Of the many sombre faces on board the Liverpool flight to Eindhoven yesterday there was no more furrowed a brow than that belonging to Jose Reina. Embarrassed by the gaffe that gave Everton their biggest derby victory for 42 years on Saturday, the usually ebullient Spanish goalkeeper departed for Liverpool's opening Champions' League group game with his smile erased by a less than emphatic vote of confidence from his manager. He should be thankful that manager is not Gérard Houllier.
Impatience with goalkeepers was a hallmark of Houllier's at Anfield, where both Sander Westerveld and Jerzy Dudek were dispatched with haste having suffered the loss of form that currently afflicts Reina. "If you fall off your bike you have to get back on straight away," was the former Liverpool manager's explanation for retaining Dudek in a League Cup tie against Ipswich just days after his infamous clanger enabled Diego Forlan to plunder the first of two goals for Manchester United in December 2002. The Polish international was then dropped for the next Premiership game and a Liverpool career that had begun so dominantly never recovered, not even after a starring role in the 2005 European Cup triumph over Milan.
The man who masterminded that stunning Champions' League success and then spent £6m on a replacement for Dudek, Rafael Benitez, is not about to make the same mistake. Though still smarting from the reverse at Goodison Park and agonising over the defensive frailties that have invaded his team this season the Liverpool manager will not make an example of the former Villarreal keeper just yet, although the show of support Benitez issued yesterday did come with a warning that there is a limit to his faith.
Having allowed Scott Carson and Chris Kirkland to join Charlton and Wigan on loan respectively, and made his opinion of Dudek abundantly clear, the Spaniard arguably has no choice but to guide Reina through the first slump of his Liverpool career. It is memories of the 29 clean sheets that his number one kept in a club record total of 33 last season, however, that justifies Benitez's decision to give the 24-year-old another 10 games to rediscover his authority.
The Liverpool manager insisted: "If he continues to train well and play well, I'll stick with him. In my first season here we had a problem with Jerzy but we gave him 10 games. Afterwards we had a problem with Kirkland, but we gave him 10 games. Sometimes, especially the goalkeepers, they need confidence."
Benitez blames a failure to adapt to a more expansive style as the reason for Liverpool's uncharacteristic weakness in defence but Reina, seeking his first clean sheet this season against PSV tonight, has looked increasingly vulnerable. "I'm sure he has a strong character," added his manager. "But if we talk about 'Pepe' we should talk about Finnan, Carragher, other defenders and the team selection too. We are not defending well at the moment, and we need to improve. "
The Liverpool manager has also defended his decision to omit Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt from Saturday's starting line-up, the former failing to even make the bench as Benitez again rotated his squad with the Champions' League in mind. "He was training again on Sunday and I promise you nothing has happened," said Benitez amid rumours of a row with Bellamy.
PSV Eindhoven (probable, 4-4-2): Gomes; Kromkamp, Addo, Alex, Salcido; Culina, Afellay, Simons, Mendez; Farfan, Kone.
Liverpool (probable, 4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Warnock; Pennant, Gerrard, Sissoko, Zenden; Kuyt, Bellamy.Reuse content