Monday, October 20, 2008

Dirk Kuyt: Liverpool FC Will Get 19th Title

DIRK KUYT reckons Liverpool “have what it takes” to end the club’s 19-year title wait.

The Reds have made their best ever start to a season since football’s top flight was re-branded.

With Rafael Benitez having been unable to mount a serious championship challenge since arriving from Valencia in 2004 and Manchester United now just one title shy of Liverpool’s all-time record of 18 wins, everyone at Anfield is determined to secure a first Premier League crown this season.

Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Wigan Athletic at Anfield, in which Kuyt scored an 85th-minute winner, saw Liverpool come from behind to claim three points and ensure they stay joint top with next Sunday’s opponents Chelsea.

Benitez, whose side had to come back twice after Wigan’s Amr Zaki netted a brace, said: “We showed plenty to pull it out of the fire like that.

“In a way, it showed how far we have come since last season.

“We have improved massively, and you can be sure we would only have drawn or maybe even lost a game like this 12 months ago.

“We passed a test with this win. We took another step forward by pulling it round and taking the points, despite not being at our best.

“We don't want to have to dig deep like that too often, but I don't think we will. No-one can say we haven't turned it on at times this season, but now we've shown we have what it takes when questions are asked of us.”

Two-goal Dirk Kuyt said: “I didn't feel any added pressure stepping in for Fernando up front. He was always going to be a big loss, but when the boss turned to me and asked me to fill in, I was more than pleased.

“People go on about my role in the team, but I can honestly say it doesn't concern me. All I am bothered about is playing and contributing, and I feel I have been doing both this season.

“It is important for the team to have Fernando back as soon as possible, and if that means a return to the right flank for me, I won't be complaining.

“Wherever the manager needs me to play, I'll be there, giving it my best. I don't see this as a chance to stake a claim for a place up front alongside him when he is fit. That has never crossed my mind.

“I have enjoyed my time on the right and feel I have contributed with a few goals and few assists. Honestly, it would be fine either way for me.”

Liverpool’s other goalscorer Albert Riera said: “The great thing about wins like this, and the one against Man City, is it demonstrates how good we are at reacting to adversity. That is so important and is the message that comes across loud and clear.

“We would love to win more comfortably and be in charge from the first minute, but it doesn't always go like that.”

He added: “Other teams lift their game against us, because we are up at the top, and we have to respond. We just don't know when we are beaten, and that is a quality that was apparent to me the moment I arrived here.”

Carra: Our team Spirit Is The Key

Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool's ability to mount second-half fightbacks has a lot to with the great team spirit in the dressing room.

The Reds have come from behind to record victories over Middlesbrough, Manchester United, Marseille, Manchester City and Wigan Athletic so far this season, and Carragher revealed the team are always confident of snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat.

"We were always confident about turning things around against Wigan because we've done it a few times this season now," Carragher told

"There's a really good team spirit at the moment and that makes a big difference. The crowd were right behind us as well, so we knew we had enough to get the three points."

But the vice-captain admitted Liverpool should not have to come back in many more matches this season and warned against leaving it too late in future.

"It's not something you want to be doing in every game of the season because eventually you're going to come unstuck," added Carragher.

"We were disappointed that we put ourselves in that position in the first place, but you've got to look at the positives and the strength of character we showed to come back and win the game.

"You're going to need a lot of character to challenge for the league title over the next few months.

"We know we're a good side but only time will tell if we're good enough to go on and win the title. At this stage we're just happy that we're up there and challenging

"The most important thing is to get the points on the board as soon as possible and that's what we're trying to do at the moment."

Rafa: Everybody Loves Amr

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has hinted at a potential move for Amr Zaki as interest in the Wigan Athletic striker continues to grow.

Zaki has been an undisputed hit since arriving in England during the summer on a season-long loan from Zamalek.

The 25-year-old currently leads the Premier League goalscoring charts with seven strikes from eight appearances, and his stock is rising rapidly.

Manchester City are reported to have already kicked off negotiations for Zaki, while a host of other clubs have also been tentatively linked with the Egyptian international.

Liverpool are the latest entrants into the race, having witnessed first-hand the former Lokomotiv Moscow man's talents as he bagged a brace at Anfield on Saturday.

"Everybody will be checking his situation now," Benítez said in The Times.

Wigan are eager to sign Zaki permanently for a pre-agreed fee of £3million at the end of the season, but Zamalek are likely to scrap that deal if a significantly higher bid comes in.

Benitez Rejected Aguero

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has admitted that he turned down the chance to sign Sergio Aguero.

Benitez has revealed that The Reds were offered the chance to sign Aguero in 2006 when he was 17.

However, the Spanish coach thought he was too young and did not want to pay what his club, at the time, Independiente were wanting.

Atletico did pay around £14million and now just two years on he is regarded as one of the best players in world football.

Benitez will face Aguero on Wednesday when The Reds travel to Madrid for their UEFA Champions League clash.

"Two years ago the agents were talking with us about players and he was one of those but he was too young," Benitez told The Times.

"Atletico paid big money for him, around 18million euros [about £14million] for a player who was a risk.

"In the Premier League it's different and sometimes players will need more time here to improve."

Another player who will come face-to-face with Benitez is Florent Sinama-Pongolle - who departed Anfield after he failed to impress during a three-year stay on Merseyside.

The Frenchman is now producing some good form and Benitez admits he was only sold because he had too many forwards.

"We had a lot of confidence in him, we knew that he's a good player but he needed to play games," Benitez said.

"We had Crouch, we were bringing in Torres, it was a question of space."

Gerrard And Torres Up For European Footballer Honour

FERNANDO TORRES and Steven Gerrard have both been shortlisted for this year’s European Footballer of the Year award.

The Liverpool pair are among 11 Barclays Premier League players still in the running for the Ballon d’Or after the list was condensed from 50 to 30 by France Football magazine.

Torres is among the favourites after netting 33 goals in his first season at Anfield and also scoring the winner for Spain in the Euro 2008 final against Germany in Austria this summer.

Liverpool captain Gerrard has continued to excel for Rafael Benitez’s side and was a driving force in their run to a third Champions League semi-final in the last three years in April.

Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo has been tipped to take the award on December 2 with Barcelona and Argentina talisman Lionel Messi and 2007 winner, Brazilian Kaka of AC Milan, also in contention.

Gerrard’s fellow England internationals Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard have been shortlisted, with Michael Ballack and Didier Drogba (both Chelsea), Edwin van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic (both Manchester United) and Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal) are the other Premier League stars included.

Spain are represented by seven players after winning Euro 2008 in the summer – Torres and Fabregas being joined by team-mates Marcos Senna, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, David Villa and Xavi in the list.

Only three Serie A players have been nominated – Kaka, Inter Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon – with Spain’s La Liga matching the Premier League with 11 nominees.

The other players shortlisted are former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, fellow Dutchman Rafael van der Vaart and Pepe (all Real Madrid), Samuel Eto’o (Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid), Franck Ribery and Luca Toni (both Bayern Munich), Andrei Arshavin (Zenit St Petersburg), Yuri Zhirkov (CSKA Moscow) and Karim Benzema (Lyon).

Kuyt Up Front About Role

Dirk Kuyt is willing to continue to lead the line for Liverpool in Fernando Torres' absence.

Prolific goalscorer Torres is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury that he sustained while on international duty with Spain.

Kuyt, often deployed on the right-hand side of midfield, slotted in as a striker against Wigan Athletic on Saturday and netted a vital double as the Reds claimed a 3-2 win.

The Dutchman is hopeful Torres will soon return to action but is happy to ply his trade in the striking role as Liverpool prepare for crunch clashes against Atletico Madrid and Chelsea.

He said: "Fernando is very important for us and it was a big blow that he wasn't on the pitch. But I tried to do my job when the boss put me up front, I just intended on scoring goals for the team.

"It does not concern me what position I play, I have enjoyed being played on the right, and I just want to be important for the team.

"I just hope Fernando is back quickly, but whenever the boss wants me up front, I will be ready.

"I do not think of where I play when Fernando is back. I feel I have been important on the right, scoring goals and with a few assists.

"The most joy for me is that we are winning more games and are at the top of the table."

Rafa Benitez: Contract Talks Won't Impact Liverpool

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has admitted he is yet to hold talks regarding a new contract at Anfield.

Benitez has spent over four years in the job and has 18 months to run on his current deal with Liverpool.

But Liverpool's American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks have yet to open negotiations regarding an extension.

Reports have suggested that a delay in beginning talks with Benitez could lead to an exodus of several key players from Liverpool.

Former Valencia coach Benitez confirmed there have been no discussions, but he insists it will not affect his focus on the job in hand.

"I will not allow the situation to disturb my concentration because we have a lot of very important games coming up," said Benitez in The People.

"But I have not heard anything about a new contract."

Is Daniel Agger The New Alan Hansen For Liverpool?

WHAT did Agger ‘do do’ that for?

Didn’t he do well to make up for it, though?

On both counts, he was Hansen-esque. The great one was also prone to the odd lapse of concentration, as well as being Scotland’s answer to Franz Beckenbauer going forward.

In truth, we were put in trouble by a gift goal and a freak one, and managed to get out of it. Twice, without Torres, and no Roy of the Rovers stuff from Steven Gerrard – and a well-deserved brace from Dirk Kuyt to boot.

I regard all these as positives. The question is, though, how many times can we go to this particular well?

The extreme pressure we’re under is thrown into sharp relief by events at The Riverside.

Although like most of us I’m still hoping our uneven struggle may be brought to an end by the Dubai 7th Cavalry, I now hear that they may even be switching their attentions to the other side of Stanley Park!

Penny for Rick Parry’s thoughts. Which is a penny more than there should be in his pay-packet.

Regarding the game, I reckon too much is being made of this being a lucky win, influenced by the sending-off. One has to ask, how much time was left when Valencia got his marching orders? Not much, I think.

It’s not as if we got a penalty we didn’t deserve.

Anyway, it goes some way to evening up the perfectly good goal we had scratched off against Stoke, which would probably have opened the floodgates.

Steve Bruce, looking like a butch version of Stephen Fry, may have been apoplectic, but he could try reflecting on the good fortune he’s had against us over the last few years.

Big Steve may be sick of hearing of this Heskey thing fairly soon, too. Not sure this is really a good idea. Why not bring back Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Bruno Cheyrou while we’re at it? In truth, Houllier’s heroes were not all that heroic. Let’s give the rewind button a rest for a while.

Now, Zaki, that’s a different Wigan meat pie. At the reputed £6million, he may look a touch more appetizing than Robbie Keane at £20m.

Jamie Carragher Celebrates First Birthday Of His Restaurant

LIVERPOOL FC star Jamie Carragher was joined by family and friends last night to celebrate the first anniversary of his city centre restaurant.

Hundreds of people partied at Cafe Sports England including Olympians; boxer and Liverpool fan David Price and gymnast Beth Tweddle. Carragher was joined by his family, including wife Nicola and children James, five, and four- year-old Mia.

In its first 12 months the popular venue on Stanley Street has gone from strength to strength and expansion plans are well underway.

Liverpool businessman Paul Flanagan – whose Flanagan Group co-owns the venture with Carragher - said it had proved a successful partnership.

He said: "The last year has been great, the business has gone from success to success and we are opening Cafe Sports Express in Liverpool One next month.

"This cafe attracts Liverpool and Everton fans and Jamie’s no- nonsense approach and our dedication to create a family atmosphere that’s welcoming to kids has worked."

Carragher has spent the past year using the cafe bar and his footballing status to campaign against childhood obesity and promote healthy eating among youngsters. Last night he presented a cheque for £5,000 worth of Adidas sports equipment to the first winning school from a healthy smoothie voucher competition.

Ursuline School Catholic School in Crosby exchanged the greatest amount of smoothie vouchers with every meal purchased to win the proceeds of a memorabilia auction.

Carragher sold his first item, a signed, framed shirt from his 500th Liverpool appearance for £5,000.

He said: "It’s great to have so many of my friends and family here with their kids, and it’s a place they can come and enjoy themselves.

"I wanted to open a pub initially but I wanted to do something a bit different and I think we’ve achieved that."