Jamie Carragher has hailed Steven Gerrard as one of the best players in the world - and puts the England midfielder alongside Kenny Dalglish in the list of Liverpool greats.
Gerrard inspired Liverpool to a 4-0 thrashing of Marseille to secure a place in the Champions League knockout stage - a feat that had appeared impossible earlier this season, after only one point was secured from their first three European games.
Carragher told the Liverpool Echo: "He's definitely one of the best players in the world. You look at Kaka and (Lionel) Messi, but they probably play further forward.
"For me, he'll go down alongside Kenny Dalglish as one of the greatest players ever to have played for Liverpool - and at the moment he's probably in the top four or five players in the world."
Gerrard opened the scoring in the Stade Velodrome and in doing so overtook Michael Owen's record for goals in Europe - and also became the first Liverpool player since John Aldridge in 1989 to score in seven successive matches.
Liverpool will face tough opponents in the last 16 - they will be drawn against AC Milan, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Barcelona or Seville but Carragher is not daunted.
He added: "We'll be a big game for anyone as well, don't forget. When you're in the Champions League you play the best teams in Europe.
"It's good players and the top teams in the best stadiums. But if you want to progress, you've got to beat the best."
Carragher added he does not have "a clue" whether the result eases the pressure on manager Rafael Benitez.
"That's not up to us," he said.
"We just get on with playing and at the moment we're doing all right - and we just hope to keep it going."
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Jamie Carragher has hailed Steven Gerrard as one of the best players in the world - and puts the England midfielder alongside Kenny Dalglish in the list of Liverpool greats.
Inter Milan, holders AC Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona are prospective opponents, while Sevilla could join the list should they finish top of their pool after Tuesday’s matches.
Reds goalkeeper Jose Reina, however, said his side do not fear anyone in Europe, saying: "We know we will play a Spanish or an Italian team and it will be difficult.
"Playing the second game away will also be hard.
"But it is always a difficult competition and only the best can play in it. We trust ourselves - we have reached the final in two recent seasons so we have to be one of the favourites."
He added: "We have beaten Barca, Juventus, Chelsea (in recent seasons). These have been difficult games and we therefore have confidence in ourselves."
Reina also called on his team-mates to help relieve the boardroom tension that currently exists at the club by continuing their superb recent form on the pitch.
The much-publicised spat between manager Rafael Benitez and co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, which centres around the release of funds for the January transfer window, will come to a head this weekend when the parties meet.
Benitez can go into the talks armed with an amazing recent run of results - Saturday's defeat to Reading aside - that culminated in last night's stunning 4-0 win at Marseille which secured the Reds a place in the Champions League knockout stages.
That made it 25 goals in the last seven games for the Merseysiders, who are also well placed in the Barclays Premier League heading into Sunday's crucial clash with rivals Manchester United.
Benitez's position is surely not under threat after the results of the past month, and compatriot Reina has hailed his team-mates' ability to shut out the off-field issues and concentrate on what is happening on it.
"We have to respect the opinions of the manager and the owners," said the Spain goalkeeper.
"But all we can do is go out there to play and win - that is all. We are trying to play as well as we can on the pitch, and not worry about anything else.
"There are always things happening. But two weeks ago, we said to ourselves we must focus on our play and do our best on the pitch. That's what we are doing."
The club's players and supporters have rallied around Benitez in his time of need and arguably made his position even stronger, despite his public slanging match with the Reds' American owners.
Reina has ultimate faith in his boss, adding: "The manager has a cold mind - he knows what to do at any moment.
"We have showed everyone that people must trust us in what we are trying to do, and in these difficult situations. We have a great team. Now we have to compete at this high level in the Premier League now and play another 'final' against Manchester United."
The thrashing of Marseille will go down as another epic European night for the Anfield club.
Before Tuesday night, every English team who had come to the Stade Velodrome for a European fixture had gone home defeated - that included Liverpool following a UEFA Cup fourth-round clash in 2004.
But the class of 2007 made a mockery of that record, dominating from start to finish in a Champions League masterclass.
Goals by Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres in the opening 11 minutes calmed any early nerves, and the Reds made the most of some embarrassing OM defending to add further efforts through Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel in the second half.
Benitez's men picked up just one point from their opening three games but three straight wins, during which the team scored 16 goals and conceded just one, rounded off an ultimately successful Group A campaign.
"The pressure is always there because we are Liverpool and with that, you must win every game," added Reina.
"We are favourites in every competition we play in and that brings its own pressure. It was a must-win game but we knew it was in our own hands.
"Because of the situation we were in, it was one of our best games in terms of completeness.
"We played well going forward and were compact in defence. In the end it was an easy game for us and we just have to keep this momentum going."
Rafa: Liverpool's Spending Has Not Matched Big Clubs But I Hope To Clear Up 'Misunderstanding' With Owners
Liverpool's net outlay on players is not as high as that spent by England's biggest clubs and as a result does not guarantee they can win the Premier League title, manager Rafael Benitez has said.
"There's a misunderstanding when people speak of the money Liverpool have spent, as between what we have spent and recovered we're at a similar level to those at the top, but not the biggest sides," Benitez told Thursday's sports daily AS.
"Manchester United have spent £70million pounds (this year) when we have spent £40 something million and recovered £26million.
"Many people say we have to win the title because of the money we have spent but other teams such as United, Chelsea, Newcastle United or Aston Villa have also spent a lot of money.
"Arsenal have been spending a lot on young players for years and now are reaping the rewards," he added in the interview.
"All the top teams spend money but this does not guarantee the league title because Chelsea and United... are very big with a base created over a number of years."
Arsenal are currently top of the standings one point clear of champions Manchester United and three ahead of Chelsea with Liverpool a further four points adrift in fourth spot.
Benitez has been reported to have a strained relationship with the club's new American owners over future spending plans for the squad, but he sought to play it down ahead of a meeting with them later this week.
"At a personal level we have a good relationship. We have had some differences at a professional level but when we meet and talk it will be cleared up as a misunderstanding," he added.
"We all want the best for Liverpool so I am sure we will understand each other well. I am very happy at Liverpool and hope to be here for many more years."
Liverpool reached the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday with a 4-0 win at Olympique Marseille and host a Premier League clash with champions Manchester United on Sunday.
He could scarcely be called Liverpool's secret weapon, given his prominence on Sir Alex Ferguson's transfer radar in recent years.
But another accolade was fitting for Fernando Torres ahead of tomorrow's Anfield showdown with Manchester United.
Rafa Benitez is waiting for his first Barclays Premier League win over the defending champions after one draw and five defeats in three-and-a-half years since he left Valencia to replace Gerard Houllier.
He knows why and decided to do something about it last summer by persuading owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to pay a club record £21million for Atletico Madrid marksman Torres.
Nearly six months on, he has seen enough of the 23-year-old striker to hail him as the missing link to deliver United's scalp.
The Liverpool manager had an inkling of the returns he could expect after Torres stalled over a move to Old Trafford for fear he might be leaving home at too tender an age, and also after he turned his back on Inter Milan last summer after the Italian giants' £27million bid.
He just didn't expect to be benefiting from them quite so early. Torres has scored 12 goals in 19 appearances this season.
Benitez said: "In previous games against United, we have played well, controlled the game and had plenty of possession without creating too much.
"Now, in Torres, we have a player with pace and ability who can give us something different. He gives us another option up front and is the element we have been missing.
"I don't know how strong United's interest was, but there was another club from abroad who topped our offer by £6million," he said, referring to Inter's bid.
"Maybe it helped that I'm Spanish and could speak to Nando (Torres) in his own language. I just know it was not difficult persuading him to come here.
"As soon as I phoned him he was aware of how much I wanted him at Anfield. He knew all about the club and how the Spanish players already here could help him settle in and it was all really easy.
"I didn't see the fee as a big gamble. Even so, I wasn't looking to him to score 20 goals in his first season, just to progress steadily and give us something different. Yet he is well on course for 20 goals and that is fantastic — a real bonus."
Benitez's next objective is to wrap up the permanent £17m signing of Javier Mascherano and the Argentina midfielder has added incentive to shine against United with compatriot Carlos Tevez among the opposition.
"Carlos and I have played against each other before when I was at River Plate and he was at Boca, but never in England," said Mascherano.
"We are good friends and I will try not to kick him, but I know all about the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester.
"Now that Carlos has moved up this way and is a lot closer, we speak very often. But we have not discussed this game and I don't think we will. For 90 minutes we will be opponents then we can be friends again. I know Carlos will be trying just as hard to be the one who comes out on top, so let's see what happens. It should be interesting.
"I got a big kick on the shin against Marseille but this is one game I don't want to miss and I feel sure I will be all right. Everyone wants to be involved in it and I desperately want to try and make sure we don't lose. I have done everything I can to stay at Liverpool.
"Now they must decide whether to buy me. It is their decision, not mine, because I have done all I can to convince them I'm worth keeping."
The greatly anticipated ‘Grand Slam Sunday’ kicks off at Anfield as these bitter North West rivals clash. United make the short trip down the M62 knowing that a win would open up a six-point gap on their rivals, and a point is enough to take United back to the top of the table.
For Liverpool and their manager Rafa Benitez, this game is huge. His recent spat with the club’s American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett has cast a large shadow over his future at Liverpool, and the Spanish Tactician will hope to show his watching bosses how good his side are when they visit for this game against the Champions.
Benitez had overseen an unbeaten start to the season until last week’s lame defeat at Reading, but his side bounced back with an impressive showing away to Marseille where Liverpool were exceptional.
Fernando Torres already looks more suited to the Premier League than he was to football in his homeland, and his pace has terrorised Premier League defenders since day one. The former Atletico Madrid icon is fast becoming a favourite of the Kop, and it is not difficult to see why considering he has already found the net an impressive 12 times in all competitions.
Liverpool supporters are desperate to win another League title, and a win at home to the reigning Champions would be some welcome ammunition for Rafa to take into his meeting with the new owners, which follows this game. Liverpool appear to be as strong as any side in the country when they play their strongest XI and the battles in midfield should be key to deciding the outcome of this one.
Can Gerrard and Mascherano get the better of Hargreaves and Anderson? This area of the pitch should be a warzone on Sunday, with four battlers competing for superiority in the key part of the pitch.
Expect a few tackles flying in, and it would be no surprise to see a red card.
Both sides appear to have found some good attacking form and much will depend on how Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher cope with the movement of Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo who have all been in scintillating form in recent weeks.
Possibly United’s biggest strength this season has come from their central defenders Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand who have helped United to the Premier League’s best defensive record. That record will be severely tested by the pace of Torres and the forward surges from midfield that Gerrard has perfected.
Alex Ferguson has had the better of Benitez over the seasons, with five wins and a draw since Benitez became Liverpool boss. Last season’s win at Anfield, through a last minute winner from utility man John O’Shea, was the catalyst for United to take back the League title from Chelsea and this side have enough resolve and ability to once again win at Anfield – something that neither Chelsea or Arsenal have managed this term.
With Arsenal and Chelsea meeting later in the day, this is a crucial day for the Premier League title race and neither United nor Liverpool will want to lose this game and give Arsenal the chance to reopen their gap at the top of the table.
It promises to be a scintillating and highly charged game between England’s two most successful clubs, and let’s hope these traditional enemies can get the biggest day in the Premier League so far this season off to a fascinating start.
FORM GUIDE (Prem unless otherwise stated)
Dec 11 v Marseille (a, CL) WON 4-0 (Gerrard, Torres, Kuyt, Babel)
Dec 8 v Reading (a) LOST 1-3 (Gerrard)
Dec 2 v Bolton (h) WON 4-0 (Hyypia, Torres, Gerrard, Babel)
Nov 28 v Porto (h, CL) WON 4-1 (Torres 2, Gerrard, Crouch)
Nov 24 v Newcastle (a) WON 3-0 (Gerrard, Kuyt, Babel)
Dec 12 v Roma (a. CL) DREW 1-1 (Pique)
Dec 8 v Derby (h) WON 4-1 (Giggs, Tevez 2, Ronaldo)
Dec 3 v Fulham (h) WON 2-0 (Ronaldo 2)
Nov 27 v Sporting (h, CL) WON 2-1 (Tevez, Ronaldo)
Nov 24 v Bolton (a) LOST 0-1
Xabi Alonso could return to the squad after missing two months with a broken metatarsal. Right Back Steve Finnan is doubtful with a calf strain, while Centre half Daniel Agger (foot) is still missing.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Reina – Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Arbeloa – Benayoun, Gerrard, Mascherano, Riise – Torres, Kuyt.
Experienced United legends Gary Neville (calf) and Paul Scholes (knee), as well as Park Ji-Sung (knee) all miss out for United, but after the money spent by Ferguson in the summer, his squad should be able to cope without them.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): Van der Sar – Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra - Ronaldo, Hargreaves, Anderson, Giggs – Rooney, Tevez.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Liverpool – Fernando Torres has already become a fans favourite at Anfield and will be desperate to score against the Champions on Sunday. ‘El Nino’ has scored some vital goals already and he has a pace and calmness in front of goal that is reminiscent of Thierry Henry.
Manchester United - Cristiano Ronaldo is always the man United look towards to decide games like this and the Portuguese winger is continuing his excellent form that won him the Player of the Year award last season. Ronaldo has strength and power to match his trickery and could be the match winner again at Anfield this Sunday.
Liverpool midfielder Momo Sissoko has declared that he is sick and tired over his lack of playing time at the club and wants to leave.
The 23-year-old has barely featured this season, and is behind the likes of Steven Gerard, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso in the centre-midfield pecking order.
The Malian international’s lack of action has led to rumours he will leave Liverpool in January, and the player himself admits this is more than a possibility.
“I am sick and tired and want to leave,” said Sissoko.
“I am really disappointed because the game against Marseille [on Tuesday night] I was counting on.
“I respect the choices of the coach but now I want to discuss my future before the January transfer market. I am not happy about playing one game per month.”
Sissoko has been heavily associated with a transfer to Juventus, with their boss Claudio Ranieri a huge admirer.
The Bianconeri placed a bid for the ex-Valencia man in the summer, however they were scared off by his price tag.
With Juve in desperate need of a new centre-midfielder, there is every chance they may table a fresh offer next month.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has revealed his intention to try and snap up a centre-back during the January transfer window.
The Reds pinned all their summer hopes on bringing in Gabriel Heinze from Manchester United, but that high-profile move was scuppered when a Premier League tribunal ruled against it. He eventually joined Real Madrid.
And with Dane Daniel Agger still sidelined by a foot injury, Benitez plans to strengthen his defence next month.
He said: "We have had a problem at centre-back because we could not close the signing of Gabriel Heinze.
"Then Agger got injured. This has forced us to play with Sami Hyypia who is 34 and Jamie Carragher in every game.
"You are looking at two matches per week and with the intensity that the game is played here, it is not easy for them to do it.
"Our idea is to bring in a centre-back, to provide balance to the team in this position."
The Reds have been recently linked with a move for AC Milan's Georgian stopper Kakha Kaladze.
Javier Mascherano has indicated he will be fit to face Manchester United at Anfield.
Liverpool’s Argentina international midfielder looked in some discomfort during the 4-0 Champions League victory against Marseille in midweek.
However he insists there is little to be concerned about.
“I got a kick but I think it’s nothing and I should be okay to face Manchester United,” he said.
Mascherano admits he is excited at the prospect of going head to head with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
“We’re close to the top so we need to win on Sunday to get even closer plus it’s very important for our fans that we get a victory,” he told uefa.com.
“Liverpool against United is a massive game, maybe the biggest there is in England, so we have to start preparing for it.
“We know we can get a victory and and our confidence is obviously high as well.
“When you win 4-0 away it’s very good for the team and now we need a repeat of this performance on Sunday.”
Xabi Alonso is set to return to the squad after a two-month absence with a metatarsal injury.
The Spain midfielder has featured in only six Barclays Premier League games and been out of action since the Arsenal match in October.
Steve Finnan is doubtful because of a calf problem while Daniel Agger remains sidelined with a foot injury.
Rafael Benitez has a clearly thought-out line of argument for when he comes face to face with the men who own Liverpool for the first time in three months.
However much Tom Hicks and George Gillett might resent his public criticism of them, however much they would like Benitez to become a mere coach rather than Liverpool's general manager, however much they would like talk of transfer budgets to cease, there is one thing that cannot be questioned. Liverpool are now a better, more successful club than the Liverpool Benitez inherited.
There is one chink in that argument and to those who cram the Kop, or any other part of Anfield, it matters painfully. The last time a Liverpool player scored a league goal against Manchester United, Gerard Houllier was managing a club Hicks and Gillett would have been only very dimly aware of. That was a Danny Murphy penalty in April 2004 - you would have to go back to November 2003 for the last time Liverpool managed to score one in open play.
Apart from a solitary victory in the FA Cup, marred by Liverpool fans attacking the ambulance that was attempting to take Alan Smith, his leg horribly broken, to hospital, Benitez's greatest achievement in this fixture has been a goalless draw.
For a man who rolls over the minutiae of football constantly in his head, Benitez is, naturally enough, aware of the naked statistics. "The differences have been in small details," he said, describing the last encounter at Anfield, a game in which United were all but overwhelmed until a half-saved free-kick from Cristiano Ronaldo was stabbed home by, of all people, John O'Shea.
Sir Alex Ferguson, knowing the title was virtually his, leapt into the arms of his assistant, Carlos Queiroz. The United players hurled their white shirts into the away end, and Jamie Carragher was asked what more Liverpool had to do. "We need better players all over the pitch," the defender replied, before grinning, "except at centre-half."
Carragher got his wish, at least at centre-forward. In Fernando Torres, Liverpool finally possess the kind of striker Anfield has not seen since Michael Owen left Merseyside for Madrid in the first few weeks of Benitez's regime.
"When we were playing against Manchester United, we tended to have plenty of possession but couldn't make the breakthrough because they had good defenders and we were not so strong in attack," Benitez reflected before adding: "Now we have Torres, a player with pace and ability, and he will be a threat to them.
"This is a better squad now and Torres is one of the reasons for that. It will still be difficult, because Manchester United have a very good team, but we have different options to use against them than we did before."
There were several reasons why Torres chose Merseyside. He had spent four seasons leading Atletico Madrid's attack; he was only 23 and in those long, largely fruitless campaigns only Samuel Eto'o and David Villa had scored more times in La Liga. Yet when Barcelona could go to the Vicente Calderon stadium and win 6-0, Torres recognised that, despite the adoration of so many fans, it was time to find a club where success was a little easier to come by.
He might have gone to Old Trafford; he could have ended up at Inter Milan, who offered Atletico £6 million more than the £24 million Liverpool paid. But neither of them spoke to Torres in his native tongue. "It was simple to bring him here, because my Spanish is much better than my English," Benitez smiled. "I just gave him a call. We knew a lot of top sides were interested. But he knew the club and he knew some of our Spanish players and he knew I wanted him. It was quite easy."
Torres discussed the move with goalkeeper Jose Reina, who is now a next-door neighbour in the Woolton area of the city, and Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas. He had the ability and the pace, but Benitez must have questioned whether this young, almost coltish, striker had the toughness for what is the most physically demanding league in the world.
"We did not expect 20 goals in his first season; we brought him to Liverpool so he could progress and offer us something different," Benitez said.
"Sometimes you have to wait to see the best of someone, and we were signing Torres for six years not six months. Some players take time to settle - it took Daniel Agger three or four months. Torres is a shy person, but he has confidence now."
It seems Torres' settling-in at Anfield is over. His goals against Porto and Marseille that helped secure Liverpool's qualification for the Champions League knock-out stages were sublime and, if he is going to score 20 in his first season by the Mersey, he now requires only another eight.
Benitez reflected that Torres had been signed "because the relationship with the owners was good" and, if it can be fully repaired, who knows who else he could bring to Anfield?