LONDON, England, NOvember 30 – Kenny Dalglish paid tribute to Craig Bellamy for his contribution to Liverpool’s 2-0 League Cup quarter-final triumph at Chelsea just 48 hours after the death of the forward’s close friend Gary Speed.
Bellamy withdrew from Liverpool’s game against Manchester City two days previously after learning of the passing of the Wales manager — who was found hanged at his home on Sunday — but returned to the line-up for the trip to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
And he overcame his personal grief to produce an outstanding performance, capped by assists for both Liverpool’s goals scored by Maxi Rodriguez and Martin Kelly.
“We know he’s a fantastic footballer and he had a hugely disappointing day on Sunday, when Speedy, who he regarded as a mentor, passed away,” Dalglish said.
“For someone to come back and play like that – for any of the players who played at the weekend – it speaks volumes for him.”
Liverpool moved into the last four and remain on course for a first trophy of Dalglish’s second spell in charge at the Anfield club.
But while the manager was pleased to have progressed, he repeated his criticisms of the competition after being forced to play such a significant tie so soon after a high-pressure Premier League clash with City.
“The way we’re progressing is very significant in any cup, especially a cup that’s been cheapened by the actions of the people who run it,” he added.
“But we just brush ourselves down. We’ve got our reward and look forward to the next game.
“I know we’re in the semi-final. At least we’ve got a home game now. Three teams in the quarter-finals have got problems with fixtures and that’s totally irresponsible.
“Man City (who beat Arsenal on Tuesday) and us played on Sunday, and Crystal Palace (due to play Manchester United on Wednesday) have got a game on Friday.”
However, Liverpool’s victory came at a cost with Lucas Leiva stretchered off in the second half.
“He’s damaged his knee,” Dalglish said. “We’re not sure how it is. We don’t know what it is. Rather than speculate, we’ll best get a proper synopsis. We’ll need to get it scanned.”
The defeat was Chelsea’s third in their last four home games and threw fresh scrutiny on the position of manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Villas-Boas conceded his side’s form at Stamford Bridge wasn’t good enough and with the do or die Champions League group decider with Valencia looming in seven days time, he admitted they must improve quickly.
“The Champions League is a competition which is life and death,” he said. “This standard won’t be enough. We need to up the tempo and play that game with the ultimate desire.
“Away from home we’ve been more solid, statistically and as a team. That is a fact. At the moment at home we’ve just not been good enough. I think we need to get our fans behind us when we play at home.
“We need to get the emotions right. I know, and you can feel, Stamford Bridge has become anxious about Chelsea playing at home, but we need their full support behind. That’s the only way you can build the atmosphere to take us through this period.”
Villas-Boas had made nine changes and restored Fernando Torres to the starting line-up, although he indicated the Spain forward had not done enough to retain his place for the weekend trip to Newcastle when Didier Drogba is likely to return.
“We believe in him and will continue to pursue his individual form,” he said. “Our task, as technical staff, is to get the best out of a player so if we don’t do that we’ve failed. It takes time.
“He faces tough competition. We’ll go back to 4-3-3 against Newcastle and he’s still going to have to compete. Didier is showing good signs of returning. Fernando has shown that ability before and can again.”