Benitez: 'Never have I seen a team struggle as much as we did'

Rafael Benitez furious after seeing Liverpool commit series of defensive blunders in Italy to hand Fiorentina a 2-0 Champions League victory

Rafael Benitez last night declared that the first-half performance in his side's 2-0 defeat to Fiorentina was the worst he had seen in a Liverpool team he had managed.

Liverpool's defensive frailties saw them fall behind to two goals inside nine first-half minutes by the 19-year-old Montenegro striker Stevan Jovetic. "Never have I seen a team struggle so much as I did in the first half," Benitez said. "It was a very poor performance."

Liverpool improved slightly in the second half and went close several times in the first five minutes of the second half but the Viola held firm. "We didn't play well at the beginning," said Benitez, who deployed Fabio Aurelio rather than Steven Gerrard as a defensive midfielder. "Too many problems, too many mistakes. We had to change everything in the second half and it was very different, much better."

Benitez complained that Adrian Mutu was in a technically offside position for Fiorentina's first, though he was not interfering with play. "Clearly this new offside rule is changing everything. The best rule in football is offside whether a player has an influence or not. It is very difficult for the defenders. Jovetic was in a good position but Mutu was offside.

Benitez pledged better from his side for the visit to Chelsea on Sunday. "I think so it will be totally different we will see the Liverpool we have seen in the second half and it will be better." He said he expected the Jovetic threat "We knew the player. We were watching some of his games at this level."

Liverpool's defeat came on a day of more speculation about the future ownership of the club.

Benitez praised the Fiorentina fans. "It was an important game for the city and fans and now we have to win [our next game at home to Lyons]. Fiorentina did a very good job pressing around the pitch, nervous too many mistakes you makes mistakes you pay for them. We were talking about the mistakes and how to improve. We were challenging in a better way after half time."

At the Emirates, Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, praised his players for keeping their cool to beat Olympiakos 2-0 with late goals from Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin. He said: "I felt we kept composure, we kept going and mentally we were good. What I liked in our performance is that we continued to keep the discipline in the team and that's very satisfying. We didn't do anything crazy. We have matured and this game shows that.

"Olympiakos played for 10 years in the Champions League, they have quality. You go anywhere now in Europe and it's difficult, You look at the results and it shows that. To win at that level without conceding is always fantastic."

"We got very young players, and they make their name here," added Wenger, who will later this week become the longest-serving manager in the history of the club. "Robin is now a big name, he was less a big name when he arrived. When you look at the players who did not play tonight, you can see why we are not desperate.

"When you play against 10 men in one half, it is very important to have players who can play in a very short space, and [Andrei] Arshavin is a specialist in that," Wenger said. "He was sharp and determined. In this type of game, he is always a threat."

"We had a great first half, with outstanding quality, but unfortunately we could not take advantage. Then you know it is difficult to maintain that pace and quality for 90 minutes.

"In the second half, we dropped a bit physically and our fluency went a bit as well. Then it is about not making a mistake, digging deep and hoping they die a bit more than us in the last 20 minutes and that is what happened,

"We dominated this team from the first to the last minute, but there were well organised and disciplined. They waited for us, are very strong on pieces. We were wobbling a bit and maybe they hope for that. But maybe because we did not allow them to come out, that they did not come out."

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