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Benitez defends squad rotation September 15 2007

Benitez defends squad rotation September 15 2007

Rafael Benitez denied he had blundered by leaving Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard on the bench until the last half-hour after Liverpool were knocked off the top of the Premier League.

The Reds drew 0-0 with a battling Portsmouth, for whom Nwankwo Kanu missed a penalty before team-mates John Utaka and Sulley Muntari wasted two other gilt-edged chances.

But Benitez, facing a UEFA Champions League tussle with Porto on Tuesday and with 18 players coming back from an exhausting international fortnight, stuck to his guns.

The Spanish tactician, who did not even include Dirk Kuyt in his 16-man squad, insisted: "If there is one title for us to win this season it is the Premier League. But we want to win the Champions League, too.

"When Gerrard and Torres came on we had more creativity in attack than we had before but we had 18 players on international duty around the world last week and I don't think it would have made any difference if they had started the game.

"I just had to try to pick the fittest and freshest players and we had the better of the game in the first half but then it became more open and they had chances, too."

Pompey manager Harry Redknapp said: "It is up to Rafa what players and teams he picks.

"He has a lot to choose from. Obviously you are happy as an opposition manager when somebody like Gerrard is not playing against you.

"But we did well. We've had a tough run against Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal and got only one point from those.

"I would be a liar if I said I wouldn't have taken another point before the kick-off today. You would always settle for that against a top-four team.

"But we could easily have won it. John Utaka's chance was a very good one and, although I've seen penalties not given for the little tug that gave us that one today, Kanu's penalty was crap.

"He tried to sidefoot it in and if the goalkeeper guesses the right way he saves it."

When Jose Reina plunged to stop Kanu's spot-kick in the 31st minute, Liverpool should have gone on and wrapped up another victory to take them clear at the top of the Premier League.

Both sides had good chances to win the match in the second period but Redknapp was clear about his feelings on the result.

"Despite the chances we missed it was a point gained," he said.

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