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Jermaine Pennant is rising to the challenge at Anfield

Jermaine Pennant is rising to the challenge at Anfield

Aug 28 2007

by Chris Bascombe, Liverpool Echo

LAST season, Rafa Benitez delivered one of those mild, pointed warnings to Jermaine Pennant.

After the winger had spoken of his England ambitions, Benitez noted how talking on the pitch was a more appropriate way of earning international recognition.

Since then, Pennant’s consistently outstanding displays have been a form of verbal diarrhoea.

Steve McClaren must be wearing ear plugs if he doesn’t believe the winger is worth a cap.

Pennant’s now transforming himself from a talented but inconsistent performer to a more mature, mainstay of the Liverpool team.

A man-of-the-match performance in the Champions League is providing the foundation for a step up in level, while the brashness which prompted Pennant to promise to have the same impact as Cristiano Ronaldo can now be perceived as a charming self-confidence rather than deluded arrogance.

Pennant’s most recent display at Sunderland underlined his growing reliability. Without the experience of Steven Gerrard, it was left to others to take responsibility.

He was among those who stepped up to the mark and it seems the confidence shown in him by Benitez – who was clearly uncertain how good Pennant would become when he labelled his purchase a risk a year ago – is now reaping its reward.

“I’ve started the season exactly how I wanted,” said Pennant. “I needed to continue my form from the end of last season and take it into every game. With the team playing well, it means it’s easier for me to show what I can do.

“It was my first season at the club last season so I didn’t expect to be first choice straight away, especially with Stevie beingused a lot on the right.

“I’m sure the manager was looking at me throughout last season to see how my attitude was and if I could handle it at Liverpool.

“By the time of the Champions League final, when the manager started me, I felt it proved why he bought me and showed he believed in what I could bring to the team.

“Now I’m playing week in, week out, I know what I’ve got to do to stay there because there is a lot of competition waiting, like Yossi (Benayoun).

“Rafa wants everyone to fight to play in every game, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

The pace and skill of Pennant, allied to the class of Fernando Torres, is also making Liverpool a much more attractive side to watch.

The counter-attacking style which led to the second on Saturday prompted similarities with the great Arsenal side which Pennant watched from the sidelines at the start of his career.

He believes how well Liverpool develop this side of their game may determine how long they’re competing at the top of the table.

“The second goal was the kind of football we’ve been working on and trying to develop with the boss,” said Pennant. “I know what you mean when you compare to how Arsenal were playing a few years ago.

“That kind of counter-attacking football is so important in the Premier League and makes a big difference.

“We’re getting better at it every week, but we need to keep working and practising .

“Last season I think that was definitely a weak point for us and ended up being our downfall away from home, but I hope we’re already starting to make amends for that.

“We could have scored more like that on Saturday, but it’s all about the three points not how many goals you score, so what’s most important is we take enough of our chances during the game.

“I think with a player like Stevie being out on Saturday we all knew we had to take responsibility, and to perform as we did away from home at Sunderland was very pleasing.

“To keep a clean sheet and win comfortably is a good sign for what’s to come, especially when key players weren’t around.

“This shows we now not only have a great team, but also a great squad.

“If someone said to us at the start of the season you can have ten points from the first 12, we’d have taken that, so we just need to keep it going this weekend and throughout the season.”

And then, there’s the small matter of McClaren.

“If I keep on starting and playing I hope it will be a matter of time when it comes to England, but it’s Liverpool which comes first for me.

“If I get picked for England it will be a bonus and a big achievement for me. I’m dying to play for England, everyone knows that.

“I’m 24 now so already think I’m getting old! I hope that day will come , but for now it’s about working hard and staying focused on playing well for Liverpool.”

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