Steven Gerrard had all the
answers on the pitch...
Steven Gerrard had all the answers on the pitch but
none off it when quizzed after Liverpool's Champions
League win at AK Graz tonight about his club and
international team-mate Michael Owen's Anfield future.
England striker Owen's selection for bench duties only
in the 2-0 final qualifying round first-leg win in
Austria increased speculation that he may be on the
verge of a big-money move to either Real Madrid or
A role as a non-playing substitute means Owen would not
be cup-tied in European competition should a high-flying
continental club want to buy him before the end of this
Rumours are therefore rife that Liverpool manager
Raphael Benitez deliberately kept his star striker out
of the action in order to protect his market value.
But neither the coach nor Gerrard - who scored both the
Reds' goals tonight - was willing or able to shed any
fresh light on the situation.
"No-one has said anything to me about Michael. We will
have to wait and see," Gerrard told five.
Benitez was marginally less forthcoming on the subject,
but both he and Gerrard were able to reflect more openly
on a victory which puts Liverpool on course to reach the
forthcoming group stage of the Champions League.
"It was a perfect result, but I would not say it was a
perfect performance," Gerrard conceded.
"We have to win these two legs, and this was an
important game. But we used it to get fit too. We have
had a good run-out and kept a clean sheet, so we are
Gerrard predicts much better to come, starting against
Tottenham in the first round of Barclays Premiership
fixtures on Saturday, as Benitez gets to know his new
"The manager asked us to play a bit deeper tonight
because we did not know much about their team," said the
"I would not say we fired on all cylinders - but we will
be raring to go against Tottenham this weekend now."
Cool Rafa refuses to join Owen media circus
By Paul Rogers - LFC Official Website
A happy Rafael Benitez watched his side get his new
reign as Liverpool boss off to a perfect start and then
refused to be drawn into the media circus currently
surrounding Michael Owen's future.
When the media quizzed the Liverpool boss after the
2-nil victory in Austria, only one thing was on their
mind - Michael Owen's future.
The straight-talking Liverpool boss was not about to
bite though and proved he's going to be one cool
customer this season when he shrugged off repeated
questions by simply stating: "When I decided the 11 who
would start the game, it was because I had confidence in
those players," Benitez claimed. "We have four good
forwards and today we played two of them."
Asked whether Owen's omission from the team was to
prevent him being cup tied for another European club,
Benitez simply said: "The reason Michael didn't play was
because Baros and Cisse did play. And they played well."
The media followed that statement with a question on
whether he thinks Owen will remain a Liverpool player.
"I can't predict the future. I'm only concentrating on
the present and our performance tonight, which was good.
At the moment Michael is one of our four forwards. I
understand why you ask the questions about him but, I'm
sorry, I don't want to say anything else," answered the
"I am pleased with the result because we knew this was
going to be a difficult game. GAK have played more
matches than us and we knew they would press us in
defence and midfield. Once we scored the first goal it
opened the game up and then the second one finished it
double in Rafa's perfect start
BBC Sport Online
Steven Gerrard's brace gave Liverpool a valuable lead
in their Champions League qualifying first leg - Rafael
Benitez's first competitive game as manager.
Gerrard put his side ahead with a stunning first-half
strike from 25 yards and doubled the lead with another
sweet effort 12 minutes from time.
They were denied more goals, with Graz keeper Andreas
Schranz in fine form.
Michael Owen was left as an unused sub by Benitez with
speculation mounting over a possible switch to Real
The Reds started in lively fashion and Sami Hyypia's
bullet header from a Steve Finnan free-kick forced
Schranz to brilliantly tip over the bar.
Graz passed the ball around neatly but failed to create
any clear-cut chances, Jerzy Dudek comfortably claiming
a couple of long crosses pumped into the box.
But Liverpool carried a cutting edge and an inch-perfect
Gerrard pass sent Milan Baros through, only for the
Czech to be denied by a brilliant Schranz stop.
Midway through the half Gerrard's genius gave Liverpool
the lead, the England midfielder latching onto a loose
ball to lash into the top corner from 25 yards.
Baros and Djibril Cisse then created chances for each
other, first the Frenchman narrowly failing to convert a
right-wing cross-shot, before Baros headed over from
eight yards after Cisse's flick header.
Time after time Liverpool looked like opening up the
Graz defence, and Harry Kewell's left-wing cross was
only just ahead of the despairing Cisse before Dietmar
Hamman's piledriver was well-gathered by Schranz.
The second half brought more of the same from Liverpool,
Cisse holding off the last defender before testing
Schranz with a well-struck low drive.
Finally Graz created a chance of their own, Roland
Kollmann latching onto a left-wing cross only to head
back across Dudek's goal and wide of the post.
Normal service was soon resumed as Hyypia headed a
corner goalwards only for Schranz to make another flying
Gerrard thought he had doubled Liverpool's advantage
with another scintillating strike from outside the box,
but it was somewhat harshly ruled out for a foul in the
area by Cisse.
But the magnificent Gerrard was not to be denied a
second, crashing home on the half-volley past a stranded
Schranz after more good approach play from the