After The Match 


Liverpool-Birmingham 0-0            22.9.07                            PL
Team: Reina, Arbeloa, Riise, Hyypia, Carragher, Mascherano, Gerrard, Babel, Pennant, Kuyt, Voronin
Subs: Torres (Babel 60), Crouch (Voronin 73), Finnan (Pennant 86)
Not used: Itandje, Sissoko
Yellow: Ridgewell (64), McSheffrey (71)
Red: None
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
Attendance: 44,215
Shots on target: 3-1
Shots off target: 14-3
Blocked shots: 5-1
Fouls conceded: 5-11
Corners: 11-2
Offsides: 5-3
Possession: 71.5-28.5
Yellow: 0-2
HEADLINES "When you can't create clear chances you must be disappointed."
    Rafael Benitez

2509: Start with your stars then rest them later
2409: A point that’s lost on us all!
2409: Carra: We'll soon be back to winning ways
2209: Bruce hails 'terrific' Blues
2209: Rafa rues dropped points
2209: Reds feeling Blue after latest blank


Start with your stars
then rest them later

By Mark Lawrenson - Liverpool Daily Post

I can fully understand Rafael Benitez’s intentions to keep his squad fresh for a long campaign by rotating his team selections.

But I find it hard to fathom why he does not start each game with as many of his match-winners on the pitch as possible.

Fernando Torres had just 30 minutes to try and change the course of the goalless draw against Birmingham – but would it not be better to try it the other way round?

Start with players like Torres, who can have such a huge influence on a game and if all goes well, or a change of tactics is needed, they can be taken off later.

That way Liverpool increase their chances of seeing off the opposition, particularly when a team, like Birmingham, is content to sit back and put the onus on the home side to break them down.

Having said that, while it was certainly a case of two points dropped against Birmingham it is not a disaster at this stage of the season.

Liverpool were flying before the international break but three successive draws are being highlighted as a sign that they have lost their momentum and the rotation policy is once again the subject of much debate amongst the supporters.

But everyone in the Premier League will find Portsmouth a tough nut to crack on their own ground while a draw in Porto is not a bad result.

Liverpool were a bit flat against Birmingham and given the attacking talents at Benitez’s disposal it was a bit worrying that there were unable to break down stubborn opposition.

Xabi Alonso is a big miss for the team, particularly against a side like Birmingham where his range of passing can help unlock a defence.

Sami Hyypia is a more than able replacement for Daniel Agger. He has never had great pace but the Liverpool defence are not caught exposed too often because of the great protection in front of them.

But there is still plenty of time for Liverpool to close the gap at the top. Arsenal have made a really good start and are playing some very attractive football, but four out of their six games have been at home.

Teams will still find it easier to stop them playing without Thierry Henry and they can still be hauled back in.

A point that’s lost on us all!

By David Jones - Liverpool Echo

Football managers are single-minded souls.

They have to be.

When you have 45,000 would-be bosses trying to influence your every decision inside a stadium, plus four or five disgruntled substitutes in every dressing room, not to mention another couple of dozen smart-ass hacks trying to point out where you got it wrong in the press room afterwards, a clarity of focus is paramount.

Rafa Benitez’s clarity of focus has created the most consistently successful Liverpool side for a couple of decades.

So perhaps we just have to accept his decisions – even when he so clearly seems to have got it wrong.

Saturday was one of those rare occasions.

It wasn’t with the benefit of hindsight that unhappy Anfielders questioned the wisdom of leaving Fernando Torres on the bench against Birmingham.

There were puzzled debates everywhere . . . and that was pre-match.

The aficionados in front of the Anfield press box were unhappy.

“Disrespectful . . . to Birmingham and to us,” was one critique.

Former Red Mike Marsh told a local radio station’s listeners “A £20m striker should be the first name on the teamsheet. Everyone else should rotate around him.”

nside the Birmingham dressing room, players bracing themselves for a 90 minute siege had their spirits raised just a fraction when the teamsheet was delivered.

Dirk Kuyt and Andriy Voronin are international class strikers. But Torres is world class – an unpredictable talent tailor-made for an afternoon when inspiration was likely to be a more necessary quality than perspiration.

And his absence for the opening hour of a tight contest offered them fractionally raised hopes.

Benitez was unapologetic afterwards – even if his explanations were less than convincing.

“We knew Birmingham would play deep,” he explained “so I wanted players who could operate between the lines. There wasn’t the space for Torres to operate in.”

But surely one of Torres’ greatest assets is his ability to run with the ball at retreating defences, and didn't he find space easily enough when he belatedly entered the fray?

“Aah yes,” conceded Benitez, “but players were tiring then.”

There you go again. Managers never get it wrong, even when they do.

Inside the dressing room the Liverpool players are now accustomed to their manager’s thinking.

Sami Hyypia, a regular victim of squad rotation, was more phlegmatic than most afterwards.

“Everybody knows that the manager likes to rotate, and he isn’t going to change his style,” he declared. “Nobody said anything about that at the beginning of the season when we were winning games.

“But because we’ve drawn a few games people have started to talk about it again.” It’s silly because that’s his style and he’s not going to change it.”

If Big Sami’s prepared to accept it, perhaps we should as well because Benitez gets it right more often than not.

The debate, however, will take on a more pointed tone should Torres feature on the teamsheet at Reading tomorrow.

Leaving your best striker out of an important league match, to prepare for a Carling Cup tie between two squads of reserves, would genuinely be baffling.

But that’s for tomorrow.

On Saturday, Liverpool huffed and puffed, but never looked like blowing Birmingham’s defensive house down.

Only twice did the Reds actually penetrate the visitors’ penalty box with any conviction – after two minutes when John Arne Riise flashed a cross-shot across the face of Maik Taylor’s goal. Then when Stephen Kelly’s magnificently timed tackle snatched the ball away from Crouch and Gerrard, who were deciding who was about to apply the coup de grace.

Other than that it was only long-range pot shots which Taylor had to deal with . . . and he did so competently.

Whether Torres’ presence from the start would have made any difference, we’ll never know.

Benitez won’t accept he got it wrong, so we’ll just have to accept his arguments.

Managers are single-minded souls, and Rafa’s mind is one of the keenest in the business.

But sometimes he thinks just a little too deeply . . .

Carra: We'll soon be
back to winning ways

By Paul Eaton - LFC Official Website

Jamie Carragher has insisted it's only a matter of time before Liverpool return to winning ways in the Barclays Premier League.

The Reds were held to a frustrating goalless draw by Birmingham on Saturday, leaving them four points behind Arsenal at the top of the table.

It was the third successive draw for Rafael Benitez's men, but Carragher has told fans not to become too alarmed.

He said: "There were two things on Saturday; firstly Birmingham came here and played very well and secondly we didn't do enough to win the game.

"It is frustrating because the last couple of games haven't gone as well as we'd have liked. Birmingham made it difficult and you have to give them credit for that because we weren't able to create too much against them.

"We've got such a good record at Anfield over the last few years and so it's always going to be disappointing when we don't win here.

"But we're going to play 50 or 60 games this season and we're not always going to perform as well as we'd like.

"I'm sure our form will turn around. The players are good enough so there's no need to worry about us. There are still a lot of games to play before the end of the season."

Bruce hails 'terrific' Blues

By Laurent Picard - Setanta Sports

Birmingham manager Steve Bruce has expressed his pride after his promoted side obtained a promising draw against Premier League title contenders Liverpool.

Blues managed to share the points with Rafa Benitez’s side at Anfield on Saturday, following a well-organised rearguard action.

Despite his joy, the coach is highly disappointed by the loss of Borja Oubina, who could suffer a knee ligament injury after having been tackled from behind by Steven Gerrard.

Bruce is delighted with the collective performance of his charges and thinks they totally deserved the goalless draw. According to the former Manchester United star the back four were 'great' and his entire team were 'terrific'.

"I thought we were excellent in our approach to the game, we defended as a team and the players deserve a big pat on the back," he said.

"The back four were great. We've now kept two clean sheets on the trot and that's going to be important. But I don't want to pick out individuals, the whole team were terrific.

“It's never easy to come here against a really good Liverpool team but we have thoroughly deserved to get something out of the game.

“We are just new into the league but we are on course and level par with the games played and the points we've got, which if we stay that way we've got an outstanding chance of coming back here next season."

Bruce laments the fact that Spanish player Borja Oubina could have suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury.

"But it's tragic news for Oubina because it looks like he's ruptured his cruciate ligament which will keep him out for the rest of the year."

Rafa rues dropped points

By Peter O'Rourke - Sky Sports

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez was left to rue two dropped points after they were held to a goalless draw at home to Birmingham.

The Reds put in another lacklustre performance as they failed to break down a stubborn Birmingham defence who came away with a well deserved point.

Benitez conceded his side need to win games like the Birmingham clash if they want to mount a serious title assault.

"You must be disappointed because when play at home you know you must win almost every game and this kind of game when you have control of the game," bemoaned Benitez.

"When you can't create clear chances you must be disappointed.

"I think we had some chances and we need to take these chances against a team like this, which was well organised and compact in defence.

"We had one [chance] in the first minute and two or three more in the first half and in the second half, again two or three more and you need to take these chances.

"Today for me was the only game where we could say we could be better because we play at home.

"We dominated and you must win these kind of games."

Benitez also defended his decision to start with top scorer Fernando Torres on the bench, with the Spaniard coming on for the last 30 minutes as Liverpool struggled to find a breakthrough.

"Before play we knew they would play deep and compact," added Benitez.

"Without space it would have been more difficult for Torres and we thought it was better for Voronin and Kuyt.

"The understanding between the two was good in the first half. In the second half Kuyt and Torres had chances as the other team were playing deeper and we had more control."

Reds feeling Blue after latest blank


Liverpool were unable to find a way through against Birmingham as they were forced to settle for a second consecutive 0-0 Premier League draw.

They may be still unbeaten and boss Rafael Benitez was able to utilise £40million plus of striking talent, but nobody had the ability to prise open the massed blue ranks.

Birmingham unashamedly strung 10 men across their own penalty area at times and fought like lions for a point.

The Midlanders were clearly not going to be letting themselves suffer a six-goal thrashing like Derby did recently, and set out to suffocate the life from Liverpool's game.

Steve Bruce's side more than achieved their aim - and fully deserved the point.

Liam Ridgewell and Johan Djourou were outstanding at the back and Benitez has still to register a league win over Bruce's men after five attempts.

Benitez restricted himself to just two changes - he has been averaging five a match so far this term - from the team which drew their Champions League game in Porto in midweek.

Fit-again John Arne Riise returned in defence with Andriy Voronin coming in up front as Liverpool attempted to maintain their unbeaten record this term.

Birmingham arrived with a suffocating gameplan, and set about frustrating Liverpool from the start.

They strung five across a deep midfield and worked to deny Liverpool space to run into.

Gaps were limited. Ryan Babel combined to play Riise in on the left, and his fierce low cross was too far ahead of Voronin.

Babel then cut in from the left and found Dirk Kuyt - but the striker was forced into a hurried shot wide.

Birmingham's system, though, was disrupted on 16 minutes by what looked a bad injury to Borja Oubina on his full debut for the Midlanders - the loanee from Celta Vigo was carried off and replaced by Gary McSheffrey.

Mehdi Nafti moved into the midfield holding role, and immediately there was space for Riise to fire a dipping 20-yard effort just over.

Birmingham were regimented and organised and were forcing Liverpool to make all the decisions.

Chances were rare, with Kuyt heading wide from a Steven Gerrard cross in the 26th minute.

Jermaine Pennant, against his old club, was switched from right to left wing - and Babel moved in the opposite direction.

But openings, space and time on the ball remained at a premium.

Birmingham at times had 10 players in their final third - with Cameron Jerome the exception - but Bruce's men were sticking to their plan diligently.

Pennant produced a 25-yard effort which was turned over the bar by Maik Taylor, before Jose Reina made his only contribution to the first half when Wilson Palacios shot from 25 yards.

Liverpool continued to toil after the break, and Jamie Carragher saw an 18-yard effort deflected just over.

From Pennant's corner, Gerrard stabbed in a near post effort which Nafti cleared off the line.

Voronin was next to go close, stumbling as he picked up a through-ball, but still able to fire in a low shot that Taylor saved well to his left.

Liverpool sent on Fernando Torres for Babel on the hour, before Olivier Kapo forced Reina into a save with a shot from 30 yards.

Liam Ridgewell was then booked in the 62nd minute for obstructing Reina as he tried to kick clear.

Birmingham increasingly fancied their chances and five minutes later they sent on an extra striker in Garry O'Connor for Palacios.

Peter Crouch finally got on after 74 minutes to add some aerial threat, replacing Voronin - and two minutes later Torres produced an overhead kick which flashed inches over from Pennant's corner.

Birmingham were looking now to punish Liverpool on the break, and McSheffrey almost achieved that with an 18-yard effort which went just over.

Rafael Schmitz replaced Jerome in the 79th minute, as Liverpool's players began to getting in the way of each other in their desperation for a goal.

Torres' backheel was meant for Gerrard's run - but Crouch collided with his more-than-annoyed captain six yards out.

Steve Finnan replaced the injured Pennant with three minutes left, the winger looking to have picked up a hamstring problem.

Gerrard's corner soon after found Crouch rising unchallenged, but he could only bounce his header into the Kop, summing up Liverpool's day.

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