Too many Liverpool FC players
are wilting under the pressure
Comment by Ian Rush - Liverpool Echo
I still believe in Rafa Benitez and Im
convinced he will secure a top four finish for Liverpool
However, a number of his players have got to have a long,
hard look at themselves.
When I saw Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina and
Jamie Carragher walking off at Portsmouth on Saturday they
looked upset and annoyed.
After a defeat like that I want to see that in all 11 of
them because it should hurt them all, not just a few.
Some players have got to be mentally stronger.
Big expectations come with playing for Liverpool Football
Club and that goes back to the standards set years ago by
Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley.
We arent reaching those standards at the moment and too many
are struggling to handle the pressure.
I thought Carragher was fantastic on Saturday. The effort he
put in on his 600th appearance was immense. If only everyone
was like him.
The manager said the sending off of Javier Mascherano
changed the game but I dont think it made a big difference
to the outcome.
What concerned me most was the lack of creativity. We only
had two shots on target and when you are playing against a
club like Portsmouth thats just not good enough.
I really felt for the fans on Saturday because it was a
bitterly cold day and most had left Merseyside in the middle
of the night to get to the south coast for lunchtime.
Its been a really tough few months but as ever the
supporters have been fantastic and remained behind the team.
Thats all we can do because there is nothing to be gained
from slagging people off. The end of the season is the time
to ask whether weve progressed and if not why not?
The critics are having a field day at the moment but
Liverpool are right to keep faith with Benitez.
Everyone is dropping points in a very open league this
season and if we can put a run of wins together well soon
climb the table.
With Aston Villa and Spurs to come in the league after the
visit of Wolves on Boxing Day, weve got the ideal chance to
force our way back into contention in the race for fourth
Liverpool FC running scared of
bottom club represents a new low
Comment by Mark Lawrenson - Liverpool Daily Post
There are many reasons why Liverpool’s
defeat to Portsmouth on Saturday was the lowest point of a
season with, let’s face it, quite a few contenders.
But the one that sticks out for me came before the game even
kicked off – it was the way the team was set up.
I find it really worrying that we go to the team at the
bottom of the table and turn up with seven defensive
It’s almost as if Rafael Benitez needs to get some
psychotherapy sessions booked in to change his mindset. This
is a team struggling to score goals at the wrong end of the
table and the manager makes his first priority to stop them
Given that we finished runners-up last year with 86 points
and scored more goals in the Premier League than any other
side, are we really not at the stage where we can go to
somewhere like Fratton Park and take the game to the home
We should be going for the win and then, if we are winning,
shore it up later on. Get the lead and then play it
defensive. That’s fine.
Don’t take anything away form Portsmouth. They played well
and scored two very good goals.
But they must have got a boost from the fact that the
Liverpool side facing them had so few players capable of
causing them problems in their own half.
With a back four, goalkeeper, two defensive midfielders and
Dossena on the left of midfield, that’s three players you’re
asking to go and win you the game.
And I don’t care how good Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres
are, that’s putting too much pressure on them
Those two and Dirk Kuyt must have been looking round the
changing room before the game wondering who was going to
help them in their efforts to create the chances and score
the goals to win the match.
When confidence is low you need to pick an attacking team
and tell them to go for it, and that’s how you get the best
out of your top players.
That’s what some of the lower sides have done to the big
boys and it’s made this season’s Premier League a completely
Maybe that has played on Benitez’s mind and he is being
extra cautious against teams like Portsmouth as a result.
Either that or he just doesn’t trust his back four.
But if that’s the case then keep the ball away from them by
picking an attacking, threatening line-up.
The current slump is the type that would cost many managers
their job – but it’s easy to sack a manager, much harder to
replace him with a good one.
So it’s not the manager I would like to see change – it’s
Benitez and his selection policy.
Haim makes Torres claim
Tal Ben Haim has accused Fernando Torres
of leading with his elbow when challenging him in
Portsmouth's win over Liverpool on Saturday.
The Israeli centre-half enjoyed a fine game in helping his
side keep a clean sheet but was in the wars, as first Javier
Mascherano was red carded for a crunching tackle on him,
before Torres appeared to catch him with an elbow.
Ben Haim admitted he had to stay calm to protect the lead
against Rafa Benitez's men and boost his side's hopes of
Premier League survival.
"I thought he came with the elbow," he conceded.
The former Chelsea player insists Avram Grant's men had the
last laugh by earning their valuable win.
"At the end of the day this challenge and other challenges
are not important," he said.
"In the game there are many challenges that you could say
maybe it's yellow or maybe it's red. It's part of the game
and you need to continue playing.
"I don't pay much attention to that stuff because after that
immediately you have to be focused and you don't want to
make stupid challenges to get yourself sent off and leave
your team-mates a man down. You need to control yourself. It
was good for me to be like that."
Ben Haim was also involved in the tackle that led to
Mascherano getting a straight red card in the first half,
which Benitez felt changed the game.
"I thought that it was a good decision by the referee," he
"Especially as I moved the ball when he came. It's part of
the game so you have to take it."
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez tellingly
spoke of the need to "change your targets" after the defeat
at Portsmouth that also led to a bizarre rant against
referee Lee Mason.
The Spaniard may well have been talking about shifting focus
to the Boxing Day clash against Wolves but following the
performance at Fratton Park, the comment could easily apply
to Liverpool's season.
Goals from Nadir Belhadj and Frederic Piquionne, either side
of Javier Mascherano's dismissal, made Liverpool look every
inch the Europa League team they currently are.
This came days after Benitez offered guarantees of a
top-four finish in the Barclays Premier League with the
"We have to start working this week, preparing the next
game," he said.
"You have to change your targets and think about one game at
a time. That is the only way. We know we have to work harder
Anfield legend Alan Hansen, in his role as a BBC pundit,
suggested the pressure was on Benitez to deliver and that
the club would not make any knee-jerk reaction during the
Hansen was also critical of Liverpool's performance at
Pompey, regardless of Mason's decision to dismiss Mascherano
for a lunge at Tal Ben Haim.
Last season Benitez's outburst aimed at Manchester United
and Sir Alex Ferguson, when he kept repeating "facts", was
criticised as counter-productive - this time he continually
described Mason as "perfect".
For a flavour of his reaction, Benitez said: "The referee
was perfect. He didn't make any mistakes. He was perfect in
giving fouls to (Fernando) Torres, he was perfect in
everything. He was perfect."
Benitez, however, did claim the sending off just before
half-time changed the game.
"The 10 players were working very hard," he said.
"Credit to them, they were in the game. They (Portsmouth)
were playing counter-attack and with the pace up front it's
Belhadj's goal came after a poor header from former Pompey
right-back Glen Johnson, while Piquionne span around Jamie
Carragher before finishing, ruining the Liverpool
centre-back's 600th appearance for the club.
"You have to be disappointed when you concede goals,"
Jamie O'Hara was one of the candidates for the
man-of-the-match award - and he feels the victory raises
hopes of survival this season.
He told pfcTV: "Everyone worked hard all over the pitch. It
was a great team performance. It was a massive game for us.
We felt we could get the points - and we did.
"It was a comfortable win in the end. We knocked it around
and at times they couldn't get near us. It's not everyday
you get to play like that against Liverpool.
"We seem to have found a system that's working well for us.
Before we were playing well but not getting the results. But
now we're grinding out results and picking up points.
"We're right back in the mix. If we keep playing like that
there's no way we'll go down."
At least Benitez has £20million summer signing Alberto
Aquilani back for the Christmas period after missing the
Pompey trip with a calf problem.
"He has a kick in his calf and he didn't train properly,"
"He is not serious so he will be okay for next week but he
couldn't be here."
By Neil Weld - Portsmouth Official Website
Liverpool’s attacking options have run
riot against some of Europe’s best defences over the past
But against Asmir Begovic, Steve Finnan, Younes Kaboul, Tal
Ben Haim and Hermann Hreidarsson they came unstuck.
Pompey never looked like conceding as they recorded a famous
2-0 victory against the Merseyside giants.
Nadir Belhadj and Frederic Piquionne got the goals with a
pair of stunning strikes both volleyed home from a tight
And while the scorers will inevitably take the praise, Grant
was delighted with the team performance.
“We played well,” said the Blues boss. “We scored two goals
and continued on from our good performance at Chelsea.
“It’s not easy to play against players like Torres, Gerrard
and Benayoun. They’re clever players who know what to do
with and without the ball but our team did a good job on
“From game to game, we are looking better as a team which is
good for us.
“It’s important that we took the points and have closed the
gap on the sides above us.
“It will be good to get off the bottom but it’s more
important that we are out of the bottom three at the end of
“It’s a long way away but I believe we can do it. We have
shown that we can compete – even against the big sides.
“Nadir was full of energy. He put in a good performance and
even scored with his right foot – if he scores with his
right foot then I definitely believe we can stay up!
“You can see that the players believe. You don’t score in
the last minute at Sunderland if you don’t believe in
Sandwiched between Pompey’s two goals was Javier
Mascherano’s sending off for a late lunge on Tal Ben Haim.
“I didn’t see the sending off because I was following the
ball,” said Grant. “But I could see from the reaction of the
players from both teams that it was serious.”
Oh it's such a
'perfect' day for Rafa
Rafael Benitez offered an odd response to
Liverpool's defeat at Portsmouth by repeating six times that
referee Lee Mason had a "perfect" game.
After losing 2-0 through goals by Nadir Belhadj and Frederic
Piquionne in the Premier League clash at Fratton Park on
Saturday, Benitez's reaction had the hallmarks of his rant
against Sir Alex Ferguson at the start of the year when he
continually spoke of "facts".
This time he used the word "perfect" six times to describe
Mason, who dismissed Javier Mascherano just before the hour
mark for a foul on Pompey centre-back Tal Ben Haim.
Benitez has history with Mason after the Lancashire official
dismissed two Liverpool players during a defeat to Fulham in
"I have seen the replay and for me it is not a sending off
but anyway, the referee was perfect, he didn't make any
mistake," Benitez said.
"Now Javier is injured and I will say again the referee
didn't make any mistakes. He was perfect. I have seen the
replay, for me it is not a sending off, but anyway,
Benitez had Fernando Torres back in the team after resting
him in midweek but the Spain striker failed to make an
impact and in the second half appeared to aim an elbow at
"The referee was perfect so Torres didn't have any
problems," Benitez said.
Belhadj opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark,
then Piquionne added the second eight minutes before the
"When we lose it's always disappointing," Benitez said. "But
the first half we had plenty of possession and we were
controlling the game.
"Then we conceded a goal after making a mistake and after
the sending off changed the game."
Benitez reeling after
horror show in Portsmouth
The Irish Times
Rafael Benitez suffered a disastrous trip
to Portsmouth after Javier Mascherano was dismissed during a
miserable defeat at Fratton Park.
Pompey’s victory, with the goals coming from Nadir Belhadj
and Frederic Piquionne, will ignite hope of survival in the
However, Liverpool chances of finishing in the top four are
uncertain — they missed a chance to record back-to-back
league wins for the first time since September.
It means Avram Grant maintains his unbeaten record against
Benitez after recording two wins and two draws during his
time at Chelsea in the 2008 season.
Back then he ended the Spaniard’s Champions League hopes at
the semi-final stage — this time he has dented their chances
of even qualifying for the competition.
Benitez was furious with Lee Mason, who sent two Liverpool
players off during the defeat to Fulham earlier in the
season, for his straight red for Mascherano, who will now
miss four games through suspension.
The defeat also meant there was no celebration to mark Jamie
Carragher’s 600th appearance for Liverpool — until Belhadj’s
strike he would not have enjoyed an easier 30 minutes in his
In truth, both sides needed time to find their a footing in
a game played under tricky conditions. The match was able to
go ahead due to the pitch being covered during the week,
although there were traces of snow on the shaded areas of
the turf meaning passing was sometimes hindered.
Benitez was boosted by the return of Fernando Torres after
the Spain striker rested his troublesome groin in the
midweek win over Wigan — but he was limited to half-chances.
Torres had a sight of goal early on but Hermann Hreidarsson
was back in time — his sliced clearance could have gone
anywhere but ended up in Asmir Begovic’s hands.
Torres then got closer midway through the half after
collecting a pass from Andrea Dossena and curling just over
the bar, then he was inches from Steven Gerrard’s cross.
Dossena’s selection was a curious decision, especially with
Yossi Benayoun relegated to the bench and Ryan Babel back
after an ankle complaint.
And any plans Benitez had of his changes ensuring a simple
victory were blown away just after the half-hour mark when
Pompey took the lead.
Belhadj started the move himself by nutmegging Emiliano
Insua to set up the attack. When the ball was cleared, Kevin
Prince Boateng forced Pepe Reina into a save with a powerful
volley, former Pompey full back Glen Johnson cleared the
ball only as far as Belhadj and the Algerian lashed in at
the near post.
Belhadj has been out of favour under Grant, this was his
first game since October and resulted in his first goal of
Daniel Agger should have levelled before the break.
Gerrard’s free-kick found him unmarked but the centre back
headed over from close range.
To make matters worse, then came Mascherano’s dismissal. The
Argentina midfielder recklessly crashed into Tal Ben Haim,
although his feet did not leave the ground.
Nevertheless, Mason consulted the fourth official before
giving a straight red card.
It was a decision that infuriated Benitez, who had chants of
“you’re getting sacked in the morning” aimed at him from
Benitez made his move eight minutes after the break,
introducing Benayoun for Dossena.
Michael Brown made himself busy in midfield, winding up his
opponents. When Torres snapped and fouled the Pompey skipper
it earned the striker a yellow card, then the striker may
have been fortunate to stay on the pitch when he led with
his arm in a challenge on Ben Haim.
Piquionne doubled the lead with eight minutes remaining,
latching onto Boateng’s cross, spinning around Carragher and