Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Afellay Doubtful For Liverpool

Dutch champions PSV will probably be without their highly rated playmaker Ibrahim Afellay for the Champions League match against Liverpool.

Dutch giants PSV lost their first Champions League match 3-0 against Atletico Madrid and need a good result in the away match against Liverpool. However, they will most likely be missing key man Ibrahim Afellay.

The talented playmaker sustained a toe injury in a training session last week and the small injury is causing him bigger trouble than expected. He has already missed the Eredivisie match against Volendam and he’s also a doubt for the game in Liverpool.

“I really hope to be fully match fit for Wednesday,” said Afellay at the weekend. “However, I have to be realistic and it looks like I’m not going to make it in time.”

The 22-year-old midfielder is a product of the PSV youth academy and has developed into an indispensable player for the Eindhoven side in the past two years.

The league match against Volendam made it clear that the Dutch giants really need Afellay’s creativity on the pitch in order to create something and it would be a huge disappointment for manager Stevens if he can’t use his star player.

Torres Pays Tribute To Kuyt And Keane’s Contributions

DERBY match-winner Fernando Torres has hailed unsung heroes Robbie Keane and Dirk Kuyt for providing him with the chances to defeat Everton at Goodison Park.

The Spanish striker, who netted 33 goals in his debut season at Anfield, took his tally to three for the new campaign thanks to his brace on Saturday and was only denied the first Merseyside hat-trick for 26 years by what seemed to be a fussy Mike Riley call when Kuyt was adjudged to have committed a foul.

But while the Dutchman, who was Liverpool’s two-goal hero in last season’s Goodison derby, has not netted in the Premier League for 10 months and Torres’s £20million strike partner Robbie Keane has failed to register in 14 games including friendlies since arriving at Anfield, Torres insists their efforts are crucial when it comes to his own chances.

Both Kuyt and Keane were part of the moves for each of Liverpool’s goals against their neighbours and the Spaniard is delighted with their contribution.

He said: “It is very simple – without Robbie and Dirk, the goals I scored would not have been created.

“They were involved in both goals and it is because they give everything for the team that I was able to score them.

“If you look at my first goal, the ball that Robbie crossed in was perfect and so was the run by Dirk which took the Everton defenders away and gave me a clear chance.

“It is always nice to score, but without my team mates it would not have been possible.”

Keane is currently enduring his longest barren streak since the start of a campaign with 10 competitive outings without a goal.

However, Torres is happy with the Irish international’s progress.

He said: “It is not always easy to form a new partnership but we are working hard in training all the time and it was good to see that work pay off on Saturday.

“Robbie was very important for our victory and I am sure that very soon it will be him who is getting the goals because he is a great player.

“Once he gets his first goal even more will follow because sometimes you just need to relieve the pressure with one goal.

I have not been scoring for six games, which is too long for a striker. But when I got one on Saturday the other one followed almost straight away and that is often the way it happens.”

MARK LAWRENSON: Signs That This Could Be Benitez’s Year

WHISPER it softly, but Liverpool are showing signs of putting together a genuine title challenge.

And it may be that manager Rafael Benitez is prepared to gamble more on Premier League success this year than in the past.

He is putting out his most attacking teams since arriving perhaps in the realisation that it is no use drawing games if you want to finish as champions.

Last season Liverpool drew 13 matches compared with just seven by table-topping Manchester United, who lost one game more. But turning a couple of those draws into wins – even at the risk of losing the odd game more – would make all the difference.

There is still a worry teams like United and Chelsea have more potential match-winners, which is why Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres may need to be wrapped in cotton wool. But if they stay injury free, Liverpool are in as good a position as they have been for some time.

Playing Xabi Alonso at Goodison Park was not a negative move. He is not a holding midfielder.

He does a different kind of job and has a good passing game. Steven Gerrard was disciplined against Everton and in Torres, Kuyt, Keane, Babel and Riera, Benitez has a many attacking options.

In the past Benitez has always played that extra defensive player, but that is not the case this season.

The trick will be settling on a wide player and giving them a run of games.

Results breed confidence, there is good competition for places at Anfield and Liverpool will be looking to keep the momentum going.

Benitez has had the chance over the past two seasons to bring in the kind of players he wants, get rid of those he doesn’t and has had enough money to build a team capable of challenging for the title. For many people, this is his year.

Liverpool Double Boost As Mascherano & Benayoun Fit For PSV Eindhoven Clash

Liverpool have received a double boost on fitness front as Javier Mascherano and Yossi Benayoun are passed fit for tomorrow night's Champions League group clash against Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven.

The midfield duo had missed Saturday's victory against Everton at the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. However, Mascherano and Benayoun have recovered from calf and ankle knocks respectively, said Reds boss Rafa Benitez.

"Both players trained this morning and are fit," said Benitez. "We will have another training session in the morning but at the moment we have a fully fit squad."

The Reds had won their opening game in Marseille with a brace from captain Steven Gerrard, who is one goal short of reaching a century of goals.

Real Madrid Eye January Move For Liverpool's Agger

La Liga Champions Real Madrid are reportedly interested in signing Danish International Daniel Agger from Liverpool in the January transfer window, according to Spanish paper Sport.

23-year-old Agger joined the Reds in 2006 from Brondby and his present deal with Rafa Benitez’s side runs out in 2010, with it understood that the defender is growing frustrated at the lack of first-team opportunities at the Premiership club.

Benitez has chosen to play Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel ahead of the Dane this season in the Premier League, with reports of the defender’s unrest at Anfield alerting Los Merengues coach Bernd Schuster, who is seeking a new centre-half for the Bernabeu.

However, Benitez is keen to keep Agger at the Merseyside club, with the Spaniard claiming recently that he was ready to offer the defender a new deal at Liverpool, but might be tempted to sell Agger to Real if he can make a decent profit on the £5.8million the Reds paid Brondby.

Agger Denies Rafa Rift

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger has moved to quell speculation that he and his manager Rafa Benitez have fallen-out.

Agger has struggled to break back into the Liverpool first-team after nearly a year out through a metatarsal problem.

During his absence, Rafa Benitez signed Martin Skrtel as a replacement and the form of the Slovakian has seen Agger relegated to the bench this season, unable to force his way into the team.

Agger has started only two matches for Liverpool this season, once in the Champions League qualifying round against Standard Liege and another appearance in the Carling Cup versus Crewe.

Benitez was reportedly unhappy with Liverpool's performance in the Standard Liege game, but Agger has denied that a row broke out between he and his manager.

He told TV3 in his native Denmark: "Of course there are things that Benitez was not satisfied with after Liege.

"We didn't play a good match, but it is a big lie to say we had an argument. I certainly hope it is only football reasons why I am not playing.

"I have no problem in this club. He has just said that the team is playing very well, and that is why I am not playing."

Agger also denied that he is looking to exit the Anfield club, and stated that he is prepared to work hard to return to the first team.

He continued: "I want to stay here and fight for my place in the squad.

"I'm not satisfied with the fact that I'm not playing but I have to cope and accept it.

"I'm happy at Liverpool."

Liverpool's Benitez Guards Against PSV Complacency

Rafa Benitez finds himself in an unusual position - guarding against complacency ahead of Liverpool's home game against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Liverpool's best start to a domestic season since 1996 has raised expectations that the 19th English league title is finally in sight after falling short for 19 years.

And as Benitez prepares for his 250th match in charge of Liverpool, for once he doesn't need the Champions League as a convenient distraction from domestic struggles with his players beginning brightly in both competitions.

The Reds are only being kept off the top of Group D by Chelsea on goal difference after opening with a 2-1 win at Marseille.

"When you are playing well, winning games and everyone is talking about how good you are, it's important to calm down,'' Benitez said Tuesday. "It is dangerous when you hear people talking well about your team that we always keep them concentrating on the future.

"But it is better to manage expectations now than be bottom of the table and trying to motivate players.''

Benitez is even moving away from his favored rotation policy.

"If the players are fit and on fire, maybe it's a good moment to keep them (in the team),'' Benitez said.”But (they) have plenty of room for improvement physically.''

Fernando Torres ended a six-game goal drought to score twice as Liverpool beat city rival Everton 2-0 in the Premier League on Saturday. Benitez wants to maintain the momentum to prevent a repeat of last year's stuttering Champions League start, which forced Liverpool to win its last three group matches to advance to the knockout phase.

"We remember the experience of last season and after three games we had just one point,'' Benitez said.”Now we have three points, so we are in a much better position and we would be like be after two more games almost qualified.''

PSV lost 3-0 at home to Atletico Madrid in the opening round, but Benitez is still wary of the threat PSV will pose.

"They are dangerous because they have good players on the counterattack and players with ability,'' he said.

Liverpool dominated PSV in the 2006-07 campaign, picking up three victories and a draw against the Dutch club en route to a defeat to AC Milan in the final.

But Netherlands winger Dirk Kuyt, who arrived at Anfield from Feyenoord in 2006, said the current PSV side presents a big change from the one that conceded six goals without reply in those four previous encounters.

"They are very different from the last time we played against them,'' he said. "(Heurelho) Gomes, the goalkeeper, is now at Spurs; Phillip Cocu has retired; and a lot of other players have also gone to other clubs. They are a totally different side, but they are still the best in Holland.

"They have won the league six times in a row, I think, so they're a very good team and we have to be ready.''

PSV coach Huub Stevens is pessimistic about his side's chances at Anfield after falling to Atletico.

"It was really disappointing to start the campaign with such a heavy home defeat,'' Stevens said.”We know we just have to learn from what happened, because going to Liverpool will be even more difficult. But we have only played one match, there are still five to go so we can turn this round.''

Mascherano Wary Of PSV Threat As He Targets Champions League Glory

Javier Mascherano aims to emulate his friend Carlos Tevez and win the Champions League.

Mascherano, 24, admits that he was delighted for his fellow Argentina international when he claimed a winner's medal in last season's final for Manchester United.

The midfielder was perhaps oblivious to the fact that he was probably the only person of a Liverpool persuasion who felt that way watching the final in Moscow last May, when the Red Devils beat Chelsea on penalties.

But having arrived in England alongside his friend Tevez at West Ham, he can probably be forgiven for such sentiment.

Mascherano said: 'I have a good relationship with Carlos. He is playing for Manchester United and me for Liverpool, but it does not matter because we are friends.

'I am happy for him that he has done well, that he has won the Champions League.

'When we play against each other, of course, I want to win, to beat him. But he is my friend and I am happy for him when he is successful.

'He had the chance to win the Champions League, and when he was in Argentina he won the Libertadores Cup. So he has many winners’ medals now.

'But we need to separate things. On one side there is football where we are rivals, but on the other in our private lives we are friends.

'I have a good friendship with him and his family, football will not change that.

'I spoke to Carlos after the Champions League final and I told him I was happy for him, but now I want to win it like him.'

Mascherano has recovered from a calf injury to be in Liverpool's squad to face PSV Eindhoven tomorrow in their second Champions League Group D match, having won their first at Marseille.

Liverpool, still unbeaten this season and with only two defeats in their last 29 games in all competitions, have hit the sort of form that gives their fans belief that the Barclays Premier League title can be claimed.

Mascherano said: 'I am fit, I can play if the manager wants. I have had a short rest with the injury, which coming after the Olympics and my busy schedule was good. Now I feel ready to play.

'Now we want to fight for every competition, we want to compete for the league and in Europe, so we must maintain this level.

'There will be many difficult games but we must make sure that we keep playing the way we are.

'I want to win everything, and I know the Champions League and the Premier League together are difficult. But let us see where we are at the end.

'As long as we keep going, keep doing the right things, we will see where that takes us.'

Mascherano warned his team-mates, still buoyant from Saturday's derby victory over Everton, that they cannot ease off against their Dutch opponents tomorrow night.

He added: 'But we must not lose our concentration. PSV have lost their first game in this group, so they will be dangerous. They will want to surprise us so we must not allow our level to drop.

'We are stronger than last season, we have more and more options. We have players who can perform just as well in several positions, so that is good for the manager and the team.

'We have more mental strength than last season, and we are able to recover from poor results much better. We have reached a certain level now and the aim is to keep it going all season.

'We have improved and we can fight for the title and Champions League.'

Liverpool Move Wasn't A Mistake For Me, Says Atletico Striker Florent

Atletico Madrid forward Florent Sinama-Pongolle insists it was not a mistake to join Liverpool as a youngster as it has now led to him becoming one of the top performers in the Primera Liga.

Sinama-Pongolle arrived on Merseyside from Le Havre at the age of 17 billed as one of the hottest young prospects in French football.

The move was criticised by many in France who felt he was too young to move abroad - a view which appeared to be vindicated when he found playing time hard to come by.

Following the departure of French coach Gerard Houllier in 2004, Sinama-Pongolle was pushed even further out of the frame, leading to his move to Recreativo Huelva in 2006.

But despite the lack of first-team football he managed during five years in England, the 24-year-old maintains going abroad early on in his career was definitely the right move.

'When I left Liverpool to sign for Huelva I took a risk,' Sinama-Pongolle told France Football.

'Nobody came to me, looked me in the eye and said they believed in me. Anyone who had would have been the king of hypocrites.

'I even get the impression people think I'm still that 17-year-old kid, educated at Le Havre, who made a mistake by joining Liverpool. That was seven years ago and wasn't a mistake.

'I am La Liga's second top goalscorer behind (Valencia's) David Villa. People are speaking about me every day.'

Despite his good start to his Atletico career, with four goals in five games so far in La Liga, Sinama-Pongolle knows he still has a fight on his hands to keep his place.

However, he believes his time at Liverpool has again made him ready for the challenge.

'I've been in the world of football for 16 years and this situation is not the first time that this has happened to me,' he told his club's website,

'When I arrived at Liverpool, Michael Owen was there, the biggest player at the club back then, and so was Milan Baros.

'I landed there and I also had to fight for a spot, but that's something that doesn't scare me, as we footballers are very privileged.

'Everything that I experienced back then made me grow both as a footballer and as a person.'