Liverpool 2 Wolves 0

Liverpool are still some way short of playing as well as they can, but can take a lot of positives from this win. They need to take those positives too, because a lack of confidence had started to take over from injuries as a major handicap to the side.

The critics will say the sending-off of Stephen Ward is what swung it for the Reds – ignoring the fact it was the threat Liverpool were posing that caused Ward to commit the two bookable offences.

Christophe Berra was initially booked for what was Ward’s second yellow-card foul, but Berra’s card was rescinded when the referee realised he’d got the wrong man. Should Berra’s yellow card have stood though? Unsporting behaviour is a cautionable offence of course and it was hardly sporting the way he accepted Ward’s yellow.

Wolves fans were accusing Liverpool ‘keeper Pepe Reina of the unsporting behaviour for running 70 yards to point out to the linesman and referee how they’d got the wrong man. But this wasn’t a case of Reina telling the ref to book a player, just to book the correct player.

Talking of unsporting behaviour, it clearly wasn’t cricket when McCarthy put his reserves out against Manchester United recently but the former Ireland boss probably considers sporting behaviour to be to do whatever it takes to win a game, and to grumble when it goes against you. Wolves nearly got a break, but were rumbled. He turned this round as the break going to the Reds: “They needed a break and they got it.”

It wasn’t just Reina and other Liverpool players trying to make sure Ward and Berra’s poor sportsmanship didn’t go unpunished – fourth official Phil Dowd also made sure Andre Marriner was told of his mistake. But McCarthy was more annoyed with Liverpool’s players for not letting his player get away with it – and manager Rafa Benitez, who allegedly pointed out the error to Dowd in the first place.

McCarthy suggested Dowd didn’t know it was the wrong player until the Reds bench told him: “I’m not convinced it was a sending-off. I’m not sure how much contact there was. The referee eventually got the right guy, but he got a bit of flipping assistance, didn’t he? I’m not sure the fourth official, Phil Dowd, knew who it was, but they quickly let him know. He wasn’t sure, but they told him. They sent the reinforcements in.” That suggestion should land McCarthy in hot water with the FA, implying as it does that Dowd took the word of LFC’s bench rather than going with what he’d seen himself.

But even if Dowd already knew, McCarthy suggested he still should have stood by and done nothing: “I don’t know if Phil Dowd told the referee who it was and if referees can get assistance from the fourth official, perhaps Ireland should still be in the World Cup.”

Benitez said it was Dowd who told him who’d committed the foul: “The fourth official kept saying, ‘it was the number 11, the number 11’. It was clear it was a sending-off.”

But even if Wolves had got away with that card, if Liverpool carried on playing the way they did it was only a matter of time before Ward was either sent off or left in the dust of a Liverpool player heading past him towards goal. The opener came from a run down the opposite flank though, Emiliano Insua putting a brilliant cross into the box that was met by the determined head of Steven Gerrard, looking more like his old self than he has for some time. He was perhaps as relieved as he was delighted, but Liverpool were in front and certainly deserved to be so.

This being Liverpool a one-goal lead is never comfortable, and so when Yossi Benayoun’s deflected goal made it 2-0 there was even more relief for the Reds.

Liverpool had spells in the game where it looked like being another miserable day, but as the second half went on they’d started to show signs of confidence. McCarthy thought differently though: “We were comfortable for an hour,” he said, presumably about the 51 minutes before the red card.

It was a first league start for Liverpool’s £17m Italian signing Alberto Aquilani. The midfielder showed glimpses of why the Liverpool manager was prepared to take a chance on buying a player already carrying an injury, but clearly needs more games to both build an understanding with his team-mates and to adapt to the much faster pace of the game in England. Benitez said: “He was okay; he had good vision and tried to be involved.”

Torres struggled for most of the game, Marriner offering him no protection at all from the attentions of the Wolves defence. Sometimes Torres uses the annoyance of these tackles as a driver towards embarrassing the heavy-footed opponents by scoring a couple of goals. Other times he just gets annoyed and does little to threaten their goal – this was one of those games for Torres.

But Liverpool got the win, a win they desperately needed, as Benitez said: “We needed these three points. We had to win. We won: a clean sheet, two goals, some chances and we have to go forward. The main thing was to get three points. We will see if we can beat Aston Villa and stay closer. We were trying to do well but to win. We have done this.”

And the Reds captain, Gerrard, admitted the players were still a little shaky: “It was all about waiting for that breakthrough. We were nervous at times and the crowd were getting on our backs and it was important that we just kept going. But we were confident the goal would come and it did.

“When you’re not getting the results that you expect, it’s always going to affect confidence and we want to put it right. The players are hurting at the moment but we’re fighting and we’ve got the confidence that we will turn it around. With the attitude that we showed we’ll slowly move up that table and we know where we want to be.”

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua, Lucas, Benayoun (Spearing 88), Aquilani (Pacheco 84), Gerrard, Aurelio, Torres
Unused subs: Cavalieri, Darby, Skrtel, Ngog
Goals: Gerrard 62, Benayoun 70

Wolves: Hahnemann, Stearman, Craddock, Berra, Ward, Foley, Henry, Milijas (Mancienne 62), Jarvis, Ebanks-Blake (Iwelumo 66), Doyle (Elokobi 58)
Unused subs: Hennessey, Surman, Castillo, Maierhofer
Booked: Ward
Sent-off: Ward

Referee: A Marriner

Attendance: 41,956

LFC v Wolves – Kuyt on bench. Torres, Gerrard and Aquilani start.

As expected Alberto Aquilani makes his first start in the league for Liverpool this evening as they try to get the festive programme off to a good start.

The £17m signing is in for Javier Mascherano who got himself suspended for four matches after being sent off last time out against Portsmouth. Lucas plays alongside him with Steven Gerrard further forward in support of Fernando Torres.

With Pepe Reina in goal, Glen Johnson joins Emiliano Insua, Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger at the back, with starts also going to Fabio Aurelio and Yossi Benayoun.

Dirk Kuyt is rested, but is one of the options on the bench.

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 2 Johnson, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 22 Insua, 15 Benayoun, 21 Lucas, 4 Aquilani, 12 Aurelio, 8 Gerrard, 9 Torres
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 32 Darby, 37 Skrtel, 26 Spearing, 18 Kuyt, 24 Ngog, 47 Pacheco

Wolves: 13 Hahnemann, 5 Stearman, 6 Craddock, 11 Ward, 16 Berra, 32 Foley, 8 Henry, 17 Jarvis, 20 Milijas, 9 Ebanks-Blake, 29 Doyle
Subs: 1 Hennessey, 3 Elokobi, 27 Mancienne, 12 Surman, 35 Castillo, 19 Iwelumo, 33 Maierhofer

Teams: Liverpool v Wigan

Rafa Benitez has made changes to the side that lost to Arsenal on Monday, at least two of them enforced.

Glen Johnson is out of the squad completely, Fernando Torres restricted to the bench.

Pepe Reina is in goal and after that it waits to be seen just how Rafa intends to line the players up.

Skrtel joins Carragher and Agger as the centre-backs starting the game, which could suggest Rafa is starting with three at the back.

Another option of course is that Carragher will move to right back in a more conventional back-four with the returning Emiliano Insua on the opposite side of the pitch.

With Lucas on the bench it’s possible that Steven Gerrard will start alongside Mascherano in the centre of midfield, with Kuyt partnering Ngog upfront. Aquilani is on the bench again.

Liverpool desperately need to win the game and win it in style to restore some confidence.

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 5 Agger, 12 Aurelio, 22 Insua, 23 Carragher, 37 Skrtel, 8 Gerrard, 15 Benayoun, 20 Mascherano, 18 Kuyt, 24 Ngog
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 16 Kyrgiakos, 32 Darby, 38 Dossena, 4 Aquilani, 21 Lucas, 9 Torres

Wigan: 1 Kirkland, 7 Scharner, 17 Boyce, 19 Bramble, 25 Melchiot, 31 Figueroa, 6 Thomas, 14 N’Zogbia, 15 Gomez, 27 Diame, 20 Rodallega
Subs: 22 Kingson, 4 Amaya, 5 Cho, 10 Koumas, 16 Sinclair, 18 De Ridder, 9 Scotland

Liverpool v Arsenal: Torres and Gerrard both start

Rafa Benitez has finally been able to pick his strongest side – although Alberto Aquilani doesn’t follow his first start for the club in midweek with another start today.

Injuries have plagued the Liverpool manager all season, and although other factors have played a part in a massively disappointing season the absence of key players for every single game of the season can’t be ignored. Even today there are questions marks as to which players are 100% fit.

But Pepe Reina will look out of his goal at a back four of Glen Johnson, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Fabiou Aurelio. Emiliano Insua drops to the bench.

Lucas starts in midfield, his time in the middle perhaps coming to an end if Aquilani can get back to full match fitness. He’ll partner Javier Mascherano.

Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun also start, but the two names that mean most are Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, and Liverpool fans are delighted that both are back.

But even if it is as close to a first-choice side as you can get under Rafael Benitez, it’s also up against a strong side in Arsenal. Both sides have become accustomed to being top four sides in recent years, but both sides know that record is under threat with the likes of Spurs and Manchester City investing heavily in their squads in an attempt to break into that top four. Dropped points for either side will be a huge disappointment for them.

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 2 Johnson, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 12 Aurelio, 20 Mascherano, 21 Lucas, 18 Kuyt, 8 Gerrard, 15 Benayoun, 9 Torres
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 22 Insua, 27 Degen, 37 Skrtel, 38 Dossena, 4 Aquilani, 24 Ngog

Arsenal: 1 Almunia, 3 Sagna, 5 Vermaelen, 10 Gallas, 30 Traore, 4 Fabregas, 8 Nasri, 14 Walcott, 15 Denilson, 17 Song Billong, 23 Arshavin
Subs: 21 Fabianski, 18 Silvestre, 2 Diaby, 16 Ramsey, 19 Wilshere, 9 Eduardo, 12 Vela

Referee: Howard Webb

Liverpool v Fiorentina – Aquilani and Darby start

Champions LeagueWednesday, 9 December 2009

Liverpool v Fiorentina

Liverpool start this game in third place in the group and will end it in the same position regardless of the result. Fiorentina will be looking for the win that would guarantee them top spot in the group.

It’s going to be Liverpool’s last game in the Champions League this season and if they want to play in it next season they need to start getting some points on the board in the league this season. Next up domestically is a clash with Arsenal on Sunday and tonight’s line-up was understandably made with that in mind.

Pepe Reina is on the bench so that Diego Cavalieri can get a rare start in goal. Daniel Agger and Emiliano Insua both start but Jamie Carragher has dropped to the bench to make way for Martin Skrtel. Glen Johnson has been rested completely after his recent spell with injuries and this gives a chance for 21-year-old Stephen Darby to show what he can do at this level.

One name that comes as a welcome sight on the bench is that of Fernando Torres, out since the beginning of November with a hernia. David Ngog hasn’t made the matchday squad, but Steven Gerrard, Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt all start. 18-year-old Spanish striker Daniel Pacheco is also on the bench tonight.

There’s clearly some hope from manager Rafa Benitez that Andrea Dossena will be able to do enough tonight to impress someone back in Italy enough to make a move for his signature, so he starts.

And in midfield Javier Mascherano is partnered by Alberto Aquilani, making his first start since his £17m arrival in the summer. Much has been said about the Italian, tonight he finally gets a chance to turn the talk into action.

Liverpool: 1 Cavalieri, 32 Darby, 37 Skrtel, 5 Agger, 22 Insua, 15 Benayoun, 20 Mascherano, 4 Aquilani, 38 Dossena, 8 Gerrard, 18 Kuyt
Subs: 25 Reina, 12 Aurelio, 16 Kyrgiakos, 23 Carragher, 26 Spearing, 9 Torres, 47 Pacheco

Fiorentina: 1 Frey, 2 Kroldrup, 14 Natali, 23 Pasqual, 25 Comotto, 29 De Silvestri, 4 Donadel, 18 Montolivo, 20 Jorgensen, 24 Santana, 11 Gilardino
Subs: 35 Avramov, 90 Seculin, 6 Vargas, 41 Aya, 45 Federico Carraro, 9 Castillo, 32 Marchionni

Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovakia)

Kick-off: 19:45 GMT