Monday 21 August 2017

Benitez wants protection for globe-trotters

Portsmouth 0
Liverpool 0

LIVERPOOL manager Rafael Benitez compared his players' recent schedules to those of Phileas Fogg on Saturday, but Jules Verne's fictional traveller had a generous 80 days in which to travel around the world. And he did not have to play 90 hard minutes at Fratton Park within hours of getting back to the Reform Club.

Thanks to the demands of television, this was the second of four away matches Liverpool have been asked to play this season at Saturday lunchtime after two-week international breaks. And nobody benefited.

The result was that Sky Sports got a turgid affair that must have had many viewers switching off their television sets in boredom as two disjointed teams struggled to overcome the draining effects of their international exertions in midweek.

And the Fratton Park crowd missed out on seeing world stars Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres play 90 minutes as Benitez tried to find his freshest starting line-up.

And the long-term result could be damaging to the chances of British clubs in Europe. Liverpool leave for Oporto today and will not have a proper training session until Thursday.

"Someone needs to talk to the television companies because at the end of the day you are going against your teams," Benitez said. "We are really tired and if we lose against Porto, an English team will be losing in the Champions League. If you want your teams at the top level in Europe, protect them.

"Find a solution - it is not fair to have all your players all around the world, come back on Thursday and have to play early on Saturday. My players travel more than Phileas Fogg.

"In Spain, if you play on Wednesday in the Champions League you must play on Sunday and then the TV stations change the (televised) games if necessary. For everybody, the Champions League is really, really important because it is [in] the name of the country, and I think it is important to support your clubs."

England midfielder Gerrard was rested, despite having travelled fewer miles than most, but his late appearance suggested that Liverpool would have won if he had started.

Yet they needed an excellent save by Jose Manuel Reina from Nwankwo Kanu's first-half penalty to remain on level terms and were fortunate that John Utaka and Sulley Muntari missed respectable openings.

Harry Redknapp, the Portsmouth manager, had been relieved not to see Gerrard's name in the starting XI. "I'd never feel confident enough to rest players," he said. "I think you take a big chance. But it's worked for Rafa in the past."

But has it? Benitez has reached two Champions League finals but has not come close to winning the Premier League title, although he believes that a team can again rule Europe and the domestic league.

"If we had had a little luck at the end we could have won and then everyone would have said 'fantastic'," Benitez said. "I think you could do it, but everything must be perfect." On Saturday, it was far from that.

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