front men outclassed by fans
Analysis by David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
The sound wasn't quite as loud as the explosion which
rocked the Anfield Road End in the last minute.
But the thuds made by journalists' jaws hitting the ground a
couple of hours earlier were still sizeable.
The arrival of the Liverpool team-sheet caused all the
No Hyypia, as feared, no Riise either, but, most
perplexingly, the goal-shy firm of Crouch and Morientes up
With the Reds in need of a miracle, the presence of God had
been anticipated in a Liverpool forward line, or maybe even
Luis Garcia - allowing Steven Gerrard to rampage down the
right and the eternally under-rated and criminally
under-estimated Didi Hamann to sit and protect a makeshift
Instead, a man who hasn't scored a goal of any description
since December 10, and another who has managed one in 12
games this year were handed the task of scoring two.
They weren't up to it. Again.
Peter Crouch did get himself into a goalscoring position,
but wasn't cute enough to beat Moretto, while Fernando
Morientes managed one shot (which is being kind to his
bobbling, scuffed 20 yard effort) all night.
One effort at goal in an entire match - and that's probably
a typical return.
Rafael Benitez must surely have his reasons for keeping
faith with Morientes, who has never looked anything more
than an ordinary striker. But they are becoming less obvious
with every performance the former Real Madrid striker
produces in a red shirt.
Morientes used to be a top class goalscorer. But then so did
Eusebio, and he got no further than the Anfield directors'
box last night.
Djibril Cisse has numerous faults, but he does offer pace
and a goal threat.
But Benitez refuses even to contemplate using the Frenchman
in anything other than a wide right role, where his ability
to constantly repeat the only trick he knows is highly
effective at winning corners, but nothing else.
His exclusion is clearly part of a bigger picture, which
will surely see him exit Anfield this summer and another
pacy striker with more awareness and intelligent movement
arrive. Michael Owen anyone?
Because the current crop of forwards at the club simply
aren't good enough.
This isn't a recent conclusion.
Liverpool's last Champions League goal was scored before
Bonfire Night - more than six hours ago.
The Premiership goal drought has already been well
Liverpool are two-thirds of the way towards an outstanding
team, but that last fraction could be the most difficult to
But it wasn't all woe.
The classiest performance of the night came from the Kop.
Correctly condemned for the distasteful Alan Smith chants
recently, the level-headed, magnanimous fans led the way
Fabrizio Miccoli's acrobatic volley might have come like a
dagger to the heart of Liverpool's Champions League
ambitions, but it was met with instant and appreciative
Then the loudest rendition yet of You'll Never Walk Alone
was bellowed into the cold night air, closely followed by
Miracles, it seems, take the Reds boss about 10 months to
The impossible dream of the Premiership may take just a
Certainly not until a top quality strikeforce is assembled.
Finding hope, keeping faith
Sports View with Echo Sports Editor John Thompson
Heading into Anfield last night it was clear many fans
felt like they were attending a critical hospital
appointment with a loved one.
You knew all wasn't well. You knew the symptoms were deeply
worrying. But you hoped the test results would end with the
consultant giving up much better news than feared. And that
it would yet end in smiles with a massive sense of relief.
The trepidation was tangible, fuelled by natural and
statistical concerns Liverpool just don't have the quality
up front to get the goals they need.
But somehow the Kop managed to overcome their anxiety with
the rest of the faithful.
Struggling against their concerns, they still sang their
hearts out and did all they could to drive Liverpool on and
intimidate Benfica out of their stride. It didn't work this
But with hope gone and hearts aching, they ended the night
with an astonishing display of support and sportsman-ship
which no other club in this competition could ever match.
They lifted the players, pelting out the club's anthem. They
hailed the manager, even though, this time, his tactics and
team selection had not triumphed.
And, most impressively of all, they stayed to applaud
Benfica off the pitch, then exchanged good luck gestures and
scarves with the visitors.
Heartbroken they may have been, but they were utterly
dignified in defeat last night and a credit to the club and
So where to now for Liverpool?
The club and the fans should not and will not waste time
feeling sorry for themselves. Because there is nothing to be
sorry about - and too much work now to do at Anfield.
Istanbul was the most wonderful, incredible ride for the
Reds. But the reign is ending and a new era must now begin.
Of course today most fans will talk about a new dawn on the
pitch. There is a clear need for significant refreshing of
the team. And after what he saw and heard last night, it is
surely a challenge Benitez will be desperate to lead.
But there remain massive challenges behind the scenes too.
The club must find the cash to fund the future, and it
surely will not be long before Liverpool's board declare
their strategy on new ownership or investment and the plans
for a new stadium.
Many politicians and civil servants seem to believe
Liverpool have failed and the stadium plan is dead in the
water. Certainly some have done their best to place
obstacles in the way of Liverpool. Impatient others insist
Liverpool need to say something on their plans right now -
reminding them a deadline for a £9m Objective One grant is
looming at the end of this month.
Very kind of them to point it out. But Liverpool need no
such reminding and simply won't be bullied into issuing
statements until they are good and ready.
Anyone who believes all hope is lost on these matters is in
real danger of underestimating David Moores, Rick Parry and
the hierarchy of a unique football club which any manager in
the world would surely dream of running?
In their despair last night, the Liverpool fans bellowed
their belief and backing to the players and the manager.
They showed again that however bleak things look on that
pitch they will never let their spirits be crushed.
Today they should also keep their faith in those who take
care of matters
thanks the fans
"The crowd was superb and you can't ask for more than
this," said Alonso following defeat to Benfica.
"At 2-0 down they knew we were out of the Champions League,
but they were still singing and making us feel their
support. "It's been a disappointing night for Rafa but I
know he's really focused and committed to the club.
"He realises how passionate this crowd is and how much they
adore him. It would be impossible for him to find another
crowd like this.
"Our crowd is so special because they react as well when
we're feeling low as when we've had success.
"I'm not worried about the situation with Rafa and the
rumours. I know how he feels about the club."
Liverpool paid their price for failing to convert several
early chances, and now Alonso is hoping the FA Cup will
ensure the club wins some silverware this season.
He added: "The first 20 minutes we had a lot of good chances
to score. When they scored they put themselves in a really
"By the end it was impossible for us and we're really
disappointed. We wanted to repeat our triumph of last
season."We feel we have a better team than last season and
could have won it again, but in the knockout anything can
"It's like Charlton in that we created a lot of
opportunities but couldn't score the goal.
"We have to be worried about this. To win games, obviously,
you must score goals. This is something we'll have to
analyse and work on.
"Scoring is not just the exclusive job of the strikers. The
midfielders have responsibility, too.
"We have to look forward. We want to finish second and win
the FA Cup."
Liverpool exit will
heighten Benitez speculation
By Jeremy Butler - Reuters
Liverpool's shock defeat by Benfica has done more than
just knock them out of the Champions League.
The 2-0 loss at Anfield on Wednesday that put the holders
out 3-0 on aggregate will also raise fears that manager
Rafael Benitez could be tempted to leave the club.
Benitez has grown frustrated that he cannot match the likes
of Chelsea and Barcelona in the transfer market.
Benfica's crucial opening goal, furthermore, came from Simao
Sabrosa, a player Benitez tried to sign but could not
Real Madrid and Inter Milan are both widely reported to be
keen on capturing Benitez, who confirmed his managerial
credentials by winning the Champions League last season with
a Liverpool side strong on desire if not world class talent.
Benitez is forcing the issue by insisting Liverpool need to
spend more money to keep pace with Europe's leading clubs.
"We need to be stronger and think about the future. It will
be important to buy new players," the Spaniard told
reporters after Wednesday's defeat.
"We know we have to look for players. We have started now
and the scouts are looking."
Benitez's initial targets are a strong commanding defender
and a pacy right winger.
Liverpool's lack of cover in defence was exposed by Sami
Hyypia's absence on Wednesday. Stand-in Djimi Traore was
jittery and Jamie Carragher did not look as assured without
the huge Finn alongside him.
Dane Daniel Agger was signed from Brondby in the January
transfer window but is viewed as a player for the future.
Benitez, who could not afford to bring Michael Owen back to
Anfield last August, must also feel a free-scoring striker
is now his top priority after watching his forwards
continuously waste excellent chances in recent games.
They failed to find the net in their last four Champions
Between them Liverpool's forwards, including Fernando
Morientes and Djibril Cisse, have scored 23 times in 49
games this season, while midfielder Steven Gerrard has
managed 17 on his own.
Benitez refuses to criticise his front players despite their
obvious failings, saying: "It is not easy for the strikers.
We are creating chances. The strikers need to take them.
Maybe we need to create more chances."
Liverpool now only have the FA Cup to play for with Chelsea
17 points ahead of them at the top of the Premier League.
Liverpool are third, two points behind Manchester United.
However, anything less than Champions League qualification
for next season could leave Liverpool facing a fight to stop
Benitez improving his impressive reputation elsewhere.
bemoans striking difference
By Andy Clarke - Sky Sports
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admitted that his side had
paid the price for failing to take their chances as they
crashed out of the UEFA Champions League to Benfica.
The Portuguese champions struck twice on the break to secure
a 2-0 win at Anfield and a 3-0 aggregate victory to book
their place in the quarter finals.
Benitez, who led Liverpool to their fifth success in the
competition 10 months ago, felt there was not much to choose
between the teams, except perhaps the quality of their
"If you analyse the game you can see the chances we created
in the first 20 minutes," Benitez told Sky Sports.
"Then we conceded the goal, and we leave more space. In the
second half we played with three defenders to try to go
forward, and they played good counter-attack. For me, the
key was the first 20 minutes.
"I had confidence because we were creating chances; then we
made a mistake, and everything changed.
"We had to score a goal before the other team - and if we
didn't it would be more difficult."
Liverpool missed a number of good opportunities before Simao
Sabrosa's brilliant opener for Benfica, with Peter Crouch
squandering the best of them.
Nevertheless, Benitez insisted his whole team has to take
responsibility for their exit, not just the strikers.
"What happened was clear. We started well, made chances and
then made a bad mistake and conceded a goal. From then on
the game changed," he said.
"But I will not blame my strikers. Mistakes were made at the
back, and that is why we lost.
"Once we had conceded that first-half goal, we tried to come
forward but left gaps and failed to control midfield.
"For the first 20 minutes we were better than them - but
when the goals didn't come Benfica improved and played very
"I had great confidence in my side and I know how much they
wanted to retain the trophy. You could look at their faces
beforehand and know they also believed they could win this
time - but their faces now show their hurt.
"I told them that they had the best fans in the world behind
them and they owed them a top-class performance.
"I cannot criticise their effort - and I will not criticise
individual players, because mistakes were made by the team."
We rode our luck
By Andy Clarke - Sky Sports
Benfica coach Ronald Koeman felt his side rode their luck
as they won 2-0 against Liverpool at Anfield to move into
the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.
The Portuguese champions scored through Simao Sabrosa and
Fabrizio Miccoli to oust the holders, after Liverpool had
missed a string of good goalscoring opportunities.
That has been the story of Liverpool's year so far and
Koeman believes the Premiership club's troubles are down to
a mental problem.
Koeman said: "In the first 30 minutes they played well and
had two or three big chances to score - but after that they
were less confident.
"We scored the goal from Simao and we played better. In the
second half they tried again - but they did not have the
opportunities they had in the first half.
"We needed to be lucky. If you are not lucky you cannot beat
a team like Liverpool.
"Not only today, but they have a problem to score - maybe it
is a mental problem."
Benfica have already knocked out Manchester United in the
group stages and Koeman believes his side's latest success
will alert their rivals in the quarter finals to their
"We can still surprise big teams - but maybe after today the
rest of the teams will be more attentive of Benfica," said
the former Holland international.
Gerrard: Confidence is low
By Andy Clarke - Sky Sports
Captain Steven Gerrard revealed that Liverpool's lack of
confidence in front of goal was the chief cause of their
early exit from the UEFA Champions League.
The defending champions were beaten 2-0 by Benfica at
Anfield, to complete a 3-0 aggregate victory for the Lisbon
Gerrard praised the efforts of The Reds' supporters who got
behind the team as they looked to overturn the 1-0 deficit
from the first leg a fortnight ago.
But as chances came and went in the early stages, Liverpool
began to look more and more edgy in front of goal, and they
were left with a mountain to climb when Simao Sabrosa put
the visitors ahead in the 36th minute.
"The fans were superb tonight and got behind us - but when
you are 1-0 down it is important to get a goal," Gerrard
told Sky Sports.
"We created two or three chances in the first 20 minutes -
and when they don't go in and they score you start to worry.
"Good luck to them, but it is very frustrating. We never
took our chances - we could not put them away.
"It is a lack of confidence, and I think we need to work on
it - extra shooting sessions in training, I think.
"We need to pick ourselves up. The FA cup becomes even more
important now; we need a trophy."
BBC Sport Online
Liverpool's dream of retaining their European crown was
ended with a frustrating defeat at home to Benfica.
The Merseysiders had early chances to overturn their 1-0
first-leg deficit, with Peter Crouch, Jamie Carragher and
Luis Garcia the most guilty.
They were made to pay when Carragher dithered and ex-Reds
target Sabrosa Simao produced a stunning strike.
Fabrizio Miccoli completed Liverpool's misery when he
grabbed a second in the dying minutes with an overhead kick.
It was always likely to be a tough task after their failure
to score in Portugal.
And it was made even harder when John Arne Riise and Sami
Hyypia were ruled out through injury.
But Liverpool started brightly with Rafael Benitez's
decision to opt for the combination of Fernando Morientes
and Peter Crouch up front paying dividends.
The pair's aerial dominance helped the Reds to regularly
carve a fragile Benfica backline apart.
After 10 minutes Crouch's shot took a deflection off Cleber
Beraldo Anderson on to the outside of the post with Benfica
keeper Marcelo Moretto well beaten.
From the corner Garcia's volley was cleared off the line and
Carragher produced a defender's finish in firing the rebound
into the side netting from just a few yards out.
With goals needed Liverpool seemed determined to cast aside
their usual cautious approach, with Steve Finnan bursting
into box but with the goal at his mercy Anderson charged his
Garcia wasted another chance when he took a long, diagonal
ball on his chest before exchanging passes with Morientes.
But with just the keeper to beat he blazed his shot wildly
over the bar.
Minutes later Steven Gerrard drove into the box and slipped
a perfect pass for Crouch but, after taking a good first
touch, he produced a poor finish straight at the keeper.
There was a huge let-off on the half-hour when Geovanni
controlled a difficult ball on his chest before firing in a
first-time effort that beat Jose Reina but came back into
play off the bar only for Simao to shoot at Reina.
Crouch had a decent shout for a penalty after being body
checked, but the referee instead opted to book him for
Liverpool had survived some nervous moments at the back,
with both Finnan and Djimi Traore almost being caught out.
And it proved to be third time unlucky when Carragher failed
to clear and it eventually fell to Simao who took one touch,
faked to shoot before unleashing an unstoppable drive into
the top corner.
Liverpool were almost given a helping hand when Beto almost
sliced the ball into the top corner from a bizarre attempt
at a clearance.
Carragher came close to making some amends for his earlier
error with a header that hit the outside of the post.
But Liverpool were unable to get a goal back before the
break so they found themselves in the same situation as last
season's final: needing three second-half goals.
Xabi Alonso almost got one back with a wonderfully struck
shot only for Moretto to produce a fine save.
The chances continued to come with Carragher heading over,
but even the introduction of Robbie Fowler failed to inspire
them to another famous European victory.
With Liverpool piling forward Benfica broke and Miccoli, who
was left completely unmarked in the box, scissor-kicked
Liverpool out of the Champions League at the second attempt.