When Liverpool suffered a defeat at Fulham in the league, and at Crystal Palace in the League Cup, the feeling was that Liverpool were a club in crisis. The wounds of a 4-1 defeat at home to Chelsea were still open and Liverpool’s league position was too low for comfort. Some were even trying to say that European success was easier than domestic success.
Rafael Benitez was not happy to see his team look uninterested in the defeat against Fulham, calling them in for extra training the following day. He made it clear he wanted more commitment from his players, and those thoughts were echoed by club captain Steven Gerrard after the Palace defeat. The warnings seemed to be heeded, and Rafa got commitment from his charges. Now Liverpool have won three games in a row and the manager says it is no surprise as he feels his squad is much more well equipped than last season. Speaking after the weekend defeat of Aston Villa, Rafa said: “People have been talking about crisis but you can see that the team is stronger than last season. We can score goals, we can control the game, we can create chances and we’ve had clean sheet. As a manager, I only need to correct some mistakes.”
The three wins have all come in the space of a week, and see Liverpool moving the right way in the table. Rafa explains how he wasn’t going to be drawn into the panic that some supporters were creating: “As I always say, after a Sunday there is a Monday. In football, you must be calm, you must analyse the situation with calmness and afterwards say ‘OK, I need to do this and this’. We could say that this week has been really important but I hope to see a lot more wins over the season.”
Benitez made three changes during the game, all three of a positive nature with Peter Crouch, Harry Kewell and Boudewijn Zenden being brought on. To Benitez, these changes allowed Liverpool to add to the control of the game they had shown throughout by actually being able to put some chances away. Rafa said: “I think it was Harry, Zenden and Crouch who changed the game. Crouch gives to us many things – he can keep the ball in the air, he can give the players around him more space. He can give to us something that the other players can’t. It’s important to have more than one option.”
When Morientes got a goal in midweek it was clear that this was going to give his confidence a much-needed boost, but with Crouch the boss feels that he has a player who is confident regardless of his lack of goals so far: “He has confidence. You can only score if you continue trying and trying. If you give up, then you won’t. But the most important thing is the team winning the game.”
Rafa was also pleased to put the statistic of not winning immediately after a Champions League game to bed once and for all. It was the first win in twenty attempts after a midweek European Cup game, and again the boss feels it has a part in raising confidence amongst the players: “It’s another statistic that we can change and it will be important for our confidence for the future. We want to play a lot of Champions League games this year and we need to win after them.”
Liverpool’s league position still sees them in the bottom half, but with a game or two in hand on everyone else in the table this is a little misleading. In theory they could get to eighth in the table if they won one game in hand. The teams above that in positions four to seven would all be one point ahead of Liverpool. That fourth-placed team is Arsenal, who are one point behind third-placed Manchester United, and they were the two teams considered as Chelsea’s main rivals for the title at the start of the season. Liverpool are in touching distance of catching both of those teams.
Wigan are the surprise package so far this season though, sitting in second place, six points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand. Former Reds reserve Paul Jewell may yet prove to be the biggest threat to Liverpool’s hopes of a top-three finish this season.