Tuesday, March 18, 2008

MARK LAWRENSON: Demoralised Arsenal Perfect Foe For Liverpool

AS each game passes, the feeling that Liverpool got a kind Champions League draw just gets stronger.

That’s what Arsenal is at the moment. Talk about there for the taking.

It’s the mentality there. I’m just not sure some of the players have it, certainly not the type you need to win leagues and European Cups.

They have had nothing but problems since the spat between Adebayor and Bendtner in the Carling Cup semi- final with Spurs.

Two players making it so obvious they don’t like each other is exposing inner weakness – and it’s hardly stopped since.

They went to Old Trafford in the FA Cup and didn’t play, then they went to pieces after Eduardo’s injury.

None more so than William Gallas, the captain and man who should have been pulling them up by their bootlaces – not staring down at his own and blubbing uncontrollably.

The feeble draws they have suffered since then proves they haven’t got a string enough mentality.

So you don’t need me to speculate about how a second leg at Anfield on a European Cup night will affect them...

Rafa Benitez Reveals Fears For International Liverpool Stars Ahead Of Derby

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has hit out at an international schedule which will see several of his players travelling around the world just days before the Merseyside derby.

A 2-1 victory over Reading at Anfield on Saturday, coupled with Everton’s 1-0 defeat to Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday has seen Liverpool edge three points ahead of their neighbours in the battle to secure the final Champions League qualification spot.

However, Benitez is seething over the prospect of sweating on the return of many of his star performers barely 48 hours before they lock horns with David Moyes’s side on March 30.

Like many Premier League managers, Benitez is frustrated by having to release his big names for effectively meaningless international friendly fixtures at a crucial stage of the season.

Benitez, who was without Fernando Torres for the trip to Chelsea this season after the striker was injured while playing for Spain, is particularly galled at in-form midfielder Javier Mascherano having to travel to Egypt with Argentina.

The 23-year-old, who completed his £18million move to Anfield earlier this month, has been one of Liverpool’s stellar performers in recent weeks and his combative style seems ideally suited to the upcoming derby tussle which could make or break either of the Mersey clubs’ hopes of sealing a place in European football’s elite club tournament next season.

A sarcastic Benitez said: “I’m really, really happy that Mascherano will go to Egypt to play a friendly – things like that you can’t understand. But the rules are rules, so the players must go.

“It’s the same problem for all the top sides. Normally the best players are in the top sides and they are playing Champions League or for the title. We’ve been talking about this 100 times.

“You can’t speak to the coach. You can say ‘be careful’ but they are thinking about themselves, and it makes it very difficult.”

Including the internationals, Liverpool face six games in 16 games, starting with a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday before the derby a week later and a hat- trick of clashes against Arsenal. Having opened up a three-point advantage over Everton, Liverpool will be eager to maintain the gap this weekend when they face a trip to Old Trafford to face the champions.

Rafael Benitez’s side have not won any of their last seven Premier League meetings against Manchester United, a run which has included six defeats, but Brazilian full-back Fabio Aurelio is convinced Liverpool can continue their run of seven straight wins by stunning Sir Alex Ferguson’s charges.

He said: “For sure it will be the real test of where we are at the moment.

“It is a really important game for us, and we must gain points.

“We know against top teams anything can happen but we need to be strong enough to go into these games with confidence.

“Or course playing in Old Trafford is really difficult but we have to believe that we can go and win also. And if we keep doing our job as we are, we will be much closer at the end of the season.”

Aurelio added: “When you get good results, the team starts to believe a bit more. We are in the quarter- finals of the Champions League again and it is really important for the confidence.

“But to be in it next season we have to finish fourth so we cannot forget the Premier League. We need to keep working harder in both competitions.”

Aurelio, who netted his first goal for Liverpool against Bolton earlier this month, is delighted that his fellow South American Mascherano also broke his scoring duck against Reading on Saturday.

He said: “Javier has been having a great season, working really well for the team and deserved to have a great moment like the one on Saturday. Everyone was happy for him.”

MARK LAWRENSON: Will The Mersey Derby Be Advantage Liverpool?

It seems at first glance that the pivotal weekend in the Merseyside battle to get into the top four has just passed.

And given what happened, you have to say it’s advantage Liverpool.

They are on a great run while you always had the feeling Everton’s own superb sequence of results would come to an end at some time.

The fact that they were so short of players at Fulham shows how much the season could be catching up with them and also suggests they’re not really getting the luck or run of the ball Liverpool are enjoying at the moment.

If that game at Craven Cottage was six weeks ago, you feel Everton would have won it, even with their awful record there.

Now things aren’t going their way – they’re going Liverpool’s. And yet.

I get the feeling all that could change again and that’s why I think David Moyes is dead right to insist his team can still break into that elite top bracket.

For starters, it can easily all swing back in Everton’s favour this weekend.

Just for a change, they won’t have the pressure of playing catch-up and they can shift it on to Liverpool instead by beating West Ham.

For Liverpool, going to the leaders away from home is always a tough ask, especially given their recent record.

You get the feeling a draw there would be a result they would take now.

But beyond this week comes the indication that Liverpool still have it all to do to keep Everton at bay.

Doing that at Anfield won’t be easy in the derby – but after that comes the massive triple header against Arsenal.

That period will be defining because it’s the time Liverpool really have to deliver results, rather than just breeze through the bunch of undoubtedly easier fixtures they’ve had over the past month.

And at the same time, whatever Liverpool do, Moyes has to stick to his belief that it’s what his side achieves that will determine their campaign.

And that’s why it’s vital he rallies round his troops and reminds them how they got in this situation in the first place.

Moyes can’t change his team at the moment given the injury situation so he has to look at the men he has got and get them up again following a hard week.

And although he knows that seven days don’t decide a season and it’s how he utilises this coming week that will be key to them engineering another resurgence.

This is a rare week in which Everton have no midweek games – the perfect time for a couple of days off.

Get them refreshed, get them rested and, most importantly, wrap them in cotton wool before the injury situation gets worse. It will make all the difference.

Then I reckon they will be ready to go on another run and stay well in contention in that race for fourth place.

Over the past weekend, Liverpool took a significant step towards it – but that doesn’t make next week’s derby any less intriguing.

It’s still set to go to the wire.

Mascherano: Scoring Was So Very Special

Midfielder Javier Mascherano has admitted that the delight of scoring his first Liverpool goal sent him ‘crazy’.

The Argentina international had only netted once in his previous 111 senior matches and that came for River Plate in Argentina before he went on to turn out for Corinthians in Brazil and both West Ham and Liverpool in the Premier League.

However, the 23-year-old broke his Anfield duck in spectacular style with a stunning 20-yard effort in front of the Kop against Reading on Saturday.

He said: “It was an incredible moment.

“I had not scored a goal since I was at River Plate, so to score one for Liverpool – and in front of the Kop as well – was really special.

“I cannot really describe the feeling but I know I celebrated like I had gone crazy. Some of the lads in the dressing room said I was like Inzaghi in the Champions League final!

“It just meant so much to me and it was important also for the team because we had just gone a goal behind.”

However, Mascherano has warned Liverpool fans not to expect regular goals from him now that he has registered his first effort.

The £18million signing, is reckoned by manager Rafael Benitez to be the best holding midfielder in the world and the Spaniard insisted that he wants to see the player get into more scoring positions around the edge of the box.

Regarding Benitez’s challenge, Mascherano said: “I think the manager was joking.

“It would be nice to score more goals but I don’t think there are many holding midfielders who score lots of goals.

“In this position you have to play deep and try to keep the balance of the team and that is the most important thing for me.

“I will try to score more goals but I know that I have to do my own job first.”

Benitez is now preparing his side for five crucial games that will define Liverpool’s season.

He said: “We now have a very tough spell. Everyone kept saying that because of that we had to win our three home league games with West Ham, Newcastle and now Reading. We have now done that.

“Now we have really difficult games and we needed these seven wins beforehand.

“Now we have five very hard games, three with Arsenal plus Everton and Manchester United away next week. We will only think of each one as it arrives, you cannot start to worry about what is ahead.”

He added: “The first one is the most important. If we can keep our momentum then it will be easier going into the second one. We must not waste our time thinking too far ahead.

“We started the season playing well, winning a lot of games, scoring plenty of goals and we were unbeaten in the league until December.

“Still we have only lost three league games, our problem has been drawing too many and we are aware of that.

“If we had won just three of those drawn matches things would be very different.”

Liverpool are now eight points behind leaders Manchester United, who they meet on Sunday at Old Trafford.

Benitez said: “How near we finish to the top now will be interesting. We have been criticised this season, but let us see where we are in three or four weeks.

“We have important games and if we win them we will be a lot closer. If we can beat Manchester United we will be closer to the top, and that will give us more confidence.

“If we beat Everton after that then we will be closer still. Maybe, maybe we can be closer if we do not talk too much about it.

“Do we have a point to prove? Maybe, but only if we can keep winning three points.”

Liverpool Fans Form A Club In Their Price Range

Supporters of Premier League giants Liverpool, many of whom are no longer able to afford to watch their heroes, have formed a breakaway club.

AFC Liverpool are the latest 'fans' club to emerge following the successful launches of AFC Wimbledon in 2002 and FC United of Manchester three years later.

AFC Liverpool, however, is distinct from the other two in so far as in Wimbledon's case the supporters were implacably opposed to the relocation of their club, and followers of Manchester United were implacably opposed to the purchase of the club by the Glazer family. In Liverpool's case it is primarily a question of money.

The new club's spokesman Alun Parry explained: "This has nothing to do with the ownership issue, it's about affordability. I've been going to Anfield since the late Seventies when I was six years old. A season ticket in the Kop cost £45 in 1985, today it's £650, which I know is a lot cheaper than some other Premier League clubs, but in inflation terms Eighties prices should equate to £98 today.

"We aren't blaming the club, we realise they have no choice, but the sad fact is that a whole community is being denied the opportunity to grow up in the 'match-going' culture. The average age of a Premier League supporter is now 43. At a recent game I spotted only two children, so kids who can't afford to go are forced to learn what it means to support a club from one source - television."

AFC Liverpool will be run along the same lines as other supporter-owned clubs. Everyone can buy into it and get an equal vote. Like AFC Wimbledon and FC United, the new club will be a non-profit organisation.

Parry said: "Far from wishing to be estranged from the club, we are hoping that Liverpool will look upon us as a little brother."

So far AFC Liverpool have acquired more than 200 members, however up to 1,000 emails have been received supporting the idea.

The club have applied to the Vodkat North West Counties League Division Two to enter a team for the start of the 2008-09 season. Last week AFC Liverpool released an advert seeking a manager for the new non-League club, applications for which will close on March 31. They have also put out a call for players and, according to Parry, there has been a huge response.

"We are planning to launch a youth system with FA qualified coaches which will be of benefit to the community and to further the aims of AFC Liverpool," he said.

There are plenty of non-League clubs in the North West who would dearly love the extra revenue but as Parry explained: "By creating a team with an explicit LFC identity it gives us a club that we can collectively own and have a reason to support.

"If there are any ex-Reds out there who would like to manage us or play for us, we would be delighted."