Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Don't Rush Robbie, Says Liverpool Legend

Ian Rush has once more voiced his support for Liverpool new-boy Robbie Keane, claiming that the Irishman has proved his importance despite his lack of goals.

Much was expected of Keane following his £20million summer move from Tottenham Hotspur. He scored 107 goals in 254 games during his six-year spell at White Hart Lane, and it was presumed he would instantly transfer that form to Merseyside.

That hasn't been the case, however. The 28-year-old is yet to get off the mark for the Reds and his partnership with Fernando Torres has only borne glimpses of its immense potential.

But Rush has called for anxious Kopites to be patient, pointing to Keane's history of droughts and streaks.

“I really rate him, he’s a great lad and he will score goals,” Liverpool's all-time leading goalscorer told News of the World.

“He’s more probably trying too hard to get his first goal. But I think when he went to Tottenham it was about eight or nine games before he scored and then he scored something like 11 in 13 games.”

One claim few would dispute is that Keane has been working his socks off in search of that first Liverpool goal, often sacrificing his own attacking game for the sake of the team.

And Rush believes such endeavor will hold him in good stead with the Anfield faithful, just as it did for England striker Peter Crouch during his first season at the club.

The Welshman continued: “Peter Crouch, I think it was 17 games before he scored and they were patient with him because they knew what he was doing, he was helping the team, and I think the supporters like that.

“I think it’s the same with Robbie Keane – they realize the amount of work he’s putting in so I think they’re happy with him.”

Torres Learns From Raul's Words

Fernando Torres has revealed that Spanish legend Raul Gonzalez offered the Liverpool striker some words of wisdom following Spain's painful exit at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

In the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Spain looked strong in the group stage having secured three points in each of their games and therefore topped their group.

However, their early efforts were made in vein as they crashed out in the round of 16, losing to France by three goals to one.

Fernando Torres says that he uses that painful exit as inspiration for future success, and reveals that it is Raul's words of wisdom that made him realize this.

"When Spain went out of the World Cup in 2006 I was looking to Raul for comfort as one of the leaders of the team," Torres is quoted by the club's official website as saying.

"He just said to make sure you never feel like that again. It seemed harsh at the time but now I understand."

"Now, when we play games like the win against Manchester United, I remember how it was in the dressing room that day and I do everything I can not to feel like that again."

Tomkins: Glass Still Half-Full

I attempt to read all emails, even though I can't reply to them all. After poor results I get a mixture of messages: those from people who appreciate my attempts to find light in the dark (and who, such as this weekend, request a dose of positivity served in a glass half full), and those from people who offer a suggestion as to what I can go do with myself, sometimes with precise details as to the how and where.

I don't like to dwell upon a bad result. Upon medical advice I am aiming to lessen my workload over the coming months (not easy with a book just released and the season so quickly in full emotional flow), but while a result like beating United can see me happily steer clear of the laptop and just savour the memory, the over reaction to two points dropped at home to a promoted side can spur me into action.

When I read that the Reds definitely cannot win the title after one bad result, I despair. Just as beating Manchester United didn't make Liverpool a certainty to win it, one draw at home to a promoted side does not mean the opposite is now true. What I abhor most about modern football support is this constant swing from one extreme to another.

Anything is still possible, be it bad or good. Unbeaten in eight, only three goals conceded - each time leading to a victory after being behind - and a mere point off the Premier League pace. The big picture seems fine to me.

I still don't fully understand the emails I receive that treat me as if I am the person to blame, but I guess venting spleen is an important desire for many upset fans, and as someone who very much believes in the current manager, I'm an obvious target.

After all, we all feel helpless in the support of our team. We'd love to be able to directly influence the game, but that's just impossible. And we all get wise after the event. Had Stoke scored from a long throw, then it would have been a mistake to not play Hyypia. Had it been from central midfield, it would have been due to leaving out Mascherano.

As it was, it was an attacking line-up from Benitez, with two strikers, one winger and another striker-cum-wideman, and the two most creative central midfielders at the club. And Liverpool did all the attacking. They just drew a blank. Galling as it is, it happens.

Drawing 0-0 at home to Stoke is clearly a bad result. Of course, the referee did not help matters; what the home team desperately needs in parked-bus games is that first goal. It's not an excuse, just a fact of life. If you score legitimately after 67 seconds, you can relax, and the opposition has to change tact.

Let's be clear: brilliant, free-flowing football is virtually impossible in game like this - at least until that first goal goes in. It's hard to pass around a team that sets up like part-timers Andorra did against England; except Stoke are not non-league standard. And while the result wasn't as hoped, Liverpool did pretty much everything text-book against a packed defence.

There may have seemed like too many long distance efforts, but then Liverpool have already beaten 'Boro, Sunderland and Marseilles thanks to shots from outside the area. It can be a way past a massed defence if there is little space to work the ball, but Liverpool also went wide, tried intricate pass-and-moves, and created good chances close to goal as well.

I don't blame Stoke at all; they came with a game plan, just as Liverpool used to go to places like Barcelona under Gerard Houllier and park the bus. The referee allowed it to work this weekend due to his bizarre early decision, and the Reds failed to take their chances. All credit to the Potters.

There are obviously parallels with last season, particularly the 0-0s at Portsmouth and Birmingham at the same stage (not to mention an illogical refereeing mistake at Anfield that cost the Reds two points).

Like then, the first 0-0 - this time at Villa Park - was actually a decent result. Last season Benitez was blamed for resting Torres and Gerrard; this year he has done no such thing (although he was without them in the win against United), which goes to show that sometimes bad things happen to good teams, no matter who features in the line-up.

The difference this season is that Liverpool have already beaten a title favourite. I kept hearing for four seasons that the other big three are the teams you need to beat to win the title. At the same time, I still keep hearing that every single other team is the kind of team you need to beat to win the title. But you can't win 'em all.

All champions have a handful of bad results over the course of a season. No title is ever lost because of one slip-up in September.

However, every bad result clearly lessens the margin for error.

You can always carry a few setbacks, like United did when drawing at home to Reading early last season (amid other bad results in a poor start), but each one means one fewer 'get out of jail free' card. So it's not something to be blase about. It can prove costly, but only in a cumulative fashion.

While drawing with Stoke seems to negate all the good work against United, the fact remains that beating the current champions not only gave the Reds three points, but denied Ferguson's men their own.

Beating Stoke and drawing with United might seem a far more respectable way to get four points, but this way around is actually better, as United, who've already dropped points at home to 19th-placed Newcastle, remain worse off, and that's an important difference. (Unless it's Stoke who end up challenging for the title) Again, it should have been six points, but these blips happen.

For me, the main problem this season has been the fitness, sharpness and confidence of the two strikers. And there's not a lot a manager can do to change that, apart from keep faith and have patience. To my mind Rafa was right to buy Robbie Keane, who is a quality striker, but there was no guarantee of an instant windfall.

Torres was late back from Euro 2008, then suffered a hamstring strain. He's not found his full acceleration, and perhaps he's feeling the pressure a little after the raised expectations after a quite incredible 12 months. He has looked a little tentative when running, and it might be a week or two before we see him feel comfortable enough to use his explosive pace.

As a quick striker in my playing days (with only marginally less ability than Torres), I suffered with hamstring problems. They do play on your mind; it's a horrible feeling when one pings at full-pelt. Even when it's healed, the psychological scars linger a little longer. You need to feel able to trust your body.

I still feel Torres will have an excellent season. He doesn't need to score as many goals overall, just pull a rabbit out of the hat like he did at Sunderland, and of course, in the Euro 2008 final. Fewer goals but more 'winners' would be great.

Robbie Keane, meanwhile, seems overanxious, which is natural for any new striker with a big price tag searching out his first goal. Peter Crouch took 19 games to break his duck, but after that his scoring record was pretty good. Keane's two main efforts against Stoke were deft attempts, but a confident striker feels more able to aim for the corners; when the goals aren't flowing, you tend to concentrate on just hitting the target.

When I started out as a semi-pro I couldn't buy a goal (I was refused credit at Goals'R'Us). But once the first went in, my whole game went from abysmal to what I would call my 'personal best' (to some observers, that was only a fraction better than abysmal, but that's semantics...).

It's hard to explain how different you become as a footballer once you find your confidence. And trying too hard really is a curse. You need work-rate, but a relaxed mind.

Albert Riera seems to have settled much more quickly. For a tricky winger, his passing is superb. He looks a bargain, and Andrea Dossena, who has come in for some unnecessary criticism on a couple of occasions, will help offer a new dimension on that flank.

Another major plus is that Liverpool are defending set-pieces far better this season. The zonal marking system improved upon the arrival of Mauricio Pellegrino as a player in 2005, and he seems to have tweaked things again; particularly important with players like Crouch, Sissoko and Riise replaced by smaller alternatives. Liverpool have played some very tall sides this season, but rarely been worried (touch wood). But the Reds still need to score more from their own corners.

As has been noted, Liverpool have rode their luck at times this season, but it ran out at the weekend. The Manchester United victory showed how good this team can be, and despite the up-and-down nature of the performances, the Reds are brilliantly placed in both the league and in Europe. It could be better still, but every team can say that, including Arsenal, who lost at Fulham. As it stands, six points ahead of United and level on points with Chelsea, in addition to an away win in Marseilles, is something we'd have all taken if offered it in August.

Amidst the gloom of a missed opportunity, it's important to not lose sight of that fact.

Article courtesy of Paul Tomkins.

AFC Liverpool Face Cup Derby Thriller

AFC Liverpool face their first ever competitive derby match on Wednesday in a cup tie against top Liverpool side Waterloo Dock.

The 1st round Senior Cup tie takes place at Valerie Park, the home of Prescot Cables, who AFC Liverpool are groundsharing with this season and kicks off at 7.30pm.

It is the first time that the fledgling non league club has every faced another Merseyside team in a competitive match, and the fact that they do so in a knockout cup tie adds extra spice to the occasion.

AFC Liverpool are currently top of the Vodkat League Division One after a blistering start that has seen them score 22 goals in just six matches.

Waterloo Dock are the Champions of the Liverpool County Premier League and so are certainly of Vodkat League standard. Top of the league so far again this term, they are also renowned for having unearthed popular former Liverpool striker, and current Legends star, John Durnin.

Seasoned observers of the non league football scene believe this will be a mouthwatering clash between two genuine footballing sides each topping their respective leagues.

The cup draw will be particularly enticing for AFC Liverpool vice captain Jay Chandler who now marshalls the Reds’ back four, but who last season played for Waterloo Dock.

The winners will face either East Villa or St Helens in the 2nd Round of the Cup. Tranmere Rovers await the winner of that tie in the Quarter Finals, a suitable incentive for all clubs involved to fight hard for the win.

The Liverpool Senior Cup is a Liverpool County FA run competition which features Liverpool, Everton, Tranmere Rovers and all of the major Merseyside non league clubs. It will be AFC Liverpool’s first appearance in the competition.

Kuyt: We Want Goals

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt admitted to being frustrated in the wake of his side's goalless draw with Stoke City at Anfield but insisted that their opponents' defensive outlook was a compliment for the hosts. The ex-Feyenoord man wants to make amends in the Reds' upcoming matches.

Steven Gerrard had his second minute free-kick scratched by matchday official Andre Marriner, who perceived Dirk Kuyt to be in an offside position.

The Dutchman and his colleagues could not force a way past Stoke thereafter, and had to settle for a measly one point bonus.

The manner in which Stoke performed, with emphasis on not conceding rather than scoring, should be taken as a compliment to Liverpool, according to Kuyt, who wants more goals in the Reds' upcoming fixtures.

He told the Liverpool Echo: “I’ve never played in a game like Saturday’s without winning it.

“Sometimes this can happen because you know Stoke are going to defend really well and get men behind the ball but it is disappointing. We did not take our chances.

“They are a strong team and are threatening from set pieces and we managed to cope with that side of their game well, it was just the fact that we did not get the early goal we were looking for that made life difficult for us.

"It is a compliment to us that teams come to Anfield and play this way I suppose but there will be many more teams who come here and play like this and we have to make sure we are really focused and take whatever chances come our way.

"After you score the first goal then things usually become a lot easier because the opposition then has to come out and play.

“But we have to win games that we dominate; it is as simple as that. We lost two points but now we have to look to the next game.

“Sometimes things like this happen, we worked really hard and we dominated the game but we did not score goals. The good thing is we have a couple of games coming up to get this one out of our system."

Fernando Torres Needs Matches Not Rest, Says Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez, previously renowned for his rotation policy, has indicated that Fernando Torres will remain one of his “untouchables” despite the goals drying up for the Spain striker. The Liverpool manager, who was left frustrated by Saturday’s goalless draw against Stoke City at Anfield, argued that the 24-year-old will be better off playing his way back to full sharpness rather than resting.

Torres, who scored 33 goals in his debut season at Anfield, has scored only once in seven matches this season and missed the recent World Cup qualifiers with a hamstring injury. His reduced potency has been exacerbated by Robbie Keane’s failure to score in his first eight appearances for the club, but while the Ireland forward was left out the starting lineup for last week’s 2-1 win away to Marseilles in the Champions League, Benitez disagreed that Torres needs a rest from big games. A trip across Stanley Park to face Everton on Saturday follows tomorrow’s Carling Cup tie at home to Crewe Alexandra.

“They had some days off and if he [Torres] goes with the national team you cannot control this situation,” Benitez said. “We need all the players and we try to give one or two days off to some of them. Fernando has been injured, so it’s not the same situation. Álvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Jose Reina came back late [from Euro 2008], but they didn’t have injuries, so you can work with them.

“Every player coming back from a tournament like this, one month later they will need time [to regain match sharpness]. Physically he needs to improve, but against Stoke it wasn’t a physical problem. It was difficult because he had less space. They were on top of him all the time.”

Albert Riera suggested that it is premature to judge Liverpool and has backed his international colleague to reproduce his best form soon. “I’ve known Fernando for a long time,” the winger said. “I’m sure there will be a connection because we know each other very well. Every player has periods when they don’t score – but they [Torres and Keane] are fantastic players. The only problem is that the shots aren’t going in, but I’m sure they will score a lot of goals.

“It’s still very early in the Premier League. It’s a long season and we must be patient. I’m sure we will get better, but the most important thing is how we finish.”

Liverpool Given Due Warning As Sinama-Pongolle And Atletico Go On Scoring Spree

Atletico Madrid sounded a warning to Liverpool, whom they meet in a Champions League Group D clash next month, with a 4-0 thrashing of Recreativo Huelva at the weekend.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez will need to beware of Atletico's Argentine striker Sergio Aguero, who scored his fourth goal in a week to set Atletico on their way.

And former Liverpool forward Florent Sinama-Pongolle was also on target with two goals, with Portugal midfielder Maniche grabbing the other in a victory that lifted Atletico to six points.

Aguero, left completely alone by Recreativo's defense, took just eight minutes of the game at Vicente Calderon Stadium to continue his prolific form when he headed in the first goal from Simao Sabrosa's floated free-kick.

The Argentina striker had netted twice in Atletico's 3-0 Champions League win over PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday and scored his team's consolation goal in the 2-1 defeat by Valladolid last weekend.

Aguero then had a second goal disallowed 16 minutes later, before Atletico finally doubled their lead in the 53rd when Portugal midfielder Maniche drilled the ball home after Recreativo had failed to clear a corner.

Sinama-Pongolle, who joined Atletico from Recreativo in the summer, ended his former club's hopes with the third goal in the 78th, the French forward side-footing home following a forceful run by Atletico substitute Miguel De Las Cuevas.

Sinama-Pongolle scored again in the 89th when he beat Recreativo defender Cesar Arzo before calmly stroking the ball home to provide Atletico with a repeat of the 4-0 win over Malaga in their opening home game three weeks ago.

It gives Jamie Carragher and the rest of the Liverpool defence plenty to ponder before the teams meet in Spain on October 22.

Albert Riera: Fernando Torres Will Come Good For Liverpool FC

ALBERT RIERA is convinced Fernando Torres is on the verge of recapturing his goalscoring form after his subdued start to the season.

Riera and fellow Spaniard Torres started a game together for the first time on Saturday as Liverpool disappointingly drew 0-0 with Stoke City at Anfield.

The point was good enough to take Liverpool briefly back to the top of the Premier League – but they were overtaken by Arsenal and Chelsea over the course of the weekend.

And the good work of the previous week’s 2-1 victory over Manchester United was undone as Liverpool failed to score against a side that has conceded 10 league goals this season and lies in the bottom three.

Torres, back to full fitness after a hamstring injury, has failed to score in five games since his opening-day winner at Sunderland, which is still his only goal of this season – and on Saturday he missed three chances he would surely have buried during his 33-goal debut season last year.

The stalemate with Stoke also meant Robbie Keane’s wait to open his Anfield account extended to eight games as the strikers struggle to establish an effective partnership.

But left-winger Riera is convinced he can help supply the opportunities that will have Torres and Keane soaring up the scoring charts once again.

“The thing with Fernando and Robbie is every player has periods when they don’t score,” said Riera. “But they are fantastic players.

“The only problem is that the shots aren’t going in for them at the moment, but I’m sure they will score a lot of goals.

“But Stoke was a very difficult match for the forwards. Sometimes they had a line of nine men defending so it was hard to break through.

“We knew before the match it would be like that so it wasn’t a surprise. We tried many times to score but it was one of those typical games where if you don’t score quickly it becomes more and difficult because they just get more and more men behind the ball.”

He added: “I’ve known Fernando for a long time, I was with him at under-18s, under-21s and with the Spanish national team last year.

“I’m sure there will be a connection because we know each other’s games very well.”

Riera, who made his second successive league start following his transfer deadline day move, is also unconcerned by Liverpool’s failure to hit their stride.

They are still unbeaten with 11 points out of 15 and the former Manchester City loan star is confident that the team will improve as the season progresses.

“It’s still very early in the Premier League,” Riera added. “It’s only the beginning and we will have many more matches that are better than today.

“It’s a long season and we must be patient. I’m sure we will get better but the most important thing is how we finish.

Dirk Kuyt added his voice of support to Torres, who he partnered up front towards the end of the draw with Stoke.

“He did really well and he was a bit unlucky, just like me, with his chances today. We were all a bit unlucky,” said the Dutchman.

“But I’m sure he will start scoring goals really quickly because you can see the quality in every game.

“I’m sure he will be back to scoring goals – he played a really good game today but just didn’t score.

“Fernando is fit now and even if he doesn’t score you can see he is a top quality striker, so no worries.”

Has Fernando Torres Lost His Touch For Liverpool FC?

It’s difficult to work out what was the bigger shock at Anfield on Saturday – Stoke gaining a point or the strange feeling that many among the Liverpool faithful are not happy with Fernando Torres’ form.

It’s not long since ‘El Nino’ could do no wrong it seemed.

As Liverpool’s record signing’s debut season in England went on, he just got better and better.

Torres finished the campaign with 24 Premier League goals to eclipse Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record for an overseas striker kicking-off his career on these shores and his overall total in all competitions was a mightily impressive 33.

Having quickly become a cult hero at Anfield with his own unique song and ‘bouncing’ dance in the stands, the former Atletico Madrid striker took his form onto the international stage over the summer, netting Spain’s winning goal in the European Championship final and in doing so ending his country’s 44-year wait for a major trophy.

Although Torres’ heroics in Austria and Switzerland meant that he and the rest of the victorious Spanish quartet in Liverpool’s squad returned late for pre-season training, he certainly looked up to speed by the time the Premier League’s opener came around a month ago.

Under pressure for long periods away against a much-improved Sunderland side, Liverpool pinched the points at the Stadium of Light thanks to another breathtaking piece of Torres brilliance.

Hardly given a sniff all evening, Liverpool’s number nine emerged from seemingly nowhere to crash home the winning goal with virtually his only shot on target of the game.

Five weeks on from his Wearside wonder strike, Torres has become the subject of some quiet rumblings of complaint from his adoring public.

It would still be a brave, or indeed foolish man, to back against a fully fit Torres breaking the 20-goal barrier again this season but just at this moment, the fact that the 24-year-old is a mere mortal is evident.

Whisper it carefully at Anfield because football has a habit of making you look stupid if you write someone off prematurely, especially a front man of such world class quality as Torres but some are even daring to use phrases like “second season syndrome.”

And as the hosts huffed and puffed but were unable to blow the Potters’ defensive house down, the chief culprit in front of goal was the normally clinical Torres.

Fed by compatriot Arbeloa, who is keeping new recruit Philipp Degen out with a string of assured performances in the right-back slot, Torres’ best opportunity came with a headed effort he normally would have buried, but on this occasion the ball sailed wide of the left-hand post.

Another two shots followed from the edge of the area, but both flew over the bar and into the Kop as a resolute Stoke rearguard, who had leaked 11 goals in five previous games this term, dug deep to hold out for their first clean sheet of the season and the most welcome of Premier League points.

A niggling hamstring injury has hampered Torres’s campaign so far, a factor not lost on his manager Rafael Benitez who admits that neither his main striker or influential skipper Steven Gerrard are entirely 100% fit at the moment.

And although it may have been purely coincidental, unbeaten Liverpool’s worst Premier League result of the season so far came just a week after their best – a 2-1 success against English and European champions Manchester United which was a first ever league win over their rivals from Old Trafford during Benitez’s reign.

It’s highly unlikely that Torres will figure against Crewe Alexandra in Liverpool’s Carling Cup third round tie at Anfield tomorrow night so he has a week to get Saturday’s misses out of his system.

And those dissenting voices among Liverpool’s supporters will soon be silenced if the Spaniard manages to repeat his feat of six months ago and nets a winner in the Merseyside derby.

Benitez Backing Goalshy Strikers

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insists he is not concerned by the lack of goals from strikers Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane.

Torres has netted only one goal in seven appearances this season, while Keane has yet to open his account since joining from Tottenham in July - and both struggled as Liverpool drew 0-0 with Stoke at Anfield on Saturday.

Torres scored 33 goals in all competitions in his first campaign in England after a big-money move from Atletico Madrid in 2007, before firing Spain to European Championship glory this summer.

However, Torres and Keane - who netted 14 times in the Premier League last term - have found the going tough so far this term and Benitez admits confidence may become an issue.

But the Anfield boss believes Torres is still recovering from participating in Euro 2008, and is confident that the 24-year-old and Keane will soon rediscover their goalscoring touch.

He told the Daily Mail: "Torres returned from the Euros a month later than normal and will need more time to build up his strength and fitness.

"That doesn't help, but there were other problems against Stoke because he had no space and was under pressure all the time.

"Confidence becomes an issue with any striker when he is not scoring and it is clear Torres and Keane both need a goal.

"When it happens you will see a real difference."