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 LiverpoolFC.tv, "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."