Thursday, August 21, 2008

Carra: League Has Never Been Tougher

Jamie Carragher believes the task of winning the league and claiming that elusive 'number 19' has never been tougher.

The club's vice-captain has won every domestic and European honour during 11 years in Liverpool's first team – except the Premier League.

It's a pill which becomes harder to swallow with each passing year, though Carra recently found comfort in the words of an Anfield icon who helped bring eight championship trophies home to Merseyside.

"I was reading something from Alan Hansen during the summer and it really brought it home to me," the 30-year-old told LFC Magazine.

"You can't criticise much of what Liverpool teams of the past did when Hansen was playing. Obviously they were the best team around but it was interesting to read him say that sometimes Liverpool won the league even though they didn't have a particularly great side.

"He went on to say that there is no possible way you could do that today. It struck a chord with me and I thought it was a fair point.

"I'm not saying bad Liverpool teams ever won the league – of course they didn't. But maybe a few years ago you could afford to carry a few players.

"I don't think that's possible now. Every position has got to be filled by a top player if you want to win things on a consistent basis.

"Look at the other top sides in the Premier League: even the full-back positions are filled with the best full-backs in the world now.

"Years ago you could probably get away with carrying the odd player here or there.

"It was good for me to hear that from someone who actually played back then rather than it coming from current players, where it'd probably just sound like an excuse.

"Basically what Hansen was saying was that it's more difficult to win the league now than in his day. The standards have been raised much higher over the past five to 10 years, especially with the Chelsea situation and what's happening there.

Xabi Alonso Hails “Unforgettable” Goals

Spain’s two goal hero in the 3-0 friendly win against Denmark, Xabi Alonso, hailed the match as a special occasion and described the brace that he scored as unforgettable.

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso was brought on at half time in place of the unfit David Villa to take on an attacking midfield role. The normally defensive-minded player rose to the challenge and repaid the coach’s decision to bring him on by scoring two fantastic goals.

“It was a special game with a new coach and that was why it was so important to win and get off to a good start,” he said in the post match interview. “It is clear that I will never forget these two goals with La Selección.”

Alonso then heaped praise on the team as a whole and stressed that now that they have found the right balance and unity in the squad, it is essential “not to go crazy with making too many changes”.

One of the two debutantes who made it onto the pitch, Athletic Bilbao defender Andoni Iraola, also described the evening as unforgettable and acknowledged the team’s excellent fight back to dominate the second half.

But the other debutant and hero of the night, Diego Capel, remained modest despite his scintillating display that saw him chip in with two assists.

“I have been feeling very good recently and that’s why things have turned out well for me.

“But I will try to continue to work hard to build up the coach’s confidence in me,” the 20-year-old added.

Versatile Gerrard Is Left In The Lurch Yet Again

From link man to left midfielder, they will find a way to squeeze Steven Gerrard into this England team somehow.

They shoehorn the Liverpool midfielder into the side and encourage him to slide up and down the greasy pole that has become England's left midfield. Poor blighter.

Too good to leave out and too flexible to hold down his own position, he was stationed out there again last night. Good ol' Stevie G. Get him on the graveyard shift and let him get on with it.

Naturally he gave it his all, shuttling up and down the touchline in front of Ashley Cole and attempting to exert his authority on the game with those familiar, rampaging runs.

Never mind that England have players queuing up to play in The Problem Position, Fabio Capello is preparing the artillery for next month's game against Croatia in Zagreb.

A meeting of minds it is not. Instead, England's manager is planning to blitz Croatia opposite number Slaven Bilic with a brimful of big-name players.

One look at the names in England's midfield against the Czech Republic confirms that.

They don't come any bigger than David Beckham, of course, and he was joined by Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and our man Gerrard.

Eight of the team who faced the Czech Republic have played in the Champions League Final, one believes he still could if he was allowed to join Liverpool (Barry) and two more will never set foot in the tournament (David James and Jermain Defoe).

Experience then over ingenuity. The tricksters were on the bench, relegated to a watching brief as the new England struggled to find another new dawn.

Timing is everything, of course. Just ask Stewart Downing, days after he memorably - and quite rightly - pointed out that the England team had been picked long before he made the 500-mile trip to join up with the squad under Steve McClaren. Groundhog Day for Middlesbrough's left winger.

What more does he have to do to get in this England team? He was majestic in Middlesbrough's 8-1 victory over Manchester City on the final day of last season and masterful during England's 3-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago on June 1.

From Magic Touch to Out of Touch in the space of a couple of months? Come on. Perhaps Gerrard's goal against the USA at Wembley last May did for him.

He was out on the left that night and Capello deemed it such a success that he gave it another go against this willing Czech Republic team.

He responded, as he always does, with courage and commitment. He has copyrighted the swashbuckling run from deep for Liverpool and he applied that logic down the left.

He set up Defoe with a chance predictably blasted straight at Petr Cech, and generally made a nuisance of himself in a position that he has anything but perfected. A work in progress rather than a work of art.

At least Capello has surely called it quits when it comes to the thorny issue of Lampard and Gerrard. They cannot play in the same central midfield and they surely never will after Capello indulged one and threatened to isolate the other.

Gerrard is itching to play alongside Barry, the man he wants with him at Liverpool and alongside him in England's engine room.

He may have to wait. Owen Hargreaves, missing last night with tendinitis, is another favourite of the England manager, and he is expected to be fit for the squad to face Andorra and Croatia in next month's World Cup qualifiers.

Someone will have to be left out. Just don't expect it to be England's left winger.

Future Of Liverpool FC Target Gareth Barry 'Not Resolved'

Martin O’Neill believes Gareth Barry’s future is “not completely resolved”.

The Anfield hierarchy’s refusal to meet Villa’s £18m asking price has forced Benitez to look elsewhere.

But Villa manager O’Neill said: “We want him to stay I think that’s obvious. I think the fans want him to stay and for the length of time it has gone on it is hard to pre-empt anything. At this minute it’s not completely resolved.”

Benitez remains keen on bringing in another player before the transfer window slams shut on Monday week.

However, a move for Stewart Downing seems unlikely, while Espanyol are asking £16m for Albert Riera.

Reports in France claim Benitez is again keeping tabs on Grenoble’s Sofiane Feghouli.

Ryan Babel Ready To Step Up For Liverpool FC

Ryan Babel believes he is ready to take his game “to the next level” – with Rafael Benitez confident Liverpool will see the best of the Dutch forward this season.

Babel returned to Melwood this week after missing the start of the Premier League campaign while appearing for Holland in the Olympic Games.

The 21-year-old scored in the group stages and helped his country to the quarter-finals, where they were beaten by Javier Mascherano’s Argentina.

Babel experienced a testing debut campaign at Anfield after arriving from Ajax for £11.5m last summer, rarely playing a full 90 minutes and limited to just 15 league starts.

But with 12 months’ experience of English football behind him, Babel is eager to make a bigger impact this year.

“This will be my second season at Liverpool, and hopefully I can take my game to the next level,” said the Holland international.

“I’m just focusing now on getting my fitness levels back up to 100%. After that, we will see what players the manager brings in during the transfer market and what my role in the team could be.”

Babel will go straight into the first-team squad for Saturday’s home Premier League game against Middlesbrough.

And Rafael Benitez is expecting more from the player.

“We can maybe see the best from Ryan this season,” said the Liverpool manager. “I can see Babel emerging this season, we know his potential. With Babel improving, Daniel Agger coming back, the younger players coming through with the senior players of more experience, we have a good balance.

“Ryan’s a player that can change a game. He can be a second striker or a striker, or as a winger on either side. We can use his versatility. We know Ryan prefers to play as a striker, but it’s important to have experience in other positions, and it’s always better to play as a winger than be on the bench.

“He has been playing important games so I don’t think there will be any problems with his fitness, but our doctor and fitness coaches will check with him and then we will see about the weekend.

“I am sure he will be okay. If he trains normally then he can be available for Middlesbrough.”