Friday, August 31, 2007

Liverpool In For Boumsong

Italian sports daily Tuttosport claims that Liverpool are set to make a surprise move for out-of-favour Juventus stopper Jean-Alain Boumsong.

Tuttosport has claimed that Liverpool are set to pounce for Juventus stopper Jean-Alain Boumsong.

The French international centre-back is out of favour at the Old Lady and, with the arrival of the likes of Jorge Andrade over the summer, his prospects in the first team are limited at best.

Recently, Boumsong has been linked with clubs ranging from Barcelona to Lyon. Predictably, none of the rumours have as yet come to fruition.

Boumsong himself has recently claimed that he forsees a stay at Juventus, saying, "I have Juve on my mind, ready to start the new season. I'm ready to work and looking forward to enjoying time on the pitch.

"There is a 99% chance that I will be at Juve after August 31."

But Tuttosport insisted that Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is set to look to the ex-Newcastle United defender to play stopgap after the injury to Jamie Carragher.

Neither club has confirmed the news at this time.

Champions League Final Draw

UEFA Champions League holders AC Milan will begin their trophy defence against fellow European title-winners SL Benfica and Celtic FC as well as FC Shakhtar Donetsk after the group stage draw was made at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco.

The 32 teams were split into eight sections of four and while Milan were joined by Benfica and Celtic in Group D, last season's runners-up Liverpool FC must also play two former European champions, meeting FC Porto and Olympique de Marseille along with Beşiktaş JK in Group A. PFC CSKA Moskva, hoping to reach the final in their home city, will take on Group G rivals FC Internazionale Milano, PSV Eindhoven and Fenerbahçe SK.

One place in the group stage is yet to be filled, as the second leg of AEK Athens FC's third qualifying round tie with Sevilla FC was postponed to Monday 3 September due to the death of the Spanish club's midfielder Antonio Puerta on Tuesday. The eventual winners will play in Group H against Arsenal FC, FC Steaua Bucureşti and SK Slavia Praha, newcomers to this stage.

The group stage fixtures will be played on 18/19 September, 2/3 October, 23/24 October, 6/7 November, 27/28 November and 11/12 December, though Milan's last game will be on 4 December due to their participation in the FIFA Club World Cup. The winners and runners-up from each pool will progress to the first knockout round in the spring, with the final set for Moscow on 21 May. Teams finishing third in each section will have the consolation of going into the UEFA Cup Round of 32.

2007/08 UEFA Champions League group stage:

Group A:
Liverpool FC (ENG), FC Porto (POR), Olympique de Marseille (FRA), Beşiktaş JK (TUR)

Group B:
Chelsea FC (ENG), Valencia CF (ESP), FC Schalke 04 (GER), Rosenborg BK (NOR)

Group C:
Real Madrid CF (ESP), Werder Bremen (GER), SS Lazio (ITA), Olympiacos CFP (GRE)

Group D:
AC Milan (ITA), SL Benfica (POR), Celtic FC (SCO), FC Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR)

Group E:
FC Barcelona (ESP), Olympique Lyonnais (FRA), VfB Stuttgart (GER), Rangers FC (SCO)

Group F:
Manchester United FC (ENG), AS Roma (ITA), Sporting Lisbon (POR), FC Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)

Group G:
Inter Milan (ITA), PSV Eindhoven (NED), PFC CSKA Moskva (RUS), Fenerbahçe SK (TUR)

Group H:
Arsenal FC (ENG), FC Steaua Bucureşti (ROU), SK Slavia Praha (CZE), Sevilla FC (ESP) / AEK Athens FC (GRE)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Benitez Happy With Options

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez was delighted with his side's 4-0 Champions League thumping of Toulouse at Anfield, which he says emphasised the strength he now has in his squad.

The Reds welcomed the French side to Anfield with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, and had to complete the job of making the group stages of the Champions League without Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

However, they never looked like being troubled and goals from Peter Crouch, Sami Hyypia and a late Dirk Kuyt double saw last season's European Cup finalists safely into the last 32 of this year's competition.

Benitez made seven changes to the side that started the 2-0 win at Sunderland on Saturday, with Crouch starting just his second game of the season alongside Kuyt, both of whom got off the mark for the season.

With Yossi Benayoun also looking in good touch and young South Americans Sebastian Leto and Lucas Leiva making their debuts, Benitez is delighted with the strength of his squad.

"I was very pleased with the performance, we played well and you can see the competition now for places with players working to impress right to the end," said Benitez.

"I know Peter Crouch has been out of the last two games and he has now scored eight in his last 10 games in Europe.

"But if the team keeps winning and everyone else scores goals as well, I will be happy.

"I was able to bring in Benayoun, Leto and Lucas for this game and they all did well."

Benitez has long been looking to have a big squad of quality players and he now believes he has good options in every position.

"You can see the quality in every position. I have two players to choose from now for every place and the players know that," added Benitez.

"I now do not need to talk a lot about one or two star players all the time, I have players everywhere who want to play and have the ability to play."

Despite his side's dominance, Benitez was not happy with some sloppy aspects of play in such an important match for the club.

"I was a little bit worried in the first half because we kept giving the ball away and they caused problems on the counter attack," he added.

"We needed to be awake and alert and needed the second goal to kill the game off and then we started enjoying our football.

"It is important to be in the group stage. These kind of games you must treat with caution and now I'm pleased to be looking forward to see the draw and see how far we can go."

As Anfield paid its tribute to murdered 11-year-old Rhys Jones before the game, Benitez insisted that football was very much overshadowed.

Benitez hugged the boy's mother Melanie before the match and shook the hand of father Steve and elder son Owen, 17.

Along with the tragedy in Liverpool, Benitez was also shaken by the sudden death of Sevilla's Antonio Puerta after he collapsed during a game at the weekend.

"Football must take a back seat when such tragedies happen. It was very emotional for me and all you can do at this point is offer your respect and support."

Champions League: LiverpooL 4 - 0 Toulouse

Liverpool eased themselves into the Champions League group stages with a 4-0 home win over Toulouse, putting the Reds through 5-0 on aggregate.

On the 800th anniversary of the city the Reds claimed their 50th home European Cup win - plus £12million into the bargain - and it was never easier.

Without Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, they still outplayed an uninspired French side to reach the last 32 of the competition.

Liverpool shuffled their pack again and still produced a side that played fluent, quick-passing football that Toulouse never matched.

Peter Crouch, left out of the last two matches, returned to score after just 19 minutes and captain for the night Sami Hyypia made light of a broken nose to head home the second just after the break.

Dirk Kuyt gained his reward with the third after 87 minutes, drilling a shot in off the far post, and he added a fourth in injury time.

Hyypia captained the side as Javier Mascherano and Mohamed Sissoko were paired in central midfield with Argentinian winger Sebastian Leto making his debut on the left.

Crouch and Yossi Benayoun also both returned to the starting line-up to good effect.

Before the match moving tributes were paid to murdered 11-year-old Rhys Jones, with his parents standing on the touchline as both Everton and Liverpool's theme tunes - Z Cars and You'll Never Walk Alone - were played.

However, last season's beaten finalists had to put all the emotion aside as they went about their job of trying to finish the tie and they set about the French with quick passing and movement.

Benayoun's enthusiasm, pace and skill was at the centre of most of Liverpool's attacks and the opening goal came after when Benayoun worked to get Kuyt into space on the right and his far-post cross was turned in by Crouch's outstretched right leg.

The French started to make chances and Andre Gignac got through on the right when only a fine block from Alvaro Arbeloa halted the surge.

Crouch should have scored again two minutes later when Benayoun popped up on the left and lifted in a cross that the tall striker rose to meet from six yards but planted his header over the crossbar.

Benayoun again was the creator for Kuyt, setting up the Dutchman for a low drive that flashed inches wide of a post. Toulouse responded with a header from Pantxi Sirieix that dropped a yard wide.

Crouch continued his wasteful ways when Arbeloa swung over another cross, again heading over, while Kuyt was next to miss with a header from another Benayoun cross.

Mascherano's powerful run to win a corner on the right set up Liverpool for their second after 49 minutes.

And it came from Hyypia's head as he stood unmarked eight yards out to power home a Benayoun corner.

Toulouse looked disheartened by now but they sent on striker Bryan Bergougnoux for Gignac after 54 minutes but up to that point the French side had barely offered a serious threat and were being thoroughly outplayed.

After 68 minutes Benitez sent on another of his South American imports, youngster Lucas Leiva for his debut, with the £5million Brazilian replacing Sissoko.

Kuyt saw one header bounce wide before almost adding a third after 74 minutes.

He drove in from the right and saw his shot hit Mauro Cetto and deflect onto the crossbar and over. A minute Later Ryan Babel replaced Leto.

Toulouse then took off Achille Emana, sending on Fabio Felix, but Liverpool were all but home by now.

Crouch, with some clever juggling from a John Arne Riise cross, lifted another chance just over the top.

Steve Finnan took over from Daniel Agger for the final minutes, while Moussa Sissoko replaced the injured Jeremy Mathieu.

Kuyt gained his reward for a night of constant running by drilling home the third off the far post after 87 minutes, and then forcing in his second in injury time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

LiverpooL Linked With 'The Beast'

Liverpool have tabled a bid of 20million euros (£13.5million) for Real Madrid striker Julio Baptista, according to Marca.

The Brazilian - nicknamed 'The Beast' - spent last season on loan at Arsenal but failed to shine consistently, although he did net four goals as the Gunners beat Liverpool 6-3 in a Carling Cup tie at Anfield in January.

After helping Brazil win the Copa America over the summer he was linked with a move for AC Milan, but it is now claimed Rafael Benitez has entered the bidding with an offer that may be enough to tempt Real to sell.

They are looking to raise money to enable them to make a fresh move for Sevilla full-back Daniel Alves, and Marca claims they could also be ready to sell Roberto Soldado to Benfica.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Lucky Escape For Carragher

Jamie Carragher narrowly avoided suffering a collapsed lung during Liverpool’s 2-0 victory away to Sunderland. An X-ray yesterday revealed that the defender suffered a broken rib, but, more alarmingly, that he developed a pneumothorax, a condition synonymous with a collapsed lung.

The club confirmed that Carragher will miss the second leg of Liverpool’s Champions League third qualifying round tie at home to Toulouse tomorrow, when his team start with a 1-0 lead, but he may face a longer layoff. A pneumothorax, caused by an accumulation of air in the pleural cavity, could have been more serious. Carragher was described last night as being “in good spirits”.

Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, will be relieved that Sami Hyypia has been declared fit to face Toulouse after breaking his nose against Sunderland. Central defence is an area where Liverpool’s much-vaunted strength in depth is lacking, which is one reason why Benítez was so disappointed to see Gabriel Heinze, who can operate at left back or in central defence, move from Manchester United to Real Madrid last week.

It is possible that Benítez will intensify his search for reinforcements before the transfer window closes on Friday, having sold Gabriel Paletta, the Argentine defender, to Boca Juniors for an undisclosed fee. As part of the deal, Emiliano Insúa, the 18-year-old left back, turned his loan move to Anfield from Boca into a permanent transfer.

Champions League: LiverpooL vs Toulouse

Injury-hit sides, Liverpool and Toulouse will lock horns in the second-leg of Champions League Third Qualifying round at Anfield On Tuesday.

The Reds have the advantage having won the first-leg away courtesy Andriy Voronin goal. However, it was the match that saw skipper Steven Gerrard suffer from a hairline fracture of his toe and that has apparently not healed as the commanding midfielder misses out.

Centre-back and stand-in skipper Jamie Carragher is also out as he suffered a broken rib in 2-0 win over Sunderland in the Premiership on Saturday.

The French side also have key players namely Dominique Arribage, Daniel Congre and Albin Ebondo missing out with injuries.

The Reds boss Rafa Benitez said on Monday: "Both players (Steven & Jamie) will not be available for this game.

“It's a shame because they are both important players for us, but we have enough players and enough competition within the squad to cope.

"Carra is improving which is good news. I need to talk to the doctor to find out more and to see how long he will be out for.

"It's clear that with Steven we need to take care of him. He could be available for the game at the weekend but we'll have to see. Again I will need to talk to the doctor first because I don't want to run the risk of losing him for a long time.

"This week we will keep him training and keep him fit and then see about the Derby game on Saturday."

On brighter side for the Merseysiders, centre-back Sami Hyypia, who had a broken nose from the Stadium of Light clash, will be fit to play tomorrow.

"I think he will be okay," added Benitez. "The break was in the right place and so I don't think it will be a problem for him.

"We have Sami and Daniel Agger available and we can also use Arbeloa as a centre back so we have enough players in that position."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Carragher Could Have Broken Rib

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was happy after his side's 2-0 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, but the Reds must now wait for news on injuries to Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher.

Speaking at the post match press conference, Rafa confirmed Hyypia had a suspected broken nose and Carragher could possibly have broken a rib.

Goals from Momo Sissoko, Liverpool's 7,000th league goal, and Andriy Voronin gave the Reds their second away win of the season and Rafa was quick to praise his players.

"The team was very good and we showed we have a better squad this season," enthused Benitez. "It was special for Momo to score our 7,000th goal and he's now in the record books.

"I thought Torres, Voronin, Pennant and Babel caused the Sunderland defence a lot of problems. We created a lot of chances and we could have finished off the game a lot earlier.

"It's not good as a manager for my heart seeing us miss chances, but Voronin scored a good goal to get us the win."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sunderland 0 - 2 LiverpooL

Mohamed Sissoko picked an historic moment to score the first competitive goal of his career as Liverpool saw off battling Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Sissoko's 37th-minute strike was his club's 7,000th league goal and earned the praise of Rafael Benitez, whose joy was tempered by injury scares involving Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher.

Benitez said: "Sissoko can score more goals. He does not score many but now he has scored the 7,000th he will be in the record books all his life. I am really pleased for him."

Hyypia went off with a suspected broken nose and Carragher followed with a possible broken rib in a game which Benitez's men wrapped up four minutes from time through Andriy Voronin.

Voronin fired home after a fine pass from strike partner Fernando Torres on an afternoon when only the heroics of Craig Gordon in the home goal kept the scoreline down.

"I am really pleased but I wish we could have finished the game earlier for my health," added Benitez. "I think we showed the strength of our squad today."

Sunderland boss Roy Keane was not too downbeat about his team's display, which he regarded as a vast improvement on his side's dismal 3-0 capitulation at Wigan last week.

And things might have been even better for his spirited side had substitute Anthony Stokes slotted away a 24th minute chance after being sent clear in the box by Michael Chopra.

Keane said: "No-one likes losing football matches but I am slightly happier than I was last weekend and sometimes you have to lose games to teams with bigger and stronger squads.

"We showed good bits of quality ourselves and you are always in with a chance at 1-0 with five minutes to go. It would have been nice to have tested their keeper a little bit more."

Liverpool were well on top from the start and could have grabbed the lead after just 25 seconds when Greg Halford's dreadful back pass let in Voronin, who shot wide.

Xabi Alonso screwed a rising shot just wide in the 14th minute after Ryan Babel had cleverly laid off a Steve Finnan right-wing cross, but the expected succession of chances did not materialise.

Once again Paul McShane and Nyron Nosworthy held firm in the centre of the home defence, marshalled superbly by captain Dwight Yorke, and frustration slowly grew among the visitors.

That frustration should have increased in the 24th minute when Stokes, on for Richardson, squirmed a shot under Reina only for Daniel Agger to boot clear from the edge of the six-yard box.

That missed opportunity came back to haunt the home side in the 37th minute, when Sissoko latched onto a ball back by Voronin to fire past the helpless Gordon.

Gordon would go on to twice deny Torres with superb low saves which showed why Keane had no qualms about paying £9million for the former Hearts stopper.

Sunderland rallied in the second half and Ross Wallace's deep cross into the Reds box in the 68th minute was punched away by Reina under pressure as the Stadium of Light crowd sensed a comeback.

But Liverpool's front pair oozed class and Gordon was required again in the 79th minute to produce a point-blank save to deny Voronin in front of goal.

"Craig was a bit busy but that's what he's there for," added Keane. "When you play against teams like Liverpool if you think your keeper is not going to work hard you are in cloud cuckoo land."

Finally Voronin extinguished those lingering Stadium of Light dreams with four minutes to go with a clinical finish to wrap up a productive afternoon for Rafael Benitez.

Benitez added: "With Torres running at defenders and Voronin running in the lines, they are always going to pose problems for defenders."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rafael Benitez Turns On The Premier League

Benitez was disappointed that an arbitration panel on Tuesday ruled that a signed letter did not oblige Manchester United to sell Gabriel Heinze to Liverpool for £6.8 million. The Argentine defender is now likely to join Real Madrid after they agreed a fee last night with Manchester United believed to be £8.1 million.

"I would like to ask the Premier League a number of questions," said Benitez. "How can a player with a signed agreement be treated like this? He has a document which is clear, but the Premier League prefers to believe the word of someone else who made a mistake.

''I know there were accusations made against Liverpool in the hearing, which were unbelievable. How can this be allowed?

''Then I want to ask the Premier League why it was so difficult for Liverpool to sign Javier Mascherano, when we had to wait a long time for the paperwork, but it was so easy for Carlos Tevez to join Manchester United?"

Argentina midfielder Mascherano joined Liverpool from West Ham in the January transfer window and the deal took weeks to clear as the row over third-party ownership of players at Upton Park raged on. The Tevez move from West Ham to United took less time to approve.

Benitez also broadened his complaint to the fixture schedule.

"I would like to ask the Premier League why is it that Liverpool always play the most fixtures away from home in an early kick-off, following an international break?" he said.

"We had more than the top clubs last season and we have four already to prepare for this season. It's going to be very difficult for us to win the Premier League because the other teams are so strong, but I want our supporters to know that despite the disadvantages we have, we will fight all the way.

"We will fight to cope with our more difficult kick-off times and all the other decisions which are going against us."

A spokesman for the Premier League denied any bias against Liverpool. "We try to ensure dealings with all our member clubs, including the scheduling of fixtures, are as fair as possible," he said.

"We are disappointed to read Rafael Benitez's remarks in the media, especially as channels exist for every member club to raise any issues directly with the League."

Heinze had been planning to appeal against the Premier League's decision before news came through of Real Madrid's move.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Heinze Loses Reds Appeal

Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze has been denied the opportunity to join Liverpool after a Premier League arbitration panel ruled against the Argentinian.

The 29-year-old had claimed that the Red Devils had agreed that he could leave Old Trafford for £6.8million, after sending a letter to Heinze's agent stipulating such a fee.

However, the Premier League panel ruled that that did not represent a firm obligation to sanction a deal and also applied principally to an international transfer.

A Premier League statement confirmed: "The Premier League Board appointed panel have heard submissions of evidence from both parties and has ruled to dismiss the player's case.

"The hearing concluded that nature and intention of the disputed 13 June 2007 letter, especially when taken in context of verbal discussions and Manchester United FC's transfer policy, was unambiguous in that it envisages only an international transfer.

"Furthermore the hearing finds the letter constitutes an 'agreement to agree' and did not create an obligation or binding agreement for the club to transfer the player to any particular club.

"In other words the letter is evidence of an intention to negotiate, both between the parties and with potential buying clubs and not evidence of any intention to create legal relations."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Ref Dropped After Penalty Blunder

Premier League referee Rob Styles has been dropped from this weekend's matches after awarding Chelsea a controversial penalty in Sunday's match at Liverpool.

Styles gave Chelsea a penalty when Florent Malouda went down despite minimal contact from Liverpool defender Steve Finnan and Frank Lampard converted the spot kick to give the London side a 1-1 draw at Anfield.

"(Styles) looked at the video with the decision and he's admitted that he got it wrong," chief of referees Keith Hackett was quoted as saying on Sky Sports News on Monday.

"I've left a message with (Liverpool manager) Rafa Benitez to apologise on behalf of the PGMO (Professional Game Match Officials) for the error," Hackett added.

"I did in pre-season say to managers and the general public that accountability exists and we do, at the PGMO, expect referees to get the big decisions correct.

"On this occasion this is wrong and therefore Rob will not be officiating next weekend."

Benitez was incensed by the penalty decision that left Liverpool, who had taken the lead through Fernando Torres, in seventh place with four points from two games at the start of a season in which he is determined they win their first championship title since 1990. Chelsea are second with seven points from three games.

Styles also appeared to book Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien for a second time in the match shortly after the equaliser but did not send him off.

However, Hackett explained that Styles, having booked Chelsea captain John Terry still had his yellow card in his hand when he raised his arm to indicate a free kick.

"He showed the card to John Terry, then held the card to indicate an indirect free kick," he said.

"In fairness, he forgot to put the card away so it was a basic... admin error as against an error in application of law but it is again something where we'll look closely at the video to ensure we don't get a repeat of that."

Hackett said a linesman at Saturday's Fulham game against Middlesbrough had also been dropped. The London side were denied an equaliser when a shot by striker David Healy appeared to have crossed the line, a fact confirmed by television replays.

LiverpooL 1 - 1 Chelsea

Liverpool and Chelsea played out a draw which suggested the Barclays Premier League season could be a war of attrition right to the end.

The two clubs have played each other 16 times in three seasons and familiarity clearly breeds contempt with nine bookings and Hampshire referee Rob Styles coming in for flak from both sets of players as he fought to maintain order.

Fernando Torres' excellent first goal for Liverpool was all but forgotten as the yellow cards were waved, five for Chelsea and four for Liverpool. Captains Steven Gerrard and John Terry were among the bookings.

Chelsea battled away after going behind and were rewarded with a controversial penalty that Frank Lampard drove past Jose Reina.

Steve Finnan was adjudged to have brought down Florent Malouda, but the incident looked more like the Frenchman jumping between Finnan and Jamie Carragher before crashing to the ground.

The incident set the tone for the rest of a fractious match in which Styles almost lost control. In the latter stages he appeared to book Michael Essien for a second time without sending off the Ghanaian only for the fourth official reveal the booking had been issued to Terry.

Broken toe or not, Gerrard was there to skipper Liverpool against a Chelsea side who had their own captain Terry back from injury.

It was never a cordial meeting between international skipper and his deputy, the pair involved in frequent verbal exchanges during an increasingly feisty clash.

Chelsea included Essien in their defence, who was pressed into service despite a groin injury because Jose Mourinho was without defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira.

Chelsea used Essien at right-back and John Obi Mikel as a holding midfielder, with Salomon Kalou trying to push on from midfield to aid Didier Drogba.

Malouda, who chose Chelsea ahead of Liverpool when he moved from Lyon in the summer, and Shaun Wright-Phillips were also quick to attack in a brave Mourinho system.

Liverpool went for a straight-forward 4-4-2 with Riise keen to exploit any unfamiliarity to right-back from Essien.

And the threat was demonstrated when Riise appeared in yards of space to take a Steve Finnan cross-field ball only for Petr Cech to come flying off his line to avert the danger.

Essien was booked for sending Alvaro Arbeloa flying on the touchline, then Chelsea's vulnerability on their right flank saw them a goal behind on 16 minutes.

Gerrard played the ball with the outside of his right foot, finding Torres heading into the area.

The Spain international took on Tal Ben-Haim, leaving the ex-Bolton man in just a couple of yards before squeezing a clever side-foot shot just inside Cech's far post.

Anfield went wild and the £20million man was an instant hero as he was mobbed by his delirious colleagues.

Chelsea responded with a Drogba free-kick that was deflected wide and Kalou saw a six-yard box chance disappear as he failed to shoot quickly.

Gerrard mopped up with a ferocious challenge on Drogba to clear.

The match got more heated and Dirk Kuyt was booked for a trip on Lampard.

The atmosphere deteriorated further after Chelsea complaints to referee Rob Styles over challenges on Malouda and Terry, the latter involved in an exchange of words with the perpetrator, Torres.

Pennant was then booked for dissent after being penalised for a foul.

Gerrard was next into the book for a foul on Mikel, the half ending with Torres limping away after a heavy challenge and plenty of exchanges between England colleagues on both sides.

Chelsea brought on Claudio Pizarro for Kalou at the break, to provide better support for Drogba. And the Peruvian made an instant impact.

First he nodded on a Lampard corner for Terry to head just over, and then he stretched at the far post to head wide himself.

Much of Liverpool's play in the opening half was geared to containment, but they were more adventurous attacking the Kop end and Gerrard and Xabi Alonso both saw chances go wide while a Riise free-kick was charged down.

But on 61 minutes, Chelsea were level from the penalty spot. It was a controversial decision by referee Styles to penalise Steve Finnan for a challenge on Malouda.

It looked as if Malouda had jumped between Finnan and Carragher before tumbling and Carragher was booked for arguing before Lampard drove the spot-kick home.

The bookings continued and Ben-Haim's for dissent soon after was the third caution in four minutes.

On 67 minutes, Ryan Babel replaced Pennant, who had just set up Riise for a power drive just wide.

Lampard was soon booked for dissent, with Terry following, Chelsea fuming at what they perceived as a Torres dive looking for a free-kick.

There was more argument involving Essien before the free-kick went Liverpool's way. The Ghanian appeared to be booked for a second time but Styles later confirmed that only Terry had been yellow-carded.

What was certain was that the game had deteriorated into a nasty, spiteful battle.

Cech did well to keep out a close-range Riise effort as Liverpool pressed again. Crouch taking over from Riise with seven minutes left.

Kuyt's flicked header just cleared the bar before Alex came on for his Chelsea debut in place of Malouda.

Chelsea were now intent on the point, which they achieved after Babel skimmed a late effort inches wide.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Preview: LiverpooL vs Chelsea

Despite Steven Gerrard damaging his toe in midweek, Rafael Benitez looks set to include him in his starting XI today. Playing in central midfield, Gerrard was outstanding against Premier League opponents Aston Villa and Toulouse in the Champions League. He was dynamic when running with the ball, passed with penetration and continually made threatening forward runs. To cap his performance against Villa, he scored with a match-winning free-kick.

However, while manager Rafael Benitez will be delighted with Gerrard's potency, he will have been concerned that he showed less enthusiasm to make recovery runs. This is not a problem for Liverpool when he is one of three in central midfield, but with Jermaine Pennant and John Arne Riise playing in such advanced positions, as they did against Villa, it left just Xavi Alonso patrolling the midfield. Alonso may be an excellent passer of the ball but he is not athletic enough to protect large areas. The same happened in Toulouse, only with different personnel.

Villa and Toulouse were not good enough to take advantage but today's opponents are. For these reasons, Benitez has continually declined to play Gerrard in a two-man midfield.

Chelsea are masters at breaking quickly from defence and this is largely due to the positions that their wide players break into when possession is regained. These positions are infield and into the areas vacated either side of the holding midfield player.

Benitez will not want to interfere with Gerrard's forward play but he has to think of the team's solidity. So I cannot envisage Benitez asking his wide players to be quite as adventurous in their positional play. But if he does, then one way of safeguarding that area would be for his full-backs to support attacks from an infield rather than an outside position, thus staying in contact with Chelsea's wingers.

Yet Chelsea were equally open to the counter-attack against Birmingham last Sunday. Manager Jose Mourinho played with two strikers, two wide players and Frank Lampard breaking forward in a similar fashion to Gerrard. All eyes have been on Fernando Torres since his move to Liverpool and, against Villa, he demonstrated good attributes. After a slow start, he created a chance for himself following indecision in Villa's rearguard. Striding on to a loose ball, he controlled it quickly and fired a left-foot volley over the bar. Despite the inaccuracy of his finish, it showed his speed of thought and deceptive pace. He doesn't play right up against centre-halves but finds space short of them, or makes runs beyond them if they come out of their defensive line to mark him.

For any front player to be really successful he has to form a good understanding with his fellow striker. The telepathic understanding between John Toshack and Kevin Keegan - and between Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush - made them almost unstoppable. With the advent of squad rotation and lone strikers, forwards have struggled to create similar partnerships. The early signs look encouraging for the combination of Torres and Dirk Kuyt.

Playing slightly deeper, Kuyt can link up the play while Torres seems aware of where to find space through clever movement. The first goal against Villa was a product of the two linking up. One-twos, letting the ball run for each other and combination play between strikers will always cause problems but they need to play together as often as possible to gain that understanding. But will Benitez, who rotated his forwards again last week, give them that opportunity?

The injury to Ricardo Carvalho is a blow for Chelsea even if John Terry and Alex are now available for selection. Today should have provided the opportunity to compare Carvalho to Jamie Carragher. Carvalho and Carragher are brilliant readers of the game, always ready to intercept or make last-ditch clearances. Carragher may lack technical ability and genuine pace but his understanding of the game more than makes up for it as it does in Carvalho's case for a lack of physical presence.

Team details (probable):

Liverpool: Liverpool: Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise; Pennant, Gerrard, Alonso, Arbeloa; Kuyt, Torres.

Chelsea: Cech; Ferreira, Terry, Ben Haim, A. Cole; Wright-Phillips, Lampard, Mikel, Malouda; Drogba, Pizarro.

Some useful info: Chelsea will miss Ricardo Carvalho today. Chelsea's win percentage dropped to 29 per cent last season when he was absent from the starting XI. Jamie Carragher is equally important to Liverpool. Last season Rafa Benitez's side conceded 0.66 goals per game on average when Carragher played and 1.33 without him.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Benitez Speaks Out

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez insists he would rather focus on the team than his war of words with Chelsea chief Jose Mourinho.

The pair will go head-to-head on Sunday in the season's first major showdown at Anfield.

The charismatic Mourinho could not wait for the season to start before he declared the heat was on Benitez to deliver this campaign following his £40million summer spending spree.

The Liverpool boss could not resist responding to his Blues counterpart, saying: "I thought Jose had said he wouldn't be talking about other clubs this season. Maybe he's already forgotten that.

"You only have to look at who are the clubs who have spent most over the last five seasons and there are two, Chelsea and Manchester United, and they have won most of the trophies.

"If you analyse who finished top of the table last season, who have spent more money in those years, it is clear and simple there are two teams ahead of the others in terms of money, spending and also titles won.

"And I always say that (Chelsea owner Roman) Abramovich has done a really good job, that is the key."

Benitez insists he is under no more pressure now, after spending big over the summer on players such as Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun, than he was before as he prepares for Sunday's encounter.

"I do not feel more pressure because I have bought players, and I would rather it was not about me and Jose all the time, I would prefer it to be about (Steven) Gerrard, (Chelsea captain John) Terry and the other players, and I think we will be okay together this season," he continued.

"We are both professionals and we have our responsibilities. But it is better if we do not talk too much about each other.

"I really don't enjoy it and want to concentrate on my team, I do not like talking about other managers every day."

Benitez is expected to include captain Gerrard in the side despite suffering a hairline fracture to his big toe on his right foot during the midweek UEFA Champions League clash at Toulouse.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Gerrard Passed To Face Chelsea, But Won't Figure In England Friendly

Steven Gerrard will play for Liverpool against Chelsea on Sunday despite a scan revealing today that he has a hairline fracture of the toe.

But Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez insists Gerrard will then need to rest and will not figure in England's friendly against Germany at Wembley next Wednesday.

Gerrard picked up the injury in Toulouse yesterday when Liverpool won their Champions League third qualifying round first leg tie 1-0.

Benitez is prepared to push his player to the limit to face the Blues but said: “He will then need one or two weeks' rest.”

“He will train but he will not be able to join up with England. I will talk to Steve McClaren and I am sure he will understand.”

“We have been told by our doctors that this is not a big risk but he will clearly then need to rest after the Chelsea match.'”

Reds Awaits Grerrard Diagnosis

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard is expected to have treatment today at the club's Melwood training ground following a worrying ankle injury picked up in his side's Champions League qualifier.

Gerrard took a painful crack on the back of his ankle from French midfielder Pantxi Sirieix, the Toulouse player who spent all of yesterday's game man-marking the England star.

That was the only blemish for Reds boss Rafael Benitez after his side mastered the sauna-like conditions to secure a 1-0 first-leg victory.

Gerrard tried to carry on but was eventually replaced in the 61st minute by Mohamed Sissoko.

With Sunday's home game with Chelsea now the next clash for Liverpool to contend with in a tough opening week of three matches, Benitez would only say last night: "We will not know how Steven is until he has been seen by the medical team and the doctor.

"I was replacing him because we needed fresh legs, not because of the injury, but we do not know yet how he is."

Benitez hailed the "wonderful goal" scored by new boy Andriy Voronin that put Liverpool within touching distance of the Champions League group stages.

The Reds boss watched as his free-transfer signing from Bayer Leverkusen ensured his new club are close to the £12million prize for reaching the competition proper.

Benitez said: "Andriy scored a wonderful goal, it summed up his qualities as a very fine striker.

"He is clever, has great game awareness and gives us so many more options in attack. He can play behind a main striker, lead the line himself, or come into the attack from the flanks.

"And of course he can scored truly great goals like that. But we must not think this tie is over.

"We did a very professional job in a match played in difficult conditions. It was so hot for the players, and we were having to give them water continually.

"The referee stopped us throwing the bottles on to the pitch, the players had to come to the sidelines to drink, which was a little strange considering the conditions."

Liverpool are now expected to secure their passage through this third qualifying round tie in a fortnight at Anfield, even if Benitez was predictably cagey about the second leg.

He said: "We know they are a very good side who like to hit teams on the counter-attack, which is what they will try to do at Anfield."

Toulouse coach Elie Baup conceded his team found the searing heat and the quality of the opposition a problem.

He said: "In those conditions, it is hard to keep running and trying to create things when you are playing against a side with such experience and quality.

"Our players lack the experience of playing in this competition and they found Liverpool's ability and technical quality hard to cope with out there."

Voronin Shoots Down Toulouse

Ukrainian free transfer Andriy Voronin produced a priceless first goal for his new club as Liverpool beat Toulouse 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie.

Rafael Benitez's side had struggled for any sort of pace and tempo in the early stages in searing afternoon heat in south-west France.

But Voronin's spectacular 30-yard effort two minutes before half-time stunned the noisy home fans and now makes the Reds hot favourites to progress to the lucrative group stages in September.

Toulouse produced some impressive approach play, but failed to really trouble Jose Reina in the first period.

They did make a better fist of things after the interval, sending on Fode Mansare for Bryan Bergougnoux to give Johan Elmander some more support up front.

Elmander had a couple of half-chances, but in the end it was a comfortable win for last season's beaten finalists.

The second leg takes place at Anfield on Tuesday August 28.

Afterwards a satisfied Benitez hailed his side's professionalism in the afternoon heat.

"I'm pleased because it was a very, very difficult situation," he said.

"It was a professional job. The team worked hard.

"We controlled the game. We were a little bit under pressure ion the second half."

Benitez described Voronin's winner as "fantastic", adding: "He's a good player and can scored these kind of goals because he has quality."

Toulouse coach Elie Baup conceded his team found the searing heat and the quality of the opposition a problem.

He said: "In those conditions it is hard to keep running and trying to create things when you are playing against a side with such experience and quality.

"Our players lack the experience of playing in this competition and they found Liverpool's ability and technical quality hard to cope with out there."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Champions League: Toulouse vs LiverpooL

Peter Crouch and Andriy Voronin are both recalled to the Liverpool side to start up front for the Reds in Toulouse this afternoon.

Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt both begin on the bench as Rafael Benitez rings the changes from the side which won at Aston Villa on Saturday.

Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel both make their first competitive starts for the club while Sami Hyypia is back in the centre of defence alongside Jamie Carragher.

The final Liverpool line-up follows:

Reina (GK), Finnan (RB), Carragher (CB), Hyypia (CB), Arbeloa (LB), Benayoun (RW), Gerrard (AM), Mascherano (DM), Babel (LW), Voronin (ST), Crouch (F).

Itandje, Agger, Riise, Torres, Alonso, Kuyt, Sissoko

Carragher Reaffirm His Decision

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has refused to reverse his decision to retire from international football, despite a face-to-face meeting with England coach Steve McClaren.

McClaren had hoped to tempt Carragher to return to the fold for the upcoming friendly with Germany and Euro 2008 qualifiers against Israel and Russia, but has been rebuffed by the Reds stopper.

He told Sky Sports News: "I met Jamie on Monday and had a very good conversation, but unfortunately he's stayed with the decision to not be involved with us.

"We respect that, Jamie has been a fantastic servant for England. I won't close the door, who knows in the future."

McClaren also admitted that Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney will be a major loss, as he is sidelined by a foot injury for the next couple of months.

"Obviously it's a blow because he was looking so fit and well in pre-season," McClaren said. "He's a very important player for England.

"I was disappointed on Sunday when I got the call, but on Monday we had to move on. We've dealt without him before and we'll have to do so again.

"We've still got Peter Crouch and the likes of Darren Bent, Andy Johnson, Jermain Defoe and David Nugent."

Essien To Miss Liverpool Showdown

Jose Mourinho has lost Michael Essien from his Chelsea midfield again because of a knee injury which will sideline him for up to 10 days.

The Ghana international will miss Wednesday's trip to Reading and Sunday's game at Liverpool after damaging ligaments in the win against Birmingham.

He scored final goal of the 3-2 win against Steve Bruce's side two days ago and looked a real force after being restored to the Chelsea midfield.

Essien was one of Mourinho's key players last term but spent much of it filling in at the back and the pace and power he offers further forward was missed.

He has not had the best fortune with injuries, damaging knee ligaments last season and others in his ankle this summer but this is a consequence of his all action style.

Mourinho at least has plenty of cover, with Steve Sidwell pushing for a place against his former club Reading tomorrow and Claude Makelele and John Obi Mikel also in contention.

For Petr Cech it will be a difficult trip, returning to the Madejski Stadium for the first time since he fractured his skull there under the challenge of Stephen Hunt last October and required brain surgery.

But the goalkeeper insists he can handle it, saying: "I knew as soon as I re-started playing that one day I would have to go back to Reading.

"I got injured there and I have to go back and play the game again but I have no problem with that. That is the past and I am looking to the future.

"I don't remember anything from the game or the day there so maybe I will enjoy the whole game there for the first time."

Freak incidents that day left Cech and later his replacement, Carlo Cudicini, requiring hospital treatment and Chelsea later raised issues about how emergencies are handled at games.

A working party including their club doctor Bryan English was subsequently established and new measures have now been introduced.

Key among them is the requirement that an ambulance specifically for players and officials must be at all stadiums on matchdays this season.

Benitez To Continue Rotating

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez insists he will continue to rotate his squad this season.

The Anfield boss has received criticism from some quarters for his policy of shuffling his Liverpool squad, but Benitez is undeterred.

The Reds face Toulouse in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday and Peter Crouch, Yossi Benayoun and Javier Mascherano are expected to play.

The trio were left out of the squad which travelled to Aston Villa on Saturday for Liverpool's Premier League opener, but they are likely to feature in France as Benitez continues to ring the changes.

Crouch, especially, has been rumoured to be unhappy at his limited first-team opportunities, but Benitez has reiterated that no player is guaranteed a regular place in his starting XI.

"In modern football you have to change players," Benitez told the Daily Star. "It's not easy to keep the same team.

"I know a lot of people would like to see the same XI every week but it's impossible.

"If players are performing well and we are winning games in a row then we will try to keep them in the team.

"But how many teams in the Premier League can keep the same XI every week? You look at it and it is usually the teams that are outside the top eight.

"Why? Because they only play one game a week normally.

"We hope to play 60 games a season and you can't play the same people every week.

"A tired team is often a losing team."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Toulouse v Liverpool

UEFA Champions League Qualifying Third Round First Leg
Fixture: Wednesday 15th August 2007
Kick off: 3:30pm at Stadium Municipal

Liverpool’s first competitive European fixture of the season as the Reds face a mid-afternoon clash against last season’s 3rd place side in France.

Previous Meetings:

Liverpool have only played Toulouse once before 51 years ago. The Reds lost a friendly at the Stadium Municipal 3-1 in 1956.

Team News:

Rafa intends to keep the same line up that won against Aston Villa. But seriously, expect some more of the infamous squad rotation. With Crouch, Benayoun and Mascherano all missing out even on places on the bench, they are likely to feature in this clash. Rafa will not be underestimating the importance of this game, and although the Reds have a weekend clash against Chelsea in their sights a strong first team presence is expected. The Reds have no major injury worries ahead of this game.


Toulouse lost their first game of the season but scored a last minute winner to defeat 10- man Lyon (reigning French champions at the weekend). Johan Elmander was the goalscorer. Toulouse’s most interestingly named player is Moussa Sissoko (apparently no relation to Liverpool’s Momo). The club itself was only founded in 1937, and in 1967 sold it’s place in the league and all of its players to Red Star Paris. The club was reformed in 1970. The club can consider itself lucky to be playing Champions League football. They were awarded a victory after a draw with Nantes due to the opposing supporters invading the pitch to express their displeasure at Nantes performances.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Liverpool Ready For Champions Qualifying Tussle

Five-times European champions Liverpool start their new Champions League campaign in Toulouse while Ajax Amsterdam and Arsenal face Czech opponents when the third qualifying round kicks off this week.

Ajax, four-times winners of Europe's top club competition, are at home to Slavia Prague and Arsenal travel to face neighbours Sparta Prague in first leg matches on Wednesday.

Three months after losing the 2007 final to AC Milan in Athens, Liverpool head to southwest France for a game between two sides who will be in buoyant mood.

Liverpool's talismanic captain Steven Gerrard gave his side a winning start to the Premier League on Saturday against Aston Villa with a superb late strike.

Toulouse also had a late win over Ligue 1 champions Olympique Lyon, who were however down to 10 men.

The French team's coach Elie Baup was anxious his side did not get carried away by their success, telling the club's Web site: "There was commitment, determination, desire and a real team spirit.

"We created nine or 10 chances and finally scored at the very end. The danger, though, in situations like these is what happens in the next match."

Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez is still haunted by their defeat in Greece - having beaten the Italians on penalties after trailing 3-0 at halftime in a memorable 2005 final.

"I am not over that Milan game yet, especially because I know we were so close to winning," he told the club's Web site.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Aston Villa 1 -2 LiverpooL

Steven Gerrard's superb free-kick ensured victory for Liverpool on the opening day of the Barclays Premier League campaign for the first time during the Rafael Benitez era.

Aston Villa looked to have rescued a point when skipper Gareth Barry cancelled out Martin Laursen's first-half own goal with an 86th-minute penalty.

But then Gerrard curled a 20-yard shot past the dive of Stuart Taylor barely 60 seconds later, after he had been brought down by Stiliyan Petrov.

Overall Liverpool were worthy winners with record signing Fernando Torres making a satisfactory debut despite spurning a golden first half opportunity.

The £20.2million capture from Atletico Madrid linked up effectively with Dirk Kuyt before being taken off with 11 minutes remaining.

But man of the match for the umpteenth time was England midfielder Gerrard who exerted so much influence over proceedings even before his goal while Jamie Carragher excelled at the heart of the Reds defence.

If Benitez could have hand-picked a first day opponent it would surely have been Villa given they have not beaten the Reds in front of their own fans for nine years.

Villa huffed and puffed with Barry outstanding in midfield but they seldom tested Jose Reina until he turned over an injury-time John Carew header.

Villa made a bright start in front of a capacity 43,000 crowd and Reina had to be alert to deal with a stinging 30-yard volley from makeshift Villa right-back Craig Gardner.

Carragher showed his class and awareness to block a shot from John Carew at the expense of a corner after he had been played in by Gardner.

But Liverpool gradually took command and Torres had his first half-chance after 17 minutes when he blazed over the bar from a narrow angle following a long clearance by Reina.

Taylor parried a low Gerrard drive and a superb pass from the England midfielder was seized on by Kuyt but he hesitated instead of shooting first time.

Villa central defender Olof Mellberg became the first player to be booked after 26 minutes for a clumsy challenge on Torres.

Torres showed his class when he outstripped Mellberg to find himself with only Taylor to beat. But the Spaniard screwed his shot across the face of goal.

Increasing pressure from the visitors paid off in the 36th minute although it needed an own goal from Laursen to break the deadlock.

Taylor did well to parry a Torres effort but Kuyt managed to cut the ball back into the danger area from the by-line and the unfortunate Laursen only succeeded in lofting the ball into the roof of the net.

Gerrard curled a shot just over the bar after Pennant found him in plenty of space and the visitors were carving gaps in the Villa defence almost at will.

When Villa did venture forward, Barry played in Petrov but his left-footed drive lacked conviction and flew straight at Reina.

O'Neill made a half-time substitution, replacing Laursen with Gary Cahill although it was not known whether it was tactical or because he had suffered a knock.

Villa tried to build up some momentum and Nigel Reo-Coker tried his luck from the edge of the Liverpool box but dragged his shot well wide.

Pennant became the first Liverpool player to be yellow-carded after 55 minutes for a challenge on Young.

The out of sorts Bouma was then booked for a late tackle on Pennant.

Villa were still struggling to create any openings and it needed a brilliant block from Gardner to prevent Gerrard doubling Liverpool's lead.

Kuyt made good ground down the right and squared the ball across goal to his unmarked skipper who struck his shot cleanly enough but Gardner threw his body in the way to stop a certain goal.

Gerrard was denied again when Taylor turned aside his fierce first-time drive.

Villa looked to have rescued a point with four minutes remaining when Barry converted a penalty after Carragher had handled in the box.

But the Villa celebrations had not died down when Gerrard restored Liverpool's lead within 60 seconds.

He was brought down 20 yards out by Petrov and himself curled a superb free-kick past Taylor to cap an excellent individual performance.


Aston Villa: Taylor, Gardner, Mellberg, Laursen (Cahill 46),Bouma (Moore 71), Petrov, Reo-Coker, Barry, Agbonlahor, Carew,Young.

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa,Pennant (Babel 74), Gerrard, Alonso, Riise,Torres (Voronin 79), Kuyt (Sissoko 90).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Preview: Aston Villa vs LiverpooL

With no major injury problems, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has plenty of selection dilemmas ahead of the opening day's trip to Aston Villa.

He further claimed that big transfer fees do not guarantee a player his place in the side, but £20million signing Fernando Torres looks certain to make his league debut up front, most probably partnered by the hard-working Dutchman Dirk Kuyt.

Yossi Benayoun's impressive pre-season form could see him claim the right-wing role ahead of Jermaine Pennant, while Steven Gerrard will start the season in his favored central midfield role.

Meanwhile, Martin O'Neill's short of goalkeeping alternatives for the opening day of the campaign means academy prospect David Bevan will be on the bench.

Stuart Taylor will be between the posts as previous season's number one Thomas Sorensen is sidelined with a hamstring injury.

England Under-21 skipper Nigel Reo-Coker is set to make his competitive debut following his £8.5million move from West Ham but the other summer capture from Upton Park, striker Marlon Harewood, is expected to be among the substitutes.

However, John Carew should recover from a groin injury and is likely to partner Gabriel Agbonlahor in attack.


Aston Villa (from): Taylor, Bevan, Gardner, Cahill, Mellberg, Laursen, Bouma, Reo-Coker, Young, Petrov, Barry, Berger, Maloney, Osbourne, Carew, Agbonlahor, Moore, Harewood.

Liverpool (from): Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise, Benayoun, Gerrard, Alonso, Voronin, Torres, Kuyt, Itandje, Arbeloa, Hyypia, Pennant, Sissoko, Crouch, Kewell, Babel, Mascherano.

Benitez Not Pressured At Liverpool Yet

Rafael Benitez has played down suggestions he is a manager under intense pressure after a summer of lavish spending at Liverpool by insisting Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger are starting the season under just as much scrutiny as him.

Benitez says the near-£40 million he has invested in players, including a club record amount on Fernando Torres, since watching Liverpool lose the Champions League final in Athens 80 days ago is money well spent.

He accepts he starts his fourth season in charge at Anfield under the microscope but believes he is under no more pressure than the managers of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, even though Ferguson, Mourinho and Wenger have delivered the title to their clubs.

"Who is under more pressure? Ferguson for winning the league and spending big money, Mourinho for finishing second and spending big money over three years or Wenger for losing Thierry Henry and not winning the title for some years?

"We are all under pressure," Benitez said ahead of today's opening game at Aston Villa.

Liverpool have finished each of the last two seasons in third spot ahead of Arsenal, although they ended last term 21 points adrift of the summit after winning just six times away from Anfield.

Benitez insists his squad are better equipped to mount a more serious challenge, although the Spaniard stopped short of promising to deliver the league after 17 title-free years at Liverpool.

"I don't want to seem arrogant, but when I was at Valencia they had gone 31 years without winning the league, and then we won it and won it again," Benitez said. "Why? Because I have very good staff and good players. Now, I continue having a good staff and better players.

"Hopefully we can now win the league. I don't want to say it's this season because I don't want to make any promises. But I can say we have a better squad, a better team and are working hard. I have confidence and if the new players can settle in quickly, we'll have more of a chance."

Liverpool have not won their opening fixture since John Arne Riise hit the only goal of the game at Aston Villa five years ago.

Benitez knows a repeat scoreline today would help confidence after last season's limp 1-1 opener at Sheffield United set the tone for a season of domestic disappointment.

He has tried to ease the pressure on Torres, who is expected to start at Villa Park, by insisting he expects to see all his forwards hit double figures over the course of the next nine months.

Yet the Liverpool manager admits his side's season could hinge on how long it takes the Spanish striker, who is expected to feature at Villa Park, to adapt to life in the Premiership after arriving from La Liga.

He said: "A lot will depend on how the new players settle in, if they take three months then we might end up in a bad situation."

Itandje Arrives As Carson Leaves On Loan

Liverpool have signed French goalkeeper Charles Itandje from Lens on a four year contract in a move which has allowed Scott Carson to complete a loan deal with Aston Villa.

Itandje, 24, is a former French under-21 international, though his parents are from Cameroon.

The stopper began his career with Red Star 93. His single season with the capital's second side was enough to alert clubs across Europe, but it was Lens who eventually secured the teenager's signature.

He arrives at Anfield as back-up to established number one Pepe Reina and, having received the necessary international clearance, is likely to be on the bench for this weekend's big kick-off at Aston Villa.

Itandje will wear the number 30 shirt at Anfield.

Carson, meanwhile, has agreed a deal to spend this season on loan with Aston Villa in a deal which runs until May 31.

Villa beat off competition from Manchester City for Carson's signature, although the England under-21 international will not be allowed to make his debut against the Reds this weekend.

Carson, 21, has made nine first team appearances for Liverpool.

"I could tell Scott to stay here, but he could be the future keeper of the national team and we don't really want to stop his progress," said Benitez.

"I am happy with the situation and for Scott to play somewhere else. We do not want to lose him, certainly not sell him because we are very happy with him.

"He is a good lad and a very promising goalkeeper. But I can understand his need to maintain his place in the England squad. It will benefit him to be out on loan and for us to sign a new goalkeeper. Then we will have three keepers all in action."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Liverpool's Reina Wins Barclays Golden Glove Award

Liverpool's Spanish goalkeeper Jose Manuel 'Pepe' Reina has won the Barclays Golden Glove Award for the second successive season after keeping 19 clean sheets in the 2006-07 Barclays Premier League campaign.

Reina's nearerst rival was across Stanley Park at Goodison, where Everton's Tim Howard recorded 14 shut-outs. Reading's Marcus Hahnemann followed with 13 clean sheets in his first Barclays Premier League season.

Previous Barclays Golden Glove winner Petr Cech, and Manchester United's Edwin van der Sar, were two of five goalkeepers who racked up 12 games without conceding.

Reina Fact-File:

Jose Manuel Reina was born on 31st August 1982 in Madrid, but began his career with Barcelona and made his debut for the Catalan side at the age of 18, also playing against Liverpool in the 2001 UEFA Cup semi-final.

Reina signed for Liverpool in July 2005 from Villarreal for £6 million.

During the 2006-07 season, he made 34 League appearances and registered 19 clean sheets. He now holds the Liverpool club record for successive clean sheets since the Barclays Premier League began, overtaking the five games in a row achieved by David James in the 1996/97 season.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Reds Join Cicinho Hunt

The Brazilian full-back appears to have been pushed down the pecking order at Real Madrid under new coach Bernd Schuster.

Michel Salgado and Sergio Ramos have been used on the right during most of Real's pre-season to date, and Cicinho realises he could be due for a season of bench-warming if he stays at The Bernabeu.

Roma first showed an interest last month but have yet to strike a deal for the 27-year-old.

However, Liverpool have now been alerted and it has been claimed that Rafa Benitez has made contact.

Benitez wants competition on his right side and after seemingly cooling his interest in Sevilla's Daniel Alves - Cicinho appears to be an attractive alternative.

Roma were believed to be looking into a possible loan, but it seems a The Reds could bid 10 million euros (£6.8million) - which the Eternal City side would not match.

One possible problem for Liverpool could be the fact that Cicinho is reported to have told Real that he would rather move to Italy than England.

Sochaux Still Keen To Bring Back Le Tallec

Sochaux president Jean-Claude Plessis still retains an interest in signing Liverpool forward Anthony Le Tallec, but admits financial constraints could scupper any potential deal.

Le Tallec spent last season on loan at Sochaux, who are looking to bring him back for another spell in the Franche-Comte region.

Plessis admitted, however, that his side cannot compete with the wages on offer at the Reds. "It is no longer a question of getting an additional attacker, save perhaps Anthony," Plessis told French newspaper L'Est Republicain.

"But that remains subject to conditions that we all know about. He has an English salary and I can't break the wage bill of this club like that."

Sochaux, who will play in the UEFA Cup this season, have until August 31 to add to their squad.

Liverpool's recruitment of a raft of attackers over the summer means Le Tallec's chances of first-team football at Anfield this season are limited.

The player spent 2005-06 on loan at Sunderland, scoring three league goals in their unsuccessful fight to stay in the Premiership.

Liverpool Sell Sinama-Pongolle

Liverpool have officially confirmed the permanent transfer of striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle to Spanish club Recreativo.

The 22-year-old spent the entirety of last season on loan at Recre and made a big impression, making 32 league appearances, scoring 11 times.

He had been drafted in to the Liverpool squad by former Reds boss Gerard Houllier in 2003. Despite showing enough promise to earn a place in the France Under 21 squad, his Anfield career never took off.

Having made 66 appearances for Liverpool Sinama-Pongolle scored just 9 times and founds himself towards the back of a long list of strike talent at the club.

Heinze Seeks Arbitration Panel To Resolve United Row

An arbitration panel will meet next week to decide if Argentina defender Gabriel Heinze can leave champions Manchester United for Liverpool, the Premier League said on Tuesday.

Heinze, whose move to Merseyside is being blocked by United, had requested a three-man panel to settle the dispute between the two northwest rivals, a league spokesman said.

Heinze returned to United on Monday, having helped Argentina reach the Copa America final in Venezuela last month.

The 29-year-old left-back, who joined United in 2004 from Paris St Germain for 6.9 million pounds, has been losing out to France's Patrice Evra for a first team place.

Liverpool have offered 6.8 million, the sum reportedly needed for Heinze to buy out the remainder of his contract, but United manager Alex Ferguson does not want him to join a title rival.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

LiverpooL In Negotiation With The New Maradona

Liverpool are amongst a host of clubs interesting in signing the brightest talent to come out of South America since Diego Maradona.

18 year old Argentine Franco Di Santo is set to arrive in the UK this week with a view to deciding which of the club's seeking to obtain his services he will join.

The 6ft 4in striker currently plays for Audax Italiano in Chile and has been described as the new Maradona.

According to reports over the weekend, Di Santo will meet with Liverpool representatives this week but will face competition for his signature with Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth, Blackburn and Manchester City all set for talks with the players representatives this week.

£75M To Spend - Who Will You Buy?

If you are given a tranfer budget of £75 million, who will you buy to improve the eixsting Liverpool team?

Here's my very own idea of spending the budget:

1. Samuel Eto'o, striker (Barcelona) = £30 million

2. Aiden McGeady, winger/attacking midfielder (Celtic) = £5 million

3. Vincent Kompany, defender/defensive midfielder (Hamburg) = £10 million

4. Fabio Paim, attacking midfielder/forward (Sporting Lisbon) = £8 million

5. Nicola Pozzi, striker (Empoli) = £5 million

6. Micah Richards, wing back/defender (Man City) = £7 million

7. Philip Lahm, wing back/winger left-right (Bayern Munich) = £10 million.

Please be informed that these prices are based on current valuation and does not represent the actual value of the player(s).

Feel free to give your own comment....

Monday, August 06, 2007

Feyenoord 1 Liverpool 1

Liverpool's pre-season campaign ended amid astonishing scenes in Rotterdam as six of their players were booked and skipper Steven Gerrard was fortunate not to be sent off.

The final match of the Port of Rotterdam tournament was anything but a friendly as Liverpool fought back from a goal down for Gerrard to grab a second-half equaliser.

But the game in a packed De Kuip stadium had been simmering for a while, with young winger Royston Drenthe in the thick of the trouble.

His late tackle on Gerrard in the dying minutes caused uproar with players from both sides converging in a angry melee, and Gerrard was seen to shove Theo Lucius.

The England midfielder could easily have seen a red card, but the game eventually produced a surprising nine cautions and a late penalty save by Jose Reina.

The fact that the result left Porto as the competition winners meant little as the tempers of Feyenoord and Liverpool players boiled over.

Manager Rafael Benitez will have been disappointed with Liverpool's failure to create a glut chances, but happy he got his players out of Holland without injuries or suspensions.

Benitez fielded a completely different team to the one that comfortably beat Shanghai on Friday, this one much closer to his ideas for the league opener at Aston Villa on Saturday.

Only Alvaro Arbeloa, Andriy Voronin and Harry Kewell from the opening XI are unlikely to play at Villa Park.

And Liverpool started with poise, control and dominance. But they could not turn possession into goals.

Gerrard had a volley over and saw another effort glide wide after a surge into the box, while John Arne Riise was also wide with a drive.

On 15 minutes, Dirk Kuyt, back in front of the Feyenoord fans he served so well before his move to Anfield, saw a fierce drive crash against the bar, giving Egyptian keeper Sheriff Ekramy no chance.

It bounced down, seemingly over the line, but with no official near enough to award the goal play went on.

And a minute from the break Liverpool's wastefulness was punished when Andwele Slory got in behind Riise on the right and saw his shot cannon back off a post for Drenthe to score.

The flying winger, a key member of Holland's European Under-21 Championships title winners this summer, gave Liverpool plenty of problems, Arbeloa being booked for one desperate tug on the youngster.

Liverpool's frustrations boiled over after the break with both Kewell and Jermaine Pennant also booked.

Not surprisingly, Kewell was replaced by Ryan Babel soon after. Pennant was next off on 64 minutes, Fernando Torres taking over.

And with Liverpool looking laboured and short of ideas against a deep defence, it was Gerrard who came to the rescue on 72 minutes.

He strode past two men on the right of the box and drilled an angled shot past Ekramy.

Babel and Xabi Alonso both had good efforts wide before Yossi Benayoun replaced Voronin.

But Feyenoord continued to be competitive, and it was Gerrard who had to kick off the line from Hofs, before Alonso and Drenthe were booked for squaring up.

Javier Mascherano soon replaced the Spanish midfielder.

There was more drama when Feyenoord were awarded a penalty for a supposed hand-ball against Arbeloa, the ball in fact striking his head following a Drenthe cross.

But Reina's famed penalty-saving ability saw him turn away Danny Buijs' effort.

But worse was to follow when Drenthe caught Gerrard with a late tackle.

All hell broke loose, and Gerrard was booked for pushing Theo Lucius in the fracas.

He was instantly withdrawn with Mohamed Sissoko coming on in the final seconds.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Benitez: Liverpool Will Strike Right Balance

Rafael Benitez is relishing a potential selection headache as he looks to turn Liverpool into serious title contenders next season.

The arrival of new owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett saw the Spaniard handed a substantial transfer kitty and Benitez responded by bringing in Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel and Andriy Voronin alongside Yossi Benayoun over the summer in an attempt to match the firepower of rivals Manchester United and Chelsea.

With last season's top scorer, Peter Crouch, and Holland international Dirk Kuyt also vying for a starting berth, Benitez's biggest worry will be keeping his multitude of stars happy.

However, the Reds manager welcomes the problem and hopes the situation will see his side hit the back of the net more frequently than last term.

"For me it's a good problem," Benitez said. "I like to have these options up front. We have different options now and it depends on the game but I think all of them can play together and that is the important thing.

"It depends on the game. If we want to play more crosses, Crouch can play or Voronin, and if we want to change the game we can introduce a different striker. Last season the team was attacking but I would like to see more goals. We were attacking a lot but we can now improve the accuracy."

All eyes will be on Torres in particular and how quickly the Spainish international can adjust to the pace and physicality of the English game. One man who knows the 23-year-old better than most is Jose Reina.

The Liverpool goalkeeper has both played with and against the former Atletico Madrid hitman in La Liga and the national side and is confident Torres will justify his hefty price tag.

"He's a top quality player and after being with Atletico Madrid it won't be a problem for him," Reina said. "I expect him to score goals, he is learning English very early and has the mentality to succeed.

"I can't explain what he is going to find because I don't want to scare him. He will find out in his own way but I am convinced that he is absolutely ready to meet the challenge."

Reina's own place may be under pressure for perhaps the first time in his Liverpool career as Scott Carson returns to Anfield on the back of an impressive season-long loan at Charlton.

The 21-year-old turned in a string of inspirational performances during the Addicks' unsuccessful fight against relegation but Reina insisted he is ready to cope with the added competition.

"I think it's a great challenge for me," he said. "The more intense it will be, the better for the team. I'm not worried. I know Scotty will be pressuring me, he's a great shot stopper and he showed that last season and it's better for the team."

Voronin Expects To Succeed

Andrei Voronin does not expect to have the same problems adapting to English football as his Ukrainian compatriot Andrei Shevchenko.

Voronin has made a positive start to his Liverpool career after completing a free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen this summer.

Meanwhile, Shevchenko, who found the back of the net only 14 times last season, did not live up to high expectations following his £30million move to Chelsea from Milan.

However, Voronin does not believe he will suffer the same difficulties as the Chelsea forward.

"The problems Shevchenko has had have not discouraged me from coming to Liverpool," Voronin told the Daily Star.

"Just because he did perform as well as he might have done did not have an affect on me.

"I have studied English football and think there are many similarities with the game in Germany.

"I am not just here to make up the numbers - I think that one of my biggest qualities is my strength of character."

Voronin also expects Shevchenko to produce the goods this season now that he has had time to settle in England.

"He didn't perform as well as he was expected to last season but he played in Italian football for seven seasons with AC Milan and that league is totally different to English football," Voronin added.

"Maybe he just needed a little bit more time to get used to the English style but I think he will do better this season because he is a goal scorer."

Saturday, August 04, 2007

First For Torres In Reds Win

Fernando Torres scored his first goal for Liverpool in the 2-0 win over Shanghai Shenhua.

The club's record signing put The Reds ahead in the Port of Rotterdam tournament opener before Steven Gerrard curled in a fine second goal.

Though chances were at a premium at Feyenoord's De Kuip stadium, Liverpool took the lead with their first real opportunity on 13 minutes.

Yossi Benayoun - another new signing for Liverpool - threaded through a clever pass for Torres, who produced a cute finish over the Shanghai keeper.

Torres wanted a penalty after half-an-hour after taking a tumble in the box before strike partner Peter Crouch's weak chip was easily saved.

Liverpool were given a scare before the break when Blanco slipped through, but his shot clipped the legs of keeper David Martin.

In the second half, Gerrard climbed off the bench to add a touch of class to a laboured contest when he worked room for a shot and curled his effort inside the far post from 20 yards.

Former Feyenoord striker Dirk Kuyt then slipped a pass through for Benayoun, but the Israeli was closed down as he scented a goal.

Rafa Benitez's men will face tournament hosts Feyenoord in their second game of the competition on Sunday.

Comment: Finally, the golden boy of Liverpool has found his scoring boots again. Hopefully he will continue scoring more goals for Liverpool in the upcoming football season.