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Lucky Liverpool need to raise standard against Liège

Montse Benítez provided rare insight into the private life of her husband last week when she told a local radio station how Rafael loves to watch reruns of Only Fools and Horses and Father Ted. He is far less enamoured, however, by the countless repeats he witnesses in the workplace.

This is the script: Liverpool are down, way down, but are never out, attacking the Kop and steeled for another bout of pained self-analysis when the ball drops to the foot of Steven Gerrard just outside the area. You know the rest. Seconds later Liverpool's opponents, this time the emerging and bold Middlesbrough, are beaten, disconsolate and searching for reasons why. We have seen this episode many times before.

"When we are playing at Anfield and attacking the Kop; all that put together gives you the belief you can win," explained Jamie Carragher, whose fifth goal in 526 games for Liverpool - via a large deflection off Emanuel Pogatetz -was a defibrillator on a previously lifeless performance on Saturday. "We have been doing that for 30, 40 years, Liverpool have been doing that since the days of Bill Shankly, and it is something Liverpool will always continue to do." And they will remain on the margins of title contention without addressing the weaknesses that have been a constant of Benítez's reign.

Liverpool are sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League but performances thus far have resembled a crime sheet rather than a statement of intent. Fortunate to escape with a goalless draw in their Champions League qualifier against Standard Liège, they have etched two valuable league victories out of nothing courtesy of their leading lights, Fernando Torres at Sunderland and Gerrard in the fourth minute of added time here, and the lack of quality down both flanks has been glaring. Yet they are winning games that tended to yield a mere point last season.

"We haven't clicked yet, there is no hiding from that, and if we perform as we have done over the last few weeks it is going to be extremely difficult to beat Standard Liège on Wednesday," added Carragher. "They are not a Mickey Mouse team. They won their domestic league and they proved in the first leg how good they are. We realise we have to step it up a level on Wednesday but we have won two out of two and we know we will improve.

"We've got too many good players to keep performing the way we are doing at the moment. I know what the headlines would have been had we lost to Middlesbrough - they would have said the title's over. I've been here long enough to know what it's like so to reverse it and go top of the league shows what fine lines there are in football."

Liverpool's victory was desperately harsh on Gareth Southgate's team, who were the more threatening and purposeful throughout until they sat back on substitute Mido's fine opening goal and invited the pressure that produced Carragher's deflected equaliser and Gerrard's excellent finish in the dying seconds. Strong defensively and quick in attack, Middlesbrough, boasted the contest's finest central midfielder in Gary O'Neil and were a cohesive, adventurous unit. The promise of future reward under their astute manager was their only consolation at Anfield, however.

The visitors sought to exploit Liverpool's pedestrian full-backs, Álvaro Arbeloa and Andrea Dossena, at every opportunity while Xabi Alonso turned in the kind of performance that must leave Benítez pining for Gareth Barry. The only immediate improvements available to the Liverpool manager are his Olympians, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva, and his need to invest in the transfer market once again was evident in every anguished cry that his side's uninspired attacks generated. Only when substitute Nabil El Zhar arrived in the 83rd minute did Liverpool have the pace and width to stretch Middlesbrough's towering defence.

Benítez admitted: "I am very happy with the result, but I am not happy with the performance of the team. The last three games, we have not played well. If we can bring in new faces then the competition will be better for me and we can improve."

Man of the Match Jamie Carragher (Liverpool)

Bookings: Arbeloa 27, Keane 78, Mido 79.

Liverpool's Percentage - Middlesbrough's Percentage

Corners 14 82% - 3 18%
Goal attempts 16 64% - 9 36%
On target 8 66% - 4 34%
Fouls 10 45% - 12 55%

Teams:

Jose Manuel Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa (Nabil El Zhar, 83), Andrea Dossena (Fabio Aurelio, 75), Martin Skrtel, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Yossi Benayoun (Ryan Babel, 65), Dirk Kuyt, Robbie Keane, Fernando Torres

Middlesbrough: Ross Turnbull, Andrew Taylor (Justin Hoyte, 75), David Wheater, Emanuel Pogatetz, Robert Huth, Mohamed Shawky, Stewart Downing, Gary O'Neil, Sanli Tuncay (Didier Digard, 87), Martins Afonso Alves (Ahmed Hossam Mido, 60), Jeremie Aliadiere

Copyright - The Guardian

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