Going on the attack with
Aquilani paid off for Benitez
Comment by Ian Rush - Liverpool Echo
Monday night’s impressive demolition of
Portsmouth at Anfield was the ideal start to a crucial week
It was so pleasing to see us play the kind of attacking
football that has been lacking in recent months.
It’s easy to dismiss it as being ‘only’ Portsmouth, but they
are FA Cup semi-finalists and can be dangerous on their day
as we discovered at Fratton Park back in December.
Too often this season we’ve failed to show our quality
against inferior opposition but we stamped our authority on
the game from the start against Avram Grant’s side.
Crucially, the tempo was fast. Our passing was a lot quicker
than it has been and the movement was a lot better. That
caused Portsmouth a lot of problems.
We showed a lot more going forward than we have done of late
and I was really impressed with the amount of chances we
We scored four but with a bit more luck in front of goal we
could have doubled that.
It was a vast improvement after the disappointing
back-to-back defeats to Wigan and Lille.
Sometimes this season we’ve been a bit too cautious but
Monday night was a return to the way we all love to see
It’s a different game when you play the likes of Manchester
United or Chelsea, but against other teams the onus is on
Liverpool to chase the game and we did that.
It was a special night for Alberto Aquilani, who scored his
first goal for the Reds in front of the Kop.
The Italian has had a tough first season with the Reds
following his move from Roma, but he will be relieved to be
off the mark and he deserved his goal because he performed
Aquilani got his chance in place of Lucas in midfield and it
worked well with Javier Mascherano alongside him.
There’s no doubt the balance of the side was right for that
His passing was good and he was always looking to move the
ball forward when too often in recent matches it’s gone
Yes, Portsmouth gave Aquilani the space in which to play but
you still have to make the most of it. His match fitness is
getting better and Monday will do his confidence the world
We are yet to see the best of Aquilani so let’s hope he can
really push on from here and help ensure we finish the
It’s a massive few days for the club with the game against
Lille in the Europa League at Anfield tomorrow night
followed by Sunday’s game at Manchester United.
They will be tougher than Portsmouth but at least we’re
going into those crucial games on a high and with key
players getting back to top form.
FA take no
action against Gerrard
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard will not
face action from the FA following his clash with Portsmouth
midfielder Michael Brown on Monday night.
It is understood the FA sought clarification from referee
Stuart Attwell after Gerrard appeared to catch Brown with
his forearm during the 4-1 win for Rafael Benitez's men at
Attwell saw the incident at the time and spoke to Gerrard
after awarding Pompey a free-kick, with the FA following
guidelines not to punish players retrospectively if the
match official sees the alleged offence.
Gerrard escaped punishment from the FA last week after
apparently making a two-fingered gesture to referee Andre
Marriner during Liverpool's 1-0 defeat away to Wigan.
Against Pompey, Benitez replaced his 29-year-old captain
with Yossi Benayoun immediately after the incident with
Brown, with victory a formality by that stage.
Victory against the Premier League's bottom side meant
Liverpool bounced back from back-to-back defeats, against
Wigan and Lille in the Europa League, with the return leg
against the French side on Thursday.
"We knew that it was a must-win game," said goalkeeper Jose
"Fortunately we did it and performed really well. Hopefully
we can do it again on Thursday.
"When the team is playing well, we can score at any time.
For this 10 minutes (against Pompey), we were incredible."
wants Anfield stay
By Jamie Casey - Sky Sports
Liverpool winger Ryan Babel is delighted
to have earned a run in the side and insists his future
belongs at Anfield.
Babel scored in the Reds' 4-1 win over Portsmouth on Monday
night in what was his fourth start in six consecutive games
in Rafa Benitez's side.
After early promise in a Reds shirt following his arrival
from Ajax in 2007, the Dutchman has struggled to establish
himself at Anfield since last season.
Speculation linking the 23-year-old with a return to his
homeland mounts each transfer window, but Babel now has
fresh hopes of a bright future at Liverpool.
"I was always happy at Liverpool," Babel told the club's
"Slowly I'm feeling stronger. Hopefully now I can continue
to get stronger. With every game you'll start to see the
best of me.
"Obviously you're always frustrated when you can't show
people what you can do - but that's not just me, that's
"But that's the past and now I want to go forward here at
Liverpool," added Babel, who has scored twice since his
recent return to Benitez's first team.
The comfortable Anfield win over Pompey was the perfect
response to back-to-back 1-0 defeats away from home to Wigan
and French side Lille respectively.
Babel believes an early breakthrough against Avram Grant's
side was key to their comfort, and he is hoping the Reds can
take confidence from their performance into their next two
games against Lille and Manchester United.
"These three points are very important but now this passion
and the way we played in defence and attack is the basis of
how we have to play in the remaining games," added Babel.
"I think we had a point to prove in terms of getting a
result. I don't think the performance at Lille was as bad as
some people think but here we definitely showed character
and passion, and hopefully we can now look forward.
"If you can score an early goal then the confidence raises
straight away. Then when a second comes everyone in the team
feels confident and can play in a more relaxed way.
"It would definitely be nice to win at Old Trafford like
last year but, first of all, hopefully Thursday will be good
and then we'll go to Old Trafford full of confidence."
Eye-catching Liverpool FC display
raises Anfield spirits against Portsmouth
Comment by David Randles - Liverpool Echo
Before a sombre mood was lifted by one of
the outstanding performances of the season, a banner in the
Anfield Road said it all.
Held between an obliging visiting fan and a concerned local
in the home section, the message was simple.
‘Leeds Pompey Liverpool?’
The question mark provided a teaser for Reds supporters that
doesn’t bear thinking about.
At the other end of the ground another one read ‘Liverpool
FC Built by Shanks Broke by Yanks’.
The warnings took on extra meaning as the financially
stricken Pompey limped into town.
If the result wasn’t so important for Liverpool last night,
it would have been easy to get immersed in the gloom that
has enveloped Portsmouth.
After becoming the first Premier League club to enter
administration, a nine-point deduction now hangs
precariously over them.
With most of their crown jewels auctioned off to the highest
bidders, reality hit home with the loss of 85 jobs at the
club this week.
Compared to Portsmouth, Liverpool’s ills are superficial.
But like any ailment that goes unchecked for too long, the
threat of what some deem as potentially terminal continues
to lurk in the background.
While Liverpool and Portsmouth are two very different
animals, the mismanagement at Fratton Park should provide a
watershed for those living beyond their means.
Three years ago it was inconceivable for a club of
Liverpool’s heritage and stature to go the same way.
But that was under another regime in what now appears an age
News of interest from US private equity firm, Rhone Group,
this week will be welcomed by those handing out the ‘Debt
Lies & Cowboys’ leaflets around the ground before kick-off.
Liverpool are likely to attract the kind of investment
Portsmouth can only dream of.
With debts getting on for four times the amount that is
threatening to send the south coast club under, it’s a good
Top-flight football, we are told, is now all about the
brand. Despite a season that has gone from bad to worse,
Liverpool’s appeal is still up there with the best, although
a lowest league gate at Anfield for five years hinted at
shifting sands last night.
A change of time and date for, what else, but TV had its
part to play, as have recent performances.
But if Liverpool can start to reproduce with any regularity
the kind of eye-catching football that rendered this game
over as a contest before half-time, the 4,000 or so empty
seats will prove only a temporary setback.
If Rafa Benitez didn’t quite get the response requested in
Lille following the debacle that was Wigan a week earlier,
he got it against Portsmouth.
Some will attribute the free-flowing football to the
inclusion of Alberto Aquilani from the start.
Others may point to Fernando Torres’ best performance for
While Aquilani finally showed more than just glimpses of why
Benitez made such a sizeable outlay on him last summer,
Torres was involved in each of Liverpool’s four goals.
Gone was the frustration on show in recent games, a sight
almost as pleasing as the Spaniard finding the back of the
Of course, you can only beat what is put in front of you and
Portsmouth were poor. How they beat Liverpool in December is
But such has been the nature of this season that you could
say the same for most of the Reds’ nine league defeats.
Where Liverpool have been woefully short of the standards
set at this stage last year when the prospect of a first
league title in 19 years was still in the offing, last night
should be used to draw a line drawn in the sand.
The win edged Liverpool a point ahead of Manchester City
into fifth place, albeit having played two more games than
the Premier League’s newest billionaires.
That leaves the Reds with eight more matches to try and beat
off competition from City, Tottenham and Aston Villa for the
fourth and final Champions League place.
After being given no hope at all after the 1-0 defeat at the
DW Stadium seven days earlier, the demolition of Portsmouth
suggests there is fight in the old dog yet.
What a difference a week makes.
Gerrard will escape rap
Rafael Benitez is confident Steven Gerrard
will escape retrospective action for a clash with Michael
Brown in Liverpool's win over Portsmouth.
Fernando Torres scored his 14th and 15th goals in the
Premier League this season with Ryan Babel and Alberto
Aquilani - registering his first goal for the Reds - also on
target before Nadir Belhadj's late consolation.
The 4-1 victory at Anfield was overshadowed slightly by
Gerrard's apparent forearm to the back of Brown's neck in
the second half, after which the Liverpool captain was
immediately substituted by Reds boss Benitez.
"I don't think so," said the Spaniard when asked if he was
worried about retrospective action against his captain.
"I haven't seen it but I was asking and I think it was
Benitez also played down the immediate substitution of
Gerrard, adding: "We were thinking of changing Torres, Glen
Johnson and Gerrard and we did it."
Only a week ago Gerrard found himself in a similar situation
for an alleged v-sign made at referee Andre Marriner in the
defeat at Wigan.
That went no further as the official said he had seen the
incident at the time and decided it did not warrant any
On Monday night, referee Stuart Attwell was very close to
the incident but took no action but it remains to be seen
whether he will be asked to look at it again by the Football
Portsmouth manager Avram Grant said he also did not see the
incident but felt Attwell should have spotted it.
"I didn't see it. I will speak with Michael Brown and then I
will tell you," he said.
"They told me the referee was four metres away from this so
I think the referee needs to see from four metres what I
didn't from 40 metres," he said.
"Personally I like Steven Gerrard. I think he is a good
player and a fair player."
Benitez was more happy to talk about his team's performance.
"It was a good game. We were trying to play well for the
fans and score goals," he added. "It was an important goal
in an important week.
"It was really good for Aquilani and really good for the
team. He has shown he has quality and he will have more
confidence and that is good.
"We have seen a lot of players playing well and that is good
for me because it gives me more (selection) problems."
Grant refused to lay the blame on goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown,
whose clearance straight to Gerrard set up Torres' first
"Jamie is a good goalkeeper. I will not speak about mistakes
because it is part of the game," he added.
"We started the game okay, we played how we wanted to play
and then came the first goal and we lost our shape and they
scored a second and third goal in seven minutes and the game
enjoy happy Monday
Liverpool turned a potential blue Monday
into a happy Monday as they swept Portsmouth aside 4-1 to
ease the woes at Anfield.
The Reds suffered Monday misery at Wigan seven days ago but
began a big week well with a comprehensive win over Pompey.
Monday night football has rarely suited Liverpool - they had
not opened the week with a win in their last nine attempts -
but they were seldom threatened by the Premier League's
Three goals in six first-half minutes - one each for
Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel to go with Alberto Aquilani's
first strike in English football - killed the game as a
contest and turned the second period into a virtual training
exercise for the home side.
Torres netted his second after 77 minutes as Liverpool
peppered Jamie Ashdown's goal before Nadir Belhadj bagged a
late consolation the visitors scarcely deserved.
Torres and Steven Gerrard were both substituted late on with
matches against Lille and Manchester United to come in the
next week, the Liverpool skipper going off just moments
after appearing to throw an arm at opposite number Michael
But Liverpool fans may prefer to dwell on the performance of
Aquilani who finally found a performance to justify his
£17million price tag.
The summer signing, brought in after Xabi Alonso's sale to
Real Madrid, has struggled to adapt to life in England but
was at the heart of everything in only his fifth Barclays
Premier League start.
After the defeat at Wigan, the Reds needed a positive start
and the intent was apparent from the off as Torres' run
towards the penalty area inside the first minute was halted
only by Marc Wilson's tug.
Having cranked up the pressure against the massed ranks of
Portsmouth's defence - with Torres and Gerrard both having
penalty shouts turned down - Liverpool eventually made the
breakthrough they were so desperate for in the 26th minute.
It was with more than a slice of good fortune, however, and
came courtesy of goalkeeper Ashdown, making only his fourth
appearance this season because of David James' calf injury.
Ashdown drilled Ricardo Rocha's back-pass straight at
Gerrard and the ball dropped to Maxi Rodriguez, who squared
for Torres to roll a shot into the empty net.
Two minutes later Glen Johnson's cross to the far post
dropped to Torres, who turned former Liverpool defender
Steve Finnan before slipping a pass inside for Babel to poke
In the 32nd minute the goal that all Anfield - and Aquilani
- had hoped for came when Gerrard played in Torres, who
crossed back for his captain to dummy and allow his
team-mate to fire home in front of the Kop.
Torres could have made it 4-0 in the 35th minute when he cut
in from the left to curl a right-foot shot beyond Ashdown
only to see it rebound back off the post. Gerrard fired wide
from Johnson's return ball.
Portsmouth were slow to return for the second half and it
was perhaps understandable as the barrage continued almost
In probably the best move of the match, the ball was worked
in from the right starting with Rodriguez and going through
Torres, Aquilani, Babel, and Aquilani again before Gerrard's
shot at the far post was charged down by Ashdown.
From the same move the Portsmouth goalkeeper's fingertip
save then tipped Babel's shot onto the crossbar and over.
Portsmouth threatened in the 55th minute when Brown's shot
was instinctively touched over by Jose Reina.
But it was only a brief respite as Rodriguez fired wide and
Johnson should have had a penalty when Belhadj brought down
the England international.
Gerrard departed in the 74th minute, having just been
involved in a clash with Brown in which the Reds captain
appeared to thrust an arm across his opponent's face, as
Yossi Benayoun came on.
Aquilani's dream night continued in the 77th minute when he
threaded a pass to Torres in the penalty area and he cut
back onto his right foot to blast a shot inside the near
The Spaniard, who has now scored 15 Premier League goals to
beat his tally of last season, was immediately replaced by
Torres, who looks to be returning to his lethal best having
been sidelined for five weeks after a knee operation, left
to a standing ovation.
Even a late goal from Belhadj, sidefooting in Frederic
Piquionne's volley across goal, could not spoil a
straightforward night for the hosts.