Saturday, March 08, 2008

Premier League Preview: LiverpooL vs. Newcastle United

Kevin Keegan returns to Anfield having endured a torrid start to his second coming at St. James’ Park. His first spell holders fonder memories: Keegan was the manager of Newcastle when his side succumbed to a last minute Stan Collymore goal in a 4-3 defeat that is possibly still the most entertaining Premier League game ever.

That Newcastle team had flair - Ginola, Beardsley and Asprilla, as well as the goals of Les Ferdinand, and they went so close to winning the championship under Keegan’s guidance. This time, it's been different: sections of the Toon Army were delighted when Keegan returned but, to be honest, Keegan could not have imagined such a dreadful sequence of results in his darkest nightmares.

Newcastle are sliding slowly towards the bottom three with a squad of ageing and unmotivated players who are underperforming massively. Having not won in 11 league games, Newcastle now face the daunting prospect of a trip to Anfield, a side that have already beaten them 3-0 this season.

Newcastle concede goals far too readily and Liverpool’s in-form Fernando Torres will fancy his chances of scoring a third consecutive hat-trick at Anfield here. Rafa Benitez, in fact, has seen his side finally start to play like a top four club in recent weeks, winning four on the spin and scoring plenty of goals on the process.

With a solid defensive midfield duo of Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso dictating play, Benitez has released Steven Gerrard to support the scintillating Fernando Torres and it has worked well. Dirk Kuyt has found some form playing wide where he is not expected to score goals, and Ryan Babel’s pace on the opposite flank stretches teams creating space for Torres and Gerrard to exploit.

Benitez has not rotated as much since that shocking Cup defeat at the hands of Barnsley, and so long as he continues to do this The Red’s can expect an excellent end to the season. A victory on Saturday looks like a formality, but Newcastle have to win sometime and what better ground to win on than Anfield where manager Keegan and captain Owen enjoyed so many glorious games in the colours of Liverpool.



05 Mar v West Ham (h) WON 4-0 (Prem)

02 Mar v Bolton (a) WON 3-1 (Prem)

23 Feb v Middlesbrough (h) WON 3-2 (Prem)

19 Feb v Internazionale (h) WON 2-0 (CL)

16 Feb v Barnsley (h) LOST 1-2 (FA Cup)

10 Feb v Chelsea (a) DREW 0-0 (Prem)


01 Mar v Blackburn (h) LOST 0-1 (Prem)

23 Feb v Manchester United (h) LOST 1-5 (Prem)

09 Feb v Aston Villa (a) LOST 1-4 (Prem)

03 Feb v Middlesbrough (h) DREW 1-1 (Prem)

29 Jan v Arsenal (a) LOST 0-3 (Prem)

26 Jan v Arsenal (a) LOST 0-3 (FA Cup)



Rafa is becoming more consistent with his team selections in recent weeks, and probably won’’t tinker much with the side that thrashed West Ham in midweek. Steve Finnan and Andriy Voronin (ankle) will miss out, but Daniel Agger is back in contention after getting some action in the reserves on Tuesday night.


King Kev has not had any luck since returning to Newcastle and that has continued with Shay Given sidelined. Elsewhere, Stephen Carr, Mark Viduka, Peter Ramage and Emre are missing, as is Joey Barton who is not allowed to play in Liverpool due to the terms of his bail. Expect a central midfield role Charles N’Zogbia.


Liverpool - Fernando Torres has scored hat-tricks in his last two home games, and the former Atletico Madrid forward will be rubbing his hands at the prospect of another against a confidence stricken Newcastle on Saturday. Torres ripped Newcastle to pieces at St. James’ Park earlier in the campaign, yet somehow failed to convert any of the chances he created for himself. Do not expect the best striker in the country to be as forgiving this weekend.

Newcastle - Michael Owen returns to Anfield as captain of a Newcastle side that find themselves in freefall. Owen rose to prominence after coming through the Liverpool youth ranks, and many Koppites were angered when Benitez chose not to bring back the England man from Real Madrid. Owen has lost some pace due to injuries but he is still a predator, and if Newcastle can supply him with decent chances, it is only a matter of time before he starts hitting the net again.

Reds Cannot Afford To Ease Off - Rafa

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has stressed to his players the importance of maintaining their vastly-improved form over the coming weeks.

The Anfield boss is rightly happy with a dramatic change in fortunes which has seen the team emerge from frustrating inconsistency to win four of their five unbeaten league matches since losing at West Ham in January.

Fernando Torres' third hat-trick of the season helped the side to a 4-0 victory over the Hammers on Wednesday to put Liverpool back into fourth spot in the Barclays Premier League but with competition so tight Benitez knows the club's revival must be maintained.

"We have been growing in confidence and the whole side believes that Fernando Torres is in the sort of form that will produce us goals," said the Spaniard.

"But now we must take this on. Winning three games on the trot has helped our quest for fourth place, but we must now beat Newcastle before we turn our attention to the Champions League at Inter Milan next week."

Liverpool legend Kevin Keegan brings his relegation-threatened Newcastle to Anfield on Saturday still without a win after seven matches since his return to St James' Park as manager.

Keegan - who joined Liverpool in 1971 as a £33,000 signing from Scunthorpe by Bill Shankly - can be assured of a great welcome from the Kop but that is where the sympathy will end.

Few will ever forget the two famous clashes between the clubs in 1996 and 1997 which both ended in 4-3 wins for Liverpool and remain timeless classics.

But Keegan's side were title contenders then and the fear is there could be plenty more goals on Saturday with Liverpool on a roll - although no-one is expecting the visitors to score three times on this occasion.

Newcastle's only Premier League win at Anfield came in 1994 on Keegan's first visit as Magpies manager. They have not won in 13 visits since and, considering their current form, it will be a major shock if they reverse that trend.

Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen, who scored 158 goals in 297 games for the club, also returns.

He has never quite been forgiven for the manner of his departure to Real Madrid after saying he wanted to win trophies - ironically, the season he departed Liverpool won the Champions League.

But when he first played for Newcastle at Anfield on his return to England after one season in Spain the Kop sang "Where were you in Istanbul?" at their former hero.

Liverpool have a doubt over defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano, who picked up a muscle injury against West Ham.

Benitez - Torres Can Eclipse Ruud

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes Fernando Torres is more than capable of breaking an impressive record currently held by former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Torres will run out at Anfield on Saturday for the visit of Newcastle having scored hat-tricks in his last two matches at the stadium.

He will also be presented with the Barclays player of the month award for February beforehand.

With 24 goals in 33 games since joining from Atletico Madrid in the summer Benitez claims Torres believes he will score every time he walks onto a pitch.

So far he has scored 18 league goals, five short of Van Nistelrooy's total of 23 in the 2001-02 season, the highest league tally by a foreign player in his Premier League debut season.

Torres is also on course to become the first Liverpool player for 12 years to hit 20 league goals in a season - something Michael Owen, returning to Anfield with Newcastle, never achieved in his time at Liverpool.

For Benitez, Torres' speedy adaptation to English football is a genuine plus.

"We knew when we signed Fernando that he had quality, pace and strength," said the Spanish manager.

"But I am a little surprised to see him scoring so regularly at this level straight away, it is not easy for someone in their first season in England.

"But he believes he can score in every game now and the sort of records that are being mentioned are within his capabilities.

"He has such confidence the prospect of scoring 24 league goals is within him."

Benitez will be forced into changing a winning side against Kevin Keegan's strugglers, with midfielder Javier Mascherano out with a muscle injury.

Benitez could bring in young Brazilian Lucas Leiva or switch Steven Gerrard back to a central midfield role with Dirk Kuyt coming in off the right wing to partner Torres up front, meaning Yossi Benayoun would be likely to start.

Mascherano is expected to be fit for Tuesday's trip to face Inter Milan in the Champions League but right-back Steve Finnan is more doubtful as he struggles with a hamstring problem which will sideline him against Newcastle.

Benitez knows Torres has become the key to Liverpool's ambitions for the remainder of the season after a shockingly inconsistent campaign but he admitted: "Fernando is not the perfect striker yet. He has things he can learn - and you cannot find a perfect manager either!"

The Reds boss also made sure he did not get dragged into commenting on the club's takeover saga, which is close to a solution.

"For us at the moment it is more important to keep our concentration on the matches we have. They are coming fast now, and hugely important," he added.

"I am thinking only of that. Together, myself and the players need to concentrate on the football."

Benitez also accepts Saturday's game will be an emotional one for Liverpool legend Keegan, who has yet to win any of the seven matches he has been in charge for since returning to manage Newcastle.

"My memories of Keegan come from watching him play for Hamburg against Real Madrid in the European Cup," said the Spaniard.

"In Madrid he was marked out of the game but in Hamburg it was a different matter.

"Madrid's defenders never saw him, he was always getting in behind them and showed what a great player he was."

As for Keegan's current managerial problems, Benitez said: "Newcastle were in a bad position before he took over but they have quality and experience and he will soon show that he is a manager of equal experience."

Of Owen's return, as Newcastle captain, Benitez said: "He was a great servant to Liverpool and an excellent finisher. I am sure he will start scoring again but hopefully not until after this match."

With Liverpool returning to fourth place in the Barclays Premier League with their win over West Ham, the manager stressed the players knew exactly what they have to do to secure Champions League qualification.

"It is back in our own hands now. If we win all our games from now we will finish fourth," he added.

"But Everton and Aston Villa are fighting for the position as well. It makes our derby game with Everton at the end of the month very significant, but there are plenty of games before that we must win, it will not depend on just one game."

Liverpool’s Benitez: Newcastle Have Enough Quality

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez feels Newcastle United’s current position is not due to lack of quality but because they are not playing at their highest level.

The Reds take on Kevin Keegan’s side, who are only three points above the relegation zone, at Anfield tomorrow.

“I think they have enough quality in their squad, and also the manager has a lot of experience. It's a surprise where they are because they have very good players, so hopefully after this game they will start winning,” Benitez said on the club’s official website.

“I think that, because they were in a bad position, and then they couldn't win the first games, they have been a little bit under pressure. When you are under pressure you cannot play at your level. But they have enough quality and experience in the squad, so I think after this game they will start winning.

Former Reds favourite, Michael Owen returns to Merseyside as the skipper of the Toon tomorrow and will be keen to spark the revival of the Tynesiders by scoring against his old club.

“We know Michael is a very good player and a great finisher. We'll have to take care of him tomorrow and if he is calm against us then maybe he can go and score 20 goals,” quipped Benitez.

Gerrard Hungry For More

It is not easy waiting to play your UEFA Champions League quarter-final when seven of the eight places have already been decided. Liverpool FC have had an extra week before concluding their tie with FC Internazionale Milano, and with three English sides already through, the onus is on the 2005 champions to join them.

"It's something I've never experienced before," Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard tells "But we've just got to get over that final hurdle and get ourselves into that draw. Some fantastic teams have qualified already and it would be nice to join them." Speaking the morning after his side's 4-0 defeat of West Ham United FC, the trip to the San Siro cannot come soon enough. It is one of the few great European stadiums Gerrard has never played at and he is eager to return to the competition that has brought him and the club so much success.

Patience, though, has been the buzz word of the tie. Liverpool were made to wait for the two late goals that finally beat Inter at Anfield and have had to wait again as they look to finish the job in Italy. "You just have to keep going all the way to the end," says Gerrard, who once again struck when it mattered most in the dying seconds against Inter. "A lot of goals in football are scored late on when teams are tired, especially when teams are down to ten men, like against Inter [following Marco Materazzi's 30th-minute dismissal]. We had to be patient. A 1-0 lead is a good enough result but 2-0, that's the icing on the cake. It gives us a good cushion and confidence is really high for the second leg, but this tie is not over yet."

Former Reds have been drilling that point home, particularly those that played in the 1965 semi-final when Liverpool were knocked out by Inter after winning the first leg 3-1 at Anfield. "We can learn an awful lot from what they're saying," Gerrard says. "They say the tie is not over and that we've got to go and perform just as well as we did at Anfield. That's the message, from me the captain to the rest of the boys: we can't go there thinking we've got this tie won. We've got a really difficult 90 minutes ahead of us."

Liverpool fans will not be taking anything for granted. Inconsistency in the Premier League and the pain of their FA Cup defeat by Barnsley FC have made sure of that. Since that nadir, though, Rafael Benítez's men have risen again. Victory against Inter was followed by three straight league wins and the brilliant form of Fernando Torres has got the Kop buzzing again. Gerrard too is thriving, playing in behind the Spaniard, whose hat-trick against West Ham took him to 24 goals for the season. Following his treble against Middlesbrough FC, it was the first time a Liverpool player had scored back-to-back hat-tricks at home in 62 years.

"Yeah, I'm enjoying it," Gerrard says. "Playing behind Fernando Torres is always a pleasure. Fernando's on fire. He just gives me so many options when I turn and have space. His direct running and good movement in that role helps me an awful lot and with [Xabi] Alonso and Javier Mascherano tidying up behind me, I think this team is looking really strong. With players like Fernando, Ryan Babbel, Dirk Kuyt and with the way I'm playing myself, we've got a great chance going forward to cause Inter Milan some problems. I think we've got to be positive there. A goal virtually kills the tie. We need to obviously be very strong defensively, but with a game plan of going forward to try and cause them problems like we did at home."

Gerrard's committed approach has won him fans far beyond his native Liverpool. He was voted into's Team of the Year for the third year in succession after leading Liverpool to the 2007 UEFA Champions League final and was also chosen to captain the side. "It's a surprise to be captain of that team with so many top, top players," Gerrard said. "It's a fantastic honour, especially because it is voted for by the supporters. To get in the team full of star names and big, big players for the third year running is a big achievement and I'm really proud of that."

Gerrard has had much to be proud of this year, including being named as England captain for new manager Fabio Capello's first match last month. Seeing off the Italian champions would be further cause for celebration, something that did not look likely after Liverpool collected just one point from their first three games in the group stage. Since then they have won four in a row, scoring 18 and conceding just once. Gerrard admits: "We were guilty of being slightly over-confident in the group. As a team, we thought it was going to be easy and that we would easily top the group but Marseille, Porto and Beşiktaş caused us some problems and made it a really difficult group to get out of. That emphatic 8-0 win against Beşiktaş gave us a lot of confidence."

Gerrard is determined to ensure there is no complacency on Tuesday. Having led Liverpool to the European crown in 2005 then back to the final last term, the 27-year-old knows what it takes to succeed. "Hard work and a little bit of luck along the way. This team knows what's needed to get to the final, we're experienced and we realise it's going to be difficult. But you've got to be confident, believe it can happen and go and make the most of it. We've got a fantastic chance of going through to the last eight and we can't let that slip through our fingers."

Particularly with three English clubs already there. "If we qualify against Inter, that's four teams out of eight so no one can argue with the fact that the Premiership's been the strongest league this year. And I think it's going to get even stronger. I know a lot of players around Europe want to play in this league so it is only going to get better. [Arsenal beating Milan] was a surprise. Arsenal were fantastic on the night. When they got drawn together, I thought Arsenal would come unstuck against Milan because of the experience I have had playing against them. They're a fantastic team, a difficult team to beat, so I think Arsenal deserve a lot of credit."

Gerrard knows that better than most. A 2-1 defeat by the Rossoneri in the Athens final last May provides motivation to go out and reclaim the trophy, but it is the taste of victory in 2005 that most spurs on the Liverpool talisman. "It is great memories, memories I'll never forget. It was the best night of my footballing career so far – I'd love nothing better than to go and achieve it again."

Reds Fans Form Splinter Club

A group of Liverpool fans are looking to form a breakaway club in response to what they see as a decline in 'the Liverpool way'.

AFC Liverpool say there has been 'enormous' interest in the idea to start up a team in the North West Counties League next season, a move that would be similar to that made by Manchester United rebels FC United in 2005.

However as on-going protests towards the club's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks continue, AFC officials insist the idea is more geared toward making football affordable again rather than a reaction to the current state of the club.

Organiser Alun Parry, an Anfield season ticket holder for 17 years, said: "This is a pro-Liverpool idea rather than an anti-Liverpool one.

"The 39th game idea proved once and for all that the people in charge of football are not interested in the people. They are not interested in the integrity of the opposition.

"In real terms, football is now seven times more expensive to watch than it was in 1985 - three games now could buy you a season ticket then.

"Football is too expensive now for a lot of people and we want to give Reds fans the opportunity again to feel part of the club."

Parry added: "Despite the obvious rivalries we have in The Premier League, everyone at FC United have been really supportive and all the forums have urged us to go for it.

"It is about more than football, it is about the match becoming a 'day out' again.

"AFC Wimbledon have also been in touch and offered their help. Every non-league club we have spoken to have been really supportive."