Rebuilding needed but Reds are smiling again
Analysis by David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
Gerard Houllier joined last season's farewell lap of
Anfield in charge of a team two points - and more
crucially one league place - better off than this
He was sacked a week later. But the mood at Anfield
yesterday was of optimism, not under-achievement; of
progress, not of regression and regret.
Amazing, the difference a Champions League Final can
Rafael Benitez sent out eight players at Anfield who
will arguably get no further than the substitutes' bench
in Istanbul next week - but that can still be a pretty
powerful motivational tool.
Djibril Cisse absolutely insisted on taking a 17th
minute penalty, ten minutes later Josemi was seen
careering down the right flank like some kind of
latter-day Carlos Alberto - and Harry Kewell very nearly
broke into a sweat. Well, it was a warm May afternoon.
The closing Premiership match of Benitez's first Anfield
season was all about the future - both the short and
Short term, Cisse couldn't have done much more to demand
inclusion from the start against Milan than score twice
in his first start since October.
His searing pace and greater aware-ness of the movement
of players around him also gave cause for Milan Baros to
shift uneasily in his seat in the dug-out.
Long-term, however, the shaky way in which an ordinary
Aston Villa side were let back into a match that had
looked over after half an hour underlined the rebuilding
work which is still necessary.
Liverpool's first choice XI is impressive. But scratch
beneath the surface and there is not much to enthuse
Liverpool ended their Premiership campaign with a 2-1
defeat of Aston Villa. The same Aston Villa side which
finished nine points down on last season's total and
were humiliated 5-1 at Tottenham recently. Yet who,
according to their oily manager, have "over-achieved"
The unconvincing 2-1 win simply meant Liverpool have
trod water in the Premiership this season. But
foundations have been laid, achievements in Europe have
pointed at more to come - and players of the quality of
Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia have joined the foundation
stones of the club who were already there, Steven
Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
Of that quartet, only Alonso and Carragher started
yesterday's game - an end of season canter which rarely
threatened to catch fire.
There were still some moments of interest, mind.
One of those curious football-ground rumours swept the
stadium before the game - a suggestion that the
wholescale team changes meant that skipper-forthe-day
Jamie Carragher was also on penalties.
Odds of 20/1 for a player who last scored a goal when
the Tories were in power, did little to diminish the
notion . . . which is presupposing that the bookies
weren't responsible for starting the rumour in the first
place, of course!
Of course, when Cisse was sent tumbling in the penalty
area with the game barely 17 minutes old, Carragher
stayed rooted to the halfway line while Cisse demanded
the penalty-taking responsibility.
Which shifted all of the focus onto the young Frenchman.
He finished confidently - "he shot properly" said
Benitez afterwards - and the manner in which he drove
Josemi's pull-back past Thomas Sorensen showed his
rehabilitation is almost complete. A couple of halfway
line sprints also suggested his pace could be a more
potent threat against the ageing Stam, Maldini and
company than Baros' bumper-car front-running antics.
Benitez was predictably deadpan afterwards.
"We now have two options rather than one," was as far as
he could be pushed afterwards on his forward planning
for Istanbul. His forward planning for next season,
however, will be undoubtedly more complex.
Liverpool came a Luke Moore header against the crossbar
away from finishing below Bolton in sixth - and losing
another £500,000 in Premiership place money. But the
Reds hung on, and can look forward with some optimism to
They will be underdogs in nine days' time with nothing
Then they can prepare for next season under a manager
who has learned an enormous amount about his club and
his squad - in what is effectively still his settling-
Anfield was in end of season mood yesterday. The
over-riding sensation is that this is just the start of
something. Like the song says, he's only just begun.
By Paul Higham - Sky Sports
Rafa Benitez was delighted to see Djibril Cisse back
on the scoresheet against Aston Villa.
French marksman Cisse bagged his first goals since
breaking his leg in October as he scored twice in
Liverpool's 2-1 win over Villa at Anfield.
Cisse's return to fitness has been remarkable
considering the extent of his injury, but he looked
sharp in The Reds' final Premiership game of the season.
Benitez says that it was good to see Cisse back in the
goals, giving him a good selection problem ahead of the
UEFA Champions League final.
"Cisse scored two goals and he ran quick and hard all
game," said Benitez.
"Maybe he needs to play more games but we have ten more
days left until the final and he will be fitter and
better by then.
"Now we have two options in attack and it will be better
for me and better for the team.
"We now have to decide which one we use, or if we use
Benitez was delighted with the send-off the Anfield
crowd gave his troops as they prepare to take on Milan
"We have won, and we have seen we have the best
supporters in England and we are happy," added Benitez.
"When you see them at the end of the game it was
"We know it will be a fantastic and important day for us
in Istanbul. But we need to work hard and concentrate in
training before then so we can have a good game.
"We are confident, it is only one game and anything can
happen, but all the team are confident."
Cisse says he always knew he could get back to
scoring goals before the end of the season despite his
"For me it was really important to score before the end
of the season," said Cisse.
"All the work I have done while I was injured has paid
off. The goal was not for me but for all the fans who
have supported me and the medical staff.
"I'm really strong mentally and I knew I'd be back
scoring this season.
"I think it's good to finish with three points.
"I'm 70 or 80 percent fit, maybe I will play in Istanbul
but it's not up to me.
"I'm just happy because it is a miracle to be out there
Cisse back to sink Villa
By Paul Higham - Sky Sports
Liverpool signed off for the Premiership season with
a 2-1 win over Aston Villa at Anfield, with Djibril
Cisse returning to goalscoring form by grabbing a brace.
Rafa Benitez made several changes to his starting
line-up for the visit of Villa with their UEFA Champions
League final against Milan in mind.
Liverpool, and indeed the home crowd, did seem to have
their minds on Istanbul at times at Anfield, but Cisse
was a man with this game at the front of his thinking.
The former Auxerre attacker has made a remarkable
recovery from a broken leg to be in contention for a
starting place in Turkey, and he was looking to give
Benitez a selection headache for the final.
Cisse's pace made the penalty from which he himself
scored to open the scoring, while he showed clinical
finishing to double the advantage.
Gareth Barry got Villa back into it in a second half
they had by far the better of, but Liverpool hung on to
give their fans a home win to celebrate in the warm-up
for the big one.
Scott Carson was tested early by a Lee Hendrie shot, in
what was an understandably quiet opening to a game which
had little resting on it.
Skipper for the day Jamie Carragher was still giving it
100 percent, however, but his talents were seen going
forward with a mazy dribble into the box which nearly
saw him break his long goalscoring duck when firing into
the side netting.
The Reds took the lead on 20 minutes when Harry Kewell's
shot was palmed away by Thomas Sorensen. Cisse followed
up and Mark Delany brought him down for a penalty.
French marksman Cisse stepped and slotted home the
penalty to grab his first goal since September after his
long injury lay-off.
Antonio Nunez shot just wide before Mauricio Pellegrino
had a clever back-heel from four yards out well saved by
Cisse grabbed his, and Liverpool's second on 27 minutes
when Nunez and the returning Josemi combined down the
right before cutting back for Cisse to clinically fire
Kewell had a good chance to make it three six minutes
before the break when he raced towards the box, before
cutting back onto his left foot and curling a shot just
Villa improved after the break and, after exerting
pressure on a rather subdued Liverpool side, they
grabbed a goal back courtesy of Barry.
The Villa skipper sneaked in at the far post to convert
from Nolberto Solano's nod down to deservedly get the
visitors back into the game.
Solano then fired a free kick just over, while
substitute Luke Moore nipped in at the near post but
sent his effort just wide.
Cisse was still searching for a hat-trick, and Sorensen
had to dive full-length to keep up his low shot, before
John Arne Riise smacked the top of the crossbar with a
typically thunderous effort from 25 yards.
Moore then headed on to the bar as Villa searched for a
leveller, but it was not to be and Liverpool ended their
domestic season with a home win.