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Crouch strikes after Rafa takes drastic action

Drastic circumstances call for drastic action. Rafael Benitez's remedy to Liverpool's recently exploited frailties was to field a 3-4-3 line-up, as Craig Bellamy, Peter Crouch and Dirk Kuyt started up front together for the first time, and he was richly rewarded as Crouch's two goals inspired a comfortable win.

It was not just the personnel and the formation that were different. Their approach play was a novelty in comparison to the tame cup surrenders against Arsenal last week. Raking passes from deep positions and high crosses into the box were used to unsettle Watford, rather than raw pace or patient passing.

The product was low on quality and entertainment value but effective none the less once a poor early spell had been overcome. Liverpool's aerial threat from dead-ball situations ensured the pressure on the home side gradually built and they crumbled after the impressive Bellamy opened the scoring. 'All of them did their jobs,' said Benitez of the front three that he started with.
There were seven changes to the Liverpool side that started last Tuesday. Benitez's critics will be silenced - for a while at least - but the Liverpool manager feels the negativity he has experienced towards him over the past week has been unjustified. 'I was surprised but if the people who are criticising you don't understand and analyse what we are doing, you cannot do anything,' said Benitez, who rubbished reports linking him with Real Madrid and denied a loan move for David Beckham is a possibility.

Watford's manager Aidy Boothroyd had a far more frustrating afternoon. 'I think that when you play one of the big four, sometimes there's a choke that goes on,' he said. 'They see players that they see a lot on the TV. Sometimes some of them can't cope with it.' Boothroyd also revealed that there is now an '£8million bid on the table' for Ashley Young but would not reveal other details.

Watford had the first chance as Anthony McNamee skied the ball over the bar from Jordan Stewart's corner, but that brief flurry of pressure was followed by a lengthy period of Liverpool dominance, catalysed by a 20-yard drive from Steven Gerrard.

Two free-kicks in quick succession from Gerrard quickly discomforted Watford. The first was nodded on by Crouch, on the edge of the six-yard box, across to Kuyt who could only head it straight up in the air as Ben Foster haphazardly raced out to punch.

Gerrard's next free-kick was again lofted to Crouch, lurking at the far post, who controlled on his chest before having his shot saved. A well worked corner, taken again by Liverpool's captain, led to an instinctive strike from Daniel Agger, which was ruled out for offside.

The ever creative Gerrard then supplied Crouch from open play with a swirling cross from the right, which the striker could only head at Foster. Watford's own potential for fast and physical attacking was glimpsed midway through the half. Hameur Bouazza was unfortunate to watch a 20-yard effort evade Jose Reina's grasp but roll wide and Malky Mackay also came close with a header.

Mackay had more reason to be miserable when he failed to thwart Crouch in the 34th minute as the tall striker jostled for possession and then shot at Foster. The Watford goalkeeper could only parry the ball into the path of Steve Finnan, who calmly knocked the ball across the face of goal, where the unmarked Bellamy had an easy finish from six yards.

Liverpool's second six minutes later was a route-one goal. After Reina's powerful goal kick was flicked on by Kuyt, Bellamy sprinted on to the loose ball before having his shot saved by Foster. The rebound fell kindly into the path of Crouch who headed in.

The visitors' third goal was an even clearer example of effective football in its most basic form. It was executed with the ease of a training-ground move. Gerrard initially seemed to have wasted possession with an over-ambitious first touch but recovered to pick out Fabiano Aurelio on the left flank. His first-time pass found Bellamy, who squared for Crouch to tuck in with a simple finish.

Watford were buried and Liverpool could start enjoying themselves. Crouch missed out on the chance to bag a hat-trick with a tame header from Gerrard's corner. Gerrard himself should have scored when he collected a beautifully delayed pass from Bellamy but struck his shot woefully wide.

Watford had their moments, most notably Stewart's 30-yard shot that hit the bar, but the second half had petered out into an irrelevance.

Liverpool's travelling support had voiced their support for Benitez when the game kicked off and the 'Rafa' chants were heard loud and clear at the end. He had the luxury of substituting all three of his front men before the end.

Man of the match: Peter Crouch

When Benitez deploys the tactics he used here,Crouch is an indispensable and heavily involved figure. His presence worried the Watford defence and his two goals either side of half time were a deserved personal reward.

Match Facts

Watford
Ben Foster, Jay DeMerit, Malky Mackay, Adrian Mariappa, Jordan Stewart, Alhassan Bangura (Darius Henderson), Gavin Mahon, Anthony McNamee (Will Hoskins), Hameur Bouazza, Tommy Smith, Ashley Young

Liverpool
Jose Manuel Reina, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio, Jamie Carragher, Steve Finnan, Sami Hyypia, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Craig Bellamy (Robbie Fowler), Peter Crouch (Jermaine Pennant), Dirk Kuyt (John Arne Riise)

Referee: Clattenburg, M

Venue: Vicarage Road Stadium

Attendance: 19,746

Corners:
Watford 3
Liverpool 12

Goal Attempts:
Watford 8
Liverpool 22

On Target:
Watford 4
Liverpool 13

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited

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