LFC legends at Anfield to celebrate Bill Shankly. (Photo:
Benitez the master tactician
must learn from the master
motivator of Liverpool FC
Comment by David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
There was irony mixed in among the emotion
at Anfield on Wednesday night. Irony because Liverpool fans
came to salute the greatest of man motivators, at a time
when they have the polar opposite, a master tactician,
running their football club.
Rafa doesn’t do Chairman Mao-style public addresses. He
doesn’t invite media men to come in and walk around his new
centre-half. He’d rather study a match video than linger in
a football stadium corridor so he could tell his players the
opposition centre-half looks tired.
He’s no less a boss for it.
Cards on the table, I’m a Rafael Benitez fan.
His ability to analyse a match, dissect the tactical nuances
and impart match-winning information onto his players is
That’s why he has a Champions League win, an FA Cup, two La
Ligas and a UEFA Cup on his CV, plus the closest any
Liverpool manager has come to landing the Holy Grail in 20
But there are times in every manager’s career when you need
to let that controlled mask slip, show a little of yourself.
Arsene Wenger discovered that last Sunday – and was
pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
Surely the time is right now for Rafa to do the same.
Not by telling the players they’re unfit to wear the shirt,
but by putting a consoling arm around them and telling them
they’re the greatest Liverpool team of a generation.
It doesn’t have to be true.
Bill Shankly didn’t really think Ron Yeats was seven feet
tall, but he made him feel that way.
And Liverpool crave confidence like I crave a date with
You could reach out and touch the anxiety inside Anfield on
Wednesday. Nerve ends were frayed. Mental states were
The stadium was just one clean Jason Scotland connection
away from meltdown.
Happily the Wigan striker produced a passable Christian
Benitez impersonation from 24 hours earlier and Liverpool
survived. So did their fragile confidence.
The cool, almost calculating way in which Liverpool’s
Benitez treats his stars has passed into Anfield folklore.
He disputes the description.
“When a lie is repeated many times, people start to believe
it,” he declared.
“Believe me, I say well done to them when they do well,
especially after a win. I have said it hundreds of times. I
must say, I was surprised to read what Fernando (Torres)
said about me congratulating him on a goal against Chelsea
when he thought I was referring to the birth of his baby.
“I did talk about the goal, but I also said congratulations
about the baby. I think sometimes they have a book to sell
and have to write something!”
The number of players who have perpetuated the image of
Benitez as some kind of footballing Dr Spock, however,
suggests there is something to it. The game at the highest
level is more pressurised, more mentally demanding and more
intense than it has ever been.
Sometimes players need a pat on the back from the boss.
Bill Shankly recognised that – unless you were injured, of
course, when you ceased to exist.
Rafa Benitez needs to recognise it as well.
But perhaps the penny is dropping.
Last week, on the eve of Steven Gerrard’s 500th match for
the club, Benitez told this newspaper that his skipper was
one of the “greatest players in the world.”
Gerrard appreciated the gesture far more than a DVD of his
That man who made the people happy had a point.
to push on
Dirk Kuyt has urged Liverpool to build on
their victory over Wigan and go on a winning run.
The Reds suffered a disappointing defeat at home to Arsenal
on Sunday before bouncing back with three points in midweek.
Rafa Benitez's men showed glimpses of their best form as
they overcame the Latics 2-1 thanks to goals for David Ngog
and Fernando Torres.
Kuyt was pleased with the result and performance and has
called for more of the same in Saturday's away game against
"It's a really important win. We showed we wanted to win and
played good football for most of the game," the Dutchman
told Liverpool's official website.
"Maybe we could have scored a few more goals, and we are
disappointed to have conceded, but the most important thing
is winning and that's what we did.
"A victory will always lift confidence, but we live from
game to game now and we just needed to make sure we beat
"We can enjoy this result, and then we have to do the same
again on Saturday and try to start a winning run of form."
Kuyt admits Liverpool cannot afford to look too far ahead as
they strive to climb the table from their current position
"We just wanted to win against Wigan and then take it from
there," he explained.
"The situation for us now is to look from game to game, so
we are very happy to have got the three points and now we
can't wait to play again this weekend.
"For us, every game is very important, so in that respect
nothing has changed, but we need a couple of victories and
we definitely want another three points against Portsmouth."
Kuyt also praised the display of Wigan goalkeeper Chris
Kirkland after twice being denied by brilliant saves from
the former Liverpool man.
"Kirky is a very good goalkeeper and he made two great saves
from me," said Kuyt.
"I was unlucky not to score, but winning the game was the
most important thing."
Torres can fire us up
the table says Mascherano
By Dominic King - Liverpool Echo
Javier Mascherano today hailed Fernando
Torres’ return to goalscoring form and predicted the
Spaniard will spark a change in Liverpool’s fortunes.
The Reds’ leading striker climbed off the bench to mark his
100th appearance for the club with the crucial second goal
in last night’s 2-1 win over Wigan Athletic.
It was Torres’ first goal since he rifled in during the 3-1
defeat at Fulham on October 31 and he again showed signs
that he is nearing a return to his best after a groin
When Torres came on to replace fellow goalscorer David Ngog,
a subdued Anfield crowd instantly lifted and Liverpool’s
play upped a gear.
Now Mascherano is hoping the £20m man will repeat last
season’s heroics at Fratton Park – Torres scored twice in a
dramatic 3-2 win – when they go to Portsmouth on Saturday.
“It is so important for us that Fernando stays fit,” said
Mascherano, who again played a hugely instrumental part in
“We know that we can win games when he is not playing but,
equally, when he is on the pitch, you can see the respect
that other teams give him.
“He causes them so many problems. With Fernando and Stevie
(Gerrard) on the pitch, we know that there is always a
chance something special can happen.
“It is so good for our team and the confidence they give us.
When they are not in the squad, others have to do their job
and David Ngog has been doing his job really well.
“But the key players are the key players and you cannot
change that. We need to keep the key players fit for the
rest of the season.”
It was a poignant night at Anfield as the club celebrated
the 50th anniversary of Bill Shankly’s first match in charge
but the game itself was not a classic.
Having taken the lead through Ngog’s header, Liverpool
failed to press home their advantage and needed Torres to
come to their rescue to give breathing space.
Mascherano, though, was quick to point out that winning was
all that mattered after Sunday’s defeat against Arsenal and
now the momentum must build.
“The most important thing was to win because we needed it,”
said Mascherano. “We want to play better and improve, so it
is important that we keep going.
“We will see if we can win at Portsmouth and if we can do
that, it will be three amazing points. There has been a
little bit of pressure but top players have that all the
“We cannot forget that Stevie and Fernando have been coming
back from injury and it is important to have them in the
squad as they are important for us.”
Relief as Reds finally get
a springboard for recovery
Comment by Dominic King - Liverpool Echo
On the night they came to pay tribute to
the man who made the people happy, at long, long last the
people finally had something to smile about.
While Liverpool may not have been able to conjure up a
display befitting the occasion, thanks to a combination of
hard work and perseverance, the match closest to the 50th
anniversary of Bill Shankly’s first as Liverpool manager was
marked with a win.
This 2-1 dismissal of Wigan Athletic will live in the memory
banks only for the fact some of the club’s most famous sons
returned home, but there should be no underestimating its
Having been caught in a maelstrom ever since Chelsea
flattened them at Stamford Bridge on October 4, the Reds
needed a helping hand from the footballing gods and,
mercifully, they got one.
The night may have been billed as a celebration and the
sight of heroes from the 1965 and 1974 FA Cup winning sides
on the pitch before kick-off was designed to stir the crowd
but, given what has happened recently, bonhomie was in short
If anything, apprehension ruled; Anfield was eerily quiet
for much of the contest, with little encouragement being
offered from the stands; the first time it became apparent
the stadium was full was when a loud groan greeted a
misplaced Steven Gerrard pass.
Yet their apathy was understandable. Those who had made
their way to the ground could scarcely believe the starting
line-up did not include Fernando Torres, with many feeling
Rafa Benitez had taken a gamble that was in danger of back
No wonder. The mind instantly flashed back to those games in
Torres’ first season when he was dropped to the bench
against Portsmouth (away) and Birmingham (home) so he could
have a rest; you will remember both ended in scoreless
Had Liverpool fluffed their lines last night, the pressure
on Benitez would have become almost intolerable, as his many
critics would have seized upon Torres’ absence as another
stick with which to beat the embattled Spaniard.
Torres, clearly, is still some way short of peak fitness and
in all likelihood every week from now until the end of the
season is going to be littered with bulletins on the groin
problem which has proven so troublesome.
But Benitez, remember, is not a compulsive gambler and there
is no chance with his team in such “a bad moment” that he
would have sabotaged his own position by deciding to give
his sharpest shooter a night on the touchline.
No. He has maintained all along that Torres will need
managing to get him on the pitch as often as possible
without undergoing surgery and if it means he cannot start
two games in the space of four days, that particular pill
must be swallowed.
Thankfully the man who took over from him was up to the
task; David Ngog has improved in leaps and bounds in the
past couple of months and his decisive intervention after 10
minutes helped settle nerves.
Fabio Aurelio’s inviting cross from the right touchline
demanded a finishing touch be applied and Ngog took
advantage of Chris Kirkland’s indecision to glance a deft
header into an unguarded net.
It would be wrong to start making bold predictions about
what Ngog might do in the future but for a 20-year-old to
have scored six goals already at this stage of the season in
a team that has struggled is a hardly a bad return, is it?
People are right to lament the board’s failure to give
Benitez the cash he needed in the summer to buy a second
proven striker but the young Frenchman has done everything
he possibly can to take some of the pressure off.
He was central to Liverpool’s best moments as an attacking
force during a first period that could be kindly described
as uneventful and, with better fortune, Ngog might have
doubled his tally before the break.
Full of running and youthful enthusiasm, Ngog dragged one
chance the wrong side of the post after seizing on an
Aurelio pass which ricocheted off Hendry Thomas, while he
also turned provider for Dirk Kuyt but the Dutchman’s shot
was beaten out by Kirkland.
His critics say he is not strong enough to cope with the
intensity of 90 minutes yet and Benitez has admitted regular
sessions in the gym are pencilled in to build Ngog up, but
he started the second period just as strongly as he finished
Evidence of that came when, on 51 minutes, he and Kuyt
combined thrillingly on the right, Ngog firing an instant
cross back to his strike partner after an adroit flick sent
him scurrying away; unfortunately, Kirkland’s parry was as
There is no doubt much of the ovation that swept around the
stadium when he was replaced by Torres midway through the
second period was for Liverpool’s number nine but few could
dispute Ngog’s efforts deserved recognition.
As much as Liverpool were pressing for that all important
second goal, however, you never once felt the situation was
one with which the crowd were comfortable, every stray pass
or skewed drive being greeted with exasperated groans.
Never was that more evident than when Jamie Carragher was
forced to pass back to Pepe Reina from just inside his own
half, as there were no options available to him in midfield
and the closer they got to full time, the more uncomfortable
Anfield’s inspirational qualities have been lauded on these
pages many times before but, in times of adversity, the
expectation with which the club is burdened can almost
become suffocating and there is no disputing the crowd was
close to turning.
Heaven knows what might have happened had Wigan substitute
Jason Scotland found the back of the net rather than hitting
the bar when presented with an open goal but, fortunately,
we will never know as Torres came up trumps just when he was
Charles N’Zogbia did his best to cause palpitations when
squeezing a shot past Reina in injury time but Liverpool
were able to cling on to three precious points; they must be
used as the first shoots of recovery.
Returning heroes help
Liverpool FC win again
Comment by James Pearce - Liverpool Daily Post
If Liverpool’s players were in search of
inspiration last night they didn’t have far to look. On a
night of nostalgia at Anfield the club’s legends were out in
force to mark the 50th anniversary of Bill Shankly’s arrival
and celebrate the legacy he left.
From 60s Kop heroes like Roger Hunt, Ian St John, Tommy
Smith, Ron Yeats and Ian Callaghan to 70s stars like Phil
Thompson, Steve Heighway and Kevin Keegan.
Players with more medals than grey hairs who helped Shankly
achieve his dream of turning Liverpool into the most
successful club in the land.
Some of the most lauded names in the club’s illustrious
history formed a guard of honour to applaud the current crop
on to the field last night.
It had the desired impact as Liverpool returned to winning
ways and re-ignited their charge for Champions League
On a night when past successes were commemorated, there were
at least some signs of promise for the future.
It wasn’t convincing and victory over Wigan will hardly have
the other top four contenders quaking in their boots.
But with confidence having hit rock bottom following
Sunday’s miserable defeat to Arsenal, Rafa Benitez’s side at
least displayed the kind of battling qualities Shankly would
David Ngog’s sixth goal of the campaign broke the deadlock
early on but there were some nervy moments before substitute
Fernando Torres marked his 100th appearance for the club by
settling the contest late on.
Charles N’Zogbia halved the deficit in stoppage time but
Liverpool deservedly held on to claim their first home win
since the visit of Manchester United in late October.
Benitez made three changes to the side beaten 2-1 by
Arsenal. Two were enforced as Glen Johnson was sidelined by
a thigh injury and Torres was deemed only fit enough to be
on the bench.
Lucas dropped out of the starting line up for the first time
in the league this season with Martin Skrtel, Emiliano Insua
and Ngog handed a chance to shine.
The reshuffle meant Jamie Carragher shifting to right-back
and a deeper role for Steven Gerrard in the centre of
midfield alongside the impressive Javier Mascherano.
Benitez had demanded a show of character from his under-fire
side and he got the response he was looking for as they flew
out of the blocks.
They were unrecognisable from Sunday’s second-half shambles
as they moved the ball at speed, played at a high tempo and
threatened to rip the Latics to shreds.
Dirk Kuyt had already gone close by the time Liverpool broke
the deadlock on nine minutes.
Fabio Aurelio whipped in a perfect cross from the right and
Ngog leapt highest to glance a header into the far corner.
Wigan had a golden opportunity to instantly wipe out the
deficit but Paul Scharner nodded straight at Pepe Reina.
Liverpool responded to that let-off and continued to
dominate. They went agonisingly close to adding to their
Wigan arrived with the worst defensive record in the Premier
League having conceded 36 times, including a recent 9-1
thrashing at Tottenham.
Midway through the first half their backline were caught
napping by Yossi Benayoun’s quick throw. Ngog raced on to it
and picked out Kuyt in the box but former Anfield keeper
Chris Kirkland denied his old club with a stunning save to
turn the ball over the bar.
Mascherano epitomised Liverpool’s spirit with a series of
crunching tackles to win back possession and keep the
visitors on the back foot. The Argentinian was knocked off
his feet by Mohamed Diame’s piledriver which hit him
straight in the face but picked himself up to keep pulling
Wigan did briefly threaten on the counter-attack but when
Jordi Gomez worked his way into space his 20-yarder was too
close to Reina.
With full-backs Carragher and Insua getting forward well to
offer an attacking outlet, Liverpool should have had
breathing space before the break.
Benayoun narrowly failed to convert Aurelio’s cross and then
the lively Ngog burst through but dragged his shot just wide
of the far post.
Players from the club’s successful cup final teams of 1965
and 1974 as well as members of Shankly’s family were
introduced to the crowd at half-time, while bagpipers played
an emotional rendition of Amazing Grace – the Scot’s
favourite piece of music.
But the best way to mark the half-century since the great
man took charge was always going to be with maximum points.
And any concerns about a repeat of Sunday’s capitulation
against Arsenal were eased as Liverpool continued to keep a
stranglehold on proceedings.
Kuyt must have thought he had added a second in the 51st
minute when he hammered Ngog’s cross goalwards but Kirkland
produced another breathtaking save.
Benayoun and Ngog were inches away from converting crosses
as supporters’ frustration at Liverpool’s failure to kill
off the plucky Latics grew.
Benitez had seen enough and just past the hour introduced
Torres for his 100th appearance for the club in place of
However, as the game advanced Liverpool grew increasingly
nervy and Wigan started to enjoy more possession.
Substitute Jason Scotland had already gone close when he
squandered a gilt-edged chance to equalise in the 74th
Liverpool failed to deal with N’Zogbia’s free-kick into the
box and Hugo Rodallega beat Reina to the high ball.
It dropped invitingly for Scotland but with the net gaping
his volley bounced back off the bar.
Wigan were made to pay as five minutes later Liverpool
wrapped up the points.
Torres pounced on a defensive error and out-paced Titus
Bramble before rounding Kirkland.
Bramble did admirably to get back and block his shot, but
was helpless to prevent the Spaniard tapping the rebound
into the empty net from a yard out for his 49th league goal.
Alberto Aquilani came on for Benayoun in the closing stages
and the Italian almost opened his account with an acrobatic
However, the home side blotted their copybook in stoppage
time when N’Zogbia took advantage of some hesitant defending
to slam home a left-footer.
It mattered little but was a reminder that there is plenty
of work still to be done before Liverpool can claim to have
turned the corner.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez admitted
the 2-1 victory over Wigan mattered more than the
performance on an emotional night at Anfield.
With the club celebrating the 50th anniversary of legendary
boss Bill Shankly's first game in charge, a host of former
stars were paraded at half-time.
But having stumbled through the last two months Benitez said
three points was the only thing his side had to worry about.
Young French striker David Ngog's 10th-minute glancing
header from Fabio Aurelio's cross and Fernando Torres'
second-half scrambled effort proved enough to see off the
Latics, for whom Charles N'Zogbia scored an injury-time
The victory lifts Liverpool back up to sixth, although they
are still five points adrift of the Champions League places.
It was only their fourth win in 16 matches and just their
second at Anfield since September 26 but it will do much for
the team's shaky confidence.
"It was very important to win, to get three points, with a
lot of positives," said Benitez.
"It does not matter if we couldn't score more goals and be
more relaxed in the second half but, at the end of the day,
three points is key.
"We needed to get these three points and be ready for the
next game. We are thinking about one game at a time so now
Portsmouth (on Saturday) is the target."
Benitez explained he held back Torres for his 100th
appearance until the second half as the striker is still
feeling the effects of having missed six matches since the
start of November.
"I wanted to keep him back because he was really tired after
the last game (Sunday's defeat to Arsenal).
"I told him I wanted to protect him and it would be good for
me to play him at the end and he was good too.
"I think he will be ready for Portsmouth."
Torres goal helped settle Liverpool's nerves and Benitez
admitted confidence was still fragile.
"We had some chances - Yossi Benayoun had one, Ngog had one
- and if you score the second goal everything changes,"
added the manager.
"The main thing for us now is talking about [winning] games
in a row, starting at Portsmouth."
scrape nervy win
Goals from David Ngog and Fernando Torres
saw Liverpool scrape a nervy 2-1 home victory over Wigan on
Ngog opened the scoring on nine minutes when he headed home
Fabio Aurelio's cross from the right.
But it then became a nervy affair for the home side who
spurned a host of chances.
At the other end, substitute Jason Scotland hit the bar
before fellow substitute Torres latched onto a back header
from Emmerson Boyce and rounded Chris Kirkland before
slotting home on 79 minutes, despite Titus Bramble's best
efforts to stop him.
Charles N'Zogbia then netted a goal deep into stoppage time
to set up a tense finale but the Reds held on for a crucial
win, which raises them up to sixth, five points off the UEFA
Champions League places.
The win in the week of the 50th anniversary of Bill
Shankly's first match at the club would not have impressed
the legendary manager but it was a welcome relief for
current boss Rafa Benitez.
It was only Liverpool's fourth win in 16 matches and just
their second at Anfield since 26th September but it will do
much for the team's shaky confidence.
Although Ngog impressed in the first half the crowd eagerly
awaited the arrival of substitute Torres for his 100th
appearance, which eventually came in the 64th minute. The
striker duly delivered with his 61st goal for Liverpool to
wrap up victory.
Wigan have won two of their last 10 outings and are just two
points clear of the relegation zone, having conceded more
goals than any other Premier League team, with 17 in their
last four away games.
In the absence of Torres, who was dropped to the bench after
Sunday's defeat to Arsenal, Benitez switched to a 4-4-2
formation with Steven Gerrard playing in central midfield
and Dirk Kuyt playing alongside Ngog.
Centre-back Daniel Agger sliced a 25-yard shot wide in the
fourth minute while Aurelio's poor contact prevented him
opening the scoring from 12 yards.
However, the pressure was building and Wigan cracked in the
Aurelio's inswinging right-wing cross was met by Ngog just
in front of Kirkland and he glanced a header past the former
Liverpool goalkeeper and into the far corner.
Wigan midfielder Paul Scharner headed N'Zogbia's cross
straight at Jose Reina before Kirkland redeemed himself for
his misjudgement on the goal.
His brilliant 17th-minute reaction save from Kuyt after
Yossi Benayoun's quick throw had released Ngog down the
right prevented Liverpool adding a second.
But having taken the early advantage the home side laboured
to extend it with Wigan happy to sit back and compress play
into a 30-yard zone from the edge of their penalty area.
Javier Mascherano received the full force of Mohamed Diame's
clearance square in the face and staggered around the
centre-circle like a punch-drunk boxer for a few seconds but
was able to continue after treatment.
Aurelio was the heart of most of Liverpool's chances and,
after almost picking out Benayoun at the far post two
minutes before half-time, he then set up a chance for Ngog.
The Brazilian's pass deflected off Hendry Thomas into the
penalty area but the Frenchman's shot rolled inches wide of
the far post.
To mark the Shankly anniversary Liverpool paraded a host of
his former players during the interval, including the likes
of Ian St John and Kevin Keegan.
If it was meant to inspire the current squad the impact was
lost on Benayoun, who should have done better in trying to
get to Aurelio's teasing left-wing cross.
Wigan counter-attacked quickly from Liverpool's corner and
although Reina spilled N'Zogbia's shot he had time to
In the 51st minute Kirkland again displayed the talent
which, were it not for his injury problems, would probably
have him in Fabio Capello's England squad as he somehow
tipped over Kuyt's first-time shot on the run from Ngog's
However, the arrival of Torres in the 64th minute for Ngog
was to change things.
The Spain international immediately won a corner but Agger
completely missed a five-yard header from Gerrard's cross.
Wigan should have equalised in the 74th minute when Hugo
Rodallega and Scharner prevented Reina claiming NZogbia's
free-kick but Jason Scotland, still to open his account for
the club he joined in the summer, smashed a left-footed
volley on to the crossbar and over.
Liverpool were gradually going backwards and their opponents
sensed a chance to snatch a point.
However, that was snuffed out in the 79th minute by Torres.
He was put clean through by Boyce's back-header from Jamie
Carragher's punt and should have beaten Kirkland
However, Titus Bramble got back to half-stop the ball on the
goalline but somehow Torres scrambled it over for his 49th
goal in 69 league appearances.
That statistic alone underlines how important he is to
However, in the second minute of injury time N'Zogbia ran
across the penalty area to poke home a consolation to
highlight just how shaky the Reds' defence has become.