Rafa: Champions League place requires Champions League performances

Manchester City 1  Liverpool 0
Ex-red Robbie Fowler had a happy birthday after all today. Although Robbie didn’t score himself, Kiki Musampa’s 89th minute winner meant that Fowler was on the winning side against his old club on the day he turned 30.

Liverpool’s player shortage was there for all to see today – Benitez having to improvise all the time with players. Rafa had gone on record earlier in the week about how he admired the former Liverpool number 9 – with the injury crisis ongoing right now he’d probably love to bring Robbie back. Morientes still isn’t 100% fit, and was replaced eventually. Garcia picked  up a knock before half time and eventually had to leave the pitch. Vladimir Smicer was Garcia’s replacement – the player that’s already announced he wants to leave at the end of the season. Striker Morientes was replaced by a midfielder – John Welsh – meaning a reshuffle was necessary. Meanwhile John Arne Riise left the pitch looking extremely tired. Liverpool now have to lift themselves for the trip to Turin midweek, and try to find the strength to keep playing – there’s not enough spare players to rotate the squad right now.

Scott Carson was called into action repeatedly, making amends for his so-called "clanger" against Juventus. Had Liverpool held on that bit longer, he’d probably have been named man-of-the-match. Steven Gerrard missed an easy chance – it was one of those days.

Manager Rafael Benitez was disappointed – a win for Liverpool would have seen them move above Everton at least until tomorrow. Even a draw would have moved them ahead on goal difference. Defeat means that a win for Everton tomorrow would see Everton move 4 points ahead again. Bolton are breathing down the neck of the Reds again too – one point behind in 6th place.

After the game Benitez said: "If you cannot win, it’s important to draw. We conceded a poor goal that came from our throw-in and we must learn from that if we are to finish in fourth place. We didn’t play well in the first half and lost the ball too easily. In the second half we started with a good mentality, controlled the game and Gerrard had a clear opportunity but didn’t score."

Liverpool’s problems throughout the reigns of Sounness, Evans and Houllier have mainly been down to inconsistencies in performance levels. Beating the league-leaders one week, being beaten by the relegation candidates the next. Benitez seems to have inherited this inconsistency, as he said, "It’s difficult to explain why we play so well in one game then the next we don’t. The players know the importance of finishing in the top four and, if we play to the same level we have shown in the Champions League, I still believe we can."

Unfortunately "if" has been an overused word at Anfield in recent years. Liverpool raise their own game to play against the likes of Juventus or Arsenal. Teams that are below Liverpool in the league in turn raise their games to play against Liverpool. In the end, it’s up to Liverpool to play at the same level regardless of the opposition. If (there’s that word again) – if Benitez can find out the reason why the players drop down a level depending on the opposition, he might just get the 4th place that Liverpool desperately need. If Liverpool can play like they did for 30 minutes against Juventus more often, 4th place would be a disappointment.

Liverpool Team: Carson, Warnock, Finnan, Carragher, Pellegrino, Gerrard, Biscan, Riise (Traore 83), Garcia (Smicer 68), Le Tallec, Morientes (Welsh 78). Unused subs – Dudek, Hyypia
City team: James, Dunne, Onuoha (Mills, 67),
Sibierski (B Wright-Phillips 83),
Bosvelt (Croft 73),
Fowler. Unused Subs:
Negouai, Weaver
Referee: Mike Riley
Man City: Musampa (89)
Bookings: Liverpool: Carragher (34) City: Barton (45)