At 3-0 up Liverpool seriously did look to be finding it far too easy against Galatasaray in their Group C Champions League home clash. The third goal was scored by Peter Crouch and was the latest in what looks like being part of a special section of wonder goals on the end-of-season DVD. His overheard kick from Steve Finnan’s cross was outstanding, and follows on from wonder goals from Daniel Agger against West Ham, Xabi Alonso again Newcastle and John Arne Riise against Spurs.
A 3-0 scoreline is no guarantee of victory of course, and against opposition from Istanbul of all places Liverpool should have known that. With two goals scored by Galatasaray the game ended on a relieved note as far as Reds players and fans were concerned, but at least Crouch was able to look back on his wonder goal as part of a victory. Speaking afterwards the England international, who got two of the Reds goals, said: “It was a special moment for me to score that goal at the Kop end, I’d have to say it's the best of my Liverpool career so far.”
Somebody picked up recently on the stat of just how many games Liverpool have played without Rafa Benítez using the same names for two games in succession. The figure now stands at not far short of a hundred, but for some reason it’s only now that the media have decided to make it their topic of the month where Liverpool are involved. Along with “Steven Gerrard is unhappy at not being played in the centre” (or if they were being accurate, Stevie prefers to be played in the centre but will play wherever tactics dictate) the rotation policy is the source of most questions. Rafa has actually avoided rotating his attack in the last few games, meaning Crouch has had to make do with a place on the bench. And so the media had another one of Rafa's decisions to question. They question Rafa’s rotation policy, yet question his decision to stick with his strikers for a few games. Luckily Rafa doesn’t use the media for advice on selection. Crouch was asked how it felt to be on the bench, and no doubt disappointed the reporter when he said unsurprisingly that he’d rather be on the pitch but accepts being on the bench: “It's obviously frustrating to have been on the bench over recent games because you always want to play. But at a club this size you know you'll be out of the team every now and again and you just have to make sure you're ready when selected.”
Crouch said that maybe Liverpool decided at 3-0 that it was game over, forgetting the Istanbul rule: “I thought we played well in the first half tonight and then when we scored the third maybe we thought the game was over. Credit to them for coming back into it and it was a bit worrying at the end. The important thing is we've won the game and picked up the three points. That's what matters at the end of the night.”
Crouch believes that the 3-0 scoreline gave Liverpool a touch of complacency and they just couldn’t get back in control of the game: “It shouldn't have been that nervy, it was a confident 3-0 and we just wanted to see the game out. They're dangerous sides in the Champions League, if you step back and allow teams to come on to you. We worked so hard in the first half maybe it caused a lapse in the second half.”
Rafa said it wasn’t just Liverpool who thought it was all done at 3-0. Rafa’s view is that as Liverpool started to relax, so did Galatasaray who just decided to go for it and try and get one back: “It was a strange game. We started really well, playing at a high tempo with good crossing and scored some fantastic goals. We were well on top after just 20 minutes, but maybe we were thinking the job had been done, and then they started to cause us problems. Then we scored an amazing goal and after that they knew the game was finished and just threw men forward. They started to move forward when they were three down with nothing to lose. They attacked with lots of players and we had trouble controlling the game after that. That made it very difficult for us to control the ball.”
Rafa will learn a lot from that game, no doubt calling a few players in for some advice after he’s had a chance to watch the video of the match, but the important thing is that the Reds are now top of Group C, level on points with PSV: “At the end of a very difficult game we have three points and are top of the group. If we win our final two home games we should qualify. The positives were the amazing second goal by Crouch. When you see him score a goal like that – a fantastic hooked volley – then you understand his quality. His goal came from a good cross, good movement and the wonderful quality of Crouch. He's a great player.”
Rafa sounded relieved that the game had come to an end: “I am normally calm and trying to analyse the game in the closing minutes, but we were under pressure and it was very difficult, but we aim to continue to look forward to the next match and we are grateful for the three points.”
Rafa’s opposite number, Galatasaray coach Erik Gerets, talked about his team’s slow start to the game costing them the points: “We forgot to play football in the first half and seemed to be in awe of the way our opponents were playing. We were too impressed by the surroundings and the team we were facing. If you play like that with stars in your eyes, then you end up losing. If we had played in the first half like we did in the second it would have been a different story.”
He continued: “We went out in the second half and changed a couple of things, but then we made a big mistake for their third goal and it was only after that we started to play football. In that second period the team played so much better and attacked more and caused them many problems. We are unhappy tonight, but I think there is something positive to take out of way we played in the last 30 minutes. We could easily have scored more; we missed some late chances to equalise. Now we are crying and unhappy and I am angry that too many players made too many mistakes at crucial times to give them goals.”
The BBC have provided an audio interview on their website with Rafa – listen to it here: BBC Interview with Rafa Benitez.