THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Wednesday 5 November ~

Liverpool had a large slice of luck – not for the first time this season – at Anfield in last night's Champions League group game, which again underlined the importance of Fernando Torres. In the dying moments of injury time Steven Gerrard entered the penalty area and leapt at Atletico Madrid defender Mariano Pernía. Gerrard duly slotted home the spot-kick to appease the Anfield fans. A relieved Rafa Benitez should be alarmed at the lack of depth in his squad which has seemed devoid of almost any goal threat since the injury to Torres. Robbie Keane, in particular, seems to have rediscovered his poor early season form. Of the 22 goal attempts they mustered, it needed the intervention of a linesman in order to hand them the draw that may see them through to the next phase. All will be forgotten by then; Torres will be back.

On the other hand Benitez will have been encouraged by events in Rome. Chelsea, going into the game on the back of some impressive performances in the league, were put to the sword by Luciano Spalletti's Roma side, the performance buying the Italian coach at least a few more weeks in the job. Overconfidence may well have been a factor after Luiz Felipe Scolari said in Wednesday's Sun: "If the hotel accepts we'll book it for next year. I will be very happy to come back here in May." It's surprising that Chelsea have made such plans. Chairman Bruce Buck recently announced the "restructuring" of their scouting network, which amounted to getting rid of a number of their overseas talent spotters. Was this done so that they could book a five-star in Rome for the Champions League final? Scolari ought address the problems last night’s performance produced before he even thinks about the Cavalieri Hotel.  

Arsène Wenger's side, however, are the polar opposite to Chelsea – impressive in Europe but awful on the home front. The Arsenal manager finally broke his silence yesterday on the events at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, roundly criticising Stoke's overzealous play, later claiming he has X-rays to prove the damage done to Emmanuel Adebayor and Theo Walcott. Wenger must have forgotten that a key player is his title-winning teams, Patrick Vieira, used to do this kind of thing on a regular basis. Arsenal are back in their comfort zone tonight as they play Fenerbahce, who they will expect to beat after winning convincingly in Turkey last month. Let's just hope for Arsène's sake they don't have someone with a long throw.

Yet another chapter in the "Battle of Britain" takes place tonight at Celtic Park between the hosts and Manchester Utd. The gloss has removed from these games in recent times in part because they happen so often and also because the English teams tend to cruise past their Scottish counterparts. Tonight will probably be more of the same, with Alex Ferguson expected to name a weakened side. Familiarity is breeding lack of interest. Jamie Hinks

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