Monday, April 5, 2010

Rafa defends Torres substitution

Rafa Benitez has defended his decision to substitute “exhausted” striker Fernando Torres in yesterday’s 1-1 draw against Birmingham City.

The stalemate at St Andrew’s delivered a major blow to Liverpool’s hopes of claiming the final Champions League place.

And the club’s 20-goal top scorer was left to watch the final 25 minutes from the bench after being replaced by David Ngog.

The French rookie missed three glorious chances to grab a winner late on but Benitez insisted he had no regrets about taking Torres off.

“Fernando was exhausted,” Benitez said.

“He was really tired and he had some ice to protect his knee. You have to manage these things.

“I thought Ngog came on and did a really good job.

“All the players want to be out there on the pitch to make a difference and Fernando knew we needed to win.

“But it was clear that we needed fresh legs. You could see that Ngog’s fresh legs with Ryan Babel made a big difference in the last few minutes.”

It was the sixth successive draw in meetings between the two clubs and extended Liverpool’s wait for a first away win of 2010.

The point leaves them sixth in the Premier League, four points behind fourth placed Manchester City having played a game more.

However, with five matches to play, Benitez is refusing to throw in the towel in the race for Champions League qualification.

“We have to keep going and there are still a lot of points to play for,” he added.

“We were talking before about maybe needing to win six games in a row. We knew that maybe we could afford one draw.

“Now we have less margin for error and we have to win five in a row.

“We have to believe we can win our games and we have to have confidence that the other teams will lose.

“Our challenge now is to win every game.”

Steven Gerrard’s curling shot broke the deadlock early in the second half but just nine minutes later some woeful defending allowed Liam Ridgewell to equalise.

Liverpool dominated the closing stages and Benitez was left to rue a stack of missed opportunities.

Benitez said: “Birmingham are a good side who are doing a very good job but I felt we deserved to win the game.

“They were working really hard but we played well.

“We had a very good chance in the first half and then had a lot of good chances in the second half.

“It is a pity. We knew it was tough as this is a difficult place to come but we deserved three points.

“Whenever you concede a goal you are disappointed but the way we conceded today was really disappointing. It was poor defending – very bad.”

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