Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Benitez left to rue Liverpool's stuttering start

One of the canards of England's stumbling 2006 World Cup campaign, espoused by Steve McClaren and Rio Ferdinand among others, was that performances do not matter, only results do. Liverpool's footballers were not hiding behind such a pretence yesterday.

While their draw in Porto was a lot more satisfying a result than, for example, Chelsea's point at home to Rosenborg, the performance was wretched and the players knew it. It would not, they promised, happen again.



"We just did not match up to our own standards," said Steven Gerrard. "A point away from home in the Champions League is a good result but we're disappointed with the way we played. We didn't start well and never really recovered.



"We're usually a really good side away from home in Europe. We've built our success on starting well, making it difficult for the opposition, being good in possession and very good on the counter-attack. All these things did not go well this time. But Porto can expect a different Liverpool when they come to Anfield."



Rafael Benitez, the club's manager, was equally scathing. "It was not up to scratch, especially in the first half, this was not the way Liverpool play," he said. "We kept giving the ball away, we made mistakes that are just not normal for us. It is an experience we will not repeat.



"Next time we know we must start the game properly. The players know that we did not do well and they know we did not start well. They are very aware that this experience must not be repeated. They will know that, and we know that. I am certain that this will not happen again."



Promises are, of course, easier to make than to keep. The problems need to be identified, then resolved. The absence, through an ankle injury picked up in training on the eve of the match, of Xabi Alonso, did not help the passing. It also forced the inclusion of Jermaine Pennant whose tackling was not up to the defensive duties he was required to do. Pennant was sent off for two yellow cards. His refusal to accept responsibility for this does not auger well, especially given how long it took him to face up to his errant ways off the pitch.



"It would not have been a booking in England," said Pennant of his second, foolish tackle. "The referees are harsher in Europe, and I was baffled by [Lubos Michel] all night. I did not touch the player and it was not even a serious foul. I have to learn there are differences between referees in Europe and in the Premier League."



This from a man who has played in a Champions League final. Michel, incidentally, is regarded as one of the best referees in Europe.

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