Sunday, October 21, 2007

Everton 1, Liverpool 2: Benitez points out peril of 'passion' to action man Gerrard

There are pool syndicates with fewer permutations on their coupons then Rafa Benitez has found on his Liverpool squad list, but still Saturday saw a first. Steven Gerrard was adjudged to be the weak link as his side chased three points.
So often the banker, there is absolutely no need to expound just what Gerrard felt like when hauled off in front of the baying Evertonians. To say it takes courage to substitute the local hero in such a full-blooded derby is an understatement. For Benitez to do it at this particular moment in Gerrard's career was one hell of a statement.
If the baffled, take-a-step back reaction from the captain told its own story, and if the words of Jamie Carragher – "what's wrong, mate, are you injured?" – on being handed the armband backed it up, then so too did the steely look on Benitez. Populism is not his game; football is. And to his mind Gerrard's form of it was more fanatical than professional.
"The idea was clear," said Benitez. "By then Everton were a man down, it was 10 against 11 and we had a player with passion. But we needed to pass and control the ball." Afterwards, Gerrard reportedly sought out the manager for his own explanation and may just have pointed out that it was his 70-yard run of "passion" that led to Dirk Kuyt's first penalty as well as the first of Everton's two red cards.
Liverpool were one down at the time and looking anything but poised after Sami Hyypia's spectacular own-goal volley. It was all seemingly set up for Gerrard, who had started to show the touches and verve that have been strangely missing of late.
Benitez, however, saw a rather bigger picture. He did so as soon as he arrived on Merseyside three years ago and witnessed this footballing alpha male trying to do everything for a team that looked over-reliant when he was on the pitch and Robin Reliant when he was off it.
With the help of a Xabi Alonso or two, Benitez made Gerrard understand the need for a more collective, cohesive effort, but has been wary of the propensity returning ever since.
Saturday was one of those afternoons, although seeing as the central pairing of Javier Mascherano and Momo Sissoko were creativity in wellies, it was little wonder that Gerrard felt obliged to do the lot by himself.
That cost him, but if Lucas, his Brazilian replacement, had failed, it might have cost Benitez even more. In the event, the 20-year-old debutant did give Liverpool a measure of composure and, indeed, it was his shot that Phil Neville felt compelled to palm off the line in injury time.
There was nothing controversial about that dismissal or, if truth be told, little about Tony Hibbert's, but no matter as nine-man Everton had plenty to moan about anyway.
David Moyes, for one, could not hold back and may have landed himself in trouble with his comments regarding Mark Clattenburg. The referee's error in not awarding Everton their own spot kick in the final seconds for Jamie Carragher's Hulk Hogan impression on Joleon Lescott verged on the scandalous as did his decision not to send off the match-winner Kuyt for a two-footed lunge on Neville.
Then there was his seemed change of mind with Hibbert, when having the yellow card in his hand before putting it back in his pocket and upgrading to red following a word from Gerrard. The Durham official later denied that he was influenced by the England international, but that would have hardly assuaged Moyes.
What if Clattenburg rang him to apologise this week, just as Rob Styles did Benitez after the Chelsea fiasco at the season's start?
"I wouldn't take his phone call after this performance" replied Moyes, perhaps with tongue slightly in cheek.
"Didn't he [Clattenburg] go to Asia with Liverpool for the Asian Cup this summer?" ventured Moyes when asked if the referees favour the big four.
"They [the Liverpool players] were all going up to him and maybe he wants to be friendly with them. If he had given what was a clear-cut penalty at the end then you could have said, OK, he got a few things wrong, but to get what was a blatant penalty wrong on top of everything else is incredible. You have to ask why." Moyes can ask, but it will not get him anywhere.
Raging against injustice rarely does. Gerrard should remember that, and with Alonso and Fernando Torres set to return for Wednesday's vital Champions League match with Besiktas, perhaps he can then return to doing what he does best. Istanbul is not a bad place for a comeback.

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