Football: Time Reds Fronted Up to Striker Truth; ANALYSIS Rafa Needs Someone Who Can Turn Good Possession into Goals

Article excerpt

Byline: David Prentice

THE irony was lost on no-one - not least a glut of grateful sports hacks looking for an easy intro to Sunday's sports reports.

You could almost hear the sigh of relief on Saturday as the pre-match Kop mosaic spelled out the message ' Free Michael'.

With kick-off delayed for almost 20 minutes, and deadlines becoming increasingly pressing, all Fleet Street's finest needed for an easy opener about Real Madrid and Michael Owen was an ineffective afternoon from Liverpool's front-men.

They responded magnificently. Fernando Morientes ventured into the Sunderland penalty area just once all afternoon - and planted a free header wide of the target - Djibril Cisse brought to mind a more intricately coiffured version of Stuart Barlow, while Rafa Benitez has already decided Milan Baros is surplus to requirements.

Liverpool had to rely on an exquisitely cultivated free-kick from midfield man Xabi Alonso to win a match they could have killed off with more precise finishing.

The Reds' boss has a ready-made reaction now to the almost daily probing about any interest in Michael Owen.

It is to list the number of strikers already at his disposal - and to say, with a twinkle in his eye: "I need a centre-back!"

None of those strikers he lists, however, look capable of turning decent possession into goals - the kind of possession Liverpool enjoyed on Saturday, but still ended up fearing a last minute breakaway from a tidy and inventive Sunderland side.

Of course Peter Crouch still has to come into the equation, but his qualities as a footballer have not, so far, included prolific goal-poaching.

Fernando Morientes has, but in the increasingly distant past. Polished and hard-working outside the penalty area, the Spaniard was rarely spotted in goal poaching territory.

And when Cisse did go into goalscoring positions he looked less than assured, although he was denied a decent strike by a linesman with the optical equipment of Blind Pew. …