Barclays Premier League
Saturday 12th September 2009
Liverpool 4 Burnley 0
A Yossi Benayoun hat-trick – his third for the club – and a goal from Dirk Kuyt – after a Benayoun shot was saved – gave Liverpool all three points against the newly-promoted side.
Burnley had beaten Manchester United and Everton this season, as well as being the side that caused Rafa huge embarrassment in the FA Cup in his first season at the club, so nobody at the club went into the game considering victory was a foregone conclusion. In fact the poor start to Liverpool’s season has seen confidence plummet at Anfield.
But Yossi Benayoun is the kind of player to find confidence when all around him have given up, often after coming on as a sub; on his day he’s the type of player who’ll fight until the final whistle, however long he’s been on. He got to start this match – although that was hardly a surprise with choices so limited for manager Rafael Benitez.
Midfielder Javier Mascherano was unavailable after picking up an injury with Argentina in midweek and £18m Alberto Aquilani is still some time away from making his debut, so Rafa decided to move captain Steven Gerrard back into central midfield to partner Lucas. With Gerrard out of his usual Liverpool position Kuyt, Benayoun and Riera played the support roles to Fernando Torres. Burnley concentrated on the threat from Torres, and did a good job of keeping him quiet, but they didn’t manage the same with Yossi.
Had Liverpool’s squad not been so depleted – and there are various reasons why that’s the case – Rafa might not have given Yossi the start. Speaking after the game the manager didn’t miss the opportunity for a dig at the latest interruption to the season: “Yossi had been away on international duty in midweek and done a lot of travelling, but he wanted to play. It is important to him to show his quality in every training session and every match.”
It seems Rafa is impressed with the Israeli’s commitment and determination; he’s not always been first choice but has always put the work in when called up. He’s one of three players Rafa has used in the wide left position already this season; but his ability to perform in any of three advanced positions behind Torres allows Rafa more possibilities, and in this case it allowed Albert Riera another chance to get himself back into contention for a regular start in that left-hand slot. The other player used there this season, Ryan Babel, wasn’t even on the bench.
Whispers about Rafa’s employee-relations skills are often exaggerated or unfounded, but grumbling to the press about a lack of opportunities seems to be a surefire way for a player to find himself with even fewer opportunities. Had Ryan Babel shown similar determination to Yossi he might not have found himself out in the cold. Benayoun worked hard in training and whenever he got a chance on the pitch, Babel acted as if he had a divine right to an automatic start, regardless of his performances.
It’s possible that Babel is reacting to pressures from the Holland camp, but by telling the media he wants to go on loan to another club so he can get a place in the Dutch World Cup squad he lost a lot of respect amongst Reds fans. He’s 23 in a few months; the days of being given some leeway on the grounds of being a player with potential are running out.
Whether the manager has any respect left for him remains to be seen; he wasn’t even in the 18-man-squad for this game but Rafa has told him he won’t be allowed a loan move.
Liverpool’s owners claim the club’s debts have been substantially reduced this year, something that all fans had demanded since the civil war began 18 months ago. But the downside to that is – using traditional methods of discussing transfer funds – Rafa has not been able to spend anything other than what he got back from sales.
With a new record sponsorship deal about to be announced, the manager and fans will be hoping some of it can be used to strengthen the side. Babel, and other players yet to cement themselves as regular starters, might be running out of time to show what they can do.
In the meantime Benayoun is doing everything right: Rafa said: “Over the seasons he has shown his value coming off the bench, but now he is showing how important he can be with movement and passing ability from the start.”
There was some disappointment that Jay Spearing didn’t get an opportunity to show what he can do when Liverpool were 3-0 up and Rafa was making changes. Ideal times to give youngsters a chance, but Rafa had other thoughts.
New signing Glen Johnson has been outstanding for Liverpool this season, and Rafa decided he deserved a rest with 25 minutes left. On in his place came Philip Degen, unbelievably making his league debut 14 months after signing for the club. He’s been subject to a lot of criticism since joining the club due to his injury record, but none of the injuries were particularly predictable.
He’d played in the Reds’ early pre-season games but was out with a groin strain by the time the season started. When he recovered and made his competitive debut he collided with Sami Hyypia and was left with two broken ribs and a punctured lung. His comeback from that injury saw him break a metatarsal in a challenge with Spurs’ Gareth Bale, and it was another metatarsal injury he suffered from when he made his next comeback, in the reserves in January. The closest he got to the first team after that was as an unused sub in May, so he’ll have been delighted to finally get some action and to actually finish a game.
Rafa’s next sub was Andriy Voronin, who set up the last goal but fluffed a good chance to score himself.
With 15 minutes left Rafa made his final change, but surprisingly it wasn’t Lucas who made way, a change that would have given Jay Spearing a chance. Instead N’gog came on for Torres.
Lucas had been away on international duty in South America but Rafa clearly felt Torres needed the rest more. Of course if Lucas suffers as a result of playing the full game it could see Spearing handed a start in Europe in midweek.
That would also depend on Mascherano’s fitness. He was still in Argentina as the game was being played, as Rafa explained: “He has still not returned. He picked up an injury and it was decided that he needed to have tests. Our doctor was in contact with the Argentina medical team and it was decided it was best that he stay there for the tests, and he will be back in England next week before the Champions League game. The problem was a minor one, but we needed to have the checks made straight away.”
Benayoun explained why he’d put his own tiredness aside to play yesterday: “The competition is very high at a club like Liverpool; you have to want to play every time.
“I played 90 minutes for Israel on Wednesday and then there were two long flights to get back here, but everyone wants to play, regardless of tiredness. Nobody wants to be on the bench, but particularly at a big club like this there are a lot of good players and you cannot let someone else play.”
He went on: “From the moment I arrived at Liverpool I told myself that I would take every opportunity to do my best and prove I deserved to be in the team. I have had ups and downs in the last two years here, but from the final months of last season I have showed I can play better and better when I have confidence.
“You must accept you will be on the bench sometimes, but even if you get just 10 minutes, you have to do your best and show your quality. It was the perfect day for me, and we have started to win matches.”
He said: “It is always difficult after being away on the international break, but this one came at the right time for us. We had lost two of the first four, we needed the break. The team needed to think about the things that we did wrong and come back to try to put things right.
“We have learned from our mistakes, and you could see that from the first moment. The season didn’t start too well for us, and maybe it has been good that people have already written us off. There will be less pressure. We can build our confidence slowly and when we win games like this, everyone can see we have the quality to be up there in the race.”
He explained that he intends to carry on playing for his country as long as possible: “I’m 29, I am captain and proud to play for Israel. I will keep playing international football as long as possible, but one day I will have to make the decision to finish. But for now I feel good, I can manage it.”
Even then he wants to carry on serving his country: “When I do stop, my target is to manage my country. That will happen I hope when I retire as a player, but not just yet.”
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 22 Insua, 2 Johnson (Degen 64), 37 Skrtel, 23 Carragher, 11 Riera, 8 Gerrard, 21 Leiva, 15 Benayoun, 18 Kuyt (Voronin 69), 9 Torres (N’Gog 75)
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 16 Kyrgiakos, 27 Degen (Johnson 64), 38 Dossena, 26 Spearing, 10 Voronin (Kuyt 69), 24 N’Gog (Torres 75)
Goals: Benayoun 27, 61, 82, Kuyt 41
Burnley: 12 Jensen, 14 Mears, 21 Bikey, 5 Carlisle, 2 Alexander (Gudjonsson 75), 23 Jordan, 16 McCann, 11 Elliott, 9 Fletcher, S, 20 Blake (Eagles 58), 10 Paterson (Nugent 70)
Subs: 1 Penny, 7 McDonald, 8 Gudjonsson (Alexander 75), 33 Eagles (Blake 58), 32 Guerrero, 22 Nugent (Paterson 70), 30 Thompson
Booked: Jordan 55 (unsporting behaviour), Eagles 84 (unsporting behaviour)
Goal Attempts: 27-6
On Target: 16-3
Off Target: 10-3
Hit Woodwork: 1-0
Referee: Lee Mason, Bolton, Lancs