/ 26 October 2009

United win is our turning point, says Liverpool’s Benitez

Rafa Benitez believes Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over Manchester United will provide the impetus to get his side’s spluttering title challenge back on track.

Benitez’s team ended a run of four successive defeats in emphatic fashion as second half goals from Fernando Torres and David N’Gog breathed new life into a campaign that was in danger of spiralling out of control.

The Reds are still six points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea but that gap looks far less daunting than the 10-point divide that would have stood between them and United if the champions had won at Anfield on Sunday.

Most importantly, the win over their bitter rivals eases the pressure on Benitez, who, as Liverpool’s results went from bad to worse over the last month, had come under greater scrutiny that at any time during his five-year reign.

Instead of presiding over Liverpool’s worst spell for 56 years — his fate if United had won — Benitez can now justifiably talk of a brighter future.

”We needed to win for the confidence, so I think it will be a big boost for the team,” he said.

”All the players didn’t want to lose. They wanted to show character and this was the perfect response.

”It was against a good team so the fans are delighted and then you can see all the players feel the same way. It has to be positive.

”Hopefully this will be a turning point. If we can keep the momentum I am sure we have a good team and can win some games in a row.

”We need to win against Arsenal in the League Cup on Wednesday and continue against Fulham on Saturday.”

Benitez deserves tremendous credit for keeping his players focused while the flak was flying this week. Not only did the Spaniard ensure they kept their eye on the ball but he also came up with the perfect gameplan to subdue United.

His fiesty midfield trio of Javier Mascherano, Lucas and Fabio Aurelio never let United settle, while Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt provided astute support for Torres.

Few strikers in Europe could have taken the chance Torres converted in the 65th minute when he took Benayoun’s pass and left Rio Ferdinand for dead before lashing past Edwin van der Sar.

Nemanja Vidic’s red card for a professional foul on Dirk Kuyt added to United’s misery and N’Gog finished off the champions in stoppage time after Mascherano had been dismissed for a second booking.

Yet without Torres the result could still have had a less appetising look for Benitez, who took a last minute decision to start the striker on the coach journey to Anfield.

Torres had missed the last two matches with a groin strain and he was only able to take part in a couple of light training sessions ahead of the United game.

But, with Steven Gerrard already ruled out with a groin injury, Benitez realised it was worth gambling over Torres’s fitness.

”It was difficult because he was not training much, he only had two light sessions and we couldn’t push him too hard,” Benitez said.

”I decided to play him from the beginning on Sunday morning after talking with Fernando on the coach to the game.

”Talking with him and the fitness coach we thought it was better to start him.

”You could see he was not 100 percent but sometimes 80 percent of Fernando can make the difference.”

Losing four times in the league this season still leaves Liverpool with plenty to do before they can dream of a first title since 1990.

But Benitez knows beating United will buy him precious time to get things right.

”I’m really pleased for the club, for the players and for all the staff,” Benitez added.

”We knew we needed to change the luck and we needed to win. It was a fantastic win. Before we were sayng maybe it was the perfect game.

”We needed to perform against a good team in front of our fans. It was a fantastic performance.” — AFP