Brilliant Benayoun silences dissenting voices
"There isn't frustration; there's resignation." Of all Jose Reina's quotes, that might have been the most instructive. The goalkeeper, hardly a man known for his outspoken comments, seemed to reveal the mood of the club.
Reading Reina's words, it appeared Liverpool were tendering their resignation from the title race. Watching them shortly afterwards, however, a very different impression was given. Burnley, with their commitment to passing football and their reluctance to bully more vaunted opponents, may have provided ideal opponents but with Anfield bathed in sunshine and Yossi Benayoun glowing after delivering a hat-trick, this was not an occasion when disharmony disrupted Liverpool.
Yet the goalkeeper's words, which may reveal Rafa Benitez's feelings, shows that initial annoyance at the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett has given way to something deeper along with the recognition that the situation is unlikely to be resolved in the near future. By this calculation, something in the region of £29m has gone missing from Benitez's budget for transfers. By Reina's estimates, that may be the difference between title-winners and contenders.
However, Liverpool retain a core of players of genuine ability. The name of Benayoun may not often be found in that select group yet the Israeli, continuing where he left off at the end of last season, produced a tremendous display and provided his third Liverpool hat-trick, all in different competitions. A second 4-0 win in three home games could have been still more conclusive.
Four more than sufficed. Benayoun broke the deadlock by jinking past two defenders to place a low shot past Brian Jensen. The second was the sole goal he did not score, but it followed one of his shots. Jensen parried it, but Kuyt followed up to score. "It looked offside to me," said Owen Coyle. Benitez agreed about its importance, though its validity was less of a worry to him. "For me, the second goal was key."
The third and fourth were both tap-ins. A rampaging Gerrard unselfishly set up Benayoun for his second, before his treble was completed following a pass from Andriy Voronin. Having briefly raised his rather lowly reputation, the Ukrainian promptly lowered it again by squandering a late chance to score a fifth.
He is Liverpool's resident replacement this season. For Benayoun, the super-sub tag may have been shed. "We know that he is a player with quality," added Benitez. "We have seen how good he is coming from the bench. Some games he has played from the beginning haven't been as good as he was today. His movement was fantastic."
The Israeli was granted a licence to roam as part of the reshuffle caused by Javier Mascherano's absence with a pelvis injury. Steven Gerrard dropped deeper to orchestrate proceedings majestically "For me Steven Gerrard could play at right back and still be effective," said Coyle. "If I have to play Gerrard on the left, I will do it," said a mischievous Benitez, aware of his captain's role in the England team.
Now he formed half of a new-look partnership. Where it was Mascherano and Xabi Alonso last season, now it was Gerrard and Lucas. "For me, he was the key player today," added his manager after one of the Brazilian's better displays. "The fans could see today that Lucas is a worker and he has quality. He was working so hard in different positions he allowed other players to have more freedom."
Liverpool's season may yet depend upon whether the injured Alberto Aquilani proves a worthy successor to Alonso. Without him, however, their problems may have been exaggerated. That could involve an element of revisionist thinking, yet it is worth remembering that they were unfortunate not to get a second penalty at Tottenham, that they were in the ascendant in the first half-hour against Aston Villa, despite the defeat, and on top in the opening 30 minutes at Bolton before trailing and then utterly dominant in the final 35 minutes.
Burnley, meanwhile, have veered between the jubilation of victories and a trio of defeats on their travels. Coyle is aware that their approach is deemed naive. However, he said: "We didn't lose because we passed the ball. We lost because we gave away soft goals. We will look to continue to pass and move the ball. Nothing will deter us from how we want to play the game."
This is a voyage into the unknown for Burnley. Their manager said: "There's got to be a sense of realism and getting that balance between realism and expectation." He could have been talking about Liverpool.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Yossi Benayoun – Among several fine performances on the Liverpool team, his clinical touch meant the Israeli gets this vote. Burnley certainly struggled to track his angled runs into the box.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: The midfielders and forwards all excelled. Their difficulties thus far have lain in defence and, while Martin Paterson shot narrowly wide inside the first minute, they weren't seriously tested. Nevertheless, it should be reassuring to see Martin Skrtel alongside Jamie Carragher again.
BURNLEY VERDICT: They began the week beating Accrington Stanley – in a philanthropic gesture to try and save their impoverished neighbours – and ended it losing at Anfield. It neatly sums up the journey Burnley have made. If, on the basis of this defeat, they might not take too many points on their travels, their home form should still save them. It may be a concern, however, that neither of the principal strikers, Paterson and Steven Fletcher, have struck in the Premier League yet.
A LOOK AT LUCAS: An interview in the match programme provided Liverpool fans with an insight into Lucas Leiva: his views on music ("I don't know much about music"), cricket ("I don't know much about it") and the Tour de France ("I don't know much about cycling"). Illuminating stuff.