Monday, March 31, 2008

LiverpooL 1 - 0 Everton

Fernando Torres' early strike gave Liverpool a precious five-point lead over their Merseyside rivals in the race for Champions League qualification.

Torres cost Liverpool around £20million last summer, and this goal - of all the 28 he has grabbed so far - could be the one that earns the riches that come from participating in Europe's premier competition each season.

Liverpool dominated the first half, and should have been in total command. Steven Gerrard hit a post and a hatful of chances were wasted.

But Everton, to their immense credit, tested Liverpool to the absolute limits in the second-half, and the Kop stood in anguish as they watched their heroes defend the goal in front of them.

But Liverpool hung on to complete only their 12th league double over the Goodison Park side in what was virtually a final eliminator for fourth spot.

Liverpool were missing the suspended Javier Mascherano, while Everton were without the injured Tim Cahill and Andrew Johnson - arguably damaging the Toffees' system more than the Argentina midfielder's absence for the Reds.

And after a spirited opening spell, in which Mikel Arteta tested Jose Reina with a spin and shot from 25-yards, Liverpool set about establishing a superiority on this 207th Mersey derby.

With so much at stake, financially as well as local pride, the game was tense and needed a firm control from referee Howard Webb, mindful of the 36 yellow and seven red cards in the seven derbies since Benitez took charge at Anfield.

In a fixture that has more dismissals than any other Premier League fixture Webb did a pretty decent job of keeping the passions in check.

He booked both Lee Carsley and Phil Neville - on his 100th league appearance for Everton - inside the first 18 minutes for fouls on Torres and Lucas, by which time Liverpool were deservedly in front.

And it had to be that man Torres.

The Spaniard may not have fared too well with goals for Atletico in the Madrid derby, just one, but he scored inside seven minutes of his Merseyside derby debut.

It was Liverpool's 100th in all competitions this season and he equalled the club record of scoring in six successive home league games, his 28th of a stunning first campaign in the Premier League.

It came when Xabi Alonso caught Ayegbeni Yakubu in possession 20 yards out, a situation the Nigerian should have had under control.

But he dithered and the ball was poked back into the box for Dirk Kuyt to flick forward. And Torres was on it in a flash, drilling the ball inside Tim Howard's far post with the normally solid Everton rearguard all over the place.

And for the next half-hour Liverpool pinned Everton back, searching for further success.

Kuyt had shots blocked by Tony Hibbert and Howard in quick succession, Ryan Babel missed a gift close-in from a John Arne Riise cross before a brave saving header from Carsley stopped Lucas reaching a Steven Gerrard free-kick.

Gerrard, himself, on his 20th derby appearance, then almost uprooted Howard's right-hand post with a fierce, dipping drive from 25-yards.

But the feeling remained that Everton were still in it despite Reina barely being tested.

Everton, with Arteta in a more central midfield role, and Steven Pienaar a wandering, sporadic influence, had unquenchable belief.

That was reinforced by the way they were over-powering Lucas in midfield, possession constantly being conceded.

And they started the second period with growing intent. Pienaar was booked for a foul on Babel as the Blues' tempo increased.

Neville's move to a more advanced role on the left of midfield forced Kuyt to defend and stopped Jamie Carragher getting forward. And Everton started to win free-kicks, their dangerous trademark.

Leon Osman sent a header just wide from one of Arteta's accurate deliveries, with Liverpool now having to defend. Manuel Fernandes came on for Pienaar on the hour, and Everton continued to press.

Phil Jagielka was booked for a late challenge on Gerrard before Neville was withdrawn - presumably injured because he headed straight down the tunnel after grabbing a track-suit top angrily, before exchanging a handshake with Moyes.

Liverpool gambled on sitting back and trying to catch Everton on the break the more they came forward, increasingly desperate to salvage something.

Babel was withdrawn to allow Yossi Benayoun into the argument, while Everton sent Jagielka up front late on. Everton were a constant and growing menace which needed all of Sami Hyypia's experience and Martin Skrtel's brawn to contain.

The unease in Liverpool ranks increased with Torres booked for time wasting, before being withdrawn, Jermaine Pennant coming on with two minutes left.

Kuyt curled a 20-yarder just wide and Howard saved superbly from Gerrard, but it was all Everton as the seconds ticked away.

Liverpool sent on Peter Crouch for Gerrard in injury-time as they successfully used up the last moments.

Fernando Torres Overwhelmed By First Derby Experience


Liverpool match-winner Fernando Torres left Anfield with a feeling of amazement after his first Merseyside derby ended in victory.

The Spain striker scored the only goal in the seventh minute and after the game he expressed his delight at the performance, which put five points between the Reds and their fifth-placed local rivals Everton.

“The derby was amazing. It is always different for the fans. It is an important week and you feel this is a special game,” he said.

“The victory was most important and Everton are further behind than before.”

Torres, who has now scored 21 goals in the Barclays Premier League, said today made up for last week’s disappointing 3-0 defeat at Manchester United.

“When you have a bad result you need a big game with a good result and now we have confidence again,” he added.

Gerrard Bemoans Liverpool’s Inability To Kill Off The Game By Scoring More Goals

Confident Steven Gerrard believes Liverpool should have won by an even greater margin after claiming victory over Everton.

A seventh-minute goal from Fernando Torres ultimately settled the 207th Merseyside derby at Anfield yesterday.

It ensured Rafael Benitez’s side opened up a five-point lead on their neighbours in the race for fourth place and the final Champions League qualification berth.

Liverpool dominated the first half before withstanding a belated Everton recovery after half-time as the hosts spurned a variety of good chances to add to their advantage.

And Gerrard, who was denied a spectacular goal of his own by the width of the post, reckons the visitors at times struggled to cope with their city rivals.

“It was a good win but we’re slightly disappointed we didn’t make it more comfortable in the first half, because we had plenty of chances to kill the game off,” said the Liverpool skipper.

“But I never once thought we’d lose the game or give a goal away.

“You’re always after a quick start in the derby and a quick goal and we got that, and in the first half we completely dominated the game. We maybe deserved a bigger margin of victory.

“We dominated for large parts of the game and we couldn’t quite convert another goal in the first half, and I was disappointed when my effort came back off the post.”

With only six league games remaining, Liverpool are now firm favourites to hold off their neighbours and retain their top-four place for Champions League qualification.

However, Gerrard insists there will be no complacency with the Anfield outfit preparing for a triple-header against Arsenal in the Champions League and Premier League over the next nine days.

“It was a big win and we knew how important this game would be for us,” said Gerrard.

“Hopefully now we can continue to pick up wins until the end of the season and grab that fourth spot.

“Credit to Everton they came back strongly in the second half – we couldn’t quite get that second goal which made it harder.

“But we are winning games and you’re happy as long as you are winning. These games are also about bragging rights and I’m sure the supporters will be pleased.

“We still have difficult games to go so it was important to get the result.”

Gerrard added: “For the time being the pressure is off us having to win the Champions League to qualify for the competition, because we know we have a gap now.

“But although we have to massive Champions League games coming up against Arsenal, we have to make sure we put a big performance in for the Premier League game in between and maintain that five-point gap or even increase it.”

Torres’s goal was his 28th of the season – 21 of them coming in the Premier League – and an admiring skipper Gerrard said: “It’s no shock to me the way Fernando finished for his goal.

“Give the guy the chances and he will put them away.”

Everton were shorn of a number of key personnel in attack and Gerrard concedes that perhaps blunted the threat going forward of David Moyes’s side.

“I think looking at Everton’s teamsheet and the way they lined up, they were playing for a draw,” he said.

“Maybe if Andrew Johnson had been fit, they may have been a bit more positive.

“But you have to give us credit for our performance, Everton couldn’t live with us in the first 45 minutes.”

Torres’s Star Show Hailed By Benitez

Rafael Benitez hailed ace striker Fernando Torres after his recordequalling goal earned Liverpool victory in the Merseyside derby and took them to the brink of Champions League qualification.

Torres struck in a sixth successive home game to equal a club record as the Reds opened up a five-point gap over fifth-placed Everton with six games to play. The Spaniard stole the points by coolly slotting past Toffees keeper Tim Howard after only seven minutes in a strangely subdued derby affair.

It was his 28th goal of what has been a memorable debut season in England and had delighted boss Benitez singing his praises. “We must admit that we are surprised by how well Fernando has settled here,” Benitez said. “We knew he was a great player, one of the best strikers in Europe, but for him to score 28 goals in his first season for the club is very impressive.”

Liverpool got off to the best possible start when Steven Gerrard’s corner was only half-cleared, Xavi Alonso stole the ball off Yakubu and Dirk Kuyt played in Torres to score.

Gerrard then came within a whisker of doubling the advantage five minutes before the break with a first-time volley which hit the post. Despite the result Benitez refused to accept the race for fourth was over. “We are at Arsenal next Saturday and that will be tough, while Everton are at home to Derby,” he added. “Things can change around very quickly.”

Rafa Benitez Blasts Everton Fans Over Steven Gerrard Abuse


Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez slammed Everton's fans for taunting skipper Steven Gerrard - and revealed he was happy that his star man shut them up.

Gerrard came in for a torrent of personal abuse about his private life from the away end and Benitez rapped:

"I am sure some players will be really pleased about that win and I am really pleased for them. I don't like to hear some of those things and it is a lack of respect."

The Kop chief singled out Gerrard for praise as they basked in the glory of a derby win that takes the Anfield side five points clear of their rivals and red-hot favourites for fourth place.

Gerrard was the target for the hate mob but he preferred to focus on the vital victory and said:

"It's a big win for us and hopefully we can continue like that to the end of the season and grab fourth spot."

Fernando Torres was the match-winner with his 21st Premier League goal of the season and Benitez added: "We are surprised.

"We knew he was a fantastic player but to score that many in his first season isn't easy, especially for a foreign player.

"He is one of the best in Europe."

Even Everton boss David Moyes was impressed. He said: "It was like playing against two men at times in the first half because of the way he occupied our centre-halves."

DIC, Hicks And Gillett Ready For Crisis Talks

Liverpool co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are due to meet with a representative from Dubai International Capital, in the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.

It is understood that it will be the first time all three parties have shared the same room, meaning that the drama on the pitch of the Champions League quarter-final between Arsenal and Liverpool could easily be surpassed by tensions off it.

DIC remain optimistic that they can still launch a successful takeover and yesterday there were signs that the Liverpool power struggle was moving into its final phase. It has emerged that the pressure on Hicks may heighten in the coming weeks due to the possible need for him to refinance other assets. Market sources predict that the pressure of the global credit crunch could well force Hicks's hand.

Hicks has so far refused to do business unless he can retain a controlling stake but Gillett has made it clear that he will not sell to his partner.

Gillett does, however, regard DIC as "very responsible" possible owners and last week admitted to a Canadian radio station that his relationship with Hicks had been "unworkable for some time''.

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has urged some sort of swift resolution. "My plea is that something happens this week,'' he said.

"There is a need for a degree of urgency but it is urgent to get it right, not urgent to come up with the wrong solution.

"I think George was pretty clear in stating the relationship between the two of them had broken down and, as a result of that, an alternative solution needs to be found.

"There is no question that to succeed you need unity at the top. I think it brings it to a head. All things are possible at the moment. Someone has to sell, that is clear if they are not able to co-exist.''

The uncertainty over the club's ownership has placed a question mark over Rafa Benitez's future as manager, although Parry has said that he believes the Spaniard can transform his great success on the European stage to the Premier League.

"We are very conscious that, from every Liverpool fan's point of view, the League is the big, big goal and that is the one we would really like to win,'' he said.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

English Premier League Preview: LiverpooL vs. Everton

Sunday brings the 178th Merseyside derby to Anfield with both sides having plenty to play for. The Merseyside neighbours are both vying for the fourth and final Champions League spot with Liverpool currently leading Everton by two points in the table. A win for Liverpool would establish a healthy lead over their neighbours and give them some breathing space ahead of their triple header with Arsenal; whilst a win for Everton would see them leapfrog their neighbours into fourth.

Earlier in the season, Liverpool won the derby 2-1 in a fractious game that had practically everything: an own goal, two red cards, a last minute penalty winner for Liverpool and an even later penalty claim for Everton turned down by the referee in the dying seconds.

Everton will be anxious to gain revenge for that match which they felt unlucky to lose and also to prevent Liverpool from doing the double over them for the third time in the Premier League. However, they will be conscious they have won only two of the last sixteen derbies and have not won at Anfield since 1999. Despite this, their away form in the league is good with only Chelsea and Manchester United having picked up more points on the road.

Liverpool will be eager to bounce back from last weekend’s mauling at the hands of Manchester United. They were on an excellent run of form before that game with seven wins out of seven and will be looking to regain their momentum, particularly with important Champions League fixtures looming.

If recent form is anything to go by Sunday’s referee Howard Webb will have a busy afternoon. This fixture has seen more red cards in the Premier League than any other, as Everton will remember to their cost from the last fixture when Hibbert and Neville were both sent off. Steven Gerrard will also be well aware of this fact, having already seen red twice in this fixture in his career already.

Whilst Liverpool will be desperate to beat their local rivals and make up for last weekend’s defeat, they do go into this fixture with one eye on the midweek Champions League game against Arsenal. Whether Benitez will be able to resist rotating his side remains to be seen, especially seeing as many of his players were on international duty in midweek. He will certainly be without Mascherano after his red card last week so Lucas may come in and Benayoun may feature. Torres should be fit despite picking up a knock against United and coming off early in midweek for Spain against Italy.

Everton were furious with the referee after the last Merseyside derby for refusing to send off Dirk Kuyt for a late challenge on Phil Neville and also for not awarding them a last minute penalty, and they will be desperate for a result at Anfield.

However, since being knocked out of the UEFA Cup against Fiorentina their form has dipped at this crucial stage of the season, losing to strugglers Fulham and only managing a draw against West Ham in their last two games. A point may not be enough either if they seriously want to be playing Champions League football next season so they will head to Anfield looking for the win and to ensure that their otherwise excellent season does not start to slip away from them.

Their situation is not helped by the news that Tim Cahill is out for the season with a broken metatarsal and his goals will be missed, particularly seeing as he has scored in the derby in the last three seasons.



FORM GUIDE

Liverpool

23 March v Man Utd (a) LOST 0-3

15 March v Reading (h) WON 2-1

8 March v Newcastle (h) WON 3-0

5 March v West Ham (h) WON 4-0

2 March v Bolton (a) WON 3-1

Everton

22 March v West Ham (h) DREW 1-1

16 March v Fulham (a) LOST 0-1

9 March v Sunderland (a) WON 1-0

2 March v Portsmouth (h) WON 3-1

25 Feb v Man City (a) Won 2-0



TEAM NEWS

Liverpool

Mascherano is banned after his red card against Manchester United and Lucas may come into midfield. Torres should be fit after picking up minor knocks in recent weeks. Although manager Rafael Benitez has resisted the urge to rotate his team recently he may have an eye on the midweek Champions League game against Arsenal and could possibly make changes from the team that started at Old Trafford.

Everton

Tim Cahill is out and will be a big absence for the Toffees. Pienaar, Yobo and Johnson are also doubts which means Osman may retain his place in the side and Anichebe may start up front with top scorer Yakubu.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Liverpool: Steven Gerrard

After less than impressive performances against Manchester United last weekend and in midweek for England, the Liverpool skipper may just be in the mood to put things right against Everton. He will be looking to add to his tally of ten league goals for the season and to keep Everton well behind his team in the race for fourth place.

Everton: Andy Johnson

If Johnson can shrug off a groin injury he could be the man Everton look to for goals in this game. The last time Everton beat Liverpool Johnson scored twice and he remains the last Everton player to score in a Merseyside derby (Everton scoring through a Hyypia own goal earlier in the season). If he finds the net at Anfield it will be his 100th league goal which should prove a huge incentive.

Rafa: Three Signings Already Confirmed

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has been keen to reveal that he has already made headway in his bid to strengthen the club ahead of next season.

The Anfield Club are desperate to close the gap on the league's leading sides, and as such their manager has already got a jump on the summer transfer market, with a trio of new players already confirmed.

"We have agreements with two young players and one senior player who will be a starting XI player. That deal is already done," trumpeted Benitez. "We are also making plans for our preseason tour and talking to players here about new contracts."

The press have been speculating that the 'senior player' is likely Schalke's highly rated Brazilian full-back Rafinha, while the two youngsters are also believed to be South American in origin.

Perhaps more significantly than the signings themselves is that it strongly indicates that Benitez is planning for a future at Liverpool.

The Spanish tactician is said to be on the wishlists of several of La Liga's top clubs, and Inter Milan are also supposedly intent on luring him away from Anfield.

Arbeloa: Torres Deserves Award More Than Ronaldo

Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa believes that club mate and compatriot Fernando Torres deserves the Player of the Year award ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo is the favourite to win this year's individual honours - both the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year, as well as the PFA Player of the Year - on the back of a season that has seen him score 35 goals already, and provide nearly as many assists.

However, Fernando Torres is not far behind, also having netted 27 this season, which is already the best by anyone in his debut season in the Premier League.

The Spaniard has adapted seamlessly to life in the English top tier, something even the likes of Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba failed to do, and Arbeloa believes that the striker deserves to be named the Player of the Year despite Ronaldo's heroics.

"Ronaldo's confidence level is so high everything he tries seems to come off and he is a step ahead of everyone else at the moment," he began, speaking on the club's official website.

"Alex Hleb of Arsenal and Chelsea's Joe Cole have also caught my eye but Torres has been massive for us.

"He has created a lot of goals for himself and is on a par with the best and I am sure he will be voted Footballer of the Year ahead of Ronaldo.

"He is an idol who has earned his stripes, particularly at Anfield, where he has scored most of his goals."

Awards such as these are often decided by the results of top European competitions, and with both involved in the Champions League, as well as set to feature in Euro 2008, there is everything to play for.

Parry Wants Quick End To Reds Saga

Rick Parry believes Liverpool's ownership saga is coming "to a head" and must now be resolved by the American co-owners as quickly as possible.

George Gillett revealed in an interview this week that his relationship with Tom Hicks had long since broken down, and Parry admits that he sees no way in which they can carry on as a partnership.

With Dubai International Capital reportedly keen to launch a full takeover of the Anfield club, Hicks has so far refused to do business unless he can retain a controlling share, while Gillett appears more amenable - claiming DIC would be "responsible" owners.

But whatever happens, Parry has called for matters to move quickly.

"I think it brings it to a head - clearly for the good of the club from where I sit," the Reds' chief executive told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme.

"The hope will be that it's resolved quickly now, it's dragged on for long enough and the ideal would be to move to as speedy a resolution as possible."

Parry added: "All things are possible at the moment - somebody's got to sell, that's clear. If they're not able to co-exist then there needs to be a solution where one buys and one sells, or both sell.

"There aren't too many other possibilities but it's pretty clear that to carry on with the status quo is going to be extremely difficult."

Petulance Must Not Mar The Merseyside Derby

Most Evertonians will be familiar with the on-edge, slightly queasy feeling I have as we approach an end of season Merseyside derby with a lot at stake.

We approach these games with trepidation because, in our eyes at least, they have delivered some big injustices over the years. You won't spend long in the company of an Evertonian before talk turns to a disallowed late winner in the 1977 FA Cup semi-final and an Alan Hansen handball on the line in the 1984 Milk Cup Final.

Questions of refereeing are never far from the after-match analysis of a derby but today, of all days, I'm hoping the headlines are about the result, not the referee - especially after recent events.

The debate about players abusing referees is not new. But I sense it now has the potential to become a serious issue for the game. There is a real risk that the game is increasingly perceived as becoming arrogant and laced with a culture of disrespect.

The words of rugby league international Adrian Morley struck a chord: "Far too many footballers have been allowed to get away with this kind of petulance and ignorance for far too long. The referee's decision is final and the referee is always referred to as 'Sir', even now in Super League. Footballers should learn from us."

Footballers may be tempted to shrug their shoulders but that would be the wrong response. I would be the first to point out that football culture is different from rugby. No one expects footballers to be angels. As my old Sunday league team-mates would tell you, I was not averse to having a say on referees' decisions myself.

But some of the recent scenes of footballers berating referees go way too far and it's a terrible indictment of our top flight that abuse of referees in junior football is growing. Of course it doesn't end there. Every weekend in the Premier League we are treated to an array of diving that would make the talented Tom Daley proud.

So football needs to act decisively on respect for referees. I'm pleased that the FA, under the leadership of David Triesman, is facing up to the scale of this problem.

The Respect campaign being trailed at grassroots level bans anyone but captains talking to referees. Barnet, to their great credit, recently adopted the same approach and went on a fantastic run. There is a real case for its introduction in the professional game.

The now-established Professional Game Match Officials Board, which draws together the FA, Premier League and the Football League is another step in the right direction.

Everyone in football has a responsibility to take this campaign seriously, including the managers who appear to make referee-bashing their second job. It pains me to hear time and time again some managers failing to take responsibility for a team's defeat and blame the referee instead. So it was encouraging to hear Fabio Capello talking about the importance of respect in relation to the England team.

But David Moyes has a point too. He will strike a chord with supporters of many clubs when he calls for more openness when things go wrong and poor decisions made that can cost clubs dear. If that happened, perhaps it would encourage managers to be more temperate in their remarks.

Everybody accepts that referees will make mistakes. But people pay a lot of money to watch games and it would help take the heat out of these situations if there was more acknowledgement of mistakes.

Why is it all so important? Football is so prominent in our society that it affects the behaviour of young people. Young boys and girls who grow up watching their role models respect authority are much more likely to go on to respect authority in their life.

It matters because football's reputation is in question and the game risks losing support and standing.

But, if we don't get a grip, who will be the referees of the future? It is a thankless job and people will simply not turn out to do it if the reward is abuse. If there is a shortage of referees, there is the risk of people refereeing without sufficient experience at every level - that can only lead to more argument between players, managers and the authorities.

It is a vicious circle football needs to break - quickly.

Wenger Wary Of Torres Danger

Arsene Wenger knows his Arsenal side must be wary of "dangerous" Liverpool frontman Fernando Torres and pass a "test of character" when the two English sides go head to head for a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

The Gunners host the first leg of the all-Barclays Premier League affair on Tuesday night in what will be a run of three matches against the Reds, with a domestic fixture at Emirates Stadium to come in between on Saturday.

Even though the Arsenal manager accepts both sides know each other well, Wenger maintains there will be no chance of his men underestimating the challenge which lies ahead.

"I rate Torres," said Wenger of Liverpool's in-form Spanish frontman. "I believe he had quite a good start after a spell when he was in and out.

"Since he is back on a regular basis, he is extremely dangerous."

Wenger revealed: "We have known about him for a long time, but I never tried to sign him.

"We were interested when he first started at Atletico Madrid, but we never made any offer."

Wenger maintains the familiarity of the opposition means mental focus will have a big influence.

"When you play a 'local' team in the European Cup it is a test of character. We know we can do it, but who wants it the most?" he said.

"Against an English team the competition is always different. You come back more to a formula - the mental strengths of the two teams will make all the difference in the game.

"We know each other well, so there are two things which will make the difference - the quantity of the mental strengths available in the teams and how well the players who can make a decision perform.

"We play each other three times in six days and it will be a case of 'who is ready again'?"

Wenger accepts preparation for the tie will be similar to what would happen in the build-up to a Premier League game, but with a different approach to the games themselves, given it is effectively a cup competition.

"You know in this game - a direct knockout - the goal conceded at home is the killer," he said.

"In a league game you think even if you can concede a goal you can still win it.

"So we have to be organised, cautious and make sure you defend well first before you attack."

Having knocked holders AC Milan out in the last round, following a goalless draw at Emirates and then a fine 2-0 win in Italy, Wenger accepts it will take another composed all-round display to see off the Reds, who won the Champions League in 2005 and reached last year's final.

"Liverpool will be more rough, more edgy and difficult to penetrate," he observed.

"Milan was a confrontation of two similar styles where we were better. Against Liverpool we will have to win the physical battle as well.

"They can raise their game and it is a team which at home can dig deep and produce a result."

Wenger noted: "We want to win the game on Tuesday, but 0-0 is never a disappointing result at home in the first leg because it puts the team who plays against you at home under huge pressure.

"They play with the idea that if they concede a goal they are out. That puts them a little bit in between - do we go for it or do we wait? It gives you a good chance."

Chelsea await the winners in the semi-finals, should they come through against Fenerbahce. Manchester United take on Roma in the other half of the draw.

Wenger - who guided his men to the European Cup final two seasons ago - sees no reason why there should not be Premier League representation again in Moscow.

"Certainly one English if not two will be in the final this year," he said.

"We were in the final in 2006 and we can come there again."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Penitent Mascherano Says Sorry To Referee After Being Fined By Club

Javier Mascherano has written to the referee Steve Bennett to apologise for the persistent dissent that caused him to be sent off against Manchester United last Sunday. The Liverpool midfielder, whose dismissal after running 20 yards to harangue Bennett was the low point of a petulant display, has been fined £20,000 by the club but also faces a Football Association charge and has asked for a personal hearing, at which he could have his one-match ban increased to three.

"The player wants to show that he has apologised," said Rafael Benítez, who will be without Mascherano against Everton tomorrow. "He accepts he lost control after the sending-off and has said sorry to the referee. I have also talked with him now and told him he would be fined by the club, and he has accepted that and wants the money donated to charity.

"It is clear that Javier is a player who was working hard and playing well. He was giving balance to us. Normally when a player is playing at this level you will miss him, but I have a lot of confidence in Lucas [Leiva], or [Peter] Crouch and [Andriy] Voronin, if we want to change the system."

Benítez does not consider indiscipline to be a problem among his players and trusts them to act with maturity amid the passion of Anfield. "You can see our record during the season. We didn't have any problems and you could see that was not the case with some other sides.

"[Tomorrow] is a derby and people will be more excited but the players have experience. We say before all the games, try and do the right things, watch the tackles, don't have problems with the referees."

Everton will be without their midfielder Tim Cahill for the rest of the season with a broken metatarsal. "It is the same toe he has broken before but, from what I've been told, I don't think it's a really big problem for his future," said his manager, David Moyes. "Tim has not had a rest from football for a good while with World Cups, Asia Cups, Confederation Cups etc, and maybe the workload has taken its toll. He will have an operation soon and a summer to recover."

Everton have taken one point from their past two games and Moyes conceded yesterday that they might ultimately have to settle for fifth place. "Our first priority is to finish fifth at worst, so that we can at least get back into Europe again," he said.

The Lyon midfielder Kim Kallstrom admits he would relish a summer move to Everton. "At this moment I'm focusing on playing well in France," he told L'Equipe. "England? Maybe. It's a great championship, so why not? And why not Everton? They're a great club who play at the top of the Premier League table. You never know. We'll see next summer, after the European Championship."

Talking Tactics: Steven Gerrard's Deja Vu

Steven Gerrard will suffer a severe case of deja vu if David Moyes gets his way at Anfield.

The Everton manager will have noticed how Liverpool captain was so successfully stifled by Claude Makelele when England played France in Paris the other night and he will ask Lee Carsley to perform a similar role today.

Gerrard has really been hitting it off playing 10 or 15 yards deeper than Fernando Torres for Liverpool because he has been granted the time and space in 'the hole' to drive forward.

Makelele ensured Gerrard didn't get either at the Stade de France by fulfilling the role of anchorman in exemplary fashion. He hardly moved from his post in front of the back four, an area Gerrard was out to exploit and so his opponent hardly got into the game.

Gerrard has been successful in that role with Liverpool because he doesn't have to deal with Makelele every week but Carsley is one of the nearest things you'll get to the French international.

Carsley might not be as disciplined as Makelele and he does like to wander forward but, on this occasion, he will be told to smother Gerrard and generally get in his way to make his afternoon an awkward one.

There is, however, a way for Gerrard to get the better of a good solid operator like Carsley and that will be to launch his attacks from a wider berth in the old outside right position and the same could apply when he's on England duty.

That's an area where he used to do best attacking work for Liverpool before Torres arrived and maybe Rafael Benitez will want him to return to his old ways in the derby so he can be more influential for his club than he was his country.

The way Gerrard plays will probably prove pivotal to how the game unfolds and maybe who finishes fourth and fifth this season.

Sometimes it appears as if David Moyes has his team playing the match in quarters. For starters, he'll adopt more direct tactics which are designed to force opposing defences to turn around. Only then will his team's pass-and-move tactics kick in as things settle down and opposing defenders have been given the run-around. It's a process that is repeated after half-time with the change in tactics so finely tuned it's as if the players hear an alarm clock.

Meanwhile, Carragher knows he won't have to chase Yakubu out wide because the Nigerian striker rarely wanders out to the wings, instead preferring to make angled runs between the centre-halves because he's quick on to the ball, strong, sharp and has a terrific eye for goal. He also has a powerful shot.

Rafa Benitez Focused Despite Anfield Board Rift


Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez says he will not be distracted by boardroom turmoil as he prepares for a massively important Premier League game against Everton tomorrow.

Off-field matters are grabbing the headlines after co-owner George Gillett described his relationship with Tom Hicks as "unworkable".

Gillett said Hicks' admission that they had courted Jurgen Klinsmann as a possible replacement for Benitez at the end of last year, was a key reason why he had received death threats.

"This partnership has been unworkable," Gillett said. "We have tried to be co-operative, we have tried to be supportive but when your public persona is more important than the facts, which make it difficult to have a rational relationship.

"We were very fair. We gave our partner a long period of time to try to make arrangements to buy us out. We didn't put pressure on him but he ultimately did not get to the finish line. Because of the things he said, the fans' reaction has been so negative towards him and towards us if we sold to him, which has now made that an untenable alternative for us.

"He threatened to block me selling to Dubai - that was certainly one of the things that made the fans upset.

"Lord knows, DIC have the money with oil prices going up every day, that's not an issue. They certainly have the history and they are fans. I think they would have been very responsible owners."

Ahead of the derby, Benitez said: "There is nothing I can do but concentrate on the game and prepare properly. I will just be thinking about Everton."

Benitez also said that Javier Mascherano, who has admitted a charge of improper conduct for his reaction to being sent off on Sunday, has been fined £20,000 by the club, with the money going to charity. Mascherano yesterday asked the FA for a personal hearing which is expected to take place in London next Friday.

Benitez said: "Javier knows he made a big mistake, he apologised to his team-mates and the supporters and he has now apologised to the referee. He accepts he lost control after the sending-off."

Liverpool Fine Javier Mascherano £100,000 For Red Card

Liverpool have fined midfielder Javier Mascherano after he admitted a Football Association charge of improper conduct following his sending-off away to Manchester United last weekend.

Mascherano today asked for a personal hearing which is expected to take place in London next Friday. But today Anfield boss Rafael Benitez also revealed that Mascherano had been fined by the club - believed to be the maximum two weeks’ wages of around £100,000 - with the 23-year-old asking that the money be donated to charity.

Benitez said today: “Javier is a fantastic professional and he knows he made a big mistake, he apologised to his team-mates and the supporters and he has now apologised to the referee.

“He accepts he lost control after the sending-off and has said sorry to the referee. I have also talked with him now and told him he would be fined by the club, and he has accepted that and wants the money donated to charity.

“We would like a personal hearing now. This was the first red card of our season and we do not have problems of this kind. We will now await the outcome of the hearing and the lawyers are now working on it.”

Mascherano will serve an initial one-match ban in the Merseyside derby on Sunday. It is possible that that suspension could be extended for two more matches if he loses the appeal.

George Gillett Claims Liverpool FC Fans Have Sent Him Death Threats

Liverpool Football Club’s joint owner George Gillett said he and his wife have received death threats from angry fans.

The American said supporters made the telephoned threats in the middle of the night because of the club’s ongoing turmoil.

Gillett, 69, confirmed that his partnership with Tom Hicks - who also owns 50% of the historic club - had completely broken down and had been untenable for some time.

He spoke for the first time about the controversy surrounding Anfield on a Canadian radio station.

He said Hicks, 62, threatened to block a proposed sale of his shareholding to Dubai International Capital - a move widely supported by Reds fans.

Referring to Hicks’s disclosure that manager Rafael Benitez’s job was offered to ex-Germany boss Jurgen Klinsmann last year, Gillett said: “We get as many as 2,000 emails a week.

“I would say 95% of them have been directed at some of the comments made by my partner and 5% aimed at both of us, ’Go home Americans’.”

He added: “The fans don’t want him to have even one share of my stake in the club, based on what they are sending to me.

“As a result of that we have received many phone calls in the middle of the night threatening our lives - death threats.”

Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team and Nascar racing team, bought Britain’s Liverpool football club with Hicks in February 2007.

Tom Hicks And George Gillett Take Centre Stage Ahead Of Merseyside Derby

Liverpool confront the most important 10 days of their season with the club’s ongoing boardroom crisis again grabbing centre stage in the build-up to Sunday’s crucial Merseyside derby.

A showdown with Everton will be followed by three games against Arsenal - two in the Champions League - which will stretch Liverpool to the limits.

With the repercussions of Javier Mascherano’s red-card tantrum at Old Trafford more than enough for boss Rafael Benitez to contend with, he was ambushed by co-owner George Gillett’s extraordinary claims that he has been the victim of death threats over his desire to sell his stake in the club.

As if facing their fired-up rivals from across Stanley Park was not enough of a challenge to overcome, once again an American owner has shown scant regard for timing.

Tom Hicks’ battle to fight off Dubai International Capital’s bid to buy the club dominated the last few months, and now on the eve of the 207th derby - one of the most important in history - Gillett’s astonishing claims from across the Atlantic threaten to deflect Liverpool’s concentration.

Benitez did his level best today to straight-bat probing questions.

He said: “I have been told about the comments (from George Gillett), but my response is to be really focused on the derby, that is all that I am concerned about.

“But if we win everything will be happier, particularly if it is against Everton.”

He added: “Whatever comments are made there is nothing I can do but concentrate on the game and prepare properly.

“I will just be thinking about Everton. I put it out of my mind by working on the games, analysing our opponents and I do not talk too much with anyone. All I want is to have 11 players fit for the game.”

He will be without Mascherano, serving an initial one-match ban for the red card against Manchester United, which has been followed by an FA charge for improper conduct, which the Argentina midfielder has admitted.

Mascherano has also been fined two weeks’ wages - donated to charity - and has requested a personal hearing in London next week despite the guilty plea.

He can expect another two matches added to that suspension, regardless of the work being put in by lawyers, to whom Benitez is no doubt grateful to pass on the problem.

Brazilian youngster Lucas can expect to be hurled into the cauldron of a Merseyside war in Mascherano’s place, with Benitez confident he can cope.

Benitez said: “Lucas can come in for Mascherano. He played well against Inter Milan, so why can he not play well against Everton? He can do the job.”

Liverpool, two points clear of fifth-placed Everton, dare not allow the Toffees to take anything away from Anfield.

With behaviour and respect at the top of the current agenda, a Merseyside derby could potentially be a fixture everyone at Anfield would rather have avoided.

But Benitez says: “We do not have problems as a club. People are talking about the number of red and yellow cards, but the players know how to behave.

“They know they must do things properly, they must challenge, but not foul. I have not felt the need to talk to the players about such disciplinary issues because we have a good record this season.

“We will approach the games from now on just like before. We will play with the heart and also the head.

“We do not need to change too many things. The behaviour of the team all season has been good, and just because it is a derby next does not mean things will be different.

“The key now and the message for everyone is to try to support our team and for the players to be good professionals.”

He added: “The game is really important for both clubs, with a position in the top four at stake. It may have more passion than before, if that is possible.

“There needs to be discipline, we have not had problems during the season and our behaviour has been very good.”

Benitez does not believe that a Liverpool win will end Everton’s challenge.

He says: “I do not think that if we win it will kill off Everton. They are winning a lot of games and they are near the top of the table. These games are different, exciting for everyone.

“We must continue winning games in succession regardless of the result, we have to keep going.”

Friday, March 28, 2008

Inter Rule Out Benitez Approach


Massimo Moratti has rubbished reports linking Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez and former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho with the Inter Milan job.

Speculation remains rife about Inter manager Roberto Mancini's future after he announced in the aftermath of the Champions League defeat to Liverpool that he would step down at the end of the season.

He later made a made a U-turn and decided to stay after holding talks with Inter president Moratti, but speculation has continued about a possible change.

The future of Liverpool boss Benitez has also been the subject of conjecture for some time, while Mourinho has been linked with several jobs since leaving Chelsea.

Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli is another name reportedly in the frame to come to come in for Mancini, but Moratti insists there is no truth in any of the rumours.

"These are all baloney," Moratti said. "Despite what you are saying and writing, there has been nothing.

"These would all be things to deny, but we have not got the patience to do it.

"I hope these rumours do not have an influence on Saturday's performance because we have a big game against Lazio."

Torres Fit For Derby Clash

Fernando Torres has overcome any fears that his fitness would be in doubt for Sunday’s 207th Merseyside derby with Everton at Anfield.

Top scorer Torres needed precautionary scans on back and ankle knocks after the controversial defeat at Manchester United last weekend. The Spaniard only played 50 minutes of his country’s win over Italy in midweek, an agreement that boss Rafael Benitez had struck with Spain boss Luis Aragones.

Torres looked sharp in the international and will play against Everton. Javier Mascherano will be suspended, while Steve Finnan is close to a return after a groin problem. Yossi Benayoun scored in Israel’s midweek 1-0 win over Chile to stake his claim for a place in the side, while John Arne Riise is also in contention, having been on the bench for the past three games.

Provisional squad: Reina, Arbeloa, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Riise, Arbeloa, Babel, Benayoun, Gerrard, Alonso, Lucas, Torres, Kuyt, Voronin, Crouch, Pennant, Itandje.

Gerrard Out To Make England Striker Role His Own

Steven Gerrard will need more time to fully adapt to being the second striker for England - but the Liverpool captain is confident he can 'make things happen' in the role behind Wayne Rooney.

Gerrard played just behind Wayne Rooney in Wednesday night's 1-0 defeat against France in Paris and looked dangerous in the first half when Fabio Capello's side dominated possession, before falling behind to a Franck Ribery penalty.

He has enjoyed success in the position in partnership with Fernando Torres at club level but concedes he is still learning what is required if he is to become fully effective.

Gerrard said: 'I've been playing that role for Liverpool. I've been enjoying it. To play with players like Torres and Rooney is always a pleasure, and I'm involved and I can get forward.

'I don't know if it's my best position. I'm a central midfielder; I've played there all my life but I do feel as if I can cause problems in there and I can adapt to the role - but I'll need more time.

'I am still learning that position. I think I've played it 10 to 15 times but I am confident I can make it happen in there.'

Gerrard believes Rooney, who has sparkled himself in the past in the second striker role, will have to adapt his game and play further forward.

He said: 'I think Wayne slightly has to adapt his game as well - because, for me to get space in there and for it to work, he has to play a lot higher and stretch the defence.

'I think that is why I and Torres are having a lot of joy, because he is so direct and plays high up.

'With two holding midfielders behind us, the team are a lot more secure when they lose the ball. Wayne will have to adapt his game - but if anyone can do it, it is him.

'I've seen him do it with Manchester United. He destroyed us at the weekend with his direct running and making it difficult for defenders. I am sure both of us can make it work.

'It is going to take time. We've had two games together, four or five training sessions - and it is a brand new set-up, not just the manager but the whole coaching side.

'It will take time for us to adapt to each other, but I think there were signs of improvement there against France.'

Gerrard can see positive indications from the two games Capello has been in charge - but has called for patience in giving time for things to gel.

He said: 'You don't want to lose a football match. But you look at the game as a whole, and there was a slight improvement on the performance against Switzerland.

'It is all about patience and getting used to what the manager wants. I think there were signs of that in Paris, certainly in the first half.

'We were happy, controlling the game. But we conceded a stupid goal - which we will have to eradicate in the future.

'The message is that everyone has to be patient. We need time to work on different formations and tactics.'

The intention is that England are ready to start the World Cup qualifying campaign as a well-organised team.

'The important thing is we peak in September,' said Gerrard.

'We all know when the important games are in the World Cup qualifiers, but it is important now to start getting it right before we go into those games.

'The manager wants us to be a lot more aggressive without the ball and pass it a lot more - and we controlled the game first half.

'Without the ball, France couldn't play. Up until the goal, which was a stupid goal to concede, we were comfortable and in charge.'

Arbeloa Admits 'Inhumane' Start


Liverpool defender Alvaro Arbeloa has described his first few weeks under manager Rafa Benitez as 'inhumane'.

Arbeloa joined the Reds for £2.5million from Deportivo La Coruna in January 2007 and the Spanish international admits he was shocked by his first few weeks.

But the right-back - who made his debut for Spain in Wednesday's 1-0 victory over Italy - insists he is now settled on Merseyside ahead of Sunday's crucial derby with Everton at Anfield, which can be seen live on Sky Sports 1.

Arbeloa has made 35 appearances for Liverpool this season after taking advantage of the injury and inconsistent form of Steve Finnan, but he admits he struggled to settle in his early days in England.

"I didn't know where I was in my first week with Liverpool," Arbeloa told the Daily Mail.

"It went badly, and the image I remember from those early days is of the manager (Benitez) criticising everything I did, from the way I did some basketball practice to how I played my football.

"My first fortnight at the club was inhumane, but I am grateful to him now for filling me in on how the team works. It is a well-run club and I found it easy to adapt to their way of working.

"People say the manager is grumpy but I have only seen that once. He is serious-minded, though, and I can assure you nobody enjoys themselves during the training sessions."

Arbeloa has also described Jamie Carragher as Liverpool's 'boss' in the dressing room, but insists Steven Gerrard is the team's on-field leader.

"Jamie is the true boss in the changing room," Arbeloa added. "He orders everyone around and yells a lot but, to be fair, he has a CV equal to Fernando Hierro's for Real Madrid and the Spain national team. He sees and hears everything and keeps us informed about what is happening.

"Gerrard is also important. He is like Zinedine Zidane - a genius who doesn't like to be the centre of attention. He is the first to make runs, to lend a hand or to get stuck in when necessary."

Transfer Talk

Xabi Alonso has handed Liverpool a major boost ahead of Sunday's Merseyside deby by insisting he wants to stay at Anfield.

Real Madrid are among the club in Spain interested in the Reds midfielder but he has no intention of leaving the Premier League outfit.

There have been fears on the Kop that influential Alonso would be lured to la Liga but he is adamant he is happy to play under the command of Rafael Benitez as he sees a bright future ahead under the Spanish boss.

Liverpool are preparing a major spending offensive in the summer and David Bentley, the heir apparent to David Beckham in the England side, is at the top of their list.

But Blackburn are determined to keep a firm grip on their prize asset and manager Mark Hughes will not let him leave Ewood Park unless the fee is exorbitant.

Ipswich are favourites to sign Northern Ireland crackerjack David Healy as he will be allowed to leave Fulham at the end of the season but Crystal Palace and Derby could also be interested.

West Ham defender John Pantsil will also be looking for new employers in the summer as he is determined to leave Upton Park for regular first-team football.

But Manchester United defender Jonny Evans is happy to stay at Sunderland on a permanent transfer after enjoying his loan spell at the Stadium of Light.

The Black Cats could move for Middlesbrough winger Adam Johnson, who wants to leave the Riverside Stadium for first-team football.

And Andreas Isaksson and Kasper Schmeichel are both edgy at Eastlands as they cannot see a way part first-choice Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Deadline Extended For Mascherano


The Football Association will allow Javier Mascherano an extra 24 hours to respond to his improper conduct charge.

The Liverpool midfielder will now have until 6pm on Friday to answer the charge as he has been on international duty with Argentina.

Mascherano was charged by the FA for his reaction towards referee Steve Bennett following his sending-off against Manchester United on Sunday.

He will serve a one-match ban and could miss two more games if found guilty.

The date for the case - scheduled to be heard by a regulatory commission - has been brought forward to Thursday 3 April.

Mascherano, 23, appeared to question Bennett's decision to caution Fernando Torres, and was then shown a second yellow card himself.

The Argentine will definitely miss Sunday's Merseyside derby at Anfield.

If the charge is upheld then he will also miss Premier League games against Arsenal on 5 April and Blackburn eight days later.

Liverpool 'Too Reliant' On Stars


Former Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz says the Reds are too reliant on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres to challenge for the Premier League.

The 33-year-old, now at Blackburn, won three trophies with Liverpool in 2001 but was one of the first to leave the club when Rafa Benitez joined in 2004.

"If Gerrard and Torres are not playing at their best, you hardly see where the goals are coming from," Henchoz said.

"They probably need two or three very good players if they want to compete."

Gerrard and Torres have scored 30 of Liverpool's 55 league goals this season.

Their title hopes were effectively dashed against Manchester United last Sunday when a 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford put them 14 points behind the reigning champions with seven games left.

Henchoz left Anfield in January 2005 - just seven months after Benitez took over - and the defender made no secret of his anger at the way he had been treated by the Spaniard.

The 33-year-old has not been impressed by Benitez's squad rotation policy this season.

"The rotation system sometimes in the league was not the best," said the Swiss speaking at the Liverpool leg of BBC Your Game.

"They drew too many times and if they kept their best XI, they would have won a few more games."

On a personal level, Henchoz is on the verge of a comeback from a disrupted season at Ewood Park where he has had two operations on an injured knee.

But with his contract up at the end of the season, he has already begun planning for the future.

"I've been injured since September, (I've had) two operations and it did not go well at all," he said.

"I'm hoping to be back in first-team training next week, and then it's nearly the end of the season so I will try to get back and play a few reserve games in April and then see what happens.

"But I'm starting a coaching badge next week with some lads at Blackburn, but that takes a couple of years to do that. Then maybe, if the opportunity comes, why not try management?"

Stephane Henchoz attended Your Game in Liverpool as a guest of the Swiss Embassy in London. The Swiss Embassy are supporting Your Game by taking the 2008 Your Game All Stars to Switzerland during the European Championship.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Torres Injury Worry For Liverpool After Materazzi Clash


Liverpool are sweating on the fitness of star striker Fernando Torres after he was replaced at half-time during the Spain clash with Italy following a challenge from Azzurri defender Marco Materazzi.

The Spaniard had scans on rib and ankle injuries following Liverpool's match against Manchester United at the weekend and, following a session with the national team's physio on Monday, only returned to training on Tuesday.

The Italian defender's lunge looked to connect with Torres' right ankle - the same one that had concerned the striker following the game at Old Trafford.

Torres had been at the centre of a row during the incident-packed United match with Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez saying after the match that the forward was substituted for his own protection following some hefty challenges from the United defenders.

Liverpool will now have to wait for the 24-year-old to return from international duty so that he can be assessed by club doctors.

An injury to the striker, who has spearheaded the Reds attack with 27 goals so far this season, would be a serious blow to Liverpool at this key stage of the season.

Their next four games are Sunday's Merseyside derby before three matches against Arsenal including the Champions League quarter-final ties.

David Villa hit a spectacular volley to earn Spain a 1-0 win over world champions Italy.

The Valencia striker, who replaced Torres at half-time, fired the ball into the top corner past Gianluigi Buffon 13 minutes from time after Fabio Cannavaro had failed to get enough distance with his headed clearance.

Three Spanish Clubs Now Chasing Benítez


A report in this morning's Times has added Atlético Madrid and former club Valencia to the list of potential suitors for Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez. The boss himself wants to stay at Anfield, however, and is already making plans for the summer.

Several Italian clubs and Barcelona have already been linked with the Reds manager, whose future at Anfield is less than clear after another poor domestic campaign and tense relations with the club's owners.

The Times say that Benítez' priority is to remain where he is since his family are settled on Merseyside, but such is the situation at Liverpool that he cannot rule out a move elsewhere this summer even if Dubai International Capital do eventually succeed with their takeover bid.

Manuel García Quillon, Benítez' agent, has been approached by Valencia, Atlético and Barcelona, with the latter thought to favour the Liverpool boss ahead of José Mourinho in the likely event that current boss Frank Rijkaard steps down at the end of this season. Michael Laudrup, currently boss of Getafe, is also in the running for the Barça hotseat.

Should Benítez remain at Anfield, it is understood he will ask for considerable backing in the transfer market Liverpool seek to close the gap to the league's leading sides, which - as evidenced in Sunday's 3-0 defeat to Manchester United and the points difference in the table - is still considerable.

David Bentley of Blackburn Rovers is among those purchases being considered in the summer. Meanwhile, the Spaniard is intent on clearing out some of the Anfield deadwood, with Harry Kewell almost certain to leave and John Arne Riise likely to follow. Benítez would also be prepared to part with Peter Crouch and Xabi Alonso should the right offers come along.

Hyypia Poised To Extend Anfield Stay


Liverpool veteran Sami Hyypia looks set to stay on at Anfield and sign a new contract.

The 34-year-old Finn, who has been at Liverpool since 1999, is out of contract at the end of the season. But Reds boss Rafa Benítez is keen to extend the defender's stay to complete a decade of service at Anfield.

"(Chief executive) Rick Parry is due to talk to Sami's agent this weekend and hopefully everything will then be finished," said Benítez, who has called extensively on the centre-back this season following the almost season-long injury to Daniel Agger.

Hyypia himself commented earlier this year: "It would be very nice to get to ten years at the club but I'm just concentrating on playing well.

"Whether I stay wouldn't depend on how many games I play," he continued. "I'm not like that. I'm not interested in somebody promising me something. If we have four centre-backs then everyone fights for their place and performances should determine who plays. If I keep playing well then it'll be difficult for the manager to change things."

Real Target Xabi Swoop


Real Madrid are ready to offer midfield star Ruben de la Red plus £8million for Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso.

Kop boss Rafa Benitez wanted to nab De La Red last season but Madrid decided to do a deal with Getafe instead.

De La Red, 22, was sold for £2m but Real inserted a clause allowing them to buy him back this summer for £3.5m.

And now the Madrid giants are planning to use De La Red as bait to land Spanish international midfielder Alonso, 26.

A Real insider told SunSport: “It is a case of the club deciding whether to keep De La Red or to try and get Alonso. The Liverpool player is the one they have wanted to sign for a long time.”

De La Red has impressed this term and earned his first call-up to the Spain squad for today’s friendly with Italy.

Liverpool left-back John Arne Riise will consider quitting Anfield this summer if he keeps warming the bench.

Riise, 27, has struggled to force his way into the team this season as Benitez continues to pick Fabio Aurelio.

The Norwegian said: “I am not happy. I’m used to playing 80 per cent of games. If I don’t play as much as I want, I must decide if I should stay.”

Torres Boost For Liverpool As He Trains With Spain


Fernando Torres has helped ease Liverpool's concerns over his fitness by coming through an hour-long training session with the Spanish national side.

Rafa Benitez had sent Torres for a scans on injuries to his ribs and ankle and the manager complained he needed to substitute the striker against Manchester United for his own protection after some hefty challenges from the United defenders.

Torres sat out Monday's first training session with physiotherapy work performed on his sore ankle and ribs.

But he was declared fit to take part in training yesterday.

He took a knock on the right ankle that was believed to be injured but continued to exercise and completed his training.

The 24-year-old striker has scored 27 goals since leaving Spanish club Atletico Madrid for England last year and Spain is expecting a lot from Torres at this year's European Championship.

He has scored only twice in the last 18 months to take his overall tally for the Spanish team to 15 goals in 46 matches.

"He's matured impressively to this point. Spain will benefit the most from this great moment he is living," goalkeeper Iker Casillas was quoted as saying by Marca newspaper on Tuesday.

Javier Mascherano To Ask For Hearing Over Red Card Ban

Javier Mascherano is likely to request a personal hearing in response to his charge for improper conduct.

Liverpool have until 6pm tonight to answer the charge, which the Football Association issued in response to Mascherano’s reaction to his dismissal from Sunday’s 3-0 defeat by Manchester United.

The club could seek an extension to that deadline as they attempt to contact the player, who was in Egypt last night playing for Argentina.

But as the case is scheduled to be heard by a regulatory commission on Friday, April 4, Liverpool will almost certainly have to plan for their Premier League game at Arsenal at 12.45pm the following day without the midfielder.

Mascherano will miss the game if the charge of improper conduct is upheld and he could also miss the Premier League game against Blackburn eight days later if his ban is extended by more than one game.

But pleading his case and escaping further punishment is a scenario manager Rafael Benitez can’t risk allowing for as he prepares his squad for the second of three crucial meetings with Arsenal in a week.

Mascherano is currently serving a one-match suspension for the dismissal, ruling him out of Sunday’s Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield.

But any ban further would exclude the Champions League quarter-final first and second legs against Arsenal on April 2 and 9. A statement released by the FA yesterday said: “Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano has today been charged with improper conduct.

“The charge relates to his reaction towards referee Steve Bennett after being sent off against Manchester United on Sunday 23 March.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kuyt: Fifth Place Good Enough For Everton


Putting aside the set-back of being excluded from the Dutch national panel this week, Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt has turned his attentions to next weekend’s vital Merseyside derby.

The Reds are currently two points clear of Everton, and a win at Anfield could see Liverpool afforded some breathing space in the battle for the fourth Champions League spot.

Kuyt, a scorer of two goals in this season’s other meeting at Goodison Park, believes that the current Everton squad deserve some reward for their impressive season. However, he feels that a fifth place finish would be more than adequate.

Liverpool need to exorcise the demons from last weeks’ mauling at the hands of Manchester United and the ex-Feyenoord man believes that the derby is the ideal scenario in which to do so.

With his side desperate to bounce back, claiming a victory over their local rivals would boost everyone involved with the club.

"It's an important game, there's no doubt about that," he said.

"The derby is always big, but this one is going to be really big. They want to be fourth as well but we're a couple of points ahead of them so we're in a good position.

"Everton deserve to be where they are at the moment but fifth will be okay for them this season! If we can win the game then it would be even better for us but we know it's going to be difficult.

"Everton have had a good season, they've got a really strong squad and they were unlucky the way they went out of Europe on penalties. But we've got the quality to beat them.

"We did it earlier in the season with a good win at Goodison. I've never scored two penalties in the same game before but that was a great day for me.

"The game means a lot to everyone, to the fans and to the players. The supporters tell us all during the week that we have to win the game and that's what we'll be looking to do."

John Arne Riise Ready To Quit Liverpool

John Arne Riise has warned Liverpool he will have to consider quitting Anfield this summer if is isn't picked more often.

The Norwegian defender, 27, has been a regular at the club since 2001 when he signed in a £4.6m deal from Monaco.

But recently he has struggled to force his way into Rafa Benitez's starting eleven and is growing frustrated.

He said: "I am not happy with the situation. I am used to playing in 80 per cent of all the games, but if I don't get to play as much as I want to I have to make a choice this summer as to whether I should stay or not."

Riise says Benitez has promissed him a meeting in the near future.

"I just have to wait and see what will happen," he told Norwegian media.

"Maybe he will offer me a new contract, maybe not. It's frustrating not knowing if you are going to play the next game or not."

Javier Mascherano Hopes For Just A Two-match Ban

Javier Mascherano may be handed only a further one-match ban as the fall-out over his dismissal against Manchester United continues.

The Football Association will today review footage of Mascherano’s controversial red card and study the match report of referee Steve Bennett before deciding whether to punish the Liverpool midfielder.

Mascherano is expected to be charged with improper conduct, with Bennett’s report understood to make a point of mentioning the player’s failure to immediately leave the field after his sending-off.

The Argentina international was dismissed for picking up two yellow cards at Old Trafford on Sunday, the second of which was for dissent a minute before half-time.

Being sent off for two bookable offences carries an instant one-match suspension, with Mascherano already ruled out of this Sunday’s Merseyside derby at Anfield.

But the player’s refusal to leave the pitch straight away will prompt the FA to almost certainly increase the length of his ban.

Early indications suggested Mascherano was facing a further two-game suspension, which would see him miss the trip to Arsenal on April 5 and the home clash with Blackburn Rovers on April 13.

But the FA set a precedent yesterday with the case of Watford’s John Eustace, who was sent off against Stoke City on March 15 and subsequently charged with improper conduct for confronting the referee and failing to leave the field of play.

Eustace admitted the charge and was yesterday handed a further one-match suspension and a £1,500 fine.

However, given the high-profile nature of Mascherano’s dismissal and the current debate over respect for referees, the FA’s disciplinary commission may choose to make an example of the 23-year-old.

Mascherano is already facing an automatic club fine for his sending-off, which helped ensure Liverpool slumped to a 3-0 defeat to league leaders United. Rafael Benitez was disappointed with the circumstances surrounding Mascherano’s red card, and yesterday revealed he will seek talks with referees chief Keith Hackett over the incident.

The Liverpool manager admitted after the game that Mascherano had made a “mistake”, but is keen to enter into a dialogue with Hackett over a “solution” to the problems at Old Trafford.

“I would like to speak to Keith Hackett because it is important that we find a solution,” said the Liverpool manager.

“At Liverpool, we respect the game, we respect the rules and we respect the referee, and it is important to remember that Mascherano was the first Liverpool player to be sent off in the league this season.”

Meanwhile, it has been revealed Howard Webb will referee this Sunday’s Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield.

Ryan Babel Reveals Secret Of His Success: Cold Water

Ryan Babel is ready to face the cauldron of the Anfield derby this Sunday, after conquering his fear of ice cold baths!

Liverpool’s £11m summer signing is relishing the red hot atmosphere that the 207th Merseyside derby will generate, after explaining how manager Rafa Benitez’s quirky approach has helped him start to reproduce the form he showed at Ajax.

“I’m learning so much here and again I can see that it’s often the small details that make the difference,” he said.

“After a match we have to stand in an ice bath for five minutes. You can be affected with cramp or lactic acid, and that causes small tears in the muscles, but by applying cold water it repairs the damage immediately.

“During pre-season I had to do it after every training session and it was so cold, really horrible. In the beginning I could only suffer it for half a minute and sometimes I stood with my tracksuit and socks on or I tried slyly to miss it.

“Even during training I was thinking about the dreaded cold water, but now I’m used to it – and it certainly works as I’m more flexible and feeling a lot better the next day.”

After an inconsistent start to his Anfield career, Babel has now started nine of the Reds’ last 10 matches, although he has only completed one of those games and added: “Of course I have wanted to play more, and that’s normal.

“Sometimes I have been very disappointed, but Benitez has his reasons. He always rotates and I knew that before so I accept it.

“It’s understandable I’m not playing 90 minutes. Physically I’m not yet at the point that I’m able to play 90 minutes in the crazy tempo of the Premier League.

“Rafa Benitez said that he signed me because he wanted more players in the squad who can get past opponents. Of course my status as a young talent carries certain expectations but Liverpool see me as a rough diamond that needs to be cut and polished.”

Echoes Of Anfield Legend Shankly

The man who would be Shankly will be revealed this morning at – where else – the home of Liverpool Football Club.

Scottish actor Jonathan Watson will be at Anfield to be unveiled as the man filling the boots of the legendary Liverpool manager in a play based on his final days in the job.

The 51-year-old has been chosen for the title role in the The Shankly Show, after producers exclaimed his performance was like being in the presence of the man himself.

Writer Andrew Sherlock said: “As soon as Jonathan uttered the first lines it was like an electric shock – you would swear Bill Shankly himself was in the room.”

The Shankly Show has been commissioned as part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations and receives its gala premiere on April 24 at the Liverpool Olympia.

Shankly, who fans still worship for setting Liverpool FC on the path to dominating the English game, was in charge of Liverpool from 1959 to 1974.

He was famed for his empassioned quotes including “There are only two teams in Liverpool – Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves”, and the oft misquoted: “Someone said ‘football is more important than life and death to you’ and I said, ‘listen, it’s more important than that’.”

Watson, a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and whose career has spanned theatre, TV, radio and film, was chosen after a series of auditions last month.

Auditions were held in Liverpool and Glasgow in the hunt to find the right man for the job.

He said: “As a Scot, and a fan of football, I am really looking forward to the challenge of playing the part of Shankly – a man whose influence, character, and determination touched not just a football club, but a city as well. I am very proud to be a part of The Shankly Show.”

Mr Sherlock added: “The auditions threw up some great actors and we had a typical manager’s selection headache – but Jonathan’s was closest to the look and feel of Shankly. He will bring that bit of magic that the great man was famous for.’’

The Shankly Show is a brand new production in two acts, 45 minutes each way – the first in black and white, the second in colour.

Producers describe it as an “epic celebration of a Liverpool hero”.

One of Shankly’s granddaughters is expected to be in Liverpool tomorrow to see Mr Watson unveiled.

The play is one of 14 Liverpool Commissions by the Liverpool Culture Company and is set to be one of the theatrical highlights of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture.

Liverpool Boss Benitez Tops Barcelona's Wanted List


Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is being banded around the Barcelona boardroom as a potential replacement for Frank Rijkaard.

Nou Camp president Joan Laporta chaired a board-level meeting yesterday to discuss a number of issues which the Catalan giants intend to address after the climax of the La Liga season this summer.

One of those issues is whether former Holland legend Rijkaard, 45, will depart for Chelsea - as is widely expected - and who will take the reins at Barca?

Benitez, who guided Valencia to two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup triumph before taking Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005, is top of Laporta's list, according to news leaked to Spanish newspapers.

The 47-year-old Anfield chief is favoured over other managers - namely Jose Mourinho - because of his proven track record in Spain and his ability to rotate a squad littered with star names.

There is a belief in the corridors of power at Barcelona that Rijkaard has failed to fully utilise his striking resources of Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi this season.

Barca lie second to reigning champions Real Madrid in the La Liga table by four points.

Benitez will find the lure of the Nou Camp hard to resist, given his run-ins with Liverpool's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks this season.

Whether Dubai International Capital can complete their proposed Anfield takeover in time to persuade Benitez that his future lies in Liverpool will take on increased significance following yesterday's meeting in Spain.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

PFA Chief Demands Ref No-go Zones

Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor has called for an exclusion zone around referees to stop players' dissent.

On Sunday, Liverpool's Javier Mascherano was sent off for talking back to Steve Bennett, just days after an incident involving Ashley Cole and Mike Riley.

Taylor believes more must be done to ensure players improve their conduct towards match officials.

"I have made it clear referees should be a no-go area," he told BBC 5 Live.

"It is time managers and players did accept a responsibility because what happens at the top level happens lower down.

"It is the bad points that get highlighted and the game has to be very much aware and do all it can to eradicate it."

Taylor also feels the Football Association has to do more as part of an orchestrated campaign to underline to clubs that attitudes must change.

"We have regular meetings with referees and the FA and when there are patterns developing like this then we need to take action.

"It can be done with sanctions and an educational process."

During Chelsea's 4-4 draw with Tottenham on Wednesday, defender Cole vented his anger at referee Riley when he was penalised for a bad tackle on Alan Hutton.

Cole then turned his back on the official when he was having his name taken.

Although Cole later apologised, the incident sparked a great deal of debate about players' behaviour.

then at the weekend, Argentine midfielder Mascherano was given his marching orders for questioning referee Bennett, who had seconds earlier booked Fernando Torres for a similar outburst.

Taylor admitted: "There has been a big campaign last week against dissent and respect for referees but in spite of that the message has not got through so it has to come out louder and clearer."

Mascherano Pleads Innocence But Faces Three-game Ban


Javier Mascherano continued to plead innocence yesterday over his controversial dismissal against Manchester United as the Football Association prepared to charge the Liverpool midfielder for his show of dissent at Old Trafford.

The FA is expected to charge the Argentina international with improper conduct today following his furious reaction to being sent off by the referee, Steve Bennett, on Sunday and his refusal to leave the field of play. The charge could bring an additional two-match ban for Mascherano, who is automatically suspended from this Sunday's Merseyside derby with Everton at Anfield, and may be fast-tracked to ensure the ban continues without interruption. That would suspend the £18.6m midfielder from Liverpool's league visit to Arsenal on April 5 and the following weekend's home game against Blackburn Rovers.

Mascherano is likely to request a personal hearing if charged by the FA as he believes he was more sinned against than sinning when questioning Bennett's decision to book Fernando Torres for dissent during Liverpool's 3-0 defeat. Though he has apologised to his team-mates, the Liverpool midfielder maintains he was dealt with harshly at Old Trafford.

Speaking from Egypt, where he is on international duty with Argentina, Mascherano insisted: "I do not know why I was sent off. I asked the referee what was happening. I did not swear, I was not aggressive and I did not confront him. All I did was ask him what was happening, nothing else. So when he showed me the second yellow card and sent me off I could not believe it. I am sorry to my team-mates because that meant we went down to 10 men and that made things even more difficult for us."

Torres, meanwhile, has reported for international duty with Spain despite suffering a rib injury during the United game. Liverpool have requested that the striker undergo a scan while in Spain should his discomfort continue.

Rafa Benitez Fumes Over Manchester United's Treatment Of Fernando Torres

Liverpool will await the results of scans today on injuries sustained by top scorer Fernando Torres in the controversial 3-0 Barclays Premier League defeat at Manchester United.

The match was marred by the first-half red card for Javier Mascherano, after his protracted dissent in a confrontation with referee Steve Bennett.

Many suggested yesterday’s dismissal was a product of the Ashley Cole incident in midweek at Spurs - when the Chelsea star showed dissent, and his back, to referee Mike Riley but received only a yellow card.

Bennett was the fourth official on the touchline at White Hart Lane that night.

It has emerged, however, that the root cause of Liverpool’s anger and frustration at Old Trafford was the treatment meted out to Torres by United defenders.

Torres was taken off near the end - according to Reds boss Rafael Benitez, “to protect him”, with the game already lost.

Wes Brown scored in the first period, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani adding late goals for the champions.

It was a great day for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, who are now five points clear at the top - following Arsenal’s defeat at Chelsea yesterday.

But Benitez must now pick up the pieces before Sunday’s Merseyside derby with Everton, whom Liverpool lead by two points in the race for fourth spot.

Mascherano will miss that match, serving a one-match ban.

Benitez said: “Torres had some knocks on his ribs and ankle - a lot of knocks and a lot of kicks. I was just trying to protect him. The doctors will do a scan, and we will see.

“Was I disappointed by intimidation of Torres? Maybe I should ask others for their opinion. I have my own opinion, which was very clear.

“We have seen a lot of things and we do not need to talk about problems with referees. It was very clear.”

Benitez tried to defend Mascherano, who could even find himself the subject of further investigation by the Football Association for refusing to leave the pitch quickly.

“The player knows he has made a mistake - but in this kind of game to be sent off just for ’asking’ I find a difficult decision to understand.

“I don’t know whether it was anything to do with the Ashley Cole incident.

“Javier was sent off for dissent, but to be sent off for asking the official something is a surprise.

“He knows he made a mistake, but in a big game like this it is difficult to understand.

Ferguson was delighted with the victory.

On the sending-off, he said: “The boy had already been booked, and dissent is dissent. I feel he should not have got involved.

“He ran from centre-midfield to get involved with the referee. With things that happened in the week with the Ashley Cole incident, there is now a focus on dissent.”

DIC To Seal £400m Deal For Liverpool In 'Three To Four Weeks'

The long pursuit of Liverpool by Dubai International Capital is set to end within the next "three to four weeks" with the investment group taking full control of the Premier League club, according to a source close to the proposed deal.

DIC is understood to be confident that it will finally buy the club for £400m – and is looking to involve a "third party" investor, who would take a minority stake, as part of its business plan. The company is believed to already have an agreement in place with the club's co-owner George Gillett Jnr to buy his share.

It is also confident that Tom Hicks, who owns the other 50 per cent, is now close to agreeing to sell to them even though he cut off negotiations earlier this month insisting he would not sell even a minority stake. Hicks also said he would block any attempt by Gillett to sell.

Although DIC, which is the private equity investment arm of the Dubai government, realises it is paying a high price for Liverpool – Gillett and Hicks bought the club for £219m 13 months ago – such is its determination to succeed that it wants to push ahead. "It's not a cheap deal and Hicks is holding out but there is confidence that it will now finally happen," a source said. Matters have not been helped by the strained relationship between the two Americans.

DIC, whose chief executive Sameer Al-Ansari is a life-long fan of the club and who will join the board, has ambitious plans which could include involving some of its other investment vehicles in an attempt to raise its profile. The hotel group Jumeirah could be used as part of the development of a new stadium. A wide-ranging review of the club, and its revenue streams, will be conducted.

DIC came close to buying Liverpool before the Americans' acquisition and has tried to resume negotiations, on and off, ever since. The reason for the apparent confidence now could be that several of Hicks' loans are due for refinancing within two or three months. This may be the trigger for his main lender – believed to be JP Morgan – to force him back into talks with DIC and accept its offer for Liverpool.

The full level of the Texan's debt is unclear. But DIC sources believe he has been hit badly by the state of the financial markets in the United States, which has seen the value of assets which he has borrowed heavily against drop – in some cases by between 30 and 50 per cent.

Were Hicks unable to refinance loans when, at a time of severe anxiety among financial institutions, they are due, JP Morgan could take over the assets Hicks has borrowed against or force a sale. Since bankers would tend to sell on such assets anyway the presence of a prospective buyer like DIC would be attractive to them.

Given how far apart DIC and Hicks seem to be, it would appear that any chance of the Arab consortium having a future role at Anfield would be through a complete takeover, with or without a junior partner.

Liverpool’s Torres Doubtful For Spain


Fernando Torres joined up with the Spain squad yesterday ahead of their friendly with Italy on Wednesday.

But the Liverpool striker, who was substituted on Sunday after suffering knocks to his ribs and ankle, sat out the training session in Elche and is a doubt for the game.

Boss Rafa Benitez withdrew Torres from the field late on in the 3-0 defeat at Manchester United after becoming concerned at the the tough treatment he was receiving.

Torres had a scan on his ribs yesterday.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Javier Mascherano Facing Lengthy Ban After Manchester United Red Card

Javier Mascherano is facing a lengthy ban and hefty fine after his refusal to leave the pitch following his sending-off at Old Trafford yesterday.

Liverpool were already 1-0 down with Mascherano on one yellow card when he raced over to referee Steve Bennett to protest against Fernando Torres’s booking for dissent in the 44th minute.

Bennett showed no tolerance for further confrontation and promptly sent Mascherano off – sparking chaotic scenes by the touchline as the player and his team-mates surrounded the official.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez eventually had to calm Mascherano down and usher him away from the pitch – but he leapt to the defence of the midfielder, who will definitely miss the Merseyside derby next Sunday and possibly further games beyond that.

Benitez, who is set to withdraw Torres from the Spain squad this week after the top scorer picked up a rib injury yesterday, said: “The player told me he was just asking what happened (with Torres).

“A player who is as good a professional as Mascherano is really, really surprised – like I was.

“He couldn’t understand what happened as he was only asking.

“The player knows he made a mistake but in a big game like this, to leave one team with 10 players just for asking is a difficult decision to understand.”

Liverpool were trailing to Wes Brown’s opening goal beforebut were still in the contention when they were reduced to 10 men just before half-time.

Despite a brief spell of pressure in the second half late goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani completed a victory that moves United five points clear at the top of the Premier League following Chelsea’s

2-1 win over Arsenal and Benitez feels the final result was ultimately determined by the dismissal of Mascherano.

“We saw two games,” he added. “Before the sending-off we had a few chances, some counter-attacks and could have scored but we conceded from one mistake.

“But after the sending-off the game was almost finished.

“We pressed a bit in the second half but they have quality and ability so it was difficult and after the second goal everything was over. We could be in the game, but with 10 players? Forget it.”

Despite initially showing his fury with Bennett, Benitez eventually coaxed Mascherano away from the argument, although his intervention is unlikely to prevent the player receiving further punishment.

Benitez said: “I was speaking to him in Spanish and saying ‘finish!’ but he was saying he didn’t say anything, just asking. I said ‘listen, finish because you cannot change the situation’.

“But he was surprised. Javier has been a fantastic professional and has been for years, playing at the maximum level, so he couldn’t understand. And in these games you want to know why.

“You want to win and you have passion and you make mistakes but the sending-off was really difficult to understand. To ask the referee is not a big problem.

“All our people will be really disappointed and I’m the first to be disappointed but we know we cannot change anything now.

“We have an important game against Everton. We also have an international break which we cannot control but then we have Everton and it’s up to us.”

Torres was due to be in the Spanish side to play Italy in a friendly on Wednesday but a scan on his ribs is likely to rule him out and boost Benitez’s derby preparations.