Liverpool hopes on a wing and a prayer
By Mark Lawrenson - Daily Post
Middlesbrough away has been one of the more difficult
visits on Liverpool's fixture list recently, especially
last season when they put in a 'nothing' performance.
This time around they dominated with an excellent
performance and deserved to win 2-0 or 3-0 at least.
Rafael Benitez's preferred system worked almost to
perfection and Steven Gerrard had maybe seven chances
that on another day would have gone in.
As good as it was though, I think they should have had
three points, not one.
Just look at Chelsea - they could easily have lost at
Wigan, but they managed to win. Just look at Arsenal.
Newcastle held them out for most of the match, but they
manage to find a way to take all the points.
One area where I feel they still have the edge is in
width, which is where Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise
or Stephen Warnock must stand up and be counted more
than they have done to date.
Benitez's system - 4-2-3-1 can mean a lot of the play
comes down the middle at times, which is probably why he
is so keen for a right-sided midfielder.
At Chelsea they have Damien Duff, Arjen Robben, Shaun
Wright Phillips and Joe Cole. Manchester United have
Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo and Park Ji Sung. Arsenal
have Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires, with Ashley
Cole and Lauren bombing on from fullback.
If the likes of Bolo Zenden and Luis Garcia tuck in for
Liverpool, Finnan and Riise or Warnock have to get past
them, but it is a skill Liverpool have yet to master to
its full effect.
That is still the subtle difference between those clubs
and Liverpool, and over the Premiership season that will
add up to a few points at least.
Still, given that away from Anfield was his team's
Achilles heel last season, I am sure I was not the only
person to see the improvement Benitez has made.
There was a confidence around much of Liverpool's play
that was partially a follow up to the Champions League
victory and partially something more.
What was it? I think it was the understanding they have
built up in pre-season which shone through in their
movement and appitite for the game.
And then there was Gerrard. In that role off the front
player - secure in the knowledge he has Xabi Alonso and
Momo Sissoko minding the shop - he is virtually
unstoppable at times.
A lot of his success comes from the positions where he
starts his runs. He is running off the back of midfield
players at centre-backs and full-backs who are trying to
jockey him, whereas he is going flat out.
That commits defenders - just ask Ugo Ehiogu, who could
not keep up with Gerrard and brought him down for the
That is where he is most effective, although given that
Benitez will not play 4-2-3-1 all the time, he may have
to settle for a more conventional midfield role in other
I think one of those will be against Sunderland in the
next match, who looked like they would struggle after
defeat against Charlton's 10 men.
Djibril Cisse should come back into the starting line-up
for that game, which I am looking forward to.
He could be a real star this season, given what I have
seen of him so far.
Mark Lawrenson was talking to NEIL MACDONALD
wins high praise from Zenden
By Ian Doyle - Daily Post
Boudewinj Zenden led the praise for Steven Gerrard
after the Liverpool midfielder's performance at the
Riverside on Saturday.
Gerrard could have had a hat-trick after carving out a
series of chances in the goalless draw with
And Zenden said: "Steven Gerrard is up there with Davids
and Seedorf; he is the engine of the team. He gets into
positions to score and then he has the attitude to get
the rest of us going.
"But we have got a lot of quality players. One day it is
one player on another day it is someone else. Steven is
one of the main characters. He is certainly one of the
best I have played alongside."
Zenden was making his Premiership debut at his former
club following his summer free transfer to Liverpool.
And he added: "It has been fantastic but what we are
trying to do is to gel it all together.
"Had we been a bit luckier, we would have walked away
with three points on Saturday.
"We can have a go at winning the title; I am not going
to throw the towel in. The main objective is to make
sure we qualify for the Champions League but we cannot
say that we are satisfied with fourth."
Zenden was jeered by the majority of home supporters,
and he conceded: "You have to be realistic; people
I had two fantastic years here and last year I was the
player of the year - as chosen by the fans.
"It is down to Keith Lamb (Boro chief executive) trying
to save his own face by blaming everything on me. He is
the one that made the decision last year and made it
very difficult for me to stay."
Middlesbrough midfielder George Boateng joined in the
praise for Gerrard and claimed Liverpool can close the
gap on champions Chelsea this seson.
"For me, Gerrard is probably one of the best English
players in the country, if not the best," he said..
"The guy is very gifted; he can run, he can shoot, he
can run the whole game.
"He has got skill, he has got pace, he is a powerful
runner. He is going to be to Liverpool what Paul Scholes
was to Manchester United.
"He is a great player and I would love to have him on my
Boateng added: "Liverpool have gone to another level
after they won the Champions League. It has given them a
great confidence boost and now it seems they really
believe in themselves and believe they can push on
"For me they are going to close the gap on Chelsea maybe
by a good 10-12 points. It's not that we played
negatively; it is because we were up against a good
McClaren: We were lucky
By Peter ORourke - Sky Sports
Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren admitted his side
rode their luck as they drew 0-0 with Liverpool.
The home side found themselves under pressure for most
of the game and they had to hold on for the point after
Ugo Ehiogu was sent off 16 minutes from time.
Steven Gerrard missed several clear openings and
McClaren admitted his team was lucky that the Liverpool
skipper did not take his chances.
"I think we were lucky," said McClaren.
"He has been scoring goals quite regularly in pre-season
and when he got a couple of chances, we rode our luck on
"But I think we deserved that luck. We got those breaks
but we worked hard enough for them. But he is an awesome
player. He was their best attacker and their best
defender. He was everywhere."
McClaren was delighted with his side's resilence
following the sending off.
"At the time, I was just relieved that it was not in the
penalty box and a sending-off and a penalty and 1-0 down
and probably losing the game," added McClaren.
"I have had that one before here, so I cannot really
"It is very important to get something from your first
game. It was always going to be a difficult one.
"You can gauge Liverpool's form because of the
competitive games they have played. They have scored 25
goals and conceded seven and won seven or eight, so we
knew Liverpool were in good form and we did not quite
know where we were.
"I was pleased we were ready. I do not think we would
have been able to perform like that, especially in the
last 20 minutes with 10 men if we were not ready."
over Boro draw
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez was in philosophical
mood after seeing skipper Steven Gerrard miss a
hat-trick of glorious chances to get his side's Barclays
Premiership campaign off to the perfect start at
The England midfielder fired over the bar after 22
minutes and went agonisingly close with two second-half
headers, the second of them in the final minute, as the
Teessiders wilted after having defender Ugo Ehiogu
Gerrard was head and shoulders the best player on the
field and was desperately unfortunate not to claim the
goal his performance so richly deserved.
And his manager could find little fault with his
"He scored seven goals in pre-season," he said. "Maybe
today he had four possibilities but two or three clear.
"Now we need to think about the next game away and do
similar things as today."
Benitez arrived at the Riverside Stadium with five men
across midfield and Fernando Morientes alone up front.
Although his side always looked the more likely winners,
it was not until Gerrard took the game by the scruff of
the neck after the break - assisted by the introduction
of Djibril Cisse and Milan Baros as well as Ehiogu's
untimely departure - they turned potential into chances.
Boro were rarely a threat, although substitute Mark
Viduka headed straight at keeper Jose Reina, who endured
an uncomfortable afternoon on Teesside, and the Reds'
boss was happy with a clean sheet.
"It was one of the things we were talking about, a clean
sheet," he said. "The team worked really hard in
"In the first half, we controlled the game. We did not
create a lot - there was a clear chance for Steven - but
we were controlling the game apart from some corners and
free-kicks which were not really dangerous.
"In the second half, we went forward, still working hard
in defence, with Milan and Cisse, different strikers,
and in the big picture, we have played a good game with
a clean sheet and a lot of opportunities.
"You can say that the players have done the right
Ten-man Boro thwart Reds
Steven Gerrard waged a one-man war on 10-man
Middlesbrough but Liverpool left Teesside with only a
0-0 draw to show for his efforts.
On another day, the England midfielder might have
claimed a hat-trick, but a combination of poor
finishing, solid goalkeeping and bad luck denied him the
decisive goal his individual display deserved.
Gerrard could have won it as early as the 22nd minute,
but fired over the bar from from close range, and he
then saw a looping header drop onto the roof of the net
with keeper Mark Schwarzer stranded after Ugo Ehiogu had
And with only seconds of the 90 minutes remaining, he
powered a header across the face of goal with Steve
McClaren's men wilting under the strain.
The Merseysiders always looked the more likely winners
despite under-achieving before the break, but with
Gerrard upping the tempo and substitute Djibril Cisse
adding fresh impetus, just how Boro survived was a
McClaren will feel it was a point well earned, but
opposite number Rafael Benitez headed back across the
Pennines wondering how he was doing so without all
Mark Schwarzer had one regulation save to make from
former team-mate Bolo Zenden in a tepid first half and
opposite number Jose Reina made his own difficulties by
flapping at a Stewart Downing corner and allowing Ehiogu
to send a deflected follow-up just wide.
Had Gerrard not wasted the best move of the opening 45
minutes when he fired high over from close range after
Fernando Morientes had perfectly headed down Xabi
Alonso's cross, the European champions would have been
well on their way.
Zenden was inevitably booed at every opportunity from
the moment he left the team coach but his invention was
clearly missing from a Boro side which included Gaizka
Mendieta for the first time since October last year
McClaren's assertion that he still needs two creative
midfielders - Sporting Lisbon's Roudolphe Douala and
Fabio Rochemback remain in the frame - was eloquently
illustrated, but in truth, despite Gerrard's probing,
there was little more on offer from the visitors.
Whether it was the sight of Cisse, Milan Baros and John
Arne Riise warming up on the sideline as the second half
got underway which spurred Liverpool on, they set about
their task after the break with some relish.
Morientes tested Schwarzer with a speculative effort,
but it was Gerrard who led the fight, sending two shots,
the second of them a well-executed long-range volley,
wide and forcing the Australian to pull off a smart
Cisse eventually arrived as a replacement for Luis
Garcia with 58 minutes gone. Mohamed Sissoko latched
onto a weak Ehiogu header and drilled a 63rd-minute shot
wide, but both managers moved to sharpen up their attack
after 67 minutes with Baros and Mark Viduka replacing
Morientes and Hasselbaink respectively.
Cisse was just unable to climb high enough to meet Sami
Hyypia's header back across goal after 71 minutes and
Viduka headed straight at Reina from a Downing corner
two minutes later, but the balance of the game was about
to change again.
Ehiogu was caught flat-footed when Baros played the ball
in behind him to Gerrard after 74 minutes, and when he
tripped the midfielder, referee Mark Halsey had little
option but to dismiss him.
Nemeth bravely blocked Cisse's shot from the resulting
free-kick, but when Jamie Carragher fed the ball into
the box, Gerrard beat the advancing Schwarzer to it but
headed onto the roof of the empty net.
The Reds bombarded their hosts as the clock ran down,
but despite mounting a sustained assault, could not find
the breakthrough with Gerrard powering a header across
the face of goal in the final minute of normal time.