Monday, September 29, 2008

Afellay To Be Unleashed Onto Liverpool

One of the hottest European prospects is to be unleashed onto Liverpool when they play PSV Eindhoven in their Champions League clash on Wednesday.

The player in question is Ibrahim Afellay, a Dutchman of Moroccan descent who has been with the Dutch champions for the past five seasons.

The young attacking midfielder is considered to be one of the finest of his generation and has already received praise from some of the most well respected people in the game.

Arsenal have been known admirers of the 22-year-old for the last couple of years, and PSV claim that the Gunners sent a scout to watch Afellay play 15 times last season.

Ronald Koeman, the former Dutch centre back, commented, “Ibrahim has certain things in his style that can be compared to Johan Cruyff's game.

“He can speed up with the ball, he can whizz past players as if they are puppets. He has qualities as an attacker which we hardly see these days in football.”

Manchester City were close to signing him on transfer deadline day, but the young Dutchman preferred to stay at PSV as he did not want to rush into a move abroad.

He has a £12m buy-out clause in his contract, and City have said they are willing to out bid anyone to secure his signature.

The first to spot Afellay’s talents outside Holland was Arsene Wenger, who was more than impressed with the impact Afellay made when coming on against Arsenal as a substitute 17 months ago.

The Arsenal boss has been an admirer ever since, and has been monitoring the 22-year-old’s situation carefully.

Liverpool will face a tough test when they come up against him on Wednesday, and it will be up to the player to see if he can triumph over the likes of Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel.

Liverpool Boss Benitez: Torres Can Only Get Better

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has told the rest of the Premier League that Spanish International striker Fernando Torres will only get better for the Merseyside club.

Benitez has revealed that the 24-year-old is yet to reach full fitness after a summer which saw the former Atletico Madrid forward win EURO 2008 with Spain, but return to Anfield with a slight hamstring problem.

However, despite Benitez’s claims that Torres is not at his peak, the Spaniard still struck twice to sink Everton in the derby at Goodison Park on Saturday, with the Reds boss insisting there is more to come from Torres, when he reaches full fitness.

“Torres knows he can improve a lot. The main thing for me is his mentality is really good,” Benitez said.

“He is trying to improve especially in the areas where he has to improve - at this moment in time physically. You need time but he is working so hard and he will be better.

“There were three players coming back from the Olympic Games and the Spanish players coming back from the European Championships.

“It was important for some of them to rest or to train properly. Torres was injured and that was another problem.

“I think he is more or less the same as last season. The only thing he is missing now is his physical condition. He will get better and better and he will be stronger for sure. I think he is a nice boy and a good professional. He knows he can improve. I think he is very humble.”

Gerrard Keen To Keep Liverpool's Feet On The Ground As Torres Shines For Reds

Steven Gerrard has warned his Liverpool team-mates not to get carried away with their strong start to the season.

Liverpool are undefeated in the Premier League and in second place after winning 2-0 at Everton, their best start in 12 years.

But with the Champions League clash with PSV Eindhoven coming up on Wednesday, Gerrard said: 'It’s important to be humble and to keep out feet on the ground.

'We set a standard [at Everton] but we need to match it week in, week out.'

Fernando Torres double proved the difference at Goodison Park and Gerrard was delighted to see the Spaniard back to his best.

He said: 'You can’t keep strikers with his talent down for long because they aren’t going to go long without a goal. It was only a matter of time.

Robbie Keane Ready For Lift Off With Liverpool FC

DELIGHTED Steven Gerrard believes Robbie Keane’s Liverpool career is poised for lift-off after the striker helped secure derby victory on Saturday.

Two goals from Fernando Torres inside three second-half minutes gave the Anfield outfit a 2-0 win at Goodison in the 208th meeting between the Merseyside rivals.

Keane was instrumental in both goals, providing a perfect cross for Torres’s opener and then heavily involved in the build-up to the Spaniard’s second.

The Republic of Ireland international is still awaiting his first goal for Rafael Benitez’s side since his near £20m transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer.

But skipper Gerrard revealed the praise that Keane received in the dressing room for his efforts in ensuring Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season.

“I know that Nando was class and showed how deadly he can be, but I still believe that Robbie Keane was an equally genuine contender for the man of the match award,” said Gerrard.

“He was outstanding, he did everything you could ask of him. He was a matchwinner as much as Torres, because they couldn't cope with his passing and movement.

“It was a terrific performance and it showed why the manager invested so much money in him. I went to Robbie afterwards and I told him that.

“We got in the dressing room and I sat by him, and I just said: ‘you were magnificent’, because he deserves that praise for such a great, unselfish performance.

“It is all you can ask from a player that he gives everything for the team, and wins the game for you.

“For all of our team, Robbie is doing his job perfectly, and we'll settle for that every time.”

Of Keane’s goal drought, Gerrard added: “Look, it is everyone else talking about Robbie's need to score, not us.

“That doesn't matter in the slightest for us, because he has been a match winner without scoring. His passes for the two goals were from the top drawer, they were exactly what we are looking for from him.

“We know there will still be talk about goals until he gets his first, but believe me, a goal is just around the corner for him.

“And when it comes, the first one will be the most important, because you just know he'll go on a run and get a whole load of goals.

“The lad is quality, you can see that, and you can see how intelligent a footballer he is.

“When he scores, it will just be the start, but I think it's pretty clear he is doing his job already.”

Benitez Admits Babel Frustration

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admits that he is growing frustrated with the erratic form of Ryan Babel.

On his day Ryan Babel can be a match-winner. His super sub role in the Champions League quarter final against Liverpool sealed the Reds' passage to the next round as he won a penalty and scored a goal.

However, Rafa Benitez believes Babel to be a starter and not simply a substitute but his consistency would have to be improved if he wants to secure a regular starting role.

Benitez is quoted by the Malaysian Insider as saying: "Our view of Ryan is a player who starts games and has an impact from the beginning, not just as a sub."

"But first of all he has to improve tactically and we are working with him on that. He is the kind of player who can change games and he has done that when coming from the bench," Benitez added.

Now we want him to start games and change them."

Agger's Anfield Agony

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger has reportedly delayed discussions over a new contract, casting further doubt over his future.

According to News of the World, Agger will not enter negotiations to extend his current deal until manager Rafael Benitez assures him that he has a first-team future at Anfield.

The Danish defender has found himself on the fringes this season after missing almost all of the 2007-08 campaign with a metatarsal problem that threatened to derail his hugely promising career.

The former Brondby star has had his starting spot usurped by Martin Skrtel, the Slovakian centre-back who arrived in January and has quickly earned fan-favourite status with his uncompromising performances beside Jamie Carragher.

Benitez is unwilling to break up a defensive pairing which has conceded just two goals in six Premier League games, meaning Agger has been reduced to a benchwarming role.

The Spanish tactician is desperate to keep hold of the 23-year-old, who is expected to feature heavily in the Champions League given Sami Hyypia was controversially left off Liverpool's roster for the competition.

But it is reported that Agger - who was rumoured to be battling a drinking problem while sidelined last season - is growing ever more restless and could seek a move as early as January.

Gerrard Urges Liverpool To Match The Standard Week In Week Out As Reds Focus On PSV & Man City

Following a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Everton in Saturday’s Merseyside derby, Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard is looking for repeat performance as the Reds aim to build onto their strong start to the season.

Rafa Benitez’s side outclassed the Toffees, who are yet to pick up a league point at Goodison Park this season, and now focus on Wednesday's Champions League group clash with PSV Eindhoven before meeting Manchester City in the Premiership at the weekend.

And England midfielder Gerrard believes that the Reds, who have made their best start in 12 years as they are second in league table equal on points with Chelsea with 14 points in six games and unbeaten, need to keep their feet on the ground and set out to match the standard they set at Everton.

"It's important to be humble and not get carried away by the performance," said Gerrard adding: "But we set a standard (at Everton) we need to match week in week out."

Revealing relief at victory over local rivals Everton, the satisfied 28-year-old said: "As a local lad these are the most difficult games to prepare for. The nerves start the week before and you can't wait for the game to come about, so the fear of losing these games takes up a lot of energy beforehand."

"I think the derby performance has set the standard now. We've got a big game on Wednesday and then another important game against Manchester City, (and) if we can continue that level then we will certainly be there or thereabouts come the end of the season," he added.

Fernado Torres Makes Premier League Title His Top Target

Liverpool have managed their best start to a league campaign for 11 years - and Fernando Torres has only just got his act together.

Captain Steven Gerrard believes the Spaniard is back to his “deadly” best after Liverpool “made a statement of intent” in the title race with their Merseyside derby victory.

The 2-0 win over a worried Everton side means Liverpool remain unbeaten this term, with their neighbours struggling to recapture anything approaching last term’s form.

Torres has spent the opening weeks of the campaign shaking off the effects of a summer which saw him win the European Championship with Spain.

He has shown little of the form that produced 33 goals last season, and even in his two-goal display against Everton he was nowhere near his peak.

But now the striker believes he is about to launch into overdrive as Liverpool go after the Barclays Premier League title.

Torres said: “It has been a difficult start for me this season after a busy summer. But now I have got myself back into form with these two, I hope to go on a run like last season and maybe get more than the 33 I managed then.

“We know if we can stay near the top of the table in January or February we can win the title.

“We must stay in the first three or four, and if we can keep winning in the Champions League we can have a fantastic season.

“I have been working very hard and knew the goals would come.”

Such has been the pain of the ongoing 18-year wait for another title Liverpool triumph, it is inevitable that excitement soars as soon as they start showing signs of a genuine challenge.

Gerrard is doing his best to calm the growing expectation, and said: “It is important to be humble now and not get carried away.

“We have got a big game on Wednesday in Europe and then another vital match against Manchester City on Sunday. It is important no-one gets carried away.

“There’s a long way to go and we realise how tough it is going to be to still be in the hunt come the end of the campaign, so we need to keep going, but we have set a standard that we need to match week-in, week-out.”

Gerrard wants to see Liverpool perform on a regular basis to the level that saw them out-play Everton.

He said: “The victory was probably our best performance of the season.

“We had been winning games but stumbling along, but this has set the standard now and if we can continue that level then we will certainly be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.

“We controlled the game all the way through. It was a statement of our intentions.

“We were together, played some terrific football and the performance showed how frustrated we were not to take maximum points from Stoke the previous weekend.”

Gerrard underlined the fact that Torres has finally found something like the form of last season, even if it took a booking and an exchange with referee Mike Riley over his treatment from defenders and officials alike before he sparked into action.

The Spaniard had managed only one goal previously this term.

Gerrard said: “It was only a matter of time.

“You cannot keep strikers with his talent down for long because they are not going to go long without a goal. It was going to happen.

“He was a bit frustrated, but then Robbie Keane has put one on a plate for him and the second one was typical Torres.

“He made a lot of space for himself in the box and the finish was deadly.”

Gerrard is still searching for his 100th goal for the club, but he said: “It will come, I’m confident of that. The most important thing was the win and it was all about the team.

“As a local lad these are the most difficult games to prepare for. The nerves start and you can’t wait for the game to come about, so the fear of losing these games takes up a lot of energy beforehand.”

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Match Report: Everton 0 - 2 LiverpooL

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres shrugged off his Euro 2008 hangover to score twice to beat 10-man Everton in the 208th Merseyside derby.

The Spain international had managed just one goal all season before this match.

He got himself booked at Goodison Park, argued with referee Mike Riley about the heavy-handed treatment he was getting from Everton's defenders and then hit back where it hurts.

Torres volleyed home his first after 59 minutes and cracked in the second three minutes later.

Everton have still to win at home this season and had Tim Cahill sent-off with 10 minutes to go to cap a miserable day for David Moyes' side.

The hosts had full-back Tony Hibbert back for the first time this season after a knee ligament operation in the summer, while midfielder Mikel Arteta had recovered from a virus to play.

Liverpool were without Javier Mascherano, with a calf problem, and fielded the side that drew 0-0 with Stoke last weekend.

An interested observer in the directors' box was Standard Liege boss Laszlo Boloni, who was preparing for this week's UEFA Cup tie but also watching former player Marouane Fellaini in his first derby.

The midfielder probably won his move to Goodison Park after two excellent performances against Liverpool in the Champions League.

Fellaini was first into referee Mike Riley's book after just nine minutes for a foul on Alvaro Arbeloa.

Everton should have been ahead after 14 minutes when Cahill failed to make a decent connection to Arteta's corner from just six yards.

With Ayegbeni Yakubu up front and Arteta and Cahill attacking from deep it meant Liverpool had the majority of possession as Everton sat back and tried to hit them on the break.

It almost succeeded after 26 minutes when Joleon Lescott's cross was dropped by Jose Reina under minimal pressure from Fellaini, who spun to strike a fierce shot that Jamie Carragher somehow blocked on the line.

But referee Riley had spotted an infringement and awarded a free-kick.

Xabi Alonso was booked for blocking an Arteta run on the right before Robbie Keane almost created a scoring opportunity for Dirk Kuyt, arriving late in the box.

Yakubu was booked three minutes into the second half for diving in the box having pushed the ball past Martin Skrtel before plunging to the floor.

Two minutes later Riley booked Torres, who had questioned the referee's decisions throughout the first half, for a foul on Lescott.

But the Spaniard finally channelled his annoyance into the game and saw a 20-yard strike go just wide before Gerrard was much closer from slightly further out.

Albert Riera should have done better when presented with a shooting chance by Keane but when Torres was denied a clear opportunity, having shrugged off Phil Jagielka, Riley was again on his case, awarding a fortunate free-kick to the hosts.

But after 59 minutes Torres got his own back. Arbeloa robbed Arteta far too easily on the touchline and quick passing involving Riera and Alonso released Keane on the left.

The Irishman's cross to the far post was met beautifully on the volley by Torres to beat Tim Howard.

Three minutes later Torres was celebrating again. Liverpool surged forward again and when Jagielka's tackle 10 yards out stopped Keane in his tracks, the ball fell for Torres to smash into the top corner.

Torres scored again seconds later but the effort was ruled out by referee Riley.

Arbeloa was booked after 85 minutes for a retaliatory kick at Cahill after a tussle between the pair before Yakubu missed an open goal as Leon Osman's cross flashed in front of him.

Five minutes later Cahill was sent off. Referee Riley showed him a red card for a late challenge on Alonso.

It was the eighth red card in the last eight derbies, and the 17th in 33 Premier League clashes between the clubs.

Substitute Louis Saha fired a 25-yard shot just wide in the dying minutes but that was the closest Everton came all time.

Rafa Hails Attacking Duo

Liverpool gaffer Rafa Benitez has heaped praised on his dynamic attacking duo of Torres and Keane following their impressive 0-2 win at Everton.

Both Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane went into the game at Goodison Park under heavy pressure and criticism for their lack of goals in recent outings.

But the Spanish international ended his six-game drought by netting both goals while Keane had a part to play in his strike partner’s brace.

“It was a good performance by the team and Fernando played really well,” Benitez told the club’s official website.

“Clearly, we have players who can change games like Fernando with his goals and this gives the team confidence.

“It makes it easier for us to play well and keep the ball and Torres is always a threat for defenders,” Rafa added.

“Robbie was also doing a good job for the team and he played a part in both our goals.”

Gerrard: Win Key To Title Tilt

Steven Gerrard believes Liverpool must reproduce their derby display on a weekly basis if they are to be crowned Barclays Premier League champions.

The inspirational midfielder admits his side have failed to hit top gear in the opening weeks of the 2008-09 campaign but feels the second-half performance in the 2-0 victory at Goodison Park has seen them edge closer to their best form.

"So far it's probably our best performance," Gerrard told reporters at Goodison Park.

"We were winning games but stumbling early on in the season, but I think the derby performance has set the standard now and if we can continue that level then we will certainly be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.

"I think we controlled the game all the way through, though obviously there were bits of pressure from Everton. They are a good side here and they've got good support behind them but it was a statement of our intentions.

"We were together, played some terrific football and the performance showed how frustrated we were not to take maximum points from Stoke."

The Reds eased to a comfortable win in the 208th Merseyside derby following Fernando Torres' sublime second-half brace.

The Spaniard's double blast saw him notch his first goals since the opening day of the season success at Sunderland and Gerrard claims it was inevitable the striker would recapture his form sooner rather than later.

"It was only a matter of time," he said.

"You can't keep strikers with his talent down for long because they aren't going to go long without a goal. It was only a matter of time. He was a bit frustrated first-half, but then Keane's put one on a plate for him and the second one was typical Torres.

"He made a lot of space for himself in the box and the finish was deadly."

Ahead of the match Gerrard had been tipped to notch his 100th goal for the club and although he went close on a number of occasions, he was happy to sacrifice his own hopes of personal glory for the good of the team.

"The manager wanted a disciplined performance from me," he said. "When we play a 4-4-2 he wants me to pick the right time to go forward and I'm really happy with how I performed on the day.

"The 100th goal will come. I'm confident of that. I had a couple of half chances today. The keeper's made a couple of good saves but I'll keep going. The most important thing, as I said before the game, was the win and it was all about the team."

"As a local lad these are the most difficult games to prepare for. The nerves start the week before and you can't wait for the game to come about, so the fear of losing these games takes up a lot of energy beforehand. So I'm pleased we've won it and delighted with the lads' performance.

"It obviously settles you down to get the opening goal because these games are so frantic. You've got to earn the right to play and win the battle first.

"I thought we matched them physically and outplayed them and we knew the goal would come, with the quality we've got and the six front players we have in the side we knew it was only a matter of time before the goal came."

Three points at Goodison Park coupled with Arsenal's shock defeat at home to Hull City means Liverpool are now second in the table, just behind Chelsea on goal difference.

It is the Reds' best start to a league campaign since 1996-97 but the skipper is refusing to look too far beyond their next match against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League on Wednesday.

"It's important to be humble now and not get carried away by the performance," he added.

"We've got a big game on Wednesday and then another important game against Manchester City. We've got to take each game as it comes and it's important no one gets carried away.

"There's a long way to go and we realise how tough it's going to be to still be in the hat come the end of the Premier League, so we need to keep going. But I think we set a standard today that we need to match week in week out."

Can Liverpool Finally Mount A Title Challenge?

Victory at Goodison Park in the Mersey derby means Liverpool are enjoying their finest start to the Premier League season since Rafa Benítez took over.

They're unbeaten, have won against their two biggest rivals, and are right in the mix at the top of the table – all without playing particularly well so far.

Their second-half performance, however, hinted at better things to come: Fernando Torres looked the player of last season for the first time this campaign, while Robbie Keane's promptings led to both goals.

Can Liverpool do what has been beyond them for the best part of two decades, and sustain a proper title challenge – especially if Keane starts scoring soon?

As for Everton, they've now lost their first three home league games of the season, and are in dire danger of being knocked out of the Uefa Cup by Standard Liege next week.

Is David Moyes simply suffering from lack of money, or is there something more fundamental wrong with the club – whose form alternates wildly, season by season?

Torres Double Overshadowed by Mike Riley

Fernando Torres two goals in three minutes is the difference as Liverpool take the short trip to Goodison Park and come out 2-0 victors that was marred by the horrific refereeing of Mike Riley. I am going to say it like I see it here, Mike Riley has officially ended the FA’s respect campaign over the last two weeks. Last week, Soccernet picked up 40 fouls Riley called between Chelsea and Manchester United. Today, Soccernet picked up 43 and the Guardian showed 39. Fact remains, the majority of fouls Riley has called over the last two weeks have not only been severely questionable at best, but have tested the patience of even the most patient people.

To make matter worse this week unlike last week, as far as I’m concerned, Tim Cahill was unjustly sent off ten minutes from the ninety. Yes the tackle was nasty, but it was just as bad as Arbeloa’s tackle four minute earlier. No one from Liverpool expected red, no one in the EPL Talk Chat expected red, and I’m convinced the only one who was convinced it was red is Mike Riley.

This is the second high profile match Riley has refereed in six days. As far as I’m concerned he’s made some serious errors in judgment that have to be taken into account. From the farcical ending to last week’s Chelsea/Manchester United fixture to Cahill’s sending off, Riley has made big mistakes that seem to be forgiven by the FA. Yes refereeing is a tough job and they deserve respect, but when a referee continues to make mistakes to the magnitude Riley has of late, it’s very hard to give Riley any at all.

As to the match itself, Riley’s whistle made sure there was no flow to the match. Liverpool though dominated from the kickoff. Everton only had about ten minutes where they were on the ascendancy, even then they were unable to test Jose Reina. Liverpool in the first half were unable to break Everton down in the final third. Everton’s back four and midfield were being way too forgiving and pretty much allowing Liverpool all the space they wanted when they were pushing forward.

Both Liverpool goals boil down too two fatal flaws. The first being losing possession in the midfield and the second being defenders abandoning their space giving Torres all the space in the world to do his job. On the first goal, Alonso gets the ball in the midfield and it’s Joleon Lescott abandoning his space trailing Kuyt’s run near post. How no one else was marking Torres I haven’t a clue. Torres with that much space and time one on one with any keeper in the world is rarely going to miss. On the second goal, it was Torres himself who starts the play in the midfield after Everton fail to possess a throw in. The final blow was when Joseph Yobo went in trying to clear a tackle when the ball fell perfectly to Torres. With Howard off his line, the finish was automatic.

Robbie Keane is starting to mold into the team, but Rafa has to let him be what he is, a forward. Playing on the wing has done him no favors, and it was only when he was able to get more central was when he was his most dangerous. Everton need to figure out a way to win at home. It would also help to get chances that challenge a keeper. Yakubu up front by himself is not going to work and hopefully once Louis Saha is fully fit, David Moyes will revert to a 4-4-2. Everton’s back line is also becoming a massive liability. It hasn’t helped Moyes that he is just now getting a chance to mold this squad.

A few other observations
1) As much as I slagged Riley off at the beginning of this piece, I have to give him all the credit for rightfully booking Yakubu to start the second half for diving. There was at least 2 feet of space between him and Jamie Carragher.
2) Marouane Fellaini just looks out of place. Unfortunately because of his price, expect him to continue to start.
3) Liverpool’s defense is reminding me of Manchester United’s form last season.

Article written by Jonathan Starling.

Torres Relieved To Have Found Scoring Boots

Speaking after his two goals sunk ten-man Everton Liverpool's Spanish striker Fernando Torres claimed it is a relief to have broken his duct by seeing off the Blue threat with a well-taken brace.

Liverpool head coach Rafa Benitez fielded £45million worth of talent in his two available striking positions and thus far this season neither had scored in the Premier League. Fernando Torres, who bucked that trend on Saturday, is relieved that he has opened his season's account, but states the team's position at the top of the table is more important.

Torres looked out of sorts in the first half, but grew in confidence in the second and returned to the Torres of old as he terrorised the Everton backline with his clever running and exquisite finishing.

After the match he told Sky Sports: "It is a relief to start scoring again after six games. This game is very important for the fans and now we are top of the table and we are happy for that."

"I want to keep going now and score in the Champions League and maybe improve on the goals from last season."

"To win the premier league we need to stay on top so the win was good for that," he said. "If in January we are still top and in the Champions League then we will be in a great position to push on [in the latter stages of the season."

Rafa Benitez, who masterminded the win, added: "We were in control, well organised, and knew what to do."

"We had the same ideas in the second half as we did in the first. It was important for Torres - and us - for him to score two goals in a derby."

History Is On Liverpool's Side

Liverpool can all but end PSV's Champions League interests with a victory that would put them on the brink of qualification for the next round.

The Dutch side arrive at Anfield on Tuesday for the second round of matches in Group D already smarting after being comprehensively beaten 3-0 in their opening home match with Atletico Madrid.

At the same time, Liverpool were winning 2-1 in Marseille, thanks to a Steven Gerrard double, to give themselves a flying start to the group matches.

And for PSV and their coach Huub Stevens, history is certainly not on their side.

Stevens admits his side have to learn fast from the disastrous defeat by Fernando Torres' former Madrid pals.

He said: "It was really disappointing to start the campaign with such a heavy home defeat.

"We know we just have to learn from what happened, because going to Liverpool will be even more difficult.

"But we have only played one match, there are still five to go so we can turn this round."

He added: "We can learn a lot. Madrid struck against us at the right moments, and we must not let Liverpool do the same to us."

However, PSV's record against Liverpool hardly gives a reason to be confident.

The two clubs had never met until the 2006-07 campaign, when they faced each other four times.

In the group stage, they played out a goalless draw in Eindhoven before Liverpool won the return match 2-0 through goals from Gerrard and Peter Crouch to secure first place in the section.

Rafael Benitez's team then earned a comprehensive 4-0 aggregate victory in the quarter-finals. Gerrard, John Arne Riise and Crouch all found the net in a 3-0 first-leg triumph in the Netherlands before Crouch struck the only goal of the return.

On a personal note, Stevens has never won a match in England, be it on the field or in the dugout.

As a player with PSV, he tasted defeat in UEFA Cup games at Wolves (1980/81), Nottingham Forest (1983/84) and Manchester United (1984/85).

As a coach, Stevens' Schalke side lost 3-2 at Arsenal in the 2001/02 Champions League group stage, with a subsequent 3-1 home win against the Gunners not enough to save them from elimination.

The next year he did enjoy some success with Hertha Berlin against Fulham in the UEFA Cup third round, holding out for a goalless draw in London following a 2-1 home victory.

If the tie goes to form and history, Liverpool will have six points by the end of the week, while Atletico Madrid must be confident of also beating Marseille at home.

That would leave the two group favourites six points ahead of PSV and Marseille with four games left each. If Liverpool then win their two final home games, qualification will be virtually assured.

Benitez maintains the crunch will come when Liverpool go to Madrid on October 22, saying: "If we can win our first two games and then not lose in Madrid, qualification will be within our grasp."

PSV keeper Andreas Isaksson may have his own personal fears over Tuesday's clash. The last time he faced Torres was when the Spaniard scored in a 2-1 win against Sweden in a Euro 2008 group match.

Isaksson's last match in England was Manchester City's 8-1 mauling at Middlesbrough on the final day of last season, with the keeper soon to be sold to PSV for £800,000.

Tough Test For Holders As Spurs Face Liverpool In Carling Cup

Carling Cup holders Tottenham face a tough task in the fourth round of the competition after being pitted against seven-time winners Liverpool in one of three all-Premier League ties.

Spurs, who defeated Chelsea to lift the trophy last season, took a break from their league troubles to dump Newcastle out in the previous round and must beat top-flight opposition again if they are to progress.

Liverpool travel to White Hart Lane as the most successful side in League Cup history, last winning the competition in 2005.

Arsenal's much-vaunted youngsters, who demolished Sheffield United 6-0 last time out, will get another chance to impress, this time against Premier League opponents Wigan at the Emirates.

Sunderland and Blackburn, managed by former Manchester United stars Roy Keane and Paul Ince respectively, will also face each other at the Stadium of Light, while United themselves host QPR.

Carling Cup 4th Round draw: Sunderland v Blackburn; Arsenal v Wigan; Chelsea v Burnley; Swansea v Watford; Man Utd v QPR; Stoke v Rotherham; Brighton/Derby v Leeds; Tottenham v Liverpool

Ties to be played during the week commencing the 10th November.

Pourie Sinks Railwaymen

Marvin Pourie scored twice as Liverpool Under-18s continued their good form with a 3-1 win at Crewe Alexandra.

It's now five wins out of six for Hughie McAuley's side and the Reds have scored 15 goals in the process.

Thomas Ince was also in good form on the left wing and was an inspiration on the day for Liverpool.

"We were poor in the first half and Crewe went 1-0 up," McAuley told "We didn't pass the ball well and lost too much possession. We created some good chances through Pourie, David Amoo and Adam Pepper but didn't score.

"We sorted one or two things out at the break and we were a lot better in the second half. We had a better tempo to our game and Ince in particular did well.

"Ince got our equaliser from a James Ellison cross and Marvin then scored two goals. He scored a penalty after he was brought down and then added another one with a good finish into the top corner of the net."

Liverpool Under-18s team: Dean Bouzanis, Jack Metcalf, Christopher Buchtmann (Michael Scott 70), Andre Wisdom, Joe Kennedy, Michael Roberts (Astrit Adjarevic 60), Adam Pepper, Marvin Pourie (Alex Cooper 80), James Ellison, Thomas Ince. Sub unused: Hakan Duyan.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Match Preview: Everton vs. Liverpool

Both Merseyside clubs enter this early season derby looking for redemption after dropping points against newly-promoted opposition last week. Not that extra motivation would ever be needed in what is traditionally one of the most hotly contested matches in the Premier League season. Everton are yet to score points at home and would love nothing more than chalking up their first of the season against their old enemy. Liverpool on the other hand are unbeaten so far this season, although last week’s failure to find the almost constantly bombarded Stoke goal probably felt as bad as defeat for most fans. Rafael Benitez was unflustered when quizzed on his sides benevolence towards new boys Stoke. The Liverpool gaffer maintained that "at the end of the day you know that football can be like that.” He added, "these things can happen, so the key is to keep attacking and to keep creating chances - then you will score.”

This fixture represents one of the most volatile clashes of the season. Although largely friendly off the field, with many families in Liverpool divided by the colours of their team, expect no such affability on the field. Twenty-five red cards have been shown in all previous fixtures and both skippers, Phil Neville and Steven Gerrard have seen red twice. Skipper Neville has rallied his troops this week, claiming that this provides a great opportunity to signal they can raise their game at home. The history books suggest that Saturday’s referee, Mike Riley, is likely to have his hands full. Last season’s corresponding fixture ended controversially when Mark Clattenburg turned down a seemingly stone-wall penalty that would have allowed Everton the opportunity to equalise late on.

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt is optimistic about Liverpool’s start to the season. He believes though that beating Everton is key in following up the victory over their other biggest rivals Manchester United. Kuyt played a crucial role, scoring a brace in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory last term and his manager has backed him to play another big role this time round. David Moyes has singled out other players as key though, he fears that Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are the key influences. He also is wary of what he labels as Liverpool’s ‘physical approach’ that served them well against United two weeks ago.



24 Sept v Blackburn (A) LOST 1-0

21 Sept v Hull (A) DREW 2-2

18 Sept v Standard Liege (H) DREW 2-2

18 Sept v Standard Liege (H) DREW 2-2

14 Sept v Stoke (A) WON 3-2

30 Aug v Portsmouth (H) LOST 3-0


23 Sept v Crewe (H) WON 2-1

20 Sept v Stoke (H) DREW 0-0
16 Sept v Marseille (A) WON 2-1
13 Sept v Manchester United (H) WON 2-1

31 Aug v Aston Villa (A) DREW 0-0



A massive boost for Everton is the likely return of playmaker Mikel Arteta. Stephen Pienaar and Andy Van Der Meyde remain absent whilst Victor Anichebe is likely to join them on the sidelines with a foot injury. The recently impressive Louis Saha may be given the chance to make an emphatic home debut by being handed a starting berth if his manager David Moyes decides to provide Yakubu with a striking partner. Tony Hibbert, although now in training, is unlikely to figure.

Possible Starting XI: Howard - Lescott, Jagielka, Yobo, Neville - Osman, Cahill, Castillo, Fellaini Arteta - Yakubu


Doubts linger over Javier Mascherano and Yossi Benayoun, who are likely to be subjected to late fitness tests. The uncertainty over who partners Jamie Carragher at centre-half could be over after Dan Agger scored mid-week. Fabio Aurelio’s return will be touch and go though Philip Degen will be out for three weeks after cracking a rib against Crew midweek.

Possible Starting XI: Reina – Arbeloa, Carragher , Agger, Dossena – Riera/Babel, Alonso, Mascherano, Gerrard – Keane, Torres.



Maurouane Fellaine, if selected, will have played against Liverpool in Europe and the league for different clubs in the same season. He will be one to watch but eyes will also be on the returning Mikel Arteta. Yakubu up top will pose a real danger and it will also be interesting to watch Louis Saha if he gets a chance, either starting or from the bench.


Liverpool’s Robbie Keane has scored more Premier League goals against Everton under David Moyes than any other player. He has scored six times against Everton in the league. As thus, I will persist in tipping him to shine, despite struggling to find the net since his arrival at the club. As ever, Fernando Torres will be an ever-present threat up front and the passionate club talisman Steven Gerrard will always be a danger, especially in such a high-tempo fixture.

Rafa Delighted With Defensive Headache

Rafael Benitez has admitted the form of his four centre backs has given him a selection headache ahead of this weekend's derby at Goodison.

Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel have been the first choice pairing at the heart of the Reds defence in the Premier League this season, but Daniel Agger and Sami Hyypia both staked their claims for a place in the starting eleven with impressive displays against Crewe in midweek.

Agger opened the scoring against the League One outfit with a brilliant free kick - but Benitez insists he wasn't surprised to see his young Danish defender rise to the challenge of trying to force his way back into the first team picture.

"Daniel is a fantastic professional and so it's no surprise that he played so well," said the boss. "People may have watched the game and been surprised, but I wasn't. I see him every day in training and he's always the same, working hard and looking to improve.

"We knew he would react well and that is what happened. I also thought Sami played well on the night. We have four good centre backs and I am really pleased with all of them."

While Jamie Carragher's regular starting role for the Reds this season hasn't come as any surprise, the form of Slovakian star Skrtel in fending off competition for his place from Agger and Hyypia has been a source of delight for his manager.

"We had different options when we were looking for central defenders and Martin was one of those," said Benitez.

"We watched him for a long time before we signed him - and when Zenit played Everton I was surprised everybody was talking about Arshavin and not talking about Martin. We were monitoring him then and I am pleased he has been such a good addition to our squad.

"Some foreign players take a while to adapt to English football but with defenders it can sometimes be easier. He is aggressive and quick so he has settled in well."

Rafa Aiming For Goodison Glory

Rafa Benitez heads into today’s 208th Merseyside derby declaring that his team must win it for the fans.

Liverpool did the double over Everton last season and today's clash at Goodison Park will be the ninth time the Liverpool manager has experienced the unique derby atmosphere.

The Reds boss admits that he enjoys taking on David Moyes' side - but only when his team wins.

"I have very good memories of the derby," says Benitez.

"It is really important for the fans when you beat your rival in the derby, so I was really pleased last season.

"We won with a penalty in the last minute when we played them away last time, so we were happy.

"This one is more difficult because of the rivalry between the fans, but at the end of the day we are talking about just three points. The only difference is that during the week you can see that the fans are really happy you have won."

The Liverpool manager has emerged victorious in six out of the eight derbies he has resided over since coming to Anfield four years ago, and Benitez added he is hungry for more victories.

"If we win, then I will enjoy it very much. But it is a very very difficult game," said Benitez.

"Yesterday I was out walking with my wife and some fans were telling me: 'Come on you have to win.'

"And then an old woman who is a Liverpool fan came up to me and said the same thing. Two minutes later an Evertonian even came up to me and shook my hand. He said: 'I am an Evertonian, but I will shake hands with you.'

"You can see that the passion is always there and the atmosphere has been good this week - it is very positive."

Liverpool's last League game saw them draw 0-0 with Stoke City at Anfield, but Benitez isn't concerned about his side failing to find the net and knows they can bounce back against their old rivals.

"At the end of the day you know that football can be like that," said Benitez. "These things can happen, so the key is to keep attacking and to keep creating chances - then you will score.

"I have some experience of this. When I was at Valencia we once had 41 attempts against Celtic and we won 1-0 with a free kick."

Despite seeing one seemingly valid strike ruled out for offside against Stoke City last week, Benitez has also backed his captain Steven Gerrard to complete his club century against Everton today.

"I think it was a pity last week, but maybe it will happen on Saturday - that will be really important for him and for us," added Benitez.

"I think it will be especially important for him if it happens in the derby."

Benitez' Crystal Ball Foretells Gerrard Century At Goodison

Fate has no meaning in Rafael Benítez's managerial lexicon but he is prepared to make an exception in the case of Steven Gerrard's 100th goal for Liverpool. Only an errant decision denied the Liverpool captain his milestone against Stoke City at Anfield last weekend. That the opportunity now arises at Goodison Park, a ground where Gerrard has been baited mercilessly in recent years, has caused even Liverpool's arch-pragmatist to believe the outcome may be scripted.

"Maybe his goal against Stoke was disallowed because destiny has been reserved for him to score his 100th goal against Everton," said Benítez, who takes an unbeaten record across Stanley Park this lunchtime. "Gerrard can score in any game, he's always a threat even when he's not playing well, but I am sure what happened against Stoke will only motivate him more to score against Everton. Especially in a derby, it would be fantastic for him to get that goal and I believe he can."

The Liverpool manager controversially substituted the man from Huyton during last season's tempestuous Goodison derby for displaying "too much passion" and believes the England midfielder has learned from the experience.

"Gerrard is more mature now and understands he can play with passion but have control of the situation too," insisted Benítez. "At that point [in last year's derby]we needed to keep possession against 10 men, we needed to keep control. And it was Lucas [Leiva] - who came on and was calmer and more relaxed - who was able to create our winner. That was an important decision for the team, something I had to do. Maybe this time it will be Steven who wins the game for us."

Liverpool, if they win, will equal their best six-game start to a Premier League season and Benítez added: "This kind of game, against a rival in a derby, is always a test but if we can win the confidence will be really, really high in the team."

Everton's David Moyes Ready For 'Aggressive' Liverpool

Neighbours at War, aka the 208th Merseyside Derby, will be as “hotly contested as ever’’, in the opinion of the Everton manager, David Moyes.

Even without the heavy hand of history and jabbing elbow of local rivalry, this game means so much to Moyes and his players, to Rafael Benitez and his men in Liverpool red. Everton crave a victory to lift spirits after a disappointing start to the season. Expensive newcomers such as Marouane Fellaini, Moyes’ £12.5 million midfielder, are desperate to prove they can cope in the heat of Premier League battle.

Liverpool want to show the tigerish football that accounted for Manchester United, not the toothlessness that resulted in two points being dropped to Stoke City. Steven Gerrard chases his 100th goal for Liverpool. Pride, points and landmarks are at stake.

A paradox surrounds a feisty lunchtime at Goodison. The authorities are keen to keep football free of malice in the challenge and in the chant, yet everyone is aware that the visceral nature of derbies makes the Premier League a compelling spectacle, captivating millions around the world. Carnage appeals.

But a balance must be struck: passion without the excess. Some of the derby tackles have been horrendous, with Gerrard guilty of a couple of X-rated lunges on Evertonians down the years. “The reason why the derby games attract people is the intensity,’’ observed Moyes, speaking at Everton’s Finch Farm training base.

“You hope to get a good football game but you know you’ll get a tough encounter. You hope you get a good referee but you hope the players know the boundaries. Referees can be too trigger-happy but I hope the referee [Mike Riley] will have a good game and the players make it easy for him.

“Liverpool are a really strong, tough team. They can be as physical as anybody. They showed that against Manchester United [on Sept 13]. Sir Alex Ferguson mentioned that. In the last couple of derbies they’ve been more aggressive than we have. But Goodison’s a tough place to come into and tough to get out of.’’

And noisy. Some of the chanting has been sickening in recent years, particularly songs about Gerrard’s wife by some Evertonians, while a few Liverpool fans insulted Joleon Lescott. “There is a limit to what your chanting should be,’’ said Moyes. “I hope both sets of supporters will behave.’’

The match lasts 90 minutes, the ramifications much longer. “The seriousness of this game goes beyond football, it goes into people’s livelihoods,’’ said Moyes’ attacking midfielder, Tim Cahill. “I lived in Liverpool for four years, so I understand what it’s like to walk down the street to get a carton of milk after a derby.’’

The Australian has since moved out of town. “Liverpool’s a beautiful city with beautiful people but I needed to be able to switch off and go down the park with my kids without having to listen to an adverse comment. I can relax now, without worrying about people saying I’m crap.’’

Comments still arise after derbies. “I get loads of banter, especially from the Liverpool fans, but it’s a compliment when you get a bit of bitterness because it shows you’re a threat and I’ve had a habit of scoring against Liverpool a few times,’’ Cahill added. “It’s all about passion.

“Players like Alan Stubbs, Duncan Ferguson and Tony Hibbert, players who really know what it is like to be a Blue, really helped me understand when I first came to the club. Now I’m passing that on to Fellaini, Segundo Castillo and Louis Saha. They’ve had derby matches before, but this is a whole different experience.’’

Derbies demand physical and mental strength and Cahill, hailed as a “special player’’ by Moyes, has been working on both qualities. “I’ve been doing yoga for about three months and Pilates for 18 months,’’ added Cahill, who stressed the importance of the input of Willie Donnachie’s son, Danny, the club’s performance and well-being coach. “We have a regime at Everton now where Danny works with us individually on matters on and off the pitch. A big part of football nowadays is the mental aspect.

“We play best when we believe we are invincible, no matter who is in their team. Obviously, Gerrard is one of the best midfielders in the world and he does make that team tick. We need to overcome that in 90 minutes, give that bit extra and give something special to our fans.’’

Moyes talked of “owing the fans’’ a victory following a lacklustre few weeks. “I’d be lying if I said we were bubbling,’’ said the Everton manager, who would love to have had the finances to sign more individuals of Fellaini’s worth. “We are probably in need of buying three or four players of that value – not one. There’s a massive difference of spending power between us and Liverpool.’’

The one signing Goodison truly yearns for, Moyes’ inking his name on a new contract, will not take place on the pitch before kick-off, as rumoured. Passions are stoked up enough already.

Carragher Braces Himself For The Goodison Blues After Liverpool Star Criticises Everton In Book

Jamie Carragher is preparing himself for a hotter reception than ever at Goodison Park today after lavishing praise on David Moyes but pouring scorn on Everton's supporters and hierarchy.

The long-serving Liverpool defender joined in the debate over Moyes' uncertain future by hailing him as Everton's best manager for 20 years and describing the 'People's Club' tag he came up with as a 'stroke of genius'.

In his newly-published autobiography Carra, though, he risks an angry backlash at today's lunchtime kick-off by blaming Everton fans for mounting hostility between the rival factions and deriding the Goodison board as 'small-minded' over their spat with Rafa Benitez last season.

An undertone of spite has crept into the derby day atmosphere and Carragher was adamant about Everton's culpability as he explained his admiration for Moyes but contempt for some sections of the club he once idolised.

'Moyes is the person I have respected most at Everton,' he said. 'Without doubt, he is their best manager in 20 years, and the quip about Everton being the People's Club, on the day he took over, was genius. It wound up Liverpudlians but got Evertonians on his side, so fair play. Brilliant stuff.

'That's what it is all about in this city. If you can make your own fans proud of you and get your rivals' backs up at the same time, it's a classic double whammy.

'But when Rafa went for a bit of revenge and called them a small club, after they came to Anfield for a draw, how did they react? They put a statement on their official website, having a go back. How small-time can you get? It was embarrassing. At board level, you should show some dignity and rise above the banter.

'There is an exaggerated perception of how well Liverpool and Everton fans used to get on 20 years ago but, equally, I have noticed a much meaner atmosphere at more recent derbies.

'As someone who has been a Blue and a Red, I feel qualified to say where it all went wrong and I feel the responsibility lies mainly with the way Everton fans reacted to their barren spell. That, plus their treatment of Liverpool players who are my friends as well as teammates.

'It has added a sinister element to the traditional rivalry and led to a complete transformation in my loyalties, to the extent that I now hate losing to Everton more than any other side in the world.

'Hate would be too strong to describe my feelings towards them, but I do hate what their fans sing about Steven Gerrard and his family at every derby. It is personal, vindictive and disgusting and would be unacceptable in any form of life, let alone football.

'All players face flak from opposition fans, but when people start telling lies and repeat them in despicable chants, I am appalled.

'It has become a lot worse over the years and is a big reason why my relationship with Everton has turned sour. When you see your best mates being attacked unjustly, there is no way back.'

Everton's players are also taken to task by Carragher, who added: 'There have been times when I have made a point of biting my lip after a derby to show some respect. 'Our 3-0 defeat at Goodison was a classic example. I had a nightmare and was nowhere near 100 per cent, but when I was quizzed straight after the game, I just said we were beaten fair and square.

'Too often, the same courtesy isn't shown to us by Everton. We always knew Alan Stubbs would have a good cry about something, especially if we had won but, to be fair, he's as Blue as they come. He liked playing to the gallery and we always had a giggle at his expense in the dressing room.

'There are times, though, when I feel they have zero respect for us. While we tiptoe round, making sure we don't cause a furore, many of their former and present players seem to feel they are free to slag us off. It has become a small but annoying sub-plot of every derby.

'A Goodison persecution complex has developed and it's not just the players. There are plenty at Everton who have done their club no favours when talking about Liverpool and you really would expect their hierarchy to be more considered and careful with their remarks.'

Carragher's growing antipathy towards his Mersey rivals is a far cry from his schoolboy days, when he even turned up for five-a-sides at Liverpool's School of Excellence wearing an Everton kit.

'I was only 11, but everyone called me Sharpy because they all knew Graeme Sharp was my hero,' he said. 'I was the biggest Blue in Bootle and no one cheered louder when Michael Thomas scored that last-minute goal at Anfield to make Arsenal champions instead. There was a big "Thank you, Arsenal" scrawled on the wall of a nearby pub and I laughed my head off. 'It's not true I've got an Everton tattoo on my arm, but I was Everton-mad growing up. How times have changed. In my mind, the club I loved in the 80s and the team I see now are poles apart.'

A Flying Winger Is Still A Necessity For Liverpool

Former Tottenham’s crafty forward Robbie Keane look to set be Liverpool’s most significant transfers this summer, but in my opinion it is a another flying winger that would benefit the team most.

With youngster Ryan Babel already making an impressively vibrant impact last season on the left-hand side of midfield, I believe a similar type of player on the right-hand side would be extremely helpful to the side’s stuttering attacking play.

Only the surging forward runs of inspirational captain Steven Gerrard and the clinical finishing of Spaniard Fernando Torres sparked our offensive play last season as well as the Dutchman, and if the club want the challenge for major honours this time around then more contributions will be needed.

Put Torres to one side and Liverpool’s other strikers simply didn’t score enough goals. Andriy Voronin turned out to be one of the worst signings I have ever seen by Liverpool, Peter Crouch didn’t play often enough to put a string of good performances together and Dirk Kuyt was mainly deployed as a right-midfielder and in a position completely different to his preferred role.

Crouch has since been sold to Portsmouth for a hefty fee, but Voronin and Kuyt remain. The arrival of Keane should be a huge boost to this department though, and a forward partnership with Torres could flourish into one of the most potent strike forces in the Premier League.

With Robbie Keane partnering Fernando Torres most of the time, Kuyt can surely not be thrown into the right-midfield berth once again. When the Dutch forward plays there, it limits the team’s attacking options hugely because he is not a winger who can take full-backs on or swing in a beautifully delivered cross.

Jermaine Pennant is more this type, but injuries, bad performances and off the field matters mean that he has slipped down the pecking order somewhat. If there were two Ryan Babel’s then Liverpool would sign them both – one for each wing. But there isn’t, so Benitez and the board must go looking for a similar player who can create opportunities for themselves and teammates with the same ease that Babel did on many occasions last season.

Without this needed signing taking place, I cannot see Liverpool winning the Premier League title at all. There will still be a lot of doubt if we do capture a quality player of this specific role, but at least it will give the fans more hope.

Signing a stable central-midfielder like Gareth Barry is alright, but for Liverpool a quality new addition is not really needed in that area of the pitch, as they already have Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Lucas. The right-wing position actually has a massive void in it, crying out for someone to come and fill it.

All title challenging clubs have two flying wingers who can take people on and whip balls into the box. Manchester United have Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as the support cast of Nani. Chelsea have Joe Cole and Florent Malouda, as well as Salomon Kalou. A proper right-winger is a necessity for Liverpool. They must act now.

Babel And Riera Key For Liverpool

Following Albert Riera’s timely arrival at Liverpool on the last day of the transfer window, Rafa Benitez finally has two good wide players to deploy in his line-up who he can trust to produce excellent performances consistently.

Ryan Babel can be played on either flank, but now that the left-footed Riera has turned up he should be placed on the right-hand side of Liverpool’s previously rigid midfield. Babel has already shown how effective he can be when taking defenders on, like when he won the infamous penalty at Anfield against Arsenal in the Champions League last year, and when whipping in dangerous balls, like against Standard Liege when he crossed for Dirk Kuyt to net the winner late on only a few weeks ago.

Babel was used as a substitute on most occasions by Benitez in the winger’s first Premier League campaign, but this season should offer a more prominent role in the side for the Dutch youngster. Whenever he comes off the bench he brings a burst of energy and a creative option who can produce something from nothing. Along with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, Babel is the key for Liverpool capable of unlocking opposition defences with one moment of magic. That is why he must start most games this season.
But whilst Babel was Benitez’s only reliable wide player last year, the Spanish manager now has a fellow countryman in his squad to ply his trade on the other flank. Albert Riera may not have been explosive in his loan period at Manchester City a few years ago, but he has improved during his time playing in La Liga for Espanyol. He played in a UEFA Cup final, and Liverpool obviously see him as the hidden talent they have needed on the left of midfield to push for the title.

The club have struggled for quality in that position for a number of years now, with players like Bolo Zenden and Harry Kewell either proving not good enough or picking up too many injuries to play for such a top side. But Riera should be different. Liverpool supporters cannot have put together a full mental image of how good a player he really is after such a short time at Anfield, but if you were to judge his opening few performances then the picture would be a reasonably good one.

He has already demonstrated that he can take full-backs on and whip brilliant crosses into the penalty area, something that Liverpool have lacked consistently in the left-midfield position for so long. And Riera should improve in the coming weeks as well, as he gets to know his team-mates better and settles into the fast-paced nature of the Premier League with greater comfort.

So with two excellent wide players now in his ranks, Benitez must not waste the opportunity to stretch teams to the limit. Other players at Liverpool will benefit from Babel and Riera’s width as well, meaning there will be more problems for opponents. Torres will have more space to drift into and sprint at, and Gerrard will get more opportunities to drive through the middle and create chances. They will both receive better service into the box too; such is the crossing ability of the pair of wingers.

The reason to why Liverpool often struggle to break down stubborn opponents, like Stoke City last Saturday, is that the team is set-up so narrowly and rigidly by Benitez. Teams that visit Anfield can come and just play the same way; packing the centre of the pitch and leaving Liverpool’s golden talents no room to operate. Liverpool did still create some good chances against Stoke, and had a goal wrongly ruled out, but unless Benitez’s side score quite early the game can become difficult for Liverpool. If they do score early though, the other team has to come out and play more attacking football, leaving Gerrard and co. more opportunities to flourish.

Liverpool could not break down Birmingham and Wigan’s defences last season at Anfield in similar contests to the Stoke fixture, and that ultimately cost them four points that could have propelled them into a position to attack Manchester United and Chelsea. And now that Liverpool have let their old habits return to fruition again this time around, there must still be serious doubts over their title credentials. If any more slip-ups of the sort occur again, any hopes of league glory will be over.

But if Riera and Babel play when available, these catastrophic results should not materialise. The middle of the park will not be so cramped, meaning there will be more space. More space means a greater chance of Gerrard, Torres and Keane getting chances to pull the trigger or create goalscoring opportunities for others using their class.

When in tight European matches against the continent’s elite then playing compact is absolutely fine, as Benitez well knows, but against Stoke City points cannot be afforded to be dropped. Wingers are the answer to Liverpool’s Anfield frustrations.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Kuyt Relishing Mersey Battle

Liverpool's Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt is eager to forget about the disappointing Stoke draw by beating neighbours Everton this weekend.

Dirk Kuyt is the only player to have ever scored two penalties in the same Merseyside derby game and is looking forward to another battle when the two neighbours face each other this weekend.

Kuyt says the team was disappointed to have dropped points to Premier League new boys Stoke City but insists the best way to get over it is to beat Everton.

"It was frustrating against Stoke but we have to look forward," Kuyt told the club's official website. "In a season you will have games like that. It was a good performance, we just forgot to score goals and on another day it could have been three or four nil. It just didn't happen for us."

"You can always look back at games but I think it's better to instead look forward to our next match at Everton. If we win on Saturday we'll have made a really good start to the season. We'd have beaten Manchester United and enjoyed other good results home and away. A lot of positive things have happened so far this season so there's nothing gained by being negative."

"We wanted a good start to the season and so far we've had one. Now we have to keep going and keep winning games," he added.

Regarding the brace he recorded over Everton in the corresponding fixture last season he said: "That was a real highlight of my career so far. I had never taken two penalties in a game before, and certainly not in a big derby with one of them being in the last minute to win the game."

"You can look back now and talk about how important that moment was and how much pressure was on me, but at the time all I was focusing on was scoring the goal. It was an unbelievable game and for me to score the two goals was really special," he continued.

"These games are always different but I think the important thing is to enjoy them. You sometimes don't get too many opportunities in your career to play in these kind of matches so you should make the most of them.

"It's a really important game for us and we know what it means for the fans. We had two good results against Everton last season so hopefully we can do the same again," he concluded.

Great Dane Tips Gerrard For Derby Glory

Liverpool legend Jan Molby believes Steven Gerrard will lead his side to victory in Saturday's Merseyside derby.

And the former Danish international also tipped new-boy Robbie Keane to break his drought by finding the net at Goodison Park.

"Steven is always our key man," Molby told the club's official website.

"Last season Steven got substituted at Goodison which surprised many people so maybe for this game he will want to do something special. It would be nice for him to get his 100th goal for Liverpool in the derby.

"I also think Robbie Keane will be relishing the derby. Newspaper columns have been full with stories about his lack of goals so far, but if he starts on Saturday then what a great game to get your first goal in!

"I'm sure he will find the net sooner rather than later and Saturday would be perfect. Once he gets his first then he will get plenty of goals."

The Reds triumphed in the corresponding fixture last season, coming from behind to snatch a controversial 2-1 win. Dirk Kuyt scored both goals from the penalty spot, while at the other end Jamie Carragher was lucky not to concede a pair of spot-kicks in the dying minutes.

Everton will be eager to reverse the result this time around, and Molby is wary of the attacking talents at David Moyes' disposal.

"We will have to defend well and we know they have got excellent players going forward," the former Ajax midfielder said.

"(Mikel) Arteta is getting back to his best and (Tim) Cahill is scoring goals. Yakubu can be a handful and they have (Louis) Saha who is also a threat.

"Everton's problem this season and it has been a massive one, is their defending so hopefully we can take advantage of that."

Rafael Benitez's men come into the clash on the back of some scrappy performances, having drawn against Stoke City last weekend before edging past Crewe Alexandra in the Carling Cup midweek.

Star striker Fernando Torres is yet to reach full fitness or form after a hamstring injury, and Molby admitted Liverpool's forwards would have to be extra sharp against the Toffees.

He added: "We haven't found our scoring boots so far this season but I think Liverpool will shade this game and win 2-1."

Cavalieri Eager For Action

Liverpool goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri is keen to make his mark on the first team following his competitive debut against Crewe Alexandra in midweek.

Cavalieri made his senior bow as the Reds scraped a 2-1 victory over the Alex in their Carling Cup third-round tie on Tuesday.

And after getting his first little taste of first-team football, the Brazilian shot-stopper is hungry for more.

"I am happy that I played my part and helped Liverpool to leave the field with the victory," he told the club's official website.

"I always respect and accept any decision of the coach, but I will be always ready to perform when the chance emerges."

Cavalieri was drafted in from Palmeiras during the summer to act as cover for first-choice 'keeper Jose 'Pepe' Reina.

The Spaniard will be hard to displace, having claimed his third consecutive Golden Glove award last season for keeping the most clean sheets in the Premier League.

"I have an excellent relationship with Pepe Reina," Cavalieri continued.

"He has been one of the people who helped me the most since I arrived at the club."

The 25-year-old impressed during pre-season, featuring regularly as manager Rafael Benitez blooded his summer signings.

And while Cavalieri enjoyed his friendly run-outs, he admitted the experience of a competitive game is far more intense.

The Sao Paulo native added: "Even though I had already played some games, the anxiety playing in an official match is even bigger."

But with Benitez certain to field a tried-and-trusted team against Everton on Saturday, Cavalieri will have to wait patiently for his next chance to impress.

Reina: Derby Win Will Erase Failure

Pepe Reina knows Liverpool cannot afford many more league "failures" like Saturday's draw with Stoke if they are to challenge for the title.

The Reds were being touted as real contenders for glory after their 2-1 home victory over Manchester United, but they followed that with a 0-0 home draw against newly-promoted Stoke.

Next up for Rafa Benitez's men is the Merseyside derby against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday.

And Spanish goalkeeper Reina knows they must bounce back from the disappointment of their stalemate with the Potters, where Steven Gerrard had an early free-kick ruled out.

He told the Daily Star: "The Stoke game was a mistake. The 0-0 was unjust but now our heads are with the Everton game. In the dressing room we are calm. We can't afford to play with nerves.

"The Premier League still has a long way to go but our mission is to avoid too many failures in the beginning. If we want the title it is impossible to miss points at Anfield.

"We know we have had some problems scoring goals in the Premier League in a few matches. But we have to believe in ourselves.

"We are in no way inferior to Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United in the way we play, but we have to keep doing the good things that we can."

Reina believes that victory over Everton would silence the doubters who do not feel Liverpool can maintain a title challenge, but has warned they must not get sucked into the heated derby atmosphere.

He added: "This derby means so much to me and the other players.

"I have been living in Liverpool for some years now and I understand how the supporters feel. But we need to win not only to beat our rivals, but also to prove that getting to the top was no accident.

"We know that Everton will give 100 per cent and will be highly motivated, especially at home. This is a big danger for us because we will need to try and control the situation from the first minute to win.

"On Saturday we will need to forget it is Everton we are playing. If we play at our best we will win."

Arbeloa Expects Derby Reaction

Alvaro Arbeloa insists Liverpool will not buckle under the weight of their 'favourites' tag against Everton in the Merseyside derby.

The Reds make the short trip to Goodison Park on Saturday to take on their arch rivals.

And Arbeloa is confident he and his team-mates can get their Premier League title challenge back on track with three points.

Liverpool were frustrated by Stoke in a 0-0 draw at Anfield last weekend and Spanish defender Arbeloa expects an improved performance as a signal of intent this time out.

"Our objective is to win (against Everton) and make up for the points we dropped against Stoke," Arbeloa said in The Sun.

"That game was incredible as we had so many chances and could not take them. It does not worry us Everton consider us favourites.

"We have experience in the team and know how to handle these derbies.

"Our challenge is to win all the competitions, especially the league."

Liverpool v Everton Derby Bigger Than Arsenal v Tottenham: Former Spurs Ace Keane

Former Tottenham Hotspur forward Robbie Keane believes Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton is bigger than north-London clashes between Spurs and Arsenal.

Keane, who joined Liverpool in the summer from Spurs, is hoping to play against the Toffees as Rafa Benitez’s side head to Goodison Park for their first derby of the season.

Republic of Ireland international, Keane is yet to open his scoring account for the Reds, and is gearing up to make a big impression in the derby game tomorrow which marks the 208th Merseyside derby.

The 28-year-old, who cost the Reds £20million in the summer, is quoted in the Mail Online as saying: “I think every player wants to be involved in big games and they don't come any bigger than Everton against Liverpool.

“Playing against Everton is something that I'm really looking forward to. As a player you always want to play in games like this and I've been involved in a few derbies in my time.

“The north London derby with Arsenal while I was with Tottenham was fantastic and I'm sure this will be no different - and even better.

“It's the first one of the season so I think everyone is looking forward to it - especially me.

Beating Everton Will Prove Liverpool's Title Credentials, Says Xabi Alonso

Xabi Alonso insists Liverpool can prove their title credentials by winning tomorrow's Merseyside derby.

The Spain midfielder and his team-mates are desperate to bounce back after being held 0-0 at home by Stoke.

But Alonso believes victory at Everton will show they are ready to compete with Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

"We want to show how much we want to win the title this season with another victory," said Alonso.

"That is so important for us, to bring the title back to Anfield.

"I've played in many derbies during my time at Liverpool and I know how special it is because of the atmosphere and the victory lasts a long time for supporters.

"After the draw with Stoke, to go and win at Everton would be sensational. Every win is worth three points but winning a derby tastes even sweeter."

Alonso is well aware of the threat posed by his friend and compatriot Mikel Arteta. "We know he's a key man for Everton and we must stop him," he said.

Steven Gerrard Looks To Break 20-Goal Barrier Again

STEVEN GERRARD insists that Rafael Benitez has made him a better player during his reign at Liverpool – and the Anfield captain has also praised Fernando Torres for helping boost him as an attacking force.

Gerrard’s ability to operate in several different midfield positions to good effect has prompted manager Benitez to deploy him in varying roles during the past five seasons.

And with Javier Mascherano expected to return for the Merseyside derby tomorrow after being rested for last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Stoke, the skipper’s duties are likely to alter again.

However, Gerrard accepts that each match must be approached individually when it comes to his licence to roam.

He said: “There are some games when I have to change my style of play. If it is a big game, for example, I realise that I can’t just be bombing into the box all the time.

“There are times when I have to be a bit more disciplined. We’ll have to wait and see where I’ll play for the majority of the season.

“But I know I can fit into a number of positions and do a job for the team.”

Benitez infamously substituted his captain in last season’s Goodison derby for being “too passionate” but Gerrard appreciates the Spaniard’s candid assessments of his performances.

He said: “I’d prefer to have a manager like Rafa who will tell me where I’m going wrong and where I need to readjust slightly.

“I feel since he’s come in here my game has come on in leaps and bounds – he’s certainly improved me as a player.

“Okay, he has played me in different positions. But I feel a lot more comfortable now in that I can play almost anywhere on the pitch.

“Rafa has taken my game to the next level. He’s the kind of manager who doesn’t let anything go.

“I have played for managers who perhaps won’t pull you on the things you’re doing wrong. That’s not going to get you anywhere, is it?”

Gerrard is looking to break the 20-goal barrier again this season as the Liverpool captain closes in on his 100th strike for the club.

And he reckons the role tucked in just behind Torres, where he enjoyed so much success last season, holds the key to him completing his century. However, while Torres has yet to recapture his prolific form of last season – he netted 33 times in his debut campaign in England – Gerrard insists that the Spaniard remains a major factor when it comes to his own goalscoring.

He said: “Fernando has certainly helped me – not just in terms of my goals but the whole team in general. I think moving further forward also helped my goal tally, playing just in behind Torres.

“He was running riot, causing defenders all sorts of problems. While they were worrying about him, I was sneaking in and nicking a few goals. I enjoyed playing in that role.

“The manager knows if there are ever any injuries or he simply wants to stick me up there again, I can play that role.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Liverpool To Make January Move For Brazilian Prodigy Aislan?

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is considering another move for Brazilian central-defender Aislan of Sao Paulo, after missing out on the talented defender during the summer, according to reports.

20-year-old Aislan has been at the Tricolor Paulista since 2003 and despite only making a handful of senior appearances for the Brazilian club, he already has a release clause of £10.5million in his contract at the Morumbi.

The Reds made an initial approach to bring Aislan to the Premier League during the summer, but this failed to materialise due to the window closing before a deal could be struck to bring the defender to Anfield, according to Aislan’s agent Paolino Oscar.

“They had revealed interest in the past one or two months, when the window was open,” Oscar told UOL Esporte.

“Now, I find that it was more difficult because everything is closed in Europe.”

However, Oscar also revealed that Aislan would not hand in a transfer request and that any move for the defender would have to come from the Merseyside club, with it then up to Sao Paulo to decide if they want to sell one of the brightest talents at the club.

“It is in Sao Paulo’s hands and it is they who decide. If Aislan is told to leave, very well. If not, that is good also.

“I have respect for Sao Paulo and I do not do blackmail, therefore it is the club who must make the primary move."

Should Aislan join the Premiership side in the January transfer window, he would join countrymen Lucas Leiva, Fabio Aurelio and Diego Cavalieri at Anfield.

Liverpool FC Veteran Hyypia’s Wembley Ambition

SAMI HYYPIA has revealed a burning desire to appear at Wembley before the end of his Liverpool career.

The Finland international defender skippered Rafael Benitez’s side as they saw off Crewe Alexandra 2-1 on Wednesday to move into the last 16 of the Carling Cup.

Hyypia, who at 34 is now in his 10th season at Anfield, has reached the final of the competition three times with the club, winning the trophy in 2001 and 2003 and a beaten finalist in 2005.

All three games were held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, along with Hyypia’s two FA Cup final appearances in 2001 and 2006.

And Hyypia said: “I have not played at Wembley so for me personally, to go there and get a game would be great.

“Crewe made it difficult but that’s what you are always going to get against a lower division side – they fight until the end and that’s what happened.

“Maybe we could have played a bit better in the second half but it was a tough match and in the end we have to be happy to go through.”

Hyypia added: “It was a good battle and I’m happy because maybe the League Cup is a competition in which I will play, so I’m very happy we got through to the next round and hopefully it will mean another game for me.”

Tuesday was only Hyypia’s second start of the season, with Liverpool boss Benitez electing to give an opportunity to a host of the club’s players who have so far this season found themselves on the fringes of the Anfield squad.

Jermaine Pennant made his first appearance of the campaign having falling down the pecking order at Anfield.

The 25-year-old came close to a move to Blackburn Rovers on transfer deadline day earlier this month, and yesterday admitted his frustration at being forced out of the first-team picture.

“It is very frustrating to know that you’ve been a playing such big part of the team and all of a sudden you are in the shadows but that’s the manager’s choice and you just have to get on with it,” said Pennant. “There's no point complaining.

“If you get your chance you have to make the most of it and when teams come to Anfield it’s their cup final so it can be difficult.

“We have got a lot of strength in the squad, which is why it is so hard to get in the team, so I’ll keep plugging away and see what happens.”

Pennant added: “It was nice to play a game – whether it’s the Carling Cup or any game it’s good to get a run out I and enjoyed every minute of it.

“It gives another us chance to play another game and if the draw is good we can go further in the competition.”

Meanwhile, former Liverpool youth-team defender Danny O’Donnell lined up for Crewe on Tuesday night and was ecstatic to finally get to play in a “serious” fixture at Anfield.

The 22-year-old never made a competitive first-team appearance for the Reds and moved to Gresty Road initially on loan in August 2006 before the move was made permanent four months later.

“It was an awesome night – from the final whistle and having ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ sung by a packed Kop, to the way we played was a brilliant experience for everyone," O’Donnell said.

He added: “It was nice for me to come back and see some old faces and I thought I did quite well, especially when you see the calibre of players we were up against.

“I must admit the heart raced a bit when I saw (Fernando) Torres coming on and then Robbie Keane. They are top-quality players and to play against them is something I will never forget.”

Liverpool Flop Jermaine Pennant Vows To Rescue Anfield Career

Jermaine Pennant is hoping his first taste of action this season can resurrect his Anfield career.

The Liverpool winger has been cold-shouldered by boss Rafa Benitez since he refused a move during the summer.

But he was finally given a first-team outing in Tuesday's 2-1 Carling Cup win over Crewe and turned in an impressive performance.

"From my own point of view it was just nice to get 90 minutes under my belt," said Pennant. "It doesn't matter whether it's the Carling Cup or another competition to me, it's good to get a run out and I enjoyed every minute of it.

"When you're at a club like Liverpool you are going to have to fight for your place so I'll keep plugging away."

Liverpool To Line Up Move For Tottenham Defender Gareth Bale

Tottenham defender Gareth Bale will be top of Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez's wish list when the January transfer window opens, according to the Sun.

Spurs have endured a terrible start to the season and currently sit rock bottom on two points from their opening five matches.

Having already lost Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane over the summer, Spurs coach Juande Ramos will be loathe to lose another of his key players.

However, Benitez is ready to test the water with an initial £15 million bid for a player whom former Wales coach Mark Hughes rates as having the best left foot in football.

It is thought Benitez is lining up Bale as a replacement for Spaniard Fabio Aurelio.

Aaron Lennon is another Tottenham player being linked with a move to Anfield, as Benitez looks for symmetry on the flanks.

With deadline-day acquisition Albert Riera providing previously absent width on the left wing, the Liverpool manager is now lining up a wide man for the right and sees Lennon as the most viable option.

The 21-year-old has found himself warming the bench recently, following David Bentley's £15m move to White Hart Lane, and it is believed a bid in the region of £8m will be enough to land the England international.

Meanwhile, Benitez is currently preparing his side for the Merseyside derby this Saturday, and goalkeeper Pepe Reina believes it is a must-win game if Liverpool are to be seen as genuine title contenders.

He said: "This derby means so much to me and the other players.

"I have been living in Liverpool for some years now and I understand how the supporters feel. But we need to win not only to beat our rivals, but also to prove that getting to the top was no accident."

Skrtel Loving Life At Liverpool

Tough-tackling Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel says that he already feels perfectly at home in Merseyside despite barely being at the club for eight months.

A long-term injury to Daniel Agger convinced Rafael Benitez to sign Skrtel from Zenit St Petersburg as cover in January and since then the Slovakian has managed to exceed expectations by striking up an excellent partnership with Jamie Carragher in the heart of the Liverpool defence.

Skrtel, who has been warmly embraced by the club's fans, told Liverpool FC's official magazine: "I picked things up relatively quickly when I came into the team in January, but you don't have the chance to train intensively during that part of the season.

"We were playing most midweeks as well as most weekends so you cannot do much on the training pitch except recover, keep yourself fit and focus on your next opponent.

"But this summer I feel I have settled more into the team, he added.

"Having a pre-season alongside my team-mates has been an enormous help. If I have started the season well then this is probably the main reason for it.

"Now I can say that on the pitch I am one of the lads."

"I am happy at Liverpool, I feel like I belong here. I feel that I have improved a lot since I came here and I will continue to grow as the season progresses."

Steve Cooper Leaves Wrexham For Liverpool FC Academy

HIGHLY-rated Wrexham head of youth development Steve Cooper has accepted an offer to join Liverpool.

Cooper has been involved at Wrexham for 12 years, starting as a player, before moving into the coaching set-up and eventually taking the position as head of youth development.

And because of his work with the Dragons, he has been offered a role within Liverpool’s schoolboy development set up.

But Cooper admits it was a tough decision to leave Wrexham after being at the club for so long.

“I have had to think long and hard about the move, but it was just something I couldn’t refuse,” he said.

“The hardest part of leaving was telling the young players we have at the club.

“I have grown up with them and you develop a bond with them, which is very hard to break.

“Wrexham is a very big part of my life I live in the town and will continue to do so. My kids were born here, so this is a big step for me.

“It’s an exciting offer from Liverpool, but also a doubled edged sword in that I will be leaving a club which I feel very much part of.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Match Report: LiverpooL 2 - 1 Crewe

Liverpool's players responded to manager Rafael Benitez's pre-match challenge to earn themselves a place in his plans for Saturday's Merseyside derby with a comfortable 2-1 victory over Crewe in the third round of the Carling Cup.

Jermaine Pennant was a constant menace on the right flank while Lucas and Daniel Agger produced assured performances to give the Spaniard a selection poser for the game against Everton.

Agger gave Liverpool a 15th-minute lead from a free-kick before Michael O'Connor's equaliser 10 minutes later.

Pennant supplied Liverpool's second goal with a dangerous cross which was headed home by Lucas in the 58th minute but really the margin of the victory should have been greater.

While strengthening the Reds first team for a Barclays Premier League title challenge has been Benitez's priority he is attempting to build a squad to challenge on several fronts.

The manager included only one English player - Pennant - in his starting line-up as he handed debuts to Brazilian goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri and Swiss defender Philipp Degen.

Sami Hyypia, named as captain, and Agger were recalled in central defence while there were places for Lucas, Emiliano Insua and Damien Plessis while Nabil El Zhar, Ryan Babel and David Ngog carried the attacking threat.

Crewe first-team coach Steve Holland included former Liverpool youth team defender Danny O'Donnell alongside captain Julien Baudet at the back.

Degen and Pennant linked up well down the right flank in the eighth minute to create Liverpool's first chance.

Breaking from a Crewe free-kick, Pennant slipped a clever ball to Degen on the overlap and he whipped a low cross into the penalty area but neither Ngog nor Babel were able to get a touch.

Pennant continued to provide the home side's best outlet and Crewe defender Billy Jones was lucky to escape a booking after a late challenge on the winger in the 12th minute.

Liverpool's pressure eventually paid off three minutes later after Ngog was fouled on the edge of the penalty area by O'Connor.

Denmark defender Agger took the resulting free-kick and smashed a powerful low effort past goalkeeper Steve Collis.

Crewe equalised in the 25th minute after Byron Moore's shot was deflected by Agger for a corner.

Jones crossed and Calvin Zola's header was parried by Cavalieri but O'Connor made amends for his earlier foul when he slammed home from close range.

The Railwaymen began to settle but it was Liverpool who created the next opportunity in the 41st minute.

Hyypia was picked out on the penalty spot by a Pennant corner but Collis blocked his shot and Plessis could only fire the loose ball into the crowd.

Babel went close moments after the interval when his shot from the left edge of the penalty area was deflected and wrong-footed Collis but looped on to the roof of the net.

Liverpool restored their lead in the 58th minute after good work down the right flank by the impressive Pennant.

The lively winger delivered a dangerous cross into the penalty area and Brazil midfielder Lucas timed his run superbly to direct a header past Collis.

Benitez surprisingly introduced Fernando Torres and the Spain international was immediately involved.

Pennant delivered another ball into the penalty area in the 82nd minute and Torres' header was tipped past the post by Collis.

The Crewe goalkeeper saved again from the Spaniard two minutes later after Torres had broke clear of the Crewe defence.

Liverpool were given a few late scares as Crewe pressed for an equaliser but held on to secure their place in the next round.