Rafa: Stevie leads the way

Rafael Benitez is pleased that moving Steven Gerrard out to the right-side of midfield has had a positive impact on the team’s performances. Benitez had been trying to buy a right-sided midfielder in the summer, and may still try to buy one in the next transfer window, but for now he’s pleased with the impact of Gerrard out there. All season long Rafa has explained, patiently, that although he’s pleased with the performances of strikers such as Morientes and Crouch, he feels the Reds won’t get the best out of them if they aren’t getting the best service.

Moving Gerrard out right is a possibility for Rafa thanks to the steady performances he can expect in the centre from Xabi Alonso, Momo Sissoko and Didi Hamman. Gerrard is committed to getting the Reds more silverware, and Rafa says that his example is important for the rest of the team: "The players know that the most important thing is the team. If the captain changes his position for the team then it’s a great example for the others. Steven has given us balance playing down the right hand side and we are stronger when everyone works hard as a team, and the captain has led the way."

Rafa has found a way of improving service from the right side of the pitch, but feels there is one more thing that Peter Crouch could do to improve his chances of scoring. Stop being so nice! Rafa says: "Crouch can change games and give us different options. He is a target man and is really good on the ground. He is a nice boy, sometimes too nice. What I mean is he needs to maybe be more aggressive against the defenders because he is not easy to play against. He knows that though – I have talked with him about this."
Crouch is desperate to get this first goal out of the way, saying so earlier this week: "I’m really looking forward to that moment and the sooner it comes the better." Asked if he’d planned a celebration yet, he simply said: "I’ll want to jump into the Kop I think."

Rafa doesn’t see the be-all and end-all to Crouch’s game being him putting the ball into the back of the net, but does want the Kop to get that invasion from the striker on Saturday: "I think Peter will score goals but I said to him if you don’t score but help us win and set up goals for the team then I will be happy. I hope to see him celebrate in the Kop two or three times on Saturday."

Crouch has impressed the coaching staff in training, where scoring goals comes naturally: "Peter has been playing really well in training. We had extra training sessions for shooting practice and Peter was amazing drawing the keeper and scoring goals. I hope to see him do that against Portsmouth."
A lot of people have criticised Crouch recently, but he’s happy enough that those that matter are supportive: "There’s been a lot said about me of late but a lot of people have supported me as well. The manager here, the England coach, Wayne Rooney and Kenny Dalglish have said nice things, so when you hear positive comments from people you respect then it makes it easier to ignore the other rubbish from people whose opinions don’t really matter as much."

The internet is full of Crouch critics, but the true fans are still getting behind him, even more so after the England boos last month. Crouch is proud when he hears his name sung, and wants to pay the fans back: "The Liverpool fans have been great with me. Everyone knows how loud they are but when they’re singing your name it’s a really amazing experience. Hopefully I can score for them this weekend."