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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
There is a frog in Central America, the strawberry poison dart frog, that is born bright red as a warning to predators of the poison that lurks in its blood stream. It is not the only creature whose colour signifies danger. Certain snakes, insects and the oft-spotted Rafa Benitez all share the same sinister markings. The last time I saw Benitez glowing red was after the pitiful defeat at Upton Park last season when a journalist almost had his head bitten off in the press conference for picking up on the Liverpool manager's insistence that he could still qualify for Europe and asking him to clarify whether he meant the Champions League or the UEFA Cup.

When Benitez stormed into the press conference after being spanked silly at White Hart Lane, his face was marked by those same alarming red blotches, radiating like a beacon of caution to the assembled hacks. Look, but don't touch. Naturally, it was ignored.

"We needed to play well, instead we played badly," glowered Benitez. "We made some bad mistakes in defence."

He can say that again. Liverpool were astonishingly poor at the back, shipping three goals in seven calamtous minutes. Without the calming influence of Jamie Carragher, the mis-matched defence was under permanent assault from the Tottenham front-line. Philipp Degen and Andreas Dossena were all at sea, pushed back by a much improved Alan Hutton and Gareth Bale, while the relationship between Diego Cavalieri, Sami Hyypia and Daniel Agger could only be described as 'strained'.

Despite this, Benitez insisted that the team he selected was good enough to win the match and that there was no excuse for their performance.

"You have to use the whole squad in this competition as you can't have players playing in every game, especially when you are playing twice a week. Some need to rest and you need to use the squad. Many of the players brought in tonight are internationals and have quality. But it is clear that they didn’t play well as a team."

Benitez may have been in the room, but it was clear that his sense of humour had left some time ago. He didn't smile once, barely made eye contact with anyone and couldn't wait to get out. The journalists began to back off. Those red markings were doing their job.

But what of the financial difficulties reported this week, asked a brave straggler. The suggestions from Keith Harris that key players will have to be sold if Liverpool are to survive, the concerns over the very future of the club?

"At this time," said Benitez carefully, "I am so disappointed with the result that I cannot think of anything else."

I see. What then of the ongoing talks on your new contract, something that might provide the club with some much needed stability?

"At this time," repeated Benitez, his eyes glowing ever so slightly to match his cheeks, "I am so disappointed with the result that I cannot think of anything else."

The press room took an intake of breath and shuffled backwards a little. Some frogs aren't supposed to be tormented.

STUPIDEST MOVE - The English comedian Phil Cornwell who announced over loudspeaker at half-time that the win was, "in the bag." Like Liverpool have never come back from 3-0 down at half-time before....

GAPS IN DEFENCE - It was a comedy of errors at the back for Liverpool. Neither of the full-backs seemed able to cope with the onslaught, Sami Hyypia was slower than a Merchant Ivory movie and Daniel Agger seemed genuinely confused at the performance of his goalkeeper.

DODGY KEEPER - Diego Cavalieri had an absolute stinker. He looked uncomfortable from the start and it went downhill from there. As his confidence fell, so did his ability to marshall his penalty area and he left the field a broken man. Gomes wasn't much better, but he had his head kicked in, so we'll let him off.

PUNTERS RANT - Punters could only rant against themselves if they backed Liverpool. Everybody knew that Benitez was going to send out a second string and it will take more than reserves to burst Tottenham's bubble right now.

MAN OF THE MATCH - Operating as the pivot in a 4-1-3-2 formation, Didier Zokora ran his scoks off at White Hart Lane, laying down a pass embargo between the Liverpool midfielders and strikers. One superb sliding tackle late on won him a huge round of applause and this was a fine performance.

Crowd: 33,242
Yellow cards: Pavluchenko, Campbell (Spurs); Plessis, Babel, Lucas (Liverpool)
Gomes 6 (Cesar 6, 73rd), Alan Hutton 7, Gareth Bale 8, Didier Zokora 8, Tom Huddlestone 7, Aaron Lennon 7, Roman Pavlyuchenko 8 (Kevin Prince-Boateng 6, 90th), Frazier Campbell 8 (Darren Bent 6, 90th), Michael Dawson 7, Vedran Corluka 8, Jamie O'Hara 7
Diego Cavalieri 4, Andrea Dossena 5, Sami Hyypia 5, Daniel Agger 6, Fernando Torres 5 (Emiliano Insua 6, 55th), Ryan Babel 7, Lucas 7, David N'Gog 5, Philipp Degen 6 (Stephen Darby 6, 84th), Damien Plessis 6 (Xabi Alonso 7, 65th), Nabil El Zhar 4