Saturday, September 27, 2008

Match Preview: Everton vs. Liverpool

Both Merseyside clubs enter this early season derby looking for redemption after dropping points against newly-promoted opposition last week. Not that extra motivation would ever be needed in what is traditionally one of the most hotly contested matches in the Premier League season. Everton are yet to score points at home and would love nothing more than chalking up their first of the season against their old enemy. Liverpool on the other hand are unbeaten so far this season, although last week’s failure to find the almost constantly bombarded Stoke goal probably felt as bad as defeat for most fans. Rafael Benitez was unflustered when quizzed on his sides benevolence towards new boys Stoke. The Liverpool gaffer maintained that "at the end of the day you know that football can be like that.” He added, "these things can happen, so the key is to keep attacking and to keep creating chances - then you will score.”

This fixture represents one of the most volatile clashes of the season. Although largely friendly off the field, with many families in Liverpool divided by the colours of their team, expect no such affability on the field. Twenty-five red cards have been shown in all previous fixtures and both skippers, Phil Neville and Steven Gerrard have seen red twice. Skipper Neville has rallied his troops this week, claiming that this provides a great opportunity to signal they can raise their game at home. The history books suggest that Saturday’s referee, Mike Riley, is likely to have his hands full. Last season’s corresponding fixture ended controversially when Mark Clattenburg turned down a seemingly stone-wall penalty that would have allowed Everton the opportunity to equalise late on.

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt is optimistic about Liverpool’s start to the season. He believes though that beating Everton is key in following up the victory over their other biggest rivals Manchester United. Kuyt played a crucial role, scoring a brace in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory last term and his manager has backed him to play another big role this time round. David Moyes has singled out other players as key though, he fears that Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are the key influences. He also is wary of what he labels as Liverpool’s ‘physical approach’ that served them well against United two weeks ago.



24 Sept v Blackburn (A) LOST 1-0

21 Sept v Hull (A) DREW 2-2

18 Sept v Standard Liege (H) DREW 2-2

18 Sept v Standard Liege (H) DREW 2-2

14 Sept v Stoke (A) WON 3-2

30 Aug v Portsmouth (H) LOST 3-0


23 Sept v Crewe (H) WON 2-1

20 Sept v Stoke (H) DREW 0-0
16 Sept v Marseille (A) WON 2-1
13 Sept v Manchester United (H) WON 2-1

31 Aug v Aston Villa (A) DREW 0-0



A massive boost for Everton is the likely return of playmaker Mikel Arteta. Stephen Pienaar and Andy Van Der Meyde remain absent whilst Victor Anichebe is likely to join them on the sidelines with a foot injury. The recently impressive Louis Saha may be given the chance to make an emphatic home debut by being handed a starting berth if his manager David Moyes decides to provide Yakubu with a striking partner. Tony Hibbert, although now in training, is unlikely to figure.

Possible Starting XI: Howard - Lescott, Jagielka, Yobo, Neville - Osman, Cahill, Castillo, Fellaini Arteta - Yakubu


Doubts linger over Javier Mascherano and Yossi Benayoun, who are likely to be subjected to late fitness tests. The uncertainty over who partners Jamie Carragher at centre-half could be over after Dan Agger scored mid-week. Fabio Aurelio’s return will be touch and go though Philip Degen will be out for three weeks after cracking a rib against Crew midweek.

Possible Starting XI: Reina – Arbeloa, Carragher , Agger, Dossena – Riera/Babel, Alonso, Mascherano, Gerrard – Keane, Torres.



Maurouane Fellaine, if selected, will have played against Liverpool in Europe and the league for different clubs in the same season. He will be one to watch but eyes will also be on the returning Mikel Arteta. Yakubu up top will pose a real danger and it will also be interesting to watch Louis Saha if he gets a chance, either starting or from the bench.


Liverpool’s Robbie Keane has scored more Premier League goals against Everton under David Moyes than any other player. He has scored six times against Everton in the league. As thus, I will persist in tipping him to shine, despite struggling to find the net since his arrival at the club. As ever, Fernando Torres will be an ever-present threat up front and the passionate club talisman Steven Gerrard will always be a danger, especially in such a high-tempo fixture.

Rafa Delighted With Defensive Headache

Rafael Benitez has admitted the form of his four centre backs has given him a selection headache ahead of this weekend's derby at Goodison.

Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel have been the first choice pairing at the heart of the Reds defence in the Premier League this season, but Daniel Agger and Sami Hyypia both staked their claims for a place in the starting eleven with impressive displays against Crewe in midweek.

Agger opened the scoring against the League One outfit with a brilliant free kick - but Benitez insists he wasn't surprised to see his young Danish defender rise to the challenge of trying to force his way back into the first team picture.

"Daniel is a fantastic professional and so it's no surprise that he played so well," said the boss. "People may have watched the game and been surprised, but I wasn't. I see him every day in training and he's always the same, working hard and looking to improve.

"We knew he would react well and that is what happened. I also thought Sami played well on the night. We have four good centre backs and I am really pleased with all of them."

While Jamie Carragher's regular starting role for the Reds this season hasn't come as any surprise, the form of Slovakian star Skrtel in fending off competition for his place from Agger and Hyypia has been a source of delight for his manager.

"We had different options when we were looking for central defenders and Martin was one of those," said Benitez.

"We watched him for a long time before we signed him - and when Zenit played Everton I was surprised everybody was talking about Arshavin and not talking about Martin. We were monitoring him then and I am pleased he has been such a good addition to our squad.

"Some foreign players take a while to adapt to English football but with defenders it can sometimes be easier. He is aggressive and quick so he has settled in well."

Rafa Aiming For Goodison Glory

Rafa Benitez heads into today’s 208th Merseyside derby declaring that his team must win it for the fans.

Liverpool did the double over Everton last season and today's clash at Goodison Park will be the ninth time the Liverpool manager has experienced the unique derby atmosphere.

The Reds boss admits that he enjoys taking on David Moyes' side - but only when his team wins.

"I have very good memories of the derby," says Benitez.

"It is really important for the fans when you beat your rival in the derby, so I was really pleased last season.

"We won with a penalty in the last minute when we played them away last time, so we were happy.

"This one is more difficult because of the rivalry between the fans, but at the end of the day we are talking about just three points. The only difference is that during the week you can see that the fans are really happy you have won."

The Liverpool manager has emerged victorious in six out of the eight derbies he has resided over since coming to Anfield four years ago, and Benitez added he is hungry for more victories.

"If we win, then I will enjoy it very much. But it is a very very difficult game," said Benitez.

"Yesterday I was out walking with my wife and some fans were telling me: 'Come on you have to win.'

"And then an old woman who is a Liverpool fan came up to me and said the same thing. Two minutes later an Evertonian even came up to me and shook my hand. He said: 'I am an Evertonian, but I will shake hands with you.'

"You can see that the passion is always there and the atmosphere has been good this week - it is very positive."

Liverpool's last League game saw them draw 0-0 with Stoke City at Anfield, but Benitez isn't concerned about his side failing to find the net and knows they can bounce back against their old rivals.

"At the end of the day you know that football can be like that," said Benitez. "These things can happen, so the key is to keep attacking and to keep creating chances - then you will score.

"I have some experience of this. When I was at Valencia we once had 41 attempts against Celtic and we won 1-0 with a free kick."

Despite seeing one seemingly valid strike ruled out for offside against Stoke City last week, Benitez has also backed his captain Steven Gerrard to complete his club century against Everton today.

"I think it was a pity last week, but maybe it will happen on Saturday - that will be really important for him and for us," added Benitez.

"I think it will be especially important for him if it happens in the derby."

Benitez' Crystal Ball Foretells Gerrard Century At Goodison

Fate has no meaning in Rafael Benítez's managerial lexicon but he is prepared to make an exception in the case of Steven Gerrard's 100th goal for Liverpool. Only an errant decision denied the Liverpool captain his milestone against Stoke City at Anfield last weekend. That the opportunity now arises at Goodison Park, a ground where Gerrard has been baited mercilessly in recent years, has caused even Liverpool's arch-pragmatist to believe the outcome may be scripted.

"Maybe his goal against Stoke was disallowed because destiny has been reserved for him to score his 100th goal against Everton," said Benítez, who takes an unbeaten record across Stanley Park this lunchtime. "Gerrard can score in any game, he's always a threat even when he's not playing well, but I am sure what happened against Stoke will only motivate him more to score against Everton. Especially in a derby, it would be fantastic for him to get that goal and I believe he can."

The Liverpool manager controversially substituted the man from Huyton during last season's tempestuous Goodison derby for displaying "too much passion" and believes the England midfielder has learned from the experience.

"Gerrard is more mature now and understands he can play with passion but have control of the situation too," insisted Benítez. "At that point [in last year's derby]we needed to keep possession against 10 men, we needed to keep control. And it was Lucas [Leiva] - who came on and was calmer and more relaxed - who was able to create our winner. That was an important decision for the team, something I had to do. Maybe this time it will be Steven who wins the game for us."

Liverpool, if they win, will equal their best six-game start to a Premier League season and Benítez added: "This kind of game, against a rival in a derby, is always a test but if we can win the confidence will be really, really high in the team."

Everton's David Moyes Ready For 'Aggressive' Liverpool

Neighbours at War, aka the 208th Merseyside Derby, will be as “hotly contested as ever’’, in the opinion of the Everton manager, David Moyes.

Even without the heavy hand of history and jabbing elbow of local rivalry, this game means so much to Moyes and his players, to Rafael Benitez and his men in Liverpool red. Everton crave a victory to lift spirits after a disappointing start to the season. Expensive newcomers such as Marouane Fellaini, Moyes’ £12.5 million midfielder, are desperate to prove they can cope in the heat of Premier League battle.

Liverpool want to show the tigerish football that accounted for Manchester United, not the toothlessness that resulted in two points being dropped to Stoke City. Steven Gerrard chases his 100th goal for Liverpool. Pride, points and landmarks are at stake.

A paradox surrounds a feisty lunchtime at Goodison. The authorities are keen to keep football free of malice in the challenge and in the chant, yet everyone is aware that the visceral nature of derbies makes the Premier League a compelling spectacle, captivating millions around the world. Carnage appeals.

But a balance must be struck: passion without the excess. Some of the derby tackles have been horrendous, with Gerrard guilty of a couple of X-rated lunges on Evertonians down the years. “The reason why the derby games attract people is the intensity,’’ observed Moyes, speaking at Everton’s Finch Farm training base.

“You hope to get a good football game but you know you’ll get a tough encounter. You hope you get a good referee but you hope the players know the boundaries. Referees can be too trigger-happy but I hope the referee [Mike Riley] will have a good game and the players make it easy for him.

“Liverpool are a really strong, tough team. They can be as physical as anybody. They showed that against Manchester United [on Sept 13]. Sir Alex Ferguson mentioned that. In the last couple of derbies they’ve been more aggressive than we have. But Goodison’s a tough place to come into and tough to get out of.’’

And noisy. Some of the chanting has been sickening in recent years, particularly songs about Gerrard’s wife by some Evertonians, while a few Liverpool fans insulted Joleon Lescott. “There is a limit to what your chanting should be,’’ said Moyes. “I hope both sets of supporters will behave.’’

The match lasts 90 minutes, the ramifications much longer. “The seriousness of this game goes beyond football, it goes into people’s livelihoods,’’ said Moyes’ attacking midfielder, Tim Cahill. “I lived in Liverpool for four years, so I understand what it’s like to walk down the street to get a carton of milk after a derby.’’

The Australian has since moved out of town. “Liverpool’s a beautiful city with beautiful people but I needed to be able to switch off and go down the park with my kids without having to listen to an adverse comment. I can relax now, without worrying about people saying I’m crap.’’

Comments still arise after derbies. “I get loads of banter, especially from the Liverpool fans, but it’s a compliment when you get a bit of bitterness because it shows you’re a threat and I’ve had a habit of scoring against Liverpool a few times,’’ Cahill added. “It’s all about passion.

“Players like Alan Stubbs, Duncan Ferguson and Tony Hibbert, players who really know what it is like to be a Blue, really helped me understand when I first came to the club. Now I’m passing that on to Fellaini, Segundo Castillo and Louis Saha. They’ve had derby matches before, but this is a whole different experience.’’

Derbies demand physical and mental strength and Cahill, hailed as a “special player’’ by Moyes, has been working on both qualities. “I’ve been doing yoga for about three months and Pilates for 18 months,’’ added Cahill, who stressed the importance of the input of Willie Donnachie’s son, Danny, the club’s performance and well-being coach. “We have a regime at Everton now where Danny works with us individually on matters on and off the pitch. A big part of football nowadays is the mental aspect.

“We play best when we believe we are invincible, no matter who is in their team. Obviously, Gerrard is one of the best midfielders in the world and he does make that team tick. We need to overcome that in 90 minutes, give that bit extra and give something special to our fans.’’

Moyes talked of “owing the fans’’ a victory following a lacklustre few weeks. “I’d be lying if I said we were bubbling,’’ said the Everton manager, who would love to have had the finances to sign more individuals of Fellaini’s worth. “We are probably in need of buying three or four players of that value – not one. There’s a massive difference of spending power between us and Liverpool.’’

The one signing Goodison truly yearns for, Moyes’ inking his name on a new contract, will not take place on the pitch before kick-off, as rumoured. Passions are stoked up enough already.

Carragher Braces Himself For The Goodison Blues After Liverpool Star Criticises Everton In Book

Jamie Carragher is preparing himself for a hotter reception than ever at Goodison Park today after lavishing praise on David Moyes but pouring scorn on Everton's supporters and hierarchy.

The long-serving Liverpool defender joined in the debate over Moyes' uncertain future by hailing him as Everton's best manager for 20 years and describing the 'People's Club' tag he came up with as a 'stroke of genius'.

In his newly-published autobiography Carra, though, he risks an angry backlash at today's lunchtime kick-off by blaming Everton fans for mounting hostility between the rival factions and deriding the Goodison board as 'small-minded' over their spat with Rafa Benitez last season.

An undertone of spite has crept into the derby day atmosphere and Carragher was adamant about Everton's culpability as he explained his admiration for Moyes but contempt for some sections of the club he once idolised.

'Moyes is the person I have respected most at Everton,' he said. 'Without doubt, he is their best manager in 20 years, and the quip about Everton being the People's Club, on the day he took over, was genius. It wound up Liverpudlians but got Evertonians on his side, so fair play. Brilliant stuff.

'That's what it is all about in this city. If you can make your own fans proud of you and get your rivals' backs up at the same time, it's a classic double whammy.

'But when Rafa went for a bit of revenge and called them a small club, after they came to Anfield for a draw, how did they react? They put a statement on their official website, having a go back. How small-time can you get? It was embarrassing. At board level, you should show some dignity and rise above the banter.

'There is an exaggerated perception of how well Liverpool and Everton fans used to get on 20 years ago but, equally, I have noticed a much meaner atmosphere at more recent derbies.

'As someone who has been a Blue and a Red, I feel qualified to say where it all went wrong and I feel the responsibility lies mainly with the way Everton fans reacted to their barren spell. That, plus their treatment of Liverpool players who are my friends as well as teammates.

'It has added a sinister element to the traditional rivalry and led to a complete transformation in my loyalties, to the extent that I now hate losing to Everton more than any other side in the world.

'Hate would be too strong to describe my feelings towards them, but I do hate what their fans sing about Steven Gerrard and his family at every derby. It is personal, vindictive and disgusting and would be unacceptable in any form of life, let alone football.

'All players face flak from opposition fans, but when people start telling lies and repeat them in despicable chants, I am appalled.

'It has become a lot worse over the years and is a big reason why my relationship with Everton has turned sour. When you see your best mates being attacked unjustly, there is no way back.'

Everton's players are also taken to task by Carragher, who added: 'There have been times when I have made a point of biting my lip after a derby to show some respect. 'Our 3-0 defeat at Goodison was a classic example. I had a nightmare and was nowhere near 100 per cent, but when I was quizzed straight after the game, I just said we were beaten fair and square.

'Too often, the same courtesy isn't shown to us by Everton. We always knew Alan Stubbs would have a good cry about something, especially if we had won but, to be fair, he's as Blue as they come. He liked playing to the gallery and we always had a giggle at his expense in the dressing room.

'There are times, though, when I feel they have zero respect for us. While we tiptoe round, making sure we don't cause a furore, many of their former and present players seem to feel they are free to slag us off. It has become a small but annoying sub-plot of every derby.

'A Goodison persecution complex has developed and it's not just the players. There are plenty at Everton who have done their club no favours when talking about Liverpool and you really would expect their hierarchy to be more considered and careful with their remarks.'

Carragher's growing antipathy towards his Mersey rivals is a far cry from his schoolboy days, when he even turned up for five-a-sides at Liverpool's School of Excellence wearing an Everton kit.

'I was only 11, but everyone called me Sharpy because they all knew Graeme Sharp was my hero,' he said. 'I was the biggest Blue in Bootle and no one cheered louder when Michael Thomas scored that last-minute goal at Anfield to make Arsenal champions instead. There was a big "Thank you, Arsenal" scrawled on the wall of a nearby pub and I laughed my head off. 'It's not true I've got an Everton tattoo on my arm, but I was Everton-mad growing up. How times have changed. In my mind, the club I loved in the 80s and the team I see now are poles apart.'

A Flying Winger Is Still A Necessity For Liverpool

Former Tottenham’s crafty forward Robbie Keane look to set be Liverpool’s most significant transfers this summer, but in my opinion it is a another flying winger that would benefit the team most.

With youngster Ryan Babel already making an impressively vibrant impact last season on the left-hand side of midfield, I believe a similar type of player on the right-hand side would be extremely helpful to the side’s stuttering attacking play.

Only the surging forward runs of inspirational captain Steven Gerrard and the clinical finishing of Spaniard Fernando Torres sparked our offensive play last season as well as the Dutchman, and if the club want the challenge for major honours this time around then more contributions will be needed.

Put Torres to one side and Liverpool’s other strikers simply didn’t score enough goals. Andriy Voronin turned out to be one of the worst signings I have ever seen by Liverpool, Peter Crouch didn’t play often enough to put a string of good performances together and Dirk Kuyt was mainly deployed as a right-midfielder and in a position completely different to his preferred role.

Crouch has since been sold to Portsmouth for a hefty fee, but Voronin and Kuyt remain. The arrival of Keane should be a huge boost to this department though, and a forward partnership with Torres could flourish into one of the most potent strike forces in the Premier League.

With Robbie Keane partnering Fernando Torres most of the time, Kuyt can surely not be thrown into the right-midfield berth once again. When the Dutch forward plays there, it limits the team’s attacking options hugely because he is not a winger who can take full-backs on or swing in a beautifully delivered cross.

Jermaine Pennant is more this type, but injuries, bad performances and off the field matters mean that he has slipped down the pecking order somewhat. If there were two Ryan Babel’s then Liverpool would sign them both – one for each wing. But there isn’t, so Benitez and the board must go looking for a similar player who can create opportunities for themselves and teammates with the same ease that Babel did on many occasions last season.

Without this needed signing taking place, I cannot see Liverpool winning the Premier League title at all. There will still be a lot of doubt if we do capture a quality player of this specific role, but at least it will give the fans more hope.

Signing a stable central-midfielder like Gareth Barry is alright, but for Liverpool a quality new addition is not really needed in that area of the pitch, as they already have Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Lucas. The right-wing position actually has a massive void in it, crying out for someone to come and fill it.

All title challenging clubs have two flying wingers who can take people on and whip balls into the box. Manchester United have Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as the support cast of Nani. Chelsea have Joe Cole and Florent Malouda, as well as Salomon Kalou. A proper right-winger is a necessity for Liverpool. They must act now.

Babel And Riera Key For Liverpool

Following Albert Riera’s timely arrival at Liverpool on the last day of the transfer window, Rafa Benitez finally has two good wide players to deploy in his line-up who he can trust to produce excellent performances consistently.

Ryan Babel can be played on either flank, but now that the left-footed Riera has turned up he should be placed on the right-hand side of Liverpool’s previously rigid midfield. Babel has already shown how effective he can be when taking defenders on, like when he won the infamous penalty at Anfield against Arsenal in the Champions League last year, and when whipping in dangerous balls, like against Standard Liege when he crossed for Dirk Kuyt to net the winner late on only a few weeks ago.

Babel was used as a substitute on most occasions by Benitez in the winger’s first Premier League campaign, but this season should offer a more prominent role in the side for the Dutch youngster. Whenever he comes off the bench he brings a burst of energy and a creative option who can produce something from nothing. Along with Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, Babel is the key for Liverpool capable of unlocking opposition defences with one moment of magic. That is why he must start most games this season.
But whilst Babel was Benitez’s only reliable wide player last year, the Spanish manager now has a fellow countryman in his squad to ply his trade on the other flank. Albert Riera may not have been explosive in his loan period at Manchester City a few years ago, but he has improved during his time playing in La Liga for Espanyol. He played in a UEFA Cup final, and Liverpool obviously see him as the hidden talent they have needed on the left of midfield to push for the title.

The club have struggled for quality in that position for a number of years now, with players like Bolo Zenden and Harry Kewell either proving not good enough or picking up too many injuries to play for such a top side. But Riera should be different. Liverpool supporters cannot have put together a full mental image of how good a player he really is after such a short time at Anfield, but if you were to judge his opening few performances then the picture would be a reasonably good one.

He has already demonstrated that he can take full-backs on and whip brilliant crosses into the penalty area, something that Liverpool have lacked consistently in the left-midfield position for so long. And Riera should improve in the coming weeks as well, as he gets to know his team-mates better and settles into the fast-paced nature of the Premier League with greater comfort.

So with two excellent wide players now in his ranks, Benitez must not waste the opportunity to stretch teams to the limit. Other players at Liverpool will benefit from Babel and Riera’s width as well, meaning there will be more problems for opponents. Torres will have more space to drift into and sprint at, and Gerrard will get more opportunities to drive through the middle and create chances. They will both receive better service into the box too; such is the crossing ability of the pair of wingers.

The reason to why Liverpool often struggle to break down stubborn opponents, like Stoke City last Saturday, is that the team is set-up so narrowly and rigidly by Benitez. Teams that visit Anfield can come and just play the same way; packing the centre of the pitch and leaving Liverpool’s golden talents no room to operate. Liverpool did still create some good chances against Stoke, and had a goal wrongly ruled out, but unless Benitez’s side score quite early the game can become difficult for Liverpool. If they do score early though, the other team has to come out and play more attacking football, leaving Gerrard and co. more opportunities to flourish.

Liverpool could not break down Birmingham and Wigan’s defences last season at Anfield in similar contests to the Stoke fixture, and that ultimately cost them four points that could have propelled them into a position to attack Manchester United and Chelsea. And now that Liverpool have let their old habits return to fruition again this time around, there must still be serious doubts over their title credentials. If any more slip-ups of the sort occur again, any hopes of league glory will be over.

But if Riera and Babel play when available, these catastrophic results should not materialise. The middle of the park will not be so cramped, meaning there will be more space. More space means a greater chance of Gerrard, Torres and Keane getting chances to pull the trigger or create goalscoring opportunities for others using their class.

When in tight European matches against the continent’s elite then playing compact is absolutely fine, as Benitez well knows, but against Stoke City points cannot be afforded to be dropped. Wingers are the answer to Liverpool’s Anfield frustrations.