Saturday, October 18, 2008

Betting Recommendation: LiverpooL vs. Wigan Athletic

There are a couple of reasons to be wary of steaming into Liverpool at short odds in this one.

Firstly, Steve Bruce seems to hold the Indian sign over Rafa Benitez and has never lost a Premier League game to the Spaniard.

It took on an even more personal nature last year when Bruce managed to engineer draws with two separate clubs at Anfield.

First his Birmingham side drew 0-0 there before, after parting company with the Blues and taking charge of Wigan, Bruce guided the Latics to a 1-1 draw after a late equaliser from the unlikely figure of Titus Bramble.

The other question mark over Liverpool is that Stoke managed to hold out for a goalless draw at Anfield, fuelling the belief that the Reds have trouble putting away lesser opposition in the early months of the season.

The final warning sign for Liverpool backers is quite simply that Wigan are no mugs.

Since losing at Upton Park on opening day they're unbeaten on the road and that includes clean sheets at Hull and Spurs.

Having said all that, Liverpool aren't second in the table for nothing and should win but there are enough question marks to stop us taking a short price.

Verdict: Liverpool 1 Wigan Athletic 0

Heskey 'Would Love' Return To Anfield

Wigan Athletic and England forward Emile Heskey has admitted he would love to play for Liverpool again.

The powerful striker had a spell at Anfield after signing for the Merseyside giants from Leicester City and yesterday admitted he was targeting a return to a Champions League club.

And after being linked with a return to Liverpool today, Heskey, who was capped for the fiftieth time on Wednesday, stated it would be lovely to re-join the club he made 100 appearances for.

“A move to Liverpool would be lovely. Who knows what will come around,” he told BBC Radio Five Live.

“Everyone wants to play in Europe at the highest level.”

Heskey continued: “Everyone knows that I’m in the last year of my contract so speculation is bound to happen. You just have to take it with a pinch of salt and carry on playing.

"I am just going to keep my options open and give my all for Wigan. In my position I can afford to do that. I've been putting in some good performances and people appreciate that."

Heskey has impressed since being re-called to the England side, helping Fabio Capello’s men to record four straight World Cup qualifying victories.

Goal Burden On Keane's Shoulders

With the news that Fernando Torres will be out for the next two to three games, Rafa Benitez has called on Robbie Keane to be the main source of Liverpool goals.

Fernando Torres was inconsolable after limping off during Spain's midweek win over Belgium as it meant he would be unavailable for the Champions League fixture against his former club Atletico Madrid.

El Nino will be out of action for between 10 and 15 days as a consequence of that hamstring tear and Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has called on Republic of Ireland international Robbie Keane to be the main source of Reds goals from now on.

"When we signed Robbie we were looking for a striker with experience in the Premier League, someone with quality who could score goals," Benitez told the club's official website.

"That is why we signed him, so hopefully now with him being on fire with the national team this will be an opportunity for him."

"It's important for the players when they go away to play well, and when they score goals it's great for their confidence. It's very good," he added.

A two week layoff would mean that Torres would be unavailable for the Premier League games against Wigan Athletic; Chelsea, and Portsmouth, together with the Atletico fixture.

"The Portsmouth game could be a realistic target but it always depends on the player with injuries. It's now a question of time," Benitez explained.

Ryan Babel sustained an ankle knock while away with the Netherlands, and Rafa added: "I think he will be out this weekend, but hopefully he'll be training with the team next week."

Benitez: Concentration Is Key

Rafa Benitez hopes that the international break has not disrupted Liverpool's rhythm, and has stressed extra concentration from his side in their upcoming Premier League ties.

Liverpool host fellow North West club Wigan Athletic on Saturday after the majority of the squad spent two weeks away with their respective nations for the World Cup qualifiers.

Rafa Benitez believes that if the club are to maintain their unbeaten and respectable start to the new edition of the Premier League then the Reds will need to stay focussed on the field of play.

"We must concentrate in this game and that is it," Benitez told the club's official website. "It's important to think about the next three points and see what happens from there."

"These games after the international break are always very dangerous and everybody knows we have to win. We know that we are at the top of the table and in a good position, and we want to stay there. But we must concentrate and take it one game at a time because if you talk about the other games in the future then you will lose your concentration."

"We know that Wigan are playing well at the moment," he continued. "They are physically strong, but they are also playing good football, so as always in the Premier League, we know it will be a tough match."

"At the moment I believe we have enough quality to match Wigan, and we will think about the other games after that," Rafa concluded.

Benitez Praises Gerrard As He Reaches Milestone

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has heaped praise on midfielder Steven Gerrard as he prepared to make his 450th appearance for the club.

This weekend also marks Gerrard’s fifth anniversary since being made the Anfield club’s permanent captain and comes after an excellent international performance against Belarus on Wednesday.

Benitez said the performance reminded fans just how good Gerrard is and felt it highlighted the midfielder’s ability to play in different positions.

"Steven is a very good player, regardless of the position he is used in. Now he is not only playing well for us but also his country,” Benitez told the Daily Mirror.

"That is good news for England and good news for us. He has been played in different roles in the past, maybe he will do that in the future,” added the Spaniard.

"But he can manage with things like this. Fabio Capello has the same ideas as me as we both know Steven can do well in different positions.

"Maybe it is as a central midfielder, or elsewhere, but we both know he will do it and do it well.”

The former Valencia boss continued: "We have been talking about Gerrard's best position for three years. But everyone knows he is a good player, where he plays does not matter.

"He can now clearly have a free role. That depends on team-mates around him, and maybe if he has freedom there has to be someone doing more defensive duties.”

"That can be good. But the key is that he is playing well for us and England as well," added Benitez.

JOHN ALDRIDGE: Robbie Keane Capable Of Filling Lead Striking Role At Liverpool FC

THE loss of Fernando Torres for a fortnight due to a hamstring injury is a massive blow for the Reds but they can’t afford to dwell on that setback.

It’s the third time the striker has been injured on international duty in the past year and it’s especially infuriating as he’s going to miss the trip to Stamford Bridge next Sunday.

With his goals against Everton and Manchester City he looked like he was getting back to his best and he is obviously absolutely crucial to the club’s hopes of maintaining a title challenge.

However, the Reds have proved they can win without him before and now they have to do so again.

When Torres limped off against Aston Villa last month it was all doom and gloom because we all knew he would miss the game against Manchester United.

But despite no Torres or Gerrard, the other lads rose to the challenge that day and got a vital three points.

We need to show that same kind of spirit against Wigan today, in Madrid on Wednesday and at Chelsea next Sunday.

It will be very interesting to see how Rafa goes about setting the side up in Torres’ absence.

He could push Dirk Kuyt further forward into a central striking role but I think he might go for Robbie Keane up front on his own with Steven Gerrard playing just behind him.

Robbie has led the line on his own many times before and he’s got all the necessary qualities.

His confidence will also be sky high after following up his first strike for the Reds with a goal for Ireland in midweek.

While Torres is out, it’s a great chance for Keane to grab centre stage and continue the form he has shown in recent weeks.

His contribution to this Liverpool side has never been questioned but hopefully now the goals will flow.

It won’t be easy today because Wigan are a tricky team.

Steve Bruce has got them very well organised and has made some astute signings.

Emile Heskey and Amr Zaki picked up knocks in midweek but if they play Wigan have the firepower to cause us problems.

But today it’s all about what Liverpool do. And having beaten Manchester United and Everton and then pulled off that amazing comeback win at Manchester City, the Reds must ensure they don’t waste this great start to the season.

IT was an ugly win but three points was all that mattered for Ireland on Wednesday.

After Robbie Keane nodded home early on I think everyone was expecting us to go on and win comfortably. But Cyprus came right back into it and in the end we had to really scrap it out.

It was great to see Damien Duff back to his best, while Kevin Doyle and Keane posed a real threat up front and Richard Dunne was Jamie Carragher-like at the back.

With seven points out of nine so far this Irish side has got a bit of respect back.

There’s a long way to go but World Cup qualification is certainly a very realistic ambition.

Steve Bruce Warns Emile Heskey: Liverpool Move Would Wreck Your England World Cup Hopes

Steve Bruce has warned wanted man Emile Heskey that signing for Liverpool would wreck his England World Cup chances.

Wigan manager Bruce is keen to keep his international striker and told him that leaving to return to the Kop could kill off his hopes of a sensational swan-song with Fabio Capello’s men in South Africa.

Heskey’s displays for The Latics and England have made him a wanted man – but Bruce reckons he puts that all at risk by moving.

With Heskey’s contract up at the end of the season – and his admission last night that a return to Liverpool would be ‘lovely’ – Bruce knows he has a battle to hold on to him.

He said: “We’ve not given up hope of keeping Emile. He is playing week-in and week-out and we play to his strengths.

“If Emile goes to Liverpool is he going to play week-in and week-out?

“The big thing Emile will have on his mind is to be in condition in 18 months to go to the World Cup. Why not stay here and do that?”

Heskey said: “When you are performing well, speculation will come around. A move to Liverpool would be lovely. Who knows what will happen?”

Benítez Calls For Torres Injuries With Spain To Be Analysed

Rafael Benítez is to ask his former Real Madrid mentor, Vicente Del Bosque, to reassess Fernando Torres' training methods with Spain following the Liverpool striker's latest hamstring injury while on international duty.

Torres will miss today's visit of Wigan Athletic to Anfield, Wednesday's emotive Champions League return to his former club, Atlético Madrid, and probably next Sunday's trip to Chelsea after lasting only 16 minutes of Spain's midweek World Cup qualifying win over Belgium. Liverpool's record signing has suffered three hamstring strains with Spain since he moved to Anfield and only one during that time for his club.

While Benítez has absolved Del Bosque, the Spanish national coach, of any blame for Torres' international injury record, he believes his compatriots must pinpoint the source of the discrepancy. The Liverpool manager said: "There is a new manager with a new fitness coach [with Spain]. They were asking Torres before the game how he felt and he told them, 'Better than ever', so I cannot blame them."

Benítez admitted the loss of Torres, Martin Skrtel, who suffered a cruciate injury against Manchester City, plus the international break, has left him "worried" about today's encounter but he refused to discuss reports linking him with a January move for the Wigan striker and Anfield old boy Emile Heskey.