What Benitez has to ponder after this loss
By Len Capeling - Daily Post
Rafael Benitez saw the Manchester United match as a
measure of his evolving team. A gauge as to how well new
players and new systems were functioning.
Which means he's a worried man this morning after
Liverpool - a short second-half burst apart - allowed a
previously struggling United to take the easiest three
points they'll take this season.
Excuses may be made about the loss of skipper Steven
Gerrard relatively early in the piece.
But ignore them. Liverpool were in deep distress long
before the captain indicated that a foot injury had
ended his participation in the proceedings.
Indeed, it could be argued that Liverpool looked
defensively tighter once Dietmar Hamann came off the
bench to show some of his teammates that the ball was
there to be fought for.
The elegant Xabi Alonso can also be excused from the
general criticism because no-one used the ball to better
effect on a night more suited to hatch-battening than
Alonso, who hardly ever wasted possession even in
howling conditions, did not deserve to be on the losing
But when there's no focal point to your attack, and when
players left and right are not up to the challenge,
artistry can count for very little.
Djibril Cisse is quickly becoming Winston Churchill's
mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.
He had an early chance, wasn't alert enough to take it,
then simply disappeared as an attacking threat, apart
from two second-half surges ended - totally incorrectly
- by a blindfolded linesman flagging for off-side.
Harry Kewell, another conundrum in football boots, woke
up late in the game but on this form is only keeping his
place by a whisker from young winger Stephen Warnock.
To compound all this disenchantment Luis Garcia, one of
Liverpool's brighter players so far this season,
suffered one of his least effective nights.
Too frequently caught in possession, he never got close
enough to the isolated Cisse to be of much help.
No wonder Benitez got so het-up. He thought he'd sent
out 11 players, but only eight of them actually turned
His half-time sort-out seemed to have worked, with
Liverpool faster to the ball for the 10 minutes which
For the first time, United were back in the mire and
Liverpool's equaliser - courtesy of a John O'Shea own
goal - came at a time when they were at their sparkiest.
It didn't last.
Mikael Silvestre, who spurned Gerard Houllier all those
years ago, bulleted in his second headed goal of the
game to put a slump into Liverpool's shoulders.
The watching David Moyes betrayed not a trace of emotion
at this turn of events. Two rows behind him wonderkid
Wayne Rooney rejoiced with the best of them. Earlier
indications were that Rooney would win a place on the
He wasn't, which will have been some relief to Benitez
who managed to shackle Ruud van Nistelrooy but found
Cristiano Ronaldo - who hit the post from long range -
and Ryan Giggs unwilling to be subdued.
So, a lot to ponder for the Spaniard - Liverpool's poor
start to a Premier-ship season just got worse, and the
bright light of Xabi Alonso is being dimmed by the
flickering flames around him.
Norwich City next. But please don't call it a
six-pointer. Unless you're in a hurtful mood.
Benitez knows now what has to be corrected
By Mark Lawrenson - Daily Post
Every manager learns one or two things from every
game his team plays, and school was most definitely in
for Rafael Benitez at Old Trafford last night.
His Liverpool team showed their good and bad qualities
through the match - good in the display of Xabi Alonso
and the way they fought back from a goal down, but bad
in the manner they conceded the two goals in identical
fashion and in the way some members of the team didn't
turn up until it was too late.
To leave an opposition centre-back unmarked once in your
own area is careless, but if you do it twice in the same
match then you deserve everything you get.
It seemed to me like Liverpool were marking zonally,
which is fine in open play, but from corners and
free-kicks you need to pick up man for man.
The problem with picking up a zone is that all it takes
is for a runner to arrive late and the ball to be
delivered in the right area and it leads at the very
least to a chance on goal, and probably a goal, as we
saw last night.
The good thing about that is that it is easy to sort out
- just a 10-minute team meeting before the match where
each opposition player is assigned to someone to mark,
for instance Sami Hyypia would most likely pick up Ruud
van Nistelrooy, Jamie Carragher would take Paul Scholes
and so on. That gives your players a clear
responsibility to focus upon.
Rafael Benitez has to make that a priority because
every other Premiership manager will have taken note of
what happened last night as an area to try and exploit.
It will be harder for Benitez to sort out his other
problem, that of player performance. He has only been
here a few weeks, so I'll cut him some slack, but Luis
Garcia needs to be stronger on the ball away from home.
He is all about trying little tricks and flicks and when
he is getting plenty of the ball at Anfield that is
fine, but I'd like him to exhibit a far greater respect
for keeping possession in the future, as well as more
desire to hold off tacklers.
On top of that, you are not going to get away with
playing Stevie Finnan on the right side of midfield
against the better teams, while on the other flank,
Harry Kewell - for all his talent and experience -
remains an enigma..
One man who did confirm his reputation though was
Alonso, who was the best midfield player on the park for
me, by a mile.
I wondered before the match whether the intensity and
speed of the occasion might be too much for him, but he
shone out as a real class act.
Even with Roy Keane and John O'Shea breathing down his
neck, he was able to dictate Liverpool's attacking play
by taking the minimum of touches and always looking
forward while showing a great range of passing.
His attempt on goal from out of nowhere showed what
tremendous vision he has and while he may not be the
quickest, when you have Steven Gerrard alongside you,
you don't have to be.
If Benitez decides to go back to playing two up
front, that will only double Alonso's options when he is
in possession, which can only be a good thing for
He was the undoubted bright spot of an evening which
showed that Benitez has strengths to build upon, but
also areas of weakness that need to be rectified if
Liverpool are to progress.
No doubt now the optimism of the past week will have
been dampened a little, which is no bad thing.
Liverpool will still be fourth in the table or
thereabouts, but if they are closer to Arsenal than they
were last season, then that will mean progress will have
Mark Lawrenson was talking to NEIL MACDONALD
Benitez: A bad result
By Mark Platt - LFC Official Website
Rafael Benitez described Liverpool's 2-1 defeat to
Manchester United as a bad result and added that Steven
Gerrard's injury only served to compound the Reds'
Liverpool crashed to a disappointing loss at Old
Trafford on Monday night and Benitez later rued the fact
that his team conceded two goals from set-pieces.
Benitez says: "We made mistakes and conceded two goals
from set-pieces, which is a problem. We needed to
control the situation but didn't and we need to work on
"I think we played well for only 15 minutes in the first
half. We needed to keep the ball better than we did and
were better in the second half. But it was a bad result.
"Steven Gerrard will be out for six to eight weeks and
needs an x-ray. He has a problem with his metatarsal and
we will know more on Tuesday."
applauds "fantastic" Ferdinand
Sir Alex Ferguson hailed the performance of the
returning Rio Ferdinand against Liverpool on Monday
night - then predicted the appearance of Wayne Rooney in
Manchester United's next Old Trafford outing against
Middlesbrough in a fortnight.
Ferdinand's return from his eight-month suspension
coincided with one of the most convincing defensive
displays United have produced so far this season.
Only an unfortunate John O'Shea own goal breached their
rearguard and thankfully for the hosts, two bullet-like
Mikael Silvestre headers ensured Ferdinand could
celebrate his comeback with a much-needed win.
"I thought Rio was absolutely superb and I don't expect
there will be many people disagreeing with that," said
"He has been out for eight months, yet he comes into a
game against Liverpool and plays like that.
"He brings balance, composure and surety to our defence.
He is just a fantastic player.
"I didn't think it was a risk to put him straight in the
side because I have seen him train every day, which is a
good measure of how he will go."
With Ferdinand available again, Ruud van Nistelrooy
reaching full match sharpness after his third outing of
the season and Cristiano Ronaldo showing no ill-effects
from his arduous summer, the United squad is starting to
show its strength again.
Ferguson still has a few players to come back, notably
Rooney, who has yet to make his debut since completing a
£27million move from Everton at the end of last month.
The 18-year-old had a further scan today on the foot he
broke in England's Euro 2004 defeat to Portugal this
summer and the results were encouraging enough to allow
the United boss to pencil in a debut date against
Middlesbrough on October 3.
"It's going to be about two more weeks," said Ferguson.
"Wayne will go back to see the specialist on Thursday
but I think we are looking at the Middlesbrough game.
"By that time we should have Gary Neville and Louis Saha
back and then you will start to see the strength of
Even with the players he currently has available,
Ferguson's men were too good for Liverpool, who were too
timid in the opening half and were unable to capitalise
on their fortunate leveller.
The visitors might complain that United were lucky to
get the free-kick which Ryan Giggs swung over for
Silvestre's first and that they should have had a
goal-kick rather than concede a corner when Sami Hyypia
was incorrectly ruled to have knocked the ball out of
play in the build-up to the Frenchman's winner.
That would be to deny the superiority of United's play
though, and Ferguson was accurate in his assessment that
the hosts were deserved winners.
"Our first-half performance in particular was
excellent," said the Scot.
"We could have been three or four up at half-time and
the only worry was that we hadn't capitalised on our
"Their goal was a bit lucky but we didn't handle the
situation well. Fortunately, we galvanised ourselves
after that, got some tackles in and ended up with the
Rio return marks United win
By Patrick Goss - Sky Sports
Mikael Silvestre scored a brace of headers on Rio
Ferdinand's return to give Manchester United a 2-1 win
It was a tale of United defenders at Old Trafford, with
Ferdinand back in the starting line-up after his
eight-month ban, Silvestre scoring two headed goals from
set-pieces, and John O'Shea putting through his own net
to give Liverpool a life-line just after the break.
All of the pre-match attention was inevitably on
Ferdinand, and his return visibly buoyed United -
especially with Roy Keane putting in a performance that
sadly departed Brian Clough would have been proud of.
The iconic manager's death on Monday was acknowledged by
black armbands, and Keane did not look a million miles
from the player that made his debut against Liverpool
under Clough at Nottingham Forest.
With Cristiano Ronaldo at his effervescent best, and
Ryan Giggs putting in a much-improved performance,
United had left the crowd as breathless as the
flabbergasted Liverpool side in the opening 45 minutes.
Interestingly, it was The Reds that had started the
stronger, and if not for Cisse's miskick after Josemi's
low cross, could have taken an early lead.
But from then on in it was all Red Devils - with Ronaldo
going the width of the post from providing an early
candidate for goal of the season.
The Portugal international had skipped round four
Liverpool players before cutting back across the pitch
and unleashing a left foot drive that flew past the dive
of Dudek but thumped the foot of the post.
Two minutes later and United could, and should, have had
a penalty when Sami Hyypia clearly held back Ruud van
The Dutchman, to his credit, stayed on his feet and had
his shot saved by Dudek, but Graham Poll looked to have
punished the Manchester United striker for not reacting
to the foul.
But United were not to be denied and when Ryan Giggs
swung in an enticing free kick from the right flank, the
Liverpool defence scandalously failed to mark Silvestre
- allowing the Frenchman the simplest task of heading
home at the far post.
Josemi had a shot narrowly wide at the other end, but it
was a brief respite as a sea of red threatened to engulf
the yellow-shirted Liverpool side.
Van Nistelrooy could not find the power to head home
another fine Giggs cross, and Ronaldo volleyed narrowly
wide - to his evident frustration.
Dudek had to be alert to tip over Gabriel Heinze's
header, and van Nistelrooy could not direct another
aerial effort after O'Shea's well directed flick on.
Liverpool's cause was not helped by an injury to Steven
Gerrard, that saw the England man replaced with minutes
left of the half.
But there was still time for O'Shea to find Dudek's arms
after Ronaldo had again laid on a fine cross.
Liverpool were desperately in need of a life-line and
they were handed it, when O'Shea, again playing in a
midfield role that does not seem to suit his abilities,
failed to pick up Jamie Carragher from a set piece, and
then inadvertently deflected the Liverpool man's header
into the back of his own net.
The equaliser pricked the United balloon, and for a
while Liverpool looked like the old enemy, but a moment
of Giggs magic turned the match back in the hosts'
The Wales international showed immense pace and great
strength to blast past John Arne Riise on the wing, and
only Hyypia's meaty tackle prevented his run into the
From the corner, Giggs picked out Silvestre - unmarked
for the second time in the match - and the Frenchman
powered a bullet header past the helpless Dudek to
restore United's lead.
Xabi Alonso almost caught out Roy Carroll, and a couple
of muted penalty appeals fell on deaf ears, before
Heinze produced a wonderful stretching clearance to deny
a clear scoring opportunity six minutes before the end.
It was a display that United have desperately needed,
and whisper it quietly, but Old Trafford was filled with
an optimism that may make this title race much more
competitive than the early stages have suggested.