Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cesc Praises Torres Ahead Of Triple Header

Ahead of his side's hattrick of meetings with Liverpool - with each leg of their Champions League quarterfinal contested either side of a league encounter - Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas has aired his views on compatriot Fernando Torres.

While Arsenal have no doubt outdone Liverpool in terms of silverware and consistency over the last decade, European glory has gone quite the other way.

The Gunners went close when making the final in 2006, but Liverpool can say the same of the more recent final in 2007, and added to that have the glorious if not somewhat miraculous success of 2005 to boast about, as well as the UEFA Cup won in 2001.

The two sides lock horns this week with Arsenal having only ever won a single Champions League quarterfinal - that of course in 2006 - of the four they have participated in. Liverpool meanwhile have an absolutely marvellous conversion rate, having made the quarters 11 times and progressed to the semi-finals on all but three occasions.

When considering general form this season, Arsenal started like a house on fire - something even the most devout optimists would not have foreseen in the club's first season in almost a decade without club icon and all-time leading scorer Thierry Henry.

Liverpool flattered to deceive as they have in recent years; falling away in the league, putting up little resistence in the Carling Cup and being embarrased by Barnsley in the FA Cup. However, since then, the Champions League has once more galvanised Benitez's side who, behind league leaders Manchester United, are without doubt the form team in England.

Wenger's Arsenal, meanwhile, conspired to lose a five point lead at the top of the table as they now trail by six, behind Chelsea in second but, thankfully for them, a comfortable eight ahead of Liverpool in fourth.

The two clubs now face each other three times in a week, with these games no doubt playing a monumental part in determining their respective fates this season.

“In these three games we will know the outcome of our season,” declared Arsenal star Cesc Fabregas. “The Champions League is of great importance. Liverpool have made it to the final twice in the last three years and know very well how to play these type of matches.”

Fabregas shared words with countryman Fernando Torres when the two met up for a friendly against Italy last week, a game neither impressed in. That said, both have been the respective stars for their club this season. Cesc revealed that Torres told him he would score, while the Arsenal man prefers to do his talking on the pitch.

From there on, though, he had only words of praise for the star striker and his magnificent first season in England.

“He said that he will score a goal, but I preferred to remain quiet, wait and speak later on the pitch,” remarked Fàbregas. “When a player comes to England, one can doubt whether he will settle, but Torres is doing fantastically well.

"English football suits him just fine: He is a strong player, hard to defend, he is clinical when facing goal and overall, he creates space, something which is paramount in England.”

Fàbregas opined that the 23-year-old's success hinges on him no longer dealing with all the pressure that was on his shoulders as Atletico Madrid's apparent saviour during a somewhat dark period in los Rojiblancos' history.

“He had all the plaudits, but when things went wrong, all the criticism as well,” explained Fàbregas. “It was as if Atlético was just made up of Torres. That is not very beneficial, especially Atlético was not going through the best of times and he got the worst of the criticism.

“These are things that when you are young can make you overanalyse things and go through a negative spell. Here, he feels he is more free, surrounded by quality players and he is going through a great spell.”

Reds Ready To Rock Arsenal - Torres

In-form striker Fernando Torres says Liverpool are full of confidence heading into their Champions League quarter-final against Arsenal.

The Spain international has scored 11 goals in his last 10 matches - including the winner in Sunday's Merseyside derby - and has found the net four times in his previous four European outings.

Torres has 28 goals for the season and would dearly like to score at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday to give Liverpool an important advantage heading into the second leg of the quarter-final tie.

"The first game at the Emirates will be very difficult. The most important thing is to score - if we score it is very good for the Anfield game but Arsenal play very well and it is very difficult to win," he said.

"They won a very difficult game on Saturday (beating Bolton 3-2 with 10 men) but we have confidence again now and we have the confidence to go and win against Arsenal."

The team produced the perfect response to the defeat to Manchester United a week last Sunday by claiming derby day bragging rights thanks to Torres' solitary strike.

And that goal, which saw him become only the fifth player in the club's history to score in six successive home games, has boosted the Spaniard ahead of Tuesday's crucial encounter.

"Whenever you have a bad result, you need a big game with a good result," added the 24-year-old.

"Every player is over the Manchester United result and the important thing is to win.

"Now we have an important game coming against Arsenal and six games in the league."

If there is anything Torres needs to add to what has been a stunning debut season in England it is the ability to score regularly away from home.

So far 19 of his 21 league goals have come at Anfield, with 15 of those coming in front of the Kop.

Torres admits he is more comfortable playing at home but cannot explain why.

"I always feel confident that I can score at Anfield. I've got 19 Premier League goals here now which is fantastic for me, and I seem to score most of those in front of the Kop," he said.

"I don't know why that is, but I'm always scoring at that end. It must be something about the stand, it is just different. I always feel confident when I'm facing that end of the pitch."

Despite the majority of Torres' goals coming at home, Liverpool's legendary record goalscorer Ian Rush believes the Spaniard has the necessary credentials to become feared across Europe.

"Torres has something that can make him really special," said Rush.

"When you've got pace and can kick with both feet, like he can, you are always going to cause the opposition problems.

"Defenders don't actually know which foot he is going to kick with. That's what makes him special. He has been a revelation."

Rush believes Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez will play his usual tactical game against Arsenal and will probably look to win the tie back at Anfield.

"I think the game will be really tight and Liverpool will have the advantage simply because of the second leg," he told UEFA's website.

"I think they will go to Arsenal in the first game and just try to contain them. If you let Arsenal play, they're a joy to watch and I feel Liverpool's job will be to try and stop them playing.

"If they can get a draw, I think they can win back at Anfield. The atmosphere and the support Liverpool will have there will give them a head start."

Hicks And Gillett Head For Champions League Game - But Ask Not To Be Seat Together

Tom Hicks and George Gillett will both be at Liverpool's Champions League game with Arsenal on Wednesday - but both have asked not be sat together.

The pair are planning on attending Liverpool's Champions League tie against Arsenal at The Emirates on Wednesday night.

But sources in the club say both have requested not to be seated next to one another.

Hicks is travelling to London with a party of 12 while Gillett is flying in from Colorado with his son, Foster.

As the in-fighting and internal strife continues, chief executive Rick Parry has appealed for a solution to be found at the earliest possible opportunity for the good of the club.

The Reds chief executive has spoken out after George Gillett finally ended his silence and admitted his relationship with co-owner Tom Hicks is in tatters.

"My plea is that something happens this week," he said.

"There is a need for a degree of urgency but it is urgent to get it right, not urgent to come up with the wrong solution."

With Dubai International Capital reportedly keen to launch a full takeover of the Anfield club, Hicks has so far refused to do business unless he can retain a controlling share, while Gillett appears more amenable - claiming DIC would have been "responsible" owners.

Parry is keen to sort the issue out as soon as possible but insists the club have to take correct decisions - and not the most expedient.

"To move onwards and upwards we need a resolution but I don't think this is going to have a direct bearing on the players, that is pretty unlikely," he said.

"It is certainly not conducive to long-term planning and managing of the club.

"Over time, if we fail to deliver and fail to perform, that is when star players become dissatisfied but that is not an immediate fear from where I sit."

Pako Betrayed Me And It Still Hurts - Benitez Lifts The Lid On His Assistant's Anfield Exit

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has spoken for the first time about the departure of former assistant Pako Ayestaran from Anfield.

The departure of his fellow Spaniard has been cited as a major reason why the Reds have failed to mount a serious challenge in the Premier League this season, but Benitez insists he had no option but to tell his friend to leave the club.

He told The Times: "Pako was much more than a physical trainer, he was my friend and someone I trusted for many years. I worked with him for 11 years. It's a recent wound that still hurts.

"Liverpool gave him autonomy and power and I think that changed him a lot – he wanted more and more. One day I found out that he had serious contacts with other teams and that seemed to me a betrayal towards me and the club that I couldn't accept.

"He told me he wanted to leave the same day that we played against Toulouse, so I lost someone I trusted greatly, a key member of my staff at a crucial moment in the preseason."

And Benitez admits the club has taken time to recover from Ayestaran's exit, adding: "Logically, this has an effect on a team. The people that arrived had to adapt and familiarise themselves with a new environment.

"This meant that a transitional period started at the club, but we still managed to win games and play well. Then, when we started to draw games, people questioned our work.

"I believe that no one is irreplaceable and we have to keep moving forward. Paco de Miguel took over the role as physical trainer. Also, as a result, I have more of a presence around the team and try to have more involvement with the players."

League Title Is A Distraction For Arsenal, Says Gerrard

Steven Gerrard sought comfort in Arsenal's stirring fightback against Bolton Wanderers yesterday by claiming it could distract Arsène Wenger's team from a single-minded pursuit of the Champions League.

Both Liverpool and Arsenal approach tomorrow's Champions League quarter-final having scored psychologically important results at the weekend: the visitors reducing the pressure on qualification for next season's competition with victory over Everton and the hosts ending a run of five league games without success in dramatic fashion at the Reebok.

Arsenal remain six points adrift of the leaders, Manchester United, despite recovering from a two-goal deficit against Gary Megson's team but, argues Gerrard, their lingering interest in the Premier League title may affect the Gunners' motivation at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow night.
"If Arsenal hadn't beaten Bolton, maybe they'd only have had one thing to play for this season and that could have made it more difficult for us," the Liverpool captain said. "But with them still having half a chance in the league, maybe that could distract them a bit."

Gerrard was outstanding in the Merseyside derby at Anfield and his understanding with the 28-goal Fernando Torres, coupled with the availability of Javier Mascherano for the quarter-final, has fuelled Liverpool confidence for the first leg. The captain believes his club's consistency in Europe and the pedigree born of two Champions League finals in the past three seasons will favour Rafael Benítez's side in London tomorrow.

"Before the draw was made, we'd have been looking to get a team from Europe rather than another from the Premier League," said the England midfielder. "But you get what you are given and to win the European Cup you have to beat the best. When we won it in 2005, we had to beat all the best teams to win it and I'm sure we're going to have to do that again if we want to win it this season. We're a good side in Europe and we're always confident no matter who we come up against that we are going to qualify. I think the other teams are more worried about us because we've proved in the last two or three years that we're one of the best teams in the competition. We've got nothing to fear."

Liverpool were beaten 3-0 on their only previous visit to the Emirates, for a league game in November 2006, and Gerrard insists the eight-point gap between the teams in the league will have no bearing on their first European encounter. "The Champions League games against Arsenal are going to be different to the league game we have there," he added. "We found the Champions League games we had against Chelsea were different to the Premier League games, with it being a cup competition and not for three points. But we know we are in for two really tough games."

Gerrard's man of the match performance in the derby was tainted by the vile abuse he received from Everton supporters at Anfield, invective that prompted Benítez to criticise their "lack of respect" after a game in which players on both sides were subjected to personal attack. Everton responded to the Liverpool manager's comments yesterday by claiming their captain, Phil Neville, was punched as he prepared to take a throw in front of the Centenary Stand and have asked Merseyside police to investigate the incident.

"Whilst we would never condone the singling out of individual players for vitriolic insults, it is a shame that Mr. Benítez chose to ignore the actions of his own club's supporters," said an Everton spokesman. "Not only was Joleon Lescott subjected all afternoon to a long barrage of quite disgusting and quite audible abuse, Phil Neville was seemingly spat at several times and was also punched in the back by a supporter as he took a throw-in."