Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Liverpoool FC Wants Trophies Not Cash

RAFAEL BENITEZ insists silverware and not money is the motivating factor as Liverpool’s Champions League hopes go on the line tonight.

The Anfield outfit host Standard Liege in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie knowing only victory will guarantee them passage to the lucrative group stages.

Benitez’s side were grateful for Pepe Reina’s penalty save in the first leg a fortnight ago as they escaped with a goalless draw having been completely outplayed by the Belgian champions.

Liverpool’s failure to net an away goal means Standard need only a score draw tonight to eliminate the five-time European Cup winners while a second goalless match would send the game to a decisive penalty shoot-out.

Elimination would cost Liverpool an estimated £12m and potentially hamper Benitez’s future transfer plans.

But the Liverpool manager, who has guided his team to victory in all four previous encounters at this stage of the competition, instead regards the chance of lifting another trophy as the driving force behind his team.

“For me, the first thing is silverware,” said Benitez. “I like to talk about trophies, that is the main thing. But the Champions League is also about money and you have to take the two things together. But we are here to win titles, not to make money.

“I always tell my players that if they win games, they win trophies and then they will have higher wages and more money. We need to win silverware so we will be better in all of these areas.

“Do our finances in any way depend on getting through? No, I don’t think so. It is not about money, it is about winning.

“We know the Champions League is a fantastic competition and it is really, really important that we go through and that we can approach the game against Aston Villa with confidence.”

Liverpool experienced a hostile atmosphere in Liege’s intimate Stade Maurice Dufrasne two weeks ago.

And Benitez is confident the Belgians will receive a warm welcome of their own by a packed Anfield this evening.

“I don’t like to talk about the supporters in this case because when you say you need the supporters, it implies that you did not have the support before,” he said.

“We always have our supporters backing the team. They know how important this game is to the team so they will be supporting them from the first minute to the end.

“That is always their way. You cannot say anything about the fans – they are the best.

“If I’m asked 100 times whether we will win and go through to the Champions League, 100 times I will say yes.”

Sami Hyypia has beeen declared fit and Ryan Babel could start, but his fellow Olympians Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva won’t be considered.

Standard Liege Fear Liverpool FC Big Guns

STANDARD Liege boss Laszlo Boloni admits he fears the damage Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard’s partnership can do to his team.

The Belgian title holders will prepare for their Champions League third qualifying round second leg with confidence after their 0-0 draw in Liege a fortnight ago.

But at Anfield tonight Boloni sees Torres and Gerrard as the main obstacle to his club reaching the group stages for the first time.

Boloni won the European Cup 22 years ago in the infamous Steaua Bucharest side that overcame Barcelona in a boring goalless clash in Seville after which the Romanians were accused of playing for penalties from the start.

Boloni scored in that penalty shoot-out, and many feel Liege will need that level of defiance to survive against a chastened Liverpool.

Boloni said: “What does concern me is the relationship that Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have achieved.

“They are two fine players and have a fine link, something they have struck up very quickly as players. It is very important to Liverpool, they know each other’s game very well.

“But then Liverpool can be dangerous from every part of the field, we will have to be very careful. If I was 30 years younger, I would love to be involved myself.”

And he sees coaching a victory at Anfield comparable to anything he achieved as a player.

Boloni said: “Over three or four years at Steaua, I cannot say to anyone that we were the best, but we were beating the best.

“For Standard to win here would be comparable to anything I achieved as a player at Steaua.”

Liege have defender Oguchi Onyewu, who had a spell at Newcastle, back from suspension.

CL Preview: Liverpool v Standard Liege

Liverpool will be aiming to avoid European disaster when they face Standard Liege in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League qualifier at Anfield.

The tie is delicately balanced following a goalless draw in Belgium two weeks ago, but the Reds rode their luck in the first leg.

Standard appeared to have a legitimate goal ruled out, while Jose Reina saved a penalty as the Belgian champions gave Liverpool an almighty scare in the first leg.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has no fresh injury worries to contend with as he likes to guide his side into the lucrative group stages.

Sami Hyypia misses out again with a hamstring injury meaning Martin Skrtel is likely to partner Jamie Carragher in central defence.

Steven Gerrard, who started the first leg against Standard on the bench, is expected to start in midfield alongside Xabi Alonso.

Javier Mascherano and Lucas Levia will not be involved as Benitez does not feel they are ready having only recently returned from the Olympics.

Ryan Babel could be involved after making an appearance as a substitute against Middlesbrough last weekend.

Standard have former Newcastle defender Oguchi Onyewu available again after he was suspended for the first leg.

Steven Defour is set to return to the starting line-up after being used as a substitute last weekend against KVC Westerlo

Striker Milan Jovanovic, who missed the first leg, could be involved after a possible move to PSV Eindhoven stalled.

Rush: Time To Win With Style

Ian Rush has hailed Liverpool's ability to grind out results but is now calling for them to start winning in style.

The Reds legend is delighted Rafael Benitez's side have taken maximum points from their opening two league matches and now wants them to step it up a gear in terms of performance levels on the pitch.

"You can't ask for any more from a team than to take six points from their first two games of the season and that is exactly what Liverpool have done," said Rush.

"Sunderland and Middlesbrough are going to give a lot of teams problems this season but, despite being nowhere near their best, Liverpool have somehow managed to come up with a way to beat both of them.

"In this respect, you can't ask any more of Rafa Benitez and his players. They have done just what we all hoped they would do in terms of getting off to a good start.

"But there is no doubt they are going to have to improve if their winning run is going to continue because their opening two performances have not been of the standard expected."

Rush admits developing a habit of 'winning ugly' is essential if the Reds are to challenge for the title but believes it would be unwise to suggest they don't need to raise their game in the weeks ahead.

"Winning when you are not playing well is something you have to be able to do if you are going to challenge for the title but it isn't something that can be sustained too long," he said.

"If you're sloppy in possession and not creating many chances then it is inevitably winning matches is difficult.

"That's what happened against Middlesbrough on Saturday when Liverpool didn't get anywhere near hitting the kind of form they are capable of. They could so easily have dropped valuable points.

"The fact that they didn't though says a lot about the character of the team and I'm sure that's one of the big plus points that Benitez is taking from the game."

Liverpool needed two goals in the last five minutes to see off Middlesbrough on Saturday and Rush wasn't surprised that it was the club's home-grown duo who stepped up to the plate.

"When things aren't going well you need your big game players to pull something out of the bag and that's what Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard did.

"When things aren't going well it can sometimes be easy to just accept that it isn't going to be your day but that's never going to be the case with players like Carragher and Gerrard.

"In taking the initiative they led by example and it was thanks to their interventions towards the end of the game that Liverpool were able to come away with three points they might otherwise have missed out on.

"The concern is that Liverpool cannot continue to rely so heavily on their captain and vice captain and other players are going to have to start chipping in if the good start to the season is to be maintained.

"I know the fans will be concerned about Liverpool's current form but the most important thing at this stage is to get points on the board.

"If you do that then it breeds confidence and it sends out a message to the rest of the league that you are going to be hard to beat.

"But Liverpool need to get better and I believe that they will, especially if Benitez can add a bit of width to his side before the transfer window closes."

One of the major positives that came out of the 2-1 win over 'Boro' was the partnership of Robbie Keane and Fernando Torres.

The duo have begun to show signs that they could well develop an understanding to rival any in England and Rush is confident they will make it work in time.

"There were welcome signs against Middlesbrough that Fernando Torres is beginning to strike up an understanding with new strike partner Robbie Keane," he said.

"You could see that they were starting to get used to each other's movement and were picking up their running off the ball.

"There was one moment in the first half when Keane went on a little run and picked Torres out with a perfect pass with the outside of his right foot.

"Torres wasn't able to take the chance on this occasion but at least it showed that they are getting to know one another better and that bodes well for the future.

"If these two hit it off, and I've got no reason to doubt that they will, then it will really benefit the team as a whole and I'm sure they're both working really hard to make it happen."

Rafael Benitez and his side now head into tomorrow night's Champions League qualifier with Standard Liege determined to improve on their showing in the first-leg in Belgium.

Rush feels the Reds cannot take progress for granted and expects the Belgian champions to give them a tough test.

"Anyone who saw the first leg of Liverpool's Champions League qualifier against Standard Liege a fortnight ago will know the Belgians are no pushovers," he said.

"Standard are the champions of their country and that means they deserve respect, especially after the way they performed against the Reds in Liege.

"Had it not been for Pepe Reina's heroics then Standard would be coming to Anfield tomorrow night with a lead to protect and that would definitely have made the tie even more difficult than it already is for Rafa Benitez's men.

"As things stand, Liverpool do not have an away goal to fall back on so they will be looking to keep a clean sheet otherwise things could get very tricky.

"Obviously, Liverpool are big favourites to go through but they cannot take anything for granted because if they do Standard might just take advantage.

"Importantly though, Liverpool have encountered this kind of situation so many times in Europe in recent seasons so they know exactly what they have to do and how to go about it.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if it is a tight affair because Standard looked a well organised and decent side in the first leg but Liverpool should have enough know how and experience to get through."

Espanyol Announce 72-hours Deadline for Albert Reira To Finalise Move To Liverpool

Espanyol have told their winger Albert Reira that he has just 72 hours before the decision regarding his switch to Liverpool will be made.

It seems that the Reds are ahead in the race to sign the Spanish International after claiming that talks between Rafael Benitez’s side and Espanyol were “going well", on their official website. This is despite Liverpool having offered less for Riera than their Merseyside rivals Everton

Earlier reports suggested that Liverpool had agreed to pay £8million (€10m) for the Spaniard. However, despite it looking like Riera's move to Anfield will happen, Espanyol sporting director Paco Herrera has revealed that before the deal can be done there were some issues to be taken care of.

'This is a sensitive time, and we need to make sure we reach a solution one way or another," he said.

"Everything is going well and a deal can be reached.

"The differences we have are ones we can solve and in the next two or three days there has to be a solution because there is no more time."

Liverpool Agree Albert Riera Fee

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is reported to have agreed a fee for Espanyol winger Albert Riera.

The Liverpool Echo understands that Liverpool have beaten rivals Everton in their attempt to land the player and agreed to the Spanish club's £12 million fee.

Espanyol were reluctant to allow the former Manchester City winger to leave the club, but after spending some considerable time yesterday in negotiations, Riera's wish to join Anfield now appears within reach.

Liverpool have been hunting for a left-sided midfielder for some time, but deals for targets such as Gareth Barry and Stewart Downing have not materialised.

Riera, 26, had expressed his desire to play under Benitez, with Espanyol adamant their £12m asking price would be met.

Everton counterpart David Moyes was hoping to make Rieira his second signing of the summer, following the deal for Lars Christian Jacobsen, and is understood to also have offered Espanyol their valuation.

Riera, though, was reluctant to join, with the prospect of playing Champions League football at Anfield too hard to resist.

Espanyol sporting director Paco Herrera, formerly a member of Liverpool's backroom staff, said: "One team is offering what we want and another one isn't.

"But the player is interested in the one that is offering the least."

However, Benitez appears to have used all of his connections at Espanyol to win the race for Riera's signature, satisfying the club's president, Daniel Sanchez Llibre, after he insisted he would not back down on the asking price.

Gerrard: Trio Will Make Big Difference

Steven Gerrard believes the return of Olympic trio Javier Mascherano, Lucas and Ryan Babel will have a massive impact on Liverpool's football.

The skipper accepts that while results have been excellent, the club's early season performances could have been better.

However, with three of the Premier League's most talented players now back at Melwood, Gerrard expects the Reds to step up a gear.

He said: "You can see the squad is now starting to look stronger, with the return of Ryan, Javier and Lucas. The manager has a lot more options now.

"There is still some time in the transfer window and I think in that time you will start to see our squad get to full strength.

"I think there will be another arrival before the deadline.

"The manager's obviously got his eye on two or three different players and I think it would help us if another new face came in."

Next up for the Reds is the return leg of our Champions League third qualifying round tie against Liege.

While some took qualification for granted when the draw was made, a hard-fought stalemate in Belgium means Gerrard and co still have much to do as the sides head for Anfield.

He said: "Sometimes you need the kick up the backside similar to the one we had against Liege. You don't want to go into the season a little bit complacent, and no one could argue against the fact Liege were the better team on the night.

"It was certainly a wake-up call for us, and the best thing about it was that we didn't get beat.

"We're still in the tie and know that at Anfield we will play a lot better. Liege will also find it more difficult."

Gerrard goes into the game on the back of yet more late heroics in the 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough on Saturday.

He hopes the character displayed to overturn a 1-0 deficit in the dying moments is a sign of things to come in 2008-09.

"Last season we only lost once at home but had too many draws, which isn't good enough," he said. "You need your home form to be immaculate.

"We have got maximum points from our two games and still haven't played anywhere near the level we are capable of. We know we can improve but we kept going until the end against Middlesbrough and showed great character."

Reina Does Not Expect More Heroics

Pepe Reina is confident it will not take more goalkeeping heroics for Liverpool to overcome Standard Liege on Wednesday.

The Spanish stopper had to be on top form to keep a clean sheet during the first leg in Belgium, thwarting a penalty just minutes after a superb goalline save.

His antics mean Liverpool remain well in the Champions League qualifying tie as the teams head to Anfield, where Reina expects a more comfortable evening.

"The team have forgotten the match in Liege," he told "It was just a bad day and we are thinking about qualifying at Anfield.

"For Liverpool, the Champions League is a huge competition and it would be a disaster not to get through.

"Nobody in the squad is thinking about anything other than qualifying.

"I am always optimistic and I am convinced we will beat Standard.

"But there are no easy games in Europe and we are aware that this match is not decided."

Reina has forged a reputation as a master penalty saver but he played down his heroics in Belgium.

"I am not a hero for the penalty in the first match," said Reina. "I have just done my job. For me, the penalty was just a part of it."

Rafa: There's A New Buzz In Training

Rafa Benitez has revealed there is a new buzz around Melwood following the return of our Olympic trio – but neither Javier Mascherano nor Lucas will feature against Standard Liege.

The Champions League qualifier comes too soon for the pair following their Beijing exploits, though both are fighting for a place in the starting XI versus Aston Villa on Sunday.

Despite being out of Wednesday's game, Benitez claims the duo – as well as Dutch forward Ryan Babel – has spiced things up in training.

He said: "You can see the impact in training. They have a really good mentality and they are really happy – especially Mascherano and Lucas because of their medals. I think it will be positive for the team.

"If everything is okay, maybe they could play this weekend. They will be around and we will decide, but they cannot play in the Champions League.

"They're not playing this game so they have time in training and they'll be okay."

Mascherano became the first Argentinean footballer in history to claim two Olympic gold medals following a 1-0 victory over Nigeria.

The boss added: "Everyone knows what a good professional he is. He is a nice boy and a good player, so everyone is pleased for him. It's amazing."

Meanwhile, Benitez admits that, of his 5 Champions League qualifying campaigns with Liverpool, this has so far been the toughest.

"They could be the best team we've faced. If you look at some of the other games, we were much better than the opposition," he said.

"But if we do the right things we can be on top of them at Anfield. We will try to play at a high tempo and I'm sure they'll try to play on the counter-attack. I think it will be more or less similar to the first game but the difference will be Anfield.

"We have to improve at everything – set pieces and open play. We had a bad game. The best thing was the result but this time we have to play better and we have to score goals.

"You can know a team but sometimes you don't know exactly how they will play until you get on the pitch. You can watch videos and things like that but you do not always know. Now we know a lot about them so it will be easier to not make any mistakes.

"But I wasn't surprised by them - I was surprised at how badly we played.

"We have a lot of confidence that we will go through. We are at Anfield and we have to improve – and we will improve."

Benitez has been handed a major boost ahead of the clash with news that he has a fully fit squad to choose from.

"Everybody is available," revealed the Anfield boss. "We have training tomorrow and then we'll decide on the one or two players who have had problems."

Defeat or a score draw on Wednesday would see Liverpool fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time under Benitez.

It's a prospect which the man himself isn't giving much thought.

"If you ask me if I am considering this option, the answer is no. I am just thinking about winning."

Quizzed on whether he'd throw Saturday's goalscoring hero Jamie Carragher up front if a late goal was required, the boss added: "I don't think so! I think we have better options but, if we're desperate, we can send anyone up there. We can send Pepe Reina if necessary."

Benitez Waits For Liverpool To Click

Manager Rafa Benitez said on Tuesday he was still waiting for Liverpool to move up a gear as they prepare for their crunch Champions League qualifier with Standard Liege.

Wednesday's game follows a disappointing 0-0 draw in Belgium two weeks ago and some mediocre form in the Premier League, where late goals have yielded two victories and masked some mediocre performances.

"We were scoring lots of goals in pre-season and the team was improving. It was really pleasing," Benitez told a news conference as he looked ahead to their third qualifying round second leg.

"I thought we were in a good moment but we didn't play well in our last three games. That was clear."

Liverpool had been expected to enjoy an easy passage to the lucrative group stage when the Champions League draw was made.

Though their indifferent form has since raised a few question marks ahead of the Anfield game, Benitez was is no mood for contemplating a shock exit for the five-times champions.

"If you are asking me if I am considering defeat then the answer is no," Benitez said. "I am only thinking about winning.

"They were good in the first game but we were really poor. If we improve and play at our level it will be difficult for them."

Looking on the bright side of their victories over Middlesbrough, on Saturday, and Sunderland, he added: "If we are winning games and not playing well, it means we should find it easier to win games when we do play well."

He was also defensive about the partnership between new striker Robbie Keane and Spaniard Fernando Torres.

"On Saturday, they were much better," Benitez said. "But the team wasn't good enough around them. But they showed they are playing together much better."

Liverpool Move Into Motor Racing

Liverpool's commercial director Ian Ayre is confident the club will feel the financial benefit of competing in the new Superleague Formula series.

The Superleague Formula is a motor sport series consisting of 17 teams all driving identical 750 brake horsepower cars, carrying football club branding.

"We get a guaranteed signing-on fee and each year we have a guaranteed revenue stream," he told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"We're licensing our colours, our brand, into the series."

Ayre is keen to stress it will not cost the club any money to compete in Superleague Formula.

"The race series, the drivers, the tracks - all of that is covered by the race organisers and the series organisers," said Ayre.

"We're hopefully supporting [the series] and hopefully bringing some of our sponsors along to support it but we have no financial burden."

To date the Superleague Formula has attracted two other British clubs - Spurs and Glasgow Rangers - alongside some of the biggest names in world football, including AC Milan and Corinthians.

Ayre is aware Liverpool supporters will expect their car to win races but stressed that the running of the race car is out of the football clubs hands.

"We're taking it very seriously [but] unfortunately the on-track performance is largely in the hands of the driver and the team.

"We've got a professional race team and we've got a great driver, so we're very excited and are expecting results."

Ayre has been in his role as Liverpool Football Club's first ever commercial director for just over a year. He says he is enjoying his role and the challenges the job presents.

"Its been great. When we are out there talking to potential partners in all sorts of categories, Liverpool Football Club just opens doors and that makes life a whole lot easier."

The first round of action in the Superleague Formula competition takes place at Donnington Park on 30-31 August.