Sunday, 29 November 2009

Luck Finally Changes For Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez could have been forgiven in recent weeks for wondering whether he had run over a black cat or two. Liverpool have had plenty of luck this season, and most of it has been bad.

But if the Spaniard has had just cause to bemoan his side's ill-fortune - their injury crisis, dubious red cards, beach-ball interventions - he can surely have no issue with Lady Luck this afternoon as the Reds overcame a spirited, but ultimately ill-fated, Everton side.

On a day when Henry Winkler - aka The Fonz - was in town, it was always likely to be cool heads which prevailed in the November wind and rain at Goodison Park, and in the end it proved the case. The Reds kept their shape, their composure, and their heads, but boy did they ride their luck.

That is not to say there was no marked improvement in the Reds' performance, there was. The defence picked up its first Premier League clean sheet on the road this season, with Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina in particular shining. Everton are a tough team to play against, and Liverpool coped admirably.

In midfield Lucas Leiva recovered from an inauspicious start to turn in a stellar display alongside the back-to-his-best Javier Mascherano, whilst Dirk Kuyt ended his eight-game scoring drought in the best possible manner, wrapping up the points late on with a poacher's effort. The relief in the Dutchman's celebration was transparent.

Mascherano's opener, deflected heftily off the boot of Joseph Yobo, was the first sign that Liverpool's luck was turning. The Argentine's speculative effort was heading well wide before striking the Nigerian, and David Moyes was left cursing two disallowed goals for Jo before half-time - although both decisions were correct.

Everton clearly had a game plan to bombard Liverpool aerially. The presence and power of Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini was exploited to the full, as blue shirts launched ball after ball into a crowded Reds box.

But despite the pressure, and it was constant, Carragher & Co stood firm. There were some lapses - a free header afforded to Cahill which forced Reina into a magnificent double-save from the Australian and Fellaini - but for a change Liverpool got away with them. It hasn't happened in recent weeks.

At the other end, the Reds always looked likely to grab a second, without ever applying any sort of concerted pressure. Steven Gerrard endured an off-day as Everton's fans went to town on the Liverpool captain, whilst David Ngog was well shackled by Yobo and Sylvain Distin.

But when your luck is in, it is really in. Albert Riera had been on the field for just two minutes when his skimming low strike was pushed out by Tim Howard straight to the lurking Kuyt, who made no mistake. It was tough on Everton, but Liverpool cared not.

The win, of course, has further ramifications for both sides. Everton now sit just three points, and two places, above the drop zone, and need a change in fortune quickly.

Liverpool meanwhile, kept their promise to bounce back from their Champions League exit in midweek. The win, coupled with draws for Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham, propels them firmly back into the race for a top-four position.

Rafa Benitez has already said this week that he is "one hundred per cent sure" that Liverpool can finish fourth this season. With Lady Luck back in her red shirt, it would be wise to listen to the Spaniard.

No comments: