Friday, January 28, 2022

Benitez sigh of footballing relief as Liverpool hang on

Liverpool can look forward to qualifying for the money-spinning group stages of the Champions League but it was a close-run thing after their exploits in Belgium.

Wednesday night's 0-0 draw at Standard Liege was thanks to an early missed penalty by Liege and then what looked like a goal minutes before not being given when it looked as though the ball had crossed the line.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez admitted they could easily have let in a number of goals and that 0-0 was not a bad result in this third qualifying round, first leg tie.

“We were not surprised by the fine performance of the Liege side, we had seen enough of them to know they were a good, aggressive side,” Benitez said.

“The real surprise for me was the way Liverpool played. The only positive to take from the match was the fact that we did not concede a goal.

“We will have to be a lot better in the second leg at Anfield, much better.

“We have been playing well in pre-season, looking confident and passing the ball well.

“But we did not do any of those things. I did not want to bring Steven Gerrard on because the doctors had told me he was not fit enough to start the match.

“We waited until well into the second-half before using him, but we were not controlling the game and I had to bring him on.”

Key play Steven Gerrard did not start the match on doctors orders and when he came on late on did not look to be playing at his usual high standard.

Benitez added: “This game was far more difficult than we expected. And Jose Reina was the man of the match.”

He was delighted with keeper Reina who saved the penalty and had a good match.

Benitez said: “We know we can always rely on Pepe to stop penalties, but we have been told that the other effort may have been behind the line, but these things happen.”

Liege coach Laszlo Boloni said of the match: “Liverpool maybe came here asleep and not expecting this sort of game.

“Maybe, though, we have woken them up for the second-leg, which will me much harder for us.

“We felt that if we did not lose this first-leg, we would still be in with a chance. We know, though, that we still have to score and that could be the problem.

“But I want to praise my team. They attacked Liverpool from the start, and when their goalkeeper pulled the ball back from behind the line, maybe the referee was asleep too.”

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