Why Reina is
key to Reds’ title bid
By John Thompson - Liverpool Echo
Pepe Reina may be too modest to claim much
credit for Liverpool’s best defensive start to a season
in 30 years.
But there is no doubting he has been a pivotal figure in
keeping the opposition at bay time and again this season.
The Reds may have struggled for league goals in the last
three matches but it is so important that they haven’t
conceded any themselves.
A clean sheet undoubtedly gave them the platform to snatch
all three points at Wigan on Saturday and if there is going
to be a meaningful challenge for the title then first and
foremost they’ve got to be really difficult to break down.
All the best sides are – and it’s terrific to see the number
of shut-outs so far thisseason.
Reina is, of course, right to give credit to the players in
front of him, starting with people like Dirk Kuyt who run
their socks off every week trying to ensure opponents aren’t
given the time and space they need to shape and build
It’s hard graft – I know from my own days at Liverpool how
important it was for the defending to start from the front –
but it was and it remains a crucial responsibility for
forwards as well as for midfielders and the men at the back.
Reina himself has to be given enormous credit too and for me
he is now one of the mainstays of this Liverpool team.
People may have wondered how he would fare after Jerzy Dudek
left but he has never let anyone down. Far from it.
He may not be getting called into action that much at times
during some games, such is the good work going on in front
But he always looks alert whenever called upon and he is
also a great shot stopper who manages the six-yard box with
presence and authority.
What I also really like about him is his distribution. He is
always racing to the edge of his box after receiving the
ball, looking to get it forward early and swiftly build
counter attacks. If there’s an option before him he will
find it – his kicking and throwing really is first class.
But if there is nothing on for him he won’t take unecessary
risks and isn’t afraid to stop and start the game again in a
more routine manner.
Teams now know if they are going to beat Liverpool they’ve
got to take their chances.
The good news is that not many chances are coming along. And
even when they do they have still got one of the very best
goal keepers in Europe to beat.
track - but
Reds ride their luck
By James Pearce - Liverpool Echo
They say good things come to those who
Liverpool had gone over four and a half hours
without scoring in the Premiership when substitute Yossi
Benayoun broke the drought at the JJB Stadium.
It was a moment of individual brilliance out of context with
the rest of the afternoon's action.
Turning your way past Titus Bramble might not be anything to
write home about but the manner in which the little Israeli
created the opening and coolly finished was right out of the
Benayoun's opportunities to impress have been limited since
his £5million summer move from West Ham.
He has started just once in the Premiership but with
Saturday's effort following hot on the heels of his stunning
strike at Reading in the Carling Cup, he has certainly
staked a claim for a greater role.
Benayoun's first league goal for the Reds demonstrated the
guile and ruthlessness in the final third that has been
sadly lacking in recent league games.
Until the deadlock was broken 15 minutes from time it had
been another desperately frustrating afternoon.
Of course, had Fernando Torres brought his shooting boots,
the points would have been wrapped up before the hour mark.
But it wasn't just a question of missed chances. Often
careless in possession and wasteful in wide areas, the Reds
too often surrendered the initiative and invited Wigan
The Latics had failed to score in the four defeats they had
suffered at the hands of Rafa Benitez's side since they made
the step up to the Premiership.
They had also lost their previous 16 top flight meetings
against the 'big four' but how that miserable run was
extended, only Julius Aghahowa will know.
The Wigan striker was presented with a glorious chance to
rescue a point in stoppage time but he somehow nodded wide
from three yards.
It was a shocking miss from the Nigerian international, who
has not scored since arriving from Shakhtar Donetsk back in
That only served to compound Wigan's misery after two harsh
The first saved Jamie Carragher's blushes after he appeared
to hack down Aghahowa in the box and the second ensured
Marcus Bent's effort was ruled out.
If Wigan had equalised at the death the Reds could have had
few complaints. Chris Hutchings may have been most people's
favourite to win the sack race when he succeeded Paul Jewell
but the Wigan boss has put together a useful side playing
The tireless central midfield duo of Aussie Josip Skoko and
Michael Brown never allowed Steven Gerrard or Javier
Mascherano to stamp their authority on the game and facing
the team he has supported all his life brought the best out
of Jason Koumas.
The ex-Tranmere star spent seven years at Anfield in his
youth, playing alongside the likes of Gerrard and Michael
Owen. He may have blotted his copybook with one terrible
misplaced pass which nearly proved costly, but he was a
constant threat going forward.
It was Koumas' run and pin-point cross which should have led
to a late equaliser.
While the Reds rode their luck at times defensively, up
front they were wasteful. Hailed in midweek as the new Ian
Rush after his Carling Cup heroics, Torres appeared
The Spaniard could have a hat-trick inside half an hour but
he scuffed his first chance, was foiled by former Reds
keeper Chris Kirkland when clean through and then sent an
acrobatic volley wide when he had time to take the ball down
and pick his spot.
Thanks to Jermaine Pennant's vision and Benayoun's touch of
class, those misses didn't prove costly.
Victory keeps the Reds in touch with the leaders and it's
all a far cry from last season when Manchester United were
disappearing over the horizon.
The four away trips to date have yielded 10 points, with
only Gareth Barry's penalty for Aston Villa on the opening
day having breached the Reds' rearguard.
Last season it was the end of December before Benitez was
celebrating a third away league victory of the campaign.
Potential champions need to have the ability to grind out
results when they are not at their best.
But if that long wait for the Premiership title is going to
end next May then they are going to have to raise their game
as Reds equal record
By David Prentice - Liverpool Echo
Liverpool’s king of the clean sheets
celebrated another defensive landmark today.
Pepe Reina’s fifth shut-out of the season equalled the
club’s best defensive start to a season – set in 1977 – and
the Reds keeper admitted the defensive resilience is
sparking thoughts of a title challenge.
“To win away in these type of games permits you to fight for
the title and be real contenders,” he said after Saturday’s
1-0 win at Wigan.
“But our mentality is to win game after game, not think
about the target of the title. But, of course, it’s there in
“Our mentality should be to go week by week and win every
Reina has still only been beaten from the penalty spot this
season – in the Premier League and in Europe – but he
insisted the credit should be shared around the team for
their impressive defensive performances.
“We are very proud of that record, but we all defend
together so it’s everyone’s record,” he explained.
“We have only conceded from penalties so far, which is
“It is something we can be proud of, but we must keep
working in that way.“
The Reds’ back four has been more settled than other areas
of the team, but Reina admits the defenders are as just as
likely to be ‘rotated’.
“The defence has changed a lot as well as the other
departments of the team,” he added. Steve Finnan and Arbeloa
have played on the right, Riise, Arbeloa and Aurelio on the
left, with Daniel and Sami in the centre. All of the players
in our squad are good enough to play the same level and
that’s important for us.
“We know that to win the most important thing is to keep
clean sheets. Then we have possibilities to score with the
quality of players we have here.”
Benayoun support for bosses
By Laura Slatcher - Sky Sports
Yossi Benayoun has leapt to the defence of
two under-fire Premier League managers amid widespread
criticism of the bosses.
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has been highly criticised for
his rotation policy, in particular his decision to leave
Fernando Torres out of the starting team. The Spanish
international was left on the bench for goalless draws
against both Portsmouth and Birmingham.
Torres proved Benitez wrong when he started against Reading
in the Carling Cup midweek, netting a hat-trick in their 4-2
Benayoun had started on the bench against Wigan on Saturday,
but came on to settle the match, and he appreciates
Benitez's thinking, saying he does not mind being left on
He said: "I knew before I came there would be big games I
would sit out in the stand or on the bench.
"We know there has been a lot of talk about the rotation,
but we don't listen to what the press say, we listen to our
manager and we respect him."
The Israeli international has also defended Chelsea's
manager Avram Grant after he took charge following Jose
He played under Grant for the Israeli national team and
believes he has the potential to bring success to Chelsea.
"He is a good manager. But I also understand the criticism
because a big name in Mourinho went and nobody knows Avram
Grant," said the Liverpool midfielder.
"But you have to be patient, give him a couple of months to
prove himself, and if it's not good, then you can criticise.
"It's only the start for him. I believe in him and I am sure
he will be successful there. I am sure Chelsea will play
better with him, just give him time."
Benitez praises Benayoun impact
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez hailed
match-winner Yossi Benayoun as the perfect solution to his
side's recent mini-crisis.
The Reds had slipped off top spot in the Premier League
following goalless draws at Portsmouth and at home to
Birmingham, prompting criticism of Benitez's infamous
But with their match at Wigan heading for a third 0-0
stalemate, substitute Benayoun produced a moment of quality
to give Liverpool a much-needed 1-0 victory.
It was the Israel international's first league goal for the
Reds since his £5 million move from West Ham in the summer.
Benayoun had come on as a 56th-minute replacement, and
Benitez said: "I brought him here for these kind of games.
"When you are trying to find a solution, you need players of
creativity and quality, and Yossi gives us that.
"I am not saying he will start every game on the bench, it's
just that in this instance I wanted to do different things.
"Yossi played the other night (in the Carling Cup against
Reading) and I needed fresh legs, so I started with
"We created some chances and you need to take them if you
want an open game.
"Because we didn't we needed to bring on players with
different skills and Yossi was good, it was perfect."
All the talk prior to the game had centred around whether
Benitez would start with Fernando Torres, who scored a
hat-trick in the 4-2 win at Reading after previously
starting on the bench against Pompey and Birmingham.
Benitez opted to pair Torres up front with Dirk Kuyt from
the outset at the JJB Stadium, and the Spain international
had three chances before the break.
Aurelio: Liverpool now
digging in for victories
Fabio Aurelio believes Liverpool's victory
at Wigan Athletic is proof they're prepared to dig in for
He told Liverpoolfc.tv: "It was a difficult game because it
was physical. They have a very strong team and play a lot of
long balls. It wasn't always possible to pass the ball but
the team worked hard and in the end we got a great result.
"We have to be able to mix things up. When it's possible to
get the ball down, pass and show our quality, it's better
for us, but we also have to be able to fight like we did
"We need to be as strong as the other teams and make sure we
win even when we are not at our best."
The full-back, who started his second consecutive game after
recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, knows the
pressure was on to pick up all three points against Wigan to
keep pace with league leaders Arsenal.
"It's very important to keep our place right near the top of
the table. We haven't done that in recent seasons because of
Hutchings hurt by defeat
By Peter Fraser - Sky Sports
Wigan manager Chris Hutchings was left
'frustrated and disappointed' by his side's 1-0 defeat to
The Latics boss saw his side suffer their first Premier
League defeat of the season at the JJB Stadium after Yossi
Benayoun struck in the 75th minute to earn Liverpool the
However, Hutchings believes his side were worthy of a point
after seeing Julius Aghahowa miss a golden chance in the
"I feel frustrated and disappointed," Hutchings told Sky
"I thought we did exceptionally well today and it was a very
good team performance and we are just disappointed with the
"Right at the death we had a great chance to equalise, but I
am very, very pleased with the way that we played and it is
only the result that went against us."
Hutchings though declined to comment on the possibility of
an Aghahowa penalty appeal and Marcus Bent goal, which were
both denied by questionable offside flags.
"I'll need to look at them," Hutchings added. "If we take
that chance at the end we would have come away with a point.
"The other issues we will have to have a look at and deal
with as we see it."
points for Reds
Yossi Benayoun ended Liverpool’s mini
crisis as Wigan suffered a 17th defeat in 17 matches against
the Premier League’s fabled ’big four’.
Liverpool had endured goalless draws in their previous two
league games, sparking much criticism of boss Rafael
Benitez’s rotation policy.
In the end it was substitute Benayoun, a £5million buy from
West Ham in the summer, who netted a 75th minute winner for
his first league goal for the Reds.
From Wigan’s perspective, it was another brave yet fruitless
performance against one of the big boys as they have still
to take a point off of Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and
Manchester United since they were promoted to the top flight
At least this was a dramatic improvement on the
corresponding fixture last season when they were 4-0 down at
On that occasion they were torn apart from the opening
whistle, primarily due to the pace of former striker Craig
Bellamy to which the Latics could find no answer.
There was no Bellamy this time around – sold to West Ham in
the summer – but instead there was Fernando Torres, the club
record £26million replacement.
There had been a great debate surrounding Torres in the
build-up to this encounter due to Benitez’s continual
rotation of his stars.
Torres had sat on the bench for the previous two league
matches in which Liverpool had failed to score at Portsmouth
and at home to Birmingham.
Benitez then handed the Spain international a start in the
midweek Carling Cup tie at Reading, and he responded with a
That prompted speculation as to whether Benitez should play
the 23-year-old from the off against Wigan, and he
ultimately opted to pair him with Dirk Kuyt.
He had Liverpool’s three best chances in an opening 45
minutes in which goalkeeper Jose Reina was a virtual
That was due to Wigan being deprived of their two
first-choice strikers, with Antoine Sibierski a late
withdrawal with a hamstring problem, joining Emile Heskey on
That led to boss Chris Hutchings handing Julius Aghahowa his
first start this season alongside Marcus Bent, and the lack
of cohesion and understanding between the duo was alarming.
Appreciably, after Wigan had started brightly, Liverpool
edged into the game with every minute that passed and after
Jermaine Pennant and John Arne Riise had shots blocked,
Torres took over.
His first effort in the 25th minute was scuffed after Kuyt
had delightfully cushioned a downward header to a Pennant
cross into his path, giving Kirkland a comfortable take.
His second on the half hour came after a woeful error from
life-long Reds fan Jason Koumas who sprayed a pass along the
halfway line directly to Kuyt.
The Holland forward immediately set Torres clear, and after
outpacing Emmerson Boyce, he stabbed a shot goalwards that
was blocked at point-blank range by Kirkland.
Wigan were then fortunate as the ricochet sprang off the
Spaniard and rebounded inches past the left-hand post.
The spectacular followed from Torres two minutes later with
a scissor kick that was just wide after rising to meet a
right-wing ball from Alvaro Arbeloa, with Wigan’s defence
But then after the break Torres went missing as Wigan played
with a fierce determination to their game, in particular
with Titus Bramble an immense presence in defence.
Bent did have the ball in the net in the 50th minute, but it
was controversially ruled out, stifling his delight.
Aghahowa, running back when the ball was played in by Josip
Skoko, was offside, but not Bent who was three yards on when
the cross was delivered.
Koumas forced Reina into his only meaningful save of the
game five minutes later, before a combination of Kirkland
and Skoko denied Kuyt soon after.
As the game started to swing from end to end, an ungainly
flick from Paul Scharner as he beat Reina to a Koumas ball
over the top finished agonisingly wide.
Then after Gerrard had screamed a 25-yard drive narrowly
past the right-hand post, the Reds finally broke the
deadlock 15 minutes from time.
Benayoun, on for Fabio Aurelio in the 56th minute, had
plenty of work to do in picking up the ball a few yards
outside the Wigan area.
But with an innocuous flick he gave himself time and space
before beating Kirkland with a low shot.
Wigan, though, should have taken a point, only for Aghahowa
to bury a six-yard header to a Koumas cross inches wide in
the first of three minutes of injury time.