Sunday, October 05, 2008

Match Preview: Manchester City vs. LiverpooL

Liverpool face a tough trip to Eastlands on Sunday as the Reds resume Premiership duties with a clash against Manchester City.

The Reds make the short journey to Manchester boasting an unbeaten record in the league but manager Rafael Benitez is aware that the club now thought to be the richest in the world following their takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group will provide a stern test.

However, Benitez believes that getting back-to-back victories and building momentum is more important than winning a solitary game at the likes of City in order to have a genuine crack at the Premiership title.

"If you want to be a contender in the league, you have to be consistent - you have to win games in a row," he said.

"I'm not sure whether this is the type of game we need to win if we want to win the league.

"People were saying that about the Stoke game, saying 'you need to win this game, you need to win this game'.

"But we beat United and Everton either side of it. Of course, you need to win every game you can because the competition at the top of the Premier League this season is going to be really difficult.

"You can't guarantee that winning a game like City away will make a massive difference at the end of the season."

The Reds could consider themselves unfortunate to have come away from the City of Manchester Stadium with only a point last December and it's a result that still irritates Benitez.

He says: "It was clear last season that we were in a good moment but it finished 0-0 even though we had a lot of chances. It is important to do the right things this year.

"I remember the game really well. It was a good game and we played really well but could not score.

"We had chances in the first half and at the start of the second half Torres had two chances and there was one at the end, so I was really disappointed that we could not score because we deserved to win.

"At the time we were in a good moment. We had a lot of confidence and the team was playing well so the timing was bad for us.

"It is important to recognise that it is different this time though.

"It is another season with different players so hopefully the outcome will be better for us this time.

"The only similarity is that we are playing well now as we were then so we have to try and make sure that we are ready and that we take our chances if they come."

City are expected to spend heavily in the January transfer window and Benitez believes that Mark Hughes' side can pose a threat to the so called 'big four'.

He said: "They have a good team, with good players and a good manager - so why not? They could be near the top of the table, but Aston Villa have also spent a lot of money and other teams could also be there.

"I think that they will be thinking about improving every weekend. And after they bring new players, it is all about how they are settling and if they can understand each other. Foreign players will always need time, so I think it is not easy to sign top class players and get them to play well from the very first game.

"I think our main thing at the moment is to think about how we can improve our own team this year and for the future too. Every year you hear about Tottenham or Arsenal, Aston Villa, Newcastle or West Ham and Manchester City now, but we have to do our job.

"City's money can obviously help when you're trying to sign the best players. But you need a squad in place too, the balance of which is the key if you want to win trophies.

"Everyone is talking about them, but any questions about whether the money makes it more difficult for them is one for Mark Hughes to answer.

"They were a good team beforehand, they are a good team now and they will be better in the future."

Liverpool's excellent form both domestically and in Europe will give Benitez serious selection headaches over the coming weeks with several high-profile players left warming the substitutes bench recently, but the manager believes that this is a sign of the Reds' progress.

"You know that if you want to win games and try to win trophies that you have a good squad," he said.

"I have said this is the best squad we have had since I came to the club.

"It is not easy for me to pick a team when so many of the players are confident and playing well but it is better to be this way than for your team to pick itself because only some of your players are playing well."

Benitez must decide whether to recall Javier Mascherano into Liverpool's midfield tomorrow or stick with Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso in the centre.

Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel picked up minor knocks in the Champions League victory over PSV Eindhoven in midweek but both are available to play.

Daniel Agger continues to push for a starting berth while Albert Riera could start against the club he spent six months on-loan at in 2006.

City are sweating on the fitness of centre-back Richard Dunne after he missed Thursday's Uefa Cup victory over Omonia Nicosia with a hamstring problem. Tal Ben Haim will deputise if needed.

Martin Petrov is pushing for a recall to the starting line-up while the most expensive player in British football history, Robinho, will start.


Manchester City from: Hart, Zabaleta, Richards, Dunne, Ben Haim, Garrido, Ball, Elano, Kompany, Ireland, Hamann, Fernandes, Petrov, Wright-Phillips, Robinho, Jo, Schmeichel, Evans, Sturridge, Glauber, Etuhu.

Liverpool from: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Dossena, Babel, Gerrard, Mascherano, Alonso, Benayoun, Riera, Torres, Kuyt, Keane, Lucas, Cavalieri.

City The Acid Test Of Ability To Sustain Title Quest

How apt that Steven Gerrard’s 100th goal for the club would be a screamer at the Kop end?

After bringing hope in the late 90s, then being key in delivering a glut of trophies in the noughties, Gerrard has been undoubtedly the shining light at Anfield over the last decade, and now possibly of all time.

But as things stand in 2008, the fact is that he is finally with a bunch of players who can also conjure up moments of magic.

In Fernando Torres, Robbie Keane, Ryan Babel and Albert Riera, Liverpool possess an attacking pool that finally looks like they could smash the London-Manchester league dominance.

The season so far has been impressive, and the strength in depth really is coming to the fore. Inevitably the media are picking up on this as testified by the daily rumours on Daniel Agger.

This is obviously a problem with big squads but I hope that Agger bides his time and when he does get his chance, he takes it, his ability to link defence with midfield can be a pleasure to watch.

The Champions League is as ever a big lure for fans but the league remains our first love and going top last Saturday, albeit for a few hours, felt so good.

The Stoke result still niggles but the professional way that Everton were dispatched took everyone’s minds of it.

Torres showed that he is a class act once again, and you wouldn’t swap this guy for anyone in the world.

For Torres also read, Gerrard, Carragher and Mascherano and you can start to see that this team is becoming a force.

The clash at Eastlands will however be a real acid test. Man City and their attacking abilities will represent one the biggest challenges thus far for our rearguard. But at the other end of the pitch I hope that Robbie Keane can now bag his first Premier League goal.

With the ever-improving Riera facing his former side, it’s time for Liverpool to get ruthless if they really are serious about bringing number 19 back home.

Rafa: Riera Just Revving Up

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez says that he is pleased with what summer signing Albert Riera has managed to produce thus far, but insists that there is much more still to come from the former Espanyol ace.

Riera arrived at Anfield just prior to the close of the transfer window, and he has wasted little time settling into the Premier League.

The Spanish winger was highly impressive on debut against Manchester United, his touchline play during the 2-1 victory instantly demonstrating what the Reds have lacked on the left flank in recent years.

"It's too early to judge Albert properly," said Benitez on the club's official website. "He's been playing well and the team has been playing well also, but I think that he will improve.

"Players need time to settle down, but because he knows the Premier League it has made it easier for him. But we'll be expecting more from him."

Many were skeptical of the 26-year-old's quality given his failed stint at Manchester City, but tomorrow's match against his former side could be a perfect opportunity for him to prove that he has blossomed into a top player.

Alonso Admits Summer Sorrow

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso has admitted that the treatment he received from the club over the summer still leaves a sour taste.

The Spain international looked set to leave Anfield with Rafa Benitez apparently happy to part with his services to raise funds for the proposed signing of Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry.

Alonso came close to joining Juventus, while Arsenal were also credited with an interest in his services, but he remained on Merseyside as Villa rejected all advances from the Reds for England international Barry.

The gifted midfielder never wanted to move away from Merseyside and is happy to have remained part of Benitez's first-team plans.

Alonso told the Daily Express: "I prefer not to think too much about how I was treated. It was a new situation for me, something I had never experienced before.

"It is a fact that any player can be really happy where he is but, if the club don't want him, he has to accept it. There is not much you can do.

"It is not always easy to detach yourself from things like that, but I accept it is part of football and the main thing is it was all resolved and I am now playing regularly.

"I was really pleased that I was able to continue my Liverpool career."

Liverpool have made an impressive unbeaten start to the season and Alonso believes they have the potential to challenge for honours at home and abroad.

He added: "With the team we have got and the spirit of the fans, it could be the right time to win things.

"But I prefer not to say it very loudly. We have to be cautious about making any predictions at this stage of the season. We know there is pressure because we haven't won anything for two years - but we impose that pressure on ourselves.

"We are responsible for the successes and failures of this club and we are more than happy to take that responsibility."

Kuyt Happy To Play Team Game

For Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt, goal scoring has become a hit-and-miss situation - hit in the Champions League, miss in the Premier League.

The Dutchman finds himself in the remarkable position of failing to score in the top flight in 26 appearances dating back to Liverpool's 3-0 win at Newcastle last November.

But in Europe, it is a totally different story. His opener in the 3-1 group-stage victory over PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday was his 10th in his last 16 Champions League ties.

Kuyt has scored 15 in 72 league games for Liverpool, and 12 in 31 cup ties.

The 28-year-old finds those figures hard to explain, but insists he does not care who scores for Liverpool as long as they win and he has been able to contribute to the team effort.

Boss Rafael Benitez consistently says the same, highlighting Kuyt's amazing work rate, which suggests the likeable Holland international will be in the thick of the action on Sunday at Eastlands against Manchester City.

It has not helped Kuyt's strike rate that he has been converted virtually to a right-sided midfielder by Benitez.

But the former Feyenoord forward said: "I scored again in Europe in midweek, and it does not matter what competition it is as far as I am concerned. That was my 10th in 16 European matches, but they are just goals to me.

"We have started well this season, we are in the top two in the Premier League and have six points in the Champions League. That is the most important thing.

"Winning games is the only thing that matters, not who scores them. But I have confidence that I will score more goals in the Premier League.

"For me, if I get an assist rather than a goal, it does not matter too much. It is still a goal."

Kuyt has slotted into his wide role with an uncomplaining attitude, saying: "I like it there. It allows me to make goals and to score them too.

"It is more important for me to play as part of the team. It does not matter what position that is, as a striker or on the right.

"If Rafa asked me to play full-back that would not be a problem, it is his decision. But I'm not sure how well I would do there, though!

"But I would do whatever he asks because you are a professional and all you can do is get on with it."

His hard-working style means Benitez uses that attribute in a role that sometimes sees Kuyt playing outside the box. He continued: "My goals target has changed a little because you do not get as many chances playing in the role I have now.

"You have other jobs to do when you are out on the right, goals are not the main target for me this season, it is honours that I want."

And he has no intention of leaving, despite transfer window speculation of interest from Hamburg. Benitez said of that: "Maybe in 10 years."

Kuyt added: "When you play for Liverpool it is impossible to find a better club anywhere in the world."

Which brings Kuyt onto Manchester City, and some wild, initial, suggestions from their new Arab owners that the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard were on their wish-list.

Kuyt commented on that: "I don't think any players from Liverpool would want to join Manchester City because Liverpool is a much bigger club. It won't be easy for City if they try to sign really big players.

"It's possible, but if you want the ones who are already playing for the big clubs, that's the difficult thing."

Alonso Keeping Quiet On Title Talk

Xabi Alonso is refusing to get carried away by Liverpool's impressive start to the season and says he is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

Rafa Benitez's men have yet to taste defeat this season and could go top of the league with victory at Manchester City on Sunday should other results go their way.

Liverpool cruised to a 3-1 midweek victory over PSV in the Champions League at Anfield, while they have also beaten Manchester United and Everton in recent weeks.

And although Alonso reckons the Reds can launch a title challenge, he is remaining cautious ahead of the clash against Mark Hughes' City side.

"With the team we have got and the spirit of the fans, it could be the right time to win things," he told the Daily Express.

"But I prefer not to say it very loudly. We have to be cautious about making any predictions at this stage of the season. We know there is pressure because we haven't won anything for two years - but we impose that pressure on ourselves.

"We are responsible for the successes and failures of this club and we are more than happy to take that responsibility."

U18s Rally To Claim Fifth Straight Win

Liverpool under-18s fought back from two goals down to snatch a deserved 4-2 victory in a pulsating clash with Wolves at the Academy.

The Reds had gone into the match hoping to extend their winning streak to five matches but that looked like being an almost impossible target when the visitors raced into a 2-0 lead after just 16 minutes.

However, Hughie McAuley's men rallied and they were level by the half hour mark courtesy of goals from Lauri Dalla Valle and Astrit Ajdarevic.

The Reds then looked the more likely side to win it throughout a tense second period and they eventually got the goal they deserved seven minutes from time courtesy of substitute James Ellison's wonderful 25 yard drive.

Marvin Pourie then rubbed salt in the away side's wounds with a stoppage time fourth.

It was a devastating blow for Wolves who made a bright start to the proceedings and could have taken the lead as early as the first minute when James Davis fired a warning shot from 20 yards just over Martin Hansen's crossbar.

It served as a taster for what was to follow for much of the first-half as the Reds struggled to come to terms with the away side's counter-attacking style.

The home side were lacking their usual rhythm and they had barely had time to settle into the contest when they found themselves behind after just four minutes.

Wolves were awarded a corner on the right hand side and when the Liverpool defence failed to pick up Jamie Reckford on the edge of the penalty area, the defender duly punished them by nodding the ball into the six yard box for Michael Wardle to drill the ball through Hansen's legs.

It was a shock to the system for the hosts who had gone into the clash in buoyant mood on the back of series of impressive performances. But in the early stages they were always second best and it came as no surprise when the away side doubled their advantage on 16 minutes when Sam Winnall smashed a superb 25 yarder beyond the despairing dive of Hansen.

At this point it looked like the visitors would run away with it and had Kyle Bennett steered his effort two inches lower he would have been celebrating their third on 22 minutes.

However, the winger was instead left to curse a miss of the season contender after Hansen's inability to deal with a corner from the right saw him crash the ball off the crossbar from all of two yards.

It was the let off that seemed to spark Liverpool into life and two minutes later they were back in it courtesy of another Lauri Dalla Valle strike.

The 17-year-old signed pro forms with the club last week and marked the occasion in style with another fine finish from just inside the area.

It was a goal that changed the entire complexion of the game and the hosts inevitably poured forward before drawing level on the half hour mark.

A Wolves corner was flicked into the path of Tom Ince, who quickly found Dalla Valle on the left as Liverpool looked to play the visitors at their own game with a swift counter-attack.

The Finnish striker moved purposefully towards goal before cutting inside and teeing up Astrit Ajdarevic who thundered home a trademark effort to cap a remarkable six minute turnaround and send Liverpool in level at the break.

Both sides made an attempt to tighten up at the back following the interval and it wasn't until the 55th minute that the first real chance of any note fell Liverpool's way, but David Amoo's powerful cross-shot flew inches wide of the far post.

Substitute James Ellison then had a deflected header tipped over the bar by Richard Woolley, before finally getting the better of the Wolves stopper with a sensational strike that flew into the top corner on 83 minutes.

Wolves tried to respond but in doing so left space at the back and Pourie pounced in injury-time to make sure of the three points.

Liverpool under 18s: Hansen, Scott, Buchtmann, Metcalf, Kennedy, Ajdarevic, Amoo, Roberts (O'Connor 79), Dalla Valle, Pourie, Ince (Ellison 65). Unused subs: Duyan.

Gerrard Will Never Leave Liverpool, Says Benitez

Rafael Benitez has told Steven Gerrard he can score 20 goals a season for the next five years to double his current century of goals for Liverpool.

The Anfield boss, who has ruled out any thought from Manchester City that Gerrard would ever consider moving there despite their new-found wealth, has big plans himself for his skipper's future.

Gerrard scored his 100th for the club in Wednesday's Champions League win over PSV Eindhoven.

And he will lead unbeaten Liverpool tomorrow against the club now dubbed the richest in the world since their takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group, whose new owners claim they want to sign the 28 year-old.

And Benitez says: 'Steven is young still, he has to score maybe 20 goals a season for five years, but he can do it.

'If he has no injuries he can do it. He is more mature now, he knows what to do on the pitch, he can score at that level.

'He is enjoying his football now at his age. The quality that he had is really improving.

'I rate Gerrard amongst the very best offensive midfielder in the world, maybe there are only four or five players in his role in the world who are as good.

'The key is that he wants to stay here, that is the most important thing. It is not a question of money.

'He has a commitment with the club and the fans, and as a local lad he would prefer to stay here.

'This is his club. He is a key player for us and he is happy here. We are improving every year and he knows that we can win trophies. That is the most important thing.

'You never know about other players, they are professionals and this is football. But Gerrard is playing well and if we are improving he will be very, very happy here.'

Liverpool have Javier Mascherano back in contention to start, having been rested against PSV.