Rafa delighted with great week; Warnock wants game laws ignored

One week ago the Sunday papers were full of stories about alleged anarchy from the Liverpool squad at the end of their Portuguese training camp break. Today the club are celebrating two great victories on the field, and mention of golf clubs has subsided almost completely. Wednesday’s 2-1 away first-leg win in the Champions League was followed by yesterday’s 4-0 win over Sheffield United in the league and Reds Rafael Benítez was of course delighted, as he explained: “It has been a great week for the club and for the supporters and we are really happy. Playing in a match like this is always difficult on the back of a Champions League match but my players did very well and the understanding was good between them.”

One point that really added to the pleasure of yesterday’s victory was that Kop hero Robbie Fowler got to score – twice – at the Kop end, both from the spot: We knew we would have to be patient today and pass the ball quickly, and I said to them that it might take a set piece or a penalty for us to open the scoring. Robbie Fowler did well and for me he is one of the best penalty takers around.”
As soon as Rafa’s team for yesterday had been announced the vultures must have been circulating hoping for a major slip-up, because Rafa had made seven changes to his line-up. One was forced – Jerzy Dudek was between the sticks because Pepe Reina had spent the night in hospital with his wife in labour. Javier Mascherano was handed his debut in midfield, alongside Steven Gerrard who was moved back inside again after playing in a wide role in midweek. Rafa accepted that making so many changes could be taking a chance, but it’s unlikely that there wouldn’t have been a certain amount of preparation for this game carried out during that Portugal trip: “Sometimes making seven changes is a risk but the players were tired after Barcelona and I had to give them a rest. Mascherano was really good and after having some problems at the start he showed his qualities and everyone could see his commitment when the game opened up.”

Peter Crouch was one of the players brought back into the side
yesterday but was forced off early on a stretcher after being kicked in
the face. Rafa reassured fans that although Crouch won’t be exactly
happy at his injury, it’s not too bad: “Crouch has a broken nose and
needed stitches but it’s not serious. He is OK and I was talking to him
after the game.”

Liverpool’s first penalty was awarded for holding at a corner. Steven
Gerrard was being prevented from moving in the box by his opponent Rob
Kozluk who kept putting his arms out trying to stop him from moving.
Gerrard screamed at the referee Steve Bennett to take note of what was
happening, and as the ball was played in Kozluk again got hold of
Gerrard, the pair tumbling to the ground. Bennett had little option but
to award a penalty, and Kozluk must have known this was likely – he was
well aware that Bennett, a few yards away, was watching him.

Sheffield United boss Neil Warnock is reportedly a qualified referee
himself, but he doesn’t seem to agree with the laws of the game, he
seems to think they are optional. He complained about a penalty being
awarded against Sheffield United for Liverpool in the season’s opening
fixture, because the penalty had been awarded for “intent”. The laws of
the game include that “intent” to foul an opponent is the same as
actually fouling the opponent. Yesterday he said he spoke to Steven
Gerrard at half-time about yesterday’s first penalty, unhappy with how
Gerrard had not ignored Kozluk’s rugby-style holding. He said: “I told
Steve Gerrard I was disappointed in him. He was looking at the referee
Steve Bennett, almost asking for the penalty. I told Steve Bennett that
50 per cent of referees wouldn’t have given that. If Steve Bennett knew
a bit more about the game and not the rules inside out, he’d be a
really top referee. He’s a manufactured referee. Other referees
understand the game. If he did, he’d be a top-class referee.”

Bitter Warnock seems to enjoy the attention he gets for his
controversial comments, and no doubt finds it helps to keep him in a
job. Steve Bennett is far from being a popular referee with Liverpool
fans either, but Warnock really laid into him: “You cannot blame him,
50 per cent of referees would have given that and 50 per cent would
not. But Steve Bennett is a by the book referee, black and white.

“Some referees would see that Steven Gerrard used everything he had to
get the penalty. When you see the replay and you see Gerrard’s eyes you
will know he thinks he has won a penalty. It’s the England captain
looking at Steve Bennett and saying ‘you’ve got to give a penalty
here.’ Steve Bennett just rules by the laws of the game, he says that
is consistency. He needs to understand the game more.”

The reason Warnock was so bitter about the penalty was because he felt
that stopped his team from being able to get anything out of the game,
the next three goals coming because that penalty had upset his players:
“The penalty knocked the stuffing out of us. We could have given a
better account of ourselves.”

Warnock then contradicted himself somewhat: “I’m Steven Gerrard’s
number one fan, he’s a fantastic player and I don’t blame him for what
he did. He’s virtually saying to the ref, I’m going to go down, almost
before the ball has been kicked. I said to Kozluk before he went out,
‘don’t get involved with your arms in the box’ so he doesn’t listen to
me, does he? You can say my lad is stupid for getting involved in the
situation with the ref that close.” So after saying Gerrard was wrong
to complain about being held, and the referee was wrong to award a
penalty for that holding, Warnock admitted his player was “stupid” for
doing what Warnock had told him not to do before the game, but then
blamed it on Gerrard and the referee.

Warnock must be delighted that his complaints have deflected away from
how his team are only safe from relegation thanks to the poor quality
of the three London sides who are currently occupying the relegation
places. A few more defeats like this and that safety might not be so
assured, but the Blades fans and board will continue to believe it’s
all someone else’s fault.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez was asked about the two penalties. Nobody
had complained about the second penalty, but Rafa pointed out that the
player knew he was being watched before he brought Gerrard down for the
first: “The second penalty was very clear. For the first one the
referee was watching, and he’d warned the lad just before not to do it.
He had his arms around Steven, it was unnecessary and the referee was
just there watching.”