Friday, April 04, 2008

Liverpool Boss Rafa Plays Up Hicks Talks But Gillett's Plane Frustrated

One showdown that failed to materialise at Emirates Stadium last night was that involving Liverpool co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Hicks saw his first game in three months but Gillett failed to make it to north London after his plane was delayed by heavy snow in Colorado.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez insisted he had held positive talks Hicks after the 1-1 draw against Arsenal.

"I've seen him [Hicks] and he said, 'Congratulations, well done, good job' — but then I had to come and see you," Benitez told reporters.

The match had threatened to be overshadowed by a visit by the club's pair of feuding American owners after Gillett said they could no longer work together.

Hicks, who has been threatening to block Gillett from selling his stake to a Dubai consortium, watched from the directors' box, where he wore a Liverpool/Arsenal scarf.

Hyypia Taking Nothing For Granted

Veteran defender Sami Hyypia has warned that the race for fourth spot in the Barclays Premier League is far from over despite last weekend's Merseyside derby success for Liverpool.

With the Reds' next top-flight clash back at Arsenal on Saturday, it underlines the fact that there is no room for complacency as they try to protect the five-point lead they have built up over Everton.

Hyypia was a key figure in Wednesday's 1-1 Champions League draw at Emirates Stadium, and he knows that Liverpool need to continue to pick up points if they are to hold off their neighbours and claim fourth spot.

Any slip-up at the Emirates - a more than difficult place to go at the best of times - will give Everton heart ahead of their home game with relegated Derby on Sunday, when Liverpool's lead could be cut to just two points.

Hyypia insists that Champions League qualification via the league is far from in the bag.

He said: "It's not over until May 11 (when Liverpool complete their league campaign with a trip to Tottenham).

"We need to make sure we get enough points to be in that fourth spot then."

Of that derby-day success, which leaves Liverpool five points ahead of Everton going into this weekend's games, Hyypia added: "Of course it was sweet. I know what it means to all the fans, so now they are all happy.

"It was a fair result. We had the game under control. It's a pity we didn't score more than one goal but one goal is enough."

The victory over Everton helped wipe away the bitter memories of the previous weekend's defeat by Manchester United.

Hyypia said: "That defeat by United brought us down a little bit. But we knew how important it was to take a five-point lead over Everton, and we had great confidence.

"Now we have Arsenal again next. They are a brilliant team at keeping the ball and passing it. They have great movement and are very dangerous, but I think we have enough quality in our team to be confident of containing them again."

Manager Rafael Benitez is likely to make changes for the second of three games against Arsenal, particularly after the effort his squad put in to claim Wednesday's draw.

It is possible he will rest Steven Gerrard or Fernando Torres, and it is likely that Hyypia will also have a day on the bench.

The likes of Yossi Benayoun, Peter Crouch, Andriy Voronin, John Arne Riise and Alvaro Arbeloa could also figure. Javier Mascherano must sit out the first match of an additional two-game ban he has been handed by the Football Association following his sending off at Old Trafford.

Dirk Kuyt: I DID Know Champions League Referee

Dirk Kuyt has ridiculed suggestions he was given preferential treatment during the Champions League showdown with Arsenal - even though he admits he does know the referee.

The Liverpool striker comes from the next village to where Dutch match official Pieter Vink lives, and grew up just two miles away.

Eyebrows were raised when Kuyt got away with what seemed like a blatant foul on Gunners forward Alex Hleb in the penalty area, which only the official seemed to think was not a spot-kick.

But Kuyt laughed off as ridiculous any thoughts that the ref acted favourably towards him. He said: "The penalty decision was right. It was close, sure, but I don't think it was a penalty, and it is definitely wrong to say that the referee did me a favour because I know him. That's ridiculous. He knows Robin Van Persie as well as he knows me. It was a fair decision."

Vink is from Noordwijkerhout, a village five kilometres from Katwijk, the home of Kuyt.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was fuming at the official's decision, insisting that the ref was just five yards away from the incident.

Kuyt added: "We both come from the same area. He comes from Leiden and that where I grew up also.

"I did touch Hleb, but I didn't pull his shirt or hold him.

"I played in Holland a lot of times when he was the referee, and he gave me some good decisions and some bad ones. So I don't think he favours me."

Liverpool Star Mascherano Says Sorry After Old Trafford Outburst

Javier Mascherano has publicly apologised for the furious reaction to his sending-off at Manchester United which saw him handed an additional two-game ban.

The Liverpool midfielder, who has already served a mandatory one-match suspension for his red card at Old Trafford almost two weeks ago, admitted a Football Association charge of improper conduct levied for his angry refusal to leave the field.

Following a personal hearing before a disciplinary panel yesterday, the 23-year-old Argentina international saw his ban extended and was fined £15,000.

Liverpool are pondering an appeal against the severity of the punishment and have until midday to lodge it with the FA.

Mascherano himself was full of remorse for his behaviour, telling the Daily Mail: 'I apologise to everyone. I made a mistake and I regret this mistake. It was my fault.

'I am not a dirty player, I do not make a habit of showing disrespect towards referees.

'I don't like this and I can only think the high intensity of the fixture, against Manchester United, affected my behaviour that day. It was out of character but I do not use that as an excuse.'

The red card was a first in English football for Mascherano.

Having already been cautioned by Steve Bennett, he was shown a second yellow card in the 44th minute after running 20 metres to question the booking of striker Fernando Torres.

The midfielder added: 'Looking back at that game, I was wrong to approach the referee. I approached him to talk to him but I understand this was not a good idea.

'I reacted badly to the red card because I could not believe what was happening to me.

'I must learn my lesson but move on from this and forget what has happened. I hope people know that I try to be fair and that I have no intention to be aggressive.

'Off the field, it has been a difficult time for me. My disciplinary record has been good until now but I have to show that again. I always try to respect decisions by the referee and this is important.'

Any Liverpool appeal would focus on Mascherano being made a scapegoat for some high-profile displays of petulance towards referees.

A club spokesman said yesterday: 'Although we received a fair hearing, we must now decide whether to appeal on the basis of inconsistency of sentencing for Javier based on past precedents.'

Those precedents could include the cases of Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who staged a long protest after being sent off in last season's Carling Cup final, and that of Watford's John Eustace, who showed a reluctance to leave the field after being dismissed last month.

Both players had their automatic bans extended by only one match.

Dirk Kuyt: New Role Has Saved My Season At Liverpool

Dirk Kuyt believes the new role handed to him by Rafael Benitez has helped salvage his season.

The Holland international has been operating on the right wing of the 4-2-3-1 formation preferred by the Liverpool manager in recent weeks.

And it has coincided with an improvement in form for Kuyt, whose man- of-the-match performance in the Champions League game with Arsenal on Wednesday was described as “unbelievable” and “amazing” by Benitez.

The 27-year-old netted a precious away goal as Liverpool exited the Emirates with a hugely creditable 1-1 draw to take into next Tuesday’s return leg at Anfield.

Kuyt came in for fierce criticism during the first half of the season as, hampered by a loss of form and mourning the loss of his father to cancer, he went 13 games without a goal.

But the forward has enjoyed a renaissance since being asked to mine the right flank

“I have had a difficult season and I have had to show character,” admits Kuyt. “I had a few problems in the early part of the season and everyone knows what it was.

“I just tried to come through it and in the second half of the season I have played in a different position and I have just tried to give everything I can. It has gone well. I have given assists and I have scored some goals.

“The manager didn’t need to persuade me over the position on the right. I have played in that position for years for Holland and when I started my career at Utrecht it was there also.

“I am not an out and out right-winger, I do it in my own way and that has helped me to continue scoring goals.”

Kuyt has become something of a talisman for Liverpool in the Champions League this season, with Wednesday’s goal his sixth in the competition.

However, the forward Kuyt has netted only four times in domestic football, and he added: “Last year I scored 13 goals in the league and only one in Europe. This season I have scored three in the league, one in the cup and six in Europe.

“I don’t really know why that is, but I cannot be happy with that. I just hope that I can go on and be involved in good moments with Liverpool.”

Kuyt was also involved in the game’s main talking point midway through the second half when he tussled with Aleksandr Hleb inside the area.

After Arsenal’s strong penalty claims were waved away by referee Pieter Vink, conspiracy theorists revelled in the fact both Kuyt and Vink hail from the same Rijnland region in the west of Holland in towns separated by a distance of five miles.

The Liverpool man, however, dismissed any suggestions of favouritism and claims the referee was correct not to award the spot-kick.

“I think the penalty decision was right,” says Kuyt.

“I touched Hleb but I never pulled his shirt, so I don’t think he deserved to get a penalty. It was close, to be fair, but not a penalty.

“I know the referee because I played in Holland a lot against him. When we played against Feyenoord in pre-season he was the referee as well. So I know him.

“He comes from close to where I grew up.

“It’s wrong to say that he did me a favour because I know him.

“I had him a few times in Holland against me.

“He made a good decision and to be fair he knows Robin van Persie too.”