Recent Post

14 Agustus 2008

Jose Manuel Reina and post spare Rafael Benitez's blushes

Standard Liège 0 Liverpool 0

There was a complimentary toilet roll waiting for every Standard Liège supporter at one end of the Stade Maurice Dufrasne last night, an appropriate gesture after the way that Laszlo Boloni, their coach, described his reaction when his team were drawn against one of the giants of European football. But the champions of Belgium came close to inflicting an embarrassing defeat on a Liverpool team whose performance could not even be described as bog-standard.
Liverpool were awful, so wretched in every department that even Rafael Benítez, who prefers not to stray from the banal in post-match press conferences, described the display as “very bad”. Ring-rustiness of some kind is to be expected in the first competitive game of the campaign, but this, the manager admitted, was unexpectedly poor after a largely encouraging pre-season programme. Had José Manuel Reina not saved them on three occasions in the first half, including a tenth-minute penalty from Dante Bonfim, this would have been embarrassing and potentially cataclysmic.
As it is, needing a win to progress to the group stage, Liverpool should have few concerns about the second leg at Anfield on August 27. But if Benítez’s activity in the transfer market is to hinge on securing the windfall that accompanies Champions League qualification, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, the club’s American co-owners, will hesitate before loosening the purse strings. The paucity of this performance could be used to strengthen the manager’s case in asking for reinforcements — with Gareth Barry, the Aston Villa captain, still on his wanted list — but, as ever, Liverpool need greater quality on the flanks, not just in central midfieId.
it was certainly not the debut that Robbie Keane had in mind when he signed for the club he supported as a boy, with the Ireland forward reduced to chasing shadows before making way for Steven Gerrard, who was not risked in the starting line-up after recent thigh and groin injuries. More glaring was the performance of Andrea Dossena, the Italian full back, who, to put it mildly, left himself room for improvement over the course of his Liverpool career.
Benítez, however, was eager to emphasise that basic errors were littered throughout the team. “The positive thing is that it is a good result, but the performance was very bad,” he said. “The passes were bad, the control was bad and we were always losing the first and second ball. I was a little bit surprised because we have been playing well. The team didn’t play well, so the strikers [Keane and Fernando Torres] were not able to play well. I don’t like to talk about one player, but clearly we weren’t at our best.”
Liverpool made a terrible start, seemingly knocked out of their stride by the muscular aggression of their opponents. In the seventh minute Standard thought they had scored, with Marouane Fellaini left unattended from Dante’s free kick. His header struck the inside of a post and floated along the goalline until Reina clawed it to safety. Tom Henning Ovrebo, the Norwegian referee, looked at his linesman, who ruled that Reina had got to the ball just in time.
That should have served as an alarm call for Liverpool, but they merely hit the snooze button and another almighty let-off was to follow, albeit one that would not have come about had that same linesman not erred in deeming Dossena to be inside the penalty area when his raised hand blocked Wilfried Dalmat’s cross. Dante’s kick was weak and Reina saved with his legs, to the almighty relief of his team-mates, not least Dossena, whose first-half performance had Jamie Carragher pleading with him at one stage to keep things simple.
Liverpool stabilised slightly after the sloppy opening, but remained a long way off the pace, afflicted by anxiety in defence and lacking fluency going forward. Not even Gerrard could bring an improvement, his stoppage-time free kick saved easily by Aragon Espinoza, who was called into action for the first time all evening.
Boloni, the Standard coach, suggested that Liverpool were “sleeping” at this early stage of the season and that Gerrard and his team-mates would be likely to perform rather better in the second leg at Anfield.
Common sense, as well as experience, says that they will, but the alternative, which now at least bears consideration, would be the stuff of nightmares for Benítez.
Standard Liège (4-1-3-2): R Espinosa 5 - MCamozzatto 6, M Sarr 6, T Mikulic 7 (sub: B Nicaise, 90min), Dante Bonfim 6 - M Fellaini 6 - W Dalmat 6, S Defour 6, A Witsel 5 - D Mbokani 5, I de Camargo 5. Substitutes not used: J de Vriendt, R Goreux, S Toema, L Benko, M Ingrao, S Dembele. Booked: Camozzatto, Mikulic.
Liverpool (4-4-2): JM Reina 8 - Á Arbeloa 5, JCarragher 5, D Agger 4, A Dossena 3 - D Kuyt 4 (sub: N El Zhar, 83), X Alonso 6, D Plessis 5, YBenayoun 6 - R Keane 5 (sub: S Gerrard, 68 6), FTorres 5. Substitutes not used: D Cavalieri, SHyypia, E Insua, J Pennant, A Voronin. Booked: Alonso.
Referee: TH Ovrebo (Norway).