Saturday, December 01, 2007

Crouch Wants To Stay AT Anfield

If Peter Crouch feels like a misfit, it is probably because the forward has to prove himself again. From being released by Tottenham Hotspur, to being unfancied at Aston Villa, to recent speculation that Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, has been willing to sell him, to doubts about his international credentials, Crouch has sometimes been a target in more ways than one.

The margins between success and failure are so small that he might have been England’s hero with an equalising goal against Croatia in the European Championship ten days ago. Instead, he has to ensure that preconceived ideas about his height of 6ft 7in are not adopted by the next head coach of England, as well as Liverpool if they part company with Benítez.

Crouch has faced criticism from opposition players and fans and even DJ Spoony, the BBC Radio 5 Live presenter, made fun of his lanky frame this week. “When things are bad you have to get out there and prove people wrong,” Crouch said. “When they’re going right you have to stay on top of it, not become lax or to let your standards slip. I’m stronger now and know what my role is, whereas before I was maybe trying to do too much.

“I didn’t fit in at Aston Villa under David O’Leary, so I had to move on. Hopefully my form for England [14 goals in 24 appearances] will count for something. When the new [England] manager comes in, the challenge is to impress in training. He will have his own philosophy and there will be change — new faces. But we have enough quality now, maybe we just haven’t shown it.”

Crouch has started only two Barclays Premier League and four Champions League matches this season, scoring four times, prompting speculation about a move. Benítez said yesterday that Crouch was not for sale after Thaksin Shinawatra, the Manchester City owner, said that Sven-Göran Eriksson, the club’s manager, was interested in the forward.

“At the start of the season I was frustrated that I was not in the squad,” Crouch, who was speaking at the launch of Gameloft’s Real Football 2008, said. “I wondered whether he [Benitez] fancied me. Within a few weeks I was playing. He chops and changes, never lets on what he’s thinking. It is hard to read the manager. If I knuckle down I will get a number of matches to justify my place.

“I literally have no idea whether I am playing — unlike every other manager I have worked for. He usually tells us an hour and a half before kick-off if we are playing. In training the day before he’ll sort out a team shape with two sets of players and then swap things around. We know the system, just not the players.”

Still only 26, Crouch has played for seven clubs and has accrued transfer fees of £15.5 million “I feel settled in my prime,” he said. “I do want to stay at Liverpool, but every now and then there is speculation and you realise that a big club are interested in you. Moving abroad is not something that I would be afraid to do — but we have the best league in the world.”

Had his goal ensured England qualified for Euro 2008, he might have become established. “I thought that was my defining goal and moment,” he said. “But it didn’t mean anything. That’s how fine the line is — between taking your nation to the European Championships and just scoring another goal.”

Benitez Has Talks With Parry In Bid To Ease Tension

There are not many employees who covet an office near the boss, but Rafael Benitez is one of them. The day-to-day contact he enjoyed with Foster Gillett, the son of Liverpool's co-owner, George Gillett, who was installed as his representative in Liverpool in August, gave him the ear of the management.

The two men, who according to Benitez were in and out of each other's adjoining offices at Liverpool's Melwood training ground, have seen far less of each other since the American returned in October to Montreal for reasons which are still not altogether clear and Benitez, in the course of putting a troubled 10 days with his owners in the past yesterday, underscored the value to him of their being together. "When Foster is around it [is] easier," said the Spaniard, whose public indignation over the club's transfer policy stems in part from the insistence by George Gillett and Tom Hicks that he deals with the chief executive, Rick Parry, on such issues.

Gillett Jnr stayed on in Liverpool this week after flying in for the Champions League win against Porto on Wednesday, though Benitez had not yet encountered him at Melwood when he spoke. "Maybe we will talk this afternoon," he said. "I missed him after the [Porto] game because I was talking to Spanish radio journalists." Those journalists may have helped put off what might be an uncomfortable reunion for Benitez, whose indignation expressed at two press briefings are known to have angered the American's father and his co-owner at Liverpool, Hicks.

Though reports yesterday that Hicks and Gillett may be ready to sell up at Liverpool already are wide of the mark – Parry described the claim as "utter garbage" – they certainly seem to be keeping Benitez at arms' length. The Spaniard has received none of the periodic emails he gets from the club's owners since the midweek win which keeps another improbable European recovery story alive. Was this a disappointment, he was asked yesterday? "Maybe it's another misunderstanding," he replied. The Americans' response – like much else at the club it seems – has been through Parry this week. There was "information" Benitez said, but he would not say what.

The Liverpool manager did reveal that he has sat down with his chief executive in an attempt to resolve their differences. "The meeting with Rick Parry was about the problems we have had and the problems we could have in the future," Benitez said. The Spaniard, who is known to want to stay in a city where his family are very happy, went to some lengths to demonstrate that he has taken on the Americans' message about focusing on the players he has. The message was not delivered repeatedly as an ironic riposte, as it was last week, but with the air of a man acting on orders.

"My idea is to keep working with the players," Benitez said. "I will prepare the team and take care of the team," he added later. Victories over Newcastle and Porto make swallowing pride a little easier for the Spaniard. But he certainly does not feel he has acted inappropriately. "I think it [my behaviour] was normal," he said. "All managers want the best for their club." His mood if Liverpool do not prevail in Europe – they visit Marseilles on Wednesday week – and maintain the form they showed at St James' Park is more difficult to predict.

The extended absence of centre-back Daniel Agger, which led Benitez to rely more heavily on Sami Hyypia than he would have wished and fuelled a row over the Americans' refusal to sanction an immediate approach to Milan's Kaka Kaladze, will continue for a few weeks yet. Agger, probably Liverpool's most badly needed player, did not take to a new pair of boots made for him after his metatarsal fracture and is awaiting another pair before making his return. Fabio Aurelio is near a comeback, though Benitez must wait longer for his influential midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Benitez also said that he does not want to part company with Peter Crouch, despite suggestions from Thaksin Shinawatra that Manchester City are interested in him.

EPL Preview: LiverpooL vs Bolton

If Anfield owners Hicks and Gillet thought that they would be able to get rid of Rafa Benitez, they surely would be thinking otherwise now. The fans marched through the streets of Liverpool chanting the beleaguered manager’s name before their team responded with a crushing victory over a Porto side that are no walkover. And prior to the Porto victory was an annihilation of Newcastle at St James'.

If anyone sees a more one-sided game this season in a match not involving Derby being away from home, I would be surprised. In truth the 3-0 score line didn’t reflect the Reds' superiority; Torres alone could have bagged 4 goals.

The game could be contrasted with the Porto one, though, in which though the scoreline slightly flattered the Reds. Still, it showed that the teams spirit of Istanbul remained with the players continuing to fight even at times when the quality of the play was lacking.

In any case, the result is what mattered and the fans chanted the players’ names - Benitez’s, too - throughout the night. The manager was clearly touched, saluting the fans and praising them in his post match press conference.

If Hicks wants to fill his new stadium, getting rid of Benitez would be a miscalculated error in many ways. He would lose the backing of the fans; he only has to look at the tapes of when the Glazers needed numerous police security to leave Old Trafford for a glimpse into the future.

However, fans are fickle: Manchester United fans do not hold the Glazers up in such a negative light anymore. This is due to success; their team won the league and then the owners backed Ferguson to the hilt in the summer.

But nonetheless, getting a new manager into Liverpool will not take them closer to winning the league; any new man will come with new ideas, ideologies, and will want different players. The adaptation process takes time, and it would mean that the effort spent during Rafa’s tenure would have been pointless. Many players are at the club because of the man; the thought of losing players like Torres, Reina and Alonso should cause anyone connected with Liverpool some missed sleep.

It has been unfortunate that Rafa aired his recent grievances to the media - that was very un-Liverpool like. It has been distressing seeing this apparent slanging match going on in the papers, fuelled by opportunistic journalists.

But one silver lining is that it's now clear to all that the communications lines behind the scenes have to be improved, and hopefully the chief executive, Rick Parry, is seeing to this.

In that sense, it will be interesting to see the outcomes of the talks between he and Benitez, scheduled for December 16th. Anything but glowing support given to Rafa will see the owners confined to America: they will be unwilling to sit amongst the fans that greeted them with such optimism earlier. It could be different this time around.

Gary Megson’s Bolton pose a different proposition these days, too. After struggling earlier in the season, they have recorded a great result against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena – it's no mean feat to get a very credible draw there against a rejuvenated Munich side.

They followed this result with a hard fought win over a Manchester United side who had been in great form of late and had also been scoring goals for fun.

As such, they will approach this game believing that they can get a shock result after their recent exploits. They know the points are vital as they look to avoid relegation and propel themselves further up the league.

Megson decided to rest Anelka and Diouf - both former Reds players - in Boltons Uefa cup tie against Aris Salonika which they drew 1-1. This displayed where Megson’s priorities lay.

Bolton go to Anfield looking to follow last Saturday's shock victory over Manchester United with another against Liverpool, and thus end the Reds' unbeaten league record. The Trotters are looking to complete back-to-back wins for the first time in 20 Premier League outings, which would also take their all-time total of wins in this league to 100. Liverpool have won seven league games; Bolton have lost seven.

Both clubs were successful in Europe midweek, but both need victories from their final group matches to qualify to the knock out stages of their respective competitions. The Merseysiders have not lost a league game in nearly seven months, and boast the tightest defence in the highest league. Liverpool are protecting an unbeaten home Premier League record against Bolton, comprising seven wins and one draw



Nov 28 v Porto (H) WON 4-1 (Champ League)
Nov 24 v Newcastle (A) WON 3-0 (PREM)
Nov 10 v Fulham (H) WON 2-0 (PREM)
Nov 6 v Besiktas (H) WON 8-0 (Champ League)
Nov 3 v Blackburn (A) DREW 0-0 (PREM)


29 Nov v Aris Salonika (H) DREW 1-1 (UEFA)
24 Nov v Man United (H) WON 1-0 (PREM)
11 Nov v Middlesbrough (H) DREW 0-0 (PREM)
8 Nov v Bayern Munich (A) DREW 2-2 (UEFA)
4 Nov v West Ham (A) DREW 1-1 (PREM)



Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has no fresh injury worries to contend with as the hosts look to maintain their unbeaten record. Xabi Alonso, Daniel Agger and Jermaine Pennant are still sidelined for Liverpool. Peter Crouch is pushing for a place in the starting line-up after scoring off the bench against Porto. Fernando Torres is expected to lead the attack with Crouch battling it out with Dirk Kuyt and Andrei Voronin to partner the Spaniard. Benitez is expected to shuffle his pack with Harry Kewell and John Arne Riise both possibly returning to the starting XI.

Probable Starting X1 (Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Kewell, Lucas, Mascherano, Gerrard, Torres, Kuyt)


Bolton boss Gary Megson is forced into making three changes, with Kevin Nolan and Nicky Hunt suspended and Danny Guthrie ineligible to play against his parent club. Ivan Campo is set to return to the starting XI after being ineligible in Europe. Gavin McCann is doubtful after picking up a nasty head injury against Aris Salonika. Nicolas Anelka will be restored to the side after starting only as a substitute against Aris Salonika.

Probable Starting XI (Jaaskelainen, O’Brien, Joey O’Brien, Meite, Cid, McCann, Campo, Giannakopulos, Anelka, Diouf, Davies)



Fernando Torres has been in devastating form and seems to be taking of the burden off Steven Gerrard's shoulders; he has too often has been left to carry the side.


Anelka has been in great form, and loves scoring against his old sides. His pace will be a big threat.