Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rafa Plays Down Anfield Rift

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has reassured supporters that his row with the club's co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks is not serious.

The Spaniard's frustration at the American duo's unwillingness to release funds for new players in the January transfer window bubbled to the surface in a tense press conference earlier in the week.

However Benitez was in more conciliatory mood in the wake of his side's 3-0 win over Newcastle earlier today.

"I think they don't understand what the transfer window means in Europe," he told Sky Sports.

"When you sign a player he needs to settle down. They don't understand how difficult it is to sign players. When you have the possibility now that you are free, you must do it or lose players. I'm trying to explain it, so it's OK.

"We will keep calm and I will try to keep focused on winning games for my supporters. I think it's not serious. If they understand what the market means for football here in Europe, they will understand I am trying to do my best for the club."

Hicks had reacted to Benitez's first set of comments with a terse warning to "quit talking about new players and to coach the players we have".

It is also believed that discussions over a permanent deal for midfielder Javier Mascherano and a possible swoop for Racing Santander defender Ezequiel Marcelo Garay have been put on hold until the Reds' precarious Champions League position is decided.

Newcastle 0 - 3 Liverpool

Sam Allardyce was plunged deeper into crisis as sorry Newcastle were humiliated at home by Liverpool.

For the second game on the trot at St James' Park, the Magpies were taken apart by the visitors, and only Shay Given and good fortune prevented Rafael Benitez's men from bettering Portsmouth's 4-1 scoreline three weeks earlier.

Steven Gerrard, who was booed by the home fans for his part in England's Euro 2008 failure in midweek, opened the scoring with a 28th-minute piledriver and after the hugely impressive Fernando Torres hit the post on the stroke of half-time, Dirk Kuyt made it 2-0 within 60 seconds of the restart.

Substitute Ryan Babel capitalised on the mayhem in Newcastle's defence to make it 3-0 with 24 minutes remaining as the home fans chanted "You don't know what you are doing" and "Big Sam for England".

Allardyce's team were simply woeful and the fury with which the final whistle was greeted by a crowd of 52,307 after they failed to muster a single shot on target will not have gone unnoticed by grim-faced owner Mike Ashley.

By contrast Benitez, who has found himself at odds with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, was able to wear the satisfied smile of a man who had seen his team do all he had asked of them.

Allardyce rose this morning to read of apparent unrest in his dressing room, but that was nothing compared to the boos which greeted his players as they left the field after a desperately poor opening 45 minutes.

In truth, it could have been much worse with Torres having squandered the chance to double the Reds' lead in the final minute of the half after Kuyt had turned Charles N'Zogbia's kamikaze header into his path.

Given looked to have misjudged his sprint towards the ball, but managed to make a vital block, and he got his reward when the Spaniard picked up the loose ball and fired against the foot of the post with the goal at his mercy.

Newcastle were able to offer next to nothing in reply with Alan Smith's dipping 38th-minute volley, which dropped just wide, their only effort of any note.

More worryingly, the 3-5-2 system adopted by Allardyce in the face of a defensive injury crisis looked alien to his players, who found themselves repeatedly out-numbered as Liverpool simply passed the ball around them.

Strikers Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins were painfully isolated with nominal wide men Geremi and N'Zogbia struggling to make anything of the sporadic possession they received.

Indeed, the biggest cheer of the afternoon to that point came when the first contestant in the half-time hit-the-crossbar challenge produced the most accurate ball of the day from a man in a black and white shirt to connect with the woodwork at the first attempt.

If the Magpies had escaped at the end of the first half, they were not to be so fortunate at the beginning of the second after Habib Beye was forced to concede a 46th-minute corner.

Sami Hyypia managed to get a flick on Gerrard's ball in at the near post and Kuyt bundled it home from close range to make it 2-0.

Allardyce did little to improve the mood at St James' when he replaced Emre with Joey Barton after 51 minutes with his side labouring.

Beye had to get in a block to deny Harry Kewell after 54 minutes after Torres had found space on the right and, although Smith volleyed high over at the end of a rare Magpies attack a minute later, there were cheers when James Milner emerged from the dug-out to warm up.

Milner duly arrived with 59 minutes gone, but Allardyce's decision to replace N'Zogbia was greeted with incredulity.

Newcastle were in complete disarray and after Torres had twice gone close, substitute Babel finally made them pay when he exchanged passes with Gerrard to fire home a third goal after 66 minutes.

Torres was tormenting the home defence and should really have added his name to the scoresheet, firing wide after 68 minutes with just the helpless Given to beat and then seeing another effort blocked by the Irishman seconds later.

Babel sent a stinging shot across Given's goal after 73 minutes and then laid a fourth on a plate for Kuyt, only to see the Dutchman scuff his effort straight at the goalkeeper, and the final whistle came as a merciful release.