Liverpool 4 Sheffield Utd 0

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 26, 2007 8:07 am    Post subject: Liverpool 4 Sheffield Utd 0  Reply with quote   

February 26, 2007

RAFA BENITEZ has pulled off plenty of miracles in less than three years as Liverpool boss.

So when the Spaniard casts his eye around this summer and starts looking for God, you would not wager too much against him finding his man.

The Almighty he is seeking, however, is a replica of the man already sporting such a monicker at Anfield — Robbie Fowler.

Benitez has plucked countless rabbits from the hat in his quest to take the Reds back to the glory days of old.

Yet, for all he has transformed the squad from a bunch of nearly-but-not-quites into genuine big guns once more, the Kop boss knows there is one glaring hole.

And Fowler — hailed as God by the fans — hammered home the point that, despite the feelgood factor increasing by the week at Anfield, they still lack a natural sharpshooter.

Benitez was still cutting his teeth coaching Real Madrid’s youth team when Fowler bagged the first of his 183 strikes for the club in 1993.

His knowledge of the Liverpool legend has largely been gained from old videos of Robbie in his pomp.

But even now, in what is surely the final year of his Anfield career, Fowler can still stick the ball away better than anyone on the books.

The fans know it, the players know it, and — most importantly of all — Benitez knows it as well.

That is highly unlikely to earn another deal when his current one expires in May. The manager is not a guy who works on sentiment.

But finding a 21st Century Fowler, now that may be asking a bit even of a man like Benitez.

Even he seemed to think so. The Kop boss said: “If we can create chances for him, we know he’s a very good finisher, the best we have.

“If he can score goals every game, we will see, you never know. But we have a lot of games to play so we can talk about his future later.

“But if he’s not with us next season, then we will need to look for another one like him.”

Fowler’s two first-half penalties against Sheffield United made it four goals in as many Premiership starts this term.

Compare that to Peter Crouch’s six in 15 and Dirk Kuyt’s nine in 22 and you realise why Benitez has spent so long bemoaning his side’s inability to turn chances into goals.

At 31 and with the legs wearying, clearly Fowler cannot provide the cutting edge for much longer.

Yet for now, even his team-mates are simply delighting in playing alongside one of the modern game’s true greats, albeit fleetingly.

Kuyt was almost starry-eyed when asked what Fowler brings to the party. The Dutchman insisted: “I think Robbie has shown us yet again that he’s a legend.

“It’s hard when you’re not in the squad all the time, and not always playing. But yet he scored twice today and also played really well.

“He’s very important for the team, even when he’s not on the pitch with us. It’s unbelievable the way he finishes his penalties.

“He’s still got a very cool head and is a very good player. I think Robbie is, like I said, just very important for the team.

“Even off the pitch he tries to help the younger people, like me when I first came here. That’s really important, but obviously the final decision isn’t up to me.”

Given the choice, you sense Fowler would like to play the Blades every week. Three of his goals have come against them — all penalties.

Yet even from the spot he showed the cool-eyed approach of the deadliest assassin, burying one in the corner then cheekily dinking a second into the opposite side.

With a little more luck he would have taken the match ball home as well. Only Paddy Kenny’s dive kept out a rasping drive.

Not that Neil Warnock was hailing the finishing of Fowler. More the shrewdness of Steven Gerrard in winning the first spot-kick.

Rob Kozluk did have an arm on the Reds skipper as they waited for a corner. But it was hardly enough to send him tumbling as he did.

After a similarly dubious kick at Bramall Lane on the opening day, little wonder Warnock told Gerrard what he thought at half-time.

The United boss said: “I told him I was disappointed in how he won the penalty. But then again I don’t think you can really blame him.

“Steve Bennett is a manufactured referee and if you look at Gerrard’s eyes, he knew he was going to get the penalty.”

Given some of the things aimed at Warnock over the years, pot, kettle and black spring to mind when he starts taking a moral stance.

Yet he was honest enough to admit Kozluk should not have raised his arms in the first place. A point proved when he was hauled off four minutes later.

The second penalty, on 25 minutes, was more clear-cut as Nick Montgomery dragged back Gerrard. Not even Warnock could dispute that nor the result, made even more conclusive with second-half strikes by Sami Hyypia and Gerrard.

Hyypia headed in after Jermaine Pennant’s corner hit Chris Morgan on 70 minutes. And three minutes later Fowler set up Gerrard to drill a fine shot into the far corner.

Throw in Javier Mascherano’s pleasing debut on top of that win in Barcelona, and it has been a pretty decent few days for Benitez.

Mascherano looked a fish out of water in the first half. But once the Argentine found his legs, there was plenty to be optimistic about.

Benitez added: “It was difficult for him and for Gerrard to play because they were pressing hard.

“But as soon as we scored and the game was opened up, the two of them started playing better.

“Javier was tired at the end but he was really happy.”

Now, if only they can find the new Fowler things really will be looking up.

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