Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Agger, Torres & Mascherano Latest

Rafa Benitez has been boosted by news Javier Mascherano is back in training after recovering from a knock sustained against Arsenal at the weekend.

The Liverpool boss is also hopeful of having Fernando Torres back in two weeks, slightly less than originally thought.

Benitez said: "It is the same problem as before with Fernando. Hopefully he can be fit in two weeks.

"We thought he was ready for the Arsenal game and during the match I asked him two or three times if he was okay because clearly he wasn't fit. He is not the sort of player who normally gets injuries and that's the reason he didn't feel what he had. That was the problem.

"Javier is okay. He trained today and so we've had good luck with him."

Meanwhile, Daniel Agger, who hasn't featured since Portsmouth on September 15, is still 10-16 days away from a return following a metatarsal break.

Benitez added: "He is continuing to progress but with this kind of injury he needs time. I think we need to wait another 10-16 days."

Liverpool are still waiting news on Xabi Alonso, who is due to see a specialist today.

Double Boost For Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is hopeful striker Fernando Torres will make a quicker-than-expected return from a thigh problem.

The club's record signing was withdrawn at half-time in Sunday's 1-1 draw against Arsenal - on his return after missing two matches with an adductor injury - and it was anticipated he would be out for a further three weeks.

However, Benitez believes the Spain international may return sooner.

"It is the same problem as before with Fernando. Hopefully he can be fit in two weeks," said the manager.

"We thought he was ready for the Arsenal game and during the match I asked him two or three times if he was okay because clearly he wasn't fit.

"He is not the sort of player who normally gets injuries and that's the reason he didn't feel what he had. That was the problem."

There was better news on Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano, who hobbled through the closing stages of the draw against the Gunners with a bruised foot.

"Javier is okay. He trained today and so we've had good luck with him," Benitez added.

The Reds boss is still awaiting news on how long he will be without Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso, who is seeing a specialist about a broken metatarsal - his second of the season.

Centre-back Daniel Agger, who has not played since September 15 after also breaking a metatarsal, is still two weeks away from fitness.

"He is continuing to progress but with this kind of injury he needs time. I think we need to wait another 10-16 days," Benitez told the club's website,

Aston Villa Linked With Record Bid For Liverpool’s Peter Crouch

According to widespread reports in England on Wednesday, Aston Villa are ready to break club record in their attempt to sign Liverpool striker Peter Crouch in January.

The Villans had signed attacker Ashley Young for club record £9.65 million from Watford during January this year.

Crouch, who has been a target for speculation since end of last season with Newcastle United linked to the England international, had been largely unsuccessful when he was with Villa from 2002-2004 scoring only six goals in 47 Premiership appearances.

He was then sold to Southampton, from where after a year he joined Liverpool.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has stressed time and again that Crouch firmly remains in his plans and he is not for sale.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Liverpool’s Carragher Tips Crouch To Step Up In Torres Absence

Liverpool vice-captain Jamie Carragher has suggested Peter Crouch can step up to the challenge of replacing Reds’ record-signing Fernando Torres, who is out injured for three weeks.

Torres had made an instant impact after his switch to Anfield from Atletico Madrid in the summer. But an adductor injury, first in training for Spain recently, and then in the return to action against Arsenal, have laid him low.

Crouch, who has reportedly revealed his displeasure at not having enough opportunities this season after having been the top-scorer for the Reds last term, took the field in the second half against the Gunners as Torres was injured.

Carragher said in the Liverpool Daily Post: “Unfortunately we have picked up some more injuries. Torres will be a big loss, but Peter Crouch was excellent when he came on.”

Meanwhile Reds boss Rafa Benitez will learn the extent of Xabi Alonso’s metatarsal injury today, as the Spanish midfielder suffered the injury during his comeback against Arsenal after five weeks out with a similar injury.

Torres: I've Found My Mersey Paradise

Fernando Torres insists he has no intention of returning to Spain for a long time, after insisting he feels "comfortable" at Liverpool.

Torres quit Atletico Madrid - the club he had been at since the age of 11 - this summer to move to Anfield in a deal that reportedly cost the Reds a club-record £21million transfer fee.

It was a massive decision for the Spaniard to leave his hometown club, but now he is in England, the 23-year-old admits he cannot see himself going back to Spain at least until his six-year deal with Liverpool runs out.

"I am going to complete my contract with Liverpool at the very least. I am comfortable at this great club. Here you are respected as a great player," he said on Radio Marca.

"You are going to grounds with the feeling that you are going to win. I am not planning to return to Spain, neither now nor for many years.

"The support of the fans has been phenomenal. Here the people see you on the street and they greet you like a friend.

"In the stadia, when you are substituted at a rival ground, the public applauds you. It is certainly a different way of seeing football for me."

Torres, who has scored seven goals in 13 first-team appearances for Liverpool so far, is currently sidelined with an adductor injury he suffered against Arsenal at the weekend and is set to be out for around three weeks.

That could rule him out of Spain's potentially critical European Championship qualifier against Group F leaders Sweden on November 17.

Liverpool Boosted By Harry Kewell Return

Harry Kewell will make his belated return to the Liverpool first team for Wednesday’s Carling Cup clash against Cardiff.

The Australian winger has been sidelined since suffering a groin injury while playing for his country in the Asian Cup over the summer.

However, Kewell made a goalscoring return to action for the reserves at the weekend and now has the chance to prove he has a future on Merseyside following the summer acquisitions of Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun.

Liverpool are expected to rest several first-choice players, including goalkeeper Jose Reina, who has branded the injury crisis threatening to overwhelm the club's season as a "pain in the backside."

The Liverpool No 1 was dismayed to see his fellow Spaniards Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres sidelined after suffering recurrences of existing injuries in Sunday's 1-1 draw with Arsenal, and says the setbacks could hardly have come at a worse time.

Liverpool must beat Besiktas at Anfield next week to survive in the Champions League and they cannot afford to lose any more ground to Arsenal and Manchester United in the Premier League title race.

Reina said: "The injuries are a big problem. We have had far too many in the last few months. Now we have another injury to Fernando and another to Xabi.

"When important players are recovering and coming back into the side and then they get injured again, it is always difficult."

Liverpool are still waiting to hear how long they will be without midfielder Alonso, who has suffered a metatarsal fracture, while Torres is expected to be out for three weeks with a torn adductor muscle.

The only consolation for under-pressure manager Rafael Benitez is that the foot injury suffered by Javier Mascherano on Sunday is not as serious as first feared.

Benitez, however, is already without winger Jermaine Pennant with a stress fracture of the shin, and first-choice centre-back Daniel Agger, who is still recovering from his own broken metatarsal.

The loss of Torres is probably the biggest blow to Benitez, though. The Spaniard had to be withdrawn at half-time on Sunday and Liverpool's cutting edge was significantly reduced as a result.

Peter Crouch is expected to make only his sixth start of the season on Wednesday and the England striker is desperate to make an impact.

He said: "I was pleased to get on against Arsenal, even though it wasn't in the circumstances I would have liked with Fernando getting injured. You always want your best players on the pitch and hopefully he won't be out for too long.

"From my point of view I haven't had too many chances this season and so I have to take them when they come along. It's going to be a long season, we have a big squad and everybody will get games at some point. I just know that whenever I play I have to perform.

"Players are greedy and they want to play every week but it's not possible. We know there could be anything up to 70 matches this season and we understand what the manager is trying to do."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Liverpool Tell Benítez League Title Is A Must

Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benítez, will have to guide his team to the Premier League title to justify the £40m the club invested in new players in the summer, according to the club's co-owner Tom Hicks.

Speaking 24 hours after Liverpool's prospects of qualifying for the knock-out stage of the Champions League were severely dented by a 2-1 defeat by Besiktas in Turkey, Hicks said the domestic trophy remained the club's priority. Benítez based his pre-season approach to the American owners of the club on a challenge for the Premier League title, impressing on them the need for more strength in depth if he were to mount a credible challenge to Manchester United and Chelsea.

Hicks and George Gillett acceded to his wishes, investing £26.5m in Fernando Torres and £11.5m on the Ajax winger Ryan Babel. Hicks pledged his support for a coach who has often seemed more at home in European competition than the domestic fray. But in comments that will increase the pressure on Benítez to deliver a title the club have not won for 17 years Hicks implied he and Gillett are expecting a swift return on their investment.

"One of the reasons we made the signings we did in the summer was to create the depth we now have. Rafa explained to George and me that is how you win the Prem, because you have to play every team twice," Hicks said. "We totally support Rafa, nobody wants to win more than Rafa. But I know when we committed the resources for signings in the summer the whole idea was to have a team that could compete for the Premier League. We've not had the depth previously to do that.

"This squad is good enough to win things. It should be winning things. If it doesn't we'll have to look at the circumstances and have a meeting at the end of the year to understand what happened. I don't want to predict failure, I want to predict success."

Benítez demanded extensive investment from Liverpool's new owners after May's defeat by Milan in the European Cup final, a second final appearance in three seasons that he claimed represented an over-achievement for the squad at his disposal. The Liverpool manager said dithering in the transfer market had cost the club major targets in recent seasons - including Daniel Alves at Seville, the former Benfica captain Simão Sabrosa and Florent Malouda this summer - and it was against this backdrop, plus an implied threat from the Spaniard that he would consider his future if finances were not forthcoming, that the Americans eventually acted.

Liverpool's struggles in Europe this season contrast with their success in winning the tournament in 2005 and reaching last year's final but Hicks acknowledged that the supporters crave the Premier League title.

"Our fans, I can tell from just talking to them, want to win the Premier League. They haven't won the top title in 17 years and I know their passions really are that they want to win the Premier League.

Hicks remains confident that Liverpool can qualify for the Champions League knockout round but said failure would not impact on current attempts to refinance the club. The Americans personally guaranteed a loan of £298m from the Royal Bank of Scotland to buy the club but a recent attempt to refinance the loan collapsed. Hicks said he was close to agreeing a deal and Champions League failure would not impact on negotiations.

"The package will be completed within 30 days, but I don't want to comment any further on the details," he said. "In terms of budgeting we've got it covered either way, and we've got our work cut out [to qualify]. If we didn't qualify, it would be terribly disappointing but I'm an optimist and I think we're going to win our next two at home and then we have a big match in Marseille. I think we can get out of the group," he said.

In Focus: Liverpool vs Arsenal

The cloak of caution usually hovers over Liverpool under Benitez but they'll throw the kitchen sink at Arsenal in the opening 20 minutes, allowing the visitors to hit them on the counter-attack.

The pace and interplay of Arsenal's front five will put Liverpool's once iron defence to the test and goals are to be expected. There were 18 in three matches in this fixture at Anfield last season; Arsenal winning twice, Liverpool just the once.

Liverpool's other strikers are slightly one-dimensional but 'El Nino' offers the complete package. Quick, dynamic and two-footed, his £26million transfer fee has been justified with seven goals in 11 games, though even he has not been immune to Rafael Benitez's rotating.

Torres missed the last two games with a thigh injury but should return here in what will be a huge test for William Gallas and Kolo Toure.


Cesc Fabregas v Xabi Alonso

One of Fabregas's great assets is his ability to find pockets of space in congested midfields and deliver instant killer passes.

Alonso has more defensive responsibilities than his fellow Spaniard and will be expected to shield Liverpool's back four.

Alexander Hleb v Alvaro Arbeloa

No player epitomises Arsenal's progress better than Hleb. The Belarusian can go into his shell but when they are on song, he is at the heart of it, drifting inside to instigate clever moves with Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky. Arbeloa could be recalled to shadow him for the day.

Theo Walcott v Jamie Carragher

Super quick versus not-so-quick. Only one winner? Certainly not.

Walcott came of age on Tuesday but he is still very raw and Carragher has the nous and expertise to keep him in his cage. However, if Walcott manages to get one-on-one with Liverpool's defensive leader, there could be fireworks.


Robin van Persie (knee) and Philippe Senderos (back) are missing for Arsenal. For Liverpool, Fernando Torres is set to return from injury and Xabi Alonso, Daniel Agger and Alvaro Arbeloa could also be back after lay-offs.

Reds Reveal New Stadium Cost

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has admitted that the projected cost of building a new stadium for the club has increased by at least £150million.

Hicks and fellow American George Gillett took over the club in March and have since revamped plans for a stadium to replace Anfield by August 2011.

Liverpool are hoping to receive the City Council's seal of approval for the new plans at a meeting on 5th November.

However, Hicks has revealed that the new stadium will now cost the Merseyside outfit "at least £400m" - a considerable increase on the initial estimate of £250m.

The stadium is planned to hold 60,000 supporters and will be designed to accommodate an additional 10,000 fans when permission is secured.

"Our fans are wonderful and over time we'll be able to give them the amenities, comfort and ease of getting tickets they have never had before," said Hicks.

Hicks, though, insists he and co-owner Gillett did not invest in Liverpool in order to gain financial profit.

"People get involved in sport mainly because they have a passion rather than for the money," Hicks added.

"There are far better investments I could make than buying a football team."

Benitez Feeling No Pressure

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has brushed off talk he is under pressure at Anfield.

There have been growing murmurs of discontent on Merseyside with the Reds having taken only one point from their opening three Champions League group games.

But speaking ahead of this weekend's visit of Arsenal, the Spaniard was unflustered.

When asked if he felt under pressure, Benitez said: "I don't think so, it's part of the job as a manager.

"Every week if you lose you will be under pressure, if you win then you are the best manager in the world. We just need to keep going."

Benitez is confident his side will bounce back to form against Arsenal at Anfield following Wednesday's shock defeat to Besiktas.

"When we played against Everton I said a derby would be a different game and it could be the same against a top side like Arsenal," added Benitez.

"They are top of the table now, but our team has confidence.

"The players are ready and for me they are playing better than before and we have a lot of positive news."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

After European Loss, Liverpool Faces Inform Arsenal In Premier League

Liverpool has little time to recover from a devastating Champions League defeat, going straight into a Premier League showdown against an Arsenal side in its best run of form in years.

The two play at Anfield on Sunday after a contrasting week in Europe. Liverpool lost at Besiktas 2-1 on Wednesday and has only a point after three Champions League games.

Arsenal beat Slavia Prague 7-0 on Tuesday to equal the best-ever scoreline in the Champions League and keep a perfect record in Europe after three games.

The Gunners have won their last 12 games in all competitions and are unbeaten in the Premier League.

Even in 2003-04, when Arsenal went through the entire league season unbeaten, the Gunners' best sequence was 10 straight wins in all competitions.

Arsenal leads the Premier League with 25 points, followed by Manchester United with 23, Manchester City with 22 and Liverpool with 19. Arsenal has a game in hand on the two Manchester sides.

Liverpool hasn't lost in the league yet either, but any boost from beating crosstown rival Everton 2-1 last Saturday may have gone with the loss in Turkey.

"It was down as much to bad luck as anything else,'' Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said.”Everything we did could not make up for missing so many chances.

"But if we keep playing like we did here, we will win matches because we will certainly score more next time around if we play like that.''

Arsenal's players were clearly enjoying themselves as they demolished Slavia Prague, and the game brought two goals from Theo Walcott in his first start.

"Theo has proved we can believe it everyone in our squad,'' said Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor.

The only blemish to Arsenal's week was the attack by benched goalkeeper Jens Lehmann on manager Arsene Wenger.

The 37-year-old German international has not played for Arsenal since making a mistake against Blackburn in the Premier League on Aug. 19, although he has since recovered from an elbow injury.

He told German television on Tuesday that Wenger was humiliating him by leaving him out of the team and criticizing Manuel Almunia, who has been starting in his place.

Hicks Backing Benitez

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks has given his support to manager Rafa Benitez following The Reds' disappointing UEFA Champions League campaign.

Wednesday's surprise 2-1 defeat to Besiktas means the Merseysiders are likely to need to win all three of their remaining group games to qualify for the knock-out stage.

Although Liverpool are unbeaten in The Premier League this season, Benitez's rotation policy has also come under renewed criticism - including Steven Gerrard's substitution in the Merseyside derby.

However, Hicks says the Spaniard's record in Europe speaks for itself and that he has no problem with the former Valencia man's policy of chopping and changing his squad.

"We back Rafa. He's the right manager. Rafa's rotation has been his policy for three years," the American businessman told Sky Sports News.

"Rafa's ability to coach and manage in the Champions League should be unquestioned.

"We had a disappointing loss because we got outplayed by the Turks.

"I think we have our work cut out, but yeah we can qualify. We have to win the next three games."

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Believes His Reds Squad Still Can Qualify Despite Their 2-1 Loss To Besiktas In Champions League

Despite suffering a defeat at the hands of Besiktas, which resulted in the Reds sinking to the bottom of the Champions League Group A table, Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has full confidence that his side they will reach the latter stages of the Champions League.

Presently the Anfield side have just one point after their 2-1 defeat and now will have to win their remaining three games in order to qualify.

"If we play like we did against Besiktas, we can win the final matches," said Liverpool boss Benitez.

"The players worked hard and you cannot blame them. The fans will be positive we can do it after seeing the game."

Liverpool, who are still unbeaten in the Premier League, went down by an own-goal when defender Sami Hyypia deflected Serdar Ozkan's shot into his own net.

Bobo went on to increase the score in the second half firing home the ball from close range.

Reds skipper Steven Gerrard got one goal to the credit of his side through a brilliant header as Liverpool pushed hard in the latter stages of the match.

Benitez added: "We had a lot of shots on target and shots off target. We controlled almost everything but made a big mistake in the first half."

Gerrard believes his manager is right and feels the Reds can still qualify from the group.

"We are pleased with how we played but disappointed with the result. We need to keep going and win the final three games and see what happens," he said.

"We need to take the positives and learn from our mistakes. We are capable of winning our final three games."

"It is the worst possible result. We had a mountain to climb but we have got an even bigger one to climb now.

"Mistakes happen as a result of misunderstandings but they put us under pressure."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sissoko Desperate For Move To Juventus

Liverpool midfielder Momo Sissoko has expressed his regret at not moving to Juventus in the summer and is hoping they will reignite their interest in him during the January transfer window.

The Mali international rejected a move to the Bianconeri in the summer and instead opted to sign a new four-year contract at Anfield.

However Sissoko has struggled for form this season and Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano are all ahead of him in the central-midfield pecking order.

“I should have accepted a move to Juventus,” said a regretful Sissoko. “Not moving to Juve was a massive error on my part.”

The chances of a move to Turin may not be over though for the 22-year-old. Coach Claudio Ranieri’s big midfield acquisition in the summer, Tiago Mendes, has been a huge flop and has started just one Serie A game this season.

Ranieri knows Sissoko well during his time as Valencia boss and may be prepared to sell Tiago in January and replace him with the energetic Liverpool man.

Sissoko joined the Reds in 2005 and has since gone on to make more than 75 appearances for the club.

Liverpool Faces Tough Trip To Besiktas

Liverpool returns to the city where it won the 2005 Champions League title on Wednesday needing a victory in Istanbul to avoid an early exit from this season's competition.

The five-time European champions, who have just one point from their opening two matches, could be in danger of failing to reach the group stage if they falter against Besiktas.

"We need to go there and try to win because we need three points," Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said Tuesday.

Liverpool's chances won't be helped by the absence of star striker Fernando Torres, who hasn't recovered from a thigh injury.

After losing in last May's final to AC Milan, the team it beat for the title in 2005, Liverpool is off to a woeful start to this season's campaign and is third in Group A.

A 1-1 draw at FC Porto in September was followed earlier this month by a dire 2-0 defeat to Marseille at Anfield.

"It is difficult," Benitez said. "We will see what happens in the other game (between Porto and Marseille), just wait and keep working, thinking about winning every game."

Besiktas, though, has lost both its matches and is winless in the Champions League in almost four years.

Besiktas coach Ertugrul Saglam will watch from the stands as he serves a one-match ban. Saglam was punished by UEFA for being sent from the dugout in Besiktas' 1-0 loss to FC Porto.

Benitez said the hostile atmosphere which usually greets visiting English teams in Istanbul can't be used as an excuse.

"We have enough experience in Europe," the Spaniard said before Liverpool flew to Turkey. "I don't think it will be a big problem."

With four matches remaining, the Reds need to start drawing inspiration from their unbeaten start in the domestic league, capped by Saturday's 2-1 victory at crosstown rival Everton.

Liverpool is fourth in the Premier League, six points adrift of leader Arsenal.

But the derby victory was clouded by Steven Gerrard's anger at being substituted in the 70th minute - before Dirk Kuyt's winner.

"I was hurt and disappointed at being taken off because," the captain said. "I'm a local lad and the derby means everything to me."

Benitez insists there is no lingering rift.

"As a manager you need to make decisions in a moment," Benitez said. "You can understand the reaction because it is a derby and special. But for me, Steve is our key player so I think everything will be the same in terms of if I need to use him."

And Benitez won't be afraid to drag the England midfielder off the pitch again.

"After talking with him, he knows my idea," Benitez said. "If I need to replace him he knows that I am thinking about what is best for the team."

Midfielder Xabi Alonso is in contention for Wednesday's match after recovering from a foot injury.

Torres Out Of Istanbul Trip

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres will not be fit to play in his side's Champions League match against Besiktas in Istanbul.

The Spanish forward, the Reds' record signing over the summer, suffered a thigh strain on international duty last week and failed to recover in time to play in the Merseyside derby against Everton on Saturday.

Manager Rafael Benitez bought Torres from Atletico Madrid for a fee believed to be in the region of £24 million and he has made a good start to his Anfield career, scoring seven goals in his first 12 games.

However he has yet to net for Liverpool in European competition and Benitez is keen to kick-start their winless Champions League group stage campaign in Turkey.

"It's clear we need to go to Istanbul and try to win," Benitez told the club's official website.

"If we don't do that we know it will be difficult for us but all we are thinking about is the three points. The players know how important it is for us to win this game."

Liverpool recorded an impressive 1-1 draw in their opening match in Porto but slumped to a disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to French side Marseilles in week two.

And Benitez continued: "Porto are a good team and we know our first half performance wasn't good against them, but to get a draw when we went down to ten men wasn't bad.

"We made a mistake in our next game against Marseille which was a bad night for us. We need to repair that mistake against Besiktas."

Rafa Defends Substituting Gerrard

Steven Gerrard’s disappointment at being substituted during the Merseyside derby was clear for all to see, but Rafael Benitez stands by his decision.

Liverpool ran out 2-1 winners of the Merseyside derby at the weekend, after converting a dramatic last minute penalty. Dirk Kuyt converted confidently, following Phil Neville’s dismissal for handling on the line.

Gerrard’s replacement Lucas Levia had the shot on goal, that forced Neville to handle and Benitez feels he justified his inclusion, because of his vital contribution to Liverpool’s win.

"Normally you can understand the reaction because it's a derby and it was special," said Benitez in a press conference broadcast on Sky Sports News.

"Stevie is a key player and I think everything will be the same, in terms of if I need to use him I will use him for sure, and if I need to replace him he knows that it's thinking about the best for the team.

"After talking to him he knows my idea. As a manager you need to make decisions in the moment.

"In this case Lucas Levia was a big part of the victory, so I think that everything was okay."

Liverpool face Besitkas of Turkey on Wednesday night in the Champions League and desperately need a win, after only picking-up one point so far, in this season’s campaign.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Reds Linked With Kjaer Swoop

Liverpool are reported to have joined the race to sign highly-rated Danish teenager Simon Kjaer.

The 18-year-old defender, currently with FC Midtyjlland, has been linked with Middlesbrough and a number of clubs across Europe.

Reds boss Rafael Benitez is now believed to have sent his scouts to Denmark and is said to have been impressed by their reports.

Kjaer's agent, former Middlesbrough striker Mikkel Beck, insists that the Denmark Under-19 international has the talent to be rated alongside some of the game's greats.

Beck told The Sunday Sun: "You realise how special this kid is when Liverpool watch him and tell you he's good enough to play in their first team.

"Messi, Rooney, Dos Santos - he is special like them.

"Lille and Monaco were the first to show an interest, then Real made a much better offer and it was turned down. He is worth a lot more."

Gerrard 'Hurt' To Be Subbed

Steven Gerrard was 'hurt and disappointed' to be substituted in the Merseyside derby on Saturday.

Gerrard was taken off with 20 minutes to go of Liverpool's 2-1 win at Goodison Park, and was clearly baffled at Rafa Benitez's decision.

However, Benitez explained that he took Gerrard off because he wanted more control in midfield: "In this game, sometimes you need to play with the brain and we were playing with heart. We needed to keep the ball and pass the ball."

Gerrard told The Liverpool Echo: "I'm a local lad so the derby is really important to me and I would have liked nothing better than to play the full game and to be on the pitch when we got the winner.

"But as it turned out I was taken off and Lucas Leiva who replaced me played a crucial role in us getting the winning goal.

"I was hurt and disappointed at being taken off because, like I said, I'm a local lad and the derby means everything to me."

The Liverpool skipper went on to say that he will ask Benitez to explain his decision, but isn't getting too worked up about it:

"I'll be speaking to the manager about it just to find out why I was substituted, but I won't be banging on his door or anything like that.

"We'll just have a chat and whatever is said will remain between us. But I've been in the game long enough to know that no-one is going to play every minute of every game and there will be times when I'm taken off like everyone else."

Gerrard went on to admit that he has been in poor form in recent weeks, but promised to work his way back with the help of the club's fans:

"I know I haven't been at my best lately but I'm doing everything I can to get back there and having that kind of backing really does make a difference.

"I'm working back towards my best and knowing the fans are behind me will definitely help me get there much quicker."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Gerrard Accused Over Red Card

Steven Gerrard was accused of getting Everton's Tony Hibbert sent off after Liverpool snatched an injury-time winner in one of the most controversial Merseyside derbies.

Everton manager David Moyes was furious with the England captain, and with referee Mark Clattenburg for a series of decisions that reduced the hosts to nine men and allowed Dirk Kuyt, only booked for a dreadful tackle, to score two second-half penalties in Liverpool's 2-1 victory.

Moyes was convinced Gerrard had influenced the referee into giving Hibbert a red card after the Everton defender had brought him down in the box for the equalising penalty in the 54th minute.

'The referee pulled out a yellow card for Tony Hibbert and not a red one until the captain [Gerrard] went over and spoke to him, so maybe he has changed his mind,' said an angry Moyes. 'I think the penalty kick itself was debatable. Ours in the last minute was not debatable.'

In a clear barb at Clattenburg, Moyes added: 'The truth is if you didn't see it, maybe you shouldn't be out there doing the job.'

Everton also argued that Kuyt should not have been on the field to score his goals after a crazy 'kung fu' lunge at Phil Neville produced only a caution.

And the home side were visibly incensed when they were not awarded a penalty themselves in the final seconds after Jamie Carragher wrestled Joleon Lescott to the ground.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, relieved to end a run of three successive draws in the Premier League, backed Clattenburg's decisions and controversially claimed Lescott had dived for his late penalty appeal.

'In England you don't like to see players diving,' said Benitez, who joined his players as they gathered in front of the Liverpool fans to celebrate after the final whistle. But Benitez's accusation brought an angry retort from Moyes.

He said: 'It was not a dive, that is for sure. I think Joleon Lescott would probably be the last person to dive. I think he was just too strong for Carragher and Jamie had to pull him to the ground.'

To complete Everton's sense of injustice, it was Kuyt who scored again from the spot after Neville handled a shot by substitute Lucas and was shown a red card.

Everton felt Kuyt should have been ordered off for his foul on Neville in the 63rd minute.

Moyes said: 'We had a directive that a two-footed tackle off the ground was a sending-off offence. There was four feet of space below Kuyt when he jumped off the ground two-footed. And he goes on to score the winning goal.'

Benitez, whose priority is to lead Liverpool to their first title since 1990, sprang a surprise by taking off Gerrard after 72 minutes.

He said: 'We needed to play with our heads and not our hearts.'

Kuyt Plays Down Derby Tackle

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt insists there was no malice involved in what looked to be a horror challenge on Phil Neville in the Merseyside derby on Saturday.

Merseyside derbies are always fiery affairs, and Saturday’s was no different, Everton ending the game with nine men and Liverpool being lucky to finish with eleven.

Dirk Kuyt was just a few inches away from receiving his marching orders after a two-footed lunge towards Phil Neville.

Luckily for the Dutchman, no contact was made, however referee Mark Clattenburg issued a yellow card for the dangerously play.

Kuyt himself claimed: "People saw the TV and said my booking looks bad. But I was just trying to make a tackle and I did not want to touch the player, and I didn't.

"Maybe I was a bit lucky, but I never had any intention of trying to hit the player, it was a yellow card and I accept that."

Everton's veteran defender Alan Stubbs, who led the condemnation of the challenge afterwards, was not convinced.

Stubbs said: "That was a two-footed lunge. If a player leaves the ground with both feet, that's a red card, and he gets a yellow.

"In the laws of the game if a player goes in with two feet and makes a lunge, and that is what it was, it's a red.

"If Phil (Neville) hadn't been so honest he could have been rolling around and trying to get him sent off. It's a two-footed tackle and that's a red card offence."

Benitez Expects Duo To Be Fit

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is confident Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres will be ready for this week's Champions League showdown with Besiktas in Turkey.

The pair were left out of Saturday's derby victory at Everton.

But Benitez said afterwards: "They were both very, very close to playing. It would have been a risk I was not prepared to take to play them against Everton.

"I would now expect them to be in serious contention against Besiktas when we go to Istanbul (on Wednesday). I will watch them in training and make my decision after that."

The confidence boost of a controversial 2-1 win at Goodison Park has come at just the right time for Liverpool, after a worrying spell had seen them win just two of their previous seven games.

Benitez said: "That victory will do us a lot of good for the Istanbul trip and then next weekend's home game with Arsenal."

The Spaniard has happy memories of Istanbul, not just because of Liverpool's Champions League Final victory there two years ago.

While in charge of Valencia, Benitez masterminded a UEFA Cup victory at Besiktas in the season that saw his Spanish club won the trophy.

He said: "I have won there before, so I have no fears about them; it can be done again."

The Group D match with bottom club Besiktas has become a must-win game, after Liverpool picked up just one point from their opening two matches against Porto and Marseille.

Benitez initially suggested 10 points should see the Reds into the knockout stages.

That seems a long way off now, and he concedes "We now have to win one, maybe two away matches."

That puts intense pressure on Liverpool with only four matches left to avoid slipping from being finalists last season to UEFA Cup competitors this time around.

It is accepted that visiting clubs to Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Istanbul face a torrid time from the local fans - and the city's 'third club' have an equally fearsome reputation.

The warning for Liverpool comes from Porto's Serbian defender Milan Stepanov, who knows Turkish football from his time with Trabzonspor.

Stepanov was part of the Porto side that salvaged a very fortunate 1-0 victory at Besiktas in the last round of Champions League matches.

He said: "Before the game at Besiktas, I told everyone about the crowd - but nobody really believed me.

"After the game, they said 'We never expected such an atmosphere'.

"After the first 45 minutes, our coach told us to relax and play our game - because we were not ourselves in the first half. I can say that God gave us the points in the last minute."

Besiktas have lost both their first two matches in the group and know that only a win over Liverpool will keep them in the competition.

Their French midfielder Edouard Cisse, who spent the 2002-03 season at West Ham, believes: "If we can continue to play like we did against Porto, we still might have a chance."

"That game (against Porto) showed our supporters that our team still has hope for the coming games.

"We played well. We are not giving up yet."

Besiktas will play the match with the added problem of their coach Ertugrul Saglam banned from the touchline.

He has been handed a one-match touchline ban by UEFA's disciplinary body after being sent off against Porto.

Everton 1 - 2 LiverpooL

Liverpool staged a dramatic comeback with two Dirk Kuyt penalties to claim a famous victory in the Merseyside derby.

Liverpool had been humiliated 3-0 in the same fixture last season but claimed revenge as Everton pair Tony Hibbert and Phil Neville were sent off, with the home side denied a late penalty claim.

Both Everton dismissals were for incidents that produced Liverpool's second-half penalties. Hibbert brought down Steven Gerrard in the box and Neville handled on the line.

Dirk Kuyt was coolness personified as he drilled home the spot-kicks to produce a victory that will do much for Liverpool's sagging confidence.

Everton had deservedly led at the break with a Sami Hyypia own goal, but after being reduced to 10 men for much of the second period - the second red card coming in the final seconds - they could not hang on for a draw.

There was no Tim Cahill, no Fernando Torres and no Xabi Alonso despite all the speculation that these injured stars would play.

Everton boss David Moyes went for Neville and Phil Jagielka in central midfield and left James McFadden on the bench.

Liverpool opted for Kuyt and Andriy Voronin in attack while Gerrard started on the right.

Liverpool had the early edge. Gerrard almost got on the end of a cross-field ball, dropping over Hibbert's head on the Everton right.

Liverpool exploited that same space on five minutes, when Yossi Benayoun broke down the flank and set up Voronin for a snap shot that Tim Howard half stopped before clutching the ball away from Kuyt.

But when Everton got their set-plays working, they caused problems. A couple of free-kicks and a corner were not cleared well and from one cross back in from Leon Osman, Alan Stubbs saw a header drop wide of a post.

Corners and free-kicks, swirling into the near post, were a constant source of danger as Victor Anichebe saw one header flash wide.

The Reds did hit back a minute later when John Arne Riise's 25-yard free-kick was deflected just wide.

But Everton's aerial threat was soon to produce a goal on 38 minutes. A Mikel Arteta corner was half-cleared, Alan Stubbs turning to hook it back into the danger area where Jagielka attempted to get in a shot.

But the ball eventually cannoned off Hyypia's boot high onto the net for an own goal.

After the break Joleon Lescott, fresh from his England debut, was a threat on the left along with Arteta.

Osman, Neville and Jagielka in midfield pressed quick and hard and Liverpool were again on the back foot. But from a Benayoun ball out of defence, Liverpool gained a lifeline.

Gerrard set off down the left channel, stretching into Everton's half with Hibbert in pursuit.

The full-back was always a yard behind and when the pair reached the box the defender clipped Gerrard from behind and referee Mark Clattenburg instantly awarded a penalty on 53 minutes.

The official showed Hibbert the red card before Kuyt stepped up to drill home the spot kick.

Everton could have had a penalty themselves when Steve Finnan manhandled Lescott in the box soon after, ahead of a Kuyt break that set up Riise for a shot over the bar.

Howard blocked a Voronin shot and Kuyt headed the rebound over the top, Liverpool searching for the second. But Everton were still coming forward.

Kuyt was booked for a flying lunge at Neville, and Yakubu saw a 30-yarder shot go wide. Liverpool replaced Benayoun with Ryan Babel on 68 minutes.

Benitez then took a very brave decision on 71 minutes to replace Gerrard with young Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva.

The Liverpool skipper looked surprised, but trotted off to allow Lucas into central midfield and Voronin moving to the left.

But it was Lucas' fine ball that sent Voronin away on the left, only to scuff his shot wide. On 77 minutes McFadden came on for Yakubu.

Jermaine Pennant came on for Mohamed Sissoko before Jamie Carragher and McFadden were booked following a tussle on the ground.

Neville was then sent off on 89 minutes for handling a Lucas shot on the line, providing Kuyt with his second penalty.

Everton finished the game complaining to Clattenburg that they should have had a last-ditch penalty for Carragher pulling down Lescott.

He refused their claim and the official was booed off after being surrounded by home players.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Match Prediction: Everton vs. LiverpooL

Home advantage has been the key to this classic derby clash in the last three seasons - with four of the six matches going to whoever was on their own turf.

And there have been fewer clear-cut triumphs at Goodison for the Toffees than their 3-0 verdict 11 months ago.

David Moyes' men were always in control that day as they wrecked Liverpool's run of 17 games without defeat and the Reds again come into this on the back of an unbeaten start to the current league campaign.

There are doubts about both sides though. Everton's defence has looked strangely shaky recently - they let in three against Newcastle last time out and have just two cleans sheets in 12 matches this term.

They came against Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday but Liverpool's expensively assembled forward line looks sure to pose a far greater threat.

The problem for the Reds is a familar one as their form has dipped ever since Rafa Benitez started to tinker with his starting XI for the game with Portsmouth a month ago.

Since then they've drawn three out of four and Benitez's hands could be tied this weekend as his players come back after international duty.

The big worry is Fernando Torres and, with his presence hugely important for Liverpool, anyone thinking of supporting should wait until his name is on the team sheet.

But, with home advantage, we fancy Everton to get something out of this game and if that's the case then Mikel Arteta has a key role to play.

He's outstanding virtually every week for the Toffees and it's been no surprise to see him linked with a host of big clubs recently.

If Everton avoid defeat then he's going to have a big shout for the man of the match award, especially as he's much fresher coming into this than many of his main rivals.

That last point clearly applies to Steven Gerrard who looks a dodgy favourite in this market as he's been nowhere near his best in recent weeks for either club or country.

Verdict: Everton 1 Liverpool 1

Premier League: Everton vs. LiverpooL

Victory for Everton over Liverpool in the 177th Merseyside league derby would lift David Moyes' team to equal on points with their arch-rivals from the other side of Stanley Park.

Both clubs have won four Premier League matches this season, but while the Toffees have also lost four, the Reds are still unbeaten. Should the 206th competitive meeting end all-square, it would be Everton's 1,000th draw in top flight football, and Liverpool's 1,000th in their league history. Liverpool didn't manage to score against Everton last season, but are chasing a sixth victory in eight visits to Goodison Park.

Liverpool's recent form has been disastrous, though saying this, they do still remain unbeaten in the Premier League. Early season form that had Reds fans purring and the media beginning to take Liverpool more seriously has dissipated after a spate of lacklustre performances. The Reds were woeful against Marseille and fortuitous against Wigan and Spurs. The pressure is on Rafa Benitez, and he dare not rotate the side for this crunch match.

Everton fans still hold fond memories of the 3 – 0 annihilation of the Reds at Goodison Park. They will feel that there is no better time to play the Reds, with the confidence seemingly sapping out of Rafa’s boys week by week.

With doubts over Torres and Hyypia seemingly there for the taking with the pace of Yakubu, Everton fans will be gleefully rubbing their hands together.

This game will be a very important test for the Liverpool players - it will be an indication of whether they have the mettle to win the league. With Arsenal in scintillating form and Man United grinding out results the Reds can ill-afford to drop any more points.

The Bluenoses will have high expectations of their league campaign this season. David Moyes has made a huge outlay on the excellent Yakubu who had begun to go stale at Middlesbrough. He is seen as the perfect strike partner for Andy Johnson. However, both of late have been struggling for form while James McFadden has been receiving major press coverage due to his heroics for Scotland.

Steven Gerrard is suffering his worst crisis of form since Houllier hauled him off the pitch against Basel all those years ago. There has been no hiding place for the Reds' captain who put in an abject display as England captain, though he was not alone in that aspect. He did miss an absolute sitter that could be the difference in England qualifying for the European Championships and Steve McClaren keeping his job. Will this be playing on his mind? There is no better game for him to return to form, he should need no motivation to perform well in this game. So, I ask the question, will we see the real Steven Gerrard?



Oct 7 v Newcastle (A) LOST 3-2 (Prem)
Oct 4 v FC Metalist Kharkiv (A) WON 3-2 (Uefa)
Sept 30 v Middlesbrough (H) WON 2-0 (Prem)
Sept 26 v Shef Wed (A) WON 3-0 (Carling)
Sept 23 v Aston Villa (A) LOST 2-0 (Prem)


Oct 7 v Spurs (H) DRAW 2-2 (Prem)
Oct 3 v Marseille (H) LOST 1-0 (Champions league)
Sept 29 v Wigan (A) WON 1-0 (Prem)
Sept 25 v Reading (A) WON 4-2 (Carling)
Sept 22 v Birmingham (H) DRAW 0-0 (Prem)



Tim Cahill is vying for a return to the side after a long lay off through injury. However, whether Moyes will risk him for 90 minutes is far from certain. McFadden is pushing for a start up front after recent good form. Thomas Gravesen is recovering well from a knee injury and there is a possibility he could join Cahill in the squad. Andy Johnson is still out and will likely be out for another two weeks.

Probable starting X1 (Howard, Lescott, Yobo, Baines, Hibbert, Cahill, Peinaar, Arteta, Neville, Carsley, Yakubu)


Fernando Torres is undergoing intensive treatment in the hope of making this match. Xabi Alonso could also be another inclusion as he returns from a metatarsal injury. The game however has come to fast for Harry Kewell and Daniel Agger who remain on the sidelines. Dirk Kuyt has seemingly recovered from the injury that ruled him out of the Dutch squad and will be vying for a starting spot.

Probable starting X1 (Reina, Finnan, Arbeloa, Hyypia, Carragher, Pennant, Gerrard, Mascherano, Benayoun, Crouch, Torres)



Tim Cahill simply loves playing against the Reds, this game is primed for his comeback.


Steven Gerrard will look to bounce back from a disappointing week for himself by leading the Reds to victory.

Liverpool Boss Urges Players To Stay Calm In Merseyside Derby

Rafa Benitez has told his Liverpool players not to lose their composure in Saturday's potentially explosive Merseyside derby against Everton.

There is no love lost between Benitez's side and Everton at the best of times, but the 206th meeting between the old enemies will be even more combustable than usual.

Everton defender Alan Stubbs piled pressure on Benitez this week by claiming clubs of Liverpool's size should be challenging for the title every year.

That outburst may have been provoked by Benitez describing Everton a smaller club than Liverpool last season.

The rows will raise the temperature when the teams collide at Goodison Park in a game Liverpool desperately need to win.

After a run of one victory in four league matches left them trailing in the wake of leaders Arsenal, Benitez knows he cannot afford a repeat of last season's 3-0 defeat at Everton, so he needs all his players to keep cool in the derby malestrom.

"In these kind of games it is more important because everyone is talking about the rivalry between both teams," he said.

"You must be as focused as always with maybe more determination. You must analyse the game with a cool mind because if you think about last year you will lose your concentration and it is important to make the right decisions.

"If you are top of the table or bottom of the table it doesn't matter because this game is different. Collective responsibility is not the key just for this game it is the key for a winning team."

Fernando Torres, Alvaro Arbeloa, Andriy Voronin, Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun and Javier Mascherano are all in line for their first taste of a Merseyside derby.

While Benitez is concerned by his side's recent struggles, he believes Liverpool can reverse that poor run if they don't panic.

He said: "It is a good game for us now because we are not playing well and this one after the international break is important for our confidence.

"In football everything goes so quickly so it is important to be calm, look at the big picture and analyse everything.

"You have to say, 'I have a lot of confidence in my team, I want to win trophies with my club so if I have confidence how can I do this?' By working hard and getting the right selection."

Torres is making good progress from a thigh problem, while midfielder Xabi Alonso is close to a return after recovering from a broken metatarsal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rafa: My Tactics Caused Dip In Form

In a rare candid moment Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez conceded that the team’s recent poor form is solely down to him.

After a bright start to the season had the Anfield faithful dreaming of a serious title campaign, draws against Portsmouth, Birmingham and a home defeat to Marseille in the Champions League soon bought the fans back down to earth.

Since then criticism has been rife about Benitez’s rotation policy and tactical changes.

The Spanish tactician accepts that tactics are very much his domain and he is more than willing to accept responsibility for his side's recent demise.

"The problem is a tactical problem and it is my problem," said Benitez.

"Confidence (of the squad) is also an issue but not the physical condition of the players.

"We are running more and faster than before."

Benitez could be boosted ahead of this weekend's Merseyside derby by having Fernando Torres available for selection, despite the Spain international pulling up in midweek.

"Yesterday he was training with the ball and the physios. Hopefully today he will be better and then we have another day so we will wait and see," Benitez added.

"I need to decide if he is really fit or will be a risk. In this case maybe it is not a risk."

Alonso Ready For 'Special Game'

Xabi Alonso insists the foreign players at Liverpool are well aware of the importance of Saturday's Merseyside derby with Everton.

As Liverpool embark on a week which could define their season, the Spaniard said: "The foreign lads always know it's a special game.

"You pick up on the atmosphere when you are out and about in town, of course. Everyone on both sides cannot wait for kick-off - it is a really big day for the city."

After the Premier League clash at Goodison Park, Liverpool take on Besiktas in Istanbul on Wednesday before Arsenal visit Anfield the following Sunday.

But the main focus in the city over the next 24 hours will be the derby match.

Alonso said: "We know how much it means to people. They have family who might support the other team and they talk about it.

"The excitement is the same amongst the players. I am looking forward to it, though of course this week it is different because the whole squad is not here. We'll only have two days together as a squad.

"But it's against the other team from this city, and for the fans it means a lot. I don't know if it means more for the local lads than the foreign players, but I am pretty sure we will be as committed as them."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Benitez: Torres Making Good Progress, As Are The Rest

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez provided an update on his stricken stars, whilst also revealing that Fernando Torres is making good progress in his aim to get back to fitness for Saturday’s Merseyside derby.

The £23m pound Spanish striker is currently working with the Reds medical team after suffering an adductor injury whilst with the national side, which effectively ruled him out of Spain’s Euro 2008 qualifier win over Denmark last weekend.

"He is much better and improving," said Benitez today.

"At the moment though it is too early to say anything about the weekend.

"It's always a risk when a player has an injury and we have to be careful. He is back with us now and working with the physios."

Benitez also delivered positive injury bulletins for both Dirk Kuyt and Harry Kewell as they both set their sights on a place in the squad this weekend.

"Dirk did the warm-up this morning with us and hopefully he'll be okay for the Everton game.

"The news with Harry is very positive as he did the warm up as well. For him, though, it's too early to talk about the weekend."

Metatarsal victims Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger are also continuing their recoveries, with Alonso able to do some light running this morning and Agger working in the gym.

Alonso Relishing Merseyside Derby

The Merseyside derby is one of the keenest fought derbies in Premiership football and Xabi Alonso feels Liverpool’s foreign contingent are just as motivated to get a positive result as his Scouse team mates, in this, the 206th meeting of two historic clubs.

Manager Rafael Benitez has brought many foreign payers to Anfield during his reign, but Spanish midfield intenational, Xabi Alonso, feels the importance of the derby is not lost on Liverpool’s foreign contingent.

The midfielder is a doubt for the game, as he is recovering from a metatarsal injury but recognises the importance of the rivalry to the fans.

He told "I don't know how you would compare who feels what, but the foreign lads always know it's a special game.

"You pick up on the atmosphere when you're out and about, of course. Everyone on both sides can't wait for kick-off – it's a really big day for the city.

"We know how much it means to the people. They have family who might support the other team and they talk about it.

"The excitement is the same amongst the players. I'm looking forward to it, though of course this week it's different because the whole squad is not here. We'll only have two days together as a squad.

"But it's against the other team from this city, and for the fans it means a lot. I don't know if it means more for the local lads than the foreign players, but I'm pretty sure we'll be as committed as them."

Liverpool need a victory to keep their league title aspirations alive, in what is an important month for the club, as they face Besitkas in the Champions League next week followed by the visit of league leaders Arsenal, to Anfield.

Liverpool Boss Rafa Benitez Declares Reds Striker Peter Crouch Is Not For Sale

Striker Peter Crouch, who is reportedly unhappy not to be playing regularly due to the rotation policy being followed at Anfield, will not be sold, declared Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez.

Amidst speculations over the England striker’s future since summer with the likes of Fernando Torres and Andriy Voronin joining the Reds, reports suggested that Newcastle United, Manchester City and Portsmouth are interested in the former Southampton hit-man.

Benitez said in the Liverpool Echo: “People have been talking about Peter Crouch for two months, but he is our player and we don’t want to sell him.

“He is a nice boy, a good professional, a good player.

“It is clear that this team now with four strikers creates more competition for places, but I don’t have any problems because Crouch is a good player.”

Crouch was the top-scorer for the Reds last season but has started just one Premiership game this season, as Benitez has largely used the combination from Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Voronin.

Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez has disclosed his excitement at looking at all sorts of combinations between four of his strikers and finding that all – Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt, Andriy Voronin and Peter Crouch – are “equal.”

The Reds have been perched atop the Premiership table for the first time in five years with eleven goals scored in their opening four games.

As such, the Merseysiders have got off to a bright start that they were eyeing in this sesaon’s top-flight competition, which they haven’t won for last 17 years.

"The understanding between Torres and Kuyt is fine, but then when it was Kuyt and Voronin that was good also. It is the same when Crouch is playing with Torres, Voronin or Kuyt, I am pleased with all the combinations,” claimed Benitez.

"All of them know what we want, their movement is good and I am sure it will improve even more over the coming weeks.

"Now we have four players with quality and different skills. I can now manage in a different way because you know all of them can score goals.

"You cannot say that Torres will score more goals that Kuyt, Voronin or Crouch. They can all score and they are all equal.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Benitez: We Will Improve, Despite Frustration

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez praised his team for their good early-season work, but has now instructed them to improve and maintain their current unbeaten run.

Liverpool trail Premiership leaders Arsenal by 6 points at the moment and are struggling in the Champions League, leading coach Rafael Benitez to reveal the sense of "frustration" around Anfield after such a positive start early in the campaign.

The Spanish manager told, "Because we had started really well people were thinking perhaps this could be our year.

"Then we lost some points and then people thought, maybe not. I think there is frustration around the team."

It's true that Liverpool have gone off the rails of late, leaving Benitez to wonder whether or not his team's ideal start to the season did not have its costs.

"Sometimes you don't know if it's better to start really well or a little bit slower and continue progressing," he mused.

Nonetheless, the solution was clear. He added, "I think we are in a good position at the moment but it's true that we need to improve.

"It's important we have kept the unbeaten run going. It really was a little disappointing after the Tottenham game because we conceded two goals, two big mistakes, but we continue unbeaten and that's important."

Eventually, Benitez concluded that the mixed runs of form, while far from being perfect, were worth it overall due to Liverpool's enhanced place in the domestic standings.

What's more, he defended his rotation policy as being vital to keeping the team fresh and winning over the winter months.

"I think we are in a better position than last year. That is important," he emphasised.

"If we continue to be close to the top of the table, in two or three months and continue to change players I think we will be capable of doing something at the end of the season."

Benitez took over at Anfield in 2004 and has won both the UEFA Champions League and the Super Cup with the Reds.

Peter Crouch Can Play Key Role

Peter Crouch may have been deemed surplus to requirements by Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez, and while he still hasn't scored a goal this season in eight outings for club and country, the towering striker could still play an important role for England in Moscow.

While I am sure Steve McClaren will decide to persevere with Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney as his first-choice strikers, despite their failure to hit it off against Estonia, I reckon Crouch will form the basis of the head coach's Plan B and will no doubt prosper.

If things fail to click between Owen and Rooney again, and England are struggling, then I'd expect Crouch to be introduced because it was plain at Wembley last month that Russia are vulnerable to any aerial threat.

Russia will have been relieved that Emile Heskey won't be heading to Moscow because they were unable to cope with his power and industry. With Dean Ashton injured, Crouch is the obvious option if England are to attempt to exploit glaring shortcomings.

Crouch isn't as muscular as his Wigan counterpart, but at 6ft 7in you would bank on him to get on the end of crosses and high balls which the Russian defence and goalkeeper will be dreading.

At Wembley they were woefully weak and committed the cardinal sin of being pushed further and further back by Heskey to the delight of Owen, who helped himself to the second of his two goals at Wembley thanks to Russian frailties.

Guus Hiddink will strive to address those shortcomings but the fact remains that the goalkeeper, Vyacheslav Malafeev, might be decent when it comes to shot-stopping but would hate crosses aimed at Crouch and long balls into the area.

I'm sure McClaren and Terry Venables will both sit down at chat with Owen and Rooney to work out why they didn't combine effectively against Estonia to find a solution.

But I expect McClaren to keep faith with that duo in his starting line-up and will tell them they're both good enough and smart enough to make their partnership work. If they don't, Crouch will put the fear of god into the Russian back line.

Torres Determined To Play Against Everton

'I don't want to miss out on the derby, because it is such an important game'

The Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is confident he will recover from a thigh strain in time for Saturday's derby with Everton at Goodison Park.

Torres suffered the injury in training with Spain last Friday, and was initially expected to be out for eight to 10 days, but insisted today he was determined to play in his first Merseyside derby.

"I intend to be fit for the Everton game on Saturday," said Torres. "I don't want to miss out on the derby, because it is such an important game."

Torres, who has scored seven goals for Liverpool since joining in the summer, is now undergoing fitness work at the club's Melwood training headquarters in a bid to prove his fitness.

"Fernando has been assessed by the club's medical staff and underwent a scan which confirmed an adductor injury," confirmed Liverpool's spokesman Ian Cotton. "He will now undergo intensive treatment at Melwood."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Date Set To Decide Fate Of Liverpool FC's New Stadium

A crucial decision on Liverpool FC’s revised plans for its new stadium on Stanley Park will be made on October 30.

A special sitting of the city council’s planning committee will spend the day studying the proposals before making a final decision on the £300m project.

Last night, city council regeneration executive member Cllr Mike Storey said: “The right decision on the day will pave the way for a start on the new stadium early in 2008. This is so important not just for the club, but the Anfield community and the city as a whole.

“Liverpool FC is so crucial to our growing tourism sector. On match days every hotel room in the city is taken. I am delighted to see the scheme moving forward and look forward to seeing work start as soon as possible.”

Previous plans have already won approval and supporters of the new scheme are confident of winning official backing for the amended planning application.

Committee members will head for Stanley Park for a visit to the proposed stadium site before debating the scheme.

Last night, council sources said the American owners of the club, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, were pulling out all the stops to ensure planning documents and drawings were ready in time for what will be a crucial meeting.

US-based architects and planners are currently working alongside British design teams and the city council’s planning department.

The move comes just weeks after the final slice of public funding for the Stanley Park project was agreed by the board of the Northwest Regional Development Agency. The board agreed to an award of £9.3m to add to the £9m already given from the European Objective 1 fund.

The public cash will go towards refurbishing Stanley Park and building a new community partnership centre alongside the new ground. It is hoped the improvement scheme will give historic Stanley Park its biggest-ever facelift.

If the new plans are agreed at the end of this month, it will enable work on the new ground to start early in 2008, with opening planned for the start of the 2010/11 season.

The new plans are vastly different to the original proposals, hence the new planning application.

The scale of the project remains the same, with permission being sought for a 60,000-seater stadium, but there will be the possibility of extensions to add thousands of extra seats.

Ryan Babel Dropped By Holland For Oversleeping

Ryan Babel, the Liverpool midfielder, was omitted from Holland's team for Saturday's 2008 European Championship qualifying match with Romania because of oversleeping, according to coach Marco van Basten.

Van Basten picked Real Madrid's Arjen Robben in place of Babel as a punishment after the Anfield player twice missed team meetings.

"It was the second time that Babel overslept on a match day," Van Basten said. "That should never happen. That's why I left him out of the team. Robben trained hard and he is fit, so he played instead."

The Holland coach admitted Babel might feel deflated by the snub. "It is very well possible that Babel feels disappointed. It is also not my style to handle these kinds of things this way. But we also expect that players obey rules during a match.

"The first time that he arrived too late, he settled the matter with a joke. The second time he joined us too late for the meal and that was a bit too much. He has to appear on time, just like all the others."

Babel, 20, came into the match in the 78th-minute as substitute for Robben but could not prevent the Dutch from losing 1-0 to Romania in a clash between the two group leaders in Group G. Dorin Goian scored the only goal of the game.

Romania need five points from their last three games to be sure of qualifying for Euro 2008 while Holland are only two points ahead of third-placed Bulgaria.

Benitez Has No Fears Over Momo

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has backed under-fire midfielder Mohamed Sissoko to regain his best form for the club in the near future.

Sissoko has come under-fire in recent weeks for some below-par displays as the Reds have struggled to reproduce their early season form.

Benitez admits the Mali international is short of confidence, but the former Valencia chief is confident the all-action midfielder will bounce back.

"I see he is giving everything to play well," Benitez told the club's official website. "For our supporters that is the first thing any player must do.

"Momo was a key player when we won 82 points in the Premier League. Now we need to give him time to allow him to regain his confidence.

"I spoke to him after the Marseille game and said 'keep going.' He knows how I work because I managed him when he was 18 at Valencia, where he won the league and UEFA Cup with me.

"He knows I have a lot of confidence in him. I will push him and I will try to improve him."

Meanwhile, Liverpool have confirmed the departure of Pako Ayestaran as Benitez's assistant manager.

Benitez revealed last month Ayestaran was leaving Anfield after a reported bust-up between the pair.

A number of Spanish clubs and English sides were thought to be waiting in the wings to offer Ayestaran a job, but Liverpool have blocked any move for the highly-rated coach as he remains contracted to the club until the summer of 2008 as a result of the severance package.

"Following discussions between Rafael Benitez and Pako Ayestaran, it has been agreed that it would be in the best interests of all parties if Pako leaves his post as assistant manager," Reds chief executive RickParry told the club's official website.

"Pako, however, will remain under contract to us until next summer.

"The club want to thank Pako for his hard work and contribution to our success over the past three years."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Liverpool & Chelsea Linked With Athletic Bilbao Defender Fernando Amorebieta

Liverpool and Chelsea are linked with Athletic Bilbao defender Fernando Amorebieta.

According to reports in Spain, the Premiership giants are keeping a close watch on the 22-year-old Venezuela-born versatile defender, with a move said to be likely in the January transfer window.

The highly-rated Amorebieta, who has reportedly been watched by scouts of the Reds and Blues, sounded happy with the interest from the English clubs.

"I have not spoken to any English club, but their interest makes me determined to work to improve in Bilbao. England is a competitive league," he said.

Liverpool’s Aurelio To Move On After Injury Deprived Him Of Champions League Final & Brazil Chance

Liverpool full-back Fabio Aurelio has rued the timing of his injury blows so far in his career, but has expressed determination to move on.

The 28-year-old left-sided player joined the Reds in 2006 summer from Valencia, but had been pegged back by injury blows in his debut season, wherein he also missed being a part of the Champions League final against AC Milan.

In the past, he has missed out on earning his debut for Brazil due to injury setback.

"Missing out on a potential place in a Champions League final was a big blow for me," said Aurelio on the club’s official website.

"When I injured my knee at Valencia that also came at a bad time for me, towards the end of the season. I was top scorer at the club and had also been selected to play for Brazil.

"I couldn't go with my country in the end and missed the last three or four games of the Spanish season.

"That was a bad time, just as it was last season when I got injured. But I can't afford to think about what might have been.

"You have to leave these things behind and move on. At times like these, you need to be strong and have a lot of patience. In turn, you become stronger for it."

Liverpool FC Confirm Pako Ayestaran Departure

Pako Ayestaran is to step down from his position as assistant manager at Liverpool FC, the club announced today.

He will, however, remain contracted to the club through to June 30, 2008.

Chief executive Rick Parry said: "Following discussions between Rafael Benitez and Pako Ayestaran, it has been agreed that it would be in the best interests of all parties if Pako leaves his post as assistant manager.

"Pako, however, will remain under contract to us until next summer.

"The club want to thank Pako for his hard work and contribution to our success over the past three years."

It is believed there had been simmering tension between the pair, and Benitez was known to be disappointed when former assistant Paco Ayestaran was “too friendly” with ex Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho after the clubs drew 1-1 at Anfield earlier this season.

That incident is believed to have been one of the reasons for the tensions between Benitez and Ayestaran coming to a head.

Ayestaran moved with Benitez from Valencia in the summer of 2004 and was described on Liverpool FC's website as being 'instrumental in planning training.'

Today's statement confirms what many had taken as already confirmed. Today's statement would appear to serve warning to other clubs, particularly Spanish ones rumoured to be interested in him, that he remains under contract at Liverpool.

Ayestaran's non-involvement in recent weeks has been blamed for Liverpool's recent poor form.

But when challenged on that Benitez said in the Liverpool Daily Post: “I do not believe that the management changes have affected the situation.

“We have been analysing the data regarding our players and we are running more, covering more ground and our physical condition is fantastic.

“With regards to the coaching, I was coaching with the team before. I am not a traditional English manager sitting in an office, I am always on the pitch with the players.

“I was on the pitch before, I was on the pitch today and I will be on the pitch tomorrow.”

Barca Set Sights On Mascherano

Stand by for the Tevez Affair Mk II. Barcelona are planning to test Liverpool's desire to hang on to Argentine star Javier Mascherano at the end of the season.

Like his fellow countryman Carlos Tevez, Mascherano's transfer rights are owned by Kia Joorabchian's company and Liverpool must pay MSI £20 million if they wish to make Mascherano their own.

With FIFA planning new rules on third-party ownership, Liverpool have stalled in talks, presumably hoping that they will drive a better deal if there are more stringent rules on the practice that was highlighted by Tevez's protracted move from West Ham to Old Trafford.

Barcelona would expect to get Mascherano for less than £20m, but they could yet outbid Liverpool.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lucas Almost Steals Win For Reserves

Liverpool Reserves dominated the game, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Manchester United last night in the Barclays FA Premier Reserve League North.

The outstanding Jay Spearing gave Gary Ablett’s side a well-deserved lead after 34 minutes, when he finished well after Lucas Leiva had cleverly laid Sebastian Leto’s cross into his path.

Leto led the United defence a merry dance at times, and was harshly booked for diving when he was blatantly tripped in the penalty area. Spearing almost added a second just before the break, but his rasping drive was turned over the bar at full stretch by United keeper Zieler.

Spearing was denied by the keeper again after the break, while Leto wasted a good chance when he shot wildly over the bar.

United equalised with their first serious attack of the half when Lee headed in a Barnes cross with eight minutes remaining.

Goalkeeper Charles Itandje then saved well from Barnes, before Liverpool rallied again and almost regained the lead through Jack Hobbs, his header rolling across the face of goal and just eluding the in rushing Mikel San Jose Dominguez.

Deep into stoppage time Lucas almost won it for Liverpool when he rose well to meet another great Leto cross, but his header struck the inside of the post.

MANCHESTER UNITED RESERVES: Zieler, Gray, Eckersley A, Eckersley R, Chester, Lee, Cleveley (Drinkwater 72), Hewson, Dong, Fagan (Wellbeck 62), Barnes.

LIVERPOOL RESERVES: Itandje, Darby, Insua, San Jose, Hobbs, Plessis (Flynn 78), Putterill (Crowther 62), Spearing, Brouwer (Lindfield 75), Lucas, Leto.

Kewell Return Expected

Harry Kewell is expected to return to full training at Liverpool next week.

The Australia midfielder has not kicked a ball for the Anfield club this season after picking up a groin injury while playing for his country in the Asian Cup in the summer.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez told "Harry has been working really hard with the physios and next week he could be training or running with the rest of the first team."

He added: "Harry is very important for us. A player with pace and ability who can score goals is always going to be important."

This could well be the last chance Kewell gets to extend his stay at Liverpool. Several teams were interested in his services during the summer, but Benitez wanted to give the former Leeds winger every chance to prove his value to the club.

But if Kewell fails to establish himself in the squad this time, he is likely to be surplus to requirements at the end of the season.

Despite heavy spending on bringing new wide midfielders to the club in Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun, Benitez insists Kewell still has a role to play at Anfield.

He said: "It's clear he's someone with great quality and experience and we need these kind of players for the rest of the season."

Fernando Torres Blow Rocks Liverpool FC

Liverpool suffered a major Merseyside derby blow last night when Fernando Torres was ruled out for “eight to 10 days”.

Spain’s team doctor Genaro Borras delivered the grim news after Liverpool’s record signing hobbled away from a training session in Aarhus yesterday when he tore a muscle in his right leg.

He was immediately ruled out of his country’s Euro 2008 qualifier in Denmark tonight and will also miss Spain’s friendly in Finland on Wednesday.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez will now be desperate for Torres to defy Borras’s diagnosis in the hope the damage can be repaired in time for the Goodison Park showdown in a week’s time.

Benitez already had one scare concerning his top scorer – who has hit the net seven times already in his debut season in England – when he was forced to sit out training with an ankle knock on Wednesday.

But his much-publicised worst fears about losing players to international duty appear to have been realised after Torres sustained the injury that could deny him his first Merseyside derby appearance next Saturday.

Should Torres fail to face Everton, the race will then be on for him to recover for the Champions League group game in Turkey against Besiktas a week on Wednesday, with Liverpool needing a win after only taking one point from their first two games.

Benitez’s side then faces Premier League leaders Arsenal at Anfield the following Sunday, a game which Torres, as things stand, should be fit for.

Meanwhile, Harry Kewell is expected to return to full training at Liverpool next week after the groin injury he picked up playing for Australia in the Asian Cup in the summer.

And manager Benitez is now hoping Kewell can prove his fitness and press for a place in the squad.

Benitez said: “Harry has been working really hard and next week he could be training or running with the rest of the first team. Harry is very important for us. A player with pace and ability who can score goals is always going to be important.”

Gerrard Tried To Stop Carra Quitting

England's Steven Gerrard has revealed he tried to persuade Liverpool team-mate Jamie Carragher to "stay involved" with the national side.

However, he has every confidence in Sol Campbell to fill the breach left by injured captain John Terry.

With Terry sidelined by a knee problem Carragher would have been a strong contender to face Estonia in Saturday's Euro 2008 qualifier at Wembley had he not called time on his international career.

But the centre-back is concentrating all his energies on the Reds to leave 33-year-old Campbell earning a recall after a two-year absence for his country.

The Portsmouth player may also be required for the vital clash with Russia in Moscow on Wednesday if Terry fails to recover in time.

Gerrard, who is leading the side in Terry's absence, said: "I've got no worries about Sol. He is experienced. His form for Portsmouth has been very good.

"Against Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, he was fantastic. I am sure he will come in and do a great job for England.

"Do I wish Jamie Carragher was still involved with England? I tried my best to keep Jamie involved, not just as a friend but because I still thought he had something to offer the country for a bit longer.

"Jamie has made his decision and we have to respect that but I did try my best to keep him involved."

Gerrard has warned of the need for England's players not to pick up needless yellow cards with Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole and Joe Cole facing suspension for the Moscow game if they are booked against the Estonians.

He said: "It is not easy to shut yellow cards out of your mind at all because the game is quick. Sometimes you can pick up a yellow card for doing virtually next to nothing these days.

"If you have got a yellow card, you have got to be very careful, very professional and, if we are leading, you've got to be careful you don't pick up a silly yellow card and be out on Wednesday."

England coach McClaren has to decide whether to recall Frank Lampard or persevere with Gareth Barry who impressed against Israel and Russia when the Chelsea player was injured.

He said: "Frank and Gareth are both great midfielders. We will have to wait and see what the manager does but Gareth was fantastic in the last two games.

"I think he will be a bit hard done by if he was dropped.

"He was man of the match in both games but that's a difficult decision for the manager and he wants everyone fit and available and pushing for places."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Liverpool Eye Brazilian Star Afonso Alves

Rafael Benitez is tracking Brazilian striker Afonso Alves as he contemplates another spending spree in the January transfer window.

Alves is one of several names under consideration by the Liverpool manager, who can expect further backing from the club’s co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

And Benitez’s interest would suggest Peter Crouch is heading for an Anfield exit in the new year.

Alves is one of the most sought-after forwards in Europe and scored an incredible seven times for Dutch club Heerenveen on Sunday in their 9-0 victory over Eredivisie rivals Heracles Almelo.

The 26-year-old forward cost Heerenveen a club record £3million when arriving from Malmo ahead of last season, and went on to score 34 goals in 31 league games before being named Holland’s player of the year.

Alves, who has seven caps for Brazil, was a target for Middlesbrough during the close season and would cost in the region of £8m.

Benitez is also thought to still be monitoring another Brazilian, Roma’s stepover king Alessandro Mancini.

The Liverpool manager ruled out a move for the left winger during the summer, but is aware Mancini has fallen out with Roma coach Luciano Spalletti and is reportedly seeking a move in January.

Lyon are favourites to sign the player but Liverpool would be able to offer a better package to the 27-year-old.

PSG defender Bernard Mendy is another player on Benitez’s list of possibilities. The 26-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and would be available in January for a small fee.

Mendy, who spent the 2002-03 campaign on loan at Bolton Wanderers, operates on the right side of defence.

Meanwhile, Dirk Kuyt has handed Liverpool an early derby injury scare after pulling out of Holland’s squad for their forthcoming Euro 2008 qualifiers against Romania and Slovenia.

Kuyt has remained at Melwood to undergo treatment on a hamstring strain suffered during the 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

The Dutch striker will definitely miss Saturday’s away game against Romania.

But while Holland have not ruled the forward out of the home game with Slovenia the following Wednesday, it is thought unlikely Kuyt will have recovered in time to play.

Benitez Set For Spending Spree

Rafael Benitez will raid the Anfield war chest to strengthen his ailing squad in January.

The Liverpool manager revealed last week that he still has over £20million to spend after clearing the decks by selling unwanted players during the summer.

And the Mirror has discovered that he has been tracking FOUR players - with a view to signing at least one of them when the transfer window opens at the turn of the year.

The Spaniard's priority is a defender after injury to Daniel Agger and the loss of form of full-backs Steve Finnan and John Arne Riise.

Chief target is Paris St Germain full-back Bernard Mendy, who has been made available and will be sold in January - with Inter Milan, Juventus, Tottenham and Manchester City also interested.

The France international has six months remaining on his contract, and has refused all offers of a new deal, leaving PSG with no option but to try to get as much cash as they can for him.

Mendy, 26, who has been watched all season by Benitez's spies, will cost around £3m, and has already made it clear he wants to leave PSG.

Benitez is still keen on Roma's Amantino Mancini, despite having an offer for the right-sided midfielder rejected in the summer.

The Brazil international has since fallen out with Roma coach Luciano Spalleti in spectacular style and his agent, Gilar Veloz, has been instructed to find him a new club during the transfer window.

Liverpool will face competition from Lyon for Mancini - but they can offer bigger wages. Benitez will be prepared to pay around £8m to land the 27-year old South American.

Scouts from Anfield were at Heerenveen at the weekend to watch Brazilian striker Afonso Alves rattle in an incredible seven goals to set a scoring record in the Dutch League.

The Brazil international was top scorer in Holland last season with 34 goals, but when he demanded a move Heerenveen priced him out of the market at £12m.

Benitez knows Peter Crouch could leave in January and will seek to replace him with Alves.

Liverpool are also keeping tabs on Monaco's attacking midfielder Jeremy Menez, who has taken the French league by storm since arriving as an exciting teenage prospect. Now 20, he has been dubbed the 'new Zidane', and Liverpool know that Manchester United and Arsenal have also watched him closely, which could spark a major transfer scramble in the summer.

Benitez has been disappointed with the form of so many of his players and for the first time in his Anfield reign he has been openly critical of his team.

He knows that he still needs more quality and that is why his scouts have been working overtime across Europe.