Fernando Morientes was delighted to hit the back of the net in Tuesday night’s Champions League win over Anderlecht, bringing to an end an unhappy period in the current season. Fernando hadn’t scored since August, meaning pundits were having a great time asking what had become of the Spaniard. The fact he’d spent time out injured since scoring in August was glossed over. Morientes was still starting to feel the pressure though, and he told Sky of his relief at scoring again: "I needed a goal like that. I am happy with how the game went but now I need to get a run of five consecutive goals to get my sharpness in the area back. I can’t understand my bad fortune in The Premiership – what with injuries and the goal drought people have not seen the real Morientes yet. It has hurt me."
Morientes was clearly struggling for fitness last season after joining Liverpool in January. Real Madrid had rarely used him in the first half of that season and he’d not got the match fitness he’d have liked. Reds boss Rafael Benitez has not lost patience with his compatriate though, always feeling that once Morientes got the service he needed he’d start banging them in. As Morientes says: "Benitez has always given me his total confidence and I want to pay that back with goals. I am a striker and I was bought by Liverpool to score goals."
The goal he scored on Tuesday was excellent, taken with all of the confidence of a striker in form. That Morientes had been feeling the pressure so much makes it an even more special goal. Special or not, Morientes is determined to get more goals now this season: "I don’t have a set target, but I want to get at least 12 or 15 goals in all competitions."
This weekend Liverpool face Aston Villa, and fitness permitting will be up against their own former striker Milan Baros. Baros played some excellent football during his time at Anfield, but he seemed to be unwilling to accept the rotation policy put in place by Benitez. In the end it seemed one quote too many had been made in the press by the Czech striker and Benitez let him go. The combination of a former striker with something to prove and the fact that Liverpool’s domestic form has been poor could make for a difficult game this weekend. In terms of that domestic form Morientes can’t see what makes them struggle so much: "The difference between Liverpool in Europe and domestically is abysmal. I don’t know what causes it, but in The Premiership we are playing very nervously and have problems scoring goals."
Rafa Benitez has been getting some stick this season, mainly from the phone-in brigade, but Morientes feels this is unfair: "People should not question Benitez, he is one of the best coaches in the world and I would ask for people to have a little patience with him. I am convinced that results will come and he will achieve his objectives. Our aim is to take things game by game, things are going well in Europe but the next game against Real Betis will not be easy."
Meanwhile Ferndando’s team-mate Jamie Carragher had some more encouraging words for the Spanish striker if he needed them. Carra is a player that studies the game as well as playing it, spending most Sundays with the house to himself to watch every game he can find on the tv, English, Spanish, Italian – whatever he can find. He already knew a lot about Morientes before he signed for the Reds, and says that training and playing alongside the Spaniard only confirms how great a player he thought he was. Carra says: "There are some players who sign for top clubs and you watch them and wonder if they’re good enough to make it, but that’s never been the case with Morientes at Liverpool. He’s a class act and you can see what skill and quality he has. We see how good his touch is in training every day and it’s just been a case of him taking it into the games."
Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Carra said that the biggest problem the player has faced is injuries rather than the physical nature of the English game: "The big question has been whether he can adapt to English football, but the real reason it’s not happened sooner is really down to bad luck with injuries, as far as I’m concerned. I think a lot of the things which have been said about Morientes have been unfair because his biggest problem has been those injuries."
Carra is intelligent enough to see through the superficial views of the pundits, and points out more positives for Fernando: "It’s not true to say he hasn’t done anything. Last season he scored some cracking goals, including one against Charlton, and his first half performance in the Merseyside derby helped us win the game. The signs have been there before he can adapt to English football, but every time he’s looked sharp he’s picked up a knock. The key for him is to get a run of games under his belt and then he’d make a massive difference."
Carragher knows too that one of the frustrations for Liverpool fans is that in Fowler and OWen, Liverpool themselves produced two of the best strikers the modern game has seen. Liverpool fans want to see replacements for that type of player, but Carra says Morientes is a different type of striker: "His record at the top level is exceptional, but he’s never been what you’d call an out-and-out goalscorer like Michael Owen or Robbie Fowler. He’s a more all-round player who likes to play off defenders, so expecting him to tumble in lot of goals every week wasn’t realistic."
Carra feels the key now for Morientes is to avoid injury long enough to increase his confidence levels: "If he can get a run of games going I’m sure he’ll score plenty and the goal he scored will do his confidence the world of good. He’s probably put the most difficult chance of all away, but now he’s got one, hopefully a few more aren’t far away."