Leaden strikers further fuel Owen debate
By Len Capeling - Daily Post
Michael Owen may have been hundreds of miles away
from a sunlit Anfield, yet he still dominated
conversation before and after this untidy encounter.
Hardly surprising given the collective inadequacy of the
strikers on view, none of whom looked capable of scoring
10 goals a season, never mind 20.
Steven Gerrard worked tirelessly to provide Fernando
Morientes, Djibril Cisse and auxiliary attacker
Boudewijn Zenden with a reasonable supply of the ball,
but they continued to embrace impotency rather than
You could imagine Gerrard's growing consternation as
chance after chance went begging, for the captain has
led a chorus of approval for the return of Owen to his
"I wake up every morning hoping to read that he's on his
way to us," sighed Gerrard earlier in the week, nudging
his manager so hard he probably bruised him.
For his part, the Spanish coach continues to insist that
far from seeking a striker, his focus - repeated a
thousand times - is on a centre-back (free-scoring,
presumably) and a right-winger.
Cisse occupied that problem position on Saturday and did
himself no favours, whether hugging the touch-line -
which he rarely did - or vainly attempting to convince a
packed house of his goalscoring attributes.
Three times the France front-man found himself with only
Sunderland keeper Kelvin Davis to beat and three times
the crowd was forced into evasive action as the ball
hurtled towards them.
Those are the kind of openings Owen seldom saw when
Gerard Houllier kept him on a starvation diet. Here,
against a willing but worry-ingly limited Sunderland
side, he would have revelled.
The newly-coiffured Cisse did eventually get the ball
into the net, only to be ruled offside for the second
time in a minute.
Added to a shot from Gerrard that struck the post,
glorious headed chances looped over by Fernando
Morientes and Zenden, it provided proof of Liverpool's
ability to prise teams open even when lodged between
unconvincing and and merely functional.
Rarely, during an afternoon of increasing tedium, did
Liverpool give the impression they had the players to
make the relegation favourites pay for their fragility.
Fans slouched home treasuring the three points and
decrying the performance. Hanging heavy in the air were
memories of a crushing victory not taken and the mental
image of Owen in romantic red again.
Benitez will continue to shake his head while insisting
he's happy with his strikers. Which begs the question,
how happy is happy?
He can't have been the only one who didn't feel a piece
of him shrivel as Cisse gave a passable impersonation of
someone not nearly clever enough to cut it in the
Rumours that the expensive import might be offloaded to
Marseille cannot have helped Cisse's confidence, but
with a first touch that slows him down and a tendency to
take the wrong option, he continues to be £14million
The fact that Benitez had not left Valencia when the
deal was struck makes you wonder whether the Auxerre
targetman even would have made the Spaniard's subsidiary
I suspect not, though he did buy Morientes, whose
struggles are there for all to see. What Cisse and
Morientes do offer - Peter Crouch also - is the alleged
ability to operate in a 4-1-3-1-1 - tweaked on Saturday
to 4--2-2-1-1 - which demand the man furthest forward to
hang on to the ball while midfielders rush to join him.
This is how Benitez likes to operate, and, unless he
tinkers, Owen simply doesn't fit the format.
Supporters of Owen - and they massively outnumber the
doubters - will point to Saturday's ultimately slumbrous
show as evidence that without end-product even the most
sophisticated concept can be brought down by bluntness.
Proof that things weren't flowing came when Sunderland
too easily picked their way around a central two of
Gerrard and Momo Sissoko, leaving the holding man Xabi
Sissoko, who had a generally impressive afternoon, found
himself switched further back to support Alonso, but
there remained far too many opportunities for Sunderland
to spread the ball wide where the tricky Andy Welsh
prospered down Liverpool's left.
Liverpool solved that imbalance by the time Welsh found
himself dismissed by the awful Barry Knight for an
innocuous challenge on Luis Garcia. But it provided
further evidence that Liverpool's players remain
confused - or is that unconvinced? - by some of
Thankfully, man-of-the match Alonso gave another
demonstration of his silky passing skills, even if few
of his offerings brought a necessary response from
lumpen forwards - including late entrants Garcia and
It was the Spain playmaker's classic free-kick that
eventually ensured the points went the right way.
Pity the other pointers didn't look quite so propitious,
even on a bright summer's day.
Benitez welcomes gritty win
Rafael Benitez acknowledged that when you play this
poorly then winning is the only thing that really
The Anfield boss had to handle the saga surrounding the
futures of Michael Owen, Milan Baros, and now Djibril
Cisse, in the build-up to the Reds' first home Premier
League game of the season.
Then he had an out of sorts and eventually injured
Steven Gerrard walking a disciplinary tightrope to deal
And just who will be walking through the Anfield door
before the transfer window shuts in 10 days' time still
remains a mystery.
Amidst all this, three points were gratefully received.
Benitez said: "The most important thing after not
playing well was that we still took all three points. I
was a little disappointed that we didn't score more
goals but at the end we had three points and are still
unbeaten without conceding in the league so far.
"It is too early to be frustrated by a lack of goals and
a performance like that. Coming straight after an
international week it is only the win that is important.
It is hard to find players with fresh legs. For them to
play 90 minutes for their country and then come straight
into another high tempo game is not easy." Benitez will
now try to sell Baros, juggle various solutions over the
Owen saga and seek to get Cisse's mind back on track.
Before the game Benitez told Cisse not to read the
papers, and that he was wanted at Anfield.
Benitez said: "I do not believe I will be selling him."
It clearly did not sink into the Frenchman's head. A
flamboyant, mood player, Cisse looked like his
concentration and confidence had been shot to pieces by
the rumours over his future.
He even ended up playing out of position and clearly
hating it, prompting Benitez to again make it clear he
wants a centre back and a right winger before anything
He said: "You can use Cisse as a right winger, Luis
Garcia can play there but I believe we need a new player
coming into the club to play in that role.
"Cisse had one very clear chance and other efforts. But
sometimes you can see a player score with his bottom or
on other occasions they need a lot of chances to put the
"We tried Cisse wide on the right, but it is not his
position. We have to think about other possibilities,
Luis Garcia is one and we tried also switching Bolo
Zenden from left to right, but at the end the solution
is clear, we need another right winger."
pleased with performance
By Steve Hunter - LFC Official Website
Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy said he was proud of
his players performance at Anfield and says the Black
Cats could easily have got something out of Liverpool.
McCarthy felt a silly challenge which led to Xabi
Alonso's brilliant free-kick proved their downfall in
McCarthy said: "I think for us to come to the home of
the Champions League winners, a team fancied to finish
very high, and play as well as we did is a vast
improvement in performance.
"When people see that, they know that, but we haven't
got any points which is disappointing.
"The annoying thing is we gave another stupid free kick
away. We're in a different league now, playing some of
the best players in the world and, if you give them the
opportunity to shoot from 25 yards, then we'll get
"We have again and that was the difference in the first
half. They had more possession in the second half but
never really hurt us and we had enough chances in the
first half to have scored."
The Sunderland boss was upset with the decision to
send-off midfielder Andy Welsh and he said referee Barry
Knight has promised to look at the incident again.
McCarthy said: "The sending off is difficult. I find it
hard at times. Listen, we have a great bunch of lads and
we want to stay up and do well but if we get decisions
like that go against us, it's going to make it even
harder for us.
"Barry Knight said he'd have the good grace to look at
it and, when he does, he'll have the sense to rescind
the red card because Welshy, my tough tackling left
winger, throwing left hooks? I don't think so. We might
have had a chance with 11 men but no chance with 10.
"It's easy to get very angry and irate and, if I do
that, you don't get any sense out of the referee and
I'll probably get myself in trouble. There's no reason
to go and berate him, I just asked him to have a look at
it and he will."
Alonso sees off Black Cats
By Rob Lancaster - Planet Football/Sky Sports
A free kick from Xabi Alonso proved enough for
Liverpool to see off Sunderland at Anfield, although it
was far from plain sailing for the reigning European
The Spaniard's curling effort from just outside the box
was a rare highlight for the home fans as The Reds made
hard work of it against the Premiership new boys.
The Black Cats battled hard at a sun-drenched Anfield,
despite little help from referee Barry Knight who
controversially sent off Andrew Welsh in the second half
for little more than running into Luis Garcia.
A delay of 15 minutes to the kick-off seemed to lead to
a lethargic start from Liverpool, although they nearly
went in front early on when Steven Gerrard's cross
avoided everybody in the area and struck a post with
Kelvin Davis well beaten.
Manager Rafael Benitez has insisted he has no interest
in bringing Michael Owen back to Merseyside, although
after this display from his strikers he may decide it is
time for a change of heart.
Fernando Morientes and Djibril Cisse, back in the
starting XI after being on the bench for the 0-0 draw at
Middlesbrough, both missed glorious chances in the
opening half hour and they were well shackled by
Sunderland's robust back-line throughout the afternoon.
The French striker was particularly wasteful, with a
failure to convert from a yard out summing up the home
side's lacklustre showing.
Boudewijn Zenden was also guilty of a glaring miss as he
failed to find the target with a header after Jamie
Carragher's beautifully flighted pass had deserved
After Alonso's perfectly placed set-piece had broken the
deadlock, the expected onslaught from the home team
never materialised and it was Sunderland who looked the
more dangerous before the interval.
Tommy Miller failed to find a team-mate with a low cross
after breaking in behind the home defence, while Welsh
nearly got lucky with a cross from the left flank that
dipped onto the crossbar, much to the relief of Jose
Reina in front of the Kop.
Benitez may have hoped for better things at the start of
the second half, yet his side continued to struggle,
forcing the ex-Valencia chief to ring the changes as
Garcia came on in place of skipper Gerrard and the
ineffective Zenden made way for John Arne Riise.
Cisse's inaccurate finishing remained a constant in the
second 45 minutes, the former Auxerre man blazing wide
after a mistake from Gary Breen and, even when he did
find the target with a close-range finish from a free
kick, the linesman's flag denied him.
Liverpool's inability to extend their lead allowed
Sunderland to grow in confidence and they would have had
hopes of snatching an equaliser until Welsh was shown a
straight red for colliding with Garcia after the whistle
had already gone.
The official's decision ended any hopes the visitors had
of claiming a point and, despite their best efforts in
the closing stages, Liverpool held on for the three
points that their performance scarcely deserved.