Saturday, August 23, 2008

Betting Recommendation: LiverpooL vs. Middlesbrough

A quick quiz question……What connects Fernando Torres and the date January 21st 2008?

The answer is that it was the last time the Spaniard failed to score in a Premier League game at Anfield.

Since that blank against Villa, Torres has netted in eight successive Premier League home matches, scoring 12 goals.

It includes a hat-trick against Saturday's opponents while he also netted against Boro at the Riverside last season.

So having put four past Gareth Southgate's men last term and bagged the winner at Sunderland last week, the bookies should really be taking evasive action on the man whose goal settled the final of Euro 2008.

Offering 10/11 is asking for trouble and we won't let them get away with it.

Boro should be confident after their 2-1 home win over Spurs and pushed Liverpool in this fixture last season, losing 3-2, so might be able to nick a draw.

But stopping Torres wheeling away in celebration again may prove beyond them.

Verdict: Liverpool 2 Middlesbrough 1

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Middlesbrough

Both sides come into this game hungry for another Premier League victory in order to maintain perfect starts to the season. Last week Liverpool lacked sharpness and struggled against Roy Keane’s lively Sunderland side. A moment of Fernando Torres magic snatched Liverpool a victory late on but Rafael Benitez will certainly demand more from his men this weekend. Analysis of Middlesbrough’s victory over Spurs will confirm that Liverpool will have to raise their game to beat a Boro’ side who were full value for their three points last week.

Gareth Southgate has assembled a youthful side, spearheaded by the impressive Afonso Alves. Alves plays with the hybrid style of part traditional English centre forward coupled with a touch of Brazilian flair. Centre back David Wheater deputised at full-back and shone last week, in effect scoring twice after his first goal was wrongly disallowed. Stewart Downing, as ever, is a creative force in midfield but Tuncay’s tireless work down the right flank, if he plays in that role, will also be crucial. A slim line Mido made an almost instant impact from the bench and will be pushing Jeremie Aliadiere for a starting berth.

Clear the air’ talks between Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and chief executive Rick Parry took place this week in order to resolve issues over Liverpool’s transfer policy. Once again a united front has been presented for the cameras but whether these issues are truly resolved will remain to be seen. What this has meant is that Middlesbrough may have an off field distraction of their own as rumours mount once more that Liverpool are possibly looking to lure Stewart Downing from the Riverside. As much as Boro’ fans would normally want a class performance from their young winger, they may hope he remains a little bit quieter than normal at Anfield this Saturday.

FORM GUIDE – Last Five Results


Aug 2: Rangers 0 Liverpool 4

Aug 5: Valerenga 1 Liverpool 4

Aug 8: Liverpool 1 Lazio 0

Aug 13: Standard Liege 0 Liverpool 0

Aug 16: Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1


Jul 29: Carlisle 1 Middlesbrough 2

Aug 2: Hibernian 2 Middlesbrough 3

Aug 5: Darlington 0 Middlesbrough 5

Aug 8: S. Rotterdam 1 Middlesbrough 6

Aug 16: Middlesbrough 2 Tottenham 1



Ryan Babel has returned from the Olympics and is now available. He will probably start on the bench with Yossi Benayoun initially continuing on the left hand side. Javier Mascherano is still on Olympic duty and is thus unavailable. Xabi Alonso should be expected to be given an opportunity to prove his worth in the centre of midfield after impressing both as a substitute against Sunderland and whilst on international duty mid-week. A further change from last week could be that Daniel Agger slots in to the centre of Liverpool’s defence, replacing veteran Sami Hyypia.

Possible Starting XI: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Dossena, Kuyt, Gerrard, Alonso, Benayoun, Keane, Torres


Justin Hoyte is available to make his debut but will struggle to dislodge David Wheater at right-back. This will mean that Southgate has to decide whether to field the same back four who did so well against Spurs or reshuffle in order to award Hoyte a starting berth. If Southgate opts to change his winning formula then Wheater could move to centre-half to partner Huth. This will mean that skipper Emanuel Pogatetz will move to left back and Andrew Taylor will miss out. Summer signings Didier Degard and Martin Emnes look likely to continue on the bench. Another decision for the Boro’ gaffer will be whether Aliardiere, Tuncay or Mido partner Alves up front. After linking himself with a move to Wigan this week, Mido may have made his managers mind up for him and could well be on the bench again. If so, Tuncay will play on the right with Aliardiere partnering Alves.

Possible Starting XI: Jones, Wheater, Pogatetz, Huth, Taylor, Tuncay, Shawky, O'Neil, Downing, Aliardiere, Alves



Xabi Alonso’s expected return after an influential second half display against Sunderland and two-goals for Spain mid-week will be eagerly awaited. Both of Liverpool’s expected strikers seem to enjoy playing against Middlesbrough. Last season Fernando Torres scored four times against them. Robbie Keane has scored seven times career goals against Boro’, scoring more against only one other club, Manchester City.


Afonso Alves will be the main threat up front, and will certainly keep the Liverpool defence on their toes. Potential Liverpool target Stewart Downing will also have more eyes on him than normal.

Benitez Reveals New Gerrard Injury Fears Ahead Of Anfield Opener

There may have been a welcome thaw behind the scenes at Anfield, but Rafa Benitez still wore an anxious look as he outlined new fitness worries over Steven Gerrard.

The Liverpool skipper returned from England duty amid more controversy over his role in the side, with Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp claiming it was ‘killing him’ playing him left midfield.

While national coach Fabio Capello accused Redknapp of misreading Gerrard’s true position, in the 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic, Benitez was more concerned about a nagging groin problem.

Fresh from clear-the-air talks with chief executive Rick Parry that he insisted were ‘positive’ and had ‘clarified several issues’, Benitez admitted Gerrard would need a late fitness check ahead of the visit of Middlesbrough.

He said: ‘Stevie first had this earlier in the year, and then he felt discomfort in his other leg, and it meant a couple of spells on the sidelines during the pre-season build-up.

'That is why he did not start against Standard Liege. It is clear he cannot be fully fit.

‘After missing so much preparation time, you would have to be superman to be 100 per cent.

'His fitness will improve, but at the moment he needs protecting a bit.

'With players like Stevie, though, even if he is not at his peak physically, he still has the quality to make an impact on games.

‘There has been debate at this club about his best position.

'We know he favours central midfield, but he has the ability to shine anywhere.’

Benitez hailed last Saturday’s unconvincing 1-0 win at Sunderland as evidence that Liverpool are finally ready to emulate the top teams’ knack of taking maximum points on an off day.

He said: ‘If you can win when you are playing badly, it makes all the difference. It keeps the points tally up and confidence levels high.’

Cherries Land Lindfield

Bournemouth have signed Liverpool's teenage striker Craig Lindfield on loan until the end of December.

Lindfield has yet to make a first-team appearance for Liverpool, but had loan spells at Notts County and Chester City last season.

He will be in Bournemouth's squad for Saturday's League Two game with Exeter City and Kevin Bond is happy with his new recruit.

"He's been out on loan before and sometimes they're an awful lot better with some experience," Bond told the club's official website.

"Craig has come through the ranks at Liverpool and is highly regarded. He's scored a lot of goals and they are looking for an opportunity to get him some games.

"This provides an ideal opportunity for him and I think it's a good signing for us too. He's here until the end of the year and is ready to perform this level and he's very keen to come and show us what he can do and I'm glad to have him."

The arrival of Lindfield could lead to Jo Kuffour's departure as Bournemouth had been reluctant to sell the wantaway striker until a replacement had been found.

We're Wasting The Special Talent That Is Steven Gerrard

England are wasting Steven Gerrard. They are ruining an outstanding talent. I've heard the word 'timid' being whispered as a reason for him not being a contender to take the captain's armband. Timid? You've got to be joking.

Here are some better words for him: Powerful. Explosive. Dynamic. Aggressive. Unique.

He needs to be given the run of midfield, in the centre, in his best position, not sent out to the left - or the right, for that matter.

Can you imagine the Germans sticking Michael Ballack on the left wing?

The shrinking of England's players when they pull on the white shirt is a problem that remains unresolved, and Gerrard is becoming the biggest problem.

Don't just take my word for it. Read what Fernando Torres says about him, or Javier Mascherano. They recognise him as a world-class footballer, so why doesn't this England manager see that?

Gerrard and Frank Lampard are match-winners for their clubs. With England, Gerrard has to play wide and Lampard has to endure 70,000 fans booing him!

What is that about … do these people think he isn't trying?

I say - again, because this is a subject we have visited before -that Gerrard and Lampard can play together in the centre. England can play another more defensive player with the pair, or trust Gerrard to play the disciplined role. It's not as if the midfield is functioning well without them being paired in the centre, is it? Or that there are so many candidates we can afford to look at alternatives for these two outstanding talents with their clubs.

Stevie G can play there, I've played for Liverpool with him alongside me. He first came into the team at right back and twice cleared off his own line on his Merseyside derby debut. He understands the defensive demands, he replaced Paul Ince in the Liverpool team and took on that role. He just needs to be trusted.

Rafa Benitez has played him in so many different areas it seems to have encouraged others to do the same. Stevie is such a willing lad, he will go wherever he is asked to play. I sense he is starting to doubt himself now, wondering if he is the player I think he is. And, when Fabio Capello plays him on the left and then substitutes him, it will not help his confidence.

He has such an engine, an ability to pass the ball, to break behind the strikers, to lurk around the edge of the box and he is also a terrific finisher.

England must get the best out of him. Even though he is close to Jamie Carragher, who retired from international football, there isn't a risk that Stevie will follow. He's not that sort of lad. But he is a better player than we saw on Wednesday night. And so is Lampard.

There was a lack of imagination from England, it was pedestrian through midfield, apart from one 10-minute spell before half-time, and there were too many long balls pumped in from wide to small strikers.

We need to work the ball, shift it around like Chelsea do by playing a similar system. This is the team who can get a result against Croatia (if all are fit), playing a versatile 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation.

James; G Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, A Cole; Barry, Lampard, Gerrard; Rooney, J Cole; Heskey.

Benitez Searching For New Names

Rafael Benitez is now hoping a summer of discontent amongst Liverpool's hierarchy can be consigned to the background.

He has admitted there were 'clear the air' talks with chief executive Rick Parry this week after acrimony over the proposed transfer of Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry.

"We talked about the players that we have, how to progress, and we both know it is important for the club that we work together," Benitez explained.

"We are working really hard, we are moving in the right direction and hopefully we can do something positive in the next few days.

"The talks were positive, we cannot discuss names but we are now both working to improve our squad.

"There was no friction, but some personal problems. Now things are clearer and that is positive. It was a private conversation."

Benitez also admitted there had been no further developments on a deal for Barry with the transfer window set to close shortly.

He continued: "I have had no word about Arsenal wanting Gareth Barry, and that is all I want to say on the subject. Other than that we are working towards improving our squad.

"Likewise there has been nothing more on Xabi Alonso. At the beginning of the summer we were looking at ways of raising money, but now we are happy with Xabi, he is a very good player.

"The offer we had was not good enough, so why would we want to sell him?"

Meanwhile Benitez is confident striker Fernando Torres can seal his place in the club's record books and has backed skipper Steven Gerrard to rediscover his fitness and form.

Torres will be aiming to score in his ninth successive home league match for the club when the Reds face Middlesbrough in the Barclays Premier League side at Anfield.

If the Spain international is able to find the net against Gareth Southgate's side he will break a record set by Roger Hunt back in the 1961/62 season.

Gerrard meanwhile was criticised by England boss Fabio Capello - who used the midfielder in a controversial left-sided role in the disappointing draw with the Czech Republic - for not being fit enough, but Benitez expects him to return to his best in the near future.

Benitez said: "We hope Fernando can create his piece of club history, and then maybe more in the future.

"Steven has had two injuries, he was 10-15 days without training, and then it happened again. That is why he did not start the match two weeks ago against Standard Liege.

"Clearly in a couple of weeks he will be back to his best. He has needed time to get fit after his injuries and it has been important to protect him.

"Steven has great game intelligence, and he can play anywhere. Gerrard played with intelligence and England drew, that is all I would want to say about it.

"We know what the best position for Gerrard is, but he is capable of playing in other positions.

"We know where he can play really well and we know where he likes to play. We will concentrate on using him to his strengths."

Lee: Fans Will Inspire Home Success

Sammy Lee is backing the Kop to rise to the occasion and help turn Anfield into a fortress once more during 2008-09.

Our assistant manager believes the fans will be in buoyant mood for the league clash against Middlesbrough on Saturday as the Reds attempt to draw a line under last season's mixed home form.

"It's massive, absolutely massive," Lee told when asked about the importance of the first home match of the season.

"As always our fans will play their part and we don't make light of the fact that they are our 12th man.

"It'll be a cauldron and a fortress and a 12th man. All the players are looking forward to playing in front of this crowd. It can be a very intimidating place and we don't hope it will be a 12th man, we know it will be.

"We rely upon that because it's great to have home support. We came away from Liege where their support was terrific but we've also had great support there and at Sunderland.

"It's always nice to get back to Anfield and hear that roar and hopefully it can lift the players and they can put the frighteners up Middlesbrough.

"We know they had a great win on the opening day and it will be a difficult game for us. There are no easy games anymore. I know it's a cliché but the more I look at it the more I realise there aren't any easy games and we can expect a real test."

A victory against Middlesbrough would make it two league wins out of two for the Reds and while Lee would be delighted with another three points, he is unwilling to get carried away.

"It's all about winning," he said. "If you win regularly things fall into place but we must keep working hard and make sure we win the next game.

"We can't look any further than that. If we keep doing that hopefully we can get the success we feel we are capable of achieving.

"We want to improve on a daily basis. I'm not going to give false promises apart from saying that everyone is working tirelessly to get back to where we feel we belong and I think we all know where we belong.

"This is a great league. We know the difficulties but we also know the rewards and it would be a great league to win. Everyone has the ambition and desire to gain success and we all know what we have to do."

Lee also had words of praise for boss Rafa Benitez, who he feels has the tactical know-how to lead Liverpool to further glory.

"Rafa's fantastic to work with," he said.

"I knew about him beforehand and had a good relationship when I was at Bolton. He's a football man, he's a great man. His attention to detail is fantastic and he's a terrific guy to work with."