Benitez looks to
Rafael Benitez is anxious to plunge his new Liverpool
signings into action following the embarrassing 1-0
Champions League defeat by Graz AK on Tuesday night.
New manager Benitez left no-one in any doubt of his
disappointment at the stumbling performance which left
Liverpool hanging on for a 2-1 aggregate victory in the
Liverpool were relieved when referee Luis Medina
Cantalejo finally blew the whistle to calm Anfield's
Benitez had £16million of Spanish talent in Xabi Alonso
and Luis Garcia watching because they were not qualified
But from Sunday when Liverpool go to Bolton in the
Premiership, and for the lucrative Champions League
group stages Benitez will have his Spanish imports
available. That includes Josemi and Antonio Nunez who
The former Valencia coach said: "I have a good squad,
the only thing we have to do is to learn and to
understand what we did badly.
"We have two or three possibilities now to change, we
start from here with Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia and
that will give us more choice.
"The Spanish players who have arrived will give us more
scope, more alternatives. When you have more players it
is more competitive and that is better for all the
players and the team in the long run."
His first three games without defeat with some
comfortable, confident displays had maybe given the
Anfield public the impression that a click of a
Spaniard's fingers had solved all the ills of the past.
Now they know it cannot be a quick fix. Liverpool's
squad do not possess the mental capacity of a
battle-hardened outfit like Benitez left behind in
There, with a 2-0 first leg lead, Benitez would have had
no problem switching his side, bringing in a few
youngsters, and acquiring the regulation victory.
Jamie Carragher, one of the few players to produce a
decent performance, said: "It will take time because we
were a long way off the top last season. It's not going
to happen in one season.
"It was a disappointing performance. The main thing is
to get through but we expected a lot better from
ourselves and the supporters deserved a lot better."
Benitez ended up substituting three of his front-line
attackers, Harry Kewell, Djibril Cisse and Milan Baros
and accepted there is plenty of work to do before an
acceptable partnership will be formed.
On Kewell he said: "I am very happy with Harry, he is
trying to do things. He had a leg-muscle problem which
is why I decided to change him.
"He is a very important player and I am sure he will
play better in the future. For me he can play left
winger or as the second striker, he is an intelligent
Of his two strikers, Benitez promised more
He said: "We have talked about the movement of the
forwards a lot, and we trained hard. Sometimes it was
good but we do need to work more.
"We must learn in games like this that it is important
to control the mind as well as the ball and to try to do
the things we are working on in training sessions. It is
our job to improve our level of performance.
"It is difficult to say what the players had in their
minds. But for me, the first 25 minutes was fine but
then it changed. We must learn. By the end of the season
we will have had a lot of matches like this one.
"The problem was that when we won the first leg people
thought it would be easy. But Graz were a good team,
they had strikers who were always moving and they played
The overall team performance made for a difficult full
debut for promising 19-year-old right-sided midfielder
He said: "The result was disappointing and the mood in
the dressing room was one of relief at the end. It was a
bit nervous late in the game when Graz pushed forward
but thankfully we held on.
"It's great for the club to be back in the Champions
League, and hopefully I can play a part in it. I'm not
one to make predictions though and we will have to see
what the future holds."
share of blame
Rafael Benitez admitted his side looked "nervous" as
they scraped past Graz AK and into the Champions League
group stages with a 2-1 aggregate win.
Mario Tokic's long-range strike 10 minutes into the
second period left the Reds clinging on and gave the
Spanish coach an indication of how much work he has left
to do at Anfield.
Benitez said: "For half an hour we played well but after
that we didn't look good and lost a lot of possession.
"The most important thing is that we have qualified for
the group stages and now have time to sort a few things
"When you win you learn, but when you lose you have to
learn also. Perhaps the reasons were that we became
nervous. We did not control the game and kept conceding
the ball with easy passes.
"It meant we were always on the back foot and
encouraging a good team to attack us. They were
dangerous at the end and when they scored the nerves
"We didn't play well in attack or defence and we know
now that we must work harder. It is not just a problem
for one or two players but for the whole team and for
me. We are all in this together, it is a problem for us
Meanwhile, Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo could
be in hot water with UEFA after he appeared to book Graz
skipper Rene Aufhauser twice but failed to send him off.
In an amazing repeat of the Barry Ferguson situation
during Saturday's Barclays Premiership game between
Southampton and Blackburn, the official twice produced
the yellow card to the Austria international in an
amazing 10-minute second-half spell.
It looked as if he had booked Aufhauser in the 68th and
78th minute, both times for fouls on Steven Gerrard.
Afterwards a UEFA spokesman confirmed the match
referee's observer would discuss the incidents with the
referee and the fourth official.
The spokesman then said: "Under UEFA rules we are not
able to comment at the moment, but a report will be sent
to UEFA tomorrow for them to consider the incidents."
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez said afterwards: "Now we
have qualified it was just a small mistake, no more."
League after a huge scare
BBC Sport Online
Liverpool qualified for the Champions League group
stage, but only after being given a huge scare by AK
The Austrian side went ahead early in the second half
through Mario Tokic's superb strike, which crossed the
line after hitting Jerzy Dudek's bar.
Late on Tokic's finishing was less assured when the
defender volleyed high over the bar following a Graz
Liverpool's best effort in a hugely disappointing
performance was a first-half Steven Gerrard shot.
Having fielded the same starting line-up in their last
three competitive games, Liverpool manager Rafael
Benitez made three changes, selecting Salif Diao,
Stephane Henchoz and Darren Potter.
It was a debut for the 19-year-old Potter, who in build
and style resembles Steve McMananman.
Even when Liverpool went a goal down Benitez resisted
the temptation to introduce the experience of Dietmar
Hamann and Igor Biscan to steady the nerves of the
four-time European Cup winners, opting to deploy two
other youngsters Stephen Warnock and Florent Sinama
Hamann did eventually come on - in the 90th minute -
helping Liverpool survive three minutes of stoppage
Despite the sell-out crowd, Liverpool were unable to
find their rhythm throughout the game.
As ever Gerrard seemed to be everywhere, while Milan
Baros and Djibril Cisse were full of running in attack.
But Liverpool were unable to create many clear-cut
openings, the best an early free-kick involving Kewell
The Graz defence had been expecting a cross into the
area, but Kewell pulled the ball for Gerrard, whose shot
went narrowly wide.
The Austrian side also threatened from set-pieces,
notably just before the interval when Roland Kollmann
almost touched the ball home.
Soon after the restart Graz took the lead, again
capitalising on Liverpool's defensive uncertainity from
Following a corner Tokic picked up the ball on the edge
of the penalty area, flicked it over Kewell's head and
then struck a superb shot past Dudek.
Tokic's goal prompted Benitez to withdraw the
ineffectual Kewell and replace him with Warnock.
Gerrard also began to raise his game and his cross from
the left almost found Baros at the far post.
Baros and Cisse then combined smartly, but the ball
arrived too quickly for the Frenchman and his volley was
Potter's chip into the box then found Baros and Cisse
lurking unmarked, but the Czech Republic striker missed
his kick, while Cisse's bicycle kick was imperfectly
With Anfield becoming more and more hushed as the game
continued, Graz continued to probe with Dudek having to
save a Kollmann header.
During the game Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo
looked to have booked Graz captain Reen Aufhauser twice,
but just like Andy D'Urso at the weekend, the Spaniard
failed to bring out his red card.