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Laurens: Pastore matures for PSG

Ligue 1 14 hours ago
Read
Dec 9, 2006

Liverpool give Sheikh value for money

So what does £450 million buy? Being facetious, suggestions could include about 70 Jermaine Pennants, or five West Hams (although what you would do with them is another matter altogether).

For Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the best part of half a billion pounds could be committed to Liverpool.

His motives remain unclear, though the optimists imagine untold investment.

But what he inherits is also open to debate. There are debts - expected to absorb around £80 million of his £450 million - and the need for a new stadium, with £200 million the projected cost.

There is, undeniably, a glorious history that has made Liverpool a blue chip brand. It is when attention turns to the ruler of the United Arab Emirates' inheritance on the pitch that it is less clear if he is getting value for money.

A comfortable victory elevated Liverpool into the top four, and progress in the Champions League has been smooth. Yet there is a reason why Rafael Benitez says he is not looking at the league table: Manchester United have disappeared over the horizon and Chelsea could follow suit.

Liverpool, in contrast, are embroiled in what could even be an 11-way battle for Champions League qualification. Fulham started in 13th, only five points behind them and that, in itself, is an indictment of Liverpool's stuttering start to their Premiership campaign.

Or, to be precise, their away form. At Anfield, they have been outstanding and were once again in the demolition of Fulham. It was a reward for persistence; ultimately emphatic, and yet in doubt until Steven Gerrard broke the deadlock, scoring at the second attempt from Liverpool's third penalty appeal.

It was the first to get a positive response from Uriah Rennie. But when Dirk Kuyt's fierce volley struck the raised hands of Ian Pearce, the decision seemed simple. Gerrard's penalty was uncharacteristically diffident, but Jan Lastuvka's save sent the ball back to the Liverpool captain to drill it in.

'It definitely made contact with his chest,' insisted Fulham manager Chris Coleman.

'Whether it was his arm first and then chest, I don't know but it was at the Kop End as well. The defining moment was the penalty and for 15 minutes [after that] we were poor, our concentration went away. That's something for us to go away and think about - once we go 1-0 down, we have to show more togetherness.' Rafael Benitez added: 'I said to the players at half time to keep going and keep attacking.'

They did but the cheers that greeted Gerrard's goal betrayed the relief.

Anxiety had increased with each block from the Fulham defence with Liam Rosenior's goal-line clearance, denying Luis Garcia the pick and Michael Brown's decision to fling himself at a typically clean strike from John Arne Riise marking him out as either the bravest or the stupidest man in the penalty box.

For Liverpool's second goal, seven minutes after Gerrard's opener, the applause was mixed with gratitude and a sense of surprise. For an appreciative Anfield, it was a rarity: a Jamie Carragher goal. 'His first goal of the century,' smiled Benitez. In the Premiership, it is his first since 1999 (since scoring on his debut against Aston Villa, Carragher's strike rate has rather declined).

The finish was from two yards, but Benitez was able to praise the scorer.

We have to show more togetherness
Rafa Benitez
'He is a clever player. In some corners, he goes to the near post. In this case, he changes his movement and goes to the second post.' While there, he was able to divert Daniel Agger's header in.

Agger's second assist soon followed, Luis Garcia heading in his cross. Mark Gonzalez completed the scoring with an injury-time free kick. With Benitez's summer signings under scrutiny, it was a welcome retort as, indeed, was one of Pennant's better performances.

Nonetheless, this was a victory delivered by Liverpool's established players in the shape of Gerrard, Carragher and the mercurial Garcia. Of the six newcomers in the summer, only Kuyt is assured of his place, and assumptions have been made that much of transfer budget resulting from the Arab billionaire's investment will be earmarked for their replacements.

While Gerrard and Carragher represent certainties in life for Liverpool, Pennant and Gonzalez do not. Opinions of them are as diverse as Liverpool's home and away record. And, rather like their much-debated signings, it remains to be seen whether Liverpool, even at £450 million, is a bargain.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Luis Garcia - Jamie Carragher would have been the sentimental choice and Steven Gerrard the obvious one but Garcia's inventive movement and ability to make things happen earn him this vote. His goal showed why there is a theory that the Spaniard is Liverpool's best header of the ball in the opposition penalty box.

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: They dominated from the start and deserved their winning margin. The challenge is to produce such a comprehensive performance away from Anfield.

FULHAM VERDICT: Steven Gerrard has many skills, but predicting opposing teams may not be among them. After suggesting in the programme that Chris Coleman would opt for two strikers and attack at Anfield, Fulham fielded a solitary striker and came for a point. For 53 minutes, they defended valiantly but once Plan A had failed, there did not appear to be a Plan B. Fulham have never won at Anfield, and they rarely looked like changing that.

TAKEOVER TALK: Liverpool's prospective investors were at Anfield, but Benitez confirmed that he is yet to meet them.


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