11 November 2007

Torres justifies a change in Benitez

The unchanged 11 that burned Besiktas 8-0 and managed to get another 2 against Fulham.

Duncan Castles at Anfield
Sunday November 11, 2007
The Observer

Do not expect Rafael Benitez to stop rotating again any time soon. An unchanged team fielded for the first time in 60 matches, Liverpool's manager watched them struggle long enough to fear a fifth draw from six Premier League home fixtures. Then Benitez altered his team in a manner he might have done before kick-off and allowed Fernando Torres to recharge their domestic challenge.
Torres' goal was divine - impeccable aerial control, deceptive shimmy past centre-back and inventively placed finish - Steven Gerrard completed victory courtesy of a dubious penalty and, at the end of a week that resurrected their Champions League campaign, Liverpool were reinstalled in the top four.
Rafa the Rotator, meanwhile, had further justification for his policy of constant change. 'After the game of the other day, eight goals, playing so well, I said, "OK, we have three days" and I thought it would be enough time,' said Benitez. 'It was good because in the end we won, but it was a little bit risky because you could see that two or three players were really tired.'
Only another victory of Besiktas proportions will see the manager deviate from team-changing type again. 'If we score another eight goals I will do it again,' deadpanned Benitez. 'No problem.' He and Lawrie Sanchez started with more in common than Latin surnames.
Both managers had shopped frantically through the summer, both struggled to convert their investment into early season results, both have seen question marks placed against their future, and both have taken pressure relieving results from their last outings.
After spending more transfer money in one close-season than Chris Coleman had been granted in four, Sanchez recently found himself summoned to Harrods to discuss his suspect start. If he had done himself few favours in critiquing his less generously funded predecessor's back-four only to replace it with one no more reliable, last weekend's defeat of Reading offered breathing space.
Benitez's critics have rarely allowed him much of that, charging the coach with the crime of over-rotation whenever results go against him. Here, the same line-up that netted a Champions League record eight goals on Tuesday night made the opening quarter of an hour overwhelmingly theirs.
A succession of free-kicks and corner kicks went Liverpool's way, with Sami Hyypia drawing a smart parry from Antti Niemi from one and drifting a free header wide of his occasional drinking partner at another.
Gerrard lifted a long shot over Niemi's bar and found himself the victim of a third Finnish international's overenthusiasm - clattered down by Shefki Kuqi three minutes into the striker's first Fulham start.
The spearhead of the visitors' aggressive 4-4-2 formation, Kuqi wasn't just a nuisance in the tackle, he was also unsettling Hyypia with his muscular presence - Danny Murphy stretched Pepe Reina after centre-back headed indecisively over centre-forward.
While threatening little more at the Kop end, Fulham were finding their bearings, closing up defensively and handing Liverpool a frustrating halfhour, leavened only by Peter Crouch directing a header fl ush on to the crossbar. The applause ringing round Anfi eld as substitute Torres trotted along the touchline was telling.
As neutrals wondered if Benitez had intended to prove the rationality of rotating, he bemused them again by changing not a single player during the interval. As Sanchez noted afterwards, Liverpool 'were restricted to long shots', though one Fabio Aurelio free-kick deserved better than for Yossi Benayoun to ladle the rebound over the bar.
Finally, Benitez altered his formation, sending on Ryan Babel to run both wings and Torres to run off Crouch. Both injected pace, but it was from the most agricultural of clearances that Torres was to decide the game.
Reina's long boot from the penalty area seemed destined for the opposing centre-backs, but an aerial Torres ran across one and brought it under control with his chest.
Darting to the right, he drew Aaron Hughes with him, turned the centreback on his heels and shot tightly to the near post. Niemi was off ered no chance, Reina ran the length of the field to embrace his compatriot.
'I think he mishit the shot and that is what confused Hughes and Niemi. It was a reasonably soft goal to concede,' said Sanchez, who had a more valid complaint about the one that followed - Carlos Bocanegra clipping Crouch's heels outside the area and the striker collapsing into it for a mistakenly awarded penalty.
'I don't believe it was in the box, it wasn't a penalty,' said Sanchez. Gerrard converted venomously; Rafa may have proved a point.

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