Monday, February 18, 2008

Torres Awaits Famous European Night

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is relishing the chance to play against Inter and hopes to help the Reds claim a sixth European title.

Liverpool face Internazionale on Tuesday night knowing that a defeat would probably bring an end to their chances of success in any competition.

The Reds are reeling from Saturday's shock 2-1 home defeat to Barnsley in the FA Cup, but Fernando Torres, who missed that game, is anxious to move on.

The Spanish striker should be passed fit to feature in Tuesday's Anfield clash having shaken off a hamstring injury and knows the game has huge importance for Liverpool football club.

"The game against Inter will be one of those special Champions League nights at Anfield that I have seen countless times before on the television," he explained.

“I have always dreamt of playing in one of these games and would certainly not like to miss it. The Champions League is an important competition. Everyone at Liverpool really wants to win a sixth European Cup and to continue the club’s proud tradition."

Torres has been at the club for less than a year but has already recognised what a special place Anfield is to play at. "(It's) like no other," he said. "The dressing rooms are from 70 years ago - there are none like them still around in Spain. The stadium also has a lot of history and tradition.

"The corridor which leads out on to the pitch is so narrow that the two teams can barely squeeze through. And to hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ as you step out into the stadium is unbelievable. You walk out on to the pitch fully charged and with enough energy to run all day. I think the atmosphere at Anfield can give us a real advantage against Inter this week.”

John Aldridge: Loss Of Paco Ayesteran To Blame For Liverpool Woe

Former Liverpool striker John Aldridge claims the famous Anfield club has “imploded” recently and believes the departure of Rafael Benitez’s assistant this season is a major factor in the team’s plight.

Benitez’s side crashed out of the FA Cup courtesy of Barnsley’s injury-time winner at Anfield yesterday.

With their Barclays Premier League campaign now confined to a race for fourth place, which leaves them with just the Champions League to contest, with the first leg of their last-16 tie with Inter Milan taking place this week.

And highly-decorated former striker Aldridge admits ongoing confusion off the field is adding to problems on the pitch.

“It’s not going too well on and off the field at the moment,” he told Setanta Sports News. “The club’s imploded over the past couple of months and it can only get better.

“A lot of people are getting the wrong idea of what’s happening. You can look back to when Paco Ayesteran went a couple of months ago, Rafa’s right-hand man, I think that’s got a massive bearing on it.

“He’s holding the fort on his own without a right-hand man. He’s working very hard on his own and under very difficult circumstances and I think he needs a bit of help right now.”

As for matters upstairs, Aldridge added: “There’s so much speculation going on off the park regarding the American owners (George Gillett and Tom Hicks) that we don’t know who’s going to be the chairman next month.

“If anyone did want Rafa to go then who could sack him at the moment? He’s between parties, the old chairman David Moores hasn’t got a say in the matter. There’s no board at the moment, no-one knows where the club’s going at the present time.”

Inter Boss Mancini Still Wary Of The Reds

Inter Milan boss Roberto Mancini says he will not be reading too much into Liverpool's poor form ahead of their Champions League clash at Anfield on Tuesday night.

The Reds crashed out of the FA Cup on Saturday with a shock home defeat to Barnsley, to pile the pressure on Rafa Benitez ahead of the visit of the runaway Serie A leaders.

Former Leicester man Mancini insists he will not be fooled into thinking Liverpool will be an easy opponent for his side and he is wary of the threat posed by last season's losing finalists.

"I am not fooled by Liverpool's form in the Premier League. Or in cup competitions, where they rest their top players," Mancini told The Sun.

"I saw them held to a draw at home to Aston Villa and no, they were not at their best. But that is not the Liverpool I expect to see when we play at Anfield.

"I expect to see the Liverpool of old, the Liverpool that have contested two of the last three Champions League finals, the Liverpool that gave us the greatest final ever in Istanbul against AC Milan. After which, every Inter supporter went out a bought a Liverpool shirt.

"Everyone knows Liverpool, with their history and tradition, are a different team in the Champions League. European nights lift this famous club.

"It is in their blood. They respond - and their supporters respond with them.

"That is why we will have to produce an incredible performance at Anfield. We may have a fantastic record in Serie A but that doesn't mean anything when you come to big European nights.

Mancini admitted that Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are Liverpool's two most important players and that he must stop the pair if his side are to progress.

"Liverpool have great players, yet I still think the most important thing is the team," added Mancini.

"They have a very English centre but other players with European vision. In fact, an Italian vision.

"I don't like to talk about individual players. It sends the wrong message to your own team. But I will admit this. Gerrard and Carragher are the most important players in the Liverpool team - more so even than Fernando Torres.

"They represent everything great about Liverpool. They are the soul of the team."

Rafa Benitez Refuses To Talk About His Liverpool FC Future

Stunned Rafael Benitez refused to contemplate his Anfield future in the aftermath of Liverpool’s sensational FA Cup exit on Saturday.

The loss leaves the Champions League as Liverpool’s only route to silverware this season, with Inter Milan visiting Anfield in the first knockout round first leg tomorrow night.

And when asked whether winning the European Cup for a second time in four seasons would be the only way to save his job, the beleaguered Benitez responded: “I only think about winning the next game.

“I don’t know too many managers who win the Champions League. We need to improve the squad, it’s a young squad with good players, keep working, keep improving the squad if we can.

“Everybody wants to win here, so the way to win is to keep working. If you say against Barnsley that the players weren’t working hard, I would say that’s not true. The team was trying to win.

“We are out of the Cup, that is the situation and we need to think about the Champions League. If we can create the chances that we’ve created against Barnsley I’m sure we’ll score goals.

“We must try to keep going, keep preparing the team for the next games, we have the Champions League and after the Premier League, we must keep working harder and keep creating chances.”

Liverpool created 31 chances but scored just once through Dirk Kuyt’s opener. It allowed Stephen Foster to equalise on 12 minutes after the interval before Brian Howard struck Barnsley’s winner in injury time.

And Benitez said: “In the last month we had a lot of chances in every game and couldn’t score the second goal and kill the game, and now in the last minute we lost.

“To the players you must send the same message: keep working hard, keep creating chances and we will have more confidence if we can score the first and second goal.

“We had chances to score the second goal, very, very clear chances and the keeper made great saves. It means that we need to score the goals and improve our confidence.”

Asked whether his confidence-hit players were afraid to shoot, Benitez said: “Some players maybe, but you could see our players were trying till the end.

“So I had confidence at 80 minutes, I could see the team attacking and attacking and attacking, so I had confidence we could win.

“If you don’t try you will not change anything. You must try to win games, sometimes you cannot. You can’t say ‘oh, because I couldn’t win this game I will stop training and working’, so we need to prepare for the game against Inter Milan and against Middlesbrough, so that’s football.”

Benitez Faces Summer Appraisal

Rafael Benitez's position as Liverpool manager will be reviewed at the end of the season, according to reports.

Liverpool suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of Barnsley in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, leaving the European Cup as the only competition the club could realistically hope to win this season.

Benitez clashed with club owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks over transfer policy last year and Hicks later admitted he held talks with the former Germany manager Jurgen Klinsmann about taking over if Benitez left suddenly.

But they cleared the air at a meeting in December and Benitez was able to sign Martin Skrtel during the transfer window.

After losing to Barnsley, Benitez said: "We cannot change this result, but we must look now at the Champions League and try to finish our chances next time.

"We must think of Europe, we still have fourth place in the league to go for, that is what is coming next."

Liverpool face Inter Milan in the first leg of their Champions League second round tie at Anfield on Tuesday and they meet Middlesbrough in the Premier League on Saturday.

They are currently three points behind local rivals Everton, who are fourth in the Premier League, but Liverpool have a game in hand.

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said: "I wouldn't call this just a bad spell. It's been a lot longer than that. We realise we are not playing well enough. It's not a matter of putting your finger on one reason.

"It's simply because we have not been good enough. We've still got the Champions League to play for and we have to fight for that fourth place, so every league game is going to be important. We have to make sure we are in the Champions League next season."