Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Rafa Fires Euro Warning

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez says his side's record-breaking 8-0 annihilation of Besiktas will have the rest of Europe worried.

Benitez's side have been strangely struggling in the UEFA Champions League and were under pressure at Anfield with three wins needed from three games to sneak into the last 16.

Some of that pressure was eased as they ripped Besiktas apart and secured a Champions League record victory in front of a thrilled Anfield crowd.

After such a poor start, Liverpool still need to beat Porto at Anfield and Marseille away to get through, but Benitez says their 8-0 victory will serve as a warning to the whole competition.

"Porto now have to come to Anfield in the next match and they will be worried by this," said Benitez.

"The rest of Europe will also be aware of what we have done

"But in the end we still have to win those last two games, regardless of how many goals we scored this time."

Yossi Benayoun grabbed a hat-trick, while Peter Crouch scored twice on a rare start, Ryan Babel hit two from the bench and Steven Gerrard got his name on the scoresheet.

Benitez says the early goal helped, while the main difference to previous games was his strikers taking their chances.

"We have been creating a lot of chances in previous games, but not scoring them," added the Spaniard.

"Today we scored early and the game opened up. Besiktas also had to win to keep their chances of qualifying going so they had to come out and try to attack and that gave our forwards space to use.

"It made our movement easier, the space was there and our strikers were on very good form.

"But we still must win the next two and then wait to see if it is enough. But we have confidence that we can beat Porto next, and our supporters will also have confidence in us too.

"When you create chances, score hat-tricks and play that well, it gives all the front players - Yossi, Ryan and Peter - plenty of confidence that they can attack and be successful.

"If you score then you have confidence, that is the difference from the way we have played recently.

"But this was an all-round performance by the whole team. Voronin did not score but he was hugely influential in what went on, his play was unselfish and effective.

"He did a tremendous job, and the defence kept a clean sheet so there was very little for me to complain about, just a few minor things."

Besiktas coach Ertugrul Saglam made just a short statment to express his disappointment after the match - and to apologise to the club's fans.

"It was a very bad night for our team, and fans," said Saglam.

"The result was very upsetting for us and I would like to say sorry to all our fans.

"It is very difficult to accept this result, but life does go on and we have to work much harder now to improve in the future. I can promise our fans we will do that."

LiverpooL 8 - 0 Besiktas

Liverpool racked up the biggest-ever Champions League margin, blitzing Besiktas 8-0 at Anfield courtesy of Yossi Benayoun's clinical hat-trick.

The pressure was on Rafael Benitez's Reds after banking just a point from their first three Group A games - but first-half goals from Peter Crouch and Benayoun set them on course for a crucial three-point haul.

Far from backing off after the break, the hosts went goal crazy in the second half, with Benayoun bagging the second and third of his treble before seeing Steven Gerrard (69), Ryan Babel (79 and 81) and Crouch (89) also net.

Andriy Voronin and Crouch started up front, with Fernando Torres on the bench, and both looked lively early on, respectively dragging a shot and steering a header narrowly off target.

Mehmet Sedef sidefooted a good chance wide for this visitors, who fell behind on 19 minutes when Crouch reacted quickly to stab home a rebound after Hakan Arikan had saved his first left-footed effort.

The collective relief around Anfield was tangible and the Reds were 2-0 up on 32, when Benayoun controlled Voronin's left-wing cross and volleyed an unstoppable drive into the back of the net.

John Arne Riise had a goalbound header cleared off the line and Crouch flashed a shot narrowly wide as the Reds finished the half strongly.

Benayoun pounced on two clangers by reserve keeper Arikan, who fumbled Riise's blockbuster and Gerrard's free-kick, to collect his hat-trick (53 and 56) and that opened the floodgates, with Gerrard slotting after a superb one-two with the impressive Voronin.

Sub Babel bagged a cheeky sixth with a close-range backheel - and his second was very fortunate as a defensive clearance hit his back and looped over the keeper and under the crossbar.

Babel was denied a treble as his header rattled the crossbar - but the Reds still went after eight and the icing on the cake came when Benayoun crossed for Crouch to head home.

Crouch Told He Will Only Get Bit-part At Liverpool

Peter Crouch's future at Liverpool looks bleak after manager Rafael Benitez hinted that the striker may be more effective as a substitute.

Crouch has started only one Premier League game this season and was given just 19 minutes as a replacement to try to influence another disappointing Liverpool afternoon.

The England forward's presence coincided with his team's best spell of the game as Liverpool came close to scoring on a handful of occasions in the closing stages.

But Benitez refused to accept that Crouch had made the difference and reflected the 26-year-old may have to become used to life as a substitute.

"Maybe that's right," said Benitez, when the point was put to him. "Some players are like that.

"Some players, when they play for 20 minutes, are more important for the team that way.

"We did better towards the end but perhaps there were three reasons.

"Harry Kewell was on, Blackburn were getting tired and then there was Crouch, too. So there were three things together."

Benitez's assessment, which can't be faulted for honesty, will disappoint Crouch and the 8,000 Liverpool fans who called for his introduction long before he was told to take his tracksuit off.

His impact was profound, freeing Steven Gerrard from his role as second striker to Dirk Kuyt and giving Liverpool proper shape.

Crouch himself had a header cleared off the line, Gerrard went close with two left-foot shots, while the willing but out-of-sorts Kuyt fluffed two opportunities.

Blackburn, who had more than matched Liverpool until the last 20 minutes, had reason to feel relieved at the end.

Left back Stephen Warnock, once of Liverpool, said: "They brought on quality players in Kewell and Crouch and they changed the game.

"It made it more difficult for us. They went more direct with Crouch and it seemed to suit them.

"Crouchie is a great player. He's one of those that almost any team would love to have in their starting line-up. But they seem to use him in a different way and the manager there seems to think that works for him.

"But he's a real asset when he comes on and it must be frustrating for him when he's not starting."

Liverpool watchers will point out Crouch has been poor when given starts this season — in the Premier League and in Europe — and that is a view Benitez shares.

But in the absence of the injured Fernando Torres, it seems baffling he has not been given another chance.

Liverpool were moderate until late in the game as Benitez's tactics once again suffocated his team.

With two defensive midfielders in his line-up — Javier Mascherano and Momo Sissoko — Benitez was asking much of Gerrard, Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun. Only Gerrard delivered.

On this evidence, Liverpool would be nothing without their captain.

Blackburn, watched by their biggest crowd for five years, could have been in front at half-time.

David Bentley struck the post early on and David Dunn thundered a left-foot volley against the underside of the bar.

Mark Hughes' team could also have had a penalty when a shot from Andre Ooijer appeared to strike Jamie Carragher's arm in the second half and Blackburn will head to Manchester United next Sunday in good heart.

Hughes said: "We have played three of the top four now and haven't lost to any of them, so I am very pleased.

"Teams come here to nullify us — that is what Liverpool have done — and that's a mark of how far we have come.

"We have done OK so far but injuries will be key to us as the season goes on.

"Teams like Liverpool have big squads and that can make the difference."

Liverpool v Besiktas Preview

Liverpool are well aware that anything less than three points against Besiktas at Anfield on Tuesday could bring to an end this season's UEFA Champions League quest.

The Reds, who lifted Europe's top club prize in 2005, have yet to record a win in this season's competition following a draw with Porto and shock defeats at home to Marseille and away to Besiktas.

Liverpool's hopes are, therefore, hanging by a thread and a win is essential in their fourth game in Group A if they are to stand any chance of adding to their record of two Champions League final appearances in the past three seasons.

However, Besiktas are in a confident frame of mind and are looking to repeat their success in Istanbul a fortnight ago when they defeated Liverpool 2-1.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has called for 'passion and cool heads' ahead of the meeting, but he is leaving it late before he makes an announcement on the fitness of Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker missed Liverpool's goalless Premier League draw with Blackburn on Saturday after tearing an adductor muscle against Arsenal the previous week.

Torres, though, has been named in the Reds squad and it will be left until late before his match fitness is confirmed.

Benitez is definitely without midfielder Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger as the pair continue their comebacks from dreaded metatarsal injuries.

Besiktas have been rocked by the recent injury of defender Gokhan Zan, who has been ruled out for a month after damaging ligaments in his foot.

The Turkish side are also without Rodrigo Tello (ankle) and Marcio Nobre, who is struggling with a hamstring problem as they seek a major upset.

Liverpool Set To Lure John Cofie

Liverpool are confident of beating Chelsea and Manchester United to the signature of John Cofie, a 15-year-old centre forward whose progress at Burnley has made him one of the most coveted young talents in the country.

Despite strong overtures from Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, Cofie is understood to favour a move to Liverpool and accepted an invitation from the club to attend their Carling Cup fourth-round victory over Cardiff City at Anfield last week. Burnley hope to receive at least £1 million in compensation if the teenager leaves, but Liverpool believe they may secure his services for barely a quarter of that sum.

Although Liverpool have won the FA Youth Cup for the past two seasons with a squad made up largely of players brought through their own academy, Rafael BenÍtez, the manager, has overseen the acquisition of more than 20 teenagers over the past 2½ years, the vast majority of them from overseas.

BenÍtez and Piet Hamberg, the technical manager at the club’s youth academy, are lining up deals to sign at least four other teenagers in January in addition to Cofie. One is Lauri Dalla Valle, a 16-year-old Finnish midfield player, while Hamberg is also believed to be closing in on two highly-rated youngsters from the Netherlands and one from Germany.