A dramatic, explosive finale to a dramatic, explosive day to end a dramatic, explosive week at Liverpool for Rafael Benitez. Drama, drama, drama: it is not The Liverpool Way traditionally, but these are different times at Anfield. That three Spaniards were at the centre of intense attention on Wearside yesterday reveals that.
Just a few hours after Benitez felt compelled to issue a statement of loyalty on the club's website, following morning reports that he had considered his position last week as the interminable Gareth Barry saga carried on, Benitez saw his half-time substitute, Xabi Alonso – the man whom Barry would replace – inspire Liverpool to victory. Alonso's clipped intuitive short pass to Fernando Torres in the 82nd minute of a troublesome and frenetic game was not the most difficult of Alonso's 45 minutes on the pitch. But it found Torres in a yard of space for once. That had previously been denied Torres by Sunderland's hitherto resolute, makeshift central defensive pairing of Nyron Nosworthy and Danny Collins.
Torres swivelled 20 yards from Craig Gordon's goal, assessed his options and let fly with one of those sweet bullets from his right foot. Thirty-three times Torres hit the back of the net last season and he is off the mark again, Gordon diving in vain as the ball was drilled into his bottom right-hand corner. Liverpool's second-half performance probably merited the points, but it was harsh on an energetic Sunderland team who tired.
When Benitez spoke afterwards it was with some relief at the result, but the notion that the victory has terminated the politicking at Anfield is risible judging by the cryptic, almost evasive answers Benitez gave on the subjects of his future, Alonso's and Barry's.
To the direct question: Has Alonso asked to leave? Benitez replied: "Xabi is our player and he's playing well. It doesn't matter if you have a player and you want another one, you need to keep a balance in the team. I was in contact with Tom Hicks and he told me we had enough money. If we sell one or two players we'll have enough money for signing another good player. I will not say which player but I have the support of at least one of the owners." Neither George Gillett nor chief executive Rick Parry were mentioned but Benitez's annoyance was palpable beneath his attempts to remain serene. There were further answers that touched on Britishness, Benitez's commitment and ultimately it finished with him saying: "It's a question of whether we have done things in the right order or not."
What that meant was that Liverpool should have bought Barry in May, and it would have cost less. Some at Anfield would dispute that no doubt, but according to Benitez the upshot is that the Barry transfer is still on.
The first six words of Benitez's website statement were: "I am not thinking of leaving." The morning reports had said that in midweek, he had been thinking of leaving and had told the proverbial "close friends".
"My commitment with the club, the fans and the players is so big that just because I can be disappointed about different things," Benitez continued, "I won't stop trying my best to achieve all of the targets that we have established as a team."
Liverpool's introspection does not abate. A draw here would have added to it, though, and so Torres's spectacular intervention was all the more welcome.
During a vibrant opening first half from Sunderland, Torres was anonymous and Alonso a spectator. Robbie Keane was running to no great effect. It was home debutants Pascal Chimbonda and El-Hadji Diouf setting a fierce tempo, one that told on the team later. There were half-chances created for Diouf and Daryl Murphy but Roy Keane needs a new striker and it was showing.
Liverpool, meanwhile, laboured for rhythm and the travelling fans chanted for Alonso. But it was due to an injury to Damien Plessis that Alonso appeared – Benitez said Alonso had had a dead leg. It was not obvious as Alonso began to knit Liverpool together. In the 73rd minute Gordon made a fine reflex save from a deflected Dirk Kuyt shot and from then on it was all about if Liverpool could break down their hosts.
Thanks to Torres that happened. Yet Benitez's tone was not celebratory. There is more of this to come. And possibly Gareth Barry, too.Reuse content