Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admits the time has come for his Premier League leaders to show they have the strength in depth to sustain a title challenge. The Reds laboured to beat a stubborn Portsmouth side 1-0 at Anfield yesterday evening, after the Spaniard made four changes to the team that stunned Chelsea at the weekend.
Benitez gambled by resting Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano, Albert Riera and Robbie Keane, and it took a late Steven Gerrard penalty to condemn Tony Adams to defeat in his first match since being announced as Harry Redknapp's permanent successor in the Pompey hot-seat. But the former Valencia coach insists that, having largely kept a settled team so far this season, he will now be forced to rotate on a more regular basis.
"," Benitez said. "Against Portsmouth it was clear that two or three players could give us fresh legs and now we need to manage the squad.
"We knew that the game against Portsmouth would be difficult so we used players with different qualities, and then we were changing and trying to find other solutions. We were looking for different options and we had confidence that we could score."
Liverpool remain three points clear at the summit of the Premier League, having dropped just four points in their first ten matches of the season. But Benitez, who is hopeful that Fernando Torres will return from a hamstring problem at Tottenham Hotspur this weekend, maintains that only a short-term view will give the Reds a chance of winning a first league title since 1990.
"After the victory against Chelsea, to get three points against Portsmouth was really important and to change four or five players and still win is a message for the squad that we can change players and we can still win. We will try to be top of the table for a long time, but we will just keep thinking about one game at a time and the next three points."
In Adams's first official game in charge of Portsmouth, he surprisingly left striker Jermain Defoe, who has scored six goals in his nine Premier League starts, on the bench. But the former England defender insists there is no problem with his leading marksman, and may persist with a five-man midfield on Pompey's travels, with Defoe or Peter Crouch left on the sidelines.
"I will make tactical decisions, I will make technical decisions, physiological decisions and emotional decisions," Adams explained. "I want Jermain to be Portsmouth's top goalscorer and he will be, and I want him to push to be the top scorer in the league and I think he can.
"We've been getting smashed up away from home. We'd lost to Braga 3-0 and 6-0 at Manchester City. I played with a 4-5-1 against the league leaders and that's why Jermain was rested.
". He understands and next week it might be Peter's turn or someone else's turn, but I'm a big fan of Jermain Defoe and we'll see what happens against Wigan now."
Liverpool were made to work hard for the points, but could have been in front before Gerrard's penalty. Dirk Kuyt headed into the ground from a Ryan Babel cross, and Lucas had a shot deflected wide after he burst on to Gerrard's pass, with Sami Hyypia heading inches wide from the resulting corner.
And when it looked like substitute Yossi Benayoun would finally make the breakthrough from a Gerrard pass, he was denied by Sylvain Distin's sliding challenge as he prepared to shoot. But just as Portsmouth were looking like holding on for a point, Papa Bouba Diop threw two hands at Fabio Aurelio's resulting corner as he attempted to stop Hyypia, and Gerrard made no mistake from the spot.