
to do, so it shows we have enough quality in the squad. I
think that we deserved to win because we were playing very
"It's important to see players like N'Gog, Ryan Babbel or
Benayoun playing well, and after to use players like Kuyt
and Torres to finish the game, that is all part of the
squad. Torres is a fantastic player but without the others
we wouldn't be there.
"It will be a long race and we need to keep going. We won't
win the title now, and they won't win the title now so we
have to keep working hard.
"United have a very good team so we need to keep working
hard and keep the confidence high. If West Ham can win
tomorrow it would be good for them and good for us."
Reds pinch points
Fernando Torres came off the bench to
score an injury-time winner as Liverpool won 3-2 at
Portsmouth to send them top of the Premier League.
Torres only came on with 15 minutes to go and by that time
his side were chasing victory after David Nugent's opener
(62) had been cancelled out by Fabio Aurelio (69).
Hermann Hreidarsson then headed Pompey back into the lead
with just 12 minutes remaining, after latching onto a
dangerous free-kick into the box.
The Spain striker then set up Dirk Kuyt (85) before heading
home in stoppage-time.
It proved to be a masterstroke for Rafael Benitez to leave
Torres on the bench - but it was the closest of calls.
Torres was tired towards the end of the midweek FA Cup
defeat to Everton and has international duty this week when
Spain face England - but he was still fit enough to be among
the substitutes at Fratton Park.
His cameo has put the psychological pressure on Manchester
United as Liverpool overtake Sir Alex Ferguson's men at the
summit before their match at West Ham this weekend.
The spotlight was inevitably on Benitez for his brave move.
He offloaded Robbie Keane back to Tottenham, then saw
talisman Steven Gerrard injured with a hamstring strain - so
resting a matchwinner like Torres for 75 minutes was a huge
Keane would have been almost certain to have played against
Pompey if he was still at the club, but instead French
youngster David Ngog endured a miserable first league start.
Torres was not the only change, with Benitez radically
altering his team and leaving the likes of Albert Riera,
Xabi Alonso and Kuyt on the bench.
He also started with three centre-backs and at first the
formation looked shaky when Nugent and Peter Crouch got a
couple of shots away.
But Pompey were still struggling for confidence as they
looked to end a run of failing to win a league game since
November - and even a second string Liverpool were bound to
Pompey goalkeeper David James, equalling Gary Speed's
Premier League record of 535 appearances, was left stranded
when Liverpool put their first purposeful move together.
Alvaro Arbeloa's cross from the right found Yossi Benayoun
unmarked in the penalty area but his finish went into the
side-netting after James had slipped.
James would have had no chance either when Aurelio's
free-kick curled just wide of the upright. The Brazilian was
off target again in the 17th minute when Ngog's cross found
its way behind the Pompey defence.
Javier Mascherano is not known for his goalscoring but he
had James at full stretch when he was given room 30 yards
from goal, with the Pompey stopper diverting the effort for
Ngog's evening came to an end before the hour mark, with
Kuyt brought on for the visitors - and it nearly brought an
Benayoun breezed past Hreidarsson and Sylvain Distin before
laying the ball off to Kuyt. The substitute crossed to leave
an open goal for Ryan Babel from three yards out - but the
winger somehow managed to nutmeg himself as he finished.
Nugent made Liverpool pay with his 62nd-minute opener.
Crouch had held the ball up before playing a reverse ball to
his strike partner, who slotted his finish calmly past
It was a sweet strike for the Evertonian, who taunted
Liverpool fans in the first half about their FA Cup defeat
Liverpool's way back into the match came after an awful
backpass from Crouch.
James had to handle to stop Kuyt from finishing, with Webb
alert to the offence. Alonso, on as a substitute, tapped the
ball for Aurelio to smash into the bottom corner.
Kuyt had the ball in the net but was harshly given offside
after racing onto Aurelio's throughball.
Torres came on for the last quarter of an hour for Babel,
but Pompey were ahead again with 12 minutes remaining.
Nadir Belhadj swung over a free-kick after Glen Johnson was
fouled, with Hreidarsson losing his marker and heading past
a wrongfooted Reina.
Kuyt levelled in the 85th minute after Torres crossed from
the right and the Dutchman finished into James' near post.
Then came the final twist, with Torres' powerful header from
Benayoun's cross finding a way past James.