Benitez feels vindicated by Crouch's fine form
Apr 1 2006
By Ian Doyle, Daily Post
THE man who couldn't score has become the man who is always being replaced. But, according to Rafael Benitez, that's a sign of the growing importance of Peter Crouch to Liverpool.
The forward attracted a host of plaudits for his display in leading the line during last week's derby victory over Everton, with the early sending-off of Steven Gerrard increasing the pressure on Crouch to perform his target-man duties.
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Jamie Carragher called it "one of Peter's best games for the club at a time when we really needed it". For Benitez, it was simply further vindication of his decision to hand £7million to Southampton for the striker's services last summer.
Having infamously gone 18 games without scoring at the beginning of his Anfield career, Crouch has netted 12 in his last 25 - 13 should the FA's dubious goals panel ever get round to awarding the striker his headed opener against Newcastle United in December.
Despite competition from Djibril Cisse, Fernando Morientes and Robbie Fowler up front, Crouch has started 11 of Liverpool's last 12 games.
And although he has been substituted a remarkable 27 times already this campaign, Benitez believes that statistic underlines how Crouch has become an integral part of this Liverpool team.
"Sometimes you want to protect the player and we have enough good strikers to change, so when a player is working really hard and we have options on the bench, then we can change things," explains Benitez.
The last few games in which Crouch has come off, we knew he was playing well but we wanted to give confidence to some of the other strikers and support them.
"If you want to press high up the pitch like we do, then the strikers need to work really hard as well. Crouch is working really hard for the team and sometimes you need fresh legs.
"We have Crouch, Morientes, Cisse and Fowler, so we have the players to change things around.
"Crouch is running a lot, and as a striker it is not easy to do that. I had one player at Extremadura called Igor Gluscevic who ran more than any other player and ended up scoring 24 goals one season. Crouch is working a similar amount.
"But the most important thing is that he is doing more than simply running about. He gives us other options in attack. He is improving, but perhaps he can say better than me in what areas he is doing better.
"He is doing the same things now as he was earlier in the season, but he now has more confidence and more game intelligence."
The tendency to substitute the strikers thwarted Crouch's attempts to register his first hat-trick for Liverpool after netting twice in the 7-0 FA Cup romp at Birmingham City last month.
And Benitez admits: "Watching the video later on, I thought that maybe he could have stayed on and scored a hat-trick, but during the game I am thinking about the future and we needed to use some other players. It was a clear decision to give another team-mate a possibility to get a game.
"Can you keep the player on for 90 minutes just to see if he can score a hat-trick? No. I am not thinking about individuals, I am thinking about the team."
That team ethic is largely the reason behind Crouch's regular presence in the starting line-up this campaign. Although goals were slow in coming initially, the 25-year-old has provided the extra qualities Benitez had been seeking from his Liverpool side. And the manager has hailed the character shown by Crouch during his barren spell, and in rising to the challenge of going up against fellow World Cup hopeful James Beattie last week.
"We heard a lot about Peter Crouch not scoring earlier this season, and I always said the same thing," says Benitez.. "It is not the number of goals but the number of things he can give to the team, such as the buttists, the flick-ons and his pbutting.
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"At that time, he had problems with not scoring goals but he showed character and last week when people were talking about the World Cup and Beattie and Crouch, he showed character to deliver that performance.
"It is not easy when you are so tall. All the people are watching you all the time. Peter likes to play good football and sometimes he is concentrating on the ball and not the defenders around him.
"When we decided to sign him, we knew he was a good professional and a nice boy, and he has shown all those things. I wasn't thinking about the number of goals he was going to score, we wanted a target man to give us more possibilities of holding the ball."
Benitez points to the 3-1 win at Newcastle United a fortnight ago as a perfect example of how Crouch has made a difference since his arrival.
"Before the Newcastle game, with us playing only two days later against Birmingham I was thinking about using another formation," he says.. "We played with three defenders there last season with Milan Baros up front and Steven Gerrard as a second striker, and we could not keep the ball.
This season we did the same thing but with Peter Crouch up front, and he kept the ball and gave us all the things that we wanted."
While Crouch is likely to once again start when Liverpool travel to West Bromwich Albion this evening, Robbie Fowler - striving to extend his Anfield stay beyond the end of the season - has seen his opportunities to impress limited by ineligibility and the form of his fellow strikers.
And Benitez admits: "The reason Fowler is not playing as much is because the others have been scoring goals. Crouch is playing well, and if one of the strikers keeps scoring goals then he will play more than the others.
"We could talk about Fowler and Morientes and Cisse, but the reason they are not playing as much as Crouch is that Crouch is scoring goals now.
"Robbie knows that with Crouch scoring goals then it will be more difficult for him to play.
"I am happy with Robbie. He is working really well and I am also happy with Morientes and Cisse."
Liverpool, meanwhile, are attempting to resolve the problem caused by Mohamed Sissoko's protective glbuttes.
The midfielder was troubled by the glbuttes during his comeback game at Birmingham, and dispensed with them altogether against Everton last weekend.
"We are trying to find solutions and find some different glbuttes," says Benitez.
"We need to know if it's possible for him to play with a pair of glbuttes that can sometimes be taken off and rest on his head when he wants a break from them, like Edgar Davids does."