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Liverpool profit from attacking approach

Liverpool profit from attacking approach

By Tim Rich
Last Updated: 9:18am BST 27/08/2007

Sunderland (0) 0 Liverpool (1) 2

The gravestones that accompanied Liverpool's half-hearted assaults on the championship under Rafael Benitez are scattered in strange places.

St Andrew's Birmingham, St Mary's Southampton, Selhurst Park (season 2004-05). Craven Cottage, The Valley (2005-06). Fratton Park, Craven Cottage, again (2006-07). The Reebok, Bolton, (just about any year you care to mention).

Liverpool profit from attacking approach
Jamie Carragher: Liverpool's defensive rock will miss Toulouse

The Stadium of Light, its bulk standing squat on the banks of the Wear, was once another venue for a debilitating defeat. Five autumns ago, Liverpool looked to be making their most credible challenge for the title that they ever would under Gerard Houllier; top by November with nine wins and two draws from 11 matches.

Five defeats followed, one at Old Trafford, the others at less predictable venues, Middlesbrough, Charlton, Fulham and, finally, in the depths of December, at Sunderland. A lad named Michael Proctor swung his foot hopefully and Liverpool were beaten. Houllier described it as his worst month in club management. Liverpool finished fifth. Soft defeats are not just down to Benitez, they are endemic within the post-Dalglish fabric of Anfield.

This time Benitez, even when deprived of Steven Gerrard, had the muscle to fulfil his brief. He spearheaded his forward line with Fernando Torres and Andriy Voronin. Jermaine Pennant and Ryan Babel patrolled the wings; they kept attacking and, but for the excellence of Craig Gordon in the Sunderland goal, they might have returned to Merseyside with an utterly crushing victory.

"The difference away from home is twofold," Benitez said. "We are stronger as a squad. Some of those away games last season were really difficult, especially after the World Cup and international matches. It is a similar situation with international matches now, but the squad is stronger and can cope. The team has always worked hard, but now we have found we can beat any side if we keep up that high work-rate. You could see against Sunderland how many chances we created. We are more attacking this season and that is because we have more options."

Defensively, however, Benitez approaches tomorrow's Champions League qualifier with Toulouse in a weakened state. In attempting to deal with one of Sunderland's few, sporadic attacks, Jamie Carragher collided with his goalkeeper, Jose Reina, and broke a rib, Sami Hyypia departed after a quarter of an hour with a fractured nose, while Gabriel Paletta had just been sold to Boca Juniors.

Now that the long pursuit of Gabriel Heinze has collapsed, Benitez admitted he would have to recruit again before the transfer window slams shut. It would not stretch him, he said. He already had some names.

So, too, does Roy Keane. Andy Cole, whose desire to grab 12 more goals to take him to 200 in the Premier League was the principal motivation behind his agreeing to a one-year contract with his one-time captain, and the former Leeds United defender, Ian Harte, watched from the stands.

They and Keane would have realised that Sunderland were, in the manager's words, taking the peculiarly bitter medicine the Premier League doles out.

When Keane paid £9 million for Gordon, there were sneers about Scottish goalkeepers. Keane, whose top-flight career in English football began and ended with games against Liverpool, had compared Gordon to Peter Shilton and his was a performance worthy of the analogy.

Had they been humiliated 5-0 at home, the journey to Old Trafford, which to teams such as Sunderland is every bit as forbidding as a hobbit's trek to Mordor, would have been taken with trembling steps. But the one thing that can be said for Keane, Cole and the three others who make up a United "These you have loved" - or in Kieran Richardson's case "These you were never sure about" - is that at least they know the way.

Man of the match Andriy Voronin (Liverpool)
  • Scored on full Premier League debut
  • Provided goal assist
  • Five shots on target
  • In numbers
    Telegraph Sport has commissioned a unique marking system for every Premier League player. A total is calculated by attributing points to every positive action that a player makes, while mistakes cost points.
    96 %
    Andriy Voronin
    Liverpool's Andriy Voronin was the top player this weekend with a goal and an assist in his first Premier League start. The Ukrainian fired in four other attempts at goal, three of them on target and created two other chances for team-mates and was fouled four times.
    33 %
    Zat Knight
    Zat Knight scored an own goal as his side, Fulham, took the lead and lost for the third time this season. He mustered just four passes in the opposition half, three going astray, made no tackles or interceptions, was substituted before the hour mark and secured the lowest score in the Premier League this weekend.

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