Thursday, August 14, 2008

Liverpool 'Were Very Lucky To Have Got Away With A Draw,' Admits Rafel Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said that his side were fortunate to have escaped from their Champions League third qualifying round, first-leg match at Standard Liege with their interest in the competition still intact.

Liege were highly unfortunate not to have won after a storming performance in front of their fanatical fans.

In the end a goalless draw will delight Liverpool, who turned in a worryingly disjointed display.

"We were very lucky to have got away with a draw, very lucky not to have conceded goals," Benitez said.

"It was a very disappointing performance. But the team know they have to improve, and I did not have to say much to them in the dressing-room, sometimes you do not need many words."

Liverpool's man of the match was goalkeeper Jose Reina, who saved a first-half penalty. The Spanish goalkeeper also looked to have clawed another effort back from behind the goal-line in a first half in which the Belgian champions threatened to overrun the Anfield side.

Benitez is putting his faith in a much-improved display in the second leg at Anfield in a fortnight. If not, then Liverpool could go the same way as Rangers, who also failed to get to the group stages of the lucrative competition.

"It will be different at Anfield, there we are expected to win and we will have our own fans behind us. Liege had their very noisy fans for the first leg," Benitez added.

The five-time European Cup winners could easily have finished the match three or four goals in arrears.

"We were not surprised by the fine performance of the Liege side, we had seen enough of them to know they were a good, aggressive side," the Liverpool manager added.

"The real surprise for me was the way Liverpool played. The only positive to take from the match was the fact that we did not concede a goal.

"We will have to be a lot better in the second leg at Anfield, much better.

"We have been playing well in pre-season, looking confident and passing the ball well.

"But we did not do any of those things. I did not want to bring Steven Gerrard on because the doctors had told me he was not fit enough to start the match.

"We waited until well into the second half before using him, but we were not controlling the game and I had to bring him on."

Gerrard was initially ruled out with a thigh strain and looked well short of his combative best when he eventually entered the fray.

Praising his Spain international goalkeeper, Benitez added: "Jose Reina was the man of the match.

"We know we can always rely on Pepe to stop penalties, but we have been told that the other effort may have been behind the line, but these things happen."

Liege coach Laszlo Boloni said: "Liverpool maybe came here asleep and not expecting this sort of game.

"Maybe, though, we have woken them up for the second leg, which will me much harder for us.

"We felt that if we did not lose this leg, we would still be in with a chance. We know, though, that we still have to score and that could be the problem.

"But I want to praise my team. They attacked Liverpool from the start, and when their goalkeeper pulled the ball back from behind the line, maybe the referee was asleep too."

Reina: We Need To Improve

Pepe Reina accepts Liverpool must step up their game if they're to see off the challenge of Standard Liege and qualify for the group stages of this season's Champions League.

The Reds arrived back from Belgium in the early hours of this morning after a disappointing display in Liege ensured the third round tie remained firmly in the balance ahead of the Anfield return in two weeks' time.

Reina was the Reds hero on the night, making a series of fine saves including a 10th minute penalty stop from Dante after Andrea Dossena was adjudged to have handled inside the area.

The Liverpool 'keeper was also called into action to scoop the ball to safety after Feillani's header had spun back off the post towards the net.

"We played really bad and it's clear we have to improve for the game at Anfield," admitted Reina.

"The positive thing is we got a result, we kept a clean sheet and it's still in our hands. But we didn't play well.

"I don't know if the ball was over the line before I cleared it - I'll have to watch it on TV. Penalty saves are always difficult but, like I say, at least we got the result on the night. But we have to improve."

Voronin Pining For Anfield Exit

Andriy Voronin's days at Liverpool appear to be numbered following the Ukrainian striker's admission that his first-team prospects are non-existent.

Voronin has endured a less than stellar time of things since arriving at Anfield on a free transfer last summer.

Despite leap-frogging Peter Crouch in the pecking order last season - much to the bewilderment of many, it must be said - the 29-year-old failed to establish himself in the starting XI due to a combination of injury, poor form and the brilliance of Fernando Torres.

The vast majority of Kopites have called for Rafael Benitez get rid of the former Bayer Leverkusen man and instead promote youth talents such as Krisztian Nemeth and Daniel Pacheco.

It appears the Spanish tactician may have heeded the supporters to some extent, as Voronin remained on the pine while Moroccan youngster Nabil El Zhar came on late in last night's nervy Champions League qualifier against Standard Liege.

The hard-working forward now finds himself behind Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel and new-boy Robbie Keane in the queue for vying for the attacking spots behind Torres.

Hence, although he scored freely during pre-season, Voronin is resigned to spending the season on the sidelines unless he secures a last-minute move away from Merseyside.

"It looks as if there will be no honest competition for my position," he was quoted as saying in The Sun.

"I think it has been filled whatever I do."

Standarrd Liege 0 - 0 LiverpooL

Liverpool's season began with a stutter as they drew 0-0 with Standard Liege in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier in Belgium.

Liverpool paired Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane together for the first time in competitive action but the duo failed to gel and the Reds can count themselves fortunate to be going back to England on level terms.

Their first escape came after just six minutes when Marouane Fellaini's header appeared to be heading in off the post, only for Jose Reina to scramble across his goal and claw it off the line.

There was some debate as to whether the ball had actually crossed but Liege really should have rendered it immaterial when they were handed a penalty just four minutes later.

Wilfred Dalmat's cross definitely hit the arm of Andrea Dossena, but the left-back was also definitely outside the box. Referee Tom Henning Ovrebo pointed to the spot, though, and it needed Reina again to produce heroics to keep out Dante Bonfim's spot-kick with his legs.

A speculative Xabi Alonso effort that landed on the roof of the net was the closest Liverpool went in a disappointing first 45 minutes and it showed no signs of improving at the start of the second.

Liege again went close through a Igor de Camargo header in the 65th minute and while Rafa Benitez introduced Steven Gerrard for an out-of-sorts Keane, the Merseysiders still could not get into the game.

Reina punched away another De Camargo header seven minutes later but a tame Gerrard free-kick in stoppage time was the closest the visitors went to taking a lead back to Anfield.

Liverpool’s Keane: I Am No David Villa, But Want To Form Successful Partnership With Torres

Liverpool new-signing Robbie Keane has stressed that he has his own style, and will not try to be Reds version of David Villa, but will strive to deliver the goods in partnership with Reds’ ace Fernando Torres to be as prolific a combination as the two Spaniards are for their country.

The Republic of Ireland forward signed for the Reds this summer in a big-money move from Tottenham, thus giving boss Rafa Benitez plenty of options with his versatility.

Keane told ZOO magazine: "As good as David Villa is, I like to think I am my own player and won't be trying to be Liverpool's version.

"But if Fernando and I can become as successful for Liverpool as he and Villa are for Spain, then that would be fantastic!"

Keane and Torres are set to spearhead the Merseyside attack together for the first time in a competitive game when the Reds take on Standard Liege in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League qualifier in Belgium.

Dirk Kuyt: I Want To Stay At Liverpool For As Long As The Club Wants Me

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt claims he has been reassured by Reds manager Rafael Benitez that he still has a future at the club.

The Dutchman found himself playing for much of last season on the right side of midfield, as Benitez opted to play just Fernando Torres up front.

Robbie Keane’s arrival from Tottenham means the 28-year-old is unlikely to be a regular starter in his favoured position even if the Spaniard reverts back to a two-man strikeforce this season.

Kuyt, who scored three goals in 32 appearances for the Anfield club last term, was recently linked with a move to German side Hamburg, but he remains desperate to stay on Merseyside.

And he insists Benitez is happy to grant him his wish.

"I’m really happy at Liverpool and I want to stay here for as long as the club wants me," Kuyt told

"I am really settled here and I like the city. The most important thing is I like the club and I’ve really enjoyed the two seasons I’ve been here.

"The only thing I am missing is some trophies and hopefully that will come in the next year.

"I’ve never had any intentions of leaving this club. Sometimes things are said in the press but the boss said to me that is not relevant and he wants me here with Liverpool."

Liverpool Set To End Interest In Barry As He Prepares For Villa's UEFA Cup Campaign

Gareth Barry's proposed move to Liverpool finally appears to have fallen through after he asked to join Aston Villa's Uefa Cup challenge.

The England midfielder declared himself available to play after speaking to Martin O'Neill's staff, giving the clearest indication yet that he will remain at Villa Park.

Villa's boss said: 'I didn't get a chance to speak to Gareth on Monday but my assistants John Robertson and Steve Walford did.

'Last week, he was more than unsettled but he has said he's absolutely right. He's ready to play and he wanted to come and join us.

'That's particularly pleasing. I shall speak to him before the game. But what was very encouraging was that he wanted to come.

'If players are mentally right and they are really good players - and Gareth Barry is a really good player - then I wouldn't have any hesitation in picking him.

'He's right to play. And it's terrific news for us.'

O'Neill said he would have no hesistation in naming Barry and it seems certain that he will play a part in the National Stadium this evening.

Despite signing three defenders in the past week, ONeill has only been able to add Nicky Shorey to his list of eligible players with both Carlos Cuellar and Luke Young unavailable.

Barry did not travel with the team on their training camp in Spain last week and is short of match practice. He has not featured since the victory over Odense in the prevous round.

But O'Neill will be eager for him to have a run-out against the Icelanders as it will be ideal preparation ahead of this Sunday's Premier League kick-off at Villa Park against Manchester City.