Saturday, February 07, 2009

Portsmouth 2-3 Liverpool

Benitez chose a rather surprising formation - indeed, I'm still not really sure how the players actually lined up (it seems Aurelio was deployed in place of Alonso in central midfield, while Benayoun and Babel were each to play in support of lone striker Ngog) - and took a gamble by leaving a number of 'big guns' on the bench (Torres, Alonso, Kuyt, Riera).

You could say it was a massive gamble and nearly backfired. On the other hand, after our extra time exhertions against Everton, and with a few players carrying knocks, it may well have been the best that he could do. Even our rotated squad were capable of dominating the first half and Babel should have opened the scoring when he failed to make contact with an inviting cross three yards in front of an open goal (maybe he really can replace Keane...).

As it happens, we twice fell behind due to defensive lapses, but we were able to equalize each time - first through Aurelio (who, contrary to some reports, didn't take the free kick - it was indirect, so touched to him by Alonso) and then Kuyt, with just five minutes left. It looked like more dropped points, before Benayoun danced his way through the Portsmouth defence and cut a cross back for Torres to head home in injury time.

Ok, it took Kuyt, Alonso and Torres to come off the bench to secure the points, but at least they had something of a rest and arguably they were more effective precisely because they were playing against a tiring Portsmouth. No doubt if we'd lost, Benitez would have been widely criticized but, since we won (albeit only just) I think we have to give him credit. The result puts us top of the table again - albeit only until Man Utd play - which shows that he is indeed delivering the challenge we wanted.

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