Cisse under the microscope
Djibril Cisse's immediate future at Liverpool will
come under close scrutiny following his performance and
behaviour at Manchester City on Saturday.
The Frenchman was replaced by Harry Kewell five minutes
into the second half of Liverpool's 1-0 victory at
But it is Cisse's attitude to that substitution, as much
as his lacklustre display at the City of Manchester
Stadium, that will concern boss Rafael Benitez.
Cisse, who was reported to have said last week that
there was a "Pop Idol" elimination contest taking place
at Anfield among the strikers over who may be sold in
January, slowly strolled off the Eastlands pitch with a
look of surprise on his face.
He walked straight past Benitez but when he got to the
bench behind the manager he slowly shook his head to
register his disapproval.
Benitez's shrug afterwards when questioned on Cisse's
attitude underlined that the Spaniard is only interested
in the collective team ethic, and he said: "In the first
half we used the pace of Cisse with Crouch winning the
ball and after the break we changed it and had Kewell in
a deeper role and that caused their defenders plenty of
"Cisse was disappointed when he came off, but it is
normal for players to feel that way."
But there had also been annoyance from some of his
colleagues in that first period.
First skipper Steven Gerrard played a pass into the
inside left channel, but threw his hands in the air in
frustration as Cisse made little attempt
to chase it.
Then Peter Crouch cushioned a lay-off for Cisse in the
box, but the feeble flick of the Frenchman's right boot
failed to trouble David James.
The only time Cisse showed any sort of passion was when
he was booked by referee Alan Wiley for some arm-waving
But it was the movement and control in possession of
Kewell that clearly pleased Benitez, with the Australian
employed in a deep role supporting Crouch.
As a result, Cisse's place in the starting line-up could
come under threat at Sunderland on Wednesday, where a
fifth straight league win could take Liverpool up to
fourth place in the table.
Liverpool, unbeaten in six games and with six successive
clean sheets, are currently the Premiership's form club
and Benitez has already stressed the importance of
maintaining their performance level first against City
and then at Sunderland and home to Wigan on Saturday.
And whereas Crouch continues to have the support of his
manager because his all-round team play and effort is
key to Benitez's tactical plan, the manager will not be
impressed by another public display of frustration from
The 24-year-old striker has hardly endeared himself to
the Liverpool hierarchy with his reported comments last
He said: "In January there will be a kind of elimination
process process. I would say along the lines of Pop Idol
or Fame Academy.
"We are having to live with the expectation that an
extra forward will probably arrive during the transfer
window and that will mean more players competing for the
same position. It is natural that the manager would want
to improve the squad but it may not mean good news for
Marseille are long-term admirers of Cisse, and made
noises last week that they would still be prepared to
rescue the striker.
But their reported interest at the weekend in Auxerre's
Zimbabwean striker Benjani suggests they are looking for
a cheaper option.
But Benitez, if he could get £10million for Cisse, may
well be prepared to boost his transfer budget.
He has attempted to beat Fiorentina to sign Spartak
Moscow's Serbian centre half Nemanja Vidic with a
£4.5mmillion bid and is believed to be prepared to sell
Chris Kirkland - currently on loan at West Brom - for
Ajax's South African midfielder Steven Pienaar and
Portsmouth's young midfield star Gary O'Neill have both
been linked with Liverpool along with Valencia's Italian
striker Marco Di Vaio.
But Benitez is believed to be considering Fulham's Steed
Malbranque and Benfica's Simao Sabrosa, who almost
joined in the summer.
Although Benitez has been told he has money to spend,
picking up £14million in addition for Cisse and Kirkland
would be a tempting option.
more progress can satisfy Benitez
By Ian Doyle - Daily Post
It's possible to ascertain a measure of Rafael
Benitez's exacting standards from his response when
asked for a progress report on his improving Liverpool
Reigning champions of Europe and through to the last 16
of this season's competition with a game to spare, three
successive Premiership victories and five consecutive
clean sheets would probably be ample achievement for
Yet for Benitez, this current Liverpool side is not even
three-quarters towards what he would regard as being the
Such is the level of expectation from the self-confessed
perfectionist, who will send his team out at the City of
Manchester Stadium this afternoon seeking further signs
for encouragement following their recent impressive
"We are still far away from what I want it to be," says
Benitez.. "In my first season we did very well in the
Champions League but we needed to improve in the
"We are now in the last 16 of the Champions League after
a good performance and we are now doing much better in
the Premier-ship. The team is more solid, consistent and
we are keeping more clean sheets and scoring more goals.
"We are better than last season and closer to my idea
but as a manager you can never be satisfied. Last season
we were 60% of what I wanted and this season we are
maybe at 70%.
"We can still improve in all areas. We talk about how
well the defence is playing but it can do better, why
not? And in attack, we are doing better but we can still
score more goals.
"Having said that, I am happy with how the team is
playing. We are more consistent. But I am a
perfectionist and while it is impossible, we must try
and find the perfect team."
Of course, the foundation for any successful team comes
from being difficult to beat, and 14 clean sheets in 24
competitive games this season suggests Benitez has
started to engender that particular quality into his
Last season European success came at the expense of
domestic progress, the last-gasp defeat at Manchester
City - coming immediately after the 2-1 Champions League
quarter-final victory over Juventus - a prime example of
such a shortcoming.
Now, however, with new signings and greater experience,
Liverpool are beginning to cope with the demands of
chasing honours on two major fronts.
"It was hard last season to cope with Europe and the
Premier League all at once," says Benitez..
"I hope we have learned and can use the squad in a way
to approach each game with a different team but just as
"Then if we had three games in eight days it was
difficult. Now we have something similar in this spell;
Real Betis, Manchester City and then Sunderland in eight
"Let's see how we cope with that, and then we will know
if we have improved. The most important thing this
season is how we have started to play better in more
than one competition at the same time."
With European football assured into the New Year,
Benitez can now turn his attentions to improving
Liverpool's Premiership standing. After today's visit to
Eastlands, the Anfield side travel to Sunderland in
midweek and entertain Wigan Athletic and Middlesbrough
before departing for Tokyo and the World Club
And as well as elevating his team up the table, the
manager is aware continued progress will strengthen his
hand when the transfer window opens in January.
"We know that it is really important before the transfer
window opens to win a lot of games and to stay as close
as possible to the top of the table," says Benitez,, who
has already lodged a £4.5million bid for Serbia
international centre-back Nemanja Vidic and retains an
interest in Benfica's right-winger Sabrosa Simao.
"We already have one advantage in that we are in the
last 16 of the Champions League and that will interest
players who might want to come here.
"We are a big club anyway and we are very attractive for
most players, but it will make it easier to sign players
if we are further up the table."
'crushing machine' built by Benitez
By Paul Walker - Daily Post Correspondent
Rafael Benitez is never a man to shout things from
the rooftops, but his Liverpool are beginning to take on
ominous look as they ease their way up the Premier
Conservative, diligent, hard grafting are all plaudits
that used to be applied to Benitez and his respected, if
never really loved Valencia, who gained the unflattering
title of the 'crushing machine' in Spain.
They were rarely pretty to watch. Cue this emerging
Liverpool who are starting to set records that are music
to manager Benitez's ears.
They may lack the silk of Arsenal or the steel of
Chelsea, but six games unbeaten - six clean sheets and
four successive league wins - is starting to say that
Liverpool are on the move.
Benitez said: "We have a balance, we are defending much
better than last season. The problem will be for us to
maintain this level throughout the season.
"It is the most consistent the team has played under me.
"Last season it was difficult to win away games or keep
clean sheets, but we are more consistent and teams find
it difficult to make chances against us."
Nine clean sheets in the first 12 league games of a
season is already an all-time club record, while six
games unbeaten is Benitez's best run in England. And on
his 50th Premiership game, the fact that Liverpool have
already achieved 16 clean sheets in 25 games, compared
to just 18 in 60 last season, says everything.
Benitez said: "The defence was compact and strong
throughout. We are on a good run and that means the
players have more confidence in what they are doing.
"But they must understand how we have arrived at this
point, and that has been because everyone is working
very hard and doing the right things in possession and
when we haven't got the ball. They must remember.
"It took me three years to build Valencia's team, that
was easier for me because it was in my country.
"This Liverpool team has been growing. Each day I learn
more and the players also know more about what I want
and when I say something to them now they understand
much better. Not because of the language, but because
they understand more how I want them to play."
He added: "It took a long time to create my Valencia
team. They knew exactly what was wanted in every game,
but it takes time to create that again."
City manager Stuart Pearce said: "They are European
champions and are ahead of us on knowhow even if it
pains me to say so.
"We were facing a side with great pedigree and
experience and when they got their noses in front they
made it very difficult. Liverpool are at a higher level.
Against 70% of the Premier League, playing like that we
would have won."
pleased with win
By Paul Higham - Sky Sports
Rafa Benitez was pleased with a hard-fought Liverpool
victory at Manchester City.
The Reds got the better of a scrappy game to win 1-0
thanks to John Arne Riise's second half strike, in what
was the only piece of quality throughout the 90 minutes.
Benitez is trying to build his side on a strong defence
and the fact Liverpool have not conceded in six games
tells its own story.
The Spanish coach knew his men would face a tough test
against Stuart Pearce's side, and was happy with the
"It was a difficult game against a good team who is
playing well," said Benitez.
"We played well and controlled most of the game.
"The idea was to control the game in the first half and
then later on continue to go forward and make the break.
"We knew that Harry (Kewell) would be good for us in the
second half and we could use him.
"We are trying to be stronger in defence and after that
go forward and score and at the moment we are getting
the right balance."
Benitez refuses to give up on Peter Crouch after the
lanky striker again failed to find the target.
"We were delighted with Crouch because he played well
and contributed to the team.
"We would like him to score but as long as he plays well
I am ok."
wins it for Reds
By Paul Higham - Sky Sports
Liverpool earned their fourth Premiership win
in-a-row with a scrappy 1-0 victory at Manchester City.
A poor game at The City of Manchester Stadium was not
pretty on the eye at all, and it was not surprising that
the one real moment of quality settled the argument in
favour of the visitors.
Rafa Benitez's side bagged the three points courtesy of
John Arne Riise's thumping finish from the edge of the
box just after the hour mark, and City rarely looked
like clawing their way back into the match.
The game never really got going in the opening half and
the first chance did not appear until after 15 minutes,
when Darius Vassell headed wide from Kiki Musampa's
Liverpool tried to get their passing game going and did
force a couple of corners after some decent possession,
but they could not find a shot on goal.
Pepe Reina got away with misjudging a free kick from the
left when he was able to gather Sylvain Distin's header
after missing the original cross.
Djibril Cisse latched on to Peter Crouch's flick on 26
minutes, but the Frenchman opted for a weak effort with
the outside of his right foot when a swing with the left
peg was clearly called for.
The best chance of the half came just a minute before
the interval when Steven Gerrard bulldozed his way into
the box on the left before cutting inside and curling a
shot just wide of the post.
The second half was a similar story as neither side
could find any sort of rhythm at all, with the two
keepers hardly being tested.
That was until the 61st minute when Liverpool produced
the first moment of real quality with Riise playing a
neat one-two with Gerrard before firing a powerful drive
past David James from the edge of the box.
City tried to rouse a response, as The Reds began to
fall back and defend their lead, but all the home side
could muster was a couple of corners.
Liverpool had to defend some late pressure from Stuart
Pearce's side but Reina never really had a save to make
as the visitors held on for the win.
The Reds have now won their last two away games in The
Premiership, and have now not conceded a goal in their
last six games in all competitions, while City only have
one point from their last three games.