Benitez banks key first win

Liverpool 2 - Manchester City 1
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The Independent Online

Time will tell whether Rafael Benitez will be remembered as the man who sold Michael Owen, the man who restored Liverpool to where they believe they ought to be, or just as plain "Mr Bennett". A first home game in charge and a first Premiership victory came far too early to be drawing conclusions, but the Spaniard admitted that this was a game of great symbolic and practical importance to his new team.

Time will tell whether Rafael Benitez will be remembered as the man who sold Michael Owen, the man who restored Liverpool to where they believe they ought to be, or just as plain "Mr Bennett". A first home game in charge and a first Premiership victory came far too early to be drawing conclusions, but the Spaniard admitted that this was a game of great symbolic and practical importance to his new team.

"It was very important for our confidence for the future, because it shows the team has character," he said.

There were some limited insights into what that character will turn out to be. With Owen gone, Liverpool, in the second half at least, showed no lack of enterprise up front, where Milan Baros and Djibril Cissé showed why Benitez believed he could afford to let Owen go.

It was Baros, such a revelation at Euro 2004, who figured most prominently in the moments that mattered, scoring one goal and having his shot blocked for another, but it is Cissé's effervescence that is sugaring the pill of Owen's departure.

His explosive pace caused problems throughout, including getting Richard Dunne a second yellow card for pulling him back, and his spin and sprint away from the corner flag in the time remaining after that was real crowd-pleasing stuff.

So was the way he threw his shirt into the Kop at the end; he has the potential to become a huge favourite among those most demanding of football supporters.

One who already enjoys that status is Steven Gerrard. He was outstanding as the driving force in midfield on Saturday, but Liverpool still lack the width on either side of him to make the most of his contribution.

Benitez spent £16m on three Spaniards last week - none of whom appeared in this game - and they might address that deficiency. For now, his side relies too much for delivery into the box from full-backs and converted full-backs.

That is one thing Benitez will have seen clearly from his permanent vantage point on the touchline. There is nothing of the cool, detached continental about his match-day demeanour; he almost wore out the grass in his technical area as he gesticulated to and remonstrated with his players.

It was all too much for Kevin Keegan, who complained afterwards that "Mr Bennett," as he called him, had been blocking his view throughout.

"When he improves his English, we'll have to have a word about it," he said.

Not that the City manager missed much. Even Shaun Wright-Phillips, who Keegan insists will not be spoiled by the "instant stardom" of his England debut last week, was relatively subdued, although he did loft the ball into the box for the Nicolas Anelka goal that put City ahead, against the run of play, just before half-time.

After that, it was a question of how Liverpool would react. The pressure was on them to put on a performance to mark the start of a new era for the club - an impression strengthened by the first sight in the matchday programme of their plans for a new stadium - and, driven on by Gerrard, who scored the winner after Baros's equaliser in the second half, they did.

Goals: Anelka (45) 0-1; Baros (48) 1-1; Gerrard (75) 2-1

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Josemi (Diao 61), Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Finnan (Warnock 77), Gerrard, Hamman, Kewell (Biscan 89); Cissé, Baros. Substitutes not used: Harrison (gk), Sinama-Pongolle.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Dunne, Distin, Thatcher; Wright-Phillips, Reyna, Bosvelt (Sinclair 81), Sibierski (Barton 81); Anelka, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Stuhr-Ellegaard (gk), Macken, Sun Jihai.

Referee: G Poll (Herts).

Booked: Liverpool: Hamann. Manchester City: Dunne, Bosvelt, Thatcher.

Sent off: Dunne (85).

Man of the Match: Gerrard.

Attendance: 42,831.

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