Friday, October 31, 2008

Home Wins Are Key For Liverpool's Title Push

Liverpool glovesman Pepe Reina believes his side can maintain their early season momentum if they carry on winning at home, and stay consistent away.

Liverpool stopper Pepe Reina kept another clean sheet on Wednesday night as the Reds narrowly beat visiting Pompey by a goal to nil.

Reina believes the key to keeping distance between themselves and the chasing pack is to win at home, and stay consistent when on the road.

"This was a hugely important three points for us because we have to keep on winning," Reina is quoted by the club's official website as saying.

"Once you are at the top of the table you have to do everything to defend that position and that means winning every game you can.

"We cannot afford to drop any points at home. It is important we keep winning at home and also be consistent away," he declared.

"We can only go step by step and the next game for us is Tottenham on Saturday, which is going to be tough. They had a great result against Arsenal on Wednesday night, so we know it will be difficult.

"But let's see if we can beat them and then after that we will think about qualifying from the Champions League group stages and hopefully being able to concentrate even more on the Premier League," the 26-year said.

"This is what we look for - to defend properly and not concede too many chances.

"Every time I go onto the pitch I am looking for a quiet game because it is better for me and better for the team if I am less busy."

Lucas Reflects On His Best Red Performance

Liverpool's young Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva believes his performance in last night's victory over visiting Portsmouth was his best in a Red shirt.

Liverpool needed a late Steven Gerrard penalty conversion to secure victory at Anfield over a stubborn Portsmouth side last night. But they achieved what they needed to, by adding a further three points to their league tally.

Lucas Leiva was gifted a rare start in Liverpool's midfield and the Brazilian put in a fine display in the centre of the park by breaking up play and contributing to the attack.

The 21-year old feels his Pompey showing was his finest in a 'Pool shirt, and the former Gremio ace told the

"I feel I have adapted to English football and I can play much quicker in games now.

"I was getting into the box and also had a few chances to score against Portsmouth, so I am happy and I am trying to improve every day," he said.

"I think it was my best performance for the team."

Reina: We Don't Need 'Nando

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose 'Pepe' Reina has suggested that his side's excellent run of results in recent weeks demonstrates that they are no longer reliant on their superstar striker.

Fernando Torres burst onto the Premier League last season, scoring 33 goals and fully justifying the club's decision fork out £21million for his services.

And yet the Reds endured arguably their worst season under Rafael Benitez, finishing fourth, trophyless and even missing out on their customary appearance in the Champions League final.

While off-field issues concerning the club's ownership and the manager's future clearly played their part, many believe part of Liverpool's problem was their reliance on Torres.

The Merseysiders had often been accused of heaping too much burden upon Steven Gerrard in the past; and although he and Torres formed a formidable tandem, the only difference was that the team were relying on two irreplaceable players instead of one.

That seems to have changed, for Liverpool sit unbeaten at the top of the table despite Torres being injured for much of the campaign to date. He was absent from the win over Chelsea, and he warmed the pine when Manchester United fell at Anfield last month.

Pepe Reina believes this can only be a good sign. "The Man United game was a big moment for us. We already had a lot of belief but we had a big job ahead of us when they took the lead," he said in the Daily Mail.

"The way we responded told the Premier League a lot about us. It wasn’t just that we scored two goals, it was the way we controlled the game.

"That we achieved it without two of our better players Torres and Steven Gerrard, was also a confidence booster. We have built not only a strong team but a strong squad.

"It was the same at Chelsea. We did not have Fernando Torres but other players made their contribution to our victory.

"Over the course of a season these things are going to happen. We have proved we can cope without Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard and Fernando."

Torres is a possibility to return against Atletico Madrid next week, but he is expected to sit out this Saturday's clash against Tottenham.

Brazilian Hot-Shot To Liverpool?

Premier League leaders Liverpool have been linked with a January move for Brazilian teenager Keirrison.

The 19 year-old currently plays for Brazilian league side Coritiba but has already been linked with a move to La Liga with either Valencia or Barcelona.

The Daily Mirror reports that the forward has been offered to Liverpool and not to the Spanish pair, who are known to have been tracking Keirrison since he was drafted into the Coritiba squad in 2007.

The teenager has gone on to score over 50 goals in just over 100 matches and has now come to prominence across the Atlantic.

Liverpool now have an extensive scouting network across Brazil, with samba stars Lucas and Diego Cavalieri acquired by Rafa Benitez's side from their home land.

However, it is not stated whether Benitez would add the player in January but los Chés and Barça would allegedly be interested.

Liverpool Co-Owner George Gillett Urges Stability As Sami Hyypia Expresses Title Belief

As Liverpool co-owner George Gillett was vowing that he would "let the club do the talking", Sami Hyypia was doing the same following the win over Portsmouth while in the same breath explaining why he feels they have never been better placed to take the title in his 10 seasons at Anfield.

While the manner of Wednesday's 1-0 win that keeps Rafael Benitez's team three points clear at the top of the Premier League will be seen as further evidence that they will not stay the course, Hyypia believes the fact that they came away with three points actually demonstrates that they can.

Liverpool toiled at Anfield, as they have all season, where they have been held to a goalless draw by Stoke and have had to come from behind to take the points against Middlesbrough, Manchester United and Wigan.

However, Hyypia feels that the only fact of importance is that with 10 games gone, Liverpool, who travel to Tottenham on Saturday, have dropped just four points from their 10 matches this season.

Despite maintaining a level of caution in the face of growing excitement that the wait for a first league title since 1990, Hyypia, 35, feels Liverpool now have the quality and the character to sustain the level of performance they have shown in the first quarter of the season.

"It's still early days so we will keep our feet on the ground and take it game by game, and just try to win every game," the defender said. "We are letting all the other people do the talking. We're not ones to go shouting about what we're going to do.

"The difference from the previous seasons I have been here is that in the summer we made some good signings that have settled very well straight away into the team. We also have a lot of competition for places, which is something we haven't maybe had as much in past seasons.

"I think this season maybe we are a bit stronger mentally too. You only have to look at the way in which we have won some games to see that. The result is always more important than how you play. At the beginning of the season there were some games in which we didn't perform brilliantly, but we got the result.

"If, come May, we are at the top of the league, then nobody will remember that we played bad football at the beginning of the season."

Gillett must wish he was in a similarly simple situation but the American, who refused to comment on the proposed sale of the club yesterday, has insisted that plans to build a new stadium on Stanley Park are still ongoing despite the delay in the start of building.

He said: "We put it off on a temporary basis and we continued to invest substantial money every month in both engineering, architecture, planning, approving and zoning."

Gillett has pledged he will continue with a policy of not destabilising things at Anfield with controversial public statements and added: "I think they are at a point now where they are allowing the boys to demonstrate their skill. And also to allow Rafael Benitez, who is one of the great coaches, to do his thing and we just want to leave it that way and we will operate behind the scenes and let the club do the talking."

Gillett Speaks For Hicks In Declaring Liverpool Sound

George Gillett believes Liverpool are in a sound position to ride out their financial problems but has refused to comment on whether the club is up for sale.

There had been speculation that Gillett and his co-owner, Tom Hicks, are ready to sell their stake in the club, with the investment bank Merrill Lynch understood to have been contacted to find a buyer as the Americans need to restructure the £350m loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland that expires in January. However the RBS, about to be part nationalised, has now adopted more stringent policies.

"The stories feed on themselves and some are made up," Gillett claimed. "With regard to what we're doing, we would not have any comment on that - there has already been enough speculation."

Gillett is confident Liverpool - and Premier League clubs in general - are in a good position, despite their debts, to survive in these testing times. "What I read is not in the newspapers because it is an unreliable source - what I am looking at are other financial filings which I think are more reliable," he told Toronto's Sports Radio. "There are certain sports which have felt the impact. It's a good time to be cautious but it's a bit early to write the obituary of professional sports."

Gillett, also the owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey franchise, added that plans for a new stadium in Liverpool have not been shelved permanently. "We put it off on a temporary basis and we continued to invest substantial money every month in engineering, architecture, planning, approving and zoning. There is still a substantial effort going on but the current situation in the financial world has made it prudent to delay it for an immediate period until the money market eases up.

"There are some things which have happened which have upset the fans and got them mad at Tom and myself. At this point, based on the media that we are seeing and an awful lot of the fan communication, I think they are at a point now where they are allowing the boys to demonstrate their skill; and also to allow Rafael Benítez, who is one of the great coaches, to do his thing. We just want to leave it that way and we will operate behind the scenes and let the club do the talking.

"Tom and I are talking and we are working together. They seem to have a measure over in England as to how well you're getting along as friends by whether you use first names to each other or not. And the answer to that is that we are talking to each other on a first-name basis. Things are good. Tom is a great guy and he is smart as hell. We got off on the wrong basis and I think we are a little embarrassed by that."

Sami Hyypia, meanwhile, maintains that he is unconcerned about the manner of Liverpool's victories, seven of the eight by the odd goal, as long as they remain at the top of the table. The 35-year-old Finn, now in his 10th season at the club and returned to the starting line-up for the 1-0 win over Portsmouth, claims they have never been better equipped.

"At the beginning of the season there were some games in which we didn't perform brilliantly but we got the result," he said. "If, come May, we are at the top of the league, then nobody will remember that we played bad football at the beginning of the season. The difference from the previous seasons is that in the summer we made some good signings that have settled straight into the team. We also have a lot of competition for places, which is something we haven't maybe had as much in past seasons. I think this season maybe we are a bit stronger mentally, too."

Mascherano Welcomes Maradona Move - But Does Not Want To Be Argentina Captain

Javier Mascherano has welcomed Maradona's appointment as Argentina boss - but has pleaded: "Don't make me captain."

Maradona is poised to take the national job next week and has long praised the Liverpool hardman - already saying the Argentina team will be "Mascherano and ten more.

"But it seems the 24-year-old does not want the responsibility of leading his country.

He said: "I do not have the charisma to be the captain of my country.

"I can put my determination and my strength on the pitch and that can spread, but being captain is not in my personality - it is something you are born with, not something you acquire."

Although Mascherano has shunned the captaincy, he says Maradona will be a success and that he cannot wait to play under him after getting a little taster before the 2008 Olympics.

Maradona joined the national side just before the tournament in Beijing for a kickaround and left Mascherano impressed.

He added: "I believe Maradona as coach will be really special. The experience around Beijing was spectacular.

"The day he came to Ezeiza, just before the trip, and requested permission to coach us, was impressive.

"I think it will be very positive to all be under the command of Diego."

Riera Senses Increasing Pressure

Liverpool new boy Albert Riera knows the club's rise to the Barclays Premier League summit will bring growing pressure for the Anfield men.

Winger Riera, already a big hit after only 10 games following his £8million summer move from Espanyol, thinks Liverpool will become the scalp everyone wants.

Tottenham, reborn under new boss Harry Redknapp, will provide the next test at White Hart Lane on Saturday.

Riera said: "We have to concentrate now even more, clubs will know that we are top and they will want to beat us even more.

"Before last weekend, everyone was talking about Chelsea and the fact that they were top of the league and unbeaten so far this season.

"But we are now in the same situation and under that sort of pressure. Maybe, though, people now know that we are a good team also and that we want to continue at the top of the league.

"But if this is to happen we know we have to keep on working hard in games and in training and doing the same things that have helped us get to the position we are in right now.

"We know it will be tough because the Premier League is very competitive and you have to work hard in every single game otherwise you can come unstuck."

Riera was only used as a late substitute in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Portsmouth, having picked up a minor muscle injury against Chelsea last weekend.

But he is expected to return to the front line at Spurs, as are Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano and Robbie Keane, who were all rested on the bench in midweek.

Fernando Torres could also return after his hamstring injury, but Liverpool may well hold him back to face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Riera said: "The win at Chelsea last weekend was a very big result, but it was only one result and the most important thing for us now is that we must build upon it.

"It was very important for us and for our confidence in ourselves but in football you can never afford to think that you have done enough, you always have to look ahead and try to keep on getting better.

"We are at a good moment but we cannot afford to stand still. And as for myself, I know I can still get better.

"The best way to progress is to believe that you can get better and give more to the team, and that is the way I am."

Boss Rafael Benitez wants his side to learn how to be leaders.

He said: "The expression in England I have learned is that we must keep our feet on the ground.

"That is the key for us from now on. We must learn to be patient, learn to handle the situation we are now in.

"The players know the position we are in, how to handle it is easy.

"Everyone must be calm, take their time in matches, with feet firmly on the ground."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Full Match Report: LiverpooL vs. Portsmouth

It needed a Steven Gerrard penalty to make sure Liverpool did not waste the tremendous victory they achieved at Chelsea at the weekend.

That win put Liverpool top of the Barclays Premier League, and a slip-up tonight against Portsmouth would have been a disaster for the Anfield men.

Tony Adams, in his first match in command of Pompey following Harry Redknapp's departure, saw his side push Liverpool all the way.

But Gerrard's spot-kick with 15 minutes left kept Liverpool top and extended their unbeaten run to 16 matches this season.

Liverpool made four changes from the side that claimed top spot in the Premier League by beating Chelsea on Sunday.

Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano, Robbie Keane and Albert Riera were all rested to the bench, with Sami Hyypia, Jermaine Pennant, Ryan Babel and Lucas coming into the side.

New Pompey boss Tony Adams also made changes from the side that drew with Fulham last time out.

Jermain Defoe and Richard Hughes were on the bench, with Sean Davis and John Utaka in midfield and former Liverpool striker Peter Crouch on his own up front.

There was an air of expectancy around Anfield following the Stamford Bridge success and Liverpool had Pompey under pressure from the start with some fine, flowing, football - much of which was aimed at getting Pennant into space on the right.

The passing was quick and the movement the same, with Liverpool looking like they were going to grab the lead plenty of times in the opening spell.

After 10 minutes Pennant and Alvaro Arbeloa combined to find Dirk Kuyt just outside the box, and his fierce low drive was superbly turned away and onto a post by David James.

Lucas saw a header fly over the bar and Xabi Alonso sent a 20-yarder swerving wide of the left-hand post.

But slowly, Pompey's resilience took the edge from Liverpool's approach play.

Crouch was the sole target for much of Pompey's forward movement, winning consistently in the air but missing his strike-partner Defoe.

The visitors' first chance was headed wide by Younes Kaboul from Lassana Diarra's free-kick, and then Papa Bouba Diop missed a sitter.

Diarra's chip found the big midfielder unmarked six yards out, but he planted his free header straight into Jose Reina's grateful hands.

Liverpool responded with a Gerrard shot into the wall from a tapped free-kick, the ball dropping for Jamie Carragher to test James from 25 yards.

Kuyt had a couple more chances in the half, but Liverpool ended the first-half looking for inspiration.

Diarra was booked for a trip on Gerrard just outside the box after 49 minutes, but Alonso planted the free-kick into the wall.

Portsmouth were beginning to look comfortable, Sylvain Distin and Kaboul assured at the back.

Liverpool needed sharpness, urgency and accuracy with their passing. Hyypia saw a header flash wide and Lucas had an effort deflected past the target, but too many mistakes in possession from Ryan Babel and Pennant continuall hindered the home side's progress.

Liverpool sent on Yossi Benayoun for an increasingly frustrated Pennant and soon after Pompey introduced Niko Kranjcar for Armand Traore.

Next into the fray was Riera, for Babel - and Liverpool increased the tempo.

Distin's block stopped Benayoun when Steven Gerrard had put him clear, and then James saved superbly from Gerrard's 25-yard effort.

Then after 75 minutes Liverpool got their breakthrough. Hyypia's header from Fabio Aurelio's corner was goalbound before Bouba Diop threw two arms into the flight of the ball.

Somerset referee Steve Tanner booked the Pompey midfielder and pointed to the spot, before Gerrard drove home the penalty.

Hughes came on for Diarra with 10 minutes left and four minutes later Defoe replaced Utaka as the visitors sought a point.

Robbie Keane came on for Gerrard in injury-time and almost got on the scoresheet in the final seconds - but there was only one goal in the game.

Arsenal Join Liverpool, Chelsea, Man United, Bolton & Sunderland In Chase For League 1 Wonderkid?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is ready to make another raid on the lower leagues of English football, with Leeds United starlet Fabian Delph on the radar of the Frenchman, according to reports.

18-year-old midfielder Delph has been at Leeds since making the short trip across Yorkshire from Bradford City in 2001 and made his senior debut for United earlier this season. Delph has been hailed as the most exciting prospect to come out of Elland Road since England International Aaron Lennon, who is now at Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur.

Wenger has already got recent history of signing young players from lower league football, with the Gunners boss bringing Theo Walcott from Championship side Southampton and Aaron Ramsey to the Emirates Stadium from Cardiff City. With the Frenchman now understood to be ready to test the water in League 1 and make a move for the young prodigy.

However, Arsenal will face competition from Premiership rivals Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland for the England Under-19 International, who are all said to have expressed an interest in the talented midfielder.

Delph is under contract at Elland Road until 2012, with it believed that Leeds value the young starlet in the region of £5million, £1million of which would go to Bradford as part of the deal that took Delph to United as an 11-year-old.

Spurs Boss Redknapp: Bring On Liverpool

Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp has said that his side will give a real go to Premiership leaders Liverpool at the weekend.

Spurs, who are still placed bottom of the table, have picked four points from two games since Redknapp replaced Juande Ramos in the White Hart Lane hot-seat. And the former Portsmouth manager has instilled a sense of belief in Spurs players that was evident last night as they pulled back two goals in the closing stages to hold bitter north-London rivals Arsenal to a 4-4 draw at the Emirates Stadium.

On Saturday, Spurs will face Rafa Benitez’s Reds, who are the only unbeaten side in the ongoing campaign, but Tottenham are ready for the test.

Redknapp said: "I've tried to make them believe in themselves. There's ability in the squad. Bring on Liverpool. We'll give them a good go on Saturday.

"I've not thought about points. I like to see us when we play and pass the ball. We had long spells in the first half where we passed the ball ever so well. We just encourage them to play."

Winning Is All That Matters - Rafa

Rafael Benitez has expressed his satisfaction with Liverpool's narrow victory over Portsmouth, despite a less than brilliant display from his team.

Many were expecting Liverpool to come crashing back to reality following their fantastic win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. They did, although an inexplicable brain-fade from Papa Bouba Diop allowed Steven Gerrard to fire his side to a 1-0 win from the penalty sport.

The hosts dominated proceedings but couldn't breach David James' goal from open play, leaving the Kopites somewhat deflated despite being top of the table.

But Benitez told the club's official website: "Clearly the win was more important than the performance. After the victory against Chelsea it was important to get the three points tonight.

"We changed four players and still won the game and the message for the squad and everyone is we can make changes and still win. We used players with different qualities and we always had belief we would score."

Wednesday night's performance was eerily reminiscent of the frustrating 0-0 draw against Stoke City which followed Liverpool's victory over Manchester United last month.

But Benitez chose to focus on the positives, insisting that his players did well considering Pompey stacked their defence.

"Portsmouth are a good team and we needed to be patient and keep passing the ball and creating opportunities. Being patient was the key word for us tonight," the Spaniard said.

"Everybody could see Portsmouth were defending well and they had a lot of bodies behind the ball so it was not easy to find the space. So we had to be precise with our final pass.

"We were very dominant in the first half and controlled the game. We had our chances and we regained the ball quickly.

"I thought the second half was more open and at the end we were a little nervous because they were playing a lot of long balls up to Crouch.

"I don't remember Pepe having a shot to save. Okay, we won the game with a penalty but we had other chances."

Liverpool will take on a rejuvenated Tottenham Hotspur this weekend as they seek to cement their spot at the summit of the Premier League standings.

Benitez added: "We will try to be at the top of the table for a long time but our idea as always is to think about one game at a time and the next three points."

Rafa Agrees With Carra, 'We Should Be Top'

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has agreed with Jamie Carragher's recent sentiment that the Reds deserve top spot.

Liverpool's win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge gave the league leaders a three point cushion, and confirmed Rafa Benitez's finest start to a Premier League season.

Jamie Carragher recently claimed that the Reds deserve their top spot, and this is a notion confirmed by his manager too.

When Benitez was asked whether he agreed with his vice captain, he replied: "Yes, I think it is important to have confidence. But we know there's a long way to go, so it is important for us to keep winning every game and keep getting three points.

"It is difficult to keep the people calm. You know, there is a lot to live up to, so we have to give out the same message and think about one game at a time," the club's official website quote the Spanish gaffer as saying.

"It is better to be in this position than playing catch-up with the other teams, because you know that if you make mistakes then they have fewer points anyway. It is a fantastic position and we will try to stay there as long as we can," he added.

Albert Riera On A Mission To Make Amends

ALBERT RIERA knows all too well that raising expectations is one thing but delivering on your promise is quite another.

This time last year, Riera was starring in an Espanyol side which was riding high in La Liga with hopes high that Barcelona's second club might even be able to challenge for the Spanish league title, a trophy they had never won in their history.

By January, they were third, due in no small part to outstanding performances from Riera and talismanic forward Luis Garcia, and were playing well enough to have Real Madrid looking over their shoulders.

But no sooner had hope emerged than it was replaced by despair as Espanyol went on a run of 11 defeats in 14 games which led to them finishing a hugely disappointing 12th.

Having gone from high to low in just four months, it is little wonder the 26-year-old is not getting carried away by the start made to the Premier League season by new club Liverpool, and he is warning that there is much hard work to be done before Rafa Benitez's side can class themselves as genuine title challengers – even after Sunday's momentous victory over Chelsea.

"That result was very important for us and for our confidence," he said.

"It was a very big result but it was only one result and the most important thing for us now is that we must build upon it.

"Now we are confident in ourselves and we know each other better but in football you can never afford to think that you have done enough, you always have to look ahead and try to keep on getting better.

"We are in a good moment but we cannot afford to stand still."

So well has the Majorcan-born left winger settled into the Liverpool side following his £8m move from Espanyol that it is hard to believe he has still only played nine games for his new club.

Anfield observers would be hard pressed to name a fixture where Riera has not played well, and in the short time he has been with Liverpool his performances have been of a particularly high standard.

His Liverpool career thus far is book-ended by appearances against Manchester United and Chelsea, the crème-de-la-crème of English football, and rather than being cowed by facing such illustrious opponents, Riera has actually been inspired by them and was a key factor in the Reds securing memorable victories against their fellow members of the big four.

Riera, though, is still not satisfied. As far as he is concerned, there is more – perhaps even much more – to come from himself as he becomes more acclimatised to the Liverpool way of doing things.

"I know I can still get better," said the Spanish international.

"The best way to progress is to believe that you can get better and give more to the team, and that's the way I am.

"I know that I can give more and having played less than ten games with the team I know that I can improve.

"It is the same for all players in the Premier League – if you have talent and you are prepared to work hard then you can succeed here and you can get better.

"At Liverpool we train hard all the time and this gives us all a chance of improving, especially the players who have not played too much in this country.

"But the most important thing is that the team is winning and that is happening right now."

Of course, some wins are more momentous than others and Sunday's 1-0 victory over Chelsea was the kind of triumph that makes the rest of the nation sit up and take notice.

All of a sudden, Liverpool are being regarded as a team which can challenge the recent supremacy of Chelsea and United, even though they have played just nine games and lack the course and distance record of their rivals.

Riera is delighted that the Reds have made a statement of intent for the rest of the season but he knows it will count for little unless they follow it up with yet more victories – hopefully starting tonight against FA Cup holders Portsmouth at Anfield.

He said: "Before Sunday's game everyone was talking about Chelsea and the fact that they were top of the league and unbeaten so far this season, but we were in the same situation and maybe people now know that we are a good team also and that we want to continue at the top of the league.

"But if this is to happen we know we have to keep on working hard in games and in training and doing the same things that have helped us get to the position we are in right now.

"We know it will be tough because the Premier League is very competitive and you have to work hard in every single game otherwise you can come unstuck.

"Portsmouth will be another difficult game for us.

“They won the FA Cup last season, are in Europe and have had some good results this season.

"But we have confidence and are playing in front of our own fans so we have to try and get another good result."

Having followed up their recent victory over United with a draw against Stoke, Liverpool will be looking to show that they have learned from that experience by ensuring that Pompey are not able to deflate them in a similar fashion.

Expectations are high at Anfield right now – that is the price that comes with beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

It is now up to Liverpool to prove that they can live up to them and not be weighed down by them, like Riera's former club was last season.

Benitez Ready To Rotate His Way To The Title

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez admits the time has come for his Premier League leaders to show they have the strength in depth to sustain a title challenge.

The Reds laboured to beat a stubborn Portsmouth side 1-0 at Anfield on Wednesday after Benitez made four changes to the team that stunned Chelsea at the weekend.

Benitez gambled by resting Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano, Albert Riera and Robbie Keane and it took a late Steven Gerrard penalty to condemn Tony Adams to defeat in his first match as Portsmouth boss.

But the Spaniard insists that, having largely kept a settled team so far this season, he will now be forced to rotate on a more regular basis and that it is time to "manage" his squad.

"When you play another game in three days and you have the Champions League and you need to change players," Benitez said.

"Against Portsmouth it was clear that two or three players could give us fresh legs and now we need to manage the squad.

"We knew that the game against Portsmouth would be difficult so we used players with different qualities and then we were changing and trying to find other solutions.

"We were looking for different options and we had confidence that we could score."

Liverpool remain three points clear at the summit of the Premier League, having dropped just four points in their first 10 matches of the season.

But Benitez, who is hopeful that Fernando Torres will return from a hamstring problem at Tottenham this weekend, maintains that only a short-term view will give the Reds a chance of winning a first league title since 1990.

He added: "After the victory against Chelsea, to get three points against Portsmouth was really important and to change four or five players and still win is a message for the squad that we can change players and we can still win.

"We will try to be top of the table for a long time but we will just keep thinking about one game at a time and the next three points and that's it."

In Adams's first official game in charge of Portsmouth he surprisingly left striker Jermain Defoe, who has scored six goals in his nine Premier League starts, on the bench.

But Adams insists that there is no problem with his top-scorer and may persist with a five-man midfield on Pompey's travels, with Defoe or Peter Crouch left on the sidelines.

Adams said: "I will make tactical decisions, I will make technical decisions, physiological decisions and emotional decisions.

"I want Jermain to be Portsmouth's top goal-scorer and he will be and I want him to push to be the top scorer in the league and I think he can.

"We've been getting smashed up away from home. We'd lost to Braga 3-0 and 6-0 at Manchester City.

"I played with a 4-5-1 against the league leaders and that's why Jermain was rested.

"Jermain's 100 per cent behind me and he's magnificent. I've had nothing but a positive response from all of them but Jermain in particular.

"He understands and next week it might be Peter's turn or someone else's turn but I'm a big fan of Jermain Defoe and we'll see what happens against Wigan now."

Liverpool were made to work hard for the points but could have been infront before Gerrard's spotkick.

Dirk Kuyt headed into the ground from a Ryan Babel cross and Lucas had a shot deflected wide after he burst onto Gerrard's pass, with Sami Hyypia heading inches wide from the resulting corner.

And when it looked like substitute Yossi Benayoun would finally make the breakthrough from a Gerrard pass, he was denied by Sylvain Distin's sliding challenge as he prepared to shoot.

But just as Portsmouth were looking like holding on for a point, Papa Bouba Diop threw two hands at Fabio Aurelio's resulting corner as he attempted to stop Hyypia and Gerrard made no mistake from the spot.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Match Preview: LiverpooL vs. Portsmouth

Wednesday night’s Premier League clash at Anfield will see two sides in very different states going head-to-head. On the one hand, Portsmouth are plagued by uncertainty following their much-publicised managerial change; on the other, Liverpool are flying after an incredible weekend win.

Xabi Alonso’s deflected strike at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon brought an end to Chelsea’s incredible run at home, halting their sequence of league games without defeat at 86. The Spanish midfielder, who nearly left the club during the summer, may also have put Liverpool on the road to a new era of domestic success.

The Reds remain unbeaten atop the league ladder with 23 points from nine games – easily their most impressive start to a campaign in the Rafael Benitez era. While most observers were sceptical of the club’s title credentials before that remarkable result in West London, even the most cynical doubters are now whispering, or at least entertaining the thought, of the Premiership trophy making its way to Merseyside for the first time.

The Liverpool camp has been very hush-hush following their win at the Bridge; seasoned veterans Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard have been almost dismissive of the result’s significance. It may be that they have seen too many false dawns during their illustrious, yet obviously unfulfilled, careers. But reading between the lines of even Gerrard’s and Carragher’s recent statements, you cannot help but sense an underlying anticipation and excitement that has not existed at Anfield since the early 1990s.

The message from Benitez and his charges has been clear: the victory over Chelsea, and the one over Manchester United last month, will mean nothing if Liverpool slip up against Portsmouth this evening.

They have had their scares this season – going behind to the likes of Wigan Athletic and Middlesbrough are rarely considered firm foundations for a title tilt. But such encounters have allowed the Reds to display their newfound ruthlessness and their ability to claim points even when playing well below par. If Sir Alex Ferguson’s championship-winning sides have proven one thing, it is that every great team needs to be both a flat-track bully and a grafter.

Hence, Wednesday’s game against Pompey will prove just as important in Liverpool’s title chase as their clash with Arsenal in December. And while they head into the fixture brimming with confidence, it is unclear exactly what mindset their opponents will be in.

The announcement that Juande Ramos had been sacked as manager of Tottenham Hotspur came as little surprise to anyone, despite the media’s insistence that he had been given until Christmas to save his job. However, the news that Harry Redknapp would take up residency at White Hart Lane shocked the football -following public.

Just months after leading Pompey to the FA Cup – their first major trophy since 1950 – and their first taste of European football, Redknapp jumped ship due to the club’s well-documented financial restraints. It is being reported that Tony Adams, the assistant manager, will be promoted to the job; if so, the former Arsenal skipper faces a stern task on his first outing in charge.

Despite suffering humiliating defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City, Pompey’s points tally reads relatively well. They sit in seventh spot, sandwiched between the two Mancunian clubs. Their last trip to Anfield ended in a comprehensive defeat, but the boys from the South Coast could be due for a bout of ‘New Manager Syndrome’.



Oct 26 vs. Chelsea (A) WIN 1-0
Oct 22 vs. Atletico Madrid (A) DRAW 1-1
Oct 18 vs. Wigan Athletic (H) WIN 3-2
Oct 5 vs. Manchester City (A) WIN 3-2
Oct 1 vs. PSV Eindhoven (H) WIN 3-1


Oct 26 vs. Fulham (H) DRAW 1-1
Oct 23 vs. Sporting Braga (A) LOSS 3-0
Oct 18 vs. Aston Villa (A) DRAW 0-0
Oct 5 vs. Stoke City (H) WIN 2-1
Oct 2 vs. Vitoria Guimaraes (A) DRAW 2-2



It was hoped Fernando Torres might be fit enough to take part this match, but the Spanish striker is expected to sit out once more as he continues to recover from a hamstring tear. Martin Skrtel and Philippe Degen are also on the injured list, but fitness concerns are otherwise few and far between for Rafael Benitez. Robbie Keane and Xabi Alonso both played against Chelsea after picking up knocks against Atletico Madrid last week, and they should be available on Wednesday.

The real dilemma for Rafa is who to play up front. Keane got the gig on Sunday, but Ryan Babel impressed after coming on as a substitute and Dirk Kuyt’s experience and reliability cannot be overlooked.

Possible XI: Reina – Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio/Dossena – Mascherano, Alonso/Lucas – Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera – Babel/Keane.


Peter Crouch is expected to start up top on his return to Anfield after leaving the Reds during the summer. Wide-men Glen Little and Glen Johnson are likely absentees as they battle injury problems, while Niko Kranjcar could return to the starting line-up. Lassana Diarra returned from suspension – and a knee injury – against Fulham at the weekend, a game in which Sol Campell was rested. Younes Kaboul might make way for the skipper, although the 5-3-2 was experimenting with could come into play.

Possible XI: James – Paramot, Campbell, Kaboul, Distin, Traore – Diarra, Bouba Diop, Kranjcar – Crouch, Defoe.



In Fernando Torres’ probable absence, Steven Gerrard will bask in the limelight after a true captain’s performance against Chelsea at the weekend. The man knows how to win games, regardless of where he is played. If Liverpool revert to the status quo and concede the lead, all eyes on the Kop will turn to Stevie G.


Two-metre Peter Crouch earned cult status during his stay on Merseyside, where he established himself as an international-quality striker despite his limited opportunities. So liked was he at Liverpool that even the most die-hard Kopite wouldn’t begrudge him a goal on his return to Anfield - as long as the end result is right, of course. Jamie Carragher might even help him out, as the centre-half reserved some particularly glowing praise for Crouch in his autobiography.

Benitez Hails Alonso

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has hailed the form of Xabi Alonso after the midfielder got the winner against Chelsea on Sunday, to fire the Reds to the top of the league.

The Spaniard struck the only goal at Stamford Bridge to inflict a first defeat on the Blues in 86 games on home soil.

But it could have all been different if he had been sold to Juventus in the summer to finance a bid for Gareth Barry from Aston Villa.

But Juventus did not match Liverpool's valuation of the player and the Reds could not prise Barry away from Villa Park, which is now giving Alonso a new lease of life at Anfield, where Portsmouth next visit on Wednesday.

Benitez said: "What happened in the summer with Alonso is just football, and you always have to try to change things.

"Maybe I will now tell half a dozen players that I may sell them, maybe they will all start to play as well as Xabi!

"It doesn't matter whether I change my mind about something or the player changes his mind. What matters is that as a manager if I have a good player, a good professional, I will use that player for the benefit of the team.

"He is our player and we will try to take the best from him."

Benitez added: "He is showing the quality we know he has. Always he is a good professional, a good player.

"Just like Peter Crouch, who we sold to Portsmouth, people must not forget that these were players I wanted to sign, and did sign. They are good players.

"We did not sell Xabi in the summer because the price was not good enough for such a talented player.

"That is simple, this is a football market, and now he is showing character and we have a very positive situation with competition for every place in the side being very high.

"Alonso and Barry are two different issues. Barry is still a very good player, a fantastic player. As is Alonso.

"Now Alonso is playing well and the team are playing well, that applies to everyone from Steven Gerrard to Daniel Agger."

Benitez Ready For Crouch Backlash

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez expects Peter Crouch to return to Anfield on Wednesday night intent on proving the decision to sell him in the summer was wrong.

Crouch left Anfield for Portsmouth because he became frustrated at spending so much time on the bench, believing it was hindering his England career.

That means Crouch, as well as new Pompey boss Tony Adams, will have extra motivation against the Premier League leaders.

Adams' appointment on Tuesday to replace new Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp adds extra spice to Wednesday night's clash.

Benitez said: "Peter is a fantastic lad, we signed him and wanted to keep him. But we couldn't - he wanted to play more. I still wish him every success and hope he scores many goals for England, but not for Portsmouth this week!

"I am sure he will come here with that extra motivation, I would be surprised if he felt any different playing again at Anfield.

"He did well here, the fans liked him, and we know he will be dangerous."

Commenting on the latest managerial changes in the top flight, he said: "I must admit I was surprised by the changes in management at Spurs and Portsmouth. I know Tony Adams as a player and have great respect for him, I wish him well in his new job. But just as with Crouch, not in this game.

"Adams has taken over a good team with fine players. I consider the situation for Liverpool to be very dangerous, because everyone now expects us to take another three points after beating Chelsea.

"But Portsmouth will have a new manager and determined players, and they have Crouch and Defoe up front, a very good partnership."

Benitez knows Liverpool must not waste the win at Chelsea on Sunday by failing to claim a victory over Pompey.

He said: "It is a crucial week for us. We are at the top for the first time and everybody is waiting for our reaction, to see whether we can handle it.

"So we must concentrate even more now. We must not slip up or lose our focus.

"We are in a fantastic position and we will try to stay there as long as we can.

"The key for me is that the team is working together, all of them helping and motivating their team-mates. That is a massive difference.

"It is good to have confidence, but there is a long way to go. I do not want to hear people saying 'we can do this or that'.

"Forget it. I want them to go out and do it.

"Keeping a lid on expectation is difficult. The fans want to see the team at the top and they badly want the title, so it is difficult to keep our people calm."

He added: "We know we have the responsibility to give the same message to everyone, the fans in particular.

"We are top, and we are pleased to be there. But we also have a clear understanding and vision about the future, and we know there are a lot more games to go.

"The team has confidence and is playing well, but we dare not allow our thoughts to stray too far beyond Portsmouth next.

"But there is a massive difference between this season and previous seasons. There is a character and quality about our team, and I cannot hide this."

Everyone Looking For A Liverpool Reaction

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has warned his side that after their wins over Manchester United and Chelsea, all teams will now be looking for a reaction.

Liverpool's Spanish boss Rafa Benitez has warned his side against complacency. The Reds have moved three points clear at the top of the table after a quarter of the season, and believes that the teams they face in the upcoming games will be looking for them to stutter.

"It's a crucial week for us because we are, for the first time, at the top of the table. Everyone is looking for our reaction," Benitez told the club's official website.

"We are playing against two tough teams with good players and we have to concentrate only on the teams and the three points - nothing else.

"Beating Manchester United and Chelsea has shown the character of the team this year. I cannot hide this but that's it - we know how difficult it is to win titles and we have to keep going. If we want to stay at the top we need to win the next game," he continued.

"The team is playing well and has confidence, but as for anything else, well we just have to prepare for games."

Liverpool are the only side in the Premier League who remain unbeaten. They host Portsmouth on Wednesday evening.

Torres Fighting To Be Fit For Atlético

Fernando Torres might have missed out on his return to the Vicente Calderón but the Spaniard is fighting to be fit to face Atlético Madrid when they come to Anfield next week.

It was the homecoming everyone had been waiting for but unfortunately it never happened as Fernando Torres saw his return to the Vicente Calderón ruined by injury.

The ex-Atlético Madrid player was ruled out of that match but he is hoping to be fit for the rematch at Anfield which takes place in a weeks time.

Liverpool recorded a splendid win over Chelsea at the weekend without the striker but they will still be keen to have him back as soon as possible with a busy fixture list approaching.

Likewise, he will be desperate to play against his former club who he is known to have a lot of affection for and wanted to play against in Madrid.

He is now training his hardest in an attempt to make that return possible after injuring himself whilst with the Spanish national side a few weeks ago.

The striker has scored five goals in six games for Liverpool this year and was a revelation last season as he scored 24 times in 29 Premiership matches.

Liverpool & Man United Eye Tottenham’s Bale?

Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp is reportedly considering selling left-back Gareth Bale with Premiership powerhouses Liverpool and Manchester United said to be interested.

The former Pompey manager is apparently looking to bringing more experience in the side and reports suggest that he is interested in Chelsea’s England international left-back Wayne Bridge.

According to The Sun, Redknapp is ready to cash in on the Wales international, who has struggled since his arrival from Southampton.

And with the attack-minded Bale only being 19-years-old, English giants United and Liverpool are apparently ready to pounce on the opportunity if Spurs make the Cardiff-born player available.

Spurs To Join Liverpool In Race For £15million Argentine International?

New Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp has reportedly identified Argentine International striker Fernando Cavenaghi at Ligue 1 club Bordeaux as a potential transfer target in the January transfer window, with Premier League rivals Liverpool also linked with a move for the former River Plate front-man, according to reports from

Redknapp is only to aware of the shortage of strikers at White Hart Lane, with new signing Roman Pavlyuchenko, Darren Bent and on loan Fraizer Campbell the only recognised forward’s at the North London club, following the departure of Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United and Robbie Keane to Liverpool in the summer.

The former Portsmouth boss is heavily tipped to raid Pompey for England International Jermain Defoe in January, with Argentine Cavenaghi now also reportedly on the Spurs manager’s wish list.

25-year-old Cavenaghi joined Bordeaux from Russian side Spartak Moscow in January 2007 and scored 22 goals in 35 appearances for Bordeaux last season, with sources close to the French club suggesting a move to a top European side in January is likely.

Cavenaghi is understood to be valued in the region of £15million, with Redknapp in pole position ahead of counterpart Rafa Benitez to land the Striker due to the Reds boss having to sell in January before he can bring in new faces to Anfield. There will be no such financial restraints for Redknapp, who is certain to receive a huge transfer kitty in January to bolster the squad at Tottenham in the winter transfer window.

Benitez Urges Reds To Handle Pressure

RAFAEL Benitez has called on his Liverpool players to prove they are worthy Premier League leaders.

The Anfield manager, however, wants his players to grasp the opportunity at home to Portsmouth tonight to strengthen their lead at the top while trying desperately to keep the lid on the rapidly-growing expectation among the club’s supporters.

Benitez, who will again be without hamstring casualty Fernando Torres, said: “It is a crucial week for us. We are at the top for the first time and everybody is waiting for our reaction, to see whether we can we handle it.

“The key for me is that the team is working together, all of them helping and motivating their team-mates. That is a massive difference.

“It is good to have confidence, but there is a long way to go. I do not want to hear people saying, ‘We can do this or that.’ Forget it. I want them to go out and do it.

“Keeping a lid on expectation is difficult. The fans want to see the team at the top and they badly want the title, so it is difficult to keep our people calm.”

Benitez understands the desire among Liverpool fans for a title triumph after an 18-year famine since they last lifted the English crown.

But he said: “We are top, and we are pleased to be there. But we also have a clear understanding and vision about the future, and we know there are a lot more games to go.

“The team has confidence and is playing well, but we dare not allow our thoughts to stray too far beyond Portsmouth next.

“But there is a massive difference between this season and previous seasons. There is a character and quality about our team, and I cannot hide this. Everything is very positive but we know how difficult it is to win titles so we just must keep going.”

Sunday’s 1-0 win at Chelsea, ending the west Londoners’ 86-game unbeaten home league run, has seen Liverpool’s title odds slashed and a realisation that this Benitez side has the makings of champions.

Benitez said: “We know that if we want to stay at the top we must keep on winning the next games, if we do not then people will say that all we did at Chelsea is wasted.

“Each season you know you have to win virtually every game. The big teams lose very few.

“And we find that every team that comes to Anfield plays defensively, deep and it is very difficult to break them down. But that is the Premier League.”

Babel Striking Out For More Chances

ON an afternoon packed with positives for Liverpool, it was a contribution that could easily have been overlooked.

Few were left in any doubt of the Anfield outfit’s championship credentials as they brought an emphatic end to Chelsea’s 86-game unbeaten home league record with a richly-merited 1-0 triumph.

From the dogged defending of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger, the mixture of steel and skill of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in midfield and the incisive probings of Steven Gerrard and Albert Riera, Liverpool possessed the game’s stellar performers.
But it was from the bench that another, less obvious impact was made.

With Robbie Keane having played through the pain barrier in the absence of the injured Fernando Torres, the Irishman was replaced on the hour by Ryan Babel.

Babel has been a frustratingly inconsistent performer since arriving from Ajax for £11.5million last summer, having so far only once played the full 90 minutes in a Premier League match.

The 21-year-old’s most effective performances have come as a substitute, having already this season netted the match-winner against Manchester United.

And Babel again played his part on Sunday by busying the Chelsea back-line and ensuring the game remained stretched, twice coming close to scoring himself.

The continued absence of Torres and concerns over Keane’s fitness mean Babel could be handed his first league start of the campaign when Portsmouth visit Anfield this evening.

And Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez says: “When we signed Riera we thought of Babel being more of a striker. Ryan is still a young player. Some Dutch players come to England for only one or two years.

“In this case, this is his second year and he was injured at the start coming back from the Olympic Games.

“But he is giving us something more and I was really pleased with him the other day at Chelsea. I think that was the perfect game for him.

“At that time we needed pace and power and ability, so he could cope with the two centre-backs. He could beat them, it was perfect for him and really good for him.”

Nine of Babel’s 11 goals have come as substitute, with 27 of his 58 appearances coming from the bench.

Benitez believes the Holland international remains most effective as an impact player for now, but is confident Babel can soon make the progression to producing the same threat over the full 90 minutes.

“Clearly there is a massive difference when you are talking about a player with pace, normally their stamina levels are not the same,” says the Liverpool manager.

“To do the same thing 20 times at maximum intensity, it’s not easy, so they need time to rest. For these kind of players to play 90 minutes at this pace and high tempo is impossible. That is the reason why he can make a massive difference in 20-30 minutes.”

Benitez has dismissed the suggestion Liverpool could struggle to cope with the unique pressure of leading from the front, and points to the wealth of experience behind the scenes.

“The people in the staff – Sammy Lee, Mauricio Pellegrino – have experience and the players have won the Champions League, which is a massive trophy,” he says. “We have some experience of that. I have won the league in Spain, too.

“The first year we came from behind at Valencia, but the second year for a long time we were on top of the table. If we can stay there in three weeks’ time we will start feeling pressure. But that is good.

“People said we were like a machine in that second season. We had the balance. We were attacking very well and defending well.

“That team had the balance. We were attacking. We lost the last game against Albacete 1-0 when we were champions and by just scoring one goal we would have scored more goals than Real Madrid, who scored something like 71 goals, and we conceded less than anyone else. So we had the balance. Being a machine was a compliment.”

Liverpool face a tricky next two games. Both Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur, who Benitez’s side visit at the weekend, have installed new managers in the last few days, with Harry Redknapp moving from Fratton Park to White Hart Lane with Tony Adams his replacement.

“You don’t know if it is good or bad for them because the players want to impress the new manager,” says Benitez. “Always it’s a risk. To change the manager is always very dangerous in terms of the results at the end, but the first two or three weeks you always have more motivation so it’s difficult.”

Of Adams, the Liverpool manager adds: “He was a fantastic player, and he won a lot of trophies with a very good Arsenal team. So everybody knows he has experience on the pitch as a player and now he will need to have more experience as a manager and that is something very different.”

Liverpool will come up against former striker Peter Crouch tonight, who moved back to the South Coast after scoring 42 goals in 134 appearances during three seasons at Anfield.

“Normally when you come back to a club you want to show you are a good player,” says Benitez. “But in this case, I think Crouch is a fantastic lad and we wanted to keep him. But he wanted to play every week.

“So he is playing well and scoring goal so I will be happy to see him and wish him all the best, but not in this game.”

Chelsea Coach Ray Wilkins Writes Off Loss To Liverpool As A 'Blip'

Chelsea coach Ray Wilkins has dismissed defeat by Liverpool as nothing more than a blip and has tipped his side to bounce back and go on another long unbeaten run.

Xabi Alonso's goal for Liverpool inflicted the first defeat that Chelsea had suffered at Stamford Bridge in 86 League games spanning more than four seasons and while Wilkins says the atmosphere after the game was of immense disappointment he says they have the strength of character to help them go on another run.

Wilkins says that captain John Terry, who is celebrating ten years since his debut this week, at the club is a massive bonus as he is a strong leader who is able to help pick the players up.

The Chelsea coach said: "The atmosphere after the game was like a morgue; the players were very down because of the standards they set themselves.

"The disappointment was not that the record had gone, but that we had lost three points to Liverpool.

"John Terry is different class around the place, we need men around and we are lucky to have him.

"When you think about what happened last season, losing the Carling Cup final, second in the League and missing out on the Champions League on penalties, then Sunday was just a blip.

"They have shown their character in the past to come back from disappointment, so we know they can come back from this and go on another run."

Chelsea travel to Hull City next and while Wilkins has been impressed with Phil Brown's side, he believes it will be difficult for them to continue their run - which featured only one defeat - for the rest of the season.

He said: "It will be difficult for them to maintain their form because they play with so much energy and if you are doing that for 90 minutes week in, week out it gets hard.

"They have amassed 20 points so far and I am sure Phil Brown will be looking to get the next 20 points as quickly as possible and see them safe and then kick on from there.

"It is going to be a very difficult season for all the promoted clubs and the adrenalin rush at the beginning is immense, but it will be tough.

"However, they have demonstrated they can play and one defeat won't burst that bubble, but we are looking to inflict that defeat."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Benitez Sets Sights On Pompey

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has called on his Premier League leaders to remain focused as they prepare to face Portsmouth on Wednesday.

The Reds ended Chelsea's 86-match unbeaten home record with a 1-0 success at Stamford Bridge on Sunday but Benitez is warning his players not to get carried away with the success.

Liverpool are now three points clear at the top of the table and enjoying their best start to a Premier League campaign.

"We need three points in our next game against Portsmouth if we are going to keep this mentality," said Benitez.

"We have to come down and start thinking about Portsmouth. We knew it was important to beat Manchester United but then we drew with Stoke.

"But clearly if you want to stay at the top of the table for a long time you have to beat almost everyone because Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal will be behind you.

"To win at Chelsea and stay top of the table unbeaten is a massive message for the other teams.

"It was a massive game and to come here with the mentality we had and with the players showing the character they did, it was a big boost for the rest of the season.

"We have belief, we have quality and we have shown by coming from behind in other games this season, that we have character. At least this is enough to be top of the table for now."

Liverpool clinched victory thanks to Xabi Alonso's first-half shot which was deflected past Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech by Jose Bosingwa.

Alonso almost made it two when his free-kick struck the foot of a post in the second half.

The visitors were always in charge and Ashley Cole's wayward shot from eight yards was their best chance of levelling the scores.

It was Chelsea's first defeat at home in the league since Arsenal beat them 2-1 in February 2004.

Now, Benitez believes they have the belief to go anywhere and win.

"We can go to any stadium and win games. Against a very good Chelsea team, a very offensive team, we showed we were thinking about winning," he added.

Riera Keen To Maintain Momentum

Liverpool winger Albert Riera is confident the Reds can maintain their early-season momentum following Sunday's win over Chelsea.

Reira told BBC Radio Merseyside: "Chelsea was a massive game and it was important for us and our supporters.

"Now we are unbeaten and are strong like Chelsea.

"People know we want to continue at the top and it will be difficult to beat us," the 26-year-old Spain international said.

Reira has been a regular in Rafa Benitez's side since joining from Espanyol in the close-season and has featured in their victories over Everton, Manchester United and Chelsea this season.

But he is refusing to get carried away with his promising start to life at Anfield.

"I think always you can be better, this is the thing I have in my mind now," he said.

"The best way to progress is to think 'I can be better and I can help the team more.'

"I can progress a little more but when you win you can be happy," he added.

Liverpool Boss Benitez: "We Can Go To Any Stadium And Win Games"

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has claimed that his Reds side “can go to any stadium and win games” after the Merseyside club ended Chelsea’s 86 match unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Midfielder’s Xabi Alonso’s first half deflected goal was enough to secure the three points in the top-of-the-table clash with Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side, with Liverpool now three points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Benitez believes that by winning at Chelsea and remaining unbeaten has sent a “massive message” to their Premiership rivals, while hailing the “character” of his Anfield side.

“To win here and stay top of the table unbeaten is a massive message for the other teams,” said Benitez.

“It was a massive game and to come here with the mentality we had and with the players showing the character they did, it was a big boost for the rest of the season.

“We have belief, we have quality and we have shown by coming from behind in other games this season, that we have character. At least this is enough to be top of the table for now.

“But we need three points in our next game against Portsmouth if we are going to keep this mentality.

“We can go to any stadium and win games. Today, against a very good team, a very offensive team, we showed we were thinking about winning.

“The players know what to do and it is difficult for the opposition to create chances. Chelsea had some chances but their final pass was not the best on occasions.

“They didn't have too many chances. My players were really good and all credit to them. When you have players with quality and they work so hard, you have a winning team.

“But we have to come down and start thinking about Portsmouth. We knew it was important to beat Manchester United but then we drew with Stoke.

“But clearly if you want to stay at the top of the table for a long time you have to beat almost everyone because Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal will be behind you.”

Gerrard: Pressure Starts Now

Steven Gerrard has played down Liverpool's achievement in topping the Premier League table and warned his team-mates the hard work is about to start.

Rafael Benitez's side showed their title credentials on Sunday with a 1-0 at Stamford Bridge that ended Chelsea's record-breaking unbeaten home run.

That gave them a three-point cushion over the Blues and came on the back of a victory over Manchester United earlier this season.

Ahead of Wednesday's visit of Portsmouth, Gerrard told The Times: "It's important not to get carried away. We're still only in October.

"We're in a nice position in the league, but Chelsea are a fantastic side, who will come back, and Manchester United will be there or thereabouts.

"We've won nothing yet. It was a massive win and three big points, but if we slip up against Portsmouth, those points will be irrelevant.

"To win this league and become champions, you have to handle the pressure of being at the top.

"That's the challenge for us now. Can we handle being top of the league? We've done superbly well so far, we're unbeaten, and we have to keep that going now, starting against Portsmouth."

Jamie Carragher: Liverpool FC Can Handle Pressure At The Top

JAMIE CARRAGHER insists Liverpool’s players can handle the pressure of leading from the front – because being top of the Premier League is where they expect to be.

Their unbeaten start to the season continued on Sunday when they won 1-0 at Chelsea, a victory which took them three points clear of their opponents.

The win, which ended the Londoners’ 86-game unbeaten home record in the league, is being widely regarded as evidence that Liverpool are finally ready to make a serious bid for their first title win since 1990.

And they have only dropped four points in their first nine games, during their best start to a season in 18 years.

But Carragher reckons that the quality of the squad at Anfield is now strong enough to convince him that they should be in that position – and has warned that they have to prove it by staying there.

“We’re not going to get too carried away – we’re Liverpool,” said the centre-back. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re delighted with the win (at Chelsea) but we’re not getting carried away at being top of the league after nine games.

“That’s where we should be. We’re a massive club with a lot of top players, so we’re only doing what we should be doing.

“Chelsea hadn’t lost in four years at home, and that’s the first time I’ve ever won at Chelsea and I’ve been playing for 10 years now. It’s a tough place to go and credit to them for their record, but I’m just delighted we’re the team that has broken it.

“It’s a great result that no other side has managed over the last four years, so it’s something to be enjoyed.

“But we’ve got Portsmouth next, and if we don’t get a good result there then we won’t have really capitalised on this win.”

Carragher added: “Being top of the league, we’re now going to be the team people will look to beat.

I’m sure people will talk about us more.

“We’re going to have to deal with that now.

“But we’ve got a lot of experienced players, big internationals who have won trophies before.It’s something we will have to handle.”

Portsmouth arrive at Anfield tomorrow as a club in limbo following manager Harry Redknapp’s sudden switch to Tottenham at the weekend.

Assistant manager Tony Adams and coach Joe Jordan are currently in charge of the side but the immediate future of the club is uncertain amid fears many players may follow Redknapp to White Hart Lane in January.

Liverpool follow the visit of Pompey with a trip to Tottenham on Saturday but Carragher is confident that they can avoid a similar slip-up to the one which followed their previous victory over a top four rival.

The 2-1 win over Manchester United at Anfield in September was followed by a goalless draw with Stoke City that threw up immediate question-marks over their ability to sustain the consistency needed for a title challenge.

But Carragher said: “There was a lot of talk at the time about the result, but that kind of thing happens from time to time. It’s not like we were getting complacent about anything.

“We were very unlucky against Stoke and nine times out of 10 we’d have won that game.

“But for most of the season we’ve done quite well and we want to push on now.

“We’ve got Portsmouth next and then Tottenham, and there’s a lot of stuff going on with those two clubs at the moment. You can never tell how they are going to react, so I’m sure the next two games will be tough, but we’ve got to aim to take maximum points.”

Alonso Proving Liverpool Can Do Without Barry

As Jamie Carragher once so delicately put it, Xabi Alonso does not tend to command "short odds on the first goalscorer betting slip".

So it was of no surprise to anyone that he was quick yesterday to claim as his own the deflected goal which put Liverpool top of the pile on Sunday.

"It was my goal," Alonso said of the effort which Chelsea's Jose Bosingwa deflected past Petr Cech.

"The shot was on its way towards the goal when it was deflected, but that happens, that's part of football and you have to cope with these things when they go for you and when they go against."

Since Alonso has experienced considerably more of the latter than the former in a general footballing sense over the the past four months, there can be few more deserving matchwinners at a place like Stamford Bridge than him.

There will always be personal scores to settle for Alonso where Chelsea are concerned — Eidur Gudjohnsen's admission that he feined injury to get him suspended from the second leg of the clubs' Champions League semi final second leg in 2005, for instance.

But Alonso has had something more substantial to prove about himself since a summer in which, while the 26-year-old was busy contributing to Spain's European Championship success, Rafael Benitez was trying to sell him against his wishes to Juventus.

Alonso would have been on the way out had Juventus or Arsenal provided the £18m Benitez was looking for to finance Gareth Barry's purchase.

His renaissanc, when it really counted this season — he was also outstanding in the defining win against Manchester United — has not been lost on Steven Gerrard, a sensitive individual for whom a summer like Alonso's would have been personally unbearable.

"I must give a special mention for Alonso," Gerrard said recently.

"He had a very difficult time just before the transfer window shut, and didn't know if he was coming and going."

When you're looking for an idea of how much character an individual posesses there is no better reference point than Carragher.

His biography is a searing critique of the Benitez era and his judgment of Alonso within it a revealing one. Carragher brackets the central midfielder as one of those players who show "the hunger I relate to, embracing the culture and mentality of the supporters," his passing providing "the guile alongside Gerrard which we'd been lacking."

Though Liverpool's willingness to part company with the playmaker seemed to have affected his relationship with his compatriot Benitez irrevocably — Alonso recently told Gazzetta dello Sport that "for my part, the attraction (of Juventus) has remained intact" — playing a part in restoring the championship to Anfield after an 18-year wait would presumably change everything.

He was certainly rolling up his sleeves at the prospect yesterday.

"The three points against Chelsea are as important as the three points against Wigan and the three that are available against Portsmouth on Wednesday — they are all of the same value," he said.

"When everyone works really hard for one another you have a chance to beat anyone.

"It was really important to score first as well because it would have been very difficult to come back in a game like this one.

"Now we have to think about Wednesday and remain really calm.

"We are professionals and we are conscious that there is still a long way to go and we are steady and we are calm."

Statistics certainly bear him out on the last part.

Though Liverpool have never enjoyed a better start to a Premier League campaign, they are acquainted with being top at this time of a Premier League season — and watching everything fall apart thereafter.

Gerard Houllier's side led the rest of the pack for a month in October 2002 after Salif Diao's winner at Leeds (neither Carragher not Gerrard spared his sensitivities in their biographies), only to finish the season fifth and 19 points off the top having failed to win in 11 matches after November 9.

They were also top for a fortnight in September last year before imploding.

On neither of those two occasions had Liverpool enjoyed the immense psychological benefits of having beaten the two sides who, by a huge distance, are favourites to take the title.

Neither were their sides so settled. One of the many problems they have currently ironed out is that obstinate one of who to play down the left wing, with Albert Riera's display in that position at Stamford Bridge providing more evidence that he is the answer.

The Liverpool fans who chanted Alonso's name against Lazio pre-season, when it looked like he was leaving, will tell you that Liverpool wouldn't have Riera either had Alonso left and freed the cash for Barry instead.

Alonso is acutely aware of the lasting effects of beating both Manchester United and Chelsea, even though Liverpool's talisman Fernando Torres may be misssing against Portsmouth and at White Hart Lane next weekend.

"[Sunday] was very important for us because in the last few seasons in the league we have been [to Chelsea] and we haven't had the best results," he said.

For Benitez, the defensive effort — in particular Sami Hypia's — will have been the most comforting part of Chelsea's first defeat at home in the league since Arsenal beat them 2-1 in February 2004.

But don't be surprised if this proves Liverpool's weakness.

Andrea Dossena has looked out of his depth from the moment he strode onto a pitch at Liege in August and Alvaro Arbeloa is another Benitez full back who, like the victim of a random mugging, too often finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When he plays, 34-year-old Hypia lacks pace for those sides who will run at him.

But Benitez's immediate challenge is to keep a lid on expectations.

His side have a run of fixtures - Spurs, West Brom, Bolton, West Ham, Fulham and Blackburn — which should enable them to maintain their presence at the top of the table, though it risks confounding Benitez's attempts to be the ‘invisible' team who sneak through as contenders while no-one is looking.

"It must be one game at a time," said Alonso, the voice of experience Benitez so nearly didn't have to call on.

Hansen: Liverpool Have A Great Chance

Alan Hansen believes Rafael Benitez's Liverpool side now have their "best chance" of winning the league title for the first time since 1990.

The Reds ended Chelsea's 86-match unbeaten home record with a 1-0 success at Stamford Bridge yesterday to put them clear at the top of the Premier League and further boost belief they can finally mount a sustained title challenge.

And Hansen believes they have shown they are equipped to push favourites Manchester United and Chelsea all the way.

"I would like to congratulate Rafa Benitez and his team for pulling off an incredible result at Stamford Bridge," said Hansen.

"To beat a Chelsea side on their own patch where they've not lost in 86 League games is fantastic.

"It wasn't just the result but also the manner of the win which was so impressive.

"After just half an hour there was only going to be one winner as the Liverpool tactics were spot on and the team display was outstanding."

Hansen added: "After this great start to the season, this is the best chance Liverpool have had to win the title since they last won the trophy back in 1990 as they're looking very much a team.

"They've shown great resilience in some remarkable comebacks, the signing of Albert Riera has given them great width and players such as Dirk Kuyt have performed far better than they have played before.

"Rafa's team looks very solid and you get the feeling that when teams put pressure on them as Chelsea attempted to do, they're not going to fall apart.

"They may have dropped points at home to Stoke but winning the title is not all about thrashing teams every week but how teams respond to setbacks.

"That's the big test and from the Liverpool performances so far this season, the players have shown the kind of resilience that suggests they would bounce back from any poor result with great spirit," the former Liverpool captain continued.

"This was a momentous result but the victory over Manchester United at Anfield is the result that gave Liverpool the real belief they could beat the likes of Chelsea. If Rafa's team had lost that one, I don't think they would have truly felt they could win at Stamford Bridge.

"However, by finally beating United they have become a team in every sense of the word as confidence and belief is sky high to launch a far too long-awaited title challenge."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Match Report: Chelsea 0 - 1 LiverpooL

Xabi Alonso's first-half goal ended Chelsea's 86-game unbeaten home league record and put Liverpool three points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League.

Alonso struck in the ninth minute when his 20-yard shot deflected off Jose Bosingwa and left Petr Cech wrong-footed.

It was Chelsea's first defeat under new boss Luiz Felipe Scolari but Liverpool were always in charge of a pulsating contest at Stamford Bridge and look real title contenders on this form.

Chelsea had not been beaten at home since Arsenal's 2-1 success in February 2004 but Liverpool deserved their triumph with an impressive display.

Chelsea began the brighter of the two sides and their initial thrusts almost resulted in an opening goal.

Nicolas Anelka dribbled his way into the penalty area in the third minute but was tackled before he could test Jose Reina.

The ball fell to Deco but the Chelsea midfielder's shot was deflected to safety.

Liverpool went ahead in the ninth minute with their first attack of the game.

Chelsea failed to deal with a thrown-in when John Terry could only half-clear Dirk Kuyt's clever back-header.

The ball fell to Alonso on the edge of the penalty area and his shot deflected off Chelsea right-back Bosingwa into the net.

Liverpool were now in commanding form and dominating the game.

In the 17th minute, Albert Riera beat Bosingwa on the left flank but fired his shot into the side netting.

Chelsea, hoping to stretch their unbeaten home league sequence to 87 games, struggled to get back into the game.

Bosingwa tried to run at the Liverpool defence in the 21st minute but was chopped down crudely by Riera who received a booking from referee Howard Webb as a result.

Seconds later Salomon Kalou headed just over the bar from another cross by Bosingwa.

Liverpool continued to look dangerous and in the 24th minute they almost increased their lead when Cech was forced to tip a glorious volley from Steven Gerrard over the bar.

Chelsea began to find some consistency as the first half wore on but they were struggling to produce a telling final ball into the penalty area.

Time and again their neat approach work was undone by a poor pass but Frank Lampard, so often their inspiration, won a corner in the 33rd minute with a deflected shot.

But although it came to nothing, Chelsea continued to enjoy their best spell of the game.

Bosingwa sent over a number of crosses from the right flank but Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher were inspired at the heart of the visitors' defence.

In the 36th minute Deco was given time and space to run at the Liverpool defence but his left-foot drive from 18 yards was wide of Jose Reina's right-hand upright.

In the 38th minute Gerrard looked to be heading for an early bath for a foul on Bosingwa.

However, referee Webb elected to show the England midfielder a yellow card for his challenge.

Liverpool's speed on the counter-attack almost opened up Chelsea again in the 43rd minute but, despite some confusion in the home defence, John Mikel Obi managed to clear their lines.

Chelsea began the second half in a much brighter fashion and it required an interception from Carragher to prevent a cross from Florent Malouda reaching its destination in the six-yard box.

In the 53rd minute Malouda was booked for checking a fine run by Alvaro Arbeloa.

Moments later Malouda was felled by Liverpool 'keeper Reina in the penalty area but he had already been ruled offside by referee Webb.

Cole was next into Webb's book when the official took a dislike to his challenge on Carragher.

In the 57th minute, Kuyt tried his luck from 20 yards but his effort was wide of the target.

It was the catalyst for a Chelsea to make a double substitution with Malouda and Kalou replaced by Juliano Belletti and Franco Di Santo.

It was another indication of Chelsea's growing frustration and it prompted Liverpool to replace Robbie Keane with Ryan Babel.

The Reds were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out in the 60th minute when Belletti kicked Riera in the face.

Chelsea then had a massive escape when Alonso's effort rebounded off the foot of the post for Ricardo Carvalho to clear.

Babel was brought down by Cole as he tried to collect the ball but referee Webb decided to book Javier Mascherano for attempting to persuade the official to dismiss the left-back.

Cole squandered a great chance to level the scores in the 73rd minute when Di Santo nodded Lampard's cross into his path.

But the defender screwed his effort wide of the post from eight yards. Moments later Carragher rescued Liverpool when he deflected Deco's effort for a corner.

At the opposite end, a 25-yard drive from Babel was only just wide of the target.

Benitez: We're Not A One-Man Team

Rafael Benitez believes yesterday's win over Chelsea showed that Liverpool - with or without Fernando Torres - have squad capable of winning titles.

Liverpool's record going into the clash at Stamford Bridge was not flattering, and few neutrals would have tipped them to break Chelsea's sequence of 86 games unbeaten at home.

But that is exactly what they did, thanks to a certain Spaniard, although it wasn't the one who usually does most of the damage where the score-sheet is concerned.

Xabi Alonso stepped in the 10th-minute to compensate for the absence of Fernando Torres, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury sustained on international duty.

Most figured Liverpool would struggle while the 24-year-old known as 'El Nino' sat on the sidelines, but they are yet to suffer a defeat in any competition this season and have had no problems on the goalscoring front.

This is in stark contrast to last season, when 33-goal Torres was the indisputed focal point for the Reds up front. But the arrival of Robbie Keane, the returned form of Dirk Kuyt and the continued growth of Ryan Babel have given Rafael Benitez a number of high-class attacking options.

"Everybody was talking about how it would be difficult for us to come to Chelsea without Torres," Benitez told Liverpool's official website after the Chelsea win. "Fernando is a key player for us who can change a game and is always a threat for the defenders.

"But, if you work well as a team together you can manage like we showed today. If we have to play one or two more games without Fernando I think we have enough quality in the squad."

Benitez's recruitment policy has received mixed reviews. Although the jury is still out on Keane, the Reds' big-money signings in recent years have rarely gone wrong: Torres is a keeper at £21million, Javier Mascherano equally so at £18million.

It is the more thrifty signings which have often gone awry. Craig Bellamy, Mark Gonzalez and Andriy Voronin are just a few who have failed to make the grade at Anfield in the last few years.

People were expecting more of the same when Albert Riera joined from Espanyol in a £6million deadline-day deal. The one-time Manchester City flop has exceeded expectations, however, and has been one of the Reds' most consistent performers during the early part of the season.

"Every year we are trying to improve the squad," Benitez continued. "We have made mistakes signing players but we have also made some very good ones. When I talk about players I don't just mean quality because they need a very good mentality."

And that has been the key to Liverpool's table-topping form this term; they have unearthed the winning mentality that had been buried since the days of Kenny Dalglish, and for the first time in more than 15 years they look like title contenders.

Benitez believes the key lies in not only the spread of quality throughout the squad, but also the number driven, hard-working, uncompromising performers - players who refuse to accept defeat, in other words.

"Players like Agger, Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard, Carragher, Reina, you can see the mentality they have and it inspires the rest of the players too," Benitez added.

"We have a good squad with good competition. Diego Cavalieri hasn't played much but he is pushing Pepe Reina, Dossena is pushing Fabio Aurelio which is really positive for us so the new players have a very good mentality. Lucas Leiva is working so hard in every training session and everybody has to be on their toes."

Liverpool will hope to continue their impressive run when they face Portsmouth during the week.

Liverpool Can Win Title This Season, Boasts Boss Rafa Bentiez

Rafa Benitez declared his side as genuine title contenders after they ended Chelsea's long unbeaten home league run.

Xabi Alonso's deflected 10th-minute strike gave Liverpool victory - and Chelsea did not have the guile or the firepower to add to the 86-game streak stretching back to February 2004.

The win moved Liverpool three points clear at the top and with a victory over Manchester United already secured, Benitez is predicting a serious title challenge. He said: "Everyone was talking before of our statistics against the top sides - we knew we needed to improve. We were coming here unbeaten, they were unbeaten here for a long time so it was a massive game.

"It was a big boost for the rest of the season. We have belief, we have quality, we showed coming from behind in the other games that we had character. This is enough for being contenders, this is enough for being at the top of the table now.

"After the game I said congratulations to the players. To win here was a really difficult thing to do and so to win here sends a massive message to the other teams of what we can do and tells our fans what we are about."

Chelsea have changed their style since the arrival of Luiz Felipe Scolari, but Liverpool were largely able to keep a lid on the Blues' attacking efforts, Ashley Cole skewing their best chance wide.

Scolari said: "We did not play as Chelsea usually play. They put eight players out to defend and there was no space to work the ball, only space to cross. We didn't win one cross.

"This is not the football that we play. We need to play and touch the ball as we do not have big strikers.

"Benitez is intelligent. He knows that we don't have a two-metre centre forward, so they gave us space. But when we crossed they have players who are very good at winning the ball.

"We were running out of time and the players did not have the confidence to pass the ball. I tried to tell them to play but they didn't listen.

"It's only the second time we've not scored a goal and I have the same confidence in my players.

"They need to understand that Liverpool's defenders were better than us, that's all. I will not change my idea because we failed to score."