demands more from key players
By Carl Markham - Press Association Sport
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez expects
his "big names" to lead by example and drive the club on to
Champions League qualification.
A difficult season has seen captain Steven Gerrard and
Fernando Torres' form affected by injuries while even the
ever-consistent Jamie Carragher had an uncharacteristically
poor start to the campaign.
Despite Torres scoring his fifth goal in three matches early
on against Manchester United on Sunday the team failed to
recover from Wayne Rooney's penalty soon after and
eventually lost 2-1 at Old Trafford.
Torres' disenchantment grew as the match wore on and his
increasing frustration led to him being booked for a foul on
Park Ji-sung and subsequent dissent to referee Howard Webb.
Gerrard's performance was more of a concern for Benitez as
he struggled to raise his game enough to be able to drag
Liverpool back into it as he has done so often in the past.
The Reds have now fallen behind both Tottenham and
Manchester City in the race for fourth place while should
Aston Villa win their two matches in hand they too will
overtake the Anfield club.
Liverpool have seven matches - with only one against a
top-four club in Chelsea at home - to save their season and
Benitez believes his experienced players have to lead the
"Sometimes when you talk about big names, top-class players,
you are expecting something from them when the team is not
doing well," said Benitez.
"You expect them to say: 'It's okay, follow me'.
"We have had this conversation with Fernando and the rest of
"It was something we were expecting from Torres and he was
really good the other day (scoring two apiece against
Portsmouth and Lille)."
Benitez was not overly concerned by Torres' display of
petulance against United.
But he has told the Spain striker to concentrate on causing
problems for opponents and not allow himself to be
distracted by their spoiling tactics.
"Fernando knows he has to focus a little bit more," said the
"We were talking about this at half-time (against United) so
that is something that will be better for him and better for
"He can score more goals by concentrating on football.
"All strikers, especially top-class strikers, they are
marked a little bit more closely than others and that is
"It is not easy every game. People don't understand when you
are a player on the pitch and you are fighting and sometimes
you cannot understand these things."
Torres' form in the last week shows he is approaching the
level which saw him score 33 goals in his debut 2007/8
Even in the last injury-hit campaign he scored 17 as
Liverpool ran United a close second in the Barclays Premier
Benitez can only ponder what might have been had the
Spaniard, who missed five weeks after a knee operation in
January having been troubled by a hernia before that, been
fully fit all season.
Instead he has to worry about whether they will qualify for
the Champions League.
"It was a pity because it was a very good season (last year)
and if we were doing more or less the same we would be up
there," said Benitez.
"We have seen some games where we couldn't score and we
conceded and after we didn't have the same reaction as last
Left-back is another area of concern for Benitez with
Emiliano Insua currently looking like he is feeling the
effects of what has been a testing season.
The manager believes Fabio Aurelio is probably a fortnight
away from a comeback after a thigh injury sustained almost a
month ago, which means the 21-year-old Insua will continue.
However, Benitez stressed that the Argentinian, who has
played all-but two Premier League matches this season,
needed more support from his team-mates.
"It is not just one situation where you can point to
someone," he added.
"The team has to take care of the situation. We have to
share the responsibility."
Liverpool FC can salvage
fourth spot with attacking verve
Comment by Ian Rush - Liverpool Echo
When times are testing, inevitably
criticism intensifies – especially when you lose to
It was only to be expected that there was a fallout from
Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford and many are now saying
that Liverpool’s hopes of a top four finish are all but
If that proves to be the case, it would be wrong to say the
season came off the rails just because we lost away to our
biggest rivals as, quite simply, that is not the case.
Put things into context – on its own, you can bounce back
from a defeat to United but when you lose to them, having
previously been turned over by Portsmouth, Wigan and
Sunderland, that’s where your problems begin to really mount
Liverpool, unfortunately, are paying the price for their
failings earlier in the campaign; the irony, of course, is
that during the course of the past eight days, we have just
started to play some decent football again.
True, the clash with United wasn’t great but I don’t for one
minute think they were vastly superior to Liverpool; what’s
more, I’m convinced we would have got a positive result had
we not conceded so quickly after Fernando Torres’ opener.
I don’t believe United should have been awarded a penalty
for Javier Mascherano’s coming together with Antonio
Valencia and, maybe, Alex Ferguson’s musings before the game
had an influence on Howard Webb.
There is no mileage, however, in stewing on what has gone
before; all Liverpool can do now is press on and aim to take
advantage if and when Tottenham and Manchester City drop
points on the run in.
Clearly, the situation is no longer in our hands but the
fixture list offers us plenty of opportunities to make
ground and Liverpool have got to keep believing they can
turn the tide, starting at home to Sunderland.
This, though, is the season that is going to be laced with
frustration and it’s hard to see Manchester United, Chelsea
and Arsenal battling for the title, while we scrap with
City, Spurs and Aston Villa.
If, however, we play with the verve that brushed Portsmouth
and Lille aside, fourth place is still possible.
How long will Torres put up with
being out in cold with Liverpool FC?
Comment by Mark Lawrenson - Liverpool Daily Post
I'm not suggesting that Fernando Torres
would make any noises abut wanting to leave Liverpool. He
loves the club, the fans and desperately wants to succeed at
But the facts are inescapable. There’s a World Cup this year
and chances are he will be one of the star players in one of
the best teams in the tournament.
And once its over, what then? Can anyone seriously believe
that a player in that class won’t be in the Champions League
It’s looking more and more likely that Liverpool won’t
finish in the top four this season and that’s when you have
to start worrying about their ability to hold on to players
A good World Cup will probably push his value up to around
Even in the highly unlikely event of that not being enough
to persuade a debt-ridden club to part with him, the players
have all the power now anyway.
Torres might not want to go, but if he’s stuck in the Europa
League next year, is it not reasonable to assume he might
feel he’s not fulfilling his potential?
He turned 26 on Saturday. Does he really want to be wasting
a year when he could be at the peak of his powers by not
playing in the world’s top club competition?
I’m not suggesting for a second that he would end up at
Manchester United. But he must have looked at their side on
Sunday and imagined what he would do in a team like that.
Let’s face it, Torres would score 45 goals if he was playing
for United because they would play to his strengths.
That’s something Liverpool don’t do often enough and that’s
deeply frustrating – no wonder Rafael Benitez had to calm
his temper down at half-time.
You could tell he was fed up, and he’d already scored as
But that’s the thing. He’s scored five goals in three games
and has come back from injury absolutely on fire. Basically,
he has to put away every chance he gets because the service
isn’t there for him.
Even the link with Steven Gerrard has suffered because the
skipper isn’t playing in his favourite role either – he’s
having to drift wide and back to get the ball but then it’s
not in the areas where he and Torres can do damage.
I just felt the Spaniard was looking at his team-mates as if
to say, ‘please give me some help here’. He had his eye in
after scoring and he had Vidic on toast. But Liverpool
seemed to have an unhappy striker on their hands.
All Liverpool can really do about it now is play to his
strengths and ensure he gets the goals to somehow propel
them to this badly-needed top four finish.
But that’s not in their hands – and perhaps very soon
Torres’s future won’t be either.
Whelan believes players
have given up on boss
By Alex Dimond - Goal.com
Former Liverpool player Ronnie Whelan
believes that after Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Manchester United
in the Premier League, key members of the Reds' squad have
given up on manager Rafael Benitez.
Having watched proceedings unfold at Old Trafford over the
weekend, Whelan believes the attitudes of Steven Gerrard and
Fernando Torres throughout the game underline the fact that
the Spaniard's time at Anfield must be coming to an end.
"We saw Torres at his brilliant best for the opening goal
but turn into a petulant child as the game slipped away,"
Whelan wrote in his column for Irish newspaper The Herald.
"We saw Gerrard ghosting around the pitch without much
purpose, occasionally bursting into activity but mostly
"Players usually know when a manager's time is up and if
they're smart, a long time before anyone else realises it.
It's now plain to see from their performances against
Manchester United that they've had enough.
"Rafa Benitez has nowhere to go now. His best players can no
longer muster the belief needed to go to Old Trafford and
win against the odds.
"They did it for him last season and many times before when
his reputation was on the line but not any more."
Whelan also admitted his belief that the club's star assets
— particularly Gerrard and Torres — will undoubtedly be
having doubts as whether they should stay with the
"They must be having a hard look now at the future and I'm
sure there are clubs all over Europe that would be happy to
fork out huge amounts of cash for either or both players —
even in these recessionary times," the 48-year-old noted.
The former Irish international is also disappointed that the
Reds' academy is no longer producing the sort of players
that could help the club through its current crisis.
"It wouldn't be so bad if there was a half dozen young lads
pushing up from the Academy ranks and filling in the gaps
created by poor work in the transfer market over many
years," he added.
"Home-grown talent served Liverpool well for many years but
Jamie Carragher and Gerrard are the last to come from that
source and they've been in the senior team for over a
Rafa: Masch deal almost wrapped
Rafael Benitez accepts there is still a
little more work to do to bring contract talks with
Liverpool's Javier Mascherano to a resolution.
The two parties have been talking over a new deal for the
Argentina captain for some time and Benitez is confident the
matter will be resolved to both their satisfaction.
Mascherano, whose current contract still has nearly two
years to run, was a target for Barcelona last summer and
Liverpool are keen to tie him to a new long-term contract to
prevent another close season of speculation, especially in a
World Cup year.
Spain goalkeeper Jose Reina will sign his new deal in the
next three weeks to join the likes of Fernando Torres,
Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt and Daniel Agger in committing
their future to the Reds.
"We were talking, progressing and we're closer now. Still we
need to talk a little bit but we are closer," said Benitez.
"It would be very important for the club. We have some
important players with some years left on their contracts
and this could be another one. It's very important that
we're keeping the spine of the team.
"Every fan knows he's a very important player for us, a key
player who's good for team spirit. He's an example for a lot
"He shows every game his commitment, desire and passion. He
has great character, but he can also play. He's a player
every manager would like to have in their team."
Less clear is the future of winger Albert Riera, who last
week was suspended for his outspoken comments about Benitez
and the club, which he described as a "sinking ship".
Riera will be further disciplined - in the form of a fine -
by the club later this week when he returns to training.
But such was Benitez's anger at the content and timing of
the Spain international's remarks - coming on the eve of the
crucial Europa League last-16 second tie at home to Lille -
there is still a possibility the player could be hastily
Riera, who has a Russian wife, has been linked with a move
to CSKA Moscow and also Spartak Moscow as the Russian
league's transfer window does not close until next month.
Benitez: Reds relying on others
Rafael Benitez remains confident Liverpool
can secure Champions League qualification but accepts he is
relying on their rivals making mistakes.
Sunday's 2-1 Premier League defeat against Manchester United
at Old Trafford - their 10th in the league this season - saw
the Reds drop to sixth, four points behind fourth-placed
With Manchester City, in fifth, and seventh-placed Aston
Villa both having two matches in hand Liverpool's task is
becoming increasingly difficult.
They have seven matches to save their season and Benitez
knows they realistically have to win them all.
If they were to do that they would finish the season with 72
points, which was more than enough for Arsenal to clinch
fourth last season as they finished nine points clear of
Of those remaining games, Birmingham away and Chelsea at
home present the most difficult challenges.
Tottenham, by contrast, have to play Arsenal, Chelsea and
Manchester United in successive matches with a trip to
Manchester City on the penultimate weekend of the season.
City also have to face United and Arsenal in successive
weeks, while Villa - currently a point behind Liverpool -
have Chelsea, City, Everton and a derby against Birmingham
among their fixtures.
"We knew the game against United would be very tough. The
question is now about the other teams," said Benitez.
"Tottenham won at the weekend but we have to keep going. We
know they have to make mistakes and we have to keep winning
games to reduce the gap and be there.
"There are still a lot of points to be played for so we have
to keep going. If we can win our games we will be there at
"As a manager you have to believe. It will be more difficult
but we have to keep pushing and I think we can do it.
"This year is a difficult year with too many things against
but still we have to keep fighting and I am confident the
team will be ready for the next game against Sunderland (on
The defeat at Old Trafford came at the end of a week in
which Liverpool had beaten Portsmouth 4-1 and then seen off
Lille 3-0 in the Europa League.
And although losing to their arch-rivals was disappointing,
Benitez insisted it was not as damaging as some were making
"The team was doing well last week, playing well and scoring
a lot of goals," he said.
"You could see they started well against United. If you go
there and don't perform or don't show character or are not
strong enough that is not good.
"But we showed we can beat anyone if we play well and if we
have some chances we have to take them and it could have
been totally different.
"The team was not fantastic but it was not worse than
United. You couldn't see the difference in the table out on
"I don't think it is a set-back."
Despite the need to put together an unbroken winning run
between now and the end of the season the inherently
cautious Benitez is not prepared to go for all-out attack.
The form - and demeanour - of captain Steven Gerrard is a
concern but it would be unthinkable that the England
international would be dropped at a time when confidence is
That means £17million midfielder Alberto Aquilani, in spite
of his man-of-the-match display against Portsmouth, is
destined to only play a bit-part role as the campaign nears
"Sometimes you have to attack but sometimes you have to be
careful and defend," said Benitez.
"I don't think we were defending too much [at Old Trafford].
I think we were doing a good job and we were trying to go
"But you have to create more if you want to be sure [of
"Some games you have one chance and you score and in this
case we were disappointed because how many chances did they
have? How many saves did Pepe (Reina) make? One or two?
"We were trying to get the second goal against United and if
you analyse the people we had on the pitch Kuyt is a
striker, Maxi Rodriguez can keep the ball well, and we had
Gerrard and Fernando Torres.
"After that we put on Ryan, Yossi and Aquilani, who are
offensive players, but we were playing against a good team."
It may have been a disappointing season
for Liverpool, but John Barnes reckons the club are not too
far from where they should be.
The Anfield legend joined Ian Payne and Chris Kamara on the
Goals on Sunday sofa to discuss the state of his former club
and he admitted Liverpool have been too inconsistent in the
Last season the Reds finished four points behind champions
Manchester United, but they are struggling to repeat that
form this time around and are involved in a race with
Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa for the fourth
Champions League spot.
However, Barnes is confident Liverpool will finish in fourth
- and says that is arguably where they should finish given
the players that Benitez has at his disposal.
"Over the last 10 years they have not been consistent
enough," Barnes said.
"Last year, for example, they finished second and I thought
it was a great season for them. I happen to believe they
overachieved last year because to get that close to winning
the league - with what they have - shows what a great job
"They missed Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres a lot so to
finish second - when you look at what they have - they
"The squad is not as good as Chelsea's or Manchester United
or even Arsenal's for that matter, so for them to do what
they did last year was incredible.
"This year I expected them to be better, but even though
they aren't doing better I wouldn't go as far as to say it
breaks my heart because I know things can change.
"I still think they can finish fourth, which in many
respects you could argue is where they should finish.
"Should they win the league? No, not with what they have. So
it's been a disappointing season but I still think they'll
Benitez has been criticised for spending large sums of money
on players such as Alberto Aquilani, who has struggled to
command a place in the first team.
However, Barnes says Liverpool have not been able to attract
the world's top players for several years and it is
difficult for them to compete financially with the likes of
Chelsea and Manchester United.
However, he says the club can still win trophies and
suggested that next season could be an important one for
He said: "I think the problem that Liverpool have now is one
they've had for a while - and Liverpool fans hate me for
saying this but it's true.
"If the best players in the world are coming to England,
they're not coming to Liverpool. It's a fact.
"They're going to go to Chelsea, they're going to go to
Manchester United and they're going to go to Arsenal, apart
from Torres and that's because of the relationship and the
"So what do they do? Do they buy players which are as good
as what they have but aren't going to improve them? Or do
they not spend the money?
"Because they're under pressure to spend money, what you do
is you spend money and you don't really increase the
"You're under pressure to spend money and buy players so you
pay £20million for Aquilani, who may be a decent player but
has been injured.
"What they have to do is they have to galvanise themselves,
come together and say 'maybe we haven't got the best
players, but we can still achieve'.
"It's a difficult thing. How often are we going to say it's
a transitional period because a transitional period is every
other year - and it shouldn't be.
"But it's a big season for Liverpool maybe this year.
Depending on where they finish, next season's going to be a
Barnes played in Liverpool's last league-winning team in
1990, but says supporters shouldn't be surprised at
Liverpool's title drought.
He pointed to various example of teams falling from grace
throughout football history and said any club can slip from
the top if they do not continually strive to improve.
"That's football," Barnes concluded.
"You have to keep your eye on the prize and you have to be
focused because it can easily happen.
"You look at the history of football and you look at great
clubs like Preston North End and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
These were the top clubs.
"I'm not saying Liverpool are going to go like they have
gone, but nevertheless, particularly nowadays when money is
so important, you really have to try and keep in the top
four and try and push on every year.
"Last year they finished second and it hasn't happened this
year, but Liverpool are still a huge football club.
"They'll be in the top four no matter what."
to go for jugular
Comment by James Pearce - Liverpool Echo
They say fortune favours the brave and at
Old Trafford yesterday Liverpool simply weren't brave
It was easy to point an accusing finger at referee Howard
Webb for his part in a painful defeat which delivered a
shattering blow to the Reds' hopes of Champions League
The erratic official got just about everything wrong,
including, crucially, the penalty he awarded when Javier
Mascherano fouled Antonio Valencia just outside the box.
It enabled Manchester United to grab a foothold in the game
they scarcely merited following Fernando Torres' early
Webb gave so many decisions United's way that it was
something of a surprise that he gave Liverpool the kick-off
after Ji-Sung Park scored what ultimately turned out to be
Chuck in the fact that Gary Neville got away with a stray
boot in Maxi Rodriguez's head and Darren Fletcher escaped
with a talking to after lashing out at Dirk Kuyt, then it
was no shock that England's World Cup whistle-blower was the
target of Rafa Benitez's post-match ire.
But the key reasons for this defeat lie much closer to home.
A year ago Liverpool went to Old Trafford and played United
off the park en route to their biggest victory on enemy
territory for 73 years.
This time they were overly cautious – more concerned with
stifling the title contenders than bossing the game.
The selection of Rodriguez in place of the resurgent Ryan
Babel underlined Benitez's defensive mindset.
At the heart of it was surely his desire to ensure there was
some protection on the left for vulnerable full-back
Emiliano Insua. It didn't pay off.
Rodriguez was on the periphery throughout and ageing United
right-back Gary Neville's glaring lack of pace was never
In stark contrast Insua endured a nightmare as Valencia ran
rings around him. All the problems United caused came down
Liverpool's left-hand side.
On the other flank Glen Johnson offered nothing going
forward and with skipper Steven Gerrard failing to stamp his
authority on proceedings, Torres cut an isolated figure.
The move involving Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt which created the
opening for Torres to grab his fifth goal in six days was
But after that they retreated into their shell and,
tellingly, United keeper Edwin Van der Sar didn't have
another save to make until Yossi Benayoun's tame header at
Torres' afternoon went swiftly downhill. Joy turned to anger
at the perceived injustices from Webb and having lost his
cool he snatched at two chances late on he would usually
expect to bury.
A fifth booking in the space of seven games highlighted the
Spaniard's growing desperation at a season which is slipping
When Benitez belatedly went on the offensive by introducing
Alberto Aquilani, Babel and Benayoun, there was finally some
attacking intent but it was too little too late.
Bitter frustration was compounded by the fact that United
were there for the taking.
Liverpool are undoubtedly a pale shadow of the side who took
the title race to the wire last season but United have also
Wayne Rooney's heroics have largely hidden their
deficiencies this season. They can be got at as Liverpool
proved at Anfield back in October but yesterday too many of
Benitez's men failed to rise to the challenge.
Jamie Carragher stood head and shoulders above his
team-mates. The centre-back barely put a foot wrong as he
largely nullified the threat of Rooney. If only others had
shown the same level of application.
Any defeat to United hurts but this one cut deep.
The mission was two-pronged - to throw a spanner in the
works of United's bid to claim a record-breaking 19th top
flight title and step up the pursuit of fourth place.
Liverpool's failure leaves Alex Ferguson closing in on his
long-standing promise to knock the Reds “off their perch”.
Of more concern today is the fact that it will now take a
comeback of Istanbul-like proportions if Liverpool are going
to secure their spot in next season's Champions League.
Manchester City's win at Fulham piled on the misery for
Benitez after Tottenham had won at Stoke on Saturday.
The harsh reality is that with City, Spurs and Aston Villa
all having games in hand, there is a serious risk that the
Reds, who have won just four of their 16 away games, will
end a dismal campaign in seventh.
There is no margin for error and even maximum points from
their remaining seven games may not be enough to turn the
Benitez insisted he still believes he can deliver on his
promise of landing fourth, but it's sounding hollow. To have
any hope the boss must now throw caution to the wind and go
for the jugular.
Liverpool FC can still finish
fourth, says Jamie Carragher
By Dominic King - Liverpool Echo
Jamie Carragher today insisted Liverpool
possess the strength of character to shrug off their
disappointment at Old Trafford and get their push for the
top four back on track.
The Reds squandered a gilt-edged opportunity to make a
statement against Manchester United yesterday as they lost
2-1 despite Fernando Torres giving them an early lead.
With Manchester City and Tottenham – their rivals for the
last Champions League spot – both winning at the weekend,
the task facing Liverpool on the run in is hugely difficult.
Carragher, though, has warned anybody who thinks Liverpool
are out of the reckoning now that they have dropped down to
sixth place to think again.
He is adamant there will still be plenty of twists and turns
in the coming weeks and, having studied the fixture list, is
confident Liverpool can still make their presence felt.
“We have just got to recover from this as quickly as
possible and get on a run of victories,” said the Reds’
“We were playing against a top side yesterday and have run
them close. It’s really disappointing to lose, as there
wasn’t much between the sides in the game.
“You didn’t see too many chances being created but we have
lost and you have got to move on, as this was the most
difficult fixture we had before the season end.
“Of course we believe we can still close the gap. They will
both have difficult spells and we have got to make sure we
take maximum points when they do.
“Maybe there will be more criticism of us now and at a club
like Liverpool, the pressure is never off. Things are a bit
more difficult but we have still got lots of points to play
Once Ji-Sung Park headed in front after Wayne Rooney’s
first-half leveller, Liverpool only threatened to score once
in the final 30 minutes but Torres took an air shot.
“We did well to a certain point but we played last Monday,
then again on Thursday and then had to come into this
match,” Carragher pointed out.
“The squad hasn’t been strong enough for one reason or
another this season but it was still a big ask to come here
after that run, particularly as United had all week to
There is little doubt the game changed after referee Howard
Webb awarded United a penalty when Javier Mascherano tangled
with Antonio Valencia.
Television replays showed the incident took place initially
outside the area, while Rafa Benitez claimed Valencia made
the most of the incident.
Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, countered by saying Mascherano
should have received a red card as Valencia would have been
“too quick” for Carragher, who was the last man.
“It was never a sending-off,” Carragher said. “It took place
outside the box and I think I would have got there! Pepe
(Reina) was unlucky when he saved (Rooney’s) penalty but it
bounced back to him.”
Rafa: Fergie influenced Webb
Rafa Benitez claimed Sir Alex Ferguson
influenced referee Howard Webb's decision to award
Manchester United a penalty in their 2-1 win over Liverpool.
Webb gave the penalty after Javier Mascherano brought Luis
Antonio Valencia down, despite the foul appearing to begin a
few yards outside the area.
Benitez believed Valencia dived, and pointed to Ferguson's
complaints about the Football Association being
'dysfunctional' over their disciplinary policy.
"We know about the influence of Sir Alex in everything,"
"I've seen three replays and the last one was suspicious.
See the replay for yourself and how he fell to the ground."
Asked whether he thought Valencia had dived Benitez said:
"From the replay I think so.
"It is not clear but the way he fell down.....is strange.
"It made a big difference. We were playing well and had
confidence and then one situation changed everything."
Asked if he thought Ferguson's comments about the FA on
Friday had an influence, Benitez said:
"Just on Friday he said something? Which Friday? This Friday
or every Friday? Or every Friday of every year?
"When you have different opinions you have to express those
different opinions. As you know, he has his own opinion
Predictably enough, Ferguson had a rather different view.
"I thought it was a red card," he said.
"There was no way Carragher could get across and stop
Valencia from shooting - he is took quick for Carragher to
"The law is if you stop someone from having a goalscoring
opportunity it is a red card. Not today.
"The referee was right, he tugged him down. He didn't bring
him down outside the box; he didn't go down until he was
inside the box. The decision was correct."
Cautious Benitez pays the price
Comment by Louise Taylor - The Irish Times
There are moments when all football
managers must speculate to accumulate – and not just in the
transfer market. With Tottenham and Manchester City
intensifying their pursuit of fourth place, the time had
arrived for Rafael Benitez to go for broke yesterday.
In driving parlance Liverpool were approaching a dangerous
corner and their manager needed to demand that they daringly
risk accelerating hard into it, thereby gaining the momentum
to overtake a queue of Champions League rivals on the home
The price of balking at such a gamble could be not just the
loss of a disillusioned Fernando Torres, but a failure to
find an investor willing to cough up the €111 million
Liverpool desperately require if the Royal Bank of Scotland
is to be pacified this summer.
The stakes could not have been higher yet the biggest
indictment of Benitez is that he fudged the challenge. The
Spaniard’s team-sheet at Old Trafford might have been
printed on a white flag. Although technically extremely
adroit, Liverpool looked a side configured to nick a draw;
had this had been a Sunday afternoon drive, their players
would have remained in light-footed, strict
True, Torres was supported by Steven Gerrard in a withdrawn
striking role but, behind that pair, the central midfield
double act of Javier Mascherano and Lucas seemed most
unlikely to make many, if any, late dashes into United’s
box. Out on the flanks, the industrious Dirk Kuyt – who
started superbly – patrolled the right wing well enough but,
on the left, Maxi Rodriguez was neat but not penetrative.
When Benitez finally introduced the elusive fluidity
personified by Alberto Aquilani’s one- and two-touch game
along with Yossi Benayoun’s improvisation and Ryan Babel’s
pace, it was far too late. Their team-mates were exhausted
by an afternoon spent assiduously chasing, harrying,
tracking back and passing the ball neatly in front of
United’s defence. When a chance arrived to equalise, Torres
miskicked and Benayoun’s header was wastefully weak.
With Michael Carrick proving less than inspired and Darren
Fletcher primarily about spiky scrapping, yesterday
represented a wasted opportunity for Liverpool. Who knows
what might have happened had Aquilani started.
Admittedly Sir Alex Ferguson deployed Wayne Rooney alone up
front but the England striker’s game was augmented by two
genuine wingers in Antonio Valencia and Nani as well as Park
Ji-sung’s late darts from an advanced midfield position.
Gerrard played significantly better than of late and Torres
started well, connecting with Kuyt’s fine counter-attacking
cross and heading brilliantly beyond Edwin van der Sar. But,
thereafter, things gradually went downhill. Booked – yet
again – his game was studded by flashes of petulance and,
despite on occasions demonstrating his power to unnerve
Nemanja Vidic, he appeared to lose heart after being
clattered by the Serb.
Early on it seemed Benitez threatened to outwit Ferguson
but, for Liverpool fans, this proved a chimera and from the
moment Rooney equalised Liverpool’s containment policy
looked increasingly ill advised.
At half-time a Chinese youth on an exchange visit to
Manchester took part in a penalty-taking competition. His
attempt struck a post but, ignoring such narrow failure he
whipped off a replica shirt and began bowing to all.
No one could blame the boy for a spot of self-delusion in
front of 75,000 at Old Trafford but Benitez must realise
that, for Liverpool now, hitting the post is not enough.
reveals fourth fears
Rafa Benitez has admitted it will be
difficult for Liverpool to claim a UEFA Champions League
berth after their 2-1 defeat to Manchester United.
The Reds slipped to their 10th defeat of a disappointing
Premier League season after goals from Wayne Rooney and Park
Ji-Sung cancelled out Fernando Torres' early opener at Old
Earlier in the campaign, the Spaniard issued a guarantee
that the Anfield outfit would be dining at European
football's top table, but he is now aware that the pressure
Sunday's setback leaves Liverpool four points adrift of
fourth-placed Tottenham having played a game more than the
North London club, with Manchester City and Aston Villa also
strongly in contention.
Benitez remains confident in the abilities of his side and
has vowed not to look to far ahead as the season enters its
He told Sky Sports: "It will be difficult, but still we have
to fight. There are a lot of points to play for so we have
to keep going and see what happens in the next game.
"I think they (the fans) can see that the team today was
solid again. It is not like we are not doing well, not
creating chances or are too weak.
"It depends on the other teams too. We have to win the first
one, see what the position is in the table and think about
the next one. We have to take one game at a time."
Benitez had no complaints about United's equaliser, with
Rooney scoring on the rebound after his initial penalty had
been superbly saved by Jose Reina.
Howard Webb pointed to the spot after Javier Mascherano
pulled down Antonio Valencia, although initial contact was
made outside the box, with the Argentina international
The Liverpool boss added: "It appears that it was inside so
it was a penalty, and Carra was there so it was a yellow
After a blistering opening with Torres on target after just
five minutes and Rooney levelling soon after, there were few
clear-cut openings until Park's winner on the hour mark.
Benitez felt his side deserved to take a point from their
trip to Old Trafford, but paid tribute to an impressive
He said: "I think it was very tight. They didn't have too
many chances, we didn't have too many.
"Between two top sides the difference is always little
things and they were better at these things.
"It was a great goal (from Torres), a great header. But we
conceded too early and in the second half you could see they
are a good team, no doubt about this, but they didn't have
too many options and it could have been a draw, with a
little bit of luck."
Reds' glory days
a distant memory
TEAMtalk reckons Liverpool 2-1 defeat at
Old Trafford proves Liverpool are no nearer to winning the
title than they were six years ago.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez will argue his strategy was
going exactly to plan at Old Trafford until the intervention
of referee Howard Webb but in truth the Merseysiders are
nowhere near where they want - or need - to be.
A Fernando Torres goal inside the first five minutes was
exactly what the Spaniard would have wanted and may even
briefly have raised hopes of last year's 4-1 win at the home
of Manchester United.
Those dreams evaporated within five minutes when Webb
pointed to the spot for Javier Mascherano's foul on Park
Ji-sung, even though initial contact had been outside the
It was downhill from that point for Liverpool and the 2-1
defeat once again leaves Benitez poring over what might have
His side are now four points adrift of fourth-placed
Tottenham, having played one match more, with rivals
Manchester City and Aston Villa also having games in hand on
Champions League football next season looks a long way off
at the moment and Benitez's December 'guarantee' of fourth
place is sounding increasingly hollow by the week.
As Liverpool warmed up at Old Trafford their shorts and
socks looked more faded yellow than gold - a pertinent
metaphor for the club's current status having dominated
English football two decades ago.
That 4-1 Old Trafford victory was only 53 weeks ago but on
the basis of this performance it could have been from a
At the time the win, the middle one of three in succession
against United, raised expectations that Liverpool would
finally end their 19-year championship drought.
It did not as the Reds finished a close second to United
even though that game was one of nine victories in the last
unbeaten 10 matches of the season.
But that result and subsequent runner-up finish was supposed
to be the springboard for a renewed and sustained title bid.
Those hopes were virtually dashed by the second week of the
season as Liverpool had lost two of their first three
fixtures - as many as they had done in the whole of the
Things have not improved much since as, after early exits
from the Champions League and FA Cup, the Reds are still
playing catch-up but now it is only for fourth and not first
Pressure will grow now on Benitez but even if he does
survive beyond the summer the Spaniard's hands are tied.
Co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are not the generous
benefactors who will hand their manager a transfer kitty to
bring in the five quality players star striker Torres claims
they need to persuade him he has a long-term future at
Without Champions League football another income stream is
diminished and the quest for outside investment has still to
come to fruition.
It leaves Liverpool in no man's land - where they have been
for most of this season - with no light at the end of the
There may yet be time for the players to turn things around
in the remainder of the season but that will only paper over
the cracks for so long.
Their performance against United from the moment they
conceded the equaliser, and even more so when they went
behind, showed they currently do not have the quality to
turn the big matches.
Not like they famously did in the 2005 Champions League
final, which tellingly remains Benitez's greatest
achievement at the club in his first season in charge.
Despite nearly six years at the helm and a couple of hundred
million on transfers Liverpool are no closer to winning the
title than when the Spaniard took over.
And for a club the size of Liverpool that has to change.
Whether Benitez is around to effect it remains to be seen.
life miserable for Liverpool
The Irish Times
Manchester United are back on top of the
Premier League table after seeing off bitter rivals
Liverpool at Old Trafford. Park Ji-sung was the hero for
United, stealing in unmarked to head home the winner 30
minutes from the end.
Liverpool struck first in glorious spring sunshine at Old
Trafford when an unmarked Fernando Torres headed in Dirk
Kuyt's cross after only five minutes but their lead was
Park scored what proved to be the winner when he converted
Darren Fletcher's cross from the right with a brave diving
United moved to 69 points from 31 games, displacing
overnight leaders Arsenal who slipped back to second with 67
points. Chelsea, third on 64 points, will go above Arsenal
if they win at Blackburn Rovers later this afternoon.
Although victory was not achieved without a nervy ending,
during which Torres spurned a glorious chance to equalise,
the result kept United’s noses in front of Arsenal and
For Liverpool though, fight was not enough.
When they scored four times in the corresponding fixture
last season, it appeared to open the door to that
championship Holy Grail. Not only has that been proved
fool’s gold, a 10th defeat of the season leaves them
requiring slip-ups from Tottenham and others just to finish
in a Champions League spot. What Rafael Benitez claimed
before Christmas was a guaranteed fourth-place finish could
hardly be further away.
Alex Ferguson once claimed that a game of tiddlywinks
between what the majority still believe to be England’s
biggest clubs could trigger the deepest of passions.
Certainly there was no sense of inferiority from the
visitors despite their present status, and with good reason.
It was the Merseysiders who had won the last three meetings
— each of which featured the dismissal of Nemanja Vidic, who
it seems in Torres has found someone he simply cannot
Such is the mystique surrounding that duel there was an
audible gasp the first time Torres ran at the Serbian. Like
so much of the opening period’s final half-hour, it petered
out disappointingly. The spark had been ignited long before
that, although Torres was the one who flicked the switch.
By his very demeanour, Torres gave the impression of being a
man on a mission. Five minutes into the contest, he seized
on the loose ball after Michael Carrick had lost possession,
sending Steven Gerrard away at top speed with an inspired
As Gerrard found Dirk Kuyt to his right, Torres continued
his own run, United’s defence never set properly to ensure
the Spaniard remained under their control. By the time Kuyt
dug out his cross, Torres was on his own.
Park’s wayward effort from a similar position later on
proved the goal was anything but the routine effort it
looked to be as the Spanish star guided the ball out of
Edwin van der Sar’s reach.
Quite apart from falling behind against such fierce rivals,
an increasingly enthralling title race demanded a United
comeback. For Liverpool, the equaliser came far too quickly.
The controversy was immediate too.
Benitez argued Javier Mascherano’s attempt to haul back
Antonio Valencia was outside the box, which, indeed, was
where the infringement began. Ferguson countered the
combative midfielder had prevented a clear goalscoring
The managers — no friends these two — continued their
finger-jabbing row long after Wayne Rooney had tucked home
the rebound from a spot-kick awarded by Howard Webb and
saved by Pepe Reina.
That was it for the goal threat until the hour mark arrived.
During his long career, Gary Neville has gone on plenty of
unselfish runs down the right wing, knowing David Beckham
or, more latterly, Cristiano Ronaldo were never going to
give him the ball.
Darren Fletcher is not quite of that attacking calibre but
Neville must have sensed his run was purely to provide space
for the Scot. So it proved. As Neville flew past on the
overlap, Emiliano Insua edged to his right. In an instant,
Fletcher had exploited the gap and curled over a cross.
As Rooney and Jamie Carragher tussled and tugged, Park
arrived behind them, launching himself at the ball like a
guided missile and powering the diving header into the
corner of Reina’s goal.
Rooney had one more chance before the end, which he fired
Torres was on the end of a far better one when Steven
Gerrard drilled over a low cross near the end. For once
against United, the Spaniard miscued and Yossi Benayoun
headed the loose ball straight at Edwin van der Sar.
United could celebrate, Neville and Ferguson doing the
cheerleading. Liverpool’s money men are staring at a big
black hole marked Champions League, Benitez is failing on