Fluent performance has Benitez purring

Liverpool 3 - Norwich City 0
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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez may struggle to deliver an informative press conference in his limited English but if his vocabulary does not yet allow him to offer much in the way of meaningful reflection there is clearly no problem in putting his ideas across to his players.

It helps that a number of them are Spanish. Hardly surprising, then, that the two key figures in a compelling performance at Anfield on Saturday share both the language and the football background of Liverpool's new coach.

Xabi Alonso and Javier Luis Garcia were at the root of almost everything of consequence in what was probably the best Liverpool performance since 44-year-old Benitez succeeded Gérard Houllier as coach in the summer.

Alonso, sitting deep, both protected and fed by Dietmar Hamann, delivered one penetrating pass after another. Garcia, nominally operating on the right of midfield, effectively worked in the space behind Milan Baros and Djibril Cissé, the trio at times linking with such speed and precision that Norwich were chasing shadows.

It made light of the absence of Steven Gerrard, at the start of his recovery from a broken foot. It was all too much for Liverpool's opponents; but that is where the questions start. Exhilarating though their play was, thrilling though their goals were, in particular the 25-yard screamer with which Baros dared Benitez to leave him out again, it was only Norwich.

And Norwich were awestruck, their midfield repeatedly giving possession to the home side and then backing off, inviting them to play. "The message to us was 'welcome to the Premiership'," their manager, Nigel Worthington said. "The honeymoon is over. We can get better but it would help if we could keep the ball. Give it away as we did and at this level you are going to be punished."

Punished they were, by Garcia and Cissé after Baros, left on the bench for the previous three matches, had scored his third goal of the season. The margin could have been more. Benitez felt his side could, perhaps should, have doubled it.

Afterwards, one had to smile at the idea that Mike Jefferies, the Liverpool-born Hollywood film-maker named in confusing stories about a new takeover bid, felt driven by "15 years of mediocrity" to propose a £100m cash injection for the club.

Mediocre this was not. Then again, it raised questions over how good Alonso and Garcia could really become in the Premiership. Garcia had not looked so comfortable against Manchester United last week, when Roy Keane showedwhat being a dominant midfield player in English football is all about.

At least Benitez is making no outrageous claims. "I have said always that Alonso is a very clever player," he said of the £10.5m 22-year-old, "but we are still learning, I am still learning. How much progress have we made? Well, let's say we started at 60 per cent of where I want to be. Now we are at 65 per cent.

"It takes time for players to get used to a new team and the English league is different from Spain. But the players I have brought in have good technique and intelligence and they will adjust. It is important to play well against any opponent, even if you think the other side played bad. Now I want to see us play well against the better teams." He will not need to wait long for an opportunity. Tomorrow, Liverpool are in Athens to face Olympiakos in the Champions' League; next Sunday they take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

As for Jefferies, Liverpool are playing a straight bat to reports that the chairman of the Los Angeles-based Milkshake Films - who just happen to have a football movie due for release next year - is putting together a consortium bid for the club. Apart from an initial contact from Jefferies some weeks ago, they say, no talks have taken place and none are planned.

Goals: Baros (23) 1-0; Luis Garcia (26) 2-0; Cissé (64) 3-0.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise; Luis Garcia, Hamann, Alonso (Diao 65), Warnock (Biscan 77); Cissé (Traore 71), Baros. Substitutes not used: Kirkland (gk), Josemi.

Norwich City (4-4-2): Green; Edworthy, Fleming, Charlton, Drury; Francis, McVeigh (Jonson 75), Safri (Bentley 45), Holt; Huckerby, Doherty (McKenzie 45). Substitutes not used : Ward (gk), Helveg.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Liverpool: Hamann.

Man of the match: Luis Garcia.

Attendance: 43,152.