Monday, September 29, 2008

Afellay To Be Unleashed Onto Liverpool

One of the hottest European prospects is to be unleashed onto Liverpool when they play PSV Eindhoven in their Champions League clash on Wednesday.

The player in question is Ibrahim Afellay, a Dutchman of Moroccan descent who has been with the Dutch champions for the past five seasons.

The young attacking midfielder is considered to be one of the finest of his generation and has already received praise from some of the most well respected people in the game.

Arsenal have been known admirers of the 22-year-old for the last couple of years, and PSV claim that the Gunners sent a scout to watch Afellay play 15 times last season.

Ronald Koeman, the former Dutch centre back, commented, “Ibrahim has certain things in his style that can be compared to Johan Cruyff's game.

“He can speed up with the ball, he can whizz past players as if they are puppets. He has qualities as an attacker which we hardly see these days in football.”

Manchester City were close to signing him on transfer deadline day, but the young Dutchman preferred to stay at PSV as he did not want to rush into a move abroad.

He has a £12m buy-out clause in his contract, and City have said they are willing to out bid anyone to secure his signature.

The first to spot Afellay’s talents outside Holland was Arsene Wenger, who was more than impressed with the impact Afellay made when coming on against Arsenal as a substitute 17 months ago.

The Arsenal boss has been an admirer ever since, and has been monitoring the 22-year-old’s situation carefully.

Liverpool will face a tough test when they come up against him on Wednesday, and it will be up to the player to see if he can triumph over the likes of Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel.

Liverpool Boss Benitez: Torres Can Only Get Better

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has told the rest of the Premier League that Spanish International striker Fernando Torres will only get better for the Merseyside club.

Benitez has revealed that the 24-year-old is yet to reach full fitness after a summer which saw the former Atletico Madrid forward win EURO 2008 with Spain, but return to Anfield with a slight hamstring problem.

However, despite Benitez’s claims that Torres is not at his peak, the Spaniard still struck twice to sink Everton in the derby at Goodison Park on Saturday, with the Reds boss insisting there is more to come from Torres, when he reaches full fitness.

“Torres knows he can improve a lot. The main thing for me is his mentality is really good,” Benitez said.

“He is trying to improve especially in the areas where he has to improve - at this moment in time physically. You need time but he is working so hard and he will be better.

“There were three players coming back from the Olympic Games and the Spanish players coming back from the European Championships.

“It was important for some of them to rest or to train properly. Torres was injured and that was another problem.

“I think he is more or less the same as last season. The only thing he is missing now is his physical condition. He will get better and better and he will be stronger for sure. I think he is a nice boy and a good professional. He knows he can improve. I think he is very humble.”

Gerrard Keen To Keep Liverpool's Feet On The Ground As Torres Shines For Reds

Steven Gerrard has warned his Liverpool team-mates not to get carried away with their strong start to the season.

Liverpool are undefeated in the Premier League and in second place after winning 2-0 at Everton, their best start in 12 years.

But with the Champions League clash with PSV Eindhoven coming up on Wednesday, Gerrard said: 'It’s important to be humble and to keep out feet on the ground.

'We set a standard [at Everton] but we need to match it week in, week out.'

Fernando Torres double proved the difference at Goodison Park and Gerrard was delighted to see the Spaniard back to his best.

He said: 'You can’t keep strikers with his talent down for long because they aren’t going to go long without a goal. It was only a matter of time.

Robbie Keane Ready For Lift Off With Liverpool FC

DELIGHTED Steven Gerrard believes Robbie Keane’s Liverpool career is poised for lift-off after the striker helped secure derby victory on Saturday.

Two goals from Fernando Torres inside three second-half minutes gave the Anfield outfit a 2-0 win at Goodison in the 208th meeting between the Merseyside rivals.

Keane was instrumental in both goals, providing a perfect cross for Torres’s opener and then heavily involved in the build-up to the Spaniard’s second.

The Republic of Ireland international is still awaiting his first goal for Rafael Benitez’s side since his near £20m transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer.

But skipper Gerrard revealed the praise that Keane received in the dressing room for his efforts in ensuring Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season.

“I know that Nando was class and showed how deadly he can be, but I still believe that Robbie Keane was an equally genuine contender for the man of the match award,” said Gerrard.

“He was outstanding, he did everything you could ask of him. He was a matchwinner as much as Torres, because they couldn't cope with his passing and movement.

“It was a terrific performance and it showed why the manager invested so much money in him. I went to Robbie afterwards and I told him that.

“We got in the dressing room and I sat by him, and I just said: ‘you were magnificent’, because he deserves that praise for such a great, unselfish performance.

“It is all you can ask from a player that he gives everything for the team, and wins the game for you.

“For all of our team, Robbie is doing his job perfectly, and we'll settle for that every time.”

Of Keane’s goal drought, Gerrard added: “Look, it is everyone else talking about Robbie's need to score, not us.

“That doesn't matter in the slightest for us, because he has been a match winner without scoring. His passes for the two goals were from the top drawer, they were exactly what we are looking for from him.

“We know there will still be talk about goals until he gets his first, but believe me, a goal is just around the corner for him.

“And when it comes, the first one will be the most important, because you just know he'll go on a run and get a whole load of goals.

“The lad is quality, you can see that, and you can see how intelligent a footballer he is.

“When he scores, it will just be the start, but I think it's pretty clear he is doing his job already.”

Benitez Admits Babel Frustration

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admits that he is growing frustrated with the erratic form of Ryan Babel.

On his day Ryan Babel can be a match-winner. His super sub role in the Champions League quarter final against Liverpool sealed the Reds' passage to the next round as he won a penalty and scored a goal.

However, Rafa Benitez believes Babel to be a starter and not simply a substitute but his consistency would have to be improved if he wants to secure a regular starting role.

Benitez is quoted by the Malaysian Insider as saying: "Our view of Ryan is a player who starts games and has an impact from the beginning, not just as a sub."

"But first of all he has to improve tactically and we are working with him on that. He is the kind of player who can change games and he has done that when coming from the bench," Benitez added.

Now we want him to start games and change them."

Agger's Anfield Agony

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger has reportedly delayed discussions over a new contract, casting further doubt over his future.

According to News of the World, Agger will not enter negotiations to extend his current deal until manager Rafael Benitez assures him that he has a first-team future at Anfield.

The Danish defender has found himself on the fringes this season after missing almost all of the 2007-08 campaign with a metatarsal problem that threatened to derail his hugely promising career.

The former Brondby star has had his starting spot usurped by Martin Skrtel, the Slovakian centre-back who arrived in January and has quickly earned fan-favourite status with his uncompromising performances beside Jamie Carragher.

Benitez is unwilling to break up a defensive pairing which has conceded just two goals in six Premier League games, meaning Agger has been reduced to a benchwarming role.

The Spanish tactician is desperate to keep hold of the 23-year-old, who is expected to feature heavily in the Champions League given Sami Hyypia was controversially left off Liverpool's roster for the competition.

But it is reported that Agger - who was rumoured to be battling a drinking problem while sidelined last season - is growing ever more restless and could seek a move as early as January.

Gerrard Urges Liverpool To Match The Standard Week In Week Out As Reds Focus On PSV & Man City

Following a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Everton in Saturday’s Merseyside derby, Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard is looking for repeat performance as the Reds aim to build onto their strong start to the season.

Rafa Benitez’s side outclassed the Toffees, who are yet to pick up a league point at Goodison Park this season, and now focus on Wednesday's Champions League group clash with PSV Eindhoven before meeting Manchester City in the Premiership at the weekend.

And England midfielder Gerrard believes that the Reds, who have made their best start in 12 years as they are second in league table equal on points with Chelsea with 14 points in six games and unbeaten, need to keep their feet on the ground and set out to match the standard they set at Everton.

"It's important to be humble and not get carried away by the performance," said Gerrard adding: "But we set a standard (at Everton) we need to match week in week out."

Revealing relief at victory over local rivals Everton, the satisfied 28-year-old said: "As a local lad these are the most difficult games to prepare for. The nerves start the week before and you can't wait for the game to come about, so the fear of losing these games takes up a lot of energy beforehand."

"I think the derby performance has set the standard now. We've got a big game on Wednesday and then another important game against Manchester City, (and) if we can continue that level then we will certainly be there or thereabouts come the end of the season," he added.

Fernado Torres Makes Premier League Title His Top Target

Liverpool have managed their best start to a league campaign for 11 years - and Fernando Torres has only just got his act together.

Captain Steven Gerrard believes the Spaniard is back to his “deadly” best after Liverpool “made a statement of intent” in the title race with their Merseyside derby victory.

The 2-0 win over a worried Everton side means Liverpool remain unbeaten this term, with their neighbours struggling to recapture anything approaching last term’s form.

Torres has spent the opening weeks of the campaign shaking off the effects of a summer which saw him win the European Championship with Spain.

He has shown little of the form that produced 33 goals last season, and even in his two-goal display against Everton he was nowhere near his peak.

But now the striker believes he is about to launch into overdrive as Liverpool go after the Barclays Premier League title.

Torres said: “It has been a difficult start for me this season after a busy summer. But now I have got myself back into form with these two, I hope to go on a run like last season and maybe get more than the 33 I managed then.

“We know if we can stay near the top of the table in January or February we can win the title.

“We must stay in the first three or four, and if we can keep winning in the Champions League we can have a fantastic season.

“I have been working very hard and knew the goals would come.”

Such has been the pain of the ongoing 18-year wait for another title Liverpool triumph, it is inevitable that excitement soars as soon as they start showing signs of a genuine challenge.

Gerrard is doing his best to calm the growing expectation, and said: “It is important to be humble now and not get carried away.

“We have got a big game on Wednesday in Europe and then another vital match against Manchester City on Sunday. It is important no-one gets carried away.

“There’s a long way to go and we realise how tough it is going to be to still be in the hunt come the end of the campaign, so we need to keep going, but we have set a standard that we need to match week-in, week-out.”

Gerrard wants to see Liverpool perform on a regular basis to the level that saw them out-play Everton.

He said: “The victory was probably our best performance of the season.

“We had been winning games but stumbling along, but this has set the standard now and if we can continue that level then we will certainly be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.

“We controlled the game all the way through. It was a statement of our intentions.

“We were together, played some terrific football and the performance showed how frustrated we were not to take maximum points from Stoke the previous weekend.”

Gerrard underlined the fact that Torres has finally found something like the form of last season, even if it took a booking and an exchange with referee Mike Riley over his treatment from defenders and officials alike before he sparked into action.

The Spaniard had managed only one goal previously this term.

Gerrard said: “It was only a matter of time.

“You cannot keep strikers with his talent down for long because they are not going to go long without a goal. It was going to happen.

“He was a bit frustrated, but then Robbie Keane has put one on a plate for him and the second one was typical Torres.

“He made a lot of space for himself in the box and the finish was deadly.”

Gerrard is still searching for his 100th goal for the club, but he said: “It will come, I’m confident of that. The most important thing was the win and it was all about the team.

“As a local lad these are the most difficult games to prepare for. The nerves start and you can’t wait for the game to come about, so the fear of losing these games takes up a lot of energy beforehand.”