Rapid Vienna 1, Liverpool FC 0

By Tony Barrett on Jul 19, 09 08:49 PM in Journalists

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AS Rafa Benitez prepares for a campaign in which he will bid to bring an end to Liverpool's ever increasing wait for the league title, the Reds boss must have been delighted to see a visit to the Ernst Happel Stadium appear on his pre-season schedule.

It was, after all, at this wonderful sporting arena that one of football's longest and most inexplicable hoodoos was laid to rest.

And what's more, ending that jinx wouldn't have been possible without members of the Reds squad.


Spain had waited 44 years for a major trophy when Fernando Torres struck the winning goal in last year's European Championship final, marking the Ernst Happel as the place where even the most enduring and exacting of waits can be brought to a merciful end.

Liverpool's wait for that elusive number 19 has been nowhere near that long of course, but while no trophies or glory were up for grabs last night, the stadium named in honour of the man considered the guiding father of Austrian football did provide a symbolic setting for the start of a journey which Benitez has undertaken.

The fact that Liverpool lost to Rapid Vienna is obviously not the best of omens for those who place great store on the coincidence of history and portents.

Nor does defeat indicate anything particularly noteworthy on a night when Liverpool had spent most of the day preparing for a midnight long haul flight to Asia and an occasion when Benitez again chose to put enhanced fitness ahead of improved results.

There will be elements of the performance which will have displeased the Reds boss, though, and having thrown the gauntlet down to some of the fringe players in his squad he will have been disappointed with the manner in which some of them have responded.

Reputations can rarely be made during the phoney war that is pre-season but they can be enhanced and precious few of the lesser lights in the current Liverpool set up can claim to have done that.

Against Rapid they struggled badly with precious few chances being created in attack and far too many being conceded in defence and had it not been for the errant use of a linesman's flag the home team's margin of victory could have been greater.

There are countless mitigating circumstances, of course, none the least of which is the fact that the Reds boss is happy to use these early pre-season encounters as glorified training matches as he tries to give as many players as possible some much needed playing time.

As the clock ticks down towards the kick off of Liverpool's Premier League campaign at Spurs on August 16 then Benitez's approach will become increasingly refined with the wheat being separated from the chaff. For the time being it is quantity rather than quality which remains the order of the day.

Maybe things would have turned out differently against Rapid had Krisztian Nemeth taken a very presentable headed opportunity in the early stages. Maybe.

But seeing as that was the only chance of any real note that Liverpool created in the entire 90 minutes then it would be stretching credulity to the point of breaking point to suggest that a single strike could have altered proceedings too dramatically.

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What Benitez made of the performance of Philipp Degen is anyone's guess. On the plus side the staff at Vienna's A&E department will have breathed a huge sigh of relief as the Swiss international came through his second successive game without being injured.

But it will not have gone unnoticed that Degen's positional play is not improving in direct relation to his physical well being.

Time after time he was caught upfield as the hosts mounted a counter attack and it seemed only a matter of time before such irresponsibility would prove costly and so it proved when Rapid took a decisive lead.

There did not seem to be too much danger when the Austrians advanced over the halfway line but with their right back nowhere to be seen Liverpool's defence was left short handed and the retreating Dirk Kuyt was forced into conceding a free kick on the edge of his own box.

Steffen Hofmann took full advantage, firing home a curling effort with his right foot which Reds substitute keeper David Martin will perhaps feel he could have done better with.

The celebrations that followed that strike were quite breathtaking considering how relatively meaningless the occasion was, but maybe it just served to underline Sammy Lee's pre-match point that opposition teams always want to beat Liverpool.

From that point on Liverpool toiled without ever looking likely to grab an equaliser and Benitez was left increasingly perplexed by the antics of his opposite number, Peter Pacult, who seemed hell bent on securing victory by whatever means.

Defeat will not have felt good ahead of a ten hour flight to Asia, but at least the strength and quality of Liverpool's squad has been bolstered by the return to action of Javier Mascherano who made an appearance as a second half substitute.

Equally, the Reds boss will have been delighted to see the Spanish quintet of Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso, Albert Riera and Fernando Torres back in tow.

In the case of Alonso it is still open to question as to whether his stay with the Reds squad will be a brief diversion en route to Madrid, but as long as he remains a Liverpool player Benitez insists he will continue to use him as such.

Now the Spaniard will look for an improvement in standards all around if his dream of being the manager who ends that long wait comes true.

RAPID VIENNA: Payer, Katzer, Eder, Patocka, Dober, Drazan, Heikkinen, Pehlivan, Hofmann, Hoffer, Jelavic.

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool: Cavalieri (Martin, 46), Insua (Mascherano, 65), Carragher (San Jose, 46), Ayala (Skrtel, 46), Degen (Kelly, 65), Babel (Benayoun, 46), Gerrard (Spearing, 46), Plessis (Lucas, 46), El Zhar (Kuyt, 46), Nemeth (Pacheco, 46), Voronin (Ngog, 46).

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