Rafael Benítez admitted last night that Fernando Morientes has failed to live up to expectations since his transfer from Real Madrid a year ago, though he retains faith in his compatriot to prove his quality as a Liverpool player.
Morientes cost £6.3m in swapping the Bernabéu for Anfield but has scored only nine times in 44 appearances and has failed to deliver a goal since December 10. Indeed, he has found the net only three times in the Premiership all season with the 29-year-old too often anonymous as Liverpool struggle to improve a relatively meagre record of 31 goals in 25 games.
The Spain striker is likely to retain his place for tonight's game against Arsenal, possibly alongside Peter Crouch - recovered from an ankle injury - with his manager offering Morientes timely support. "People have expected more because he was an established name," said Benítez. "If you sign a young player people accept he will need time. If you sign a star, people want him to produce immediately. I would like to see Nando scoring more goals but I cannot say anything bad about him in terms of hard work and team work. That is the key for me. If he continues doing the same, then he will score goals.
"Nobody can say Morientes is a bad player. He is really good in the air, good with both feet, makes good movement and is a good finisher. He is a fantastic player. Is he playing at his level? Maybe not, but with the player in the stands you cannot change that. Look at Crouch. When people were saying he could not get us goals, we kept him in the team; he started to score goals and started playing well. Morientes is working really hard. You need to support a player who is working hard."
Frustration is welling among supporters at Morientes' sluggish form. He was prolific at Real - 72 goals in 112 starts in La Liga - and on loan at Monaco, where he hit nine in 12 Champions League games. But as yet he has betrayed an inability to adjust, offering only flashes, and is too often lost in a withdrawn position when Liverpool might benefit more from his presence in the six-yard box.
He has undoubtedly lacked service much of the time. Even with Harry Kewell in form and Luis García or Steven Gerrard on the opposite flank, Morientes has been denied the crosses from which to flourish. His confidence has fallen as a result.
"I would like to see Djibril Cissé, Crouch, Morientes and now Robbie Fowler scoring a lot of goals but I can't say to them: 'You must score goals now,'" added Benítez, who gives Jamie Carragher his 400th Liverpool appearance tonight. "You tell them they must work hard and do their job, and then they will score. They are all good players with experience in big games, and this type of match could be good for Morientes. But I don't have problems with the situation. Maybe the best saves in the league have been against Morientes. He's unlucky in that respect. Strikers need quality - all of mine have that - and they need luck."
No current Liverpool striker has scored in 2006, although the suspicion remains that Morientes especially must show his ability tonight.
Gilberto Silva has called on his Arsenal team-mates to emerge from their "transitional period" with a win, however. The Gunners must record what would be only their fourth Premiership success at Anfield in 14 visits if they are to cut the gap on Liverpool to four points. Nonetheless, Gilberto is confident that Arsène Wenger's young side are capable of a win.
"We're chasing Tottenham, then Liverpool to finish third," he said. "It's is not going to be easy but it will be very frustrating if we don't finish in the top four," the Brazilian said. "We've had a lot of injuries. But football changes all the time."
Copyright - the Guardian