Disjointed Liverpool a worry for Benitez

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The Independent Online

You can't say they're not trying. Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane even took up seats together on Liverpool's flight home from Liege on Wednesday night, attempting perhaps to develop some of the telepathy which will be fundamental to their side's hopes of progress this season.

The combination of pigeon Liverpudlian and broad Dublin would have made for a curious conversation but the two certainly had some talking to do. A goalless draw was considerably less than Liverpool deserved from the Belgian steelmaking city and though Rafael Benitez spared the strikers from his uncharacteristically blunt assessment - "If the team don't play well the strikers don't get the chances," he said – a night on the banks of the River Maas provided a telling reminder that a combined £40m of investment does not buy an instinctive understanding.

Dirk Kuyt also accepted yesterday that Liverpool looked like strangers and that they must turn to tomorrow's opener against Sunderland to "show who we are and what we can do." Benitez thought he knew. But he can be forgiven for casting his most anxious glances at his defensive department at the Stadium of Light for a better sense of Liverpool's capabilities - and whether they can really challenge for a 19th title, 19 long years after the last.

The Italian Andrea Dossena might have been cast as the toughest defensive proposition at Liverpool since the old Anfield Iron, Tommy Smith, but he was caught out of position so frequently in the first 20 minutes of Wednesday's encounter that Daniel Agger, in his first competitive match since January, found himself scurrying around to double up as left back. That explained why Marouane Fellaini had such an extraordinary amount of space to plant the header from five yards which arced over Liverpool's line via the side of a post. Dossena cut an isolated and slightly desolate figure at Liege airport in the early hours of yesterday, sitting apart from his teammates, and his own relections might have told him that securing the left back berth will be difficult with more displays like that.

Until the emergence of Steven Gerrard Liverpool's offensive threat looked just as slight. Many Liverpool's fans want Xabi Alonso - not Gareth Barry - at Anfield this season but neither he nor Damien Plessis provided any dominance. "We couldn't string four or five passes together," said Kuyt, which pretty much summed the whole thing up. "They played a lot of long balls and did really well in the air, winning a lot of the second balls. We were all very disappointed by the performance we gave, as players and as a team. We tried to do our best and it was not good enough."

Jamie Carragher reflected on the fact that Liverpool have never found this late summer banana skin too easy. "Over the years we've struggled in these qualifiers which is not what you would want and we would certainly take it if we can get through now and go on to do what we've done in the Champions League in the past," he said. He was clutching at straws. It has actually been Liverpool's habit to set up the home leg of the qualifiers with a win – Toulouse, FBK Kaunas of Lithuania and Austrian champions Graz among those conquered in the past four years – and at the start of his fifth season in charge at Anfield Benitez might have hope for more encouragement about Liverpool's capacity for the challenge ahead.

For now, it will be a few more days of serious talking, in any language which works. "I think we have to look on this as the kick we needed," Kuyt concluded. "We are still in the game and we will have a good chance at Anfield. We all know we have to perform better - and we will."

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