After The Match 


Liverpool-Sunderland 1-0 (1-0)     Sat 20.08.05                   PL
Goals: Alonso (24)
Team: Reina, Warnock, Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Gerrard, Sissoko, Alonso, Cisse, Morientes, Zenden
Subs: Garcia (Gerrard 55), Riise (Zenden 63), Baros (Cisse 75)
Not used: Carson, Josemi
Yellow: Gerrard (21), Sissoko (35)
Breen (10), Robinson (23), Nosworthy (88)
Red: Welsh (74)
Referee: Barry Knight
Attendance: 44,913

Shots on target: 6-0
Shots off target: 9-2
Fouls conceded: 8-20
Corners: 5-5
Yellow: 2-3



HEADLINES "We tried Cisse
wide on the right,
but it is
not his position."
        Rafa Benitez

2208: Leaden strikers further fuel Owen debate
2108: Benitez welcomes gritty win
2108: McCarthy pleased with performance
2008: Alonso sees off Black Cats

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 incisiveness.

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 goalscoring roots.

"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 Premiership.

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 ill-spent.

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 shopping list.

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 Alonso outnumbered.

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 Benitez's thinking.

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 Milan Baros.

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

Sporting Life

Rafael Benitez acknowledged that when you play this poorly then winning is the only thing that really matters.

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 with.

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 else happens.

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 ball away.

"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."

McCarthy 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 the end.

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 punished.

"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 champions.

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 better.

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.

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Thor Zakariassen