Praise for Reina’s contribution to win

After Liverpool’s 8-0 win over Besiktas in midweek, and another relatively quiet game on Saturday as Liverpool beat Fulham 2-0, Pepe Reina might have been feeling a little left out from all the praise being handed out. But he set Liverpool’s first goal up on Saturday, and it was this kind of quick thinking and skill that Rafael Benitez said showed Reina is a “top class” goalkeeper.
Reina played an excellent long ball – and not of the “hoofing” variety used so often used by Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez’s team-mates during his Wimbledon playing days – allowing Torres to use his pace and open the scoring, right in the last ten minutes of the game.
Rafa said: “Reina is a player who has game intelligence, he can read the game, he can play these kind of balls for the strikers if the strikers run for the ball. You need the movement because sometimes he is looking for this pass and you don’t have the space, the defenders are deep and you cannot play these balls but he likes to do. You can save, save, save 100 balls but if you don’t do something more you will be a good goalkeeper but not a top class keeper.”
The manager says that the introduction of Torres to the squad helps the side score the types of goals they might not have got last season: “I think last year we were controlling a lot of games but we needed to score these goals. It is the difference between a draw and three points. When you bring in a player like Fernando it is with this idea. He can do it because he’s a player with pace. This ability when you have pace is an issue. I have ability but I don’t have pace so I can’t beat anyone, but Torres can do it!”
Despite it being a calm and measured finish from Torres, Benitez says Fernando’s pace is his strong point, rather than his finishing: “I don’t think that he is our most natural finisher. Dirk Kuyt and Andriy Voronin are very good finishers also but if you can go with the pace that Torres has you have an advantage. When you have four good strikers, you need to manage with the quality and the conditions of each one. In this case we were playing with Voronin who was doing a fantastic job and had some chances and Crouch, who is good in the air but we needed a little bit more pace.”
Torres is just back from injury and his introduction twenty minutes from the end didn’t just work as a way of easing him back into action, but was also timed to cause Fulham problems: “Torres has this pace at the end of the game when the other team are tired and he used his ability. I’m sure that Voronin, Crouch and Kuyt, plus Babel also, can score these goals for us. Ok – it was Torres that scored but Voronin had two chances before and in the end the key for me is when you can use one or the other one. It depends on the defenders and it depends on your team.”
Rafa saw most of this game go by with his players not quite doing enough to get the ball into the net – quite a contrast to their eight goals of a few days earlier: “We were expecting to score but I didn’t know who would score. We kept trying to keep passing, moving the ball and creating chances and changing players. We brought on Ryan Babel and Torres with fresh legs and tried to do different things.”
It wasn’t just Rafa who wanted to praise Pepe Reina. Penalty scorer Steven Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo: “He doesn’t just kick it up-field and give us fifty-fifty balls. He passes it out from the back. He’s a quality goalie.” And on Reina racing to the Kop end to join in the goal celebrations with Torres, Gerrard said: “I think that was down to the relief of going ahead after such a tough game for seventy minutes. There was a big relief throughout the whole team. They’re big friends off the pitch, too, so I think that was why he ran so far. That’s the quickest I’ve seen him move I think!”
Of Torres, Gerrard said the goals are what the Reds paid £18m for: “That’s what we signed him for, to change games and win football matches for us. I think we’re going to find a lot of teams coming here well organised and trying to make it really difficult for us, but that’s the quality we’ve got in the squad which can make a difference from the bench.”
Gerrard hinted that Torres is getting on well with his new team-mates: “He’s a good lad. He’s settled in well and his English is improving all the time. He looks as if he’s enjoying himself and that’s how we’re going to get the best out of him. With a little bit more sharpness I’m sure he’ll be on from the start and scoring loads of goals for us.”
For most of the game it did look like it was going to be another draw, Liverpool having won only one home game in the league this season, prior to this match. But they kept plugging away and got the three points. Gerrard says that’s an important attitude to have: “These are the wins that get you in the Premier League. A lot of people talk about when the big teams go head to head. But the title’s been won many times before on teams just grinding results out like this. You look at Chelsea’s two titles wins. They had games like this where they didn’t play well but ground out 1-0 wins. That’s what we’ve got to get into the habit of – when we’re not playing to our maximum we’ve still got to get results.”
Gerrard won’t be playing for Liverpool now for another two weeks, as yet another international break interrupts the season.