Thursday, September 20, 2007

Riise Fit To Play Birmingham

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez returned from the near-disaster of the Champions League trip to Porto to be boosted by confirmation that Norwegian defender John Arne Riise had declared himself fit for selection for Saturday's home league clash with Birmingham.

It was a small mercy for Benitez, who had witnessed a depressingly poor display in the Group A opener in Portugal, even though Dirk Kuyt's header secured a fortunate 1-1 draw.

The positives from that were, however, clear. Liverpool, despite playing badly, did not lose to arguably their biggest rivals in the group, and it is a point that could be crucial to deciding top spot come December.

Benitez left Riise behind on Merseyside for treatment on a back problem that he had picked up on international duty last week, and which had ruled him out of last weekend's trip to Portsmouth.

The Spaniard will now need assessments on Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger, who also missed the drama in the Estadio do Dragao.

Alonso failed to shake off an ankle problem that sidelined him at Pompey, while Agger was named on the bench in Porto despite picking up a foot injury.

Benitez knows Liverpool must bounce back against the promoted midlanders to retain their unbeaten record this term.

Riise is likely to return to the side as a wide midfielder, with Alvaro Arbeloa retaining the left-back slot.

Riise said: "I am fit again and raring to go now. It was devastating for me to miss the last two games because they were big matches against Portsmouth and Porto.

"I picked up the injury playing for my national team but a scan showed it was not a serious problem. I missed four days training but I am a quick healer and thankfully I am fit again now.

"Throughout my time at Liverpool I have not picked up too many injuries and have not missed that many games.

"I am full of energy now after not playing in the last couple of games and I am now looking forward to the rest of the week's training and the chance to force my way back into the side at the weekend."

Amauri Linked With Liverpool Move

Forward Amauri Carvalho has been linked with a move to Liverpool next season following comments from Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini.

Amauri has apparently been attracting the interest of the Anfield side while top Spanish clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona have reportedly shown an interest in acquiring the 27-year-old.

"It's going to be very difficult to keep Amauri," admitted Zamparini. "It will be difficult especially if he continues to play as he has done.

"Amauri could finish in a top club in Spain or in the Premiership."

Amauri joined Palermo from Chievo in the summer of 2006 and signed a four-year contract with the Rossaneri.

He scored eight goals in 18 Serie A games last season before suffering a serious knee injury.

Amauri has recovered his form and has scored one goal in three league appearances for the Sicilian giants so far this campaign.

Liverpool Braced For Injury Crisis

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is facing up to the first serious test of the Anfield club's unbeaten season after key players Daniel Agger and Xabi Alonso were ruled out with injuries.

At the same time veteran defender Sami Hyypia is having to contend with scrutiny over his ability to continue at the highest level.

Hyypia, 34 next month and in his ninth season at the club, was a summer target of Fulham, Newcastle and Bolton but despite Agger becoming a first choice alongside Jamie Carragher the Finland defender was determined to see out the final year of his contract.

That has paid off quicker than he would have expected as Agger has been ruled out for six weeks with a broken metatarsal.

Spain midfielder Alonso has suffered a similar injury and will be out for a similar length of time, leaving Benitez to cope with Barclays Premier League, Carling Cup and Champions League games without two key figures of his side.

Both will be missed as Benitez has no-one in his midfield who can pass the ball and open up defences to Alonso's standards, while Agger's absence will expose the one genuine weakness of his squad at the heart of defence.

Liverpool are still unbeaten but a Premier League draw at Portsmouth followed by the 1-1 stalemate in Portugal against Porto on Tuesday has given the Red's so-far serene progress this season a real jolt.

Hyypia was partly to blame for Porto's penalty in the Estadio do Dragao, where his increasing lack of pace was exposed.

The Finn, though, did not look for excuses and approached Saturday's home match with Birmingham saying: "That result in Portugal was a kick up the backside for us all."

Liverpool have a Carling Cup game at Reading on Tuesday, in which youngster Jack Hobbs could get his chance in defence now Gabriel Paletta has left, with the team making the trip to Wigan on Saturday week.

They are all matches Liverpool would have been expected to win before the self-doubt set in after Portugal.

"We understand we didn't play well but still got the point which was very important, and we realise what we have to do to get a better result, it can work that way," added Hyypia.

Dirk Kuyt, whose header gave Liverpool the equaliser against Porto, has underlined the determination within the Anfield camp to maintain their nine-match unbeaten run this season.

He said: "What is important now is for us to keep our unbeaten record for as long as possible because this gives everyone a lot of confidence.

"We still haven't played our best football this season but if we continue to work as hard as we have we know we will get better because we have a really good to team. It will improve.

"If we do want to win the Premier League and other trophies, we know we have to do better than that, hopefully starting on Saturday against Birmingham."

Benitez, who has already made 38 changes in their nine matches this season must now search for a solution to Alonso's absence.

At least the manager is boosted by the return to fitness of defenders Fabio Aurelio and John Arne Riise while Alvaro Arbeloa - who has already played left and right-back this term - can also play in the centre of defence.

In midfield Benitez has Javier Mascherano and Mohamed Sissoko but neither have the quality of passing Alonso possesses.

Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva will come into consideration but the 20-year-old clearly lacks experience of the English game.