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Besiktas eight no guide to real Reds

Will the real Liverpool kindly stand up? I pose the question, because due to confusion as to whether the team I watched break a UEFA Champions League record on Tuesday night is the genuine article, or in fact a complete figment of my imagination.

Let's be honest, (and I know Reds fans can be counted on to give us complete frankness), Liverpool have sleep-walked through many a match this season.

There has been little passion, no urgency, and far too much tinkering from the sidelines. On the latter point, I'm not just referring to the constant change in personnel from game to game, but also the tendency to alter tactics from one match to another.

Players, even as gifted as those at Anfield, are human beings, and it has been apparent all too often, that they're not comfortable with the tactical merry-go-round Rafa Benitez insists upon.

Now I'm not going to hammer Benitez in the manner many of my ESPN colleagues have been inclined to do recently. His track record speaks for itself, and the rotation policy has worked a treat for him throughout his managerial career, both in Spain and now in England.

Still Benitez has got it wrong on numerous occasions this term. His team selection at Blackburn on Saturday, for instance, was uninspiring and only when Harry Kewell and Peter Crouch came on in the second half, did Liverpool really threaten Brad Friedel and his defenders.

But with so much vitriol having been poured on the manager in recent weeks, surely he deserves praise for picking precisely the right team and adopting appropriate tactics against Besiktas. There was no messing around. This was Liverpool at their most direct and positive best, using 4-4-2 to marvellous effect.

The game looked tailormade for the towering Crouch, what with the Besiktas rearguard lacking height in the absence of the injured Gokhan Zan. Crouch enjoyed one of the best nights of his Liverpool career, and demonstrated that he can contribute significantly when the circumstances are right. Personally, I don't believe him to be man for all seasons that Fernando Torres undoubtedly is, but there are times when he can't be ignored.

Benitez played to his strengths by using Steven Gerrard in the centre of midfield with the excellent Javier Mascherano protecting him. Andriy Voronin's inclusion at the expense of Dirk Kuyt was the also the right move at the right time, given Kuyt's disappointing form of late.

But the real revelation was hat-trick hero Yossi Benayoun, a constant menace on the Liverpool right, in tandem with Alvaro Arbeloa, correctly preferred at right back to the off-form Steve Finnan. The Israeli international has the capacity to be an invaluable player in the years ahead at Anfield, if Benitez has the courage to play him regularly.

However, let's not delude ourselves. Besiktas were abject, disorganized, and devoid of spirit. In this case the scoresheet didn't lie. The Turkish team, whose atmospheric stadium near the Bosphorus I rank as one of my favourites, simply didn't belong on the Champions League stage. They deserved to be on the wrong end of the biggest thrashing in competition history.

Liverpool still have the hard work ahead of them in Group A. I believe they'll need to beat both Porto at home, and Marseille away, to reach the knockout stages: a tall order indeed.

I usually enjoy listening to what Bernd Schuster has to say about football. The Real Madrid coach is one of the more intelligent managers in the game, and generally doesn't deal in nonsense.

Nevertheless, Schuster should have kept his mouth shut after Saturday's 2-0 defeat away to Sevilla. Comprehensively outplayed by the Andalucian side, Real Madrid elected not to accept their fate with grace. Instead, Schuster had a verbal go at referee Alvarez Izquierdo.

Having commentated on the game for ESPN viewers around the world, I can confirm that this inexperienced official was out of his depth. Yet that had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. Sevilla were simply too good on the night.

Schuster chose to focus on the fact that Alvarez Izquierdo hails from the Barcelona area. 'He is Catalan? There is nothing more to say,' the Real Madrid boss said.

Don't get me wrong. The officiating in La Liga is shockingly bad as a rule. Far too much time is spent being fair to regional referees'committes as regards appointments for big matches. It would be better spent properly identifying the best refs in the country.

Most of the time though, players, not officials decide games. That was certainly the case in Seville at the weekend.

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