Sunday, November 04, 2007

Benitez Keeps Faith In Kuyt

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is backing misfiring striker Dirk Kuyt to come good despite the Holland international being woefully out of form.

Kuyt could easily have had a second half hat-trick in Saturday's goalless draw at Blackburn and his current malaise was summed up two minutes from time when he blazed over from six yards with just goalkeeper Brad Friedel to beat.

The 27-year-old scored 14 times after his £9million transfer from Feyenoord in August last year but has struggled this season.

And although his work-rate remains among the best in the Barclays Premier League, his touch appears to have deserted him.

He has three goals in 13 matches this campaign but two of those were penalties in the Merseyside derby victory and the Dutchman is patently struggling.

However, with record signing Fernando Torres expected to be out for at least another couple of weeks with a torn adductor and Peter Crouch out of favour, Benitez has little option but to persist with Kuyt.

"When you miss chances and you have two or three, it means you are there. If you are not there, you cannot miss the chance," said the Spaniard after watching his side waste numerous opportunities in the second half at Ewood Park.

"I will not criticise Kuyt because he plays a lot of games and over 90 minutes his work rate is fantastic.

"He is creating chances. When you have a player who can create three or four chances for himself, normally sometimes he will score so I think I must be pleased and positive with Kuyt.

"We need to profit from the work he is doing up front and it will be easier for him to score if his team-mates can score the first goal."

Unfortunately his team-mates were in no better form when it came to beating Friedel, who denied Steven Gerrard twice and Ryan Babel before Crouch saw a header cleared off the line by David Bentley.

And to be fair to Kuyt, until Crouch's 72nd-minute arrival, he spent much of the match isolated up front as Benitez's tactic of playing Gerrard in a supporting role did not come off.

The draw - Liverpool's fifth in seven matches since they briefly went top of the table with a 6-0 win over Derby in early September - dropped the Anfield side to seventh.

However, they are only six points behind leaders Arsenal and have a match in hand of many of their rivals.

Benitez remains confident he can re-ignite the Reds as they head into the potentially-damaging November to January period.

"I said at the start of the season this one would be more difficult for everyone and you can see it is not easy to win games in a row," he added.

"With one game in hand, we can keep the team close to the top of the table. We have Daniel Agger, Xabi Alonso (both broken metatarsals), Fernando Torres coming back and I think we will be stronger in the next few months."

In contrast, Blackburn are exceeding expectations, one place above Liverpool having lost just one of their last 17 league matches.

With more good fortune, they could have been in the top four today as the woodwork twice denied them in the first half, while they had a shout for a penalty after the interval when Andre Ooijer's shot hit Jamie Carragher's outstretched arm.

In-form strikers Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz proved a handful throughout but it was Bentley who almost broke the deadlock with a shot that hit the outside of a post in the 35th minute.

Just seconds before the break, David Dunn's 20-yard strike with his weaker left foot bounced away to safety off the underside of the crossbar.

Had either of those chances gone in, the result could have been different but Rovers ended up clinging on to a point in a frenzied last 10 minutes.

"We have gone up against three of the top four (Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool) and we are unbeaten against them," said satisfied manager Mark Hughes.

"We have got Manchester United at the weekend and hopefully we can get the full set."

Hughes realistically admits his side will probably not sustain their challenge long enough to be in contention for Champions League places at the end of the season.

However, that will not stop him dreaming.

"It is a long season and we just have to be fortunate with injuries. We will be in the mix-up," Hughes said.

"Whether we will actually get one (a top-four place) is open to debate but we will be very much in the make up of the games to affect who gets in the Champions League.

"It is very difficult to break into the top four. Last year, Manchester United were champions of the Premier League and they go out and spend £50million."

Liverpool Investigate John Arne Riise Payslip

Merseyside Police have said they will not look into how Liverpool defender John Arne Riise's payslip was published on the internet.

Riise's home address, national insurance number and other personal details were circulated on Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal supporters' websites.

Liverpool will launch an investigation into how the 27-year-old's details, including his £139, 634 monthly pay packet were leaked into the public domain. Police will not take the matter any further as no complaint has been made.

"We are taking the matter extremely seriously and we are investigating," a Liverpool spokesman said.

"It must have been stolen but the player simply doesn't know how it has happened," a club insider said.

"I can assure you that John Arne Riise is not in the habit of throwing payslips out. It's clearly been stolen and taken without his permission. Nobody would want their details put all over the internet."

The Norwegian defender will be concerned that his home address has been released given that four of his Liverpool team-mates, José Manuel Reina, Peter Crouch, Jerzy Dudek and Daniel Agger have been burgled this year.

A source said: "There is a lot of delicate information about John now widely available on the net and it’s circulating like wildfire.

"John is particularly worried his address is out there in the open. There's the added concern that his national insurance number could be misused by fraudsters."

A quick search on the internet can see details of Riise's payslip which shows he was paid a basic monthly salary of £120,000, received £4,000 in appearance bonuses and a £250 "points bonus".

He was also awarded a Champions League salary increase of £15,384.62.

Rafa Benitez Backed By Owners' Game Plan

Rafael Benitez says that Liverpool’s American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, have reassured him he has their confidence to pursue his team development strategy irrespective of their fate in this year’s Champions League.

“I don’t think our spending longer term will depend on what we do in the Champions League,” Benitez said. “My meetings with the Americans – and we have talked about everything – has been about the plan we have. If we win more games it will be easier with more money, but the plan does not depend on this competition.

“The owners are very supportive. When you prepare a plan for a club it is not for one year, it is for a number of years. We have brought in new players and re-signed players as part of that plan. We have not talked about money but ideas and I think they are pleased with my ideas.

” Despite that backing, Benitez knows life will be easier if his team turn around their Champions League form and take the maximum points they seek from their remaining fixtures, starting with the Group A match with Besiktas on Tuesday.

Injuries deny him some of his better players, including Fernando Torres, but the Spaniard’s loss could be Peter Crouch’s gain. The Englishman, frustrated at his limited opportunities this season, could have an important role to play in Liverpool’s salvage job.

Benitez said: “All the players who are not playing regularly need to show that they want to play. When you’re in a top side and you are a winner you must show that mentality. Crouch is one of these players. “It’s important for us to win on Tuesday but sometimes the problem is that you set high standards, as we have done in the Champions League.

“We have confidence we can beat Besiktas and then progress. But this is the Champions League and you cannot be surprised we are in the position we are in.”

Blackburn 0 Liverpool 0

Liverpool's Barclays Premier League ambitions suffered another significant dent at Ewood Park where their shortcomings in front of goal were exposed by Blackburn in the goalless draw at Ewood Park.

Dirk Kuyt had three decent chances in the second half, Steven Gerrard had two and substitute Peter Crouch had a header cleared off the line as the lacklustre Reds were fortunate to escape with a point.

Before the break David Bentley hit the post and David Dunn smashed a shot against the crossbar as Rovers dominated.

Part of the problem for the visitors was the lack of presence on the forward line.

Manager Rafael Benitez left England striker Crouch on the bench which meant skipper Gerrard played in an advanced role behind Kuyt but it was an experiment which failed spectacularly.

Only when Crouch was introduced in the 72nd minute - with his international colleague dropping back to right midfield - did Liverpool look more threatening.

But title-winning campaigns are not built on strong performances in the last 18 minutes at places like Ewood Park and Benitez's side missed the chance to make up ground on top two Arsenal and Manchester United after they drew earlier in the day.

In a frenetic opening Benni McCarthy, scorer of five goals in his last four matches, produced a sublime piece of skill to turn Jamie Carragher but Sami Hyypia was on hand to swiftly clear the danger.

Neither side gave the other time to get the ball down and settle into a rhythm and Liverpool's short passing game continually took them down blind alleys.

Blackburn's first effort on target came when Morten Gamst Pedersen robbed Gerrard inside Rovers' half. David Bentley swung in a long cross which Roque Santa Cruz headed straight at Jose Reina.

Dunn was guilty of poor decision making in the 21st minute when he weaved his way past Javier Mascherano and Carragher but slipped the ball to Santa Cruz rather than shoot himself from the edge of the penalty area.

By contrast, Liverpool offered little going forward with Gerrard often collecting the ball too high up the pitch to utilise his strengths.

It took until the 30th minute for Liverpool to even threaten a shot but when John Arne Riise's left-wing cross fell at the feet of Kuyt and rebounded to Benayoun he saw his effort blocked by Stephen Warnock, playing against the club he left in January.

Blackburn continued to offer more up front and in the 35th minute Andre Ooijer's long ball was knocked on by Santa Cruz to Bentley who evaded Riise's tackle only to see his shot scrape the outside of Reina's left-hand post.

Liverpool finally managed a shot on target with five minutes of the half remaining when Babel cut back on to his right foot and curled a shot which Brad Friedel comfortably parried away.

Just before the break Dunn turned the ball on to his weaker left foot before crashing a 20-yard shot against the crossbar.

Liverpool opened the second half brighter with Babel having a volley deflected for a corner before Kuyt squandered two great chances.

On both occasions he cut in from the right but first rolled a shot into Friedel's arms and then failed to pick out the on-rushing Gerrard.

The visiting supporters had seen enough and began chanting

'attack, attack, attack' but Rovers, who replaced Dunn with the veteran Tugay 11 minutes into the second half, still looked the more likely to score.

With Liverpool crying out for some creativity Benitez turned to Harry Kewell just after the hour, despite the injury-prone Australian playing just 96 minutes of first-team football since limping out of the 2006 FA Cup final.

Babel made way but the action turned to the other end where Ooijer's shot deflected off Carragher's arm but referee Martin Atkinson ruled Rovers could only have a corner, which Santa Cruz headed over.

Liverpool were desperate for an injection of pace but with that unavailable Benitez turned to 6ft 7ins Crouch in the 72nd minute, with Benayoun departing.

In the 79th minute Gerrard burst through on the left of the area but his shot was blocked by Freidel.

And then when Crouch headed on Riise's left-wing corner Bentley cleared off the line.

The last 10 minutes were a complete turnaround as Liverpool poured forward and when Crouch nodded down to Gerrard the captain found Friedel in the way again.

And Kuyt's misery was complete when, having been set up by Kewell, he blazed over from five yards.


Blackburn: Friedel, Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock, Emerton, Bentley, Dunn (Kerimoglu 56), Pedersen, Santa Cruz, McCarthy (Derbyshire 89).

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Benayoun (Crouch 72), Sissoko, Mascherano, Babel (Kewell 63), Gerrard, Kuyt.