Monday, March 17, 2008

Beware The Top Striker In Europe, Warns Carragher

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher believes his side’s rivals will feel the force of Europe’s ‘stand-out’ striker Fernando Torres in the five crunch fixtures to be played over the coming month.

In Saturday’s 2-1 comeback victory over Reading at Anfield, Torres became the first Liverpool player to net 20 Premier League goals in a season since Robbie Fowler 12 years ago.

Steve Coppell’s side took a shock fifth minute lead through Marek Matejovsky but the hosts hit back to record a seventh straight win goals from Javier Mascherano, who hit his first strike for the club on 19 minutes, and Torres on 48 minutes.

The victory puts Liverpool in good stead for a crucial period of games over the next four weeks as they travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on Sunday before hosting Everton in the derby a week later and then going on to play a hat-trick of games against Arsenal in the space of seven days with a Premier League meeting sandwiched between the sides’ Champions League quarter-finals clashes.

Carragher believes that Torres can prove to be vital weapon for Liverpool in these games as the striker, who has netted nine times in his last six outings, is now showing his best form after failing to make much of an impact in the corresponding fixtures against the same opposition earlier in the campaign.

He said: “Against Man United we didn’t really make the most of Fernando, he didn’t play against Everton and he came off injured at half-time against Arsenal. He hasn’t really played against them.

“I am sure they all watch Match of the Day and see each week what damage he has been causing and they will be well aware of him.

“Of course, it’s different in a game. He is going to be facing top defenders and they will relish showing what they can do, just as he will relish showing them.

“He’s on fire at the moment. He is the stand-out striker in European football right now and looks like he has got the lot.

“The header he scored today, you probably wouldn’t expect off a pacey striker. But I was stood right behind him and it was some header.

“It has been a long time since Robbie Fowler got 20 league goals and for Fernando to be the first player since then to do it shows he is a special player.”

Carragher acknowledges that the following month could either make or break Liverpool’s season given the importance of the matches and nature of the opposition.

He said: “It can go two ways. If we win the majority of these games we can hopefully go on and have a fantastic season. Or it can go the other way and it is doom and gloom again.

“That’s the stage of the season we are up to. Every game is important for every team, not just us. Sir Alex Ferguson says March and April are the months that prove decisive in terms of what you are going for and I think that’s going to be the case.

“We have Man United, Everton and then Arsenal three times so those five games are absolutely massive.

“I relish these games though. This is what you are in the game for. If you are going to win trophies you have to win big games and beat big games.”

A seventh straight win on Saturday ensured that Liverpool remain in pole position for fourth place but after their impressive 1-0 success in the San Siro four days earlier, Carragher admitted it was a different kind of test for his team.

He said: “We knew it was going to be a tough game. Reading are fighting for their lives and coming off the back of a Champions League game is always tough.

“To go 1-0 down and come back to win 2-1 is a great result really. I know everyone would expect us to win, but we showed a bit of character. We realise we haven’t played great, but the result was the most important thing.”

Rafa Benitez Insists Liverpool Aren’t Depending Too Much On Fernando Torres

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insists that his side are not over-reliant on Fernando Torres’s goals after the Spaniard became the first player at the club to net 20 times in a Premier League season since Robbie Fowler in 1995/96.

The 23-year-old’s 48th-minute winner against Reading was his ninth goal in his last six games but Benitez, who is keeping his fingers crossed over the player who overcame a foot injury in the first half, remains confident that he possesses several other attacking threats if anything happened to his record signing.

He said: “We are not too reliant on Torres. People were asking why do you change, why do you rotate? You do it to try to keep the players fresh and clear of injury.

“So now when you have one week or three or four days in this case, you can use the players.

“But you must be thinking about the next games and three games in six days or six games in 16 days, all of them with very high tempo and demanding a lot physically from the players. We need to think about each game.

“We have also Kuyt, Crouch and Voronin, three strikers who can score goals. Today we have Babel, Kuyt, Gerrard and Torres and all of them are offensive, all of them have chances in every game.

“If you don’t have one player, you must use another player, so I think we have enough quality.”

Benitez was delighted that Torres has broken the 20-goal barrier but also paid tribute to his other forwards, Dutch pair Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt, who are operating in wide areas in Liverpool’s current 4-2-3-1 formation.

He said: “It was important for Torres and also for us.

“Everyone was talking about the money we spent, but it’s funny because everyone says ‘fantastic signing’ and then when you don’t spend money on a player and he’s free and it’s not working, they say ‘really bad signing.’

“Why? Because he was free. In this case, he was expensive and now he’s really good. When you have more money, it’s easier to sign better players.

“If Kuyt plays as a striker, he can score goals. It’s the same with Babel. But for the balance of the team, it’s very positive because they are working very hard for the team. That’s the most important thing.”

Following their shock FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Barnsley, Liverpool have recovered to win seven straight games and with five crucial fixtures over the coming month against Manchester United, Everton and Arsenal (three times), Benitez admits that motivating his players is easier when they’re on a run like this.

He said: “The team is playing well. We had two or three games that we drew at home that we could have won.

“There’s just a chance that you don’t score or that they score. If they don’t score in those games, that’s the difference.

“Today if they scored in the end, people would be saying ‘Good game, lots of chances, but ...’ But now because we are winning we have more confidence.

“Thinking about these games, it’s clear that we have a lot of confidence now. The mood in the dressing room is very good and the mentality of the players is very positive.”

Sky Sports Under Fire For "Anti Liverpool FC Bias"

Sky Sports was under fire last night over claims the broadcaster was biased in its commentary of Liverpool's Champions League victory over Inter Milan.

A legion of angry fans have accused top pundit Andy Gray of favouring the Italian champions over the British club with his comments.

Now Reds supporters are threatening a boycott of the broadcasting giant unless ex Everton star Gray is removed from the commentary team for their club's televised games.

The ₤20,0000-a-week Scottish pundit incensed Kop fans by branding the sending off of Inter midfielder Nicolas Burdisso "shocking", claiming Liverpool star Lucas commited the foul.

And he got their backs up further by appearing to sound down when Fernando Torres bagged the goal that killed the tie and sent his team into the last 16. Gray said: "It's game over I guess."

Season ticket holder Carl Rittenburg stormed: "I pay £48 per month so I can watch Liverpool's matches on Sky but I'll stop my subscription if they continue to let Andy Gray commentate.

"The man knows his stuff but he is so anti-Liverpool it's shocking and that was clearly evident during the Inter Milan game when he slated us at every chance.

"Gray seemed really annoyed when the Inter guy was sent off - he did nothing but go on about it all game.

"Yet he was calling for Liverpool players to get booked at the end of the match.

"Even when Torres scored the winner - that saw another British side through to the quarter finals - he sounded disappointed. It was like he wanted the Italians to win.

"We're not asking for bias towards Liverpool - were just asking for a fair commentary.

"But in having Gray to cover our games we're not getting that from Sky.

Kop fan Peter Stenton said: "As viewers we pay Sky for a service and a fair commentary when we watch live football - and in most cases that's we get.

"But it seems every time Andy Gray covers Liverpool games out team is given a verbal demolition."

Rita Walsh, 40, said: "I was so disgusted with the one-sided commentary during the game I wrote a letter to Sky to complain.

"Sky Sports has an obligation to provide fair and accurate coverage but in allowing Andy Gray to commentate on liverpool games it is falling woefully short."

Liverpool fans' revolt against Glasgow-born Gray, 53, has been simmering since he was signed up by Sky in 1990.

One Kopite has even set up a facebook group calling for the former nand Aston Villa striker to be taken off Liverpool games.

Scouser Alex Parkin, 28, said: "I set up the group to get Gray off our games.

"If Sky don't take him off then I'll seriously be thinking about scrapping my subscription in protest."

It's not the first time Liverpool fans have revolted against a broadcaster.

In November last year angry supporters called for a boycott of Eastenders after the show linked the HIllsborough disaster to hooliganism.

Campaigners for the 96 dead fans received an apology from the BBC after a character appeared to blame fans for the tragedy.

Sky Sports refused to comment.

Liverpool FC Stadium: Club Looks For Quick Decision

Liverpool FC’s third stadium design is now being scrutinised by town hall planners.

The proposal, revealed by the Liverpool Daily Post in January, was drawn up by Dallas-based architects HKS after the club’s American owners decided the previous idea was too expensive.

Because of a technicality, the Reds were allowed to submit an amended version of their second planning application, which was approved by councillors late last year.

In theory, it should take council officials less time to assess than an entirely new document, speeding up the planning process.

But no date has yet been set for the planning committee to meet and discuss the proposal for a 60,000-seater stadium at Stanley Park.

Liverpool are confident the scheme will be backed by councillors, as the previous two ideas were both given the green light.

A council spokesman said: “An amended application has been submitted because the decision notice from the previous one had not been formalised.”

Community leaders today called on city bosses to demand Liverpool draw up a full planning application.

Liberal councillor Steve Radford, who has campaigned for years against the principle of letting the club build on Stanley Park, said: “I believe it is unacceptable that this scheme is treated as an amended application.

“I am concerned we will not see the same level of consultation as we did previously.”

But the council today insisted more than 11,500 households would be asked for their views on the stadium proposal over a three-week period.

A spokesman also said objections raised when the previous plan was approved by councillors would be passed onto the planning committee again when it eventually meets.

The new design incorporates the 18,500-capacity stand-alone Kop, which Mr Hicks had insisted was crucial to his plans.

There is also room for extra seats to be added at a later date, although this would need council approval

Rafa Is The Best, Gushes Kuyt

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt has hailed Rafael Benitez has the best manager he's ever had and vows to return to the form that saw him touted as a hot prospect when he signed for the Reds.

Since arriving at Anfield the Dutchman had a few problems settling in his first season, not aided by the fact Liverpool, by and large, did not have a good time of it in 2006/07. This was of course despite making the Champions League final, in which Kuyt scored a late consolation goal.

This season began following the death of his father due to cancer, and the hard-working striker has on numerous occasions explained just how much that has affected his game, with his dad being his biggest fan and friend in the footballing world up until his passing.

Mental Problems

Though it can be argued that Kuyt's problems have not been aided by his manager's reluctance to play him in his natural role — and indeed having essentially replaced him with another lead striker in Fernando Torres this summer — the 27-year-old remains optimistic of turning things around for the Reds now he has gotten past the worst of the grieving process.

"You always give your best as a player but sometimes you can have problems mentally," explained the former Feyenoord man.

"It was difficult to concentrate on football after my father died but I feel it is all behind me now. Sometimes things just need time for you to recover.

"People don't know what is happening with players behind the scenes. Everybody knows I have had a hard time privately, and I am just coming out of it."


The Dutch international believes he has improved in recent weeks and only seeks to strengthen his resolve as a footballer and as a person when faced with adversity.

"I've played better in the past few games," declared Kuyt. "I have scored a few important goals and I have provided a few assists.

"It was the first time anything like this had happened to me and it has made me only stronger. Now I feel much better than a few months ago, I want to carry on and show I am a good player."

The Best I've Had

Kuyt has been a regular fixture in the Reds' starting line-up during their seven match unbeaten run. Though he has not been playing the role that saw him net an obscene 83 goals in 122 games in his time at Feyenoord, he did score one crucial if not slightly deflected goal at the death against Internazionale in the Champions League.

The striker is now hoping to repay the faith boss Benitez has shown in him by taking his side all the way in the Champions League, as he of course arrived after their 2005 success in Istanbul, only in time for the heartbreak of Athens 2007.

"It would be really special to repay him by winning the Champions League," mused the Dutchman.

"He is a really great manager. In the period when it was hard for me, when I had some problems, he was there for me.

"That he cared what happened to me outside the pitch means a lot. He is the best manager I've had.

"Playing football has been like a medicine for me. When you play great games, such as against Inter Milan in the Champions League, you can devote all your energy to what happens on the pitch.

"Hopefully, I can keep going like this and we can do well in the league and Champions League. We lost the final last year, we definitely want to be there again this time."

While Liverpool are left in the ever-familiar position of chasing club football's ultimate prize as their only chance of silverware this season, Kuyt maintains the importance of a push for fourth place, which of course guarantees qualification to the competition next season.

Their cause was greatly aided when Fernando Torres netted a winner in a nervy performance against Reading this weekend, while such luck deserted cross-town rivals Everton — who lost 1-0 at Fulham — as they are also battling for fourth.

Kuyt is now eyeing Manchester United and a win over Liverpool's historic rivals, given the Reds' distinct lack of luck against the Premier League leaders in recent fixtures.

Several times in the past few seasons the Reds have bested the Red Devils only to come out on the losing side, something Kuyt is eager to change this time around.

"We were a bit unlucky in our recent games against United, so hopefully we will get that luck this time," he said.

"It is unbelievable. We deserved something more from those games.

"I think when you are at Liverpool you want to win every game, and especially against Man United. It is a really big game coming up and we really want to show we can beat them.

"United have a quality team. Only in the past six or seven games have we shown it."