Saturday, March 22, 2008

We Are At Our Best – Fabio Aurelio

Fabio Aurelio believes Liverpool head into their Sunday showdown with Man United in their best form since he joined the club.

The Brazilian left-back insists Liverpool's seven game winning run should give them great confidence as they prepare to take on the Premier League table toppers at Old Trafford.

United moved three points clear at the top of the league in midweek thanks to a 2-0 win over Bolton in which Cristiano Ronaldo scored for the fourth successive game.

But Aurelio says the Reds will not be intimidated by Alex Ferguson's side and will arrive at Old Trafford tomorrow looking for the three points which would allow them to close the gap on the league leaders.

"We are playing very well at the moment and we have to take our recent form into this game," he said. "Obviously, United are a good team and it will be a tough test for us but we have confidence because we have won our last seven games.

"Our form is very good, I think we are playing as well now as we have at any time during the last couple of seasons, and if we play as well as we can against United then of course we have a chance.”

If Aurelio is selected he will come up against 33-goal Ronaldo – the only United player to score for Ferguson's side in their last four games – but he insists he is not daunted by that prospect.

"Obviously, Ronaldo is a good player," he said. "We know that and we know also that United have other good players so we will have to be prepared.

"But, like I said, we are playing well so we won't have any fears.

"The confidence we have at the moment is very important because it means that even if we go a goal down, like we did against Reading last week, we still have the belief that we can change the situation.

"We have some big games coming up and we have to be ready. We know that our form over the last few weeks will not matter unless we win our next games.

"So we have to keep on working hard and doing what we have been doing so we are able to fight against the top teams."

Despite having been off the pace for much of the season, Xabi Alonso believes a win against United would give Liverpool an outside chance of mounting a late title challenge.

He said: "Now we are entering the decisive moments of the season.

"To be champions is difficult but not impossible. We are developing a sensational run and we have not given up on anything.

"Our match against United is key. A victory at Old Trafford would open up our chances for the end of season and it would be a big blow in the Premier League for United.

"Our objective is to go to Manchester and win and it would not surprise me if we did. We are playing our best football of the season."

Tom Hicks’ Odds On To Quit Anfield

Given the amount of speculation doing the rounds, it was always going to be only a matter of time before the bookies offered odds on who Liverpool's owners will be in the future.

Paddy Power is the first to spot the gap in the market with a series of special bets now available for anyone who fancies a punt on whether Tom Hicks and George Gillett will still be in charge or DIC will see them off.

The odds on Hicks leaving Liverpool are:

2/1 - Before the end of the season

9/4 - During the summer

9/2 - During the start of next season and the end of 2008

5/1 - Between the start of 2009 and the end of the 2008/09 season

Liverpool are also 13/2 to win the Premiership in 2009 under DIC and it is 6/1 for them to break the world transfer record under DIC in 2008/09.

Paddy Power spokesman Darren Haines said: "We have had a lot of interest from our customers in the onwership situation at Liverpool so in response to this demand we have decided to open a book.

"Our hunch is that Hicks will eventually quit Liverpool and the only question is when, so the book reflects that."

No doubt, Paddy Power will be refusing any large wagers from backers in Texas and Dubai.

Rafa Benitez: Time To Settle Score Against Manchester United

If there is any danger of anyone connected with Liverpool becoming over-confident about their chances of beating Manchester United tomorrow, the mere mention of John O'Shea's name should be enough to burst their bubble.

The Irish international utility man remains the only player to have scored a league goal for Liverpool against United during Rafa Benitez's four-year reign as Reds boss.

The scrappy own goal O'Shea scored at Old Trafford in September 2004 will not live long in the memory for anyone who witnessed it, nor will it inspire too many dreams of daring deeds when Liverpool visit the home of their north west rivals tomorrow.

This will be Benitez's eighth attempt to get one over on Alex Ferguson in Premier League combat and he is hoping Liverpool's fortunes finally change after a run of hard luck stories in a fixture which he believes is one of the biggest in world football.

"Every game is a big game at this stage of the season," said the Spaniard.

"But United is a massive game because of the rivalry between the two clubs and the fans and the history of the two clubs. We will be trying to do our best.

"When you play against United, you know that you are playing against very good players.

“Always in games like this I say the same thing, the small details can make a big difference.

"We have been good against United in some games but we have not managed to get the result we have wanted.

"As a manager you must be disappointed because every game that we play against them we are really close so we need to win.

"I remember one game when (Djibril) Cisse had a good chance when it was 0-0 but could not score and United scored late on.

"Then, a couple of seasons ago we again had chances but could not score and we conceded a last minute goal from a Rio Ferdinand header.

"Sometimes it has come down to a little bit of luck and sometimes it has come down to the fact that they are a good team.

"We are playing well and we have confidence, so if the team keeps on playing as well it has been and working as hard as it has been, then I feel we have a chance of scoring and winning.

"I think we can beat them. It will be difficult, but we will do our best."

As befitting a team which has won its last seven games on the run, confidence is one commodity which is certainly not in short supply at Liverpool.

Throughout the week leading up to tomorrow's game, several Reds stars have spoken of their belief that they can go to Old Trafford and come away with all three points.

Their belief has of course been fuelled by the form of Fernando Torres who became the first Liverpool player since Robbie Fowler to score 20 league goals in a season.

The £20m striker is on the hottest of hot streaks, as evidenced by the fact that he now trails Cristiano Ronaldo – arguably the player of the season – by just four goals.

In one of the strange quirks of football, despite the fact that he is scoring against pretty much everyone else in the game at the moment, Ronaldo is yet to get his name on the scoresheet against Liverpool, the team, incidentally, he supported as a boy.

The pair go head-to-head in tomorrow's battle of the north west giants and Benitez says there is no reason why Torres' scoring streak cannot continue against United.

He said: "I have had a couple of players who have had runs like the one Torres is on at the moment.

"There was a player when I was manager at Extremadura who scored 24 goals in one season when the year before he had scored just one or two goals.

"Also, at Valencia there was Mista who also got 24, including 19 in the league, so sometimes you do have a player who is on fire and they go into almost every game believing they can score a goal.

"That is the situation now with Fernando but it is clear that he cannot score goals without the players around him.

"He could not have scored the goals he has scored without Gerrard close to him or Babel or Kuyt, or without the likes of Mascherano, Alonso and Lucas doing their jobs behind him."

With the 4-2-3-1 formation serving him so well in recent weeks, Benitez is unlikely to make any changes to the structure of his team and with no new injury worries, the line-up is expected to have a familiar look.

The only decision the Reds boss has to conjure with is whether or not to offer a recall to Sami Hyypia and move Jamie Carragher across to right back.

After all the controversy – much of it ill-judged – about rotation, the Liverpool team now has a settled look about it with several players making starting positions their own thanks to improved performance levels.

Torres' will be one of the first names on the team sheet and should his hot streak continue, he will rid his club of the spectre of John O'Shea.

But no doubt Rafa Benitez and his players couldn't care less if the Irishman put through his own goal once more – as long as it gave them the win they so desperately want.

Liverpool Boss Benitez Monitoring Boro Boy Cattermole - The Next Stevie G

Liverpool are monitoring the progress of Middlesbrough's midfield teenage prodigy Lee Cattermole.

Sportsmail understands that Anfield boss Rafa Benitez has instructed his scouts to take a look at the £5million-rated 19-year-old with a view to a summer swoop.

Benitez is believed to admire Cattermole's tough-tackling approach and, wary of the need for an even bigger squad next season when he will be able to name seven substitutes, the Spanish manager appears keen to add some young, British talent to his multi-national squad.

Talismanic captain Steven Gerrard, 27, has about five years left before his legs will bring an end to his box-to-box game and Cattermole could use that time to learn from - and eventually fill the boots of - the England star.

Teesside-born Cattermole is one of an increasing line of talented youngsters to emerge from Middlesbrough's impressive Academy system.

England head coach Fabio Capello this week called up Cattermole's Boro team-mates Stewart Downing, 23, and David Wheater, 21, to his second full England squad.

That news was reportedly greeted with much celebration at the Riverside but Liverpool's interest in one of their rising stars will surely provoke a less warm welcome on Teesside.

Cattermole made his Boro debut in the Tyne-Tees derby against Newcastle United on January 2, 2006, and has since made 60 appearances, scoring three goals. He has been capped twice by England Under 21s.

Rafa Lauds Dangerous Duo

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has hailed the growing understanding between Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

Torres has made an incredible impact since he joined The Reds from Atletico Madrid for £26.5million last summer, netting 27 goals so far this campaign.

Gerrard, meanwhile, has formed an impressive understanding with the Spaniard, with the duo running riot in Liverpool's last seven victories.

And ahead their Grand Slam Sunday encounter against league leaders Manchester United, Benitez is sure that Gerrard and Torres propel him to his first win at Old Trafford.

"They have trained together for months, and now it is easier for them to work together, it is easier," he said.

"Both are scoring goals and things are easier because they are happy on the pitch.

"Steven is happy playing in this position, he is scoring goals and enjoying the way he is playing.

"We had some problems in which we could not control games we should have been controlling. So we decided on two holding players and Steven playing further forward with Torres, and it has worked really well."

On going seven league games without success over United, Benitez added: "As a manager I am disappointed that we cannot seem to beat them in the league. We get closer, and closer.

"But we are getting closer, we have confidence and know that we are capable of winning at Old Trafford. The team is playing well, and the difference could be a small detail or one fine player."