Friday, September 19, 2008

Barnes Backs Pool Title Credentials

Former Liverpool player John Barnes feels his former side are showing championship-winning credentials so far this season.

Pool have not set the world alight with their standard of play so far this season, but results are going their way with recent victories picked up against Manchester United and Marseille.

Barnes admits that Pool’s form is not ideal, but stated the key to winning league titles is picking up results when you are not playing well, which the Anfield side are doing.

Speaking to Setanta Sports, Barnes said the current team had the mark of champions.

“It’s a great start for them, particularly from the results' perspective and we are in the results business,” he said.

“They haven’t played sparkling football but they did well against Manchester United and did well against Marseille so the pleasing thing is that they’re picking up points without really playing at the top of their form,” added Barnes.

“That’s the sign of champions. I’m not saying they’re going to be champions but they’ve got a chance.

“They have to pick up points against the so-called lesser teams which is where they’ve fallen down.”

Barnes also commented on the controversy raging at one of his other former clubs, Newcastle United. The ex-England winger backed Kevin Keegan’s decision to leave, adding that if the manager is not comfortable within a structure, it will never work.

“It is very similar to Curbishley, they’re the type of managers who have to have their final say as to who comes and who leaves the club,” Barnes said.

“There are clubs on the continent that operate that way but the important thing is for the manager to be happy with the structure,” he stated.

“If the manager isn’t happy, then it can’t work.”

Liverpool Can Challenge For Title, Says Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard believes that Liverpool can challenge for the league title this season.

The Merseyside-born midfielder, who is approaching his ten-year anniversary since making his debut for the club, says he is reluctant to raise expectation levels too high but expects the club to be near the top of the table at the end of the campaign.

Liverpool can achieve their best start to a Premier League season if they beat Stoke on Saturday.

"It's easy to get carried away at times, but it's too early to start making any sorts of statements,” Gerrard said.

"I've done it in the past, when I've said we have got a chance in this or that year, only to see us fall short.

"I think we are better equipped to go closer this season, but that's as far as I will go at the moment.

"I don't want to raise anyone's expectations too high in only the second month of the season.

"The plan is to still be in with a chance with five or 10 games to go. We have to be challenging."

Gerrard, who is one goal short of 100 for the club, is keen to add more medals to his collection and says the current Liverpool squad is "a lot stronger" than the one that reached two Champions League finals in recent seasons.

"I often reflect on what I have achieved in the game. I think about it every day and just hope that all those highlights, the trophies, the goals, the great wins and matches, are not the end of it,” Gerrard added.

"I want more of those experiences and memories. They are the best things that have happened to me in football. The joy you get from them is unbelievable.

"So over the next five years or so I want to get more cups under my belt and I am desperate to try to win this league.

"I feel the squad is a lot stronger than last season. There are certainly a lot more match-winners here."

Gerrard Calms Reds Expectations

Almost 10 years since his debut and one goal short of his century for Liverpool, Steven Gerrard is still searching for the holy grail of title glory.

The league championship is the only domestic medal that 28 year-old Gerrard does not possess.

And as he prepares to celebrate a decade in the Liverpool side since his debut in November 1998, Gerrard will surely by then have cracked the 100-goal mark for the club after moving to 99 with his Champions League double in Marseille.

Gerrard is aware that expectation in the red half of Liverpool has hardly been dampened by last weekend's victory over Premier League champions Manchester United and Tuesday's success in Provence.

And if Liverpool beat newly-promoted Stoke on Saturday it will be their best start to a Premier League season after five games, beating the 12 points they amassed back in 1993-94.

The 100th goal, when it comes, will see him equal Kevin Keegan's tally for the Anfield club.

Gerrard knows, however, that it is the league crown, not won since 1990 by Liverpool, which the fans, players and management crave.

But the boy from Huyton is not daft enough to start making wild predictions of success.

Speaking to LiverpoolFC magazine, he said: "It's easy to get carried away at times, but it's too early to start making any sorts of statements.

"I've done it in the past, when I've said we have got a chance in this or that year, only to see us fall short.

"I think we are better equipped to go closer this season, but that's as far as I will go at the moment.

"I don't want to raise anyone's expectations too high in only the second month of the season.

"The plan is to still be in with a chance with five or 10 games to go. We have to be challenging."

Liverpool, unbeaten this term, have lost only one league game since the defeat at West Ham in January. In all 36 matches so far in 2008, Liverpool have been beaten just four times.

It is the sort of form that gives Gerrard confidence that he can add to his own personal haul of medals over the coming years.

He said: I am hoping that the next three or four years will be very good for me. I hope people are right when they say you peak at 28 or 29.

"I often reflect on what I have achieved in the game. I think about it every day and just hope that all those highlights, the trophies, the goals, the great wins and matches, are not the end of it.

"I want more of those experiences and memories. They are the best things that have happened to me in football. The joy you get from them is unbelievable.

"So over the next five years or so I want to get more cups under my belt and I am desperate to try to win this league.

"I feel the squad is a lot stronger than last season. There are certainly a lot more match-winners here."

As for his approaching decade in the first team, Gerrard said: "I'm getting scared, the years are flying by.

"It has gone so quickly, and in November it will be 10 years since I broke into the first team.

"They say time flies when you are having fun, and it's true. Now I just want to make the most of the time I have got left playing football."

‘Fantastic’ Javier Mascherano Praised By Liverpool Legends John Barnes & Alan Hansen

Rafa Benitez wasted no time in acknowledging the importance of his Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano at the weekend after a superb performance against arch-rivals Manchester United. However, he was not alone in praise as the New Football Pools Pundits and Liverpool legends John Barnes and Alan Hansen joined in with the plaudits.

Rafa Benitez had this to say, “The workrate of Javier Mascherano in the midfield is amazing.”

He then revealed just what the unselfish perfromances of the former West Ham player can give his team, “He can give the other midfield players more freedom. If you go with more offensive players you know he will be in a good defensive position, and that is very important for the team.”

Benitez then compared the little Argentinean favorably to a former Reds player, “The only player who covered more ground than Mascherano was Momo Sissoko. The difference is Javier has more experience. Momo was amazing and Mascherano is as good as Momo in terms of the workrate but also has better positions.”

Former Reds left winger and newly appointed Jamaica Coach John Barnes carried on the plaudits by summing up the Argentine’s performance. He said, “A special mention must go to the performance of Javier Mascherano in midfield. I felt he typified the Liverpool spirit on the day.”

Summing up the 24-year-old’s strengths, Barnes added, “He is incredibly hard working, is constantly up and down the pitch and I’m sure a monster to play against. He is a fantastic player.”

Alan Hansen was just as complimnentary about the midfielder that failed to get into the West Ham side on a regular basis. The former Scotland international said, “He may have let his compatriot Carlos Tevez run off him for United’s goal but he showed once again he’s a terrific little player.

“He is exceptionally quick, covers every blade of grass on the football pitch, is competitive but also extremely good on the ball.”

Hansen also emphasized the high regard he holds the two time Olympic Gold medal winner in compared to the rest of the Premier League when he added, “Mascherano has proven himself to be one of the best holding midfielders in England”.

Agger Bides His Time

After missing close to a year of first-team action due to a metatarsal injury, Liverpool defender Daniel Agger insists he is ready to bide his time to break back into Rafa Benitez's starting XI.

Agger's appearances in a Liverpool shirt have been few and far between over the past year. Last September, the Dane damaged a metatarsal that was expected to keep him sidelined for around four months.

However, the 23-year-old suffered an injury set-back in January when he damaged a different bone on the same foot.

Since making his Liverpool return in July during a friendly against Tranmere Rovers, Agger has found it difficult to force his way back into Rafa Benitez's plans.

Despite a Champions League appearance against Standard Liege, Agger has largely played third and even fourth fiddle to Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Sami Hyypia.

Indeed, Agger failed to be named among Liverpool's seven substitutes in their last league game at home to Manchester United.

Rumours in the press last week even suggested that he had considered the possibility of buying out the remainder of his Anfield contract via the controversial Webster ruling.

However, the centre-back is not too down-at-heart and is ready to work hard to ensure a first-team comeback.

With Sami Hyypia not named in the panel for the group stage of the Champions League, Agger may be afforded the opportunities to impress in that competition.

After watching from the bench on Tuesday night as his team-mates overcame Marseille, Agger told TV2: "I sat on the bench today so that is an improvement. All I can do at the moment to get into the team is to work hard in training."

Martin Jol: I Wanted Dirk Kuyt For Hamburg

HAMBURG boss Martin Jol has admitted he tried to sign Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt before the transfer window closed.

And speculation in Germany suggests he may try again in January.

The former Tottenham coach was linked with failed bids for Kuyt and Ajax striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar this summer, and admitted: “I would gladly have signed Kuyt and Huntelaar. Who could refuse the opportunity?

“I have no problem that the club was unable to get them. The quality of my attackers is more than enough, although with Huntelaar we would have had a real goal-getter.”

Kuyt is a confirmed admirer of Jol, but insists he is very happy at Anfield and has no desire to move.

“Martin Jol is one of the best Dutch coaches, someone who I want to work with possibly in the future,” he said “But I am happy at Liverpool. My contract still has two more years to run.”

Kuyt has started every match for Liverpool this season and appears to be more valued at Anfield than he is by his national team.

“At Liverpool I now have a strong position. At Liverpool I almost always play,” he said. “So it is hard to swallow when I end up on the bench at the Dutch team.

“At Liverpool I’ve achieved a high level under Rafa Benitez. It is such a high level that I would love to show that level in international matches with the Dutch team.

“I’d rather work my socks off for my club. I am not the kind of guy who starts having a go at the national team boss or at other players. I never show my frustrations in that way.

“I do admit I have spoken out to Marco van Basten when he was national coach.

“But only behind closed doors. Never in public. He told me I was a fair player in that way.

“It’s very simple. I am too good to be on the bench. The World Cup in South Africa will be my last chance in that tournament. Playing for Liverpool will help me get there.”

Smith Tips Keane To Be An Anfield Success

While midfielder Steven Gerrard anticipates his next goal for Liverpool - which will be his 100th for the club, striker Robbie Keane is still waiting to open his account for the Reds. But former Arsenal and England centre-forward Alan Smith is sure Keane will become a huge hit at Anfield.

Robbie Keane joined Liverpool - the club he supported as a boy - for £20million in the summer from Tottenham, but his Anfield career has yet to ignite properly.

Keane gives the impression of trying just a little too hard at the moment, which is understandable from a player whose game is based on enthusiasm and endeavour.

But Alan Smith, a highly-respected striker in a prolific career with Leicester City, Arsenal and England, reckons that if Keane can just relax a bit more he will make a big impression at his new club.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Smith knows from experience that every striker just needs a goal to kick-start any fallow period in his fortunes.

“Only then will he begin to loosen up and start showing his new public what he can really do. At the moment, there's a bit of tension to his game, especially when the goal comes within range,” said Smith.

“You could see it at the weekend in the way he snatched at one chance before reacting too slowly when Javier Mascherano’s pulled shot headed his way - nothing too serious, merely evidence of a player tightening up slightly.”

Smith continued: “As always with strikers starting out at new clubs, Keane just needs a break of the ball, a bit of luck in the penalty box, then the Republic of Ireland captain can start doing himself justice, whilst developing a better understanding with Fernando Torres.

“As yet, we haven't seen the pair click. A combination billed as potentially lethal has lain largely dormant over the first few weeks of the season.

“We can put that down to a few things. For a start, the early season internationals certainly haven't helped. With the best players disappearing to all four corners of the globe, the top club managers struggle for continuity.

“The Irishman and the Spaniard should dovetail beautifully to form the kind of potent attacking partnership Anfield hasn't seen in years.”

Keane has been working prodigiously, chasing lost causes and closing down opponents, excellent qualities in a team player that will endear him to the Liverpool fans - and impress manager Rafael Benitez.

Smith is sure Keane is a perfect fit for Liverpool, adding: “Just like the classy [Dimitar] Berbatov looks a perfect match for Manchester United, so the intelligent Keane seems made for the red half of Merseyside.

“In fact, I'd go as far to say that the famous No 7 shirt worn by Keegan and Dalglish rests in pretty safe hands. He's going to succeed - it's just a matter of time - and that moment, I'd guess, isn't too far away.”

Sunderland Reserves 2 - 1 Liverpool Reserves

GARY ABLETT'S title winning Liverpool reserves side suffered their first defeat in almost a year last night.

The Reds second string went down 2-1 at Sunderland in the FA Premier Reserve League North.

Sunderland were the last side to beat Liverpool when they inflicted the only defeat suffered by Gary Ablett’s side in the whole of last season.

And Liverpool could have no complaints about last night’s result, as they were second best throughout and but for an excellent display from keeper Dean Bouzanis could have lost by more.

The young Aussie keeper made two great saves inside the opening 10 minutes, and produced several more throughout the game. In attack Liverpool offered little, despite the hard work of David Ngog, who put himself about with very little support.

A Dani Pacheco free-kick that was clawed away from the top corner by Sunderland keeper Colgan was the closest Liverpool came to a goal in the opening half.

Nabil El Zhar and Ngog both volleyed wide in the second half, before Sunderland went in front through Michael Chopra. Liverpool hit back quickly through El Zhar, but Sunderland substitute Luscombe headed the winner from a Chopra cross five minutes from time.

"It’s difficult for me to say, but we have to be as honest as we can and be as honest with the players in the dressing room and so we must say the best team won on the night," said Ablett.

Pepe Reina Is Liverpool FC Saviour

IF Liverpool’s Champions League opponents are to be taken at face value, then the fates are suggesting a sixth European crown is on its way to Anfield.

After Standard Liege coach László Bölöni had berated his side’s supposed ill luck in their qualifying tie last month, on Tuesday night it was the turn of Marseille striker Mamadou Niang.

“Liverpool did not deserve to take three points,” said Niang after Rafael Benitez’s side left France with a 2-1 win. “If you look at the game it should have been a draw.

“It is true that Liverpool began with good rhythm and played well but they had many pieces of luck. We dominated the second half but their goalkeeper’s performance stopped us scoring again.”

Sour grapes? Perhaps. But while luck has admittedly played its part, there’s been nothing lucky in the main reason for the Reds’ unbeaten start to their European campaign.

Step forward Pepe Reina. The goalkeeper is often under-appreciated by those outside Merseyside who are happy to dismiss the Spaniard as little more than a penalty-save expert.

His team-mates, though, are more aware of the keeper’s value, which was on display with a string of fine stops as Marseille sought a second-half equaliser on Tuesday.

Steven Gerrard may have scored twice at the Stade Velodrome, but was quick to direct plaudits elsewhere.

“I’m sure people will mention the goals on my behalf, but for me the real heroes were the back four and especially Pepe,” says the skipper. “He made an absolutely superb save right at the end from Niang.

“We all have him down as the best keeper in the Premier League and one of the best in Europe, certainly. He’s immense. It’s at moments like that when you really need him.

“There are certain games when it’s been very quiet for the goalkeeper, but then you need him to come out and make a match-winning world class save.

“But that’s what he is capable of. His all-round game is superb and hopefully we can keep him for a long, long time because he is a big player for us.

“To progress in this competition you need to be strong defensively and you need your goalkeeper to be there – and we know we can certainly rely on ours. He is superb for us.”

For his part, Reina was quick to share the praise with his skipper while accepting Marseille’s speedy attackers had caused Liverpool consternation in defence.

“It was down to Stevie as well because he managed the pressure to take the penalty twice,” he says. “But, yes, Marseille had to go forward and it was difficult in the last 15 minutes. We were under a lot of pressure.

“It’s never easy against skilled players like they have between the lines and ability. It’s not always easy. To manage this kind of situation is very difficult and we’ve done very well, at least until the last 15 minutes.”

Liverpool had already come from behind to defeat Middlesbrough and Manchester United this season before repeating the trick on Tuesday for a winning start in Group D.

And Reina reckons it’s an example of the spirit that has been forged in players that refuse to be beaten.

“We talk about how we have been reacting to going behind,” says the goalkeeper. “There’s a lot of spirit and that's important.

“It’s really important to have that winning mentality and keep winning difficult games. It’s positive when you are thinking only about winning. We can’t think of anything but winning.

“It really helps to win a game like we did against United. It gives you belief and you don’t just lose that. You keep it with you.

“You keep every win with you and you build on it. You go out there knowing that you can do things. The atmosphere in the dressing room is special. We are in business of having to win.”

Gerrard’s goals and Reina’s saves ensured Liverpool didn’t have to wait until their fourth group game to register their first win, as happened last season.

PSV Eindhoven, thrashed 3-0 at home by Atletico Madrid in Group D’s other game on Tuesday, visit Anfield on Wednesday week where a win would put Benitez’s side in a strong position to progress to the knockout stages for a fifth successive season.

“We didn’t have the best start last season in the group, obviously we were under pressure after three results and we were really feeling that,” says Reina. “As soon as we get qualified we’ll get better. It makes us feel more relaxed when we’re winning and confident. That’s how we’re feeling at the moment.”

Liverpool would have been spared their late fright in France had Ryan Babel converted one of two late chances.

Babel says: “If we had a little bit more luck we could have scored more goals. I obviously had a couple of chances but unfortunately I didn’t hit the back of the net.

“I think Pepe saved us at the end. We were very lucky that they didn’t score the equaliser. We can be satisfied. I think you can see that goalkeepers are very important.”

Rafa Benitez: Liverpool FC Must Beat PSV

MANAGER Rafael Benitez now knows victory in their next group D match, at home to PSV Eindhoven on October 1, will send Liverpool to Atletico Madrid three weeks later with their destiny in their own hands.

The Reds got off to a winning start in Marseille on Tuesday, with Steven Gerrard scoring both their goals in a 2-1 win.

Madrid did even better, winning 3-0 at PSV to sit top of Group D.

Benitez said: “If we can win at home against PSV it will be good for our confidence. If we win that, maybe the next match away to Madrid will be the key to the group for us.”

But Reds winger Ryan Babel has warned Dutch outfit PSV will be no pushovers.

He said: “In Europe it is Eindhoven next at home for us, and being Dutch I know a good deal about them and they could be a lot more difficult than people expect.

“But if we can win that we will be really on the way to qualifying for the next stage.

“We remember how badly we started the Champions League last season. We knew that could not be allowed to happen again.

“So to win in Marseille against a difficult side, and that following our win over Manchester United, has given us all plenty of confidence.

“We have not lost this season and our confidence is improving with every game.

“But we are aware we have only just started. There is much to do, much to improve.”