Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant is not having the best of times right now. Unrest is growing amongst fans that the player signed from Birmingham in the summer is not delivering the goods. Last night booing could be heard as he was substituted late on, and the usual voices on the usual phone-ins were, as usual, disgusted with him; Pennant has replaced Reina as the latest scapegoat for dropped points, and the more he hears this the worse his confidence gets.
Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez ended up paying £6.5m for him in the summer, in a deal that could rise to £8m if certain conditions are met, so he obviously sees a lot more in him than most of those fans. Earlier in the season Pennant was often overlooked as Rafa picked Steven Gerrard for the role on the right side of midfield, and those who don't agree with rotation will say that this sent out a negative message to Pennant, hitting his confidence from the start. His confidence problems aren't helped, some say, by the fact he’s a life-long Liverpool supporter – he knows from his heart how high the expectations are.
Rafael Benítez won’t persevere with him for ever, but he will give him as many chances as he thinks he needs. He’s trying to get Pennant to build his confidence up by doing things the simple way. He said after the game last night: “We told Pennant to be confident, to get in his crosses and to beat defenders. I think he was trying really hard, I was pleased with that, but when you cannot do it then you must play it simple, do things in a simple way, get crosses in and hope the forwards can reach them.”
Rafa says that Pennant’s crossing was good last night and that he was doing his bit, but it was the forwards who were letting the side down: “He was getting in plenty of good crosses but sometimes the forwards were not up in support. He continued trying which gives us an option in the wide areas. As long as he keeps trying and working I am happy, but the moment he becomes afraid to try things then he will not improve. He must keep going and trying to do the right things.”
Liverpool were forced through injuries to play centre-back Jamie Carragher in midfield last night, a decision Rafa preferred to the alternative, playing youngster Danny Guthrie in that role. Guthrie did get an appearance late on – in place of winger Pennant – but isn’t likely to get another chance this weekend. Rafa’s hoping to be able to rush Xabi Alonso back into action instead: “Maybe Xabi will be available but also we have to check if we have any new injuries today.”
Of Carragher’s performance in that holding role, Rafa said: “It's a difficult game for a holding midfielder when the opposition are always behind the ball. The idea was for Jamie to keep the ball and move the ball and he was doing his job well. I felt we had more problems in the wide areas and we needed to get in the box.”