Monday, August 20, 2007

Referee just not Benitez's style

LIVERPOOL, England, Aug 20, 2007 (AFP) - Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez could not conceal his fury at referee Rob Styles and his bitter rivals Chelsea after a controversial second half penalty decision earned the visitors a 1-1 draw in a keenly-fought Premiership encounter at Anfield on Sunday.

A goal for 26.5 million pound buy Fernando Torres on his home debut had put Liverpool in control of an excellent game only for Styles to judge that Steve Finnan had fouled Florent Malouda just after the hour, a blatantly incorrect decision that gifted Frank Lampard an equaliser from the penalty spot.

To add to Styles' unpopularity at Anfield, he also was clearly seen to brandish a second yellow card at Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien in the 73rd minute, without adding the required red, although the official later claimed he had only been showing yellow to Essien's team mate John Terry.

Liverpool management and players were also furious at what they saw as intimidation by Chelsea players of the match official although Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho refuted such a charge.

"I think I have a naive team," said Mourinho.

"Because they are pure, they are clean. We don't have divers, we don't have violent people. We don't make nasty tackles, we don't have players diving in the swimming pool. Chelsea is a naive team, a pure team."

Benitez, however, could not conceal his disgust at his opposite number's claims.

"If Chelsea are naive and pure, then I am Little Red Riding Hood," said Benitez.

"I won't say any names but you can check the team sheet and think how many times they do the things they say they don't do. Their players are talking to the referee all the time."

It was hard not to imagine that Styles had been pressured into his penalty decision, so bad was the call.

"What penalty?" said Benitez when quizzed about it.

"Jose Mourinho said that he couldn't see the penalty but that's normal - 45,000 people couldn't see it!"

The notion of Styles being placed under pressure by Chelsea players was shared by Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.

"I think a very, very unfair decision got Chelsea a point," said Gerrard.

"I felt as if the ref didn't do well today. There was a lot of pressure from the Chelsea players and eventually he cracked. I hope he comes out and says that because we as players, when we make mistakes, we come out and say so."

While the latest meeting between two bitter rivals will have done little to improve strained relations, the consolation for both teams is that Manchester United's worst start to a season in 15 years has fuelled the title ambitions of both Chelsea and Liverpool.

And Mourinho claimed his team's style of play also indicated a new, attacking intent that he has brought to bear at Stamford Bridge this season.

"I think it is too early to look at opponents," said Mourinho.

"Manchester United have two points but even if they had zero points I would say they are serious contenders for the title. That doesn't influence me. We came here to win the game and I think we showed that with the team we started.

"A lot of people would think today was a game we would come to look for a point but we gave the answer and came here with a clear attacking team.

"I think we are showing we are playing for results, we want to win things, we want to bring a different style, a different smell."

Meanwhile, Gerrard confirmed that he is highly unlikely to play for England in the midweek friendly against Germany as he only managed to put in a commanding display against Chelsea thanks to a pre-match pain-killing injection.

"It will be assessed in the morning," said Gerrard.

"I have spoken a couple of times with Steve McClaren (who was at the match) and will speak again in the morning. The reality is I have had an x-ray and I need a rest to heal the crack. I looked fit out there because I had a pain-killing injection before the match."

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