shows why he
be in equation
By David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
In the words of the song, you don't know what you've got
Yes, Pepe Reina's calm, authoritative shot-stopping made a
welcome return to the Reds goalmouth at Vicarage Road on
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
But despite the stop-start nature of his Liverpool season,
he has also continued to prove the most regular supplier of
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
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
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
The answer to the equation on Saturday was simple. He used
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
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
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
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
"After that we won the league even though we were eight
points behind Real Madrid in January and we ended up eight
"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
"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
Liverpool face Chelsea at Anfield next week and Benitez is
looking to cut on the gap on Jose Mourinho's stuttering
"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
"We will have confidence and it will be difficult but it is
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
"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
"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
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. "
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
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
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
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.