Saturday, March 29, 2008

Penitent Mascherano Says Sorry To Referee After Being Fined By Club

Javier Mascherano has written to the referee Steve Bennett to apologise for the persistent dissent that caused him to be sent off against Manchester United last Sunday. The Liverpool midfielder, whose dismissal after running 20 yards to harangue Bennett was the low point of a petulant display, has been fined £20,000 by the club but also faces a Football Association charge and has asked for a personal hearing, at which he could have his one-match ban increased to three.

"The player wants to show that he has apologised," said Rafael Benítez, who will be without Mascherano against Everton tomorrow. "He accepts he lost control after the sending-off and has said sorry to the referee. I have also talked with him now and told him he would be fined by the club, and he has accepted that and wants the money donated to charity.

"It is clear that Javier is a player who was working hard and playing well. He was giving balance to us. Normally when a player is playing at this level you will miss him, but I have a lot of confidence in Lucas [Leiva], or [Peter] Crouch and [Andriy] Voronin, if we want to change the system."

Benítez does not consider indiscipline to be a problem among his players and trusts them to act with maturity amid the passion of Anfield. "You can see our record during the season. We didn't have any problems and you could see that was not the case with some other sides.

"[Tomorrow] is a derby and people will be more excited but the players have experience. We say before all the games, try and do the right things, watch the tackles, don't have problems with the referees."

Everton will be without their midfielder Tim Cahill for the rest of the season with a broken metatarsal. "It is the same toe he has broken before but, from what I've been told, I don't think it's a really big problem for his future," said his manager, David Moyes. "Tim has not had a rest from football for a good while with World Cups, Asia Cups, Confederation Cups etc, and maybe the workload has taken its toll. He will have an operation soon and a summer to recover."

Everton have taken one point from their past two games and Moyes conceded yesterday that they might ultimately have to settle for fifth place. "Our first priority is to finish fifth at worst, so that we can at least get back into Europe again," he said.

The Lyon midfielder Kim Kallstrom admits he would relish a summer move to Everton. "At this moment I'm focusing on playing well in France," he told L'Equipe. "England? Maybe. It's a great championship, so why not? And why not Everton? They're a great club who play at the top of the Premier League table. You never know. We'll see next summer, after the European Championship."

Talking Tactics: Steven Gerrard's Deja Vu

Steven Gerrard will suffer a severe case of deja vu if David Moyes gets his way at Anfield.

The Everton manager will have noticed how Liverpool captain was so successfully stifled by Claude Makelele when England played France in Paris the other night and he will ask Lee Carsley to perform a similar role today.

Gerrard has really been hitting it off playing 10 or 15 yards deeper than Fernando Torres for Liverpool because he has been granted the time and space in 'the hole' to drive forward.

Makelele ensured Gerrard didn't get either at the Stade de France by fulfilling the role of anchorman in exemplary fashion. He hardly moved from his post in front of the back four, an area Gerrard was out to exploit and so his opponent hardly got into the game.

Gerrard has been successful in that role with Liverpool because he doesn't have to deal with Makelele every week but Carsley is one of the nearest things you'll get to the French international.

Carsley might not be as disciplined as Makelele and he does like to wander forward but, on this occasion, he will be told to smother Gerrard and generally get in his way to make his afternoon an awkward one.

There is, however, a way for Gerrard to get the better of a good solid operator like Carsley and that will be to launch his attacks from a wider berth in the old outside right position and the same could apply when he's on England duty.

That's an area where he used to do best attacking work for Liverpool before Torres arrived and maybe Rafael Benitez will want him to return to his old ways in the derby so he can be more influential for his club than he was his country.

The way Gerrard plays will probably prove pivotal to how the game unfolds and maybe who finishes fourth and fifth this season.

Sometimes it appears as if David Moyes has his team playing the match in quarters. For starters, he'll adopt more direct tactics which are designed to force opposing defences to turn around. Only then will his team's pass-and-move tactics kick in as things settle down and opposing defenders have been given the run-around. It's a process that is repeated after half-time with the change in tactics so finely tuned it's as if the players hear an alarm clock.

Meanwhile, Carragher knows he won't have to chase Yakubu out wide because the Nigerian striker rarely wanders out to the wings, instead preferring to make angled runs between the centre-halves because he's quick on to the ball, strong, sharp and has a terrific eye for goal. He also has a powerful shot.

Rafa Benitez Focused Despite Anfield Board Rift

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez says he will not be distracted by boardroom turmoil as he prepares for a massively important Premier League game against Everton tomorrow.

Off-field matters are grabbing the headlines after co-owner George Gillett described his relationship with Tom Hicks as "unworkable".

Gillett said Hicks' admission that they had courted Jurgen Klinsmann as a possible replacement for Benitez at the end of last year, was a key reason why he had received death threats.

"This partnership has been unworkable," Gillett said. "We have tried to be co-operative, we have tried to be supportive but when your public persona is more important than the facts, which make it difficult to have a rational relationship.

"We were very fair. We gave our partner a long period of time to try to make arrangements to buy us out. We didn't put pressure on him but he ultimately did not get to the finish line. Because of the things he said, the fans' reaction has been so negative towards him and towards us if we sold to him, which has now made that an untenable alternative for us.

"He threatened to block me selling to Dubai - that was certainly one of the things that made the fans upset.

"Lord knows, DIC have the money with oil prices going up every day, that's not an issue. They certainly have the history and they are fans. I think they would have been very responsible owners."

Ahead of the derby, Benitez said: "There is nothing I can do but concentrate on the game and prepare properly. I will just be thinking about Everton."

Benitez also said that Javier Mascherano, who has admitted a charge of improper conduct for his reaction to being sent off on Sunday, has been fined £20,000 by the club, with the money going to charity. Mascherano yesterday asked the FA for a personal hearing which is expected to take place in London next Friday.

Benitez said: "Javier knows he made a big mistake, he apologised to his team-mates and the supporters and he has now apologised to the referee. He accepts he lost control after the sending-off."

Liverpool Fine Javier Mascherano £100,000 For Red Card

Liverpool have fined midfielder Javier Mascherano after he admitted a Football Association charge of improper conduct following his sending-off away to Manchester United last weekend.

Mascherano today asked for a personal hearing which is expected to take place in London next Friday. But today Anfield boss Rafael Benitez also revealed that Mascherano had been fined by the club - believed to be the maximum two weeks’ wages of around £100,000 - with the 23-year-old asking that the money be donated to charity.

Benitez said today: “Javier is a fantastic professional and he knows he made a big mistake, he apologised to his team-mates and the supporters and he has now apologised to the referee.

“He accepts he lost control after the sending-off and has said sorry to the referee. I have also talked with him now and told him he would be fined by the club, and he has accepted that and wants the money donated to charity.

“We would like a personal hearing now. This was the first red card of our season and we do not have problems of this kind. We will now await the outcome of the hearing and the lawyers are now working on it.”

Mascherano will serve an initial one-match ban in the Merseyside derby on Sunday. It is possible that that suspension could be extended for two more matches if he loses the appeal.

George Gillett Claims Liverpool FC Fans Have Sent Him Death Threats

Liverpool Football Club’s joint owner George Gillett said he and his wife have received death threats from angry fans.

The American said supporters made the telephoned threats in the middle of the night because of the club’s ongoing turmoil.

Gillett, 69, confirmed that his partnership with Tom Hicks - who also owns 50% of the historic club - had completely broken down and had been untenable for some time.

He spoke for the first time about the controversy surrounding Anfield on a Canadian radio station.

He said Hicks, 62, threatened to block a proposed sale of his shareholding to Dubai International Capital - a move widely supported by Reds fans.

Referring to Hicks’s disclosure that manager Rafael Benitez’s job was offered to ex-Germany boss Jurgen Klinsmann last year, Gillett said: “We get as many as 2,000 emails a week.

“I would say 95% of them have been directed at some of the comments made by my partner and 5% aimed at both of us, ’Go home Americans’.”

He added: “The fans don’t want him to have even one share of my stake in the club, based on what they are sending to me.

“As a result of that we have received many phone calls in the middle of the night threatening our lives - death threats.”

Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team and Nascar racing team, bought Britain’s Liverpool football club with Hicks in February 2007.

Tom Hicks And George Gillett Take Centre Stage Ahead Of Merseyside Derby

Liverpool confront the most important 10 days of their season with the club’s ongoing boardroom crisis again grabbing centre stage in the build-up to Sunday’s crucial Merseyside derby.

A showdown with Everton will be followed by three games against Arsenal - two in the Champions League - which will stretch Liverpool to the limits.

With the repercussions of Javier Mascherano’s red-card tantrum at Old Trafford more than enough for boss Rafael Benitez to contend with, he was ambushed by co-owner George Gillett’s extraordinary claims that he has been the victim of death threats over his desire to sell his stake in the club.

As if facing their fired-up rivals from across Stanley Park was not enough of a challenge to overcome, once again an American owner has shown scant regard for timing.

Tom Hicks’ battle to fight off Dubai International Capital’s bid to buy the club dominated the last few months, and now on the eve of the 207th derby - one of the most important in history - Gillett’s astonishing claims from across the Atlantic threaten to deflect Liverpool’s concentration.

Benitez did his level best today to straight-bat probing questions.

He said: “I have been told about the comments (from George Gillett), but my response is to be really focused on the derby, that is all that I am concerned about.

“But if we win everything will be happier, particularly if it is against Everton.”

He added: “Whatever comments are made there is nothing I can do but concentrate on the game and prepare properly.

“I will just be thinking about Everton. I put it out of my mind by working on the games, analysing our opponents and I do not talk too much with anyone. All I want is to have 11 players fit for the game.”

He will be without Mascherano, serving an initial one-match ban for the red card against Manchester United, which has been followed by an FA charge for improper conduct, which the Argentina midfielder has admitted.

Mascherano has also been fined two weeks’ wages - donated to charity - and has requested a personal hearing in London next week despite the guilty plea.

He can expect another two matches added to that suspension, regardless of the work being put in by lawyers, to whom Benitez is no doubt grateful to pass on the problem.

Brazilian youngster Lucas can expect to be hurled into the cauldron of a Merseyside war in Mascherano’s place, with Benitez confident he can cope.

Benitez said: “Lucas can come in for Mascherano. He played well against Inter Milan, so why can he not play well against Everton? He can do the job.”

Liverpool, two points clear of fifth-placed Everton, dare not allow the Toffees to take anything away from Anfield.

With behaviour and respect at the top of the current agenda, a Merseyside derby could potentially be a fixture everyone at Anfield would rather have avoided.

But Benitez says: “We do not have problems as a club. People are talking about the number of red and yellow cards, but the players know how to behave.

“They know they must do things properly, they must challenge, but not foul. I have not felt the need to talk to the players about such disciplinary issues because we have a good record this season.

“We will approach the games from now on just like before. We will play with the heart and also the head.

“We do not need to change too many things. The behaviour of the team all season has been good, and just because it is a derby next does not mean things will be different.

“The key now and the message for everyone is to try to support our team and for the players to be good professionals.”

He added: “The game is really important for both clubs, with a position in the top four at stake. It may have more passion than before, if that is possible.

“There needs to be discipline, we have not had problems during the season and our behaviour has been very good.”

Benitez does not believe that a Liverpool win will end Everton’s challenge.

He says: “I do not think that if we win it will kill off Everton. They are winning a lot of games and they are near the top of the table. These games are different, exciting for everyone.

“We must continue winning games in succession regardless of the result, we have to keep going.”