16 March 2008


By Paul Walker, PA Sport

When Javier Mascherano starts scoring goals then you know Liverpool are finally getting somewhere.
The 23-year-old, considered by boss Rafael Benitez to be the best holding midfield player in the world, finally broke his duck in England with his first Barclays Premier League goal to help subdue belligerent Reading.
Previously he had managed just one in 111 senior games with Corinthians, River Plate, West Ham and now the Merseysiders.
And it was a cracker, too, blasted home from just outside the box after a fine surge from midfield.
Reading's Czech midfielder Marek Matejovsky had earlier managed one just as good to put Steve Coppell's side ahead.
It took Fernando Torres' 27th goal of the season, his 20th in the league, to give Liverpool their seventh successive victory and Liverpool their first player to score 20 league goals since Robbie Fowler 12 years ago.
And it has set up Liverpool for the tough five-game spell that will define their season domestically and in Europe.
Manchester United are next at Old Trafford, then Everton, followed by three clashes with Arsenal, including both legs of the Champions League quarter-finals.
Many reckon that 18-day spell is too tough a schedule for Liverpool, but striker Dirk Kuyt does not agree. He said: "We know we are better now than a couple of weeks ago. Everything is improving.
"I think we can handle the programme we have coming up. If you are able to beat Inter Milan twice, one of the toughest teams in Europe, and you still win your league games you are showing that the squad has strength in depth.
"We have shown that in the last few weeks, and we are really ready for a difficult programme of matches like this."
Liverpool's current run of seven successive wins is their best in two years, and they are doing their utmost to destroy the theory that they are boring.
The Reds have also equalled their best haul of Premier League points after 30 games in a season.
The gap a few weeks ago with the leaders was 15 points, now it is down to eight. Nobody is suggesting they can win the title, but a much closer finish is possible.
Kuyt sees a different Liverpool now, insisting: "We have the confidence that we can still take a lot of points in the Premier League and still progress in the Champions League.
"It would be nice to get closer to the top, maybe to make a point or two after the way we have been written off.
"It happened a little to Chelsea at one stage, but you can only look at how close they are now to the top to show that things can be turned around.
"They were written off. Criticism has been there for us too, but we have only lost three league games, the problem has been too many draws.
"We are showing what a good side we are. We have shown in recent games that we are a different team to a few months ago."
At £18.6m, Mascherano was considered too pricey by some for a player without a cutting edge in the final third but team-mate Xabi Alonso disagrees.
He says: "I am pleased for Javier, he has finally got his goal.
"I enjoy working with him, he has great defensive qualities, and has been trying to score, but it wasn't happening.
"He is a typical Argentinian player who sits in front of the defence and breaks up the play.
"He holds his position there and does that job really well. You cannot ask for much more, but he is getting forward now and has much more to his game."
Mascherano's strike was his first in 44 Liverpool appearances and just weeks after his move was made permanent - a deal Benitez was delighted to complete.
He said: "When you have a player (on loan) for a year and you know how good he is, sometimes you just have to pay the money when you see sides who spent £20m on two or three midfielders. We knew this player was good and we needed to spend the money."

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