Defiant Benitez vows to keep rotating
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez saw Yossi Benayoun clinch a 1-0 win at Wigan and then defended his controversial policy of rotating his Anfield squad.
Benitez brought Israeli international midfielder Benayoun off the bench and he justified his manager's faith with a spectacular 75th minute solo effort, the only goal of a keenly-contested victory at the JJB Stadium on Saturday.
The Liverpool manager also handed a start to the club's record signing, Spanish striker Fernando Torres, who had sat out the two previous league games which ended in disappointing goalless stalemates against Portsmouth and Birmingham.
"If you can't find a solution then you need creativity and quality and that's what Yossi gave us," said Benitez.
"He played well the other day and we needed him here this afternoon. We had chances and you need to take those chances if you want an open game.
"Because we couldn't, we needed to bring on players with different skills and that was good. I wanted to use different players, with different skills, and Yossi has the intelligence for this kind of game.
"In this case, I needed to do different things. I wanted to rotate. I changed Yossi because I needed fresh legs.
"Wigan were working hard in midfield and working hard to win second balls but, in the end, when you have different players in different areas with quality that's the key when you are talking about a top side."
The victory brought Liverpool to within four points of the top of the Premier League table and, despite a growing army of critics, Benitez is optimistic that his team can launch a concerted title challenge as the season progresses, especially given his policy of resting players.
"Last season, we were talking and saying we weren't good enough to be near the top of the table," said Benitez.
"Now, we're near the top with one game in hand. We're in a very good position, better than last year and, hopefully, we will be better at the end of the season."
Torres, who scored a hat-trick in the midweek League Cup win at Reading to earn a start at the JJB, missed a handful of half-chances but also earned the defence of his manager.
"It's easy for me on the bench but difficult for him on the pitch," said Benitez. "But you have to analyse them. One was bad luck, one was difficult."
Wigan could count themselves unlucky, having had a first half "goal" by Marcus Bent ruled out for offside before wasting a glorious chance in injury time when the unmarked Julius Aghahowa headed wide with the goal at his mercy.
"I expected everything to end up in the back of the net when that cross went over and I wasn't too pleased that it didn't," said Wigan manager Chris Hutchings.
"But in the second half, I was pleased with our performance. We can take positives out of the game, not least they had to change things around to hold onto the three points.
"They have a fantastic squad with quality players and with their rotation system, they are still getting results. I don't know why people are knocking them.
"This is a team that won the Champions League a couple of years ago and got to the Final last year. They're a tough nut to crack.
"People have criticised them but sometimes you've got to give other teams' credit for doing their homework.
"We aren't just lambs to the slaughter. We had a game plan to keep things tight for the first 20-25 minutes and it worked."