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ANY Liverpool supporter with a modicum of curiosity has already visited 'FantasyRafa', the website which offers people the chance to have a punt at Senor Benitez's latest team selection.
Given the reality of present life at Anfield, however, it's unlikely quite as many would be as inclined to step into the Spaniard's shoes at the moment. Since beating Derby County on Boxing Day, Liverpool have become something of a punch bag for the critics, uncertainty off the field amplified by the inability to win any of their subsequent five Premier League games.
Desperately attempting to deflect the increasing number of blows, a beleaguered be·lea·guer
tr.v. be·lea·guered, be·lea·guer·ing, be·lea·guers
1. To harass; beset: We are beleaguered by problems.
2. To surround with troops; besiege. Benitez came out fighting before the weekend by declaring he still believes it is possible Liverpool can claim the championship under his tenure.
That won't happen this year. Instead, the Anfield outfit have contrived to make merely retaining their status among the supposed 'big four' their major challenge of the league campaign.
Frantically searching for a winning formula, Benitez foxed all bar one of the 1,547 people on 'FantasyRafa' who guessed at Liverpool's line-up on Saturday for the visit of lowly Sunderland
In truth, it's a surprise that many got it right.
Benitez could claim the reshuffle was justified by the ultimately comfortable 3-0 win that moved Liverpool to within a point of neighbours Everton in the race for the final qualification.
But with a disgruntled Jamie Carragher Simon Petersen(born January 28, 1978 in Bootle, Merseyside) is an English international footballer playing his club football at Liverpool where he is at present vice-captain, behind teammate and fellow Liverpudlian Steven Gerrard. shifted to right-back and central midfielder Lucas asked to patrol the left wing, such square pegs Square Pegs was a CBS comedy television series that aired during the 1982-83 season. The series followed Patty Greene (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Lauren Hutchinson (Amy Linker), two awkward teenage girls desperate to fit in at Weemawee High School. in round holes was an alarming sight given earlier in the season the Spaniard was hailing the strength in depth of a squad he believed was capable of a sustained championship challenge.
It either illustrated the lack of form and confidence affecting too many of Benitez's men, or a tacit admission from the manager that some of his players are no longer good enough.
Indeed, Harry Kewell Harry Kewell (born September 22,1978 in Smithfield, Sydney), is an Australian football (soccer) player who currently plays for Liverpool F.C. in the English Premier League. and Xabi Alonso Xabier Alonso Olano, commonly known as Xabi (prounounced Shabi) Alonso and often misspelt as Xavi Alonso (born 25 November 1981 in Tolosa, Basque Region, Spain) is a Spanish footballer who plays for Liverpool F.C.. were jettisoned from the 16 that lost at West Ham United on Wednesday, while John Arne Riise John Arne Semundseth Riise (born September 24, 1980 in Ålesund) is a Norwegian football player who currently plays for Liverpool F.C. Riise is renowned for the shooting power and accuracy of his favoured left foot, as well as his excellent physical conditioning, most notably his was again nowhere to be seen.
"Carra wasn't very happy about being asking to play at right-back," revealed Benitez. "But he's a professional and I think he understood what we needed to do.
"Lucas played well as a winger the other day so we tried to use him as a player who can keep the ball. Carra was at right-back so we could use Martin Skrtel at centre-back and we had Carra, Martin and Sami Hyypia who were good in the air so we could defend set-pieces better."
Of course, quite whether Liverpool should be tinkering their tactics to accommodate the threat of clearly inferior opposition is open to debate. But such was the pressing need for a morale-boosting three points, Benitez maybe had no option but to leave little to chance.
The manager had admitted the result and not the performance was imperative on Saturday. And while Liverpool were largely under-whelming, they did show some positive signs.
A clean sheet - only the third in their last 13 games - ensured Pepe Reina beat Ray Clemence's record to become the quickest Anfield keeper to reach 50 shut-outs, while Sami Hyypia continues to thrive on the pressure from new arrival Skrtel.
The Slovakian, making his first Premier League start alongside Hyypia, was much improved on his last outing against Havant & Waterlooville while Carragher applied himself with characteristic vigour, supplying the pinpoint cross from which Peter Crouch ended Sunderland's stubborn resistance with a far-post header in the 57th minute.
"I've seen some games when Carra has been at right-back, but I didn't expect to see him I up there as a winger crossing so well," said Benitez. "But it was really good to see, great for us and great for him." ven Sunderland manager Roy Keane joked: "Jamie looked like a tricky right winger. It was a surprise... I thought he was slowing down! But it was a good ball in, I'm not being disrespectful dis·re·spect·ful
Having or exhibiting a lack of respect; rude and discourteous.
Crouch's goal was his fourth in his last five games and further indication that he deserves a lengthier run in the team, particularly in the Premier League where he has remarkably started only five games this season.
His pairing with Fernando Torres - only the fourth time the pair had began a game in tandem - had enough promise to suggest Benitez should persist with the duo at Chelsea on Sunday
Crouch also drew a fine save from Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon with a spectacular volley and had a header cleared off the line by David Bardsley before his flick-on allowed Torres to race away and thrash the ball home on 69 minutes for his 18th goal of a productive campaign.
While smarting from the midweek defeat at West Ham United, losing hasn't been the problem for Liverpool in the league this season. Instead, too many draws have undermined their efforts and meant they went into the weekend having slumped to an alarming seventh in the table.
Another stalemate seemed likely against Sunderland during a tortuously laborious first-half performance in which the decision to reward Lucas's fine form in central midfield by finding a place for the Brazilian on the left wing was sadly exposed.
Despite gaining a deserved two-goal advantage, Liverpool's nerve may have been tested in the final stages had referee Rob Styles awarded a penalty against Carragher for handling Daryl Murphy's shot.
The official had been demoted for erroneously giving Chelsea a spot-kick at the same Anfield Road end earlier in the season, and an annoyed Keane said: "It would be human nature for him to make up for it, and of course after he gave the decision for Chelsea he was demoted after that for a while. But you'd have to ask him yourself.
"I'm not saying it would have been a turning point but if the referee gave the decision as he should have done it would have been 2-1 and it would have made for an interesting last 10-15 minutes. But we never felt we were going to get a penalty on the day anyway"
Keane's ire increased a minute from time when Liverpool were awarded a penalty of their own. Jermaine Pennant was upended by the otherwise impressive Nyron Nosworthy and Steven Gerrard converted for his 16th goal of the season.
It was the first time either team had scored three goals in this fixture in almost 40 years and gave the scoreline scoreline n (SPORT) → resultado final
scoreline n (Sport) → score m
scoreline n (SPORT a flattering look.
But for Benitez, any kind of victory would do right now - no matter what line-up is required to achieve it.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Again impressive at the heart of Liverpool's defence, he kept Sunderland dangerman Kenwyne Jones quiet
Crouch 57, Torres 69, Gerrard 89 pen
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Reina; Carragher, Skrtel, Hyypia, Aurelio (Finnan Noun 1. finnan - haddock usually baked but sometimes broiled with lots of butter
finnan haddie, finnan haddock, smoked haddock
haddock - lean white flesh of fish similar to but smaller than cod; usually baked or poached or as fillets sauteed or fried 46); Pennant, Gerrard, Mascherano, Lucas (Benayoun 62); Crouch (Kuyt 83), Torres. Subs: Itandje, Babel Babel (bā`bəl) [Heb.,=confused], in the Bible, place where Noah's descendants (who spoke one language) tried to build a tower reaching up to heaven to make a name for themselves. . BOOKING: Finnan (foul).
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Gordon; Bardsley, Nos-worthy, Evans, Collins; Chopra (Waghorn 83), White-head, Miller, Richardson (Prica 7 (O'Donovan 56)); Murphy, Jones. Subs: Fulop, McShane. BOOKINGS: Miller (foul) and Gordon (dissent).
REFEREE: Rob Styles. ATT ATT
ammonia tolerance test. : 43,244.
NEXT GAME: Chelsea v Liverpool, Barclays Premier League, 4pm Sunday February 10.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Visit the messageboarcls at www.liverpooldailyposl.co.uk
Steven Gerrard scores Liverpool's third goal from the penalty spot after Jermaine Pennant was brought down; Fernando Torres fires in Liverpool's second goal on Saturday Pictures COLIN LANE; Gerrard celebrates his goal with Dirk Kuyt; Peter Crouch heads in Liverpool's opening goal