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Rafa Benitez gives green light to new signings

Rafa Benitez gives green light to new signings

Jul 30 2007

by Chris Bascombe, Liverpool Echo

Fernando Torres

LIVERPOOL arrived back on Merseyside jet-lagged and bruised by a rare penalty shootout defeat in Hong Kong, but with enough positive feedback to mend any damaged egos.

As usual, the fanatical Asian fans were the real stars of the Far East trip, eventually silenced after seven days of incessant singing by the heroics of David James.

Even if Liverpool returned without a trophy, the public relations triumph was unquestionable.

Liverpool players made daily appearances on the city’s community coaching pitches or shopping malls, and showed a willingness to break the autograph signing world record.

The culture in Asia appears to focus on individuals as much as teams, and although the trip could easily have been shrugged off as an unnecessary distraction, the players seemed genuinely humbled by their experience.

“The fans out here are unbelievable. It makes you very proud to be a Liverpool player when you see this,” said skipper Steven Gerrard.

For most of the crowd on Friday, it seemed getting a glimpse of their chosen one, whether it was Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres or, as in most cases, Gerrard, was more important than the result.

It’s doubtful Rafa Benitez, although clearly upset his team didn’t win the ultimately meaningless Asia Cup, was ever going to draw significant conclusions from the two games.

Searing heat made normal training impossible, team selections were reassessed until minutes before kick-off depending on the latest documentation, and the usual plethora of substitutions in such games ensures the sense of exhibition always overrides that of competition.

In Friday’s final, Liverpool actually gave their most promising performance of pre-season so far.

Players such as Harry Kewell, Jermaine Pennant and Xabi Alonso are looking in sharp form.

Momo Sissoko, whose recent decline has been of concern, was arguably the best player on the park against Portsmouth.

Ryan Babel in action against Werder Bremen in Switzerland - Picture: MARTIN BIRCHALL

The new signings didn’t enjoy themselves against Harry Redknapp’s side, but it has become one of the more peculiar phenomena of recent times that pre-season friendlies are now assessed as if they are Premier League games.

Live television coverage adds to their exposure, and rent-a-quote pundits are always on hand to offer ill-advised, premature declarations on the capabilities of a new signing.

The great Liverpool teams of the past must shriek in horror at the thought their pre-season results were ever considered accurate barometers of what’s to follow. The teams of the 70s and 80s never used to win a game before August.

As Benitez said before boarding the flight home: “I would be worried if the team was fantastic now.”

Now is the time to look only for hints of what may follow, and that’s precisely what Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel offered.

There were several exciting touches by the young Dutchman, and had Torres’ drop of the shoulder and strike on target not been against a keeper in such good form, the trauma of the missed penalty would have been replaced by the celebration of a first Liverpool goal.

Benitez was quick to remind reporters how little time his £30m acquisitions have had to adapt to their new club.

“I think there were okay,” said Benitez. “They were trying to do good things and the understanding with their

team-mates is something that I think will improve.

“I think they will be ready for the start of the season because we will have time and the conditions will be different now. It was difficult to tell in those conditions whether they are fit or not. I think that they are a little bit behind the others but not too much. Two weeks will be enough.

“It's clear that we need to improve, but the team was creating chances, we had plenty of possession and good ideas.”

Perhaps the most positive comments on Liverpool came from the winning manager, Redknapp.

He may have seen his side triumph, but he was under no illusions which side looked more impressive.

“What about Liverpool? They’re a bloody good team,” he said.


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