Monday, March 10, 2008

Gerrard Demands Consistency

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard told about his side's recent renaissance, stating that it must continue until the season's end.

The skipper puts much of the Reds' recent success down to Fernando Torres, the on-form striker.

"It's easy to play with Fernando," noted the midfielder. "He makes good runs and stretches defenses, and this makes space for me.

"It's working at the moment but we've got to continue this as a team until the end of the season because there's a big race on for the Champions League places.

"We were disappointed to lose against Barnsley but since then there's been a reaction from the players and that's shown in our performances."

Most recently, the Reds picked up a 3-0 win over Newcastle.

"It was a comfortable win," continued the England international.

The lads at the back did their job with the clean sheet, and the lads up front got the goals, but credit has to go to the team because it was a team display.

"It's easy to let your mind wander ahead of the Milan game but it was important we stayed focused. It could have affected the performance, so credit to the boys for being very professional and doing the job right.

"Now we can focus on Inter Milan. It will be a very difficult game but we're confident we can qualify.

"We'll show them a lot of respect but, like I said, we're confident, we're playing well and we got a fantastic result against them at home. Now we need to go finish the job off."

As for Newcastle, he concluded, "I'm sure they'll turn it around because they've got good players, good coaching staff and a good manager.

"They just need that all-important win to build that bit of confidence. They've got fantastic support, so it's only a matter of time."

Fan vs Fan: Inter - Liverpool

Question: Let us start with your thoughts about your team's performance during the first leg? What emotions did it evoke?

Chris Simmons (Liverpool): I was ecstatic. I know Europe’s different to domestic football but I really thought we were going to be picked apart after the shambles against Barnsley. But we were fantastic right from the start, got a great win and didn’t concede!

Martino Olmeda (Inter): I think it’s difficult to judge the team effectively, as the game was clearly influenced by Marco Materazzi’s undeserved sending off in the first half. Both yellow cards were flukes. It was obvious that Liverpool would have the upper hand after that. But before the goal, which came only ten minutes before the end thanks to a lucky deflection, they hadn’t created much real danger and we defended very well.

Still, we were a little too cautious at the start of the game and we looked nervous. In the end, I felt the 2-0 defeat was too harsh and Steven Gerrard’s (brilliant) second goal was a really hard blow. With 1-0 we would have all to play for, but now it’s very very tough.

Question: Were you lucky, or did you deserve more from the game?

CS: No, we definitely deserved that win, no doubt. The goals were late but I think we merited them. We could have had a penalty for handball, too, but I think the ref was trying to even things out after the harsh red card.

MO: I think a 1-0 defeat would have been more right. The second goal was simply a great individual effort by Gerrard - there was no team merit. We were definitely unlucky on the night, even though our approach to the match was a little too cautious and timid.

Question: Where does that result leave you heading into the second leg? Any reason to lose sleep?

CS: We’re firmly in the driving seat: the only thing I fear is our own complacency. Against Barcelona last year we won the first leg but rather sat back at Anfield and let them take a 1-0 lead – we were really hanging on at the end. I hope this time we make it easier on ourselves.

MO: It will take a monumental performance for us to qualify. But remember, we already managed a similar feat against Liverpool in 1965, the year we won our last European Cup. We lost 3-1 at Anfield, but beat them 3-0 at San Siro. That exact same result would be enough to put us through again this time. It would be a really amazing thing if we could repeat that kind of result just days after our centenary. It would also prove that, in football, history has a way of repeating itself.

Question: What about your opponents? What did you think about their performance?

CS: Pleasantly disappointing. I’m sure they’ll blame the ref for the Materazzi incident but in truth they never looked like scoring even with 11 men. They defended very well, considering, but none of the big attacking threats showed up.

MO: I think Liverpool are overrated. They work very hard and are defensively very strong, but without Gerrard, their only world-class player, I think they would lose 50% of their strength. They did not impress me in the first leg either. With ten men we kept them at bay quite easily before Dirk Kuyt’s lucky opening goal, which came in the 83rd minute I think. In the 2005 final Milan gave them a football lesson and showed the world that Liverpool are no great shakes. I hope we can do a similar thing on Tuesday night.

Question: How has your opinion of them changed after the game, if at all?

CS: Not much. You can’t judge any team on one game and their Serie A record speaks for itself. They’ll be tougher to play against at San Siro.

MO: See my last answer. I watched the game, so I don’t judge just the result, and my opinion of them as an average, hard working team that depends on one player hasn’t changed.

Question: Coming ahead to the second leg, where do you think it will be won or lost now?

CS: We need to be calm and not let the atmosphere in Milan get to us. If we concede early we could be in trouble so we need to soak up the pressure and try and nab an away goal. I think how our centre-halves handle Ibrahimovic and Cruz will be key.

MO: Definitely in defence. If we concede a goal, it’s practically over (although, even if we did, I would still not give up hope). Meanwhile, we’ll have to hope their defence will be slightly complacent or distracted, although it’s unlikely, because we need to score at least twice to take the game into extra time, and then anything can happen. Unfortunately, Liverpool’s biggest strength usually is in the defensive side of the game.

Question: Did you see any weakness in your opponents that your team can exploit better?

CS: Materazzi’s suspended, obviously, and apart from him Inter aren’t very tall at the back. Their defence didn’t know what to do with Crouch when he came off the bench at Anfield so maybe he should start the second leg. Nobody will get near him at corners or free-kicks.

MO: They are not that impressive going forward, especially if we manage to contain Gerrard effectively. Fernando Torres may be in form, but if he doesn’t receive good service he is lost.

Question: Which opposition player did your team struggle against the most? How can you do better against him?

CS: Julio Cesar – the guy is immense and it took a deflection off Kuyt’s shot and a very special Gerrard strike to beat him. I guess it’s just a case of picking the spots he can’t reach. We’ve hit 13 goals in four games since the first leg, though, so our confidence is high.

MO: Obviously Gerrard, who is almost like what Maradona was for Napoli. Especially now that he’s playing as a ‘trequartista’, or playmaker behind the striker, he is lethal and showed that in the first leg, too. There’s not an attacking move by Liverpool that he wasn’t involved in. The only way to stop him could be to man-mark him, but I don’t think any team in the world does that anymore. But we will definitely keep a close eye on him.

Question: Any other areas you need to polish up?

CS: We’ve had a few lapses in concentration at the back in recent weeks, especially against Middlesbrough. We can’t afford to gift Inter anything so everyone needs to stay alert at set pieces.

MO: Definitely we were very poor going forward, I think their goalkeeper didn’t even make a save and we had one corner throughout the whole game. But now at San Siro with a big crowd cheering us on, I’m sure we will do much better in that area.

Question: Who from your team do we keep an eye on here?

CS: Obviously Gerrard and Torres are the two big stars, but I expect us to be on the back foot for large parts of the second leg and a top performance from Jamie Carragher will be crucial. And if he makes it Javier Mascherano will also be important.

MO: Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a good game against Reggina this weekend on his return from injury, and I think he will definitely cause some trouble for the Liverpool defence. In the first leg he was invisible, but he knows that if he steps up to the challenge in this game and manages to score a couple of goals or give some crucial assists, people’s opinion of him will improve hugely. Internationally, he is not as appreciated as he is in Italy as he often screws up in big games, so I hope he is eager to change that.

Question: Going back to your opponents, anyone from their team you would want on your side in the future, based on what you saw?

CS: Julio Cesar is an excellent keeper but I’m more than happy with Reina, thanks. I was impressed by Ivan Cordoba – he’d fit in well at Liverpool I’m sure, but he's 31 and we should be looking towards the future.

MO: The only player of theirs I would like at Inter is Gerrard, but he is a one club man like Francesco Totti or Alex Del Piero I think. I don’t think he will ever leave Liverpool.

Question: Anything particular lingering on from the the first leg which could affect the upcoming clash?

CS: Not from our side but I’m sure they’ll feel they have a few scores to settle. We have to make sure we don’t let ourselves get dragged into arguments and scuffles.

MO: Obviously Materazzi will be suspended, which is a big loss, and also Ivan Cordoba got injured during that game. I think especially Materazzi’s absence will be strongly felt. Say what you will of him, but he is a towering presence in defence and one of the best central defenders in Serie A. He is also one of the team’s leaders and he always adds that extra bit of determination and sharpness to the team in difficult moments.

Question: What could be the ramifications for your club should you fail to go through?

CS: Pretty big, I’d say. Because the last 16 isn’t even close to winning it and we won’t be lifting any other trophies this season, for sure. I think the ramifications are also a lot worse for us than for Inter simply because we’re already 2-0 up and a lot of people have already written them off. Throwing away a lead of that size would really damage confidence.

MO: Certainly it will be no surprise to anyone if we don’t qualify, so I don’t believe it will affect the Scudetto race. With all the help we’ve been getting from referees, deliberate or not, if we don’t win the league we should only bury ourselves in the ground. But if I were Massimo Moratti, I would think about Roberto Mancini’s position. We know that this Inter side are the best in Italy at the moment, so winning the Scudetto and exiting the Champions League before the quarter finals is not enough anymore (although he isn’t quite sure of winning this year yet...).

The coach’s tendency to get nervous and start conducting strange experiments in big games is really worrying. In the Liverpool game, he should definitely have brought in David Suazo, who’s excellent in the counterattack and scored two goals the previous weekend. And in the recent league game against Roma, he played with just one striker, and made all his substitutions in the first 15 minutes of the second half, leaving us with ten men after Maxwell was injured. Only a lucky late goal by our captain Javier Zanetti rescued a point for us, but Mancini has a really irritating tendency to lose his cool in big games which cannot be ignored.

Question: What do you think the result of this game will be, and how will it affect your week?

CS: I can’t see us winning the match but we’re definitely capable of getting a draw and I’m pretty confident we’ll go through. Hopefully a nice early away goal will extinguish the atmosphere and alleviate the pressure on us. I’ll say 2-1 to them. How will it affect my week? Well like I said most people expect us to go through so the high of going through wouldn’t be anywhere near as big as the low if we went out. But I’d be thrilled if we could match Arsenal by winning at San Siro.

MO: To be honest, I don’t expect us to go through, and it would be a near miracle if we manage it. Still, this team is also known for its unpredictability and there are a number of factors which could work in our favor. As I mentioned before, there is a legendary precedent in our last game against Liverpool in 1965, which happens to be the last time we won the European Cup. Also, we celebrated our centenary only a few days ago and there are bound to be a number of Inter legends watching this game from the stands. This could also potentially be the night where we finally amaze the world and make that leap forward on the international stage as well.

We have shown before we are able to produce spectacular comebacks. It is not that unusual for us to come back from two goals down and win. If Liverpool have even the slightest bit of complacency, and if we manage to score early, the momentum will be with us and anything could happen. So I’m going to be optimistic and say we will win 3-0, with Ibrahimovic scoring from the spot, from a direct free kick, and Hernan Crespo scoring in between too.

Torres: We Will Counterattack Inter

Ahead of the final knockout game in the last 16 of the Champions League, Liverpool striker Fernando Torres has said he is confident of his side progressing past Italian champions Internazionale, revealing that his side will play deep and hit on the counterattack.

It was a curious night at Anfield two weeks ago when, while Liverpool were dominating, they failed to break down a resilient Inter defensive line, with the Italian side looking to take what they could from the first leg on the counterattack back to the San Siro.

However, the game took a dramatic turn for the worst as far as Nerazzurri fans were concerned when Marco Materazzi was sent off for two dubious yellow cards in the first half — both alleged fouls on Torres, who was all too willing to go to ground on the night.

Little in the game changed until fellow star defender Ivan Cordoba — who had a particularly star-worthy performance on the night — went off with an injury which has subsequently ended the Colombian's season.

It was then — and Liverpool still left it very, very late — that the deadlock was broken, with Dirk Kuyt's deflected shot and Steve Gerrard's drilled beauty almost certainly put the tie beyond doubt, to the delight of the capacity Anfield crowd who have thus far endured a miserable season on all other fronts.

That victory has galvanised Rafael Benitez's side and they have now won six on the bounce, with Torres in particular hitting devastating form with two hat-tricks in his past three games.

That won't be on his agenda on Tuesday, however, as the Spanish star has openly admitted that, perhaps understandably, his side will be looking to play deep against Inter and look to not conceding as more of a priority than scoring themselves, knowing a 1-0 or 3-1 loss would still see them through to the quarterfinals.

"Now we can look to the Inter Milan game with confidence," he declared. "It is a very important game for us, and we must keep this form going.

"We are confident of progressing in the competition in the San Siro. We had an excellent victory against Inter at Anfield, and we know if we score one goal in Milan it makes it very difficult for them, already 2-0 behind.

"They are one of the best teams in Europe at the moment, but we are confident.

"We expect to play deep and try for the counter-attack, and although we know Inter are a good team the first goal is very important.

"If we score first it will be difficult for them to score four times."

If Liverpool do qualify as is expected, they will make up a full complement of English teams, with all four that entered the competition making it to the last eight, with no other country occupying more than one place. The usually successful Spain and Italy have just Barcelona and Roma, whereas Schalke represent Germany and Fenerbache represent Turkey amongst the rest.

Fifa President Backs Liverpool FC Fans Over Ownership

President of FIFA Sepp Blatter yesterday said the Liverpool FC ownership saga should stand as a warning to other clubs considering selling out, and backed the fans’ right to protest.

Bought little more than a year ago by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Liverpool are currently in the throes of seeing Dubai International Capital (DIC) attempt to become a shareholder.

As the Daily Post exclusively revealed on Saturday, Gillett has agreed to sell 49% of his stake to DIC and allow Hicks to buy his other 1%.

However, the prospects of sealing the deal were thrown into doubt after Hicks’s fury at DIC’s chief negotiator Amanda Staveley, whom he alleged had leaked a private letter detailing the deal.

Hicks’s representatives are still likely to meet DIC executives in the Middle Eastern state this week to discuss how the two might work together in a joint ownership.

Sources said Hicks’s anger had not ended the possibility of a deal, but admitted last night there was likely to be little movement this week.

The agreement would see Gillett walk away with £40m profit in cash and up to £40m in the future, dependent on the success of Liverpool.

Hicks would pay £500,000 for Gillett’s 1% share, to become a majority shareholder in the club.

A statement from Hicks said: “DIC is one of several potential minority investors we are or will be talking to.

“As for Amanda Staveley, who has a reputation for being pretty smart, she should know better than to publicly put words in my mouth – particularly words that she knows or should know perfectly well aren’t true.

“She should also know better than to release actual copies of my private correspondence to the press.”

But a source close to DIC said: “This letter has not been leaked by DIC or any of our negotiating team to the media.

“We do not expect any problems with the meetings next week, and we expect the deal to buy George Gillett’s stake to go through.”

Hicks is clearly upset that there are suggestions that although he will buy 1% of Gillett’s stake, that is the beginning of a process which will see DIC eventually buy out the Texan.

He remains adamant he has a veto over who Gillett sells to, and which, contrary to reports, is not time-limited.

Yesterday, Blatter was asked whether Liverpool’s situation should be a warning to other clubs.

He said: “Yes, definitely.

“You get investors, because a club is a good investment – and they come and if the results are not as such as they have expected, they go away.

“This is definitely a risk in all the clubs. But, as long as they have so many investors, and specifically in the English Premier League, it is a fashion to buy a football club.

“At a certain time, they wanted to have a Formula One team or they had a personal golf course or they had horses – and now it is football. That’s good for football, but the community of football should pay attention to such a situation.”

Blatter can understand Liv- erpool fans mounting pro- tests: “I like it. They did the same at Old Trafford two years ago, but they are still going to the stadium to watch the matches,” he said.

“We have to take care first of the game, but it can only be done with the understanding of everybody.

“Concerning the big clubs and the money, this is a problem which has nothing to do with sport; this is econ- omic mechanism and activities, where we have very little to say.”

Fernando Torres Revelling With Steven Gerrard As His Liverpool Partner

Fernando Torres believes his goalscoring run has been made easier by his partnership with Steven Gerrard.

The Spaniard netted his seventh goal in his last four games during Liverpool’s comfortable 3-0 home win over Newcastle United on Saturday.

Torres now has 25 in 34 games this season, with 19 coming in the Premier League.

Between them, Gerrard and Torres have scored 44 times this campaign, 10 of which have come during the last five games where the skipper has been employed in an advanced midfield role in support of his Spanish team-mate.

And Torres said: “When you play alongside a player like Stevie, it is easy to score like I have been. I am very comfortable with the partnership I have with Stevie and he is comfortable with me. We now must play like this for a long time together.

“We know where each other is running, where we are. I score, Stevie scores, and the team is winning. That is the most important thing.

“We both do our jobs and the team is winning. That is all we are trying to do.”

Torres, whose goal on the stroke of half-time was created by a fine Gerrard pass, returned the compliment in the second half after Jermaine Pennant had inadvertently given Liverpool the lead in the 43rd minute.

Rafael Benitez’s side have won their last five games, and Torres added: “Now we can look to the Inter Milan game with confidence, it is a very important game for us, and we must keep this form going.

“We are confident of progressing in the competition in the San Siro. We had an excellent victory against Inter at Anfield, and we know if we score one goal in Milan it makes it very difficult for them, already 2-0 behind.

“They are one of the best teams in Europe at the moment, but we are confident.

“We expect to play deep and try for the counter-attack, and although we know Inter are a good team the first goal is very important.

“If we score first it will be difficult for them to score four times.”

Newcastle United manager Kevin Keegan was hugely impressed by the combination between Torres and Gerrard.

“You are only seeing the start of it at the moment, but what you are seeing if you are Rafa Benitez or a Liverpool fan is something that makes you go ‘wow’,” he said.

“It’s not what it is now but what it could be in the future that must frighten teams.

“Liverpool have the players who can really hurt you and, in Gerrard and Torres, they certainly had that. They are building a good partnership, realising the strengths of each other, and they are exploiting that on the pitch.

“The partnership with Gerrard is a combination that can only get better.”