Alonso's wealth of central intelligence eases Liverpool's domestic poverty

Liverpool 2 West Ham United 0
Click to follow

Here, though, as Liverpool fought to turn around a week so dismaying it was put into perspective only by the news of Manchester United's meltdown at Middlesbrough, Gerrard had to yield first place, both in the action and the debate, to his team-mate Xabi Alonso.

Alonso, by some distance man of the match, was strikingly eloquent in both areas. Though Gerrard inevitably produced moments of awesome power, and some fine touches, it was Alonso who formed the central intelligence - and coherent movement - of this sharply improved Liverpool performance.

His 18th-minute goal steadied nerves strained to breaking point by defeats at Fulham and Crystal Palace. It was a vital opening statement in a performance that was totally unbesmirched by moments of faulty technique or errant concentration.

Afterwards, he addressed the question of commitment to the workaday challenges of domestic competition, as opposed to lifting the Champions League' trophy. "I don't know about not playing for the jersey," he said. "Anyone saying that should have been in the dressing-room after our defeat at Fulham. Everyone was really down; you looked around the dressing-room and you saw all the sad faces.

"We all play for the shirt and we all feel the shirt. We know the responsibilities of playing for Liverpool and we don't take them lightly. We are committed to doing the best for our club. We had a point to prove after what people said in the week. We are playing for a big club and we have to prove we are big enough to play for Liverpool. I don't know the effect this will have on our season but it will do our confidence some good."

The analysis of the beaten manager, Alan Pardew, paid most attention to the boldness of Rafael Benitez's decision to start Gerrard on the right and allow him to drift into the middle, with consequent shuffling of Luis Garcia, particularly. Pardew said: "You could say their manager took something of a gamble which would have left him open to criticism if we had got something out of the game. It worked for him. Gerrard caused us problems. Standing on the side looking at him I thought he looked what he is - one of the world's best midfield players."

Where this left Alonso on a day when Gerrard, despite some undoubted flashpoints of excellence, produced an extremely patchy body of work overall, is another question. Apart from being Benitez's one Spanish signing, who has not caused a flicker of doubt at Anfield from the moment he released his first biting, accurate pass, Alonso is, unlike Gerrard, a classic midfielder. He fills space adroitly, instinctively, making triangles, sometimes to win time, but always with an eye to raising a dagger to the throat of the opposition.

Gerrard? He is a stormer, a runner, a man capable of unleashing thrilling power. But does he read the ebb and flow of the game half so well as his Spanish team-mate? Not on this evidence.

Of Benitez's other Spaniards, the goalkeeper Jose Reina was scarcely troubled, while Garcia and Fernando Morientes showed some improvement, albeit marginally. Garcia continued to give the ball away, but then there were moments when he posed a genuine threat. Morientes, recently hardly recognisable as a crowd favourite at the Bernabeu, produced genuine menace when he met a cross from Steve Finnan and provoked a sharp save from Shaka Hislop.

Who knows what a goal then would have done for the confidence of a man who recently has been as devoid of that vital commodity as much as his team-mate Peter Crouch. The big man came on late and drew a predictable salvo from West Ham fans who used to be known for tuneful renditions of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" but now indulge in the obscenities of most of their contemporaries. Benitez must ache for a strike or two from his front men, but Djibril Cissé, the most productive of them, still seemed preoccupied by the challenge of displaying clever tricks rather than hard-edged finishing.

It was one mercy for the manager that Cissé's replacement, Bolo Zenden, showed how it was done eight minutes from the end. "Yes, I always want goals," said Benitez, "I was pleased with the way they played today - and their commitment. I know they are good players with a good attitude."

Certainly, they quickly extinguished hope and fire in a young West Ham side who nevertheless explained why it is Pardew expects to sign a new contract this week. It is his reward for organising a team who look well capable of Premiership survival. Their difficulty was meeting a Liverpool team determined to show some evidence of how it was that they managed to win the greatest prize in club football just a few months ago. Only some obdurate defence, shaped brilliantly at times by Anton Ferdinand, prevented the point being made rather more emphatically.

Goals: Alonso (18) 1-0; Zenden (82) 2-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko, Garcia; Morientes (Crouch, 90), Cissé (Zenden, 73). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Hamann, Warnock.

West Ham (4-5-1): Hislop; Repka (Collins, 81), Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Bellion (Aliadière, 60) Reo-Coker, Mullins, Benayoun, Etherington (Sheringham, 67); Harewood. Substitutes not used: Bywater (gk), Dailly.

Referee: U Rennie (Yorkshire)

Booked Liverpool: Morientes, Finnan.

Man of the match: Alonso.

Attendance: 44,537.

Comments