Benitez to maintain striker rotation despite success of Crouch

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The Independent Online

As a member of the Premiership's polite society Peter Crouch will never make demands of the manager who propelled him towards recognition and acclaim, but it was with a pointed reference to Rafael Benitez's rotation policy that the Liverpool striker asked to be entrusted with an extended run in the Spaniard's team yesterday.

The England international raised his goalscoring tally this season to 11 for club and country on Wednesday night with the towering header that proved the difference between a nervous point and a significant win for Liverpool in Bordeaux. Success at Stade Chaban-Delmas means Liverpool will reach the knock-out stage of the Champions' League for the third time in three years under Benitez with victory against Raymundo Gomes's distinctly average side at Anfield on 31 October, providing Galatasaray do not win in Eindhoven on the same night. But for Crouch the immediate future appears less straightforward.

It was the 25-year-old whose two goals against the Turkish club gave Liverpool their last win before Bordeaux only to be rewarded with a place on the bench in the next game at Bolton, a 2-0 defeat that leaves his club without a Premiership away win ahead of a hostile examination at Manchester United on Sunday. The only clue that times may have changed for the better for Crouch came with his 65th-minute substitution in France, although as his replacement was the fit-again Dirk Kuyt it would require a mind-reader to say if Benitez had a pre-Old Trafford rest or run-out in mind as he made the switch.

"I'm enjoying it in front of goal at the moment and hopefully I can keep that going," said Crouch, who has started only three League games for Liverpool this season and faces competition from not only Kuyt but also Craig Bellamy and Robbie Fowler this weekend. "Given a run of games," he added pointedly, "I'm sure I can keep doing that."

Gentle persuasion will not alter the managerial philosophy that has yielded such rich rewards for Benitez. The Liverpool manager said yesterday: "It is a nice problem for me to have four strikers available again but when I pick two I am not thinking if one of them has scored in the last game. You need to analyse if the striker is playing well or not. For me it is important you score and you play well. Crouch is working hard and that is the key, but so are Bellamy, Fowler and, before he was injured, Kuyt. It depends on the game who plays."

With Steven Gerrard and Mohamed Sissoko, who suffered a slight ankle injury on his return in Bordeaux, available for the game on Sunday Liverpool, despite their slow start to the domestic season, head down the M62 with renewed vigour after their "back-to-basics" win in the Champions' League. "The win has given us a massive lift for the weekend," Crouch said. "We have proved that we can get a result away from home. We defended well as a team and hit them on the counterattack. Our plan worked perfectly and that can only help us going into Sunday's game."

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