Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has questioned the attitude of his players after the weekend defeat at Fulham. The Spaniard was so unhappy that he had all the players in for a full training session at Melwood the next day. The players were also shown the coverage of their poor first-half performances on Saturday and were told that this was unacceptable.
Benitez spoke today about the Melwood dressing down for his players, although he hinted that the players had got the first hint of the trouble they would face in the half-time team-talk. The team-talk produced better displays from the players, but this came too late. Said Rafa: “We had more determination in the second half, but the first half was the same kind of performance away from home as last year. Everyone must understand these kinds of games are important. It’s acceptable to play at the same level as Chelsea and lose, but it’s not acceptable to play Fulham, whom we know we are better than, and come away with nothing.”
Benitez meant no disrespect to Fulham with his comments, but Liverpool should be beating Fulham and won’t win the league until they learn how to win these games. Rafa feels the players had the wrong attitude in the first half: “It was as though we didn’t understand the importance of the game in the first half. Only in the second was there a response, and then I felt it was a question of time whether we would score, but their keeper made a lot of saves. Last season we made a lot of mistakes and I thought we were learning from them. We’ve started strongly in other away games and I didn’t expect to see us play like this again after last year. This is our first defeat away this year and we can’t afford to make the same mistakes in future. It’s important the players under-stand we can’t approach games in this way.”
Rafa wasn’t letting anyone off the hook in his criticism of the Reds – even his own staff: “It’s not just the players who need to improve, but all of us. I include the staff, the players, everyone. We all know we need to change the attitude, particularly after European games. Yesterday we all spoke and watched the match again. The performance of the team was bad in terms of the aggressiveness of the players. We had a lot of the ball, and controlled the play, but didn’t show enough until the second half. We’ve had these problems before after a Champions League game. We’ve all seen the big mistake we made with our first half performance and now we need to correct it.”
He also had a word for his expensive but under-achieving forwards: “In attack there were bad moments and there was not enough movement.” Rafa has spent a lot of time defending his charges lately, but now they know they can’t relax.
With tomorrow night’s visit to Selhurst Park in the League comes a chance from Benitez for some of the fringe players to make their mark. Rafa has included David Raven, Zak Whitbread and Darren Potter in his squad and there’s a good chance all three will make an appearance – along with young keeper Scott Carson.
Twenty-year-old Raven is Liverpool’s reserve captain this season, and has been highly rated by Liverpool’s reserve managers according to Rafa: “I have been talking with Paco Herrera and Hughie McAuley about Raven and they told me he is playing well at right back. I want to see him now at another level. We have a lot of confidence in Raven and he plays well every game for the Reserve team.”
Raven’s attitude is exactly what Rafa wants to see in his first-choice players. A good performance from David tomorrow night could see Josemi moved down the pecking order for the right-back role, a move that would be popular amongst most Liverpool fans, who’ve yet to be impressed by the Spaniard.
As for the game itself, Rafa is under no illusions about how tough the game could be – Liverpool lost there last season in the Premiership and are now expecting a battle: “Palace is a similar place to Fulham, it’s a difficult stadium and we expect a physical game.”
Another problem facing Liverpool is that Palace are full of confidence and up for the visit of the Reds – no more so that Clinton Morrison, the Palace striker. Morrison has scored four goals in previous games against Liverpool, for both Palace and Birmingham and now wants to increase his tally. “Maybe I could be Liverpool’s bogeyman, because I’ve a good record against them. I’ve scored four times against them, and knowing that gives me a big lift going into the match. When you do well against a team, it fills you with confidence and you think you have a great chance of scoring against them in the future.”