After The Match 


Watford-Liverpool 0-3 (0-2)        13.1.07                            PL
Goals: Bellamy (34), Crouch (40 & 48)
Team: Reina, Agger, Hyypia, Carragher, Finnan, Alonso, Gerrard, Aurelio, Crouch, Bellamy, Kuyt
Subs: Pennant (Crouch 69), Riise (Kuyt 77), Fowler (Bellamy 84)
Not used: Dudek, Guthrie
Yellow: None
Red: None
Referee: M Clattenburg
Attendance: 19,746
Shots on target: 3-11
Shots off target: 4-8
Blocked shots: 1-3
Possession: 38-62
Fouls conceded: 9-10
Corners: 3-12
Offsides: 5-4
Yellow: 0-0
Red: 0-0
HEADLINES "I am convinced
this team
is more consistent now..."

    Rafael Benitez

1501: Crouch shows why he should be in equation
1401: Rafa: Anfield pressure is nothing
1301: Rafa aiming to catch Chelsea
1301: Boothroyd: We choked
1301: Reds crush sorry Hornets  


Crouch shows why he
should be in equation

By David Prentice - Liverpool Echo

In the words of the song, you don't know what you've got til
it's gone.

Yes, Pepe Reina's calm, authoritative shot-stopping made a welcome return to the Reds goalmouth at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

But it was at the other end of the field that perhaps the most significant return to form has been witnessed.

Peter Crouch has not been flavour of the month with his manager this season . . . that's the months of September, October, largely November and most definitely December.

But January and the New Year has brought a significant change of fortune for the big striker.

For one, he's already finished three matches.

That's only two more than he managed in the previous entire calendar year.

But despite the stop-start nature of his Liverpool season, he has also continued to prove the most regular supplier of goals.

Two more at Watford took his tally to 12, while his decisive challenge on the goalkeeper also created the opening for Craig Bellamy's goal.

And it reinforced the notion that Crouch has become the club's most reliable goal poacher.

Rafael Benitez splashed out on two strikers in the summer.

With his defence already seemingly watertight, he needed greater firepower to try and bridge the gap on the big-hitters at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.

Enter Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt.

If anyone had believed the answer may already lie within the club, it was more likely to be at the feet of a rejuvenated Robbie Fowler rather than with a player who had to wait until December to get off the mark last season - then managed only one more goal between January and mid-March.

All strikers score in flurries.

But this season Crouch's return has proved admirably consistent - despite his manager's apparent reluctance to use him.

Despite an opening burst of three goals in four starts, he was dropped to the bench as soon as Dirk Kuyt found his feet at his new club.

When Craig Bellamy turned his ankle, he came back in and scored regularly again.

But the 74th minute was the latest time he witnessed on the stadium clock for two entire months.

While Rotational Rafa won't let a forward finish the match if there's an opportunity to avoid an injury and save tired limbs, this appeared to be more dissatisfaction with the player than saving him for tests which may lie ahead.

You can make stats say many things, but in Crouch's case they simply underline his reliability in front of goal this season.

He has played around 1,705 minutes of football for Liverpool this season for his 12 goals.

That's 142 minutes per goal. Or around a goal every one and a half matches for those whose maths is as bad as mine.

That's a considerable strike-rate. The problem for the coach, of course, is that there are also arguments for the inclusion of Bellamy - raw pace, and Kuyt, hugely unselfish work-rate.

The answer to the equation on Saturday was simple. He used all three.

While Benitez's team selections are often more difficult to predict than eight score-draws, perhaps we should have seen this one coming.

Watford have scored only 12 goals in 20 games this season, so their goals threat is minimal.

And what limited threat they do pose is almost exclusively aerial, so why not throw in all three centre-halfs . . . and balance that up with three strikers at the other end?

It was a system which worked effectively - largely because Dirk Kuyt was unselfishly prepared to drop deep and let his strike-partners pick up the products of his running, and perhaps because Watford are deservedly rock-bottom of the Premiership.

Whether Rafa will be quite so expansive for the visit of this weekend's opponents - even in the absence of John Terry - is unlikely.

But there's little doubt that Peter Crouch has mounted a convincing argument for his inclusion.

Whether his manager is convinced, however, remains a different matter.

Rafa: Anfield pressure is nothing

By Tom Collomosse - PA Sport

Rafael Benitez claimed the pressure he is under at Liverpool is nothing compared to what he faced as manager of Valencia.

Despite Saturday's 3-0 win at Watford - the Reds' seventh in eight Barclays Premiership matches - the Spaniard's judgement has been called into question following the 6-3 home defeat by Arsenal in the Carling Cup, for which Benitez rested several key players.

But after watching his team remain eight points behind second-placed Chelsea ahead of next weekend's meeting with the champions at Anfield, Benitez insisted once more that he had made the right call against Arsenal.

"I think I am young as a manager but I have experience from being in bad situations. I always say that after a Sunday there is a Monday. You can learn from your situations and improve," Benitez said.

"When I was at Valencia, people were saying I would be in trouble if we lost a game away at Espanyol - even though we had just set a club record of going 13 games in a row without losing.

"After that we won the league even though we were eight points behind Real Madrid in January and we ended up eight points ahead.

"In the second year, people said that I would be sacked because we didn't have good enough players and yet we still reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

"The year after people were saying that if we didn't win the league and the UEFA Cup, then I would be sacked.

"You need to have confidence in your players, your staff and everyone to gain success."

Forward Peter Crouch, who scored twice at Vicarage Road, admitted that Liverpool need to improve their performances against the Premiership's strongest sides if they are to challenge seriously for the title in the near future.

Benitez's men have tasted defeat against Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in the league this term, and Crouch knows Liverpool need to show they can match those clubs.

The England international said: "It is certainly something we need to improve, because our form against sides below us has been good.

"We haven't slipped up too often in those matches, but against the big teams it has been frustrating.

"I can't put my finger on why but it is something we need to address.

"Are Chelsea in turmoil? Not at all. They are still second in the league and have a great tally of points.

"They are still going to be a very difficult team to play and I certainly wouldn't say that.

"They will be angry with what has been said recently the same as we were today and they will want to go out there and get a result."

Rafa aiming to catch Chelsea

By Lewis Rutledge - Sky Sports

Rafa Benitez set his sights on catching Chelsea following Liverpool's 3-0 demolition of Watford.

The Reds were thumped 6-3 by Arsenal in the Carling Cup in midweek, but responded in style at Vicarage Road.

Craig Bellamy opened the scoring after 34 minutes and Peter Crouch scored either side of half-time to ensure Liverpool made a winning return to the Premiership.

And Benitez feels his team are now firmly focused on the Premiership after being dumped out of both the domestic cup competitions.

Liverpool face Chelsea at Anfield next week and Benitez is looking to cut on the gap on Jose Mourinho's stuttering side.

"I am convinced this team is more consistent now and is focused on the league," said Benitez.

"We have to play Chelsea and we will see if we can catch them.

"We will have confidence and it will be difficult but it is possible."

Boothroyd: We choked

By Lewis Rutledge - Sky Sports

Adrian Boothroyd accused his players of choking following Watford's 3-0 defeat to Liverpool.

Watford were comprehensively outplayed as goals from Craig Bellamy and Peter Crouch (two) secured a resounding victory for The Reds.

And Boothroyd was disappointed with his side's lack of fight.

"We do not have the technical players and we do not have the physical players in some departments, but we will have a go," he said.

"That is what we have done and why we are in this brilliant league.

"But today we have not competed, we let the occasion get to us. Some stopped working and started to choke. Too many of my players choked today.

"We never believed. If you don't believe you have no chance."

Much of the pre-match hype centred around Liverpool's 6-3 defeat to Arsenal in midweek and how they would respond, but Boothroyd was not surprised they turned in a strong display.

"I expected a backlash," he admitted.

"I felt they were fragile and we needed to impose ourselves. But we let them off the hook. "

Reds crush sorry Hornets

By Lewis Rutledge - Sky Sports

Peter Crouch and Craig Bellamy helped Liverpool erase the pain of their Carling Cup humiliation with a 3-0 hammering of Watford.

Crouch, Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt started together in attack for the first time as Rafa Benitez boldly decided to change Liverpool's formation, with three in defence and Steve Finnan and Fabio Aurelio as wing-backs.

Crouch was the only striker to receive much service in the early stages as Liverpool started the game sluggishly, but the result was never in doubt after the first goal and The Reds finished the game with a swagger.

Steven Gerrard smashed a 25-yard effort just wide of Ben Foster's right-hand post after six minutes, but it seemed an age before Liverpool found their rhythm and they had to rely on set-pieces to threaten early on.

Watford's defensive frailties were highlighted at free-kicks as Crouch was twice allowed to peel away to the back post to collect Gerrard's delivery, and on the second occasion he tested Foster with a low volley.

From the resultant corner Aurelio saw a goal rightly chalked out for offside as he turned in Finnan's mis-hit cross-shot, before Crouch headed straight at Foster from Finnan's cross moments later.

Watford only threatened sporadically but almost took the lead after 25 minutes as Hameur Bouazza sprinted in from the left and fired a shot inches wide of the post from just outside the area.

Liverpool broke the deadlock after 34 minutes as Crouch and Finnan combined to set up Bellamy. Crouch twice looked as though he had lost possession as he battled his way through towards goal, but his perseverance paid off as Foster rushed out and failed to gather the ball. It squirted out to Finnan and, with Foster stranded, he cleverly picked out Bellamy in the six-yard box to give him the simplest of tap-ins.

Tommy Smith had a glorious opportunity to equalise for Watford as he was played in to the penalty area down the right, but he showed no composure as Reina approached and his shot across goal was so far wide of the mark it trickled out to hit the corner flag.

Watford were punished for Smith's miss as they found themselves 2-0 down after 40 minutes. Kuyt's header released Bellamy and, although the Welshman's strike was brilliantly parried by Foster, the ball bounced into Crouch's path and he headed into an empty net.

As the second half got underway Adrian Boothroyd brought Will Hoskins on for his Watford debut and Ashley Young quickly forced a fine save out of Jose Reina with a long-range drive.

However, any fleeting hopes Watford had of staging a comeback were snuffed out after 48 minutes as Crouch grabbed his second and Liverpool's third.

Aurelio fed Bellamy down the left and he was given time to cut the ball across goal to the unmarked Crouch 12 yards out. Full of confidence, the giant forward slotted his first-time shot coolly into the bottom left corner.

With Liverpool in full flow and the Watford backline in tatters a goal looked likely every time The Reds broke forward, but Gerrard squandered a glorious opening as he blazed high and wide from inside the area.

Crouch was denied his hat-trick by a fine stop from Foster before being replaced by Jermaine Pennant after 69 minutes.

To their credit Watford continued to play positively, and Jordan Stewart's dipping half-volley from almost 30 yards was only kept out by the angle of post and crossbar.

Bouazza also came close to restoring some pride to the scoreline as his powerful free-kick was well held by Reina, and Watford saw a bit more of the ball in the closing stages as Liverpool took their foot off the gas.

Liverpool remained in control until the final whistle though and Bellamy, John Arne Riise and Aurelio all tried to pile more misery on Watford late on.

They had to settle for 3-0, a more than accurate reflection of their dominance, and Benitez will have been relieved to see his side return to winning ways.

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Thor Zakariassen