Saturday, February 16, 2008

Betting Recommendation: Liverpool vs Barnsley

Rafa Benitez's refusal to give Peter Crouch more game time has seemed baffling at times this season with Dirk Kuyt and Andriy Voronin repeatedly firing blanks.

But the big striker has started all three of Liverpool's games in the FA Cup and found the net in two of them.

Add in Premier League goals at home to Aston Villa and Sunderland in recent weeks and Crouch has netted in his last three starts at Anfield and can continue that run against Barnsley on Saturday.

Crouch headed in the winner against Manchester United at the same stage of Liverpool's run to FA Cup glory two seasons ago and comes up against a Tykes team which has the second worst away record in the Championship.

Despite being made to look foolish against both Luton and Havant & Waterlooville in rounds three and four, the bottom line is that Liverpool scored five goals against each at Anfield.

Crouch to find the net at 11/8 appeals far more than the hosts winning at 1/5, especially as plenty of bookies have the England striker at 4/6 to score at anytime.

Verdict: Liverpool 4 Barnsley 0

Liverpool Fans Could Copy Barcelona Buyout

If they can do it in Barcelona why can’t they do it in Liverpool?

That was the debate at Liverpool Hope University yesterday into whether Liverpool Football Club could be bought and run by fans.

Academics from Birkbeck College in London suggested Liverpool fans could take control of their club through a mutual structure.

Using Barcelona FC as an example, Sean Hamil and Geoff Walters said public ownership in Catalonia saw fans elect presidents and ensure accountability.

In 2000, Barcelona fans launched the Elephant Blau Campaign against plans to build a commercial re-development around the clubs Camp Nou stadium.

Fan Joan Laporta said the owners were selling out the club’s tradition and value, which led to the ousting of the previous board in 2003 and the appointment of Laporta as club president.

The club now has 156,000 members or “socios” who pay an annual members fee and have the right to vote on the presidency and board and other matters including the club’s charitable works.

Asking if Barcelona is a one off, Mr Walters said Barcelona had still faced all the issues surrounding any football club, including boardroom bust-ups and financial worries.

But he said it was “a shining example of a mutual club with an explicit cultural and social identity which still delivers success on the pitch”.

Mr Hamil expanded on the success of mutual ownership which had raised revenue from 123.4m euros in 2003 to 290m euros in 2007, whilst still maintaining affordable ticket prices.

Under Laporta, player wages had been controlled, broadcasting revenue had been increased and 50,000 extra people had become socios.

Share Liverpool Football Club Group (SLFCG), led by high-profile Liverpool fans, are hoping to launch a £550m buy-out of the club from its American owners.

They are looking for 100,000 supporters to each put in £5,000 to buy the club.

During questions at the second annual conference of the Sport and Politics Group, Mr Hamil said that Tom Hicks and George Gillett promised to buy the best players but this had turned out to mean an increase in season ticket prices.

Liverpool FC Manager Rafa Benitez Has 79 Hours To Save His Season

The FA CUP e-on Fifth round: Liverpool v Barnsley, today, kick-off 3pm GMT Flop against Tykes & Inter and the pressure will mount on Benitez.

Rafa Benitez has urged his Liverpool players to turn the spotlight at Anfield back on to the pitch by winning.

The endless speculation about Benitez's position and the club's ownership is turning into a longer-running soap opera on Merseyside than Brookside.

Some fans plan a protest march to the ground today as part of their campaign to force out US owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Liverpool could do without all these distractions going into the games against Barnsley and Inter Milan over the next four days which will decide their season and Benitez's future as manager.

The Spaniard is trying to remain calm as he counts down to these make-or-break 79 hours and believes his players can take some of the heat out of the situation by getting results.

"It would always be better if we didn't have all this speculation, but the only way we can help that situation is by winning games," said Benitez.

"Then people will talk about goals and wins and things like that. If we start winning games, it will be easier for everyone.

"Everything comes down to the performance of the team. It's a circle. If you play well you can win games, people will talk about football, you will have more confidence, you can win more and that in turn helps the financial situation."

That is easier said than done for Benitez's spluttering side who have already been embarrassed by Luton and non-league minnows Havant and Waterlooville in the FA Cup.

The Hatters forced a replay and Blue Square South outfit Havant twice led at Anfield before Liverpool roused themselves to win.

Defeat in the fifth round today at home to a Barnsley side with just two wins away all season and featuring on-loan Luke Steele - third choice goalkeeper at West Brom - is unthinkable.

Benitez is well aware of that possibility, having been on the end of a humiliating cup shock by Alicante when in charge at Valencia and hopes his players have learned not to be overconfident.

"It's always difficult when you play against a team from a lower division," he said. "You have to warn against complacency and tell your players to be careful.

"But if they score first, you will play with more anxiety and you are nervous. That's what can happen.

"In these type of games, you don't have anything to gain. People expect you to win. But if you play well and score goals that can be a positive."

Benitez has seized on any little plus point and he pointed to Liverpool's decent goalless draw at Chelsea as a sign the team was improving.

He also said the players had been sharp in training this week and that Fernando Torres was close to returning from his hamstring injury.

But the Spaniard knows what really matters to the fans is what happens at 3pm.

Another poor result would push Benitez further towards the exit and he said: "We've been trying to work out why we've been so inconsistent.

"In the last two games against Sunderland and Chelsea, I think we have done well and deserved to win and score goals. But we'll know more in five days' time whether we have turned a corner or not.

"We're ready for these challenges. People are talking about Inter, but we've got Barnsley first and the FA Cup is an opportunity to bring some silverware to the club.

"The Champions League will be more difficult. But we have a chance in both competitions, and we will try to take it. We know how important these two games are to our season and we don't want to disappoint anyone."

FA Cup Preview: Liverpool vs. Barnsley

Liverpool are seeking to repeat their FA Cup triumph of 2006, but they’ll have to get past Barnsley to make it into the quarter finals.

It doesn’t matter who you ask about Sunday’s game at Chelsea, everyone says the same thing: it was dire. That it was, but displeasing aesthetics aside a point from Stamford Bridge represents an excellent result. Indeed, with more clinical shooting Liverpool could have perhaps even ended the Blues’ long unbeaten home streak.

The game told us very little that we didn’t already know (namely that ‘top four’ sides often cancel each other out) but Liverpool nonetheless proved that despite an indifferent league campaign they can still hang with the best on a head-to-head basis.

The problem – as ever – is goals. Hardly ever under Rafa Benítez have Liverpool managed to find the net away to their big rivals, and with Fernando Torres absent the cause always looks a damn sight worse. That’s certainly something to consider – and aim to rectify – in the forthcoming Champions League matches.

But against Barnsley in the FA Cup the Reds should be hopeful of putting away a few goals and easing into the quarter finals without too much bother. Hopeful, but not certain. For as anyone who watched the drama against non-league Havant & Waterlooville will know, Liverpool are more than capable of shooting themselves in the foot against weaker sides.

Barnsley undoubtedly lack Liverpool’s qualities, but gifting the lead to a Championship side is far different to gifting it to a collection of bin men, taxi drivers and school teachers.

Championship side Barnsley reached Round 5 by way of a 1-0 win at Southend United. The South Yorkshire outfit will be hoping for that kind of away form at Anfield on Saturday rather than the stuff they’ve been serving up in the league.

The 10-man Terriers were shocking in midweek as they suffered a 3-0 rout at Plymouth Argyle. And although they are quite the force at Oakwell (beating the likes of Watford and West Brom) their last away league win was in September (3-2 at Southampton). Since then they’ve suffered nine defeats in twelve games, the worst of which was a 4-0 reverse at Coventry City.

However, this game offers a break from the league and a chance for players to prove to manager Simon Davey what they can do on a bigger stage. "This will be the pinnacle of some of the players' careers so far and they have to make sure they take the chance,” said the boss. “I will be proud to lead the team out at Anfield but we are going there to try to win the game.”

And if the Terriers are looking for an omen, here’s one: in the 1997/1998 season, their only one as a Premier League side, they earned a famous 1-0 league win over Liverpool at Anfield before going on to dump Manchester United out of the Cup.



Chelsea - Liverpool 0 - 0 10/02/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Sunderland 3 - 0 02/02/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
West Ham - Liverpool 1 - 0 30/01/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Havant & Waterlooville 5 - 2 26/01/2008 FA CUP
Liverpool - Aston Villa 2 - 2 21/01/2008 PREMIER LEAGUE
Liverpool - Luton 5 - 0 15/01/2008 FA CUP


Plymouth - Barnsley
3 - 0 12/02/2008 CHAMPIONSHIP
Barnsley - West Brom
2 - 1 09/02/2008 CHAMPIONSHIP
Coventry - Barnsley
4 - 0 02/02/2008 CHAMPIONSHIP
Barnsley - Colchester
1 - 0
Southend - Barnsley
0 - 1 25/01/2008 FA CUP
QPR - Barnsley
2 - 0 19/01/2008 CHAMPIONSHIP



With all respect to Barnsley, it’s fair to say that Reds boss Rafa Benítez just might have an eye on midweek opponents Internazionale when compiling Saturday’s team sheet. That said, he has no decision to make at centre-back as Martin Skrtel (calf) joins Daniel Agger on the sidelines. Sami Hyypia should return as could newly fit Fabio Aurélio and Alvaro Arbeloa. Fernando Torres has also shaken off his injury, but is highly unlikely to be risked for this game. Andriy Voronin is still out.

Likely XI (4-4-2): Itandje – Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia, Aurélio – Pennant, Lucas, Alonso, Kewell – Crouch, Kuyt


Emergency loan signing Luke Steele is not cup tied and will start in goal at Anfield in place of the injured Heinz Müller. Tony Warner is ineligible for this tie against his former club, as are Lewin Nyatanga and Jon Macken.

Last Line-up (v. Plymouth): Warner – Foster, Souza, Nyatanga, Kozluk – Leon (Campbell-Ryce), De Silva, Howard, Devaney (Ferenczi) – Macken, Nardiello (Hassell)


Liverpool – Dirk Kuyt

It’s over two months since Dirk Kuyt scored a goal for Liverpool (a late strike to make it 4-0 against Marseille). Since then the Reds have played 14 games and the Dutchman hasn’t spent any length of time out injured. Fans are starting to get on the striker’s back now so tomorrow would be a useful time to finally score. Barnsley aren’t Inter, but every little helps.

Barnsley – Luke Steele

Steele is a product of the Manchester United youth academy and thus will have extra incentive to thwart Liverpool on Saturday. The goalkeeper only joined the Terriers on an emergency loan this week and has barely played at parent club West Bromwich Albion since signing in 2006 and then going on loan to Coventry. Steele is out of match practice, but will he rise to the Anfield occasion?

Win A Trophy And The Rest Will Follow, Says Benítez

Rafael Benítez has said Liverpool can meet the financial pressures that are on the club with success in the FA Cup and Champions League this season.

"The finance is important but winning is the way to improve everything," said the Liverpool manager. "If you win games and progress in competitions such as the FA Cup and the Champions League it makes the money situation better.

"It would always be better if we didn't have all this speculation but the only way we can help that situation is by winning games. Then people will talk about goals and wins and football. It comes down to the performance of the team. It's a circle. If you play well you can win games, people will talk about football, you will have more confidence, you can win more and that will help the financial situation."

The £350m refinancing package that the club owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, secured last month has not removed the uncertainty surrounding their Anfield tenure, with Dubai International Capital still hoping to tempt the co-chairmen to sell, but it did make a financial imperative of the need for revenue from the Champions League.

Annual interest repayments of up to £30m will impact on the Liverpool manager's transfer budget until a proposed new stadium opens in 2011 but Benítez, whose team entertain Barnsley in the FA Cup this afternoon and Internazionale in the Champions League on Tuesday, believes his squad can overcome the frequent distractions that the Americans' reign has produced.

Benítez claims to be unperturbed by the possibility of a second takeover at Anfield in the space of 12 months, with DIC attempting to capitalise on a strained business relationship between Gillett and Hicks, and his focus is on the competitions that offer release from another season of failed ambition in the Premier League.

"This week I've not had any problems concentrating just on football. I try to focus on the games, especially the next two because we could win these competitions," he said. "We are ready for these challenges. People are talking about Inter but we've got Barnsley first and the FA Cup is an opportunity to bring some silverware to the club. The Champions League will be more difficult because of the quality of the teams left in it. But this is our chance in both competitions and we will try to do it."

The Liverpool manager admits there can be no excuses for complacency among his players against Barnsley, following scares in previous rounds against Luton Town, then Havant & Waterlooville. Benítez added: "It is always difficult against a team from a lower division. The bigger team cannot win in these situations. Everyone expects you to win but, if they score first, then you will become nervous and play with more anxiety as we did against Havant & Waterlooville. That can happen.

"You have to warn against complacency and to tell your players to be careful. A lot of Premier League teams have struggled in the FA Cup this season but we still have a chance to win it."