Friday, March 14, 2008

Rafa Anticipates Tough Battles Against Arsenal

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez admitted that it will be a strange sensation coming up against familiar foes Arsenal in the Champions League.

The two Premiership heavyweights have never before met in Europe, and it is bound to be a full-blooded affair, which will only be decided in the return-leg at Anfield on Tuesday April 8.

"We were expecting to play against a top side so we knew Arsenal could be one of the options but we will approach the game with confidence because we are playing well," commented Benitez.

"Playing the second game at home could be very positive for us because always when we play at Anfield it is an inspiration to us. When you play against a good team the small details can make the difference.

"They are a very good side. They have good players, they are playing well and are top of the league. We know it will be a tough tie.

"We have a lot of confidence now. We are scoring goals, winning games and keeping clean sheets so that is a lot of positive things for us."

As fate may have it, the two sides will also lock horns in the league at the Emirates on April 5, meaning that they will be facing each other three times in the span of a week.

"It will be a strange situation to play against them three times in a week but we will see what happens," Benitez added. "Normally it's difficult to play three games like this and compete at the maximum level without changing players. It will all depend on the players and whether they will be fit for each game."

Rafa Benitez Sets Liverpool 100-goal Target For Season

Rafa Benitez today urged his team to become the first in the country this season to crash through the 100 goals barrier.

Liverpool have already scored 97 goals in all competitions and are four clear of nearest challengers Arsenal in the race for a century.

Next on the high scorers list come Spurs with 89, Man United with 83, Chelsea with 81 and Everton with 77.

And Benitez is hoping the Reds will be first to reach the 100 mark - but stressed that points are the most important thing at this stage of the season.

The Reds boss said: "It is a good record, one which is very positive for everyone at the club and it would be nice if we were the first to score 100 goals.

"It shows that all the players are doing a good job because not only are we scoring lots of goals, we are also not conceding many.

"That is important because it shows that we are getting the right balance. There is no point in scoring lots of goals if you are conceding lots also.

"We have the right balance and that comes from the defenders doing their job because that allows the attacking players to go forward with confidence and score goals.

"But I would say that winning games is the most important thing. There is no point scoring two or three goals if you do not win the game, but if we can score goals and win the game then everyone will be happy."

Benitez also congratulated Xabi Alonso on the birth of his son, Jon.

Alonso was forced to miss Liverpool's 1-0 win over Inter Milan on Tuesday as he attended the birth of his first child but Benitez is happy that things turned out well for all involved.

He said: "Xabi is happy because he became a father, we won 1-0 against a very good team in their own ground and there is another healthy baby at the club, so everyone must be happy."

Though disappointed at having to miss the Inter Milan game, Alonso is delighted to have become a father.

He said: "It was a great experience. All the family is really happy and now we have to look forward. Mother and baby are both very well. The labour was quite long but it went well, so we are delighted.

"Of course I watched the game in the evening with my brother. It was great to watch. We controlled the game very well and the goal from Fernando finished it off.

"It was a little frustrating because I was excited at the thought of playing in the San Siro in what was a big challenge for the team, but of course I had to be with my family at that moment. Hopefully I will get the chance to play in that stadium in the future."

Alonso is likely to go straight back into the Liverpool squad for tomorrow's visit of Reading.

Champions League: Anyone But The English, Declares Liverpool's Alvaro Arbeloa Ahead Of Draw

Alvaro Arbeloa is keeping his fingers crossed Liverpool avoid being paired against a rival English team in today’s draw for the Champions League quarter-finals.

For the first time, four clubs from one country have reached the last eight of the competition after Rafael Benitez’s side this week joined fellow Barclays Premier League sides Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in progressing beyond the last 16.

In making the 2005 and 2007 finals, Liverpool knocked out Chelsea in the semi-finals, but Arbeloa would prefer not to be drawn against a fellow Premier League outfit.

“Schalke and Fenerbahce are my favourites for us to draw in the following round.

“I would also be happy to draw Roma. What is true is that we want to avoid any English team,” said the Spaniard, who would also ideally like to stay away from La Liga’s giants Barcelona, who they beat in last season’s second knock-out round on away goals.

With those two final appearances in the last three seasons and five European Cup wins in their history – the same amount as every other English side has managed between them – Liverpool are proven competitors on the continental stage.

However, Arbeloa is under no illusions just how tough it will be to get through to May’s final in Moscow.

“We are playing quite well in the Champions League, but to get to the final is going to be really difficult,” he added.

“The Champions League is very competitive and there are difficult teams.”

Until recently, Liverpool have not been as convincing in domestic competition, culminating with their FA Cup exit at home to Coca-Cola Championship side Barnsley last month.

Since then, however, a run of six straight wins has seen them reclaim fourth place and close the gap on leaders Arsenal to 10 points.

And Arbeloa believes the storm has been weathered for now.

“It has been difficult,” he said.

“A critical moment has passed. Fortunately the atmosphere has calmed down and were going through a good spell. The owners of the club have already said that they want Benitez to continue at Liverpool for many years and the manager has also stressed that his intention is to continue leading the team.”

Regarding his own future, the 25-year-old Arbeloa insists he is enjoying life at Liverpool and is hoping to remain at the club for many seasons to come.

“At the start, it took me a while to adapt to English life,” said the full-back, who joined from Spanish outfit Deportivo La Coruna just over a year ago.

“With respect to the Premier League, I also had to work quite hard because the style and rhythm is different to the Spanish league.

“Moreover, to arrive in the winter transfer market also makes things a little more complicated.

“Now I am very well settled in the team and enjoying it at Liverpool.

“You never know where you will end up as a player, but right now I am very happy in my team and I want to continue here for a long time.”

Harry Kewell Set To Leave Liverpool

Harry Kewell’s Liverpool career appears to be drawing to a close after he told Rafa Benitez he wants to be allowed to travel to a training camp with a young Australia side rather than work on his fitness at Melwood.

Kewell is keen to join up with an Australia squad featuring just four senior players next week while his Liverpool team-mates are preparing for the visit of Manchester United in the Premier League.

Should Benitez relieve Kewell of his Melwood duties it will be the clearest indication yet that the injury-plagued winger has no future at the club.

Kewell was not in the Liverpool squad which travelled to Milan for Tuesday’s Champions League tie and he has not played for the first team since a fleeting substitute appearance against Barnsley last month.

With his current contract due to expire this summer and with no suggestions that he will be offered a new deal, all indications are that he is now heading towards the Anfield exit door.

The Aussie training camp takes place in Singapore and national team coach Pim Verbeek had resigned himself to working with just a group of young players while the majority of his senior stars remained with their respective clubs.

But with a World Cup qualifier against China in Kunming looming on March 26 – just days before the crucial Merseyside derby – Kewell has told Verbeek he wants to take part in the training camp in a bid to build up his fitness and to be ready for international duty.

The decision about whether he is allowed to travel to the Far East now rests with Benitez and should he give Kewell the go-ahead, it will be the clearest signal yet that his five-year stint with the Reds will not be extended.

George Gillett Speak Out Over Liverpool Relationship With Tom Hicks

George Gillett has spoken publicly for the first time about his well documented fall-out with co-owner Tom Hicks.

Gillett is believed to have fallen out with Hicks over a series of comments he made which helped turn fans against the Americans.

Gillett's son, Foster, who had been appointed as the American duo's man at Anfield, has not been seen at the club since December, prompting speculation Gilett was looking for a way out.

That speculation proved correct when, late on Friday, Gillett agreed to sell his half of Liverpool to suitors DIC.

During an address to a sports conference in California, Gillett was asked whether he would remain a co-owner of Liverpool.

He responded: “I would say, choose your partners wisely,” before adding, “he (Hicks) is a great guy – but he has just got a different perspective on the media.”

That deal to sell out appears to have been scupperd by Hicks, who apparently has the power to veto any potential sale.

Hicks has denied claims he blocked the sale, which would have led to him by 1% of Gillett's stake to have overall control at Anfield, because DIC wants a fan on the club's board.

Meanwhile, conflicting reports emerged today over whether Hicks was scheduled to speak at a trade fair.

The Texan denied pulling out of a public appearance on the Liverpool stand at Mipim which is being staged in Cannes

He said he never agreed to address delegates at the property and investment fair.

But Liverpool council insisted the businessman was part of the schedule.

A council spokesman said: “We spoke to Tom Hicks’s office. We planned him into the schedule and fully understood when he had to withdraw because of pressure of other things, which is understandable for an international businessman of his stature with his interests.”

A spokesman for Hicks said: “Mr Hicks at no point agreed to speak, nor was he ever scheduled to speak, at the Mipim trade fair.”

Fiona McFadden, associate vice president of FD Tamesis PR, whose parent company Financial Dynamics includes Tom Hicks among its clients, said: “They were invited to come along. His name appeared on literature but we maybe jumped the gun a little bit.

“They were invited but I can’t say if they declined or accepted. It was a miscommunication. I can’t talk on behalf of his office.”

He was one of a dozen people whose name was discussed.

“We sent a letter of invitation to him but I cannot confirm he confirmed (his attendance) or didn’t. I understand that to be the case that a previous event clashed and he wasn’t able to attend.”

Fernando Torres Aims To Finish Season As Country's Top Scorer

Liverpool FC striker Fernando Torres has revealed he is desperate to finish the season as the Premier League's top scorer.

The pacy striker has already scored 19 league goals during his debut campaign and the Spaniard has admitted he has set his sights on the golden boot award.

Torres is just two goals behind current top-goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo and the 23-year-old is confident he can overtake the Portugese winger.

Torres said: "It would be fantastic for me personally if I could end the season as top scorer in the league.

"Obviously football is a team game and the most important thing is the team do well.

"But being top of the goalscoring charts would be a great honour and I'm confident I can do it.

"I have 19 so far, which leaves me only two behind Cristiano (Ronaldo), so hopefully I can continue to challenge him until the end of the campaign.

"I have been pleased with my form recently and I'm hoping I can keep it up and continue to score goals."

Despite his individual success, Torres has revealed he would rather pick up a Champions League winners medal than the top goalscorer award.

He added: "Nights like the ones against Inter are why I joined Liverpool in the first place.

"Everyone knows what a fantastic history this club has in European competition.

"I would swap any personal accolades for a Champions League winners medal with Liverpool."

Javier Mascherano Can Lead Liverpool To Champions League Glory

Javier Mascherano is the forgotten man who can lead Liverpool to Champions' League glory.

That is the view of Javier Zanetti, skipper of highly-fancied Inter Milan, who were dumped out of Europe's premier competition by the Merseysiders. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard again dominated the headlines as Liverpool produced another fine performance in the San Siro, but it was Mascherano who impressed the Italian side the most. And Zanetti, Argentina's captain and most - capped player, said: "Mascherano does not get the credit he deserves.

"We know Torres is a killer. Gerrard is a fantastic player and I like him very much.

"Everyone would like him in their team because he is one of the best in the world. But no way are Liverpool a two-man team.

"Mascherano is world class, I know that because I have seen him playing close up for Argentina and I can tell you how good he is.

"He gives Liverpool a lot of things. He keeps them together, and you could see how important he was over the two legs against Inter.

"I embraced him at the end of the tie and told him that he had won it for Liverpool because he was a lion for them. He was everywhere."

Zanetti added: "People made us favourites to win, and we had the chances to beat Liverpool, but it is no shame losing to them."

Harry Kewell looks to have played his last game for Liverpool after he asked to be released from Premier League duty against Manchester United to join a training camp with his country Australia.