Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rafa Hints At Less Rotation

Recent comments made by Rafael Benitez suggest that he is considering giving his much maligned rotation policy a rest.

Uncharacteristically, the Liverpool boss made only one change to the side for Saturday's 3-2 victory over Middlesbrough from the one that beat Inter, and he hinted that this would be a sign of things to come.

"I think so. It will depend on the players in the end, but we can keep some players playing more games now," said Benitez, speaking shortly after Everton's 2-0 victory away to Manchester City seriously upped the pressure on his side in the race for the final Champions League place,

"Everton have a lot of confidence right now and it was a good win for them (on Monday), but it's a long race," the Spaniard added.

"Portsmouth, Villa, Everton, City and us will all be there. I'm not sure if it will go to the final game but I think a lot will depend on these three games we have in a row."

Benitez Won't Rush Hyypia Decision

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez will decide on the future of defender Sami Hyypia later in the season.

The 34 year-old has been outstanding in the continued absence of Danish centre-back Daniel Agger through injury, and intimated that he would like a new contract when his current deal runs out in the summer.

Benitez had planned to use Hyypia as cover for Agger and Jamie Carragher this term but has been forced to use the Finland international 33 times as Liverpool's defensive strength has been stretched.

Agger made his comeback from a five-month absence with metatarsal injury in the reserves against Manchester United's second string last night and is almost ready for a return to first-team action.

Hyypia, linked with both Fulham and Newcastle in recent months, expressed a desire to stay at the club and complete 10 years at Anfield in 2009.

Benitez, who has also bought Slovakian 23-year-old Martin Skrtel for £6.5million from Zenit St Petersburg, insists Hyypia "has nothing to prove" - and a decision on his long-term future will be delayed until near the end of the season.

The Spaniard said: "I was talking with him, but he knows we have to wait a little bit.

"I am really pleased with him. The question now is to see how he progresses, but he knows my thoughts.

"He doesn't have to prove anything. We know him, and he knows why we have to analyse the situation. "Every year he has been a key player for us. He's a centre-back with experience who's good in the air and who can play the ball.

"He is playing more games than we maybe expected this season - but every game his performance is good."

Hyypia has spent almost a decade at Anfield after being signed from Willem II by Gerard Houllier in May 1999, and is regarded by Liverpool fans as one of the club's greatest servants.

Hyypia added: "My priority would be to stay at Liverpool, but it's not only up to me. I haven't got any offers yet from here or any other clubs, so I am just trying to focus on the matches.

"I am enjoying playing, and I have played more games than maybe I thought I would this season because of all the injuries. The only thing I can do is try to play well. It would be very nice to get to 10 years at the club, but I am just concentrating on playing well.

"Whether I stay wouldn't depend on how many games I play. I am not like that. I'm not interested in somebody promising me something.

"If we have four centre-backs then everyone fights for their place, and performances should determine who plays. If I keep playing well then it will be difficult for the manager to change things."

Lucas: I'm Learning From Gerrard And Xavi

Liverpool's Lucas Leiva has won over manager Rafael Benitez in recent weeks, having displaced fan favourite Xabi Alonso from the starting line-up...The midfielder has revealed he is learning a lot from the man's place he has taken, as well as his captain.

Speaking to the club's official website, Lucas explained what motivates him to perform.

"Whenever I play, in each game, I know I have to play well in order to stay in the team. Gerrard, Xabi and Mascherano are very good players," he said.

"I am learning a lot from them because they have played a lot of time in Europe, especially Gerrard and Xabi. They have won the European Cup.

"I am still young but I know I have potential to fight for a place in the team. Liverpool brought me here and Liverpool have confidence in me. I respect all the players but I need to fight for my position.

"Rafa always asks for a little bit more. He always says, 'you can improve' or 'you can play better'. And it's true. But he has confidence in me."

The 21-year-old also revealed how has been settling in in his new surroundings, insisting it is not as different as many may think. He has also extended thanks to countryman and team-mate Fabio Aurelio for helping him settle into the country and learn the language.

"My life is the Brazil life: very relaxed," declared the former Gremio starlet. "I like to stay home, not go out. The weather in the winter is more or less the same, though the nights are longer here. But I like Liverpool and all the people try to help me.

"Fabio [Aurelio] has been the most important player for me because he speaks the language, but everyone helps a lot.

"If I had a problem I would have called Fabio, but now I speak English quite well and can try to sort things myself.

Mascherano Nears Permanent Switch

Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano has revealed he is close to finally making his move to Liverpool a permament one.

The Reds have been locked in talks with the former West Ham player for the last few months as they look to secure his future.

Mascherano is currently on loan at Anfield until the end of the season after joining the Reds in the 2007 January transfer window.

The Argentina international has been a revelation at Anfield since his arrival after an ill-fated spell with the Hammers.

Mascherano is hopeful he will put pen-to-paper on a contract in the next few days to end speculation over his future.

"We are really close," Mascherano told the club's official website. "Maybe this week or next week we will be able to say everything's finished. We can't say it just yet but hopefully in a few days everything will be okay.

"There are no problems with the fee or with the contract, it's just getting the papers finished.

"I have always said I want to stay here and so it hasn't been a difficult time for me. I have wanted it to be finished because I have my family behind me and I want to know what my future is going to be. I am calm and relaxed because I know that everything is almost over.

"I am very happy that in the next week I will be able to say I have signed for Liverpool. It will be the best moment of my career to be able to say I will be playing my football with Liverpool."

Mascherano also outlined the importance of the club finishing fourth and qualifying for next season's UEFA Champions League.

The Reds currently sit in fifth spot three points behind local rivals Everton in the battle to finish fourth and Mascherano insists they must keep up their pursuit of finishing fourth by beating Bolton this weekend.

"We have to finish in the top four because we want to be playing in the Champions League next season," added Mascherano.

"We have to win the games we have coming up before we go to Milan and so it's not difficult to stay focused at all.

"We had a good win against Middlesbrough on Saturday and now we have to go and try to win at Bolton. We beat them easily at Anfield earlier in the season but we know it's going to be harder this weekend because they're a difficult side to play on their own pitch."

Gerrard: No Prizes For Fourth

Steven Gerrard says this season is a failure for Liverpool - fans wouldn't have wanted second place in the league, never mind fourth.

Steven Gerrard has admitted his frustration with Liverpool's season.

The Reds may be in the Champions League still, but another season of hype and failure in the Premier League has really got the Anfield skipper down.

"You don’t get any prizes for finishing in second place - never mind fourth - in football," Gerrard said. "I don’t think the fans would accept it as an accomplishment and, for me, it’s not nearly good enough.

In the position we find ourselves in, fourth is the least that is acceptable between now and May - but we have bigger ambitions than that.

"I still believe we have the squad to be a hell of a lot more competitive than we are right now," he continued. "I’m a Liverpool fan and I believe the league is the most important trophy going.

"I’m pretty gutted every time I look at the table and see the gap between us and the top three. We believed we had the players to challenge for the title. We wanted that trophy more than any other one available to us. We’ve simply got to improve.”