Garcia in focus
after Reds's second goal. (Photo: AP)
Benitez proving the Real deal once again
By David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
There were loud clunks heard all around Seville on
Tuesday night. It was the noise of jaws hitting the
ground after Rafa Benitez had handed in his teamsheet.
But while some supporters grimly recalled the ghosts of
Burnley past, and others feared another Goodison derby
debacle, those sounds had turned to gulps . . . from
large portions of humble pie being swallowed.
The Reds' boss had shuffled his pack, cut the cards,
done that irritating trick with half-a-pack in each
hand, then mixed them up again - and still came up with
a winning hand.
But to label Benitez a gambler would be wrong.
That would be to under-estimate his encyclopaedic
knowledge of the Spanish game, the flaws he spotted in
Real Betis' line--up which allowed him to leave out
Steve Finnan, Steven Warnock, Djibril Cisse and, mind
numbingly, Steven Gerrard.
Benitez selected horses for courses. More than half of
his team had either been signed from, or had played
regularly, in La Liga. They were perfectly equipped to
deal with a hostile reception on a sweltering night in
The remaining players came in fresh and desperate to
make an early season impression.
Florent-Sinama Pongolle and Djimi Traore were two of
those beneficiaries - both criminally implicated in
Benitez's last wholesale shake-up at Burnley. Both
Pongolle was surely only included in Spain for the
nuisance value his pace and persistence offered? One
clinically lofted lob 88 seconds later suggested
And hadn't Djimi Traore spun an early end to his Anfield
career on the mud of Turf Moor? Not if subsequent
performances, or the superb sliding intervention to deny
Oliveira on Tuesday was anything to go by.
It is still far too early to make predictions over
Liverpool's season, especially with Manchester United
and Chelsea next up.
With the Londoners at Anfield again only five days after
their Champions League visit, expect some more
Just don't be too quick to criticise.
Benitez: Sinama can be
right man for Reds
By Chris Bascombe - Liverpool Echo
Florent Sinama-Pongolle hopes his midweek Champions
League performance has provided Liverpool with an answer
to their right sided problems.
The French youngster's claims to the role have the
backing of manager Rafa Benitez following his
goal-scoring return against Real Betis.
Sinama struck his first European goal since the famous
victory over Olympiakos in last season's competition,
and Benitez says the 20-year-old can expect to feature
in the role more in the months to come.
"We've been looking for different solutions on the right
hand side because we wanted to use Luis Garcia between
midfield and attack, where I feel he played very well on
Tuesday," said Benitez.
"Flo has the pace and intelligence to play there. He
gives us a good option. I remember he played in the
position very well against Arsenal last season. He
played really well that day, as well as in the first
half on Tuesday.
"There is an opportunity for him to learn the position."
For Sinama, Tuesday's goal was particularly special as
it was his first senior start and goal since recovering
from cruciate knee surgery.
"It's the first time I've started a game in the
Champions League during my career so I was very happy to
score," said Sinama.
"The manager told me he needed someone to play wide and
I've told him this is a job I want to learn if it means
I'll be in the team.
"I'm comfortable there because you get a chance to go
one against one with the defender and I feel I can do
well. I can cross and get opportunities to score.
"Maybe I'm the solution for the right side, but that's
for the manager to decide.
"My last goal in the Champions League was against
Olympiakos, so after such a long injury it means a lot
for me to play and score."
happy with rotation policy
Steven Gerrard has confirmed he is fully supportive
of manager Rafael Benitez's policy to rest him as
There was shock when the Anfield skipper was left on the
bench for Liverpool's Champions League clash with Real
Gerrard only played the last 19 minutes as Betis were
battling to recover from the visitors' early two-goal
salvo, his involvement ensuring the European Cup holders
clung on to a critical 2-1 victory in Group G.
The win also further improved Liverpool's remarkable
away record in Europe which now stands at only three
defeats in their last 22 matches, with 13 of those being
Benitez claimed Gerrard was tired and vowed to carefully
control the amount of matches the England midfielder
plays in what could be a demanding season which could
see the 25-year-old playing in more than 70 games for
club and country.
"After my calf injury I hadn't had much training and I
was really tired after the two England games in such a
short space of time," Gerrard admitted.
"I think the idea was to use all of the squad, and I
have no problem with that. It is not about me, we have
got a big squad of fantastic players and I think you
will see the manager use them throughout the season."
In fact, despite fears Gerrard could be overused this
term, Benitez has been quietly exercising his own
control over the situation, starting from the very first
friendly on July 9.
Since then Gerrard has been involved in 17 matches but
has only completed 90 minutes on four occasions.
He has been substituted in the second half of games 10
times, missed two through injury and played only the
first half of one of Liverpool's three friendlies.
Gerrard also got a two-week rest when he picked up the
calf injury which ruled him out of two Liverpool matches
in Europe - including the Super Cup - and meant he had a
fortnight of inactivity before England's two recent
World Cup matches.
Benitez said: "Of course some of the players don't like
not playing, I expect that, but there is no way they can
play in every match, it is not possible.
"And they do understand the reasons. We have got more
players now even if we still have some of our original
problems over cover in certain areas.
"It is not possible to play every game. We have a bigger
squad now, and I believe we have a much better squad
than we did when we started last season. Everybody will
be used and players will be given breaks."
Dietmar Hamann, Djibril Cisse, Stephen Warnock, Steve
Finnan and John Arne Riise were all treated in the same
way as Gerrard in Seville. Of those five, only Hamann
had not been involved in a fortnight of tiring World Cup
activity for their countries.
And Benitez will continue with his plans to rest star
men regardless of whether the players like it or not. He
added: "I will make decisions for the benefit of the
Slick Reds had
By Tommy Smith - Liverpool Echo
There were times when they had us on the edge of our
seats again last night, but what an excellent result for
Liverpool in Spain.
Any away game is tricky, so you are looking to settle
quickly and try to take control.
Rafa Benitez's side did just that. They had a purpose
about them from the start as they looked to make an
impressive start to their Champions League defence.
But by making such a dream start with two goals in the
first quarter they dominated to such an extent that Real
Betis were rocking.
I was surprised at the manager's team selection,
especially with Steven Gerrard, John Arne Riise and
Djibril Cisse on the bench.
But you couldn't argue with it during a first 45 minutes
in which Florent Sinama Pongolle gave his team and
himself a terrific confidence boost with his early
strike, followed by the now familiar Luis Garcia goal -
and didn't he take it well!
Both strikes proved a real injection of adrenalin and it
allowed the Reds to dictate in midfield and silence the
home fans, who didn't have a great deal to cheer from
their shell-shocked side.
The second half was totally different, though.
Instead of trying to push on to score a third and kill
the game off, the Reds seemed to sit back and allow the
Spaniards space to attack them - and they did just that.
Betis looked a far different proposition in the second
half, scored a goal that could have been prevented, and
then put some tremendous pressure on the visitors'
It was all hands to the pump as the Reds fought to
protect their lead. One or two free kicks may have
caused problems, but Pepe Reina dealt with them
adequately, while the main danger came from the flanks.
That highlighted what the Reds are missing at the moment
- and what the boss will be hoping to rectify come
January - because with all the pressure on them they
needed an outlet in the second period to create a threat
for the Reds, who rarely troubled the home keeper during
that hectic second half.
But Rafa's boys held firm and deserved the points.
Peter Crouch gave a good display up front, being able to
hold the ball up and lay it off, while Momo Sissoko was
His ability to break up attacks and tackle effectively
was the main reason the team was so dominant in the
first half, and he looks to be a terrific asset.
Gerrard and Risse brought more of a solidity to the
midfield when they came on as late replacements but, if
there was one criticism, it was that the Reds did not
show that killer touch to finish it off rather than
endure some frantic moments.
Nevertheless, a brilliant start.
Rafa: We're off
to a good start
By Steve Hunter in Seville - LFC Official Website
Rafael Benitez watched his side kick off the defence
of their Champions League with a win and declared :
"We're off to a good start."
Early strikes from Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Luis
Garcia gave the Reds a dream start, but when Arzu pulled
one back for the home side six minutes into the second
period Liverpool were made to work hard for their
Benitez said: "I think we have done a good job tonight
and we did well to win the game.
"Betis are a good side and we knew it would be
difficult, but we had a clear idea about what we wanted
to do and we did well, especially in the first half.
"We controlled the match in the first period and scored
two good goals. After the break we had more problems
because Betis scored too soon. I would say we dominated
the first period and they controlled the second.
"But in football you have to score goals to win games
and we managed to get one more than they did."
Benitez also revealed why he made wholesale changes to
his side for this game, including the decision to leave
both Steven Gerrard and Djibril Cisse on the bench.
He added: "We had a few tired players and so I decided
to make some changes. We have a big squad and so I can
bring different players in if I think it's necessary.
"We've another big game in the Premier League at the
weekend and some of the players who started tonight on
the bench could well come back for that game."
Liverpool's dream start
By Simon Baskett - Reuters
European champions Liverpool began the defence of
their crown with an authoritative 2-1 win away to
debutants Real Betis in their opening Group G match on
The Merseysiders, who had to come through three
qualifying rounds to earn the right to defend the trophy
they won in dramatic fashion against AC Milan last
season, stunned the Spaniards with two quick-fire goals
in the first 14 minutes.
French striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle opened with a
delightful lob just two minutes into the game and
Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia squeezed a first-time
shot in at the near post to make it 2-0 before Betis had
time to react.
King's Cup winners Betis finally found their rhythm
towards the end of the first half and pulled a goal back
when midfielder Arzu steered the ball past keeper Pepe
Reina six minutes after the break, but Liverpool
weathered the storm to hold on for an important away
"We began really well and started controlling the game
with good counter attacks and scored two quick goals.
After that, we tried to keep the ball but it was
difficult," said Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.
"We controlled the tempo in the first half but after we
conceded the goal it was difficult."
Benitez sprang a surprise by leaving inspirational
captain Steven Gerrard on the bench and deciding to play
Sinama-Pongolle in preference to Djibril Cisse alongside
Peter Crouch up front.
However, Benitez's selection gamble paid off immediately
when Sinama-Pongolle put his side ahead with less than
two minutes on the clock.
The Frenchman received the ball on the edge of the area,
looked up to see Toni Doblas off his line and lobbed the
ball over the Betis keeper and inside the far post.
Betis almost manufactured an equaliser five minutes
later when winger Joaquin found Fernando with a through
ball but the striker took too long over his shot and was
closed down by Djimi Traore and Reina.
The 50,000 Betis fans who had come to roar on their
side's first participation in Europe's elite club
competition were momentarily silenced, though, when one
of Liverpool's Spanish exiles Garcia made it 2-0 in the
The former Barcelona player drilled in at the near post
from 15 metres out after Boudewijn Zenden had cut a fine
pass into his path from the left.
Betis appeared stunned by the double set-back and
struggled to cope with Liverpool's high pressure play in
It was not until midway through the half that they
managed a response with a sharp shot from Ricardo
Oliveira, but the Brazilian's effort was blocked
brilliantly by Reina.
The Liverpool keeper, who had an outstanding match,
frustrated Betis once again when he snapped the ball off
the feet of Juanito on the goal line a few minutes
Betis eventually found their rhythm towards the end of
the first half and put Benitez's side under intense
pressure just before the break.
Reina produced another great reflex save to fend away a
firm shot from defender Fernando Varela and midfielder
Arzu was denied by the woodwork when he saw his dipping
drive hit the top of the bar.
The Andalucians finally got the reward for their
pressure when Arzu pulled a goal back six minutes into
the second half after live-wire substitute Dani had
threaded a pass through the Liverpool back four.
The goal gave Betis a new lease of life and they
proceeded to surge forward in search of an equaliser,
but Liverpool held firm to inflict a second home defeat
in 15 European games for the Primera Liga side.