Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kuyt: Fifth Place Good Enough For Everton

Putting aside the set-back of being excluded from the Dutch national panel this week, Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt has turned his attentions to next weekend’s vital Merseyside derby.

The Reds are currently two points clear of Everton, and a win at Anfield could see Liverpool afforded some breathing space in the battle for the fourth Champions League spot.

Kuyt, a scorer of two goals in this season’s other meeting at Goodison Park, believes that the current Everton squad deserve some reward for their impressive season. However, he feels that a fifth place finish would be more than adequate.

Liverpool need to exorcise the demons from last weeks’ mauling at the hands of Manchester United and the ex-Feyenoord man believes that the derby is the ideal scenario in which to do so.

With his side desperate to bounce back, claiming a victory over their local rivals would boost everyone involved with the club.

"It's an important game, there's no doubt about that," he said.

"The derby is always big, but this one is going to be really big. They want to be fourth as well but we're a couple of points ahead of them so we're in a good position.

"Everton deserve to be where they are at the moment but fifth will be okay for them this season! If we can win the game then it would be even better for us but we know it's going to be difficult.

"Everton have had a good season, they've got a really strong squad and they were unlucky the way they went out of Europe on penalties. But we've got the quality to beat them.

"We did it earlier in the season with a good win at Goodison. I've never scored two penalties in the same game before but that was a great day for me.

"The game means a lot to everyone, to the fans and to the players. The supporters tell us all during the week that we have to win the game and that's what we'll be looking to do."

John Arne Riise Ready To Quit Liverpool

John Arne Riise has warned Liverpool he will have to consider quitting Anfield this summer if is isn't picked more often.

The Norwegian defender, 27, has been a regular at the club since 2001 when he signed in a £4.6m deal from Monaco.

But recently he has struggled to force his way into Rafa Benitez's starting eleven and is growing frustrated.

He said: "I am not happy with the situation. I am used to playing in 80 per cent of all the games, but if I don't get to play as much as I want to I have to make a choice this summer as to whether I should stay or not."

Riise says Benitez has promissed him a meeting in the near future.

"I just have to wait and see what will happen," he told Norwegian media.

"Maybe he will offer me a new contract, maybe not. It's frustrating not knowing if you are going to play the next game or not."

Javier Mascherano Hopes For Just A Two-match Ban

Javier Mascherano may be handed only a further one-match ban as the fall-out over his dismissal against Manchester United continues.

The Football Association will today review footage of Mascherano’s controversial red card and study the match report of referee Steve Bennett before deciding whether to punish the Liverpool midfielder.

Mascherano is expected to be charged with improper conduct, with Bennett’s report understood to make a point of mentioning the player’s failure to immediately leave the field after his sending-off.

The Argentina international was dismissed for picking up two yellow cards at Old Trafford on Sunday, the second of which was for dissent a minute before half-time.

Being sent off for two bookable offences carries an instant one-match suspension, with Mascherano already ruled out of this Sunday’s Merseyside derby at Anfield.

But the player’s refusal to leave the pitch straight away will prompt the FA to almost certainly increase the length of his ban.

Early indications suggested Mascherano was facing a further two-game suspension, which would see him miss the trip to Arsenal on April 5 and the home clash with Blackburn Rovers on April 13.

But the FA set a precedent yesterday with the case of Watford’s John Eustace, who was sent off against Stoke City on March 15 and subsequently charged with improper conduct for confronting the referee and failing to leave the field of play.

Eustace admitted the charge and was yesterday handed a further one-match suspension and a £1,500 fine.

However, given the high-profile nature of Mascherano’s dismissal and the current debate over respect for referees, the FA’s disciplinary commission may choose to make an example of the 23-year-old.

Mascherano is already facing an automatic club fine for his sending-off, which helped ensure Liverpool slumped to a 3-0 defeat to league leaders United. Rafael Benitez was disappointed with the circumstances surrounding Mascherano’s red card, and yesterday revealed he will seek talks with referees chief Keith Hackett over the incident.

The Liverpool manager admitted after the game that Mascherano had made a “mistake”, but is keen to enter into a dialogue with Hackett over a “solution” to the problems at Old Trafford.

“I would like to speak to Keith Hackett because it is important that we find a solution,” said the Liverpool manager.

“At Liverpool, we respect the game, we respect the rules and we respect the referee, and it is important to remember that Mascherano was the first Liverpool player to be sent off in the league this season.”

Meanwhile, it has been revealed Howard Webb will referee this Sunday’s Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield.

Ryan Babel Reveals Secret Of His Success: Cold Water

Ryan Babel is ready to face the cauldron of the Anfield derby this Sunday, after conquering his fear of ice cold baths!

Liverpool’s £11m summer signing is relishing the red hot atmosphere that the 207th Merseyside derby will generate, after explaining how manager Rafa Benitez’s quirky approach has helped him start to reproduce the form he showed at Ajax.

“I’m learning so much here and again I can see that it’s often the small details that make the difference,” he said.

“After a match we have to stand in an ice bath for five minutes. You can be affected with cramp or lactic acid, and that causes small tears in the muscles, but by applying cold water it repairs the damage immediately.

“During pre-season I had to do it after every training session and it was so cold, really horrible. In the beginning I could only suffer it for half a minute and sometimes I stood with my tracksuit and socks on or I tried slyly to miss it.

“Even during training I was thinking about the dreaded cold water, but now I’m used to it – and it certainly works as I’m more flexible and feeling a lot better the next day.”

After an inconsistent start to his Anfield career, Babel has now started nine of the Reds’ last 10 matches, although he has only completed one of those games and added: “Of course I have wanted to play more, and that’s normal.

“Sometimes I have been very disappointed, but Benitez has his reasons. He always rotates and I knew that before so I accept it.

“It’s understandable I’m not playing 90 minutes. Physically I’m not yet at the point that I’m able to play 90 minutes in the crazy tempo of the Premier League.

“Rafa Benitez said that he signed me because he wanted more players in the squad who can get past opponents. Of course my status as a young talent carries certain expectations but Liverpool see me as a rough diamond that needs to be cut and polished.”

Echoes Of Anfield Legend Shankly

The man who would be Shankly will be revealed this morning at – where else – the home of Liverpool Football Club.

Scottish actor Jonathan Watson will be at Anfield to be unveiled as the man filling the boots of the legendary Liverpool manager in a play based on his final days in the job.

The 51-year-old has been chosen for the title role in the The Shankly Show, after producers exclaimed his performance was like being in the presence of the man himself.

Writer Andrew Sherlock said: “As soon as Jonathan uttered the first lines it was like an electric shock – you would swear Bill Shankly himself was in the room.”

The Shankly Show has been commissioned as part of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture celebrations and receives its gala premiere on April 24 at the Liverpool Olympia.

Shankly, who fans still worship for setting Liverpool FC on the path to dominating the English game, was in charge of Liverpool from 1959 to 1974.

He was famed for his empassioned quotes including “There are only two teams in Liverpool – Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves”, and the oft misquoted: “Someone said ‘football is more important than life and death to you’ and I said, ‘listen, it’s more important than that’.”

Watson, a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and whose career has spanned theatre, TV, radio and film, was chosen after a series of auditions last month.

Auditions were held in Liverpool and Glasgow in the hunt to find the right man for the job.

He said: “As a Scot, and a fan of football, I am really looking forward to the challenge of playing the part of Shankly – a man whose influence, character, and determination touched not just a football club, but a city as well. I am very proud to be a part of The Shankly Show.”

Mr Sherlock added: “The auditions threw up some great actors and we had a typical manager’s selection headache – but Jonathan’s was closest to the look and feel of Shankly. He will bring that bit of magic that the great man was famous for.’’

The Shankly Show is a brand new production in two acts, 45 minutes each way – the first in black and white, the second in colour.

Producers describe it as an “epic celebration of a Liverpool hero”.

One of Shankly’s granddaughters is expected to be in Liverpool tomorrow to see Mr Watson unveiled.

The play is one of 14 Liverpool Commissions by the Liverpool Culture Company and is set to be one of the theatrical highlights of Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture.

Liverpool Boss Benitez Tops Barcelona's Wanted List

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is being banded around the Barcelona boardroom as a potential replacement for Frank Rijkaard.

Nou Camp president Joan Laporta chaired a board-level meeting yesterday to discuss a number of issues which the Catalan giants intend to address after the climax of the La Liga season this summer.

One of those issues is whether former Holland legend Rijkaard, 45, will depart for Chelsea - as is widely expected - and who will take the reins at Barca?

Benitez, who guided Valencia to two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup triumph before taking Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005, is top of Laporta's list, according to news leaked to Spanish newspapers.

The 47-year-old Anfield chief is favoured over other managers - namely Jose Mourinho - because of his proven track record in Spain and his ability to rotate a squad littered with star names.

There is a belief in the corridors of power at Barcelona that Rijkaard has failed to fully utilise his striking resources of Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi this season.

Barca lie second to reigning champions Real Madrid in the La Liga table by four points.

Benitez will find the lure of the Nou Camp hard to resist, given his run-ins with Liverpool's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks this season.

Whether Dubai International Capital can complete their proposed Anfield takeover in time to persuade Benitez that his future lies in Liverpool will take on increased significance following yesterday's meeting in Spain.