Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1: Benitez lets fly over lack of support from above

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The Independent Online

Presumably the dramatis personae – Rafa Benitez, Martin O'Neill, Rick Parry, Gareth Barry and the rest – have noticed the date of Liverpool's visit to Aston Villa. What would be an uneasy occasion anyway occurs in a fortnight, 31 August, 4pm, transfer deadline day.

Oh, what larks there must have been when "the computer" came up with that weekend for this fixture and then television decided to screen it live. By then this play in an unspecified number of acts should have moved on – despite its paralysis.

It is all too plausible that Benitez or Parry might not be at Liverpool by then, or Barry at Villa, while the whereabouts of Xabi Alonso is uncertain. What we will know, though, is that Alonso will be being precise with a football wherever he is and that the Spaniard who plays in front of him will be smacking beauties into top and bottom corners throughout the land.

Just one year on from his transfer from Atletico Madrid, Fernando Torres is the most reliable thing about Liverpool. In 31 Premier League starts since then, Saturday's 83rd-minute goal was his 26th. The topic of recruitment is the vital issue at Liverpool and in purchasing Torres and, according to no less than Jose Mourinho, making him a better player, Benitez has a big card in his hand. Benitez wants to buy again, and he wants support from above, but there is doubt there that Barry is either better than Alonso or worth more.

A lot of Liverpool fans would say that Barry is worse and worth less, but this is about Benitez's authority. If Anfield's hierarchy believe in him then they must back him. Given that they spoke to Jürgen Klinsmann about Benitez's position last season, that backing is not 100 per cent and Benitez knows it. He is pushing things as far as he can because he must feel as if he has nothing to lose. There will be other big jobs for him. Premier League points will help his case, although sceptics can say this game was won due to Alonso's half-time introduction. Had Damien Plessis not been injured, Alonso would have stayed on the bench. There are two sides to the story, however. On Saturday we heard Benitez's. "Usually we like to do things with confidentiality but sometimes you cannot," he said. "If you have the support of the owners, who say you have the money, then you make decisions to sign or not.

"I talked about what I wanted in April. I had a player in mind [Barry] and an idea [Alonso out]. I told them they have to buy top-class players with the money we are bringing in. All the owners should be really pleased. The question is why we cannot do it." Is Parry the blockage? "They did not say no before. They said no after four months. After four months they said the player is expensive." In the context of a business this is open conflict.

So the victors at the Stadium of Light are less stable than the losers. Recruitment is also Sunderland's issue. Roy Keane does not get everything right – Greg Halford, Paul McShane – but he is given slack because the club are behind him. And no one can doubt the progress, encapsulated in Keane's phrase that he has gone from "hope to belief" in 12 months. But Keane's biggest transfer success, Kenwyne Jones, is sorely missed. Sunderland's high-energy but blunt play showed that. So did Torres.

Goal: Torres (83) 0-1.

Sunderland (4-1-3-2) Gordon; Chimbonda, Nosworthy, Collins, Bardsley; Tainio (Whitehead, 57); Malbranque (Edwards, 73), Reid, Richardson; Diouf (Chopra, 81), Murphy. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Higginbotham, Leadbitter, Stokes

Liverpool (4-4-1-1) Reina; Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia, Dossena; Kuyt, Gerrard, Plessis (Alonso, h-t), Benayoun (Aurelio, 81); Keane (El Zhar, 77); Torres. Substitutes not used: Cavalieri (gk), Skrtel, Agger, Ngog.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Booked: Liverpool Arbeloa, El Zhar.

Man of the match: Alonso.

Attendance: 43, 259.