Monday, October 08, 2007

Benitez Baffled By Defending

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was at a loss to explain his side's defensive display in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham.

The Reds took the lead in the 12th minute when Andrei Voronin fired home, but Robbie Keane then tore the home defence apart in copy cat style to give Tottenham the lead.

Fernando Torres rescued a late point for Liverpool, but Benitez was more concerned with the adrift defending which allowed Keane to latch on to flicks from Dimitar Berbatov.

Torres' late show saved Liverpool from their second home defeat in five days, following Wednesday's UEFA Champions League loss to Marseille, and Benitez is unimpressed.

"We were really poor in defence," Benitez told Sky Sports News.

"It is difficult to explain because we have a very good record, but there were two big mistakes today.

"Also we had chances in attack, so I think that it was a very disappointing day.

"At least the team was playing well in the first half, creating chances and controlling the game.

"At the end when we scored it showed good character, that is the only thing."

Reds Form Concerns Gerrard

Steven Gerrard admits Liverpool are performing way below expectations despite still being unbeaten in the Premier League this term.

But what boss Rafael Benitez is privately concerned about is the form of his skipper as Gerrard heads off for another international break with England.

Ever since Gerrard suffered his foot injury and then played two games in four days for England with the problem, he has not been the driving inspiration Liverpool expect.

Benitez was more than annoyed about that, but knows he can do nothing to prevent the same thing happening again.

It was only last week that Gerrard conceded he was finally playing without pain, underlining the real problem at the heart of Liverpool's recent sequence of two wins in seven games.

It was almost a whole lot worse on Sunday until Fernando Torres headed an injury-time equaliser to rob Tottenham of a deserved win at Anfield.

Two goals from Robbie Keane, answering Andriy Voronin's opener, looked to have set Spurs on the way to a victory that would surely have ended any debate about manager Martin Jol's job.

But Spurs still returned to London more than happy with their efforts, leaving Liverpool and their increasingly demanding fans wondering what has gone wrong.

Ahead of the match, Benitez had described the home Champions League defeat by Marseille last week as "unacceptable". Gerrard agreed that Liverpool had "lost their sparkle".

And after another display riddled with errors that left Benitez stunned, there was certainly no extra glitz around Anfield.

Gerrard said: "We have not been ourselves of late, that's true. The results have not been good and the performances could have been better.

"We are going through a dip in form which all top teams do at some stage and we just have to make sure we play our way through it. We are not performing to the standards we can do, but that will change.

"I am asking the fans to trust me when I say there is no crisis here. We have fantastic players and a world-class manager and we will get things right again, there is no doubt about that.

"We have now got an international break which will give Rafa the chance to look at things and work with the players who are staying behind.

"For those of us going away, we have to get the jobs done with our countries and then come back ready for a massive match at Everton.

"If we can turn in a performance in the derby and win that game then things will be looking better again. That is what we will be aiming for."

Benitez looked as angry and bemused as is possible as he sifted through the debris of a third home league draw of the campaign, six points lost that would see them ahead of leaders Arsenal.

The Anfield boss said: "We were good in the first half, creating chances and controlling the game. But after we conceded near the break and then again soon after, it changed everything.

"We did not control the game and we did not create chances. But we did see character in that second half to get a very late equaliser.

"The two goals we conceded were very similar, they were not normal, not the sort of goals that we concede, that is why they are so difficult to explain.

"It is very difficult also to explain why we were much better than Spurs in the first half and then in the second period we could not handle the pressure on us.

"It was unbelievable that we could not finish the game off. We needed character, experience and leaders. Leaders need to control the situation and manage the pressure."

Despite Jol's problems, he certainly had leadership on the pitch where for a team in the bottom four, Spurs showed commendable courage to attack their hosts.

Jol said: "We should have won the game. We had a couple of very good breaks, but the final ball was never 100%.

"Liverpool always put you under pressure. I felt, though, that with all the attacking players they had on the field they would cause us a lot more problems.

"We fight for every yard, we create chances, we score goals so I'm pretty optimistic, but the only thing now is we have to start winning in the league."

LiverpooL 2 - 2 Tottenham Hotspur

Fernando Torres' injury-time equaliser salvaged a fortunate point for Liverpool to prevent Tottenham recording a win which would have lifted the pressure on Martin Jol.

Jol watched with pride as his side almost forced the club's first win at Anfield since 1993; it would have been only Spurs' fourth league success at the home of the Reds since 1912.

The visitors fought for everything only to have their hearts broken two minutes into injury-time when Torres rose to head the equaliser.

Andriy Voronin had opened the scoring for the home team only for Robbie Keane to score either side of half-time.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez made his now obligatory five changes following the Champions League defeat at home to Marseille, but there was not even a role for Peter Crouch on the bench.

His ineffective display in midweek had not helped his cause, while Benitez brought back John Arne Riise, Voronin, Jermaine Pennant, Alvaro Arbeloa and Javier Mascherano.

Spurs made just two changes from the side that fought back from 4-1 to draw with Aston Villa on Monday. Jermaine Jenas, recovered from an abdominal strain, and Young-Pyo Lee replaced Aaron Lennon and Tom Huddlestone.

The match brought together two managers under pressure; Benitez because of his tinkering with the side and the abject European defeat in midweek, and Jol because his job seems to be under threat on a match-to-match basis.

There was extra tension in the air, but it did not stop Spurs from venturing forward. They almost took the lead after just two minutes when Gareth Bale curled a 20-yard free-kick inches wide of a post.

Voronin then saw a 20-yard shot easily saved by Paul Robinson four minutes later, but after 12 minutes the Ukrainian was more successful.

Jenas had pulled back Steven Gerrard 25 yards out and, when the Liverpool skipper crashed the free-kick through the wall, Robinson could only half stop the deflected effort, and Voronin punished him by scoring on the rebound.

Undaunted Spurs retaliated with a flicked header from Keane which dropped just wide, and then a right-footed drive from the Irishman flashed across Jose Reina's goal.

Torres jinked his way through before sending a low drive just wide before Gerrard almost made it 2-0 with a 20-yard free-kick which crashed against the foot of Robinson's left-hand post after 28 minutes.

It was a very open game and Jenas was next to try his luck with a dipping drive just over.

At the other end, Arbeloa and Voronin exchanged passes to set up Torres for a shot that Robinson held.

Liverpool should have scored after 34 minutes when Torres, Voronin and Gerrard broke away, but the chance was wasted in the box after a flurry of passes and a Voronin effort was deflected away.

But Spurs deservedly equalised after 44 minutes when Dimitar Berbatov nodded on Robinson's long clearance, and Keane got in between Steve Finnan and Sami Hyypia to flick a shot past the advancing Reina.

Two minutes into the second half Keane struck again.

Robinson's free-kick for a foul by Torres soared down the field to be headed on by Berbatov, and this time Keane got to the glanced pass to lift the ball over Reina into the roof of the net.

Spurs continued to come forward and, after Bale's grafting had retained possession on the left, the ball was transferred to Jenas, who fired wide from the edge of the box.

Liverpool were being forced into mistakes as Spurs continued to press for a third. The home side did break out, but after Voronin's surge the chance fell to Gerrard, who drove over.

Michael Dawson was booked for a foul on Torres, with Ryan Babel coming on for Arbeloa as Liverpool searched for attacking inspiration. Then the limping Pennant was replaced by another striker Dirk Kuyt.

There was an air of desperation now about Liverpool - yet another team had come to Anfield and attacked them - and they were not enjoying it.

The hard-working Teemu Tainio was replaced by Steed Malbranque after 75 minutes, with Liverpool still showing little sign of an equaliser.

That was until Robinson spilled another long-range effort, this time from Steve Finnan. But Dawson managed to hook the ball away from the danger area.

Yossi Benayoun was the last throw of the dice after 77 minutes in place of Voronin. Robinson saved well at his near post from Mascherano, while John Arne Riise and Torres both blazed efforts high over.

Mascherano fired just wide from 20 yards, with time apparently running out for Liverpool who had not been able to mount the expected grandstand finish.

But two minutes into injury-time, Torres finally found some space in the box when he rose to head home Finnan's cross to give Liverpool a fortunate point.