Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Benitez Happy With Options

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez was delighted with his side's 4-0 Champions League thumping of Toulouse at Anfield, which he says emphasised the strength he now has in his squad.

The Reds welcomed the French side to Anfield with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, and had to complete the job of making the group stages of the Champions League without Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

However, they never looked like being troubled and goals from Peter Crouch, Sami Hyypia and a late Dirk Kuyt double saw last season's European Cup finalists safely into the last 32 of this year's competition.

Benitez made seven changes to the side that started the 2-0 win at Sunderland on Saturday, with Crouch starting just his second game of the season alongside Kuyt, both of whom got off the mark for the season.

With Yossi Benayoun also looking in good touch and young South Americans Sebastian Leto and Lucas Leiva making their debuts, Benitez is delighted with the strength of his squad.

"I was very pleased with the performance, we played well and you can see the competition now for places with players working to impress right to the end," said Benitez.

"I know Peter Crouch has been out of the last two games and he has now scored eight in his last 10 games in Europe.

"But if the team keeps winning and everyone else scores goals as well, I will be happy.

"I was able to bring in Benayoun, Leto and Lucas for this game and they all did well."

Benitez has long been looking to have a big squad of quality players and he now believes he has good options in every position.

"You can see the quality in every position. I have two players to choose from now for every place and the players know that," added Benitez.

"I now do not need to talk a lot about one or two star players all the time, I have players everywhere who want to play and have the ability to play."

Despite his side's dominance, Benitez was not happy with some sloppy aspects of play in such an important match for the club.

"I was a little bit worried in the first half because we kept giving the ball away and they caused problems on the counter attack," he added.

"We needed to be awake and alert and needed the second goal to kill the game off and then we started enjoying our football.

"It is important to be in the group stage. These kind of games you must treat with caution and now I'm pleased to be looking forward to see the draw and see how far we can go."

As Anfield paid its tribute to murdered 11-year-old Rhys Jones before the game, Benitez insisted that football was very much overshadowed.

Benitez hugged the boy's mother Melanie before the match and shook the hand of father Steve and elder son Owen, 17.

Along with the tragedy in Liverpool, Benitez was also shaken by the sudden death of Sevilla's Antonio Puerta after he collapsed during a game at the weekend.

"Football must take a back seat when such tragedies happen. It was very emotional for me and all you can do at this point is offer your respect and support."

Champions League: LiverpooL 4 - 0 Toulouse

Liverpool eased themselves into the Champions League group stages with a 4-0 home win over Toulouse, putting the Reds through 5-0 on aggregate.

On the 800th anniversary of the city the Reds claimed their 50th home European Cup win - plus £12million into the bargain - and it was never easier.

Without Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, they still outplayed an uninspired French side to reach the last 32 of the competition.

Liverpool shuffled their pack again and still produced a side that played fluent, quick-passing football that Toulouse never matched.

Peter Crouch, left out of the last two matches, returned to score after just 19 minutes and captain for the night Sami Hyypia made light of a broken nose to head home the second just after the break.

Dirk Kuyt gained his reward with the third after 87 minutes, drilling a shot in off the far post, and he added a fourth in injury time.

Hyypia captained the side as Javier Mascherano and Mohamed Sissoko were paired in central midfield with Argentinian winger Sebastian Leto making his debut on the left.

Crouch and Yossi Benayoun also both returned to the starting line-up to good effect.

Before the match moving tributes were paid to murdered 11-year-old Rhys Jones, with his parents standing on the touchline as both Everton and Liverpool's theme tunes - Z Cars and You'll Never Walk Alone - were played.

However, last season's beaten finalists had to put all the emotion aside as they went about their job of trying to finish the tie and they set about the French with quick passing and movement.

Benayoun's enthusiasm, pace and skill was at the centre of most of Liverpool's attacks and the opening goal came after when Benayoun worked to get Kuyt into space on the right and his far-post cross was turned in by Crouch's outstretched right leg.

The French started to make chances and Andre Gignac got through on the right when only a fine block from Alvaro Arbeloa halted the surge.

Crouch should have scored again two minutes later when Benayoun popped up on the left and lifted in a cross that the tall striker rose to meet from six yards but planted his header over the crossbar.

Benayoun again was the creator for Kuyt, setting up the Dutchman for a low drive that flashed inches wide of a post. Toulouse responded with a header from Pantxi Sirieix that dropped a yard wide.

Crouch continued his wasteful ways when Arbeloa swung over another cross, again heading over, while Kuyt was next to miss with a header from another Benayoun cross.

Mascherano's powerful run to win a corner on the right set up Liverpool for their second after 49 minutes.

And it came from Hyypia's head as he stood unmarked eight yards out to power home a Benayoun corner.

Toulouse looked disheartened by now but they sent on striker Bryan Bergougnoux for Gignac after 54 minutes but up to that point the French side had barely offered a serious threat and were being thoroughly outplayed.

After 68 minutes Benitez sent on another of his South American imports, youngster Lucas Leiva for his debut, with the £5million Brazilian replacing Sissoko.

Kuyt saw one header bounce wide before almost adding a third after 74 minutes.

He drove in from the right and saw his shot hit Mauro Cetto and deflect onto the crossbar and over. A minute Later Ryan Babel replaced Leto.

Toulouse then took off Achille Emana, sending on Fabio Felix, but Liverpool were all but home by now.

Crouch, with some clever juggling from a John Arne Riise cross, lifted another chance just over the top.

Steve Finnan took over from Daniel Agger for the final minutes, while Moussa Sissoko replaced the injured Jeremy Mathieu.

Kuyt gained his reward for a night of constant running by drilling home the third off the far post after 87 minutes, and then forcing in his second in injury time.