Even the best
get it wrong sometimes
By David Prentice, Chief Sports Writer - Liverpool Echo
Rafael Benitez will be unaware of the old
Scouse expression 'barley.'
But perhaps somebody should put him right.
Because for much of his Anfield reign the Liverpool manager
has been barley.
That's untouchable, exempt from criticism and free from
Sure there have been some ludicrous attempts by the more
hysterical tabloids to dress him up in glasses and a beret
and call him Benni Hill, but diehard Reds have been loathe
to point the finger.
Their loyalty is understandable. A famous Champions League
triumph, an equally dramatic FA Cup success and the
introduction of more expressive, free-flowing football to
Anfield givesany manager a certain degree of licence.
But there are rumblings of discontent beginning to emerge.
And those gripes are justified. There are three fixtures
Liverpool hate to lose more than any other.
And they have just lost all three in the space of six weeks.
Red apologists could claim the scoreline at Everton was
harsh and the defeat at Chelsea unlucky and find plenty to
agree with their arguments, but there was no escaping the
fact Liverpool were second best in all areas of the pitch at
Old Trafford yesterday.
And most disappointingly, Liverpool never looked like
turning it around.
Defeat to Manchester United always leads to soul-searching
and self analysis - and Rafael Benitez has some searching
questions to answer right now.
Most important would appear to be the most straightforward.
What exactly is Liverpool's best starting line-up?
It should be a simple enough answer. But such has been the
extent of Liverpool's constantly shuffling team selections
that it is difficult now to gauge when one player has been
'rested' or another axed.
Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United all rotate their
squads to some degree, but all have reassuring constants.
Drogba and Shevchenko are Chelsea's first choice front two,
while Frank Lampard is an omni-present central midfielder.
United fans can claim with some certainty that Saha and
Rooney will form their forward line, with Ronaldo and Giggs
on either flank, while Thierry Henry is always a first
Which is Liverpool's first choice forward line? Perm any two
from three - or one as it was yesterday.
What's the best midfield partnership? Your guess is as good
And the ever-present Steve Finnan apart, what's the best
back four line-up?
No-one, not even the manager, appears to have the answers.
Other questions are more complex. Why was Liverpool's top
scorer left on the substitutes' bench - again. Surely such a
tactic erodes the motivation of players.
What's the point of excelling in a match if your reward is
to be 'rested'?
Why was the best central midfielder in the Premiership left
on the periphery of the action - again - isolated wide on
the right of a five man midfield?
And why was Jermaine Pennant, as out and out a right-winger
as you'll find, introduced on the left of midfield?
It's square pegs in round holes time, with predictable
Manchester United were comfortable victors yesterday.
There's no shame in losing to the current Premier League
leaders, but there is when you fail to muster more than a
solitary on-target effort all afternoon.
Liverpool set out at containment, but were undone when their
central defence fell asleep seven minutes before half-time.
Sami Hyypia has creaked at times this season and the
admirable Jamie Carragher is finding that even supermen
cannot play to the best of their ability with painful
United took ruthless advantage, to underline the worrying
statistic that Watford currently have a better away record
Rafael Benitez's tactical acumen is unquestioned.
He is rightly regarded as one of Europe's most talented
tacticians and coaches.
But just sometimes he gets things wrong - and Reds fans are
hoping he can get things right again quickly.
Benitez: New Reds must deliver
By Paul Walker - PA Sport
Rafael Benitez believes Liverpool have to start proving
his expensively-assembled squad is better than last
The Anfield chief witnessed yet another deflating defeat at
Old Trafford yesterday, with Manchester United emerging
comfortable 2-0 victors to return to the top of the Barclays
Premiership, 11 point clear of Benitez's troops.
It is a sobering time for the Spaniard, who consistently
claims his summer buys - added to last season's side that
finished third - have improved Liverpool's squad.
But he said: "I believe - I know - we are a better squad
than last season. But we have to prove that.
"The way to change things in your life is to work harder and
better. We must think about Reading in the Carling Cup and
then (Aston) Villa. If I think every day, all week, about
what went wrong, what half chances we missed we would not
"We must focus on improving, getting better at what we do -
and the things we are not doing well.
"Last season, we were much better away from home, and we
have a situation now when we are looking at the same
defenders and the same midfielders who were in that position
"The difference is scoring first - everything changes in a
game when that happens."
And Benitez argued the solution is not necessarily returning
skipper Steven Gerrard to the centre of midfield.
He said: "Stevie has played in the middle sometimes, but if
you have Momo (Sissoko) and Xabi (Alonso) doing well in the
middle and Stevie scoring goals like he did last season,
then you will do well.
"The team today was the one we needed because we had enough
quality to win the match. I don't think there was a lack of
confidence - the first half hour we were fine.
"But the first goal gave them control. Manchester United are
a very good team in such circumstances.
"That first goal was hard to stop, our players had worked
very hard to contain United, but one slip and a difficult
low cross comes in which is very hard to stop.
"I don't want to blame individuals, they were doing the
things we had talked about. The second half was about
passion and quality and we know United have both."
He added: "This is still a very, very long race. I cannot
say whether we can make up 11 points, yes or no. But we can
only look to the next one and to make sure we improve and
get the points that will make the situation easier to
Benitez admitted the defeat at Old Trafford was one of his
most frustrating as Liverpool manager.
He said: "It is clearly one of my most disappointing days as
manager of the club.
"It is a game I know everybody at the club and the
supporters wants us to win, particularly at Old Trafford.
"I felt we started the game well but we didn't create
enough. We had some chances and good possession, but we
could not create clear openings. Things were okay until we
conceded the first goal.
"That changed the game for both sides. We needed to go
forward, the game was more open and, with their quality, it
became more difficult for us."
Benitez has yet to register a league victory over United,
and his side have failed to scored against Sir Alex
Ferguson's men for 396 minutes of Premiership action.
Benitez must act to halt
alarming fall from grace
By Alan Hansen - Daily Telegraph
Eleven points off the pace and with the big three
slipping ever further away, it looks all over as early as
October for Liverpool's pursuit of the Premiership. And when
you think that the season began with many tipping them to
run Chelsea closest, that is a truly sobering thought.
They may yet produce the kind of unbeaten run that they put
together towards the end of last season but those kinds of
statistics are a long way from the reality Liverpool face
now. After five away games in which they have gained one
point and scored one goal, they look badly in need of a
If you want to consider yourself one of the country's top
clubs, you cannot continue to keep looking to a single
player for inspiration. However great a footballer Steven
Gerrard is, that is too much pressure to heap on one man's
shoulders, especially when he is not performing well.
I have always maintained that Gerrard's best position is in
the centre of midfield, driving forward; but he can play
wide on the right, he can play as a holding midfielder or as
a right back. He would probably play in goal if you asked
him to. But for one man to shoulder so much responsibility
for the way a club of Liverpool's size perform is
Analysing Liverpool, you see problems throughout the side
and it is up to Rafa Benitez to sort them out. The manager
is the man who took the plaudits when Liverpool won the
Champions League and the FA Cup and it is up to him to take
decisive action when things are not going well.
advertisementThere is plenty for him to consider. His
goalkeeper, Jose Reina, produced one world-class save from
Louis Saha but recently he has made many errors of judgement
and he seems very uncertain when coming off his line.
There are serious problems with the back four. My views on
Liverpool's rotation policy are very clear: the time to
rotate players is generally when you are winning, but the
one area you should be very wary of rotating is your
The game may have changed since I played it, but what is
still true is that the centre-backs do less running and more
talking to each other than any other players on the pitch.
It is an absolutely crucial area that depends on
understanding and reading your partner's game. As a manager,
you would be looking to play the same back four 20 times on
the trot, not split them up.
Up front, Liverpool's weaknesses were glaring. At Old
Trafford yesterday, they created one chance – Dirk Kuyt's
header – and they passed the ball so poorly that you never
expected another. You can talk about lack of pace or lack of
height or lack of anything in Liverpool's attack but not
since Michael Owen have they had a player capable of scoring
20 Premiership goals in a season. At Old Trafford there was
no passing, no cohesion and no threat.
Whereas Chelsea and Manchester United spend £30 million on a
player and even Arsenal can and do pay big money, Liverpool
spend between £4 million and £9 million on transfers. That
gets you 'maybe' players, footballers who could do a job but
who would be dangerous to rely on in a crisis.
The fact that there is talk of new investment in the club
from Dubai is welcome, but it is irrelevant to what is
happening on the pitch now. When Old Trafford holds 75,000
and Anfield can accommodate 44,000, it is obvious that
Liverpool are operating under a huge disadvantage. David
Moores has been a great chairman of Liverpool and if he
feels the need to sell the club, he should be supported and
I would back him if he decides to stay.
However, there are factors other than finance that separate
Manchester United and Liverpool. Yesterday so much of
United's play revolved around Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and
Gary Neville, men who are immersed in the club. Their
enthusiasm for football and for Manchester United has not
diminished more than a dozen years after they made their
debuts at Old Trafford. Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester
United each have sides who you can see going on 14-match
Liverpool, in contrast, would struggle to get through three
unbeaten games in their present form and seem to have
slipped back to the pattern of Benitez's first season, when
Liverpool were excellent in Europe but could not win away
from Anfield in the Premiership. Back then they looked too
fragile, while now their away record suggests they are not
Benitez might argue that Liverpool are nearly there,
especially when at Anfield, but in the context of what they
need to achieve in the Premiership, nearly could mean a
By Rich Middleton - LFC Online
The match was dubbed as the Red's final chance to mount a
challenge on the Premiership title, but now eleven points
behind the league leaders, Liverpool look lost and
But the hype prior to kick off had seemingly affected the
players, with a feisty first twenty minutes. The Reds
appeared bright and lively, with crisp, accurate passing and
intelligent, even complex, movement up front.
But an insipid second half lacking in belief, organisation
and creativity clouded any positive memories. Statistics can
often belie truth, but with a total tally of two shots on
target and a quarter of all passes going astray, the Reds
would have been lucky to have scraped an undeserving point.
Uncharacteristic mistakes from Jamie Carragher cost
Liverpool, initially allowing Paul Scholes the freedom of
the six yard box - and a simple tap in - to give United the
impetus. A sliced clearance mid way through the second half
from the Liverpool talisman then allowed Rio Ferdinand his
chance, which he duly controlled and finished, cleverly
turning John Arme Riise and firing home from close range.
But it was the lack of chances which must concern Reds boss,
Rafa Benitez. Liverpool required a Steven Gerrard wonder
strike, but when this failed to materialise, there seemed
little left in reserve. And with media attention focusing on
Benitez's rotational approach, today's performance seemed to
epitomise the downfalls of playing with such an inconsistent
Stray passes, mis-commmunication between players, and an
underlying inability to create any meaningful chances were
the only conclusions to draw from a second half which was,
at times, painful to watch. The initial optimism from the
first twenty minutes was replaced with misplaced pass after
misplaced pass, with the Reds unable to find team mates and
incapable of keeping possession for a sustained period.
And the dreary Manchester weather reflected the Reds
performance on the pitch. Grey skies hung over a team who
seem to need a burst of confidence, perhaps an injection of
faith. But with each player fighting against a system which
inherently rejects such an approach to the game, Reds will
be wondering where the side will go from here.
By Andrew Scurr - Sky Sports
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez believes a lack of
concentration at vital moments cost his side against
Paul Scholes took advantage of some poor defending to steal
in for the opening goal and a result was beyond Liverpool
when Rio Ferdinand netted a superb second.
Benitez was happy with the overall performance of his side
at Old Trafford but says mistakes cost them the chance of
taking something from the game.
"In the first half we didn't have a lot of problems and then
we conceded a goal. Against a good team like United that is
always a big problem," Benitez told Sky Sports.
"When you see the players working as hard as they work, you
cannot blame them, if you make a mistake, you make a
"From my point of view it is a pity when you concede."
Benitez was disappointed with the lack of clear-cut chances
his side created on the day.
"We were defending well but we couldn't create a lot of
clear chances, if you want to win you need to score," he
Meanwhile, Benitez refused to rule out his sides chances of
still challenging for the title.
The Reds are now 11 points behind United at the top, but
Benitez is not looking any further ahead than their next
league outing against Reading.
He added: "In football you never know. I need to think about
the next game. When you are at the top, bottom or middle of
the table you need to think about the next three points.
"If you want to have possibilities (of being in the title
race) you need to start winning games."
By Andrew Scurr - Sky Sports
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted
to see his side claim maximum points from rivals Liverpool
Goals from Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand secured a 2-0
success for The Red Devils against a Liverpool side that
continue to struggle away from home.
Ferguson was pleased to see his side not falter again after
going down to Arsenal in the battle of the big boys at Old
Trafford last month.
"Well we're pleased, after losing the game to Arsenal, you
can't afford to lose a big one again so the players
responded to that," Ferguson told Sky Sports.
"I thought the performance was excellent."
Ferguson was particularly happy for Scholes, who netted on
his 500th appearance for the club.
The midfielder has spent his entire career at Old Trafford
and Ferguson feels it is fitting he scored the goal against
United's great rivals.
"I thought about that before the game but you don't want to
tempt things but I was so pleased for him, he deserves it,"
"His 500th game for the club and he scores against our
biggest rivals, so it was a really great moment."
With the win, United regained top spot in The Premiership
from Chelsea and Ferguson believes consistency is the key to
their excellent start this season.
He added: "I think it's consistency. Were doing very well
considering we don't have our most recognised team yet.
"We've got some players still to get back in the squad and
get some football behind them.
"I think the belief's there, I think there's a growing
belief. We started the season with hope and desire with the
intention to do well and so far they've not let us down.
"But there's a great confidence also and as everyone says,
winning gives you confidence but also I think there's some
young players that are starting to develop well as well."
Red Devils rule over Liverpool
By Andrew Scurr - Sky Sports
Paul Scholes marked his 500th appearance for the club
with a goal as Manchester United ran out 2-0 winners over
Liverpool in front of a record Premiership crowd at Old
Scholes put United ahead on 39 minutes as he poked Ryan
Giggs' ball across the face of goal home at the second
United were dominant for much of the game, with Liverpool
very rarely troubling Edwin Van der Sar, and Rio Ferdinand
scored a superb second mid-way through the second half.
The England defender took advantage of a poor Jamie
Carragher clearance to fire a first-time shot into the top
corner from 12 yards and give Sir Alex Ferguson's men a lead
they did not relinquish.
The game lived up to its billing right from the off, with
both sides allowing for a lively and open affair and chances
aplenty at both ends.
John Arne Riise tried to catch out Van der Sar early with a
Xabi Alonso-type effort from just inside the Manchester
United half, but the ball sailed comfortably over the
United were soon into their stride and the Liverpool fans
will have had their hearts in their mouths inside 10 minutes
as a poor decision from Jose Reina almost let the hosts in
for the opener.
Darren Fletcher beat Reina to a loose ball on the right wing
but fortunately for the Spanish keeper, The Reds had enough
defenders back to bail him out.
Giggs was causing umpteen problems for the Liverpool defence
with his delivery from set pieces but the United attackers
could not take advantage.
Liverpool's defence was struggling to cope with set pieces
and Reina had to be quick to get down to Louis Saha's
snap-shot from the corner of the six yard box.
The Frenchman was again denied by Reina soon after as his
ferocious attempt from 20 yards was kept out by the
Wayne Rooney had a sniff of goal on two occasions just after
the half hour mark as first he mis-controlled Michael
Carrick's brilliant ball over the top, before being beaten
to the ball by Reina after Saha's mis-timed header looked to
have put him in.
In between Rooney's two openings, Liverpool created their
best chance of the half and Dirk Kuyt should have done
better than head straight at Van der Sar when Mark
Gonzalez's perfect centre found the Dutch striker at the
Gonzalez then spurned no less than three opportunities to
give Liverpool the lead in the final ten minutes of the half
as he saw a shot blocked on the break and twice shot wide
from good positions.
Liverpool were certainly enjoying their best spell of the
half but United made them pay for not taking their chances
as Scholes popped up to send the home fans into raptures.
Rooney played in Giggs down the left and his first-time ball
cross the six-yard box found an unmarked Scholes who poked
home at the second attempt after Reina had saved the
midfielder's initial effort well at his feet.
Saha was superbly denied United's second minutes later when
his 25-yard shot looked like finding the bottom corner until
Reina tipped the ball around the post.
Alonso went close in stoppage time with a shot from the edge
of the area but United were full value for their lead going
in at the break.
United started the second 45 in a similar manner to the way
they ended the first half, with Saha and Scholes both
shooting wide from the edge of the area.
Liverpool were continuing to struggle to trouble Van der
Sar, with Luis Garcia's tame header from Steven Gerrard's
dinked ball over the top the best they could muster in the
early stages of the second half.
United, meanwhile, continued to bear down on Reina's goal
and Saha saw a shot blocked before Ferdinand's magical
strike double the hosts' advantage.
Carragher had earlier taken a knock to his ankle and his
poor clearance went straight up in the air in the Liverpool
penalty area. Ferdinand took the ball down exquisitely
before sending a first-time shot with his left foot into the
top left-hand corner of Reina's net for his first goal of
United slowed the tempo after the second but Giggs was
clearly keen to get himself on the score sheet as he rolled
back the years with a dazzling run from the left, but the
veteran winger could not find the finish the run deserved.
Gerrard headed over and fired wide late on but the Reds' day
was summed up when Luis Garcia sent a disappointing effort
high and wide in the final embers of the match.
Liverpool's chances of challenging in The Premiership have
taken a further dent with the result as they now find
themselves 11 points behind United, who go back above
Chelsea on goal difference.