Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Champions League Preview: Chelsea vs. LiverpooL

Can Liverpool do something they haven't previously managed under Rafael Benitez - score a goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge? They will have to if they want to reach their third Champions League final in four seasons. The Reds need at least a score-draw at the Bridge, a venue that Chelsea have turned into a formidable fortress. The Blues have suffered a solitary defeat in their last 125 home games, while Liverpool have failed even to score on Chelsea's ground in eight attempts under Benitez.

Chelsea are unbeaten in eleven Champions League home ties, a run spanning eight victories and three draws, dating back 26 months to a 2-1 defeat by Barcelona in the first knockout round of 2005-06.

So, is the tie firmly in Chelsea's favour? Well, not necessarily, although John Arne
Riise’s stoppage-time howler has given Liverpool a far steeper hill to climb than had seemed probable when last week's first leg entered its fateful 94th minute.

The away goal Chelsea secured via Riise's largesse will only be significant if the score at the Bridge finishes 0-0. Any other result and its importance diminishes, although another 1-1 draw would force extra-time and, possibly, penalties. Chelsea know all about spot kicks, having succumbed to the Merseysiders in a shoot-out after extra-time at the same stage of last year's competition.

Liverpool's focus will be clear - go for victory. Chelsea could be tempted to gamble on a goalless draw, but that would be a high-risk strategy and one that manager Avram Grant and his players will almost certainly reject - particularly after going for the jugular at home to Manchester United last Saturday in the Premier League title race and being rewarded with a priceless win. That outcome should have given Chelsea plenty of confidence as they strive to reach a Champions League final for the first time in their history, even though Liverpool have never lost a semi-final tie to Chelsea, either domestically or in Europe....

The Reds have also not lost a semi-final in this competition since being controversially defeated 4-3 on aggregate by Internazionale in 1964-65, subsequently beating Zurich (1976-77), Borussia Monchengladbach (1977-78), Bayern (1980-81), Dinamo Bucharest (1983-84), Panathinaikos (1984-85) and Chelsea (2004-05, 2006-07).

In contrast, the Blues have fallen at the semi-final hurdle three times previously. Those three semi-final appearances have all come since Roman Abramovich bought the club and launched them into football's financial stratosphere. Claudio Ranieri's side stumbled against Monaco in 2004, and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea were thwarted twice by Wednesday's opponents Liverpool in the last three seasons. Now Avram Grant has the opportunity to put those heart-breaks behind the West London club and make it third time lucky against Liverpool.

But Benitez is undaunted by history or venue, and has challenged his players to break their dismal Stamford Bridge scoring hoodoo to set up a Moscow date with Manchester United. The chance to meet and try to beat United in Moscow next month is likely to provide additional incentive to the protagonists at Stamford Bridge.

Benitez played it cool when journalists asked him if Chelsea's home record concerned him. “Not really,” he said. “I don't know how many games they are without losing.

“When you talk about Chelsea over the past four or five years, they are a team that are progressing and improving so I think it is normal. The majority of teams have problems there. This is something we can change tomorrow. It's another competition, it's totally different. The mentality, the atmosphere, the time of kick-off - everything will be different.”

Liverpool have now guaranteed themselves fourth place in The Premier League after Everton were held to a draw by Aston Villa on Sunday, so the Reds can afford to concentrate solely on Champions League glory. For Chelsea, their win against United at the weekend means they are neck-and-neck with the Red Devils at the top of the table. Only goal difference separates the two sides, which both have two League games left in which to clinch the title. Grant's strategic and therefore tactical considerations will be rather more complex as a result.

It might be said that Benitez has the potential distraction of Anfield's boardroom civil war to shut out of his pre-match thinking, though given Liverpool's failure to mount a serious title challenge, the Champions League has assumed disproportionate importance for the Spaniard, and he will be desperate to avoid a semi-final defeat in the competition.

Benitez insists: “I'm not really worried about how the season will be judged. It is more about how can we progress in this competition and can we feel happy with ourselves after the game?

“I think it is important to know we have guaranteed fourth position. That has been the key over the past few years and now we must try to go to the final.”

Meanwhile Grant can argue that his job has been on the line since succeeding Mourinho in September, with a hostile media and unsympathetic fans choosing to ignore his impressive record as Chelsea boss and instead focusing on the negatives. The Israel has been repeatedly told, at least by the newspapers, that anything less than triumph in the Premier League and Champions League will spell his exit from the Bridge. Yet he has carried that burden while steering the Blues to the brink of ultimate success in both competitions, and deserves credit and respect for that.

The rivalry between Liverpool and Chelsea intensified following the appointment of Iberian adversaries Benitez and Mourinho at the respective clubs in the summer of 2004. They have since met six times in Champions League encounters, excluding this season's semi-final. Liverpool have shaded the meetings, with two wins to Chelsea's one.

Their first Champions League clash was in the 2004-05 semi-final when Luis García's fourth-minute goal in the second leg at Anfield was enough to earn the Reds a 1-0 aggregate victory on the way to their epic final triumph on penalties against AC Milan in Istanbul.

The following season, Liverpool and Chelsea were paired in the group stage, and produced two goalless draws as both reached the knock-out rounds, Liverpool as group winners.

Then last season Liverpool proved to be Chelsea's nemesis again at the semi-final stage. They lost the first leg 1-0 at Stamford Bridge thanks to a 29th minute strike from Joe Cole, but won the return on 1st May, also 1-0, when Daniel Agger netted after 22 minutes. Extra-time failed to separate the sides but in the penalty shoot-out, Liverpool emerged 4-1 winners.

The Reds took the first spot-kick, Boudewijn Zenden converting (1-0); Arjen Robben's shot was saved (1-0); Xabi Alonso scored to make it 2-0; Frank Lampard pulled one back (2-1); Steven Gerrard, scored (3-1); Geremi's effort was saved by Pepe Reina (3-1); and Dirk Kuyt score to make it 4-1 and take it beyond Chelsea's grasp.

Previous Meetings In The Champions League

27.04.2005 Semi Chelsea 0-0 Liverpool
03.05.2005 Semi Liverpool - Chelsea 1-0
28.09.2005 Group Liverpool - Chelsea 0-0
06.12.2005 Group Chelsea - Liverpool 0-0
25.04.2007 Semi Chelsea - Liverpool 1-0
01.05.2007 Semi Liverpool - Chelsea 1-0 (Liverpool win 4-1 on pens aet)
22.04.2008 Semi Liverpool - Chelsea 1-1

Liverpool and Chelsea have also met three times in domestic competition this season. The first clash was early on and produced a 1-1 draw at Anfield on 19th August, though Chelsea enjoyed good fortune when referee Rob Styles unaccountably awarded them a penalty when Florent Malouda fell over in the box, Lampard making the most of the 62nd-minute gift to equalise Fernando Torres' first goal for his new club in the 16th minute.

When the two sides squared up again, Grant had replaced Mourinho as manager. It was a Carling League Cup quarter-final at Stamford Bridge on 19th December, and Lampard (59) and Andriy Shevchenko (90) scored the goals that ended Liverpool's interest in the competition.

The third meeting this season yielded no goals in a Stamford Bridge stalemate in the Premier League on 10th February.

Then came last week's first leg of this Champions League semi-final. Riise's own goal four minutes into added time at Anfield cancelled out Dirk Kuyt's 43rd-minute strike and shifted the balance of the tie in Chelsea's direction.

Asked if Chelsea were fortunate to take a 1-1 draw from that first leg, Benitez said: “Yes, clearly they were lucky because Petr Cech made two or three saves, so they were lucky, yes."

He added: "I was really surprised and of course very disappointed with the own goal. The reaction in the dressing room was one of great disappointment."

Overall the clubs have now met 151 times. There have been 67 wins for Liverpool, 52 for Chelsea, and 32 draws.

Chelsea's home record against Liverpool in all competitions is P73 W41 D16 L16, while Liverpool have managed three draws and five defeats in eight visits to Chelsea under Benítez. Their last goal at the Bridge was scored by Bruno Cheyrou in a 1-0 Premier League victory on 7th January, 2004.



26 Apr (Premier League) v Man Utd (H) WON 2-1 (Ballack 2, 1 pen)
22 Apr (Champions League) v Liverpool (A) DREW 1-1 (Riise og)
17 Apr (Premier League) v Everton (A) WON 1-0 (Essien)
14 Apr (Premier League) v Wigan (H) DREW 1-1 (Essien)
08 Apr (Champions League) v Fenerbahce (H) WON 2-0 (Ballack, Lampard)
05 Apr (Premier League) v Man City (A) WON 2-0 (Dunne og, Kalou)
02 Apr (Champions League) v Fenerbahce (A) LOST 1-2 (Deivid og)


26 Apr (Premier League) v Birmingham (A) DREW 2-2 (Crouch, Benayoun)
22 Apr (Champions League) v Chelsea (H) DREW 1-1 (Kuyt)
19 Apr (Premier League) v Fulham (A) WON 2-0 (Pennant, Crouch)
13 Apr (Premier League) v Blackburn (H) WON 3-1 (Gerrard, Torres, Voronin)
08 Apr (Champions League) v Arsenal (H) WON 4-2 (Hyypia, Torres, Gerrard pen,
05 Apr (Premier League) v Arsenal (A) DREW 1-1 (Crouch)
02 Apr (Champions League) v Arsenal (A) DREW 1-1 (Kuyt)



Midfielder and top scorer Frank Lampard looks set to return, having played in the 1-1 draw at Anfield but missed Saturday's 2-1 win over Manchester United following the death of his mother Pat from pneumonia.

Squad: Cech, Hilario, Belletti, Ferreira, Carvalho, Alex, Ben-Haim, Terry, A Cole, Bridge, J Cole, Ballack, Essien, Lampard, Wright-Phillips, Malouda, Kalou, Anelka, Drogba, Shevchenko, Mikel, Makelele.


Norwegian full-back John Arne Riise, who scored that injury-time own goal after coming on as a substitute in the first leg, could replace injured Fabio Aurelio, the Brazilian defender having been ruled out by a groin injury.

Benitez could also recall Sami Hyypia to centre-back, switch Jamie Carragher to right-back and Alvaro Arbeloa to the left - or recall Steve Finnan to one of the full-back berths.

Striker Fernando Torres is sure to start after being rested for Saturday's draw with Birmingham. Peter Crouch, who has scored when used recently, could partner Torres at the expense of Ryan Babel.

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


On such an occasion as this managers and fans look for their biggest names to perform, although often it is the unsung hero who changes the course of the match.

For Chelsea, the biggest names are John Terry, Michael Ballack, Didier Drogba and (if he plays), Frank Lampard. Terry and particularly Ballack were outstanding at the weekend against United, though Drogba was well below his best apart from the superb ball in for Ballack's headed opener. It is impossible to predict what frame of mind Lampard will be in; he was distinctly below par in the first leg, however understandably. An intriguing statistic is that Terry, who will undoubtedly lead by example, has scored only one goal in a very long time. Given that a set-piece is likely to determine the outcome of another tense, tight encounter, maybe Terry will be the scorer. As for Ballack, he is in top form and the best bet in blue to dictate the play. His experience and cool in high-pressure situations could be helpful to Chelsea.

Liverpool's key players will probably be Jamie Carragher at the back, Steven Gerrard in midfield and Fernando Torres up front. Carragher's tussle with Drogba could prove significant, and the Scouse defender will be anxious to keep the Ivorian out of the Reds' penalty area for all the obvious reasons. Gerrard's ability to impose his will on the game from midfield will probably be aided by Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, but challenged by Ballack and Michael Essien, with Mikel or Makele lending support and - if he plays - Lampard looking to run from deep positions and strike.

In attack Liverpool look to have the edge with Torres, given that Chelsea's strikers have not delivered much lately. On Chelsea's last ten goals in all competitions, three have been scored by their opponents, six by midfielders and only one by a striker (Salomon Kalou). Torres, in contrast, is in clinical mood.

Kalou in fact is a former team-mate of Liverpool's Dutch striker, Dirk Kuyt. The two were together at Feyenoord in Rotterdam between 2004 and 2006 and struck up a productive partnership. Kuyt netted 51 League goals and Kalou 35 during their two seasons together.

As for Liverpool's Israeli midfielder, Yossi Benayoun, he played for Chelsea boss Avram Grant when the pair were employed by Maccabi Haifa in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons. They won two League titles together, and Benayoun later also played under Grant for the Israel national team.

Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka spent the second half of the 2001-02 season on loan to Liverpool, scoring four goals in 20 League appearances for the Reds and professing disappointment when then manager Gerard Houllier chose not sign his compatriot on a permanent deal.

Andriy Shevchenko may feature in a cameo role but he will be particularly keen to inflict defeat on Liverpool. The Chelsea striker's penalty for AC Milan in the shoot-out at the end of the 2005 Champions League final was saved by Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek, sealing the Reds' amazing comeback against the Rossoneri and allowing Steven Gerrard to hoist the trophy.

Riise: I Will Bounce Back

John Arne Riise insists he has recovered from the shock of his own goal in the first leg of Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final with Chelsea, and is ready to make amends at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

The Norwegian made the headlines for all the wrong reasons last week when he headed past a helpless Pepe Reina in the 95th minute at Anfield to gift Chelsea a vital away goal and level the scores at 1-1.

It was Riise’s second own goal this season – perhaps his last season on Merseyside, in fact – his first coming against Luton Town in the FA Cup in January.

The 27-year-old admits he engaged in a significant amount of soul-searching after last Tuesday’s nightmare, but he insists he has come to grips with his error and is focused solely on besting the Blues tomorrow night.

"We had a day off the day after the game and I went through things in my head then," said Riise.

"I just went home and I didn't want to speak to anyone, I just had to think about it myself. I realised you just have to move on and now I think I have. All you can do is focus on upcoming games, not ones that have gone before.

"For me the biggest thing was the timing of the goal, the last kick of the game and such an important game too. That was the most disappointing thing for me and everyone in the team.

"But mentally I am very strong anyway and I managed to get things quickly out of my mind. Coming back on Saturday was all that mattered to me and now it's Wednesday – just thinking about doing well if I get the chance there.

"Nobody wants to score an own goal but people make mistakes – and nobody will blame me if it's 0-0 on Wednesday and we don't go through.

"But nobody is even thinking about that, we are going to try and get a win and hopefully we will get it. Then the first leg result and the own goal won't matter."

Last week’s result means Chelsea head into the second leg as favourites to progress to the final in Moscow, where they would face Manchester United following the Red Devils’ 1-0 aggregate win over Barcelona.

But Liverpool have a knack of performing when given the tag of underdogs, especially on the European stage, and while Riise respects the threat Chelsea pose, he believes the Reds will succeed once more to reach their third Champions League final in four years.

"We know we can do it," the former Monaco full-back said. "It's a case of going there, having a go and knowing we can score.

"We are positive and know we can get a result. It's a big game and it's going to be a cracking night so hopefully we can come up winners in the end.

"We have to respect Chelsea for the team they are. They beat Manchester United on Saturday and haven't lost at home for God knows how many games so I think we have to respect that beforehand – but records are there to be broken. And we will go there and try to win because we have to and it's for a place in the final of the Champions League.

"So the whole team has a lot of confidence and we know we can have a go and score. It's going to be tough game but these games are why we play football."

Amantino Mancini Is Set For Liverpool Move

Liverpool target Amantino Mancini could move to Anfield for a cut-price £4million this summer.

The Brazilian winger is set to turn down a new deal at Roma - and could buy out the remaining year of his contract under new FIFA rules.

Roma would then be owed £4m in compensation but that would be a big loss for a player valued at about £10m.

Reds boss Rafael Benitez saw a bid for Mancini, 27, rebuffed by Roma last summer but he is likely to have more luck this time.

"I am coming out of an unlucky spell and I need to feel important again," said Mancini. "I won't speak about my contract until the end of the season."

There is also increasing optimism at Anfield that the chance of playing Champions League football next season will be the key to luring Gareth Barry to Merseyside from Aston Villa in the summer.

In addition, Barry is desperate to become an England regular and knows that playing alongside Steven Gerrard would be a major boost to his international ambitions.

Benítez Sees His Way Clearly Amid Plots

Paranoia coloured Rafael Benítez's view on several issues yesterday, with the notable exception of the task awaiting Liverpool at Stamford Bridge tonight. An Italian referee who has handled five home wins in six European games this season, including one for Liverpool, and the vagaries of the Football Association's disciplinary process had the Spaniard indulging in conspiracy theories, but this was not a man wilting under the pressure of a turbulent season's defining moment.

So confident is the manager before facing Chelsea that he boasted of José Reina's penalty prowess should their Champions League semi-final second leg rest on another shoot-out lottery. Benítez had been similarly upbeat before the first leg and, despite John Arne Riise's own-goal, it did not take him long to rediscover faith on the path to Moscow.

He says that in his players' eyes he has seen a belief that they can reach a third final in four years, with the likes of Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso desperate to repeat their triumph of 2005. "I can see that they are winners and for the players who were in Istanbul and Athens it is even more important to reach the final for a third time," he said.

It was when he was sitting alone in the family home in the Wirral in the early hours last Wednesday that Benítez concluded that Liverpool had nothing to fear from Avram Grant's team. "Forty-five minutes after the game I watched parts of it on video and then I watched it again when I got home," he said. "When you concede a goal in the last second, everything is bad, but after watching the game it was clear we had better chances, had more control and played better than them, and that means we can do it again.

"Chelsea were lucky. In the other semi-finals it was 50-50, or maybe 60-40, and we scored a fantastic goal from Luis García. We were clearly better than them this time. Now we are playing for a final. The players know how important it is to be in a final. I don't need to say too much. They are really focused."

Riise's own-goal has at least simplified the objective for Liverpool as they seek to win their eighth successive European Cup semi-final, with the necessity to score promoting Peter Crouch's claims to start. "It's not a special plan or idea, it's very simple," said Benítez. "We need to score. If we win it will be better. If we draw one-all then we know that Pepe [Reina] is good on penalties. If we draw two-all then we are through. We don't need to win, we need to progress."

The co-owner Tom Hicks is expected to be at the match tonight as Liverpool try to overcome their poor record at Stamford Bridge. They have not scored in eight visits under Benítez and have beaten Chelsea there only once since December 1989. But, with 27 goals in 11 games, Liverpool are the leading scorers in this season's Champions League and have registered in every away fixture. "Statistics are there to be broken," said Benítez. "How many teams have won there in the last 100 or so games?"

Of more concern to him is the referee, Roberto Rosetti, who has presided over one away win in six Champions League games this season: Chelsea's victory at Valencia. "Maybe that is curious," Benítez said. "The referee has experience; he is certainly not bad. If he is strong at Stamford Bridge then things will be OK." Given that Liverpool's 4-1 defeat of Porto was among those five home wins, the manager was on questionable ground. More likely, having spoken of Didier Drogba's theatrics, the Spaniard was simply trying to protect Carragher and Gerrard from the bookings that would rule them out of the final.

Talking Tactics: Chelsea v Liverpool

If Avram Grant is to do what Jose Mourinho couldn't and take Chelsea into the uncharted territory that is the Champions League final, then one of the main reasons for the giant leap forward will be the extra spring in the step of his players.

In terms of running off the ball, Chelsea have improved 50 per cent since Mourinho left last September and the extra mobility has transformed them into a more formidable attacking unit.

Michael Essien and Michael Ballack epitomised the new ultra-athletic Chelsea against Manchester United and they will be joined tonight by Frank Lampard, who can make energy-sapping runs into the box.

It also helps that with the possible exception of Didier Drogba, Grant's team are playing with a smile on their following a tumultuous season.

Grant's done a magnificent job in difficult circumstances and his players seem to be enjoying themselves.

Liverpool will have fire in their bellies as well and, with their disciplined midfield, will be difficult to break down. Xabi Alonso will bring more guile than Chelsea's central trio and Javier Mascherano will add extra bite, but I can't see them stopping Ballack, Essien and Lampard.


Rafael Benitez v Avram Grant

Avram Grant will want his players to re-produce the performance that saw Manchester United beaten to leave everyone at Stamford Bridge on a high. However, he will know that Liverpool will pose a greater attacking threat than United because they will only sit back in the early stages of the game when Chelsea are going for the jugular and then will they try to pick off.


Claude Makelele v Steven Gerrard

I make no apology for yet again identifying Steven Gerrard as Liverpool's key player because, in the right circumstances, he'll dictate attacking movements and then Chelsea will have a big problem. He got the better of Claude Makelele at Anfield. This time Chelsea's midfield anchorman must protect the back four and stop Gerrard picking up possession centrally by shutting him down, blocking him off and forcing him out wide, well away from deadly striker Fernando Torres.

We Can Beat Chelsea - Arbeloa

Liverpool full-back Alvaro Arbeloa is full of confidence going into the second leg of his side's Champions League semi-final against Chelsea.

It's advantage Chelsea, after a last-minute own goal from John Arne Riise gifted them an away goal an equaliser at Anfield.

Liverpool have beaten Chelsea twice in the last three years at this stage in the competition, but the ties were won at home. They will not have that advantage this time, and Benitez has not managed to see his team score a goal at Stamford Bridge in the eight visits he has made to the stadium.

Nevertheless, he and his fellow Madridista Arbeloa are full of confidence and belief that they will make their third final in four years.

"We have been here before twice in the last three years and we have beaten Chelsea before," said Arbeloa. "We know what we have to do. If we can do the same again we will be in the Champions League final.

"Chelsea know Liverpool are a really good team. The last two times we won and I hope this time as well. We played really well [in the first leg] and we're happy with our performance. We have confidence.

"We beat Inter, we beat Arsenal and I think we can beat Chelsea. We just need to do the same things as the other day. We need to take our chances and, why not, we can beat Chelsea here.

"We know it is really difficult to win here because Chelsea are a really strong team, but no one said it would be easy. We have confidence in ourselves. We have to score one goal. We have players with quality and they can score everywhere. We can win."

He also gave compatriot and team-mate Jose Reina the highest of praise, branding him the best goalkeeper in the world and as such, he would be content with the tie going to penalties - as it did last year - as he sees the Reds having the advantage.

"I think penalties are better for us because we have the best keeper in the world," he declared. Though he added that, ideally, the tie will be decided long before then. "The key for us is to be really strong in defence and take our chances," he said. "If we take our chances we can win."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nemeth Fires Reds Into Final

Goals from Krisztian Nemeth, Daniel Pacheco and Andras Simon fired Liverpool Reserves into the final of the Lancashire County Cup after a 3-0 win at Accrington Stanley on Monday night.

However, the victory came at a cost as Gary Ablett lost two key players in the first half due to injury. Jay Spearing and Ronald Huth both had to leave the field and Ablett will hoping they will recover in time for the Reserves Play-off final against Aston Villa next Wednesday night (May 7).

"Jay got a kick to his leg and it is very sore and Ronald has a thigh strain," Ablett told "It's disappointing but we will give both lads every possible chance to recover in time for the game at Anfield.

"Ryan Flynn also has an achilles injury and we were actually going to take him off before he was sent-off for handball!"

In an action packed encounter Stanley also finished the game with 10 men and they missed a penalty when the Reds Australian keeper Dean Bouzanis made a superb save.

"As to the game itself, in the first half we were superb and created numerous chances. We should have been four or five nil up and we passed the ball really well.

"In the second half they gave it a real go but Dean made a brilliant save to keep out their penalty when the score was only 1-0."

Liverpool will meet Manchester United in the final of the competition on a date yet to be set.

Liverpool team: Bouzanis, Darby, Irwin, San Jose, Huth (Insua 24), Kelly, Lindfield, Spearing (Pacheco 33), Brouwer (Nemeth 77), Simon, Flynn.

Crouch: I Hope To Play Against Chelsea

Liverpool striker Peter Crouch is determined to win a starting place for his side's second leg Champions League semi-final clash at Chelsea.

Crouch has been out of favour for large parts of the season, and in recent weeks he has begun deputising in league games - where Liverpool have safely sealed fourth place - but sitting out all but one Champions League fixture.

When played in the league has scored consistently, and he is hopeful of winning over manager Rafa Benitez and earning himself a place in the starting eleven for Wednesday's game, particularly as the Reds will need to score at least once in Stamford Bridge to progress to the final, after succumbing to a 1-1 draw at home last week.

"Of course I'm hopeful," he said of his chances of starting. "You never know with the manager, he could change things or maybe he will stick with the same team.

"But I am hopeful. I think I've played reasonably well against Birmingham and it would be great if that was enough to keep me in."

Crouch scored the first of his side's two comeback goals at St Andrews on Saturday, which saw them salvage a 2-2 draw after the relegation strugglers took a shock lead.

Though it was Yossi Benayoun who scored the other, Man of the Match plaudits went to Jermaine Pennant who, for the second game running, has proven himself as a valuable creative force for the Reds.

Jermaine Pennant was excellent, absolutely fantastic," enthused Crouch. "Every time he got the ball he created something.

"It makes a centre forward's job much easier when the likes of Jermaine is playing so well because you know he his going to get at the full back and invariably get his cross in.

"That's what I love. It's great when wingers do that.

"I was really pleased to score because it got us back into the game and from that point on we took control and fully deserved the equaliser at the very least."

"Whenever I do play I always feel confident that I will get a goal and thankfully that proved to be the case against Birmingham."

Benítez's Computer Studies Fire Torres For The Crunch At Chelsea

Fernando Torres has warned Chelsea he will improve his Champions League goals tally at Stamford Bridge tomorrow and avenge the frustration of his semi-final first-leg performance.

The Liverpool striker, whose 30 goals this season include five in the Champions League, was denied twice by Petr Cech in last week's game and endured a difficult contest against John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho. But Torres claimed he has learned from the 1-1 draw at Anfield and is intent on puncturing Chelsea's renewed optimism by inspiring Liverpool to a third final appearance in four seasons.

"I have wanted to play against guys like John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho for a long time and they did me an honour by giving me a tough time," the Spain international said. "Now I'm going to try to respond to them by getting a couple of goals against Chelsea.

"Everybody dreams about playing in the Champions League and in the space of a few months I have gone from watching it on TV to having a part in it. I have already got plenty of memories. My goal at the San Siro when we beat Inter Milan 1-0, the 4-0 win over Marseille, and my goal in the 4-2 win over Arsenal. And now it is the turn of Chelsea."

Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benítez, has no fresh injury worries and Torres, rested for the 2-2 draw at Birmingham City on Saturday, has given an insight into the meticulous preparation of his compatriot, who he credits for his decision to leave Atletico Madrid last summer.

"Rafa Benítez is obsessed with details," Torres added. "He calculates everything, including runs and flights of the ball, and studies it on his computer. And if he tells you to stand five feet from the penalty spot, it's not in your best interests to be six feet from it. He'll show you that the extra distance makes the difference between a goal and a missed chance - and it has worked for me. He has great powers of seduction and he makes crazy demands on us. At the end of training, when we are all tired, he can still make us repeat routines 20 or 30 times."

Yossi: I'm No Luis Garcia

Yossi Benayoun has dismissed comparisons between he and former Liverpool winger Luis Garcia.

The Israeli playmaker, purchased from West Ham for ₤4 million last summer, was seen by many as the ideal replacement for Garcia, who left Merseyside to return to his former club Atletico Madrid.

Benayoun faced a tough task filling the void left by the Spaniard’s departure, given Garcia’s immense popularity among the Liverpool supporters earned through some inspirational performances during his four seasons at the club.

It was Garcia's efforts in Europe that cemented him as a Kop favourite, particularly his vital goals against Juventus and Chelsea on the way to their Champions League success in 2005.

A Benayoun goal at Stamford Bridge this week would go some way toward fulfilling expectations, but he insists he is keen to fashion his own identity within the club rather than compete with Garcia’s legacy.

"I know that Luis is a very good player who also scored a lot of important goals for Liverpool," Benayoun told LFC Magazine. "He did very well for the club but I am a different player.

"I am lucky that I have also scored quite a few goals this season but I wouldn't like to say that I have come in to replace Luis and the job that he did for Liverpool.

"I just try to do my best. I am not in a competition to try and score more goals than Luis or anyone else.

"I just try to think about my own game and do what is best for the team."

Rush Tips Reds To Turn The Tide

Former Liverpool FC striker Ian Rush insists Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard can produce the goal they need to turn the UEFA Champions League semi-final against Chelsea FC back in their favour. If John Arne Riise's stoppage-time own goal in the 1-1 draw at Anfield tipped the balance towards the Londoners, Rush, who scored 346 goals in 660 games for Liverpool and won the 1984 European Champion Clubs' Cup, believes the tie is far from over.

What did you think of Liverpool's first-leg display?

Ian Rush: Sometimes you have a bit of luck, sometimes you don't, but I thought Liverpool played very well. I think they deserved to win. If it had been 1-0, I think Liverpool would have been favourites to go through, but at 1-1, Chelsea are favourites. Typical Liverpool, they like being the underdogs. I think it's going to be an absolutely fantastic second game. Liverpool were the better team, they played very well. And if they can go to Stamford Bridge and do that again, I think they can get the result. The likes of Torres and Gerrard are always capable of scoring. It wouldn't surprise me if the game went to penalties because the last three times they've played have been so close, but I do think Liverpool will score.

Will Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez have to change tactics for the second leg?

Rush: I don't think he will. I think they will play a similar formation. The good thing is that if they are struggling they can change it – they have [Peter] Crouch and [Jermaine] Pennant on the bench, so they can change into 4-4-2. They will see how it goes in the first half. If it's going well I think they'll keep the same formation, if not Crouch is always liable to come on and cause problems.

How does the class of 2008 compare with 2005?

Rush: You would say they have a stronger squad now. They are more confident now but you need a bit of luck to win anything. Chelsea had the luck [in the first leg]. In 2005 Liverpool had the luck on their side. But I think this is a stronger squad than 2005 and that's why Liverpool supporters still believe they can go to Moscow.

Does it make a big difference that the second leg is away?

Rush: I believe Liverpool can go to Chelsea and score a goal. If it had been at Anfield it would be completely different because there is such a fantastic atmosphere there, but at Chelsea, for me anyway, it seems to be just a normal ground where Liverpool supporters can go and let their voices be heard.

Is Fernando Torres a striking legend in the making?

Rush: Hopefully. I think he has had an absolutely fantastic season for Liverpool. To come and score 30 goals is incredible. Next year will be a big test for him but I think he's big enough and strong enough and good enough to go on to better things. If Torres is going to become a legend then Liverpool are going to be successful.

What are his main strengths?

Rush: He's quick over ten yards. He can kick with both feet. People say he can't head the ball but he's good in the air as well. He also reads the game very well. He's got a very good understanding with Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard has compared Torres to yourself. Is it a fair comparison?

Rush: Yes, he's good-looking as well! I just like watching Torres play. He's a great player and people compare him with me, probably because over the first ten yards he is quick and good with both feet. I happened to do that as well.

If Torres is the new Rush, does that make Gerrard the new Kenny Dalglish in his more attacking role?

Rush: In the understanding they have together, I would say yes. Myself and Kenny had an excellent understanding. I think Gerrard and Torres are very, very similar. When you look at Gerrard, he doesn't put the ball to feet, he just puts the ball into the space for Torres and Torres is reading that already. Apart from being quick over ten yards, he also has a yard or two in his head so that gives him a little bit of space. It is very similar.

An all-English UEFA Champions League final is still a possibility. Perhaps Liverpool versus Manchester United...

Rush: That would be incredible.

Who would win it?

Rush: Liverpool. In a one-off game in Europe, I'd never bet against Liverpool.

Rafa's Made Me Kop Great, Says Fernando Torres

Fernando Torres has branded Rafa Benitez an obsessive taskmaster.

But Torres believes the extraordinary lengths the Liverpool boss goes to in preparation for games has turned him into a world-beater.

The Spain striker admits it has been tough coming to terms with the physical demands of life in England.

But he now feels he can cope with the tough tackling and aims to prove his strength by winning his duel with John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho at Stamford Bridge in tomorrow’s Champions League semi-final clash.

Torres has been a revelation since his £21m move from Atletico Madrid last summer, scoring 30 goals in 42 games.

The striker said: “Rafa Benitez is obsessed with details. He calculates everything, including runs and flights of the ball and studies it on his computer.

“And if he tells you to stand five feet from the penalty spot, it’s not in your best interests to be six feet from it.

“He’ll show you that the extra distance makes the difference between a goal and a missed chance – and it has worked for me.

“The proof for me is I had never scored a club hat-trick in my life before joining Liverpool but I’ve since got three.

“Rafa explained everything to me before I even signed – how we would play and what our aims were. He even gave me a work schedule in advance.

“He has great powers of seduction, and he makes crazy demands on us.

‘‘At the end of training, when we are all tired, he can make us repeat routines 20 or 30 times.

“Training sessions here are tough and committed – and at the same rhythm as proper matches.

“The spirit is the same at the weekend. English football is physical and reasonably honest – in contrast to La Liga.

“The Spanish game is more vicious and you get studs-first challenges and elbowings off the ball.

“All defenders in England are tough, the good ones and the less gifted likewise. It must be written in their contracts!

“But now I’ve taken that on board. I am paid to deal with this, and I am not scared of a scrap so long as it is fair.

“I have wanted to play against guys like John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho for a long time and they do me an honour by giving me a tough time.

“Now I’m going to try to respond to them by getting a couple of goals against them.

“Everybody dreams about playing in the Champions League and in the space of a few months I have gone from watching it on TV to having a part in it.

“I have already got plenty of memories. My goal at the San Siro when we beat Inter Milan 1-0, the 4-0 win over Marseille, and my goal in the 4-2 win over Arsenal.

“And now it is the turn of Chelsea. I don’t ask myself questions – I just know I have done the right thing to join Liverpool.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

Liverpool’s Hyypia Believes Riise Ready For Champions League Decider At Chelsea

Veteran defender Sami Hyypia is confident team-mate John Arne Riise has put the Champions League semi-final first-leg own-goal behind him, as Liverpool prepare for Wednesday’s decider at Chelsea.

Following the Norwegian left-back’s last-gasp headed own-goal, the Blues got a crucial away goal in the 1-1 first leg draw at Anfield last week.

"John is a good character and hopefully he is not worrying about that own goal any longer," said Hyypia in the Mirror.

"He is mentally 100 per cent and players should be professional enough to handle these situations.

"It is not the first time John has scored an own goal and there are many other players who will score own goals.

"It is normal in football these days because the ball is travelling through the air so quickly and sometimes you don't know where it is going from your head or foot."

O'Neill Delays Carson Decision

Martin O'Neill will not make a decision on whether to sign Scott Carson on a permanent basis until the summer.

The keeper is currently on loan at Aston Villa from Liverpool, and has played a major role in the Villans push for a Uefa Cup spot this season.

He has previously spent loan spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton and is keen to get his long-term future resolved as soon as possible.

However, Villa boss O'Neill knows that any potential deal depends on Liverpool's willingness to sell, and admits that he is yet to discuss the possibility of any such move with his Reds counterpart Rafa Benitez.

"We have Scott until the end of the season and when we talked about it in the first place, there was no decision going to be made one way or another until the end of the season," he said.

"Now, of course, if someone does very well then there is talk about 'can you hurry this on?' or if someone is not doing so cleverly then the talk is 'well, what are you doing about it?'

"That is a natural question for people to ask me, but an unnatural one to answer.

"I will wait until the end of the season. Liverpool are heavily involved now in competitions so we will wait and then all parties will sit down.

"Liverpool have not come on the phone asking 'what are you doing?' and I have not gone on to them and said 'what are you thinking?' We are prepared to leave it.

"With all the hullabaloo surrounding Liverpool at the moment, I would have been surprised if they were sitting down to have a discussion (about Carson). At the end of the season we will decide - all of us."

O'Neill added: "I haven't really said anything to Scott either way. I speak to his agent pretty regularly about things. He always asks how Scott is doing.

"Scott will be given that viewpoint, but I am sure he would like to hear it from a manager!"

Mancini: No Matrix Red, No Liverpool Win

Roberto Mancini has hit out at the red card that Marco Materazzi received in Inter’s Champions League last 16 first leg at Anfield in February, and says that Liverpool would never have won the tie if he had stayed on the field.

Materazzi was on the scoresheet yesterday, as he came off the bench to score the second goal in Inter’s 2-1 win over Cagliari.

The 34-year-old displayed an angry celebration after scoring, and this has led to talk in the Italian press that the defender was annoyed with Coach Roberto Mancini for not starting him.

Mancini has hit out at this speculation.

"I'm tired of these accusations,” he said, referring to the numerous recent reports of bust-ups with the likes of Hernan Crespo, Patrick Vieira and Luis Figo.

“Materazzi has played three games on the trot and I just wanted to give him a round of rest.”

Mancini then spoke briefly about the controversial Champions League exit to Liverpool in the last 16.

In the first leg at Anfield, the Nerazzurri were reduced to 10 men after just half-an-hour when Materazzi picked up two dubious yellow cards.

“The game against Liverpool? I say only that, eleven against eleven, we would have never lost," Mancini concluded.

Liverpool play the second leg of their semi-final on Wednesday night against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The scores are level at 1-1 from the first leg at Anfield.

Rafa Benitez: We Need A Strong Referee To Monitor Drogba

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez wants the officials in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg at Chelsea to clamp down on what he sees as Didier Drogba’s theatrics.

Benitez believes Londoners’ striker Drogba goes down far too easily.

“With Drogba, it’s important to have a good referee,” the Spaniard said. “You can’t do anything, but I will say it because it was so clear. He is amazing because he is massive. It’s very impressive. I have a lot of clips of him from over the years and he surprises me. After four years, I expected it.”

Benitez revealed he had compiled clips of Drogba’s playing style.

“The referee was giving fouls last week. And it was not the same with Torres,” he added.

DIC Rubbish Mourinho Reports

Liverpool fans' groups have been assured that Jose Mourinho has not been offered Rafael Benitez's job as boss at Anfield.

In a situation similar to the one admitted by co-owners Tom Hicks that they did meet Jurgen Klinsmann last year to discuss a possible appointment at Anfield, it has now been claimed that Dubai International Capital have held conversations with former Chelsea boss Mourinho.

But sources at DIC on Sunday have denied that they have ever "offered the job to Mourinho, or met him to discuss it."

And DIC's representatives, who have good relations with a number of Liverpool fans' groups including the recently formed Spirit of Shankly organisation, have gone to the point on Sunday of contacting them to deny speculation over Mourinho.

They are aware that Liverpool fans would react with horror if they believed Mourinho was a possible replacement for Benitez, who has been shown that he has fans' full support to continue in the job.

Anfield supporters have not forgiven Mourinho for much of the rhetoric and confrontational attitude towards the club taken over the years by the Portuguese coach, particularly involving the Champions League clashes between Liverpool and Chelsea.

So it is being greeted with suspicion that more speculation over Mourinho and Liverpool has surfaced just days before the clubs meet again at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday in the Champions League semi-final second leg.

DIC are acutely aware that if they do eventually take over at Anfield, Benitez has complete backing from the club's fans and any move to dislodge him would be a massive PR blunder.

It is believed DIC have actually been contacted twice by intermediaries for Mourinho suggesting a meeting, but the offer has not been taken up because they are happy with the job Benitez is doing and they are very aware of the reaction from the Kop fans.
Benitez is also believed to be aware of DIC's stance as he bids to take Liverpool to their third European Cup final in four seasons.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Birmingham 2 - 2 LiverpooL

Yossi Benayoun's deflected equaliser clinched Champions League football for Liverpool but dealt a massive blow to Birmingham's hopes of Barclays Premier League survival.

Alex McLeish's side had appeared to be coasting to victory after goals from Mikael Forssell and Sebastian Larsson had put them in total command.

But a lethargic Liverpool suddenly came to life and, after Peter Crouch had reduced the arrears, Benayoun's deflected header rescued a point and dealt a massive blow to the home side.

Blues will be wondering how they surrendered two priceless points after appearing to be cruising to only a second win in the last eight matches.

Larsson and James McFadden were a handful throughout for the Reds and Birmingham were also hard to break down - a sharp contrast to the 5-1 mauling at Aston Villa last weekend.

But a failure to keep clean sheets has been an Achilles heel for City all season and they were forced to defend desperately for the final half hour.

Liverpool's inspiration was former Blues winger Jermaine Pennant and he was one of the few players in Rafael Benitez's 'shadow' side to stake a claim to start in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final with Chelsea.

Benitez's line-up, showing nine changes from the starting XI against Chelsea in the Champions League, had plenty of possession in the early stages and were content to knock the ball around and probe for an opening.

Lucas had the first effort on target from a cross by Andriy Voronin but Blues goalkeeper Maik Taylor was able to save comfortably away to his left as he failed to make full contact.

Forssell showed good skill on the edge of the Liverpool box to manufacture half a chance for himself but his volley flew straight at Jose Reina.

Forssell was looking the most threatening for Blues when the ball was played into his feet and good skills by the Finnish international found Olivier Kapo in space on the left of the Liverpool box.

But the former Juventus player opted to strike the ball first time and his shot flew into the side netting.

Kapo did better when turning past Steve Finnan and getting to the byline but he over-hit his cross with Forssell waiting in the centre.

Then after 34 minutes the home side went ahead through Forssell's ninth goal of the season.

McFadden was the creator with a teasing cross from the right flank which seemed to glance off the head of Martin Skrtel before finding Forssell unmarked at the far post.

He had time to bring the ball down before hammering it past Reina.

Liverpool tried to retaliate and Taylor was called into meaningful action for the first time to turn aside a dipping powerful 25-yard drive from Crouch.

Voronin became the first player to be yellow-carded after 42 minutes for a touch-line challenge on City skipper Liam Ridgewell.

Then home defender David Murphy was booked in first half injury-time for chopping down Pennant but, fortunately for Blues, John Arne Riise was inches too high with his 30 yard free-kick.

Benitez would have wanted a more committed performance from his side and Liverpool had most of the possession in the early stages of the second period.

But after 54 minutes St Andrews erupted after a stunning free-kick from Larsson doubled Birmingham's lead.

McFadden was brought down by Skrtel some 25 yards out and before the free-kick was taken both Riise and Hyypia complained that Jaidi was obstructing Reina.

But the keeper had no chance as Larsson's curling effort beat his dive and hit the top corner of the net.

Ridgewell got up well to meet a corner from Larsson but he directed his header past the post when he should have at least hit the target.

But Liverpool gave themselves a life-line after 62 minutes when Crouch made no mistake with a first time drive from the edge of the box after a mazy run by Pennant had created the chance.

It means City have now gone 17 games since last keeping a clean sheet against Middlesbrough on Boxing Day.

Jaidi had a chance to restore City's two-goal advantage but headed Larsson's free-kick wide from close range before Nafti was booked for bringing down Pennant.

But Liverpool were now in the ascendancy and Voronin and Benayoun both wasted decent opportunities.

The visitors were not to be denied and after 77 minutes Benayoun's deflected header brought them back on level terms.

Lucas sent over a teasing cross which Benayoun was first to react to but his header hit Jaidi and wrong-footed Taylor as it trickled into the corner of the net.

The Five Players Rumoured To Be On Rafael Benitez's Shopping List

The Daily Mirror today claimed to know the five players on Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's summer shopping list.

The Spanish boss yesterday revealed he had a productive meeting with Reds co-owner Tom Hicks in which he was promised backing in the transfer market.

The Mirror believes Benitez identified the players he'd like to sign as:

Wigan winger Antonio Valencia
England international Gareth Barry
Swiss full-back Philipp Degen
Spanish defender Fernando Amorebieta and...
Former Manchester City winger Albert Riera

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I take all speculation with a rather large dose of salt. Indeed, my mantle is very much that I'll believe it when I see it. But, I have to say, I am hopeful that the journalist David Maddock has got this wrong.

According to Maddock, Valencia is top of the list with Benitez having already tested the water with a £6million enquiry. However, the 22-year-old Ecuador international, who can play on either wing, is also interesting Manchester United and therefore his price tag would be closer to £10million. In my opinion, Sir Alex is welcome to him. He's a quick, clever player but he's not going to bring us a Premier League title.

The only thing I've seen of Amorebieta is a wild 40-yard effort which sailed high into the Madrid skyline, but Benitez is known to be a long-term admirer of the 23-year-old Bilbao centre back. With Daniel Agger, Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher and the super impressive Martin Skrtel already competing for two first-team places do we really need to add an inexperienced La Liga man few have heard of?

Philipp Degen is another I know little about. However, Maddock believes the 25-year-old Borussia Dortmund star may be the player to have already agreed in principle to join the Anfield ranks.

As for Riera, I'm just not sure he possesses the quality a Liverpool player should. At 26, he should be about to hit his peak years, but a stuttering career which has included a loan spell at a then poor Manchester City side hardly inspires confidence. Currently performing well for Espanyol, Riera has forced his way into the Spain squad but I think he would have his work cut out to win over the majority of Reds fans.

The one player from Maddock's list I would welcome with open arms is Barry. Where would he play? In the centre. Yes, we already have Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Lucas. But Gerrard is a marauder and Lucas is young. Manchester United and Chelsea have shown in recent years that to compete in the Premier League you need to stock up on world-class midfielders - and Barry isn't far off that.

So, Rafa, if Maddock's right, bring us Barry. Then burn the list.

Liverpool FC Reveals New Home Strip For Next Season

Liverpool FC revealed the club’s new home strip for next season today.

The new adidas kit is a classic Liverpool red. An embroidered Liver Bird is carried on the back of the shirt and the inner neck has a red chequered area inspired by the flags of The Kop.

The kit has been designed and produced by adidas, official sponsor and sportswear supplier to the Reds, and incorporates a new shirt collar, ribbed with a v-neck.

The shirt also carries a "This is Anfield" inscription, inspired by the famous Anfield sign.

The replica kit goes on sale on May 22.

Recommended retail prices remain the same for season 08/09 - £45 adults, £35 children.

Rafa Slams Drogba

This week Liverpool, driven by a powerful sense of injustice over the antics of the Chelsea striker, fancy their chances as underdogs to reach their third Champions League final in four years.

If nursing a sense of injustice can help a club into a Champions League final then Liverpool should start embroidering the jerseys for their third in four years. If you judged Chelsea to be a tad fortunate to escape Anfield with a 1-1 draw or were unimpressed by Austrian referee Konrad Plautz's handling of Didier Drogba, Liverpool would like you to multiply those thoughts by 10.

Take Ryan Babel's reaction to the injury-time moment of idiocy with which John Arne Riise transmuted an almost stereotypically efficient Liverpool performance into Chelsea's away-goal advantage. The Dutch winger strode across the technical area to his countryman Henk ten Cate, Chelsea's assistant coach. 'I told him that they are lucky,' said Babel. 'He didn't agree - but then he never agrees.'

Ten Cate would doubtless dispute Rafa Benítez's re-assessment of the first leg. Reviewing the game on video and sleeping on the result had done nought to temper his anger towards Plautz: 'We knew before: six games, just one victory for the home team. Now seven.' As for Drogba, Benítez labelled him a diver in every way possible without using football's taboo word. 'Drogba was given seven fouls and Fernando Torres three. Torres has bruises all around his body. From the first minute I was disappointed by the performance of the referee.

'With Drogba it's important to have a good referee. You can't do anything [to stop him going down], but I will say it because it was so clear. He is amazing because he is massive [yet he goes down]. It's very impressive. I have a lot of clips of him from over the years and he surprises me. After four years I expected it. It's very impressive.'

This may sound like trash-talking bravado from Liverpool, who have yet to register a goal at Stamford Bridge under Benítez's stewardship and who have enjoyed their own share of luck in big Champions League matches in recent years. But this Liverpool side are structured, settled and confident. Since February's home victory over Internazionale there have been consistent three-point Premier League hauls; Arsenal have been thrice out-thought and eventually eliminated from this competition and now Chelsea have been outplayed on home turf. The sole defeat - away to Manchester United - was cheekily explained away by Javier Mascherano's ref-rage red card.

Less than six months ago Steven Gerrard was filling the pages of the club magazine with carefully phrased doubt over Benítez's championship-winning credentials: now there is a new unanimity of belief in their ability to better England's best. 'If they didn't have Petr Cech in goal then we might already be through,' was Gerrard's analysis of an evening on which the Czech goalkeeper had been Chelsea's best player.

'It is the game of the year for us,' said Dirk Kuyt, the one man to find a way past Cech. 'We have a strong belief we can do something out there. We know we haven't scored there for a long time, but we also know we can score anywhere.' Babel argued that 'this Liverpool is a different team than the Liverpool of other years' - to his manager's approval.

'After four years and three times in the semi-finals and twice in the final in Europe we have a big name again, and the top players want to come here,' said Benítez in a message with as much relevance to the club's warring owners as to their Champions League campaign. 'I received some messages from the Spanish press and they told me that in the semi-finals we were the best of the four teams. The players know we are contenders and they know we have good players and can beat anyone. I think we are different now.

'I feel positive. In some sports the best team always wins, but in football you never know. But we were much better than them. I think they need to attack. You know what it is like with supporters, when you are waiting and playing counter-attack at home, and you concede a goal and lose ... supporters will kill you.'

While Avram Grant is perhaps the only man who would argue that Chelsea are a more powerful, effective or better prepared outfit than the one that narrowly ceded two previous Champions League semi-finals to Liverpool, all parties concur that a Benítez side with Torres at the point of its attack is a considerable step up on earlier incarnations.

'They are a stronger team this year and I think that's mainly down to the one man,' said Chelsea's Frank Lampard after the Anfield game. 'Torres is an absolutely fantastic, world-class goalscorer, and that's something they've been crying out.'

Yet Torres, as much as Cech and Riise, was responsible for Tuesday ending in stalemate instead of a decisive Liverpool win. Though the intelligence and pace of the young Spaniard's running was a constant problem for John Terry, when twice propelled free on Cech he failed to apply a top marksman's finish. Torres's first season in English football has been remarkable, but there is still promise that requires fulfillment. Of his 30 goals this campaign, only seven have come away from home - and three of those were in the League Cup at Reading. Delivering Benítez's first Stamford Bridge goal would underpin his manager's message that 'Torres is very strong, mentally, don't worry'.

Torres's performance is less of a concern to Liverpool than Drogba's is to Chelsea. Few within the Chelsea camp were more angered by the manner of José Mourinho's dismissal than the Ivorian, and the season of a footballer who could have been voted England's finest last year has reflected that discontent ever since.

From October to November Drogba reprised his best form, scoring eight times in eight matches. Then came further knee trouble and a fight with Chelsea to be operated on in time to captain Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations. On his return from Ghana, the physical problems returned, the goals dried up and Drogba's desire to exit Stamford Bridge became increasingly manifest.

Benítez, though, still recognises the African's ability to perform majestically when the moment takes him - and unhinge defences with a 'studied' application of physique. Hence the propaganda campaign of this week. 'We've played against Chelsea 15 games and every time I have collected some clips of Drogba,' Benitez explained. 'I have shown them to some of the players. I think that [Martin] Skrtel and Carra [Jamie Carragher] were really good against him the other day, the only problem was the referee was giving fouls. And it was not the same with Torres.'

Also noted was the anti-Drogba strategy employed by Roberto Ayala in Benítez's final game as Valencia coach - the 2004 Uefa Cup final against Marseille. The Argentina defender applied a quick, hard kick to the striker. 'With Ayala you don't need to say anything. He knew what to do,' said Benítez.

All this talk of luck and malpractice does Chelsea a disservice, especially on the evidence of yesterday's performance in the 2-1 defeat of Manchester United at Stamford Bridge which will put them in good heart for the run-in. If ever a club deserved a stroke of Anfield fortune it was Chelsea, who had succumbed to Luis García's infamous 'ghost goal' in 2005 and José Reina's penalty shoot-out excellence two years later. Moreover, the fact that they will go into May still in contention for the two main prizes is a testament to the qualities of a group who have spent most of the season working under a manager for whom they have limited respect.

So far only Tal Ben-Haim has publicly spoken out against Grant, saying of his former national team coach: 'I knew that nothing good would come with Grant as Chelsea coach.' The defender was told to train with the reserves, only for the punishment to be rescinded.

On Wednesday at least, though, the Israeli will benefit from the resilience of the squad he inherited from Mourinho, the self-belief his predecessor instilled in them, and the fundamentals of playing shape and style that Steve Clarke has worked to preserve on the training ground. That may well prove enough to take Chelsea to the Champions League final that eluded Mourinho in his three years at the Bridge. If it does the lucky one will be Avram Grant.

Cheyrou Backs Reds For Final

Bruno Cheyrou has backed his former club Liverpool to defeat Chelsea this Wednesday and progress to the Champions League final.

Cheyrou is not remembered as a fan favourite at Anfield, it is safe to say.

The French midfielder played 31 games in his four years on the Liverpool books, scoring all of two goals in the process, firmly cementing himself among Gerard Houllier's infamous flops.

However, one of those goals came at Stamford Bridge in 2004, and remains the last goal registered by a Liverpool player at Chelsea’s stronghold.

But the 29-year-old, who has fallen some way short of living up to his billing as ‘the new Zinedine Zidane’, is backing his former club to break their hoodoo and earn a final berth in Moscow against either Barcelona or Manchester United.

"When I heard I was the last Liverpool scorer at Stamford Bridge I felt proud," said the Rennes man. "Playing for Liverpool remains a great source of satisfaction.

"I'll be glued to my television on Wednesday.

"I was devastated when John Arne Riise scored the own goal. But John's a strong man. I wouldn't put it past him to score the winner at Chelsea.

"My advice to Liverpool is to keep believing. They've probably got a better side now than four years ago; I'm sure they can get a result."

Kuyt Eager To Bring Chelsea Back To Earth

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt is hoping to serve Chelsea a big slice of humble pie.

The Dutch forward is still smarting from having victory snatched from their grasps deep into injury time last week, but he will not be lacking for motivation to set things right on Wednesday.

"When the final whistle blew I think some of them were thinking they had already reached the final," said Kuyt of the unrestrained manner in which the Chelsea players celebrated despite the equalizer on the night having arrived by a John Arne Riise's own-goal, which was a huge dose of luck which most would agree that they didn't deserve on the night.

"People talk about us not having scored at Stamford Bridge for so many years, but you can also look at it in a more positive way. We have scored in every away game so far this season in the Champions League.

Kuyt added: "We know we played well in the first leg and we know we have made it difficult for ourselves in the second match. But we always believe we can score and if we do that it will put a whole new complexion on the tie."

Chelsea will be brimming with confidence for the rematch at Stamford Bridge next week, following their massively important 2-1 win against Manchester United yesterday.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Premier League Preview: Birmingham City vs. LiverpooL

Sandwiched in between Liverpool's Champions League semi-final tie with the Blues of Chelsea comes this clash against the relegation-threatened Blues at St. Andrew's.

The home side were on the side of a derby hammering last week last week as they showed their defensive vulnerability against free scoring second city neighbours Aston Villa.

That derby consigned Birmingham to the relegation zone for the first time since February, but they have impressed in front of their own fans this season and boss Alex McLeish has a couple of aces up his sleeve in the form of talented forwards James McFadden and Mauro Zarate.

Having drawn with Arsenal and beaten Manchester City and Tottenham already this season, Birmingham will be confident of producing another good performance in front of their passionate home crowd against a Liverpool side that will surely have one eye on their perfectly poised Champions League return leg at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Alex McLeish earned a reputation for causing upsets when he was manager of Scotland, who twice defeated France under his guidance. He expects a reaction from his side following what he described as "the worst derby defeat I have had as a manager". McLeish expects a reaction from his side tomorrow, "What has been evident in this team is that we are capable of bouncing back and we can do it again."

An improvement at the back will be needed to negate the threat of a Liverpool attack that is likely to include Peter Crouch and Jermaine Pennant, both on the scoresheet away to Fulham last week, as well as Andriy Voronin and Yossi Benayoun - all players who can trouble Blues.

Liverpool are likely to rest a number of their main players, just as they did at Craven Cottage last week, but even that weakened side contained 10 internationals. Whatever side Benitez chooses, he will expect to have too much for a newly-promoted outfit who have only won one of their seven. In any case, the previous three meetings between the clubshave ended in a draw, a result that may suit both teams again on Saturday evening.

It will be interesting to see if John Arne Riise is selected after his last-minute own goal handed Chelsea a crucial away goal at Anfield on Tuesday. The Norwegian left footer will have been rocked by his error, but with first choice left back Fabio Aureliio missing, Benitez may use this game as a confidence booster for Riise ahead of the return leg against Chelsea. Alternatively, Benitez may blood Argentine youngster Emiliano Insua, who has been impressing in the reserves all season.



Aston Villa - Birmingham 5 - 1 20/04/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Birmingham - Everton 1 - 1 12/04/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Wigan Athletic - Birmingham 2 - 0 05/04/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Birmingham - Manchester City 3 - 1 29/03/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Reading - Birmingham 2 - 1 22/03/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Birmingham - Newcastle 1 - 1 17/03/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE


Liverpool - Chelsea 1 - 1 22/04/2008 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Fulham - Liverpool 0 - 2 19/04/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Blackburn 3 - 1 13/04/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Arsenal 4 - 2 08/04/2008 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Arsenal - Liverpool 1 - 1 05/04/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Arsenal - Liverpool 1 - 1 02/04/2008 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE



Sebastien Larsson is set to return from a knee injury to provide Birmingham with some more creativity in midfield. Captain Damien Johnson is serving a three match ban.

Last Starting XI (4-4-2 v Aston Villa): Maik Taylor - Kelly, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Murphy - Jerome (Kapo 58), Nafti, Muamba, McSheffrey, Zarate (Forssell 58), McFadden.


With fourth place all but sewn up, expect Benitez to rest a few key figures ahead of the Champions League return leg against Chelsea on Wednesday. Fabio Aurelio misses out with the groin injury he picked up in midweek, Daniel Agger is still missing with a foot knock, and Harry Kewell is unlikely to play for the club again as he has a hamstring injury that should keep him out until his contract runs out this summer.

Last Starting XI (4-2-3-1 v Chelsea): Reina - Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio (Riise 61) - Mascherano, Alonso - Kuyt, Gerrard, Babel (Benayoun 75) - Torres.


Birmingham - Mauro Zarate - The skillful Argentine has produced flashes of brilliance since he joined Blues on loan in January. The 20 year old forward has scored four goals already, and his goals have been key in the win over Manchester City and the draw with Everton that could end up preserving Birmingham's Premier League status. Showed his inexperience with a petulant reaction to being subbed at Villa last week, but if picked, he will be the best chance Birmingham have of upsetting the Reds.

Liverpool - Jermaine Pennant - Pennant returns to St. Andrews on the back of a goal last week at Fulham. The former Blues loan signing has lost his place in Liverpool's first team this season, so he will have a point to prove to both sets of fans on Saturday. Has crossing to the excellent Peter Crouch could be vital in sending his former club back to the Championship.

MPs To Investigate Liverpool Power Struggle

Liverpool's power struggle between the club's American owners will be part of a new inquiry into football by MPs.

The All Party Parliamentary Football Group is to launch a new inquiry into English football and its governance, and the Liverpool crisis is one of the areas it will target.

The club's progress to the Champions League semi-finals has been overshadowed by a row between co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Alan Keen MP, chairman of the group, said: 'English club football is enjoying great success in Europe at the moment.

'Yet many questions remain about the standard of corporate governance and whether it is best equipped to deal, at every level, with the long-term challenges of the game's future. This is the focus of the group's new inquiry.

'The group will examine case studies on governance, including Liverpool FC where the role of the owners has raised significant public concerns and overshadowed achievements on the field.'

The MPs, who published a comprehensive report into the game four years ago, plan to produce the new report in the autumn.

The takeover of Liverpool by Hicks and Gillett has thrown the issue of foreign ownership into the spotlight. Despite insisting they would not do so, the Americans tried to load the debt from the takeover on to the club and have since fallen out completely.

With the power split, the club is locked in a stalemate with Hicks demanding the resignation of chief executive Rick Parry and Gillett insisting he must stay.

The group's last report recommended a radical re-distribution of football's riches coupled with tougher corporate governance standards throughout the game.

Keen said there had been some improvements within the game since then but no, or slow, progress on the majority of their recommendations.

"Much of the game's corporate governance structure is opaque, to say the least, and does not reflect the best examples of British business," he added.

Rafa Won't Take Any Risks

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admits he is wary about risking his big-name players in Saturday's game at Birmingham City.

The trip to St Andrews is sandwiched between the club's UEFA Champions League semi-final tussle with Chelsea, with the first leg having finished 1-1 at Anfield on Tuesday.

Benitez will send his team out at Birmingham this weekend mindful of the implications of any of his key players picking up injuries ahead of next Wednesday's jaunt to Stamford Bridge.

Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have both asked to play against Birmingham, but Benitez is not keen to gamble with his squad.

"Everybody wants to play every game, I was talking with two or three big names and they said 'I want to play, I want to play', but I will have to analyse each one and then decide," said Benitez.

"The most important thing is the team and the club, so I cannot say 'yes' to everyone. It will mean I am taking risks, and I do not want to take risks.

"But the players want to play as much as possible, it shows the character and the mentality of the team."

The Reds sent out a shadow side to beat Fulham 2-0 in the Premier League last weekend and Benitez feels this Saturday's match with Birmingham is a chance for his fringe players to stake a claim for a possible Champions League final appearance.

He added: "I have told the players that it is important for everyone to play well, show quality and be ready, you never know when you will be needed.

"So whoever plays against Birmingham, or the weekend after against Manchester City, they have to play well. They may even have a chance to play in the final.

"We showed at Fulham that we have a squad strong enough to win games like this. We will try, more or less, to do the same this time.

"We will use different players and try to win because we want to make sure of fourth position.

"We will again use our full squad, but also pick a side to win at Birmingham. We did the same thing at Fulham, and won. People can complain, but everyone really needs to think about his own team."

Liverpool Close In On Swiss Defender Transfer Target

Liverpool are closing in on the signing of Swiss international right-back Philipp Degen – as Rafael Benitez revealed that he discussed summer transfer targets with co-owner Tom Hicks at Melwood this week.

Hicks visited Liverpool’s training ground on Wednesday to meet Benitez and both parties have described the talks as being positive.

The Spaniard claims that the main topic of discussion was identifying potential new signings to bolster his squad for next season and one of the first of them should be Borussia Dortmund’s Degen, 25, who is out of contract with the German club at the end of the current campaign.

Benitez remained tight-lipped yesterday as to how close Liverpool are to sealing the move, confirming that talks are “progressing” for at least one of his targets but it is believed that many of the crucial elements of the deal are already in place.

Degen has made more than 70 Bundesliga appearances since his move from Basel, where his twin brother David still plays, in 2005.

Liverpool are also running the rule over Athletic Bilbao centre-back Fernando Amorebieta having sent one of their scouts to watch him in Sunday’s 5-1 thrashing of Benitez’s former club Valencia.

The 6ft3in 23-year-old has been attracting interest from several Premier League clubs including Chelsea, Manchester United and Newcastle United.

Amorebieta was born in Venezuela but he moved to the Basque country, where both his parents originate from, as a youngster.

Benitez claims that ownership issues of the club did not crop up during his talks with Hicks at Melwood but confirmed that transfer discussions were top of the agenda. He said: “It was a very positive meeting. We were talking about some targets, everybody knows the names and how we have to progress.

“I think everyone agrees, we are progressing and I am satisfied. I have two owners, a chief executive and as manager I have a responsibility to improve the squad for next season.”

Benitez added: “We have a scouting department that is doing a fantastic job. The key is to inform everyone, so that everyone knows what the situation is.

“I don’t think we will need too much. The squad is much better now. We know what we need to sign, maybe four or five players. I don’t think we will need to spend big, big money, it is just doing the deals at the right moment.”

Benitez also revealed that the situation regarding the Anfield hierarchy speaking to Jurgen Klinsmann had also been clarified.

Liverpool’s owners disclosed that they had spoken to the former German national team coach late last year after a fall-out with Benitez over his role regarding transfers.

However, with the Spaniard hoping to remain at Anfield and now supposedly backed by Hicks, the situation has been resolved.

Benitez said: “I clarified everything. (regarding Klinsmann). We were talking about our targets. I think everyone will agree with the targets we want to sign and that is important for me.”

Meanwhile, Benitez confirmed that left-back Fabio Aurelio, who was stretchered off during Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea in their Champions League semi-final first leg on Tuesday will be out for three weeks.

The Brazilian suffered a tear to his adductor muscle and will miss the remainder of the Premier League campaign but could return for the Champions League final should Liverpool reach Moscow.

Liverpool Stadium Plan To Be Approved Next Week

Liverpool FC’s third stadium plan is set to get the go-ahead next week.

City planners have recommended the £350m proposal for a 60,000-seater ground is approved by councillors..

However, progress on the stadium is likely to remain in doubt as long as the ownership stand-off continues.

Liverpool’s original building plan for Stanley Park was backed by the council as far back as 2004.

American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett ordered a massive redesign when they took over the club last year and their plan was approved last summer.

But it was shelved and redrawn a second time by Dallas-based architects HKS earlier this year when the tycoons decided it was too expensive.

Next month, councillors will have their say on a scheme showing a number of crucial changes, including:

The future capacity of New Anfield, after any expansion, has been reduced from 76,000 to 73,000.

The underground car park beneath the stadium has been halved in size.

A three-storey car park will be located under tennis courts and a games area in Stanley Park, shielded from Priory Road by a “green wall”.

The width, length and height of the stadium has been reduced by several metres.

The roof opening is smaller and designed differently to keep the crowd dry and help the pitch grow.

Plans for public viewing areas, a “skywalk” and roof terrace restaurant in the new Kop stand have been scrapped.

The redesign does not affect the restoration of the remainder of Stanley Park, which is underway and expected to finish in December.

A council report says: “The overall form of the stadium, with the Kop as the main generator of the building form will add to the city skyline, and create a positive landmark and a focus for further investment.

“The changes introduced in March do little to dilute the architectural quality of the proposed stadium.”

Planners said the scheme should be agreed if Liverpool agreed to meet certain conditions.

The club must make sure spectators leaving their cars in the stadium’s 970 parking spaces arrive an hour before kick-off and wait an hour after the final whistle to leave.

It must also pay for a yearly review of the residents-only parking zone around Anfield for five years after the ground opens – and fund any expansion of it.

Several community groups have objected to the plan, including Priory Area Residents Association (Para), Friends of Stanley Park and Stanley Park Preservation Society.

The council’s planning committee meets on May 6.

Rafa Benitez Urges Fringe Liverpool Men To Step Up

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez will warn his shadow squad that they must be ready to step into the Champions League.

Benitez will send out another second-string side at relegation-threatened Birmingham tomorrow as he prepares for next Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg at Chelsea.

The Spaniard has proved in the past that he has no qualms about fielding youngsters and squad players ahead of big European nights.

And whatever the managers of Birmingham’s relegation rivals say on the issue, Benitez will not be moved.

But he also sees a genuine need for the players who will perform at St Andrews to prove to him they can be used in the Champions League if needed.

Benitez said: "I have told the players that it is important for everyone to play well, show quality and be ready, you never know when you will be needed.

"So whoever plays against Birmingham, or the weekend after against Manchester City, they have to play well. They may even have a chance to play in the final."

Already John Arne Riise, scorer of the own-goal that has given Chelsea a priceless 1-1 draw from the first leg, finds himself thrust into possible action at Stamford Bridge.

Riise was in the ’weakened’ side that won 2-0 at Fulham last week - another team selection that drew howls of protest beforehand.

But with Fabio Aurelio out for three weeks with a torn abductor muscle, Riise now finds himself a contender for the left-back role at Stamford Bridge.

And famously, Benitez recalls how Vladimir Smicer, who knew his contract was not going to be renewed, came off the bench in Istanbul in 2005 to score one of Liverpool’s crucial comeback goals in the final against AC Milan.

Benitez said: "Fabio Aurelio will be out for three weeks, so Riise knows he has to be ready and give everything for us, he knows he will get his opportunities now."

The Reds boss revealed that he has been badgered by senior men who want to play at St Andrews.

Goalkeeper Jose Reina is desperate to maintain his record of playing in every league game this season, while Fernando Torres wants to play to get his scoring boots back on after unusually missing three great chances against Chelsea in midweek.

Captain Steven Gerrard has also expressed a wish to play. But Benitez says: "Everybody wants to play every game, I was talking with two or three big names and they said ’I want to play, I want to play’ but I will have to analyse each one and then decide.

"The most important thing is the team and the club, so I cannot say ’yes’ to everyone. It will mean I am taking risks, and I do not want to take risks.

"But the players want to play as much as possible, it shows the character and the mentality of the team."

He added: "We showed at Fulham that we have a squad strong enough to win games like this. We will try, more or less, to do the same this time.

"We will use different players and try to win because we want to make sure of fourth position.

"We have not had too many good experiences at Birmingham in the league, they are a difficult side to play against.

"We will again use our full squad, but also pick a side to win at Birmingham. We did the same thing at Fulham, and won. People can complain but everyone really needs to think about his own team.

"We still need a point to be fourth. I cannot see Everton winning all three of their final games, but we need to make sure for ourselves as quickly as possible.

"Birmingham need to win and the game will be tough and physical. They will be playing under pressure because there are so many teams around the relegation zone. You win one game and jump a few places, lose one and fall back again. It is very tough for them."

Benitez will also have one eye ahead of the Birmingham game on Chelsea’s lunchtime clash with Manchester United that could decide the title race.

Such a game could drain Chelsea, but Benitez says: "I am not sure that we have an advantage with Chelsea playing Manchester United on Saturday.

"We both will have four days to prepare for the second leg, and with us playing at Birmingham both clubs will face a physical, competitive match.

"Chelsea’s game will be intense, yes, but then I expect it to be the same at St Andrews because Birmingham are fighting to avoid relegation. In the end I do not see either of us having an advantage."

Atletico Not To Sell Reported Liverpool-Target Maxi

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo has underlined their aim of keeping winger Maxi Rodriguez, who is reportedly a target for Liverpool, for the next season.

Reports in England on Thursday claimed that Reds boss Rafa Benitez is interested to sign the 27-year-old Argentina international, who could once again combine with Fernando Torres, who had moved to Anfield last summer from Vicente Calderon.

"We've still had no offer for him, but our idea is to have him with us next season," he told Spanish newspaper Marca.

"You'll have to ask them (Liverpool), but Atletico have no plans to sell Maxi."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Chelsea & Liverpool Battling For Bentley

Champions League semi-final adversaries Chelsea and Liverpool are reportedly in competition for England winger David Bentley.

£15 million-rated Blackburn Rovers winger David Bentley is likely to be the subject of a tug-of-war between Champions League and Premier League rivals Chelsea and Liverpool.

According to The Times, Bentley has attracted attention from several leading clubs, including Newcastle United, but Chelsea are thought to be best placed for the ex-Arsenal man's signature, having the financial resources to out-bid their rivals should they choose to follow up their initial interest.

Chelsea would not be deterred by Blackburn's £15 million valuation and could treble the player's wages to £60,000 a week.

Matching that could be a problem for Liverpool, given their budgetary restraints and the current uncertainty surrounding the club's ownership.

Riise Fears For Anfield Future

Liverpool defender John Arne Riise fears he is heading for the Anfield exit in the summer.

The Norway international has one-year remaining on his present contract, but he has yet to hear from the club regarding an extension to that deal after falling out of favour on Merseyside this season.

Riise scored an injury-time own goal in Liverpool's 1-1 first leg draw with Chelsea at Anfield in the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday to leave the Reds facing an uphill battle to reach their third final in four years.

And Riise - who is believed to be an end of season transfer target of Newcastle and Aston Villa - is keen to stay at Anfield, but the 27-year-old is concerned that his midweek howler could prove to be one of his last acts in a Liverpool shirt.

"I hope and still believe in a new contract with Liverpool," said Riise.

"But I cannot say definitely that I have a future here when I only have one year left of my deal and haven't heard anything from the club yet."

Liverpool Boss Benitez Intends To Burst Chelsea Bubble

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is aiming to ‘change the history’ by getting a result at Chelsea that will enable the Reds make it to the Champions League finals.

The Reds were jolted when the Blues got a crucial away goal last night in the semi-finals first leg at Anfield that ended in 1-1 draw, courtesy of a John Arne Riise own-goal deep into the stoppage time.

However, Benitez is confident his side has enough wherewithal to score at Stamford Bridge – a feat which the Reds have not achieved under the Spaniard’s management.

"It is not about tactics or changing our system, it is about taking the chances we create," Benitez said on the club’s official website.

"Chelsea don't lose at Stamford Bridge, but there's a time for everything. We can change history.

"People may say I should change the system to give them something else to think about. But we created four very clear chances in the first-leg, which is high for one of these games against Chelsea.

"Torres had two chances, Gerrard one, and Chelsea hardly had any, and we were winning until the last seconds. We know we can do it.

"We know that at Stamford Bridge it will be very difficult. A tough game, as always there, with little between the sides again."

"We know we have not scored in a game at Chelsea under my management, and we know they have such a good record there," he added.

"They also have a very long unbeaten run on their own ground, but there is a time for everything, maybe we can change the history of these matches by winning and scoring at Stamford Bridge.

"Stamford Bridge is a difficult stadium for everyone. Nobody has won there for two years and we know it will be difficult.

"This is the Champions League and we are very capable of scoring and winning at Stamford Bridge.

"It has been a long time since they lost at home, but someone has to do it soon and we want it to be us.”

The Blues have lost only once at home for over four years, that against Barcelona in February 2006.