Saturday, October 25, 2008

Keane Could Miss Chlesea Match

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has confirmed that both Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso have won their respective fitness race in time for the top-of-the-table clash against Chelsea on Sunday, but expressed uncertainty about the status of Robbie Keane.

"Xabi and Steven both trained today and should be okay," he said on Friday. "It wasn't a hard session but I am confident they can play at Chelsea.

"We're still not sure about Robbie. He didn't train today and we will have to see how he is tomorrow. We will make a late decision."

The loss of Keane would be particularly be a big blow as the Reds will definitely be making the trip to Stamford Bridge without star striker Fernando Torres, as confirmed by Benitez.

"Fernando won't be involved. He is recovering well and should be fit again soon, but we have to be careful with the player," he was quoted as saying by Sky Sports News.

Liverpool travel to Stamford Bridge for the big one on Sunday buoyed by yet another comeback win last weekend, but also conscious of their poor record away to their tittle rivals under Benitez.

Rafa Benitez Insists: Liverpool Can Cope Without Fernando Torres

RAFAEL BENITEZ believes Liverpool have the squad to cope without Fernando Torres and banish their Stamford Bridge hoodoo tomorrow.

The only two remaining unbeaten records in the Premier League go on the line as leaders Chelsea entertain the Spaniard’s second-placed side.

Benitez is confident Robbie Keane will overcome a minor groin strain to lead an attack that will be missing Torres, who is again sidelined with a groin problem.

Liverpool have not won in 10 games at Stamford Bridge under Benitez and have gained only one victory in their last 24 visits, a sequence stretching back to 1990.

But with Keane finding the net against Atletico Madrid in midweek and Dirk Kuyt having scored four times in his last three starts, Benitez reckons his team have the firepower to end Chelsea’s 86-game unbeaten home run.

“I think we can beat them without Torres,” said the Liverpool manager. “We have been playing well and we have enough quality in the squad.

“I think it will be important for the squad to show that the team can do things without Torres. We showed this against United and that was very positive. If we want to be contenders it depends on the whole squad and not just one player.

“Keane is scoring now in the Champions League now so hopefully he can start in the Premier League. Kuyt has already started, and that is a positive. We know Torres is a key player for us, but we have enough quality in the squad.”

Liverpool beat Manchester United last month with Torres on the bench, and Benitez added: “We have new players with a good mentality and we have a lot of confidence. I think we have enough to beat a very good team like Chelsea.

“We have the confidence for beating anyone. “We will go to Stamford Bridge and try and win, but if we cannot we must not lose.

“It will be a good problem for me if I have to try and play down expectations.

“If you want to have a chance at the end you have to beat the top sides,” said.

“To beat the other teams is important as you get the points, but the games against the top sides can make the difference.

“The difference at the top can be just one point, so it’s important to beat these teams.”

If Liverpool avoid defeat tomorrow, they will have achieved their best start to a Premier League campaign.

Benitez has admired the impact Luiz Felipe Scolari has made since arriving at Chelsea but refused to be drawn into criticising former sparring partner Jose Mourinho.

“Scolari is improving the squad and team,” said the Liverpool manager.

“It is more or less the same idea but they are more offensive than before.

“I think they are a good team. I don’t want say they are better (than under Mourinho) because I don’t want to start a war of words, but they are more offensive, that is clear.

“Always you want to win against your rivals, our record is something we can change on Sunday.

“You have to leave the fans to enjoy the situation. But the responsibility is to keep things realistic and to make sure the fans are aware it will be difficult to win the title as there are a lot of good teams in England, particularly the top three.”

Kuyt and Fabio Aurelio could return to the starting line-up at the expense of Yossi Benayoun and Andrea Dossena.

George Gillett Promises Rafa Benitez New Contract

Benitez remains confident his contract situation will be resolved after receiving backing from George Gillett this week.

The American attended the midweek Champions League game at Atletico Madrid and, although Benitez did not meet the co-owner, he revealed contact was indirectly made.

“I have had some contact and some messages, saying congratulations, you are doing a fantastic job,” said the Spaniard.

“I am thinking about games and do my job as well as I can. But I think the contract will get sorted, yes."

Chelsea Won't Intimidate Liverpool

Liverpool forward Robbie Keane has warned Chelsea that the Reds will not be intimidated by the home side's record at Stamford Bridge.

Sunday's top of the table showdown at Stamford Bridge is arguably the fixture of the weekend as Liverpool look to spoil Chelsea's home record, and summer signing Robbie Keane has said that his side will not be intimidated by their opponents.

"We know it won’t be easy and Chelsea have made a good start, but that doesn’t mean we will be intimidated by them," Keane told the club's official website.

"It will be tough on Sunday, because they are doing well and haven’t been beaten for so long at home.

"But the way I look at it, records are there to be broken. We are doing well too and have to be confident we can go there and get a result," he concluded.

Rafa Looks To Take It To The Bridge

Rafael Benitez admires the attacking style that Luiz Felipe Scolari has introduced at Chelsea but still believes Liverpool can win in London.

The Anfield boss will be trying to mastermind the end of Chelsea's four-year, 86-game unbeaten home league record when the Premier League's top two clash at Stamford Bridge.

But Liverpool will have to do it without Fernando Torres, who has failed to recover from a hamstring injury.

Benitez said: "Robbie Keane has a groin strain, we are not sure about him yet, but we will have to wait until nearer the match before we decide.

"(Steven) Gerrard and (Xabi) Alonso will be fit, but Torres will not be available. He may be ready for next week, but for now there is no chance.

"We do not have Torres, but I believe we have the fire-power to beat Chelsea. We have been playing well and have good confidence.

"We have enough quality in the squad. We may have been more worried without Torres in the past, but we have improved, we have new players with a very good mentality.

"We have enough to beat a very good team, and that is what Chelsea are. It is too early to talk of titles, but we have the confidence to beat anyone.

"So we will go to Stamford Bridge and try to do our best. If we win it will be perfect and if we do not lose that too will be positive."

Benitez goes to Stamford Bridge without the added pressures caused by the now infamous war of words with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho that marred previous encounters.

The Portuguese coach dominated Benitez in league matches, while Liverpool achieved notable victories in the FA Cup and Champions League.

Now, it seems, Benitez senses a more cordial welcome.

He would not go as far as to say Chelsea were better under Scolari, but he got very close.

"With Avram Grant the team was at the same level as with Mourinho, but maybe more offensive," Benitez said.

"And that is now the same with Scolari. He is improving the team and the squad, so it will be just as difficult. But we are playing against the team, not the manager.

"But maybe Chelsea are now more offensive. That just makes it more difficult because they have such good players.

"Chelsea are a very good team. I would not want to say better than under Mourinho because I do not want to start any war of words, but it is clear that they are more offensive.

"They have a more offensive mentality, a very good team with a good attacking policy.

"This game may be more open than previous ones between the clubs. Clearly they have a stronger attacking mentality. They will go forward, they score goals, and we will have a much more attacking match.

"They have quality all around. They have full-backs who go forward, good wide men and attacking players, they are a very good side. They do not have too many weaknesses, but if we can win it will be a real boost."

Rafael Benitez Cool On Premier League Title Talk Ahead Of Chelsea Clash

If Rafael Benitez wanted to play down his side’s chances of winning the championship, he should have picked somewhere other than Liverpool to manage.

This is a city where talk of a title has become almost a lost language and where any hint that Liverpool might regain a championship that a generation ago belonged to Merseyside almost by right is seized upon and pored over.

Last season, in a cry of despair and frustration, Steven Gerrard said he was sick of making optimistic predictions about Liverpool’s Premier League ambitions, only to see them ground into the dust by October. Well, October is here and Liverpool are matching Chelsea punch for punch.

After eight games they are two points better off than they were in the 1989-90 campaign, which finished with Anfield’s 18th and last title, although to listen to the Liverpool manager, you would hardly think so.

“It is clear that you have to allow the fans to enjoy the situation,” Benitez said. “But you have a responsibility to be realistic. In football it is better not to be talked about.”

That extends to speaking about Jose Mourinho, who began the season by predicting in his Daily Telegraph column that Liverpool would win the championship and that after five years at Anfield there was no excuse for Benitez not to. Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson might make up but not these two.

The Manchester United manager thought tomorrow’s contest in London would not be decisive. Ferguson argued that Liverpool lacked the firepower for anything more than a goalless draw. Arsenal, he said, had a far greater chance of breaking Chelsea’s stranglehold at Stamford Bridge.

Nevertheless, it seems almost perverse that on a day Benitez was making his final preparations for a game that could have a critical bearing on their title ambitions, a group of Merseyside MPs were tabling a motion urging the Government to put pressure on the Royal Bank of Scotland not to extend the repayments for a £350 million loan to the club’s owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, which could only damage Liverpool in the short term.

Gillett had been at the Vicente Calderon Stadium on Wednesday night to see Liverpool toss away a dominant position against Atletico Madrid, but any conversation with Benitez was second hand – relayed through the chief executive, Rick Parry. When asked if he had received any communication about a new contract – his present deal expires in 18 months – Benitez simply shook his head and smiled.

When Benitez last won a championship, with Valencia in 2004, it was by coming from behind. The focus was all on Real Madrid in the season when their love affair with the galacticos was at its most intense. The Real manager, Carlos Queiroz, had plenty of stars but a pitifully thin squad and, game by game, the Valencia machine wore him down.

“Generally, we were eight points behind Real Madrid and we finished eight points clear, so we were never really talked about until about April,” Benitez said. “It is easier that way because people can talk too much.”

To become the first team to win at Stamford Bridge in four years would create plenty of talk and be a dramatic statement of intent, especially if it was achieved without Fernando Torres, the kind of striker Luiz Filipe Scolari simply does not possess in the home dressing-room. Nevertheless, Gerrard and Robbie Keane should both be fit while Dirk Kuyt, who until the 3-2 victory at Manchester City had not managed a league goal in 11 months, has stepped up to fill the void left by Torres.

Last month’s victory over United was a significant turning point in that it showed Liverpool could overcome their great weakness under Benitez – an inability to beat the top sides in the Premier League, which amounted almost to an inferiority complex. Had their results against Chelsea been reversed, Liverpool would have won the title in 2006.

And something else has changed. The wild rotation that confused everyone at Anfield from the stands to the dressing-room has ceased. A website called asks you to predict Benitez’s starting line-ups. Until recently the odds on winning were of National Lottery proportions. But as Benitez says: “Chelsea have used 24 players and we have used 22.” Fantasy Rafa has become a whole lot easier.

Robbie Keane Aims To Make An Impact

ROBBIE KEANE knows a thing or two about ruining Chelsea’s hopes of winning some silverware.

Twice already this year, the Republic of Ireland international has played a significant role in ensuring the efforts of the Stamford Bridge outfit went without any tangible reward.

Keane was part of the Tottenham Hotspur side that surprised their London rivals with a 2-1 victory in the Carling Cup final at Wembley in March.

Then, barely four weeks later, the striker was on hand to net a late equaliser in a remarkable 4-4 draw that went a long way to ensuring Chelsea’s championship chase of Manchester United ultimately fell short.

Keane will be looking to lodge another sizeable spanner in the works when he returns to the capital tomorrow afternoon.

But this time the Liverpool forward hopes victory will be of title-winning benefit to his own team as Rafael Benitez’s side aim to extend their unbeaten start to the season and claim only a second league win at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League era.

“My last game against Chelsea was the 4-4 draw,” says Keane. “Goals galore, it was phenomenal. It was attack versus attack and a great game to be involved in. I am sure it will go down in history as one of the great games in the Premier League.

“It was just great entertainment, great excitement. It was a bit like a schoolboy game in some ways because it just seemed like both teams were just attacking all the time. Probably wasn’t the best for defending, but for the neutrals it was a good game.

“I remember there was a long ball played forward and it came off someone’s back and luckily enough I was there. I connected with it and it went in the top corner.

“I think there were two minutes left. We could have actually nicked at right at the end – Berbatov had a chance with the last kick.

“Obviously it was a game Chelsea needed to win at the time and the result was a disappointment for them.

“It will be tough on Sunday. They are doing well and haven’t been beaten for so long at home, but the way I look it at records are there to be broken.

“We are doing well too. We have to confident we can go there and get a result.”

Keane is confident of recovering from the minor groin niggle that forced him off shortly after half-time of Liverpool’s 1-1 Champions League draw at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

The striker had given the visitors an early lead with his only second goal since a near £20million move from White Hart Lane in July.

Keane is still waiting to open his domestic account, and he says: “You don’t just settle into a club straight away. Sometimes it can take a bit of time to settle down. But I feel part of things here, I am happy and I just want to help us be successful.

“I tweaked my groin a bit in the first 20 minutes, but it was more of a precaution than anything else. Hopefully I will be okay.”

With Fernando Torres injured, Keane will be asked to lead the line as Liverpool attempt to end the most formidable home record in English football history.

Chelsea have not lost in their last 86 games at Stamford Bridge, a record that extends back to February 2004.

And Keane admits: “You know that there are no easy games in this league but this one is probably as tough as they come when you look at their home record over the last few seasons.

“We’ve just had a decent result away from home in the Champions League and we’ve got a couple of days in between to rest and train so we should go there in decent shape.

“Chelsea is a massive, massive game for us and Liverpool have done okay against them in the last couple of years so I’m sure we will go there believing that we can get a good result.

“Everyone knows that Chelsea haven’t been beaten at home for so long but records are there to be broken and our job is to make sure we give ourselves the best possible chance of doing just that.

“We know it won’t be easy and Chelsea have made a good start to the season themselves but that doesn’t mean we will be intimidated by them or anything like that.

“I think you have to be confident that you can go there and win because you can’t be going into games not confident or not believing that you can get a good result.

“Chelsea’s record is great, they have a great squad of players and we definitely respect that but if you are not confident going into a game like this one you’ve got no chance.”

Of Liverpool’s six Premier League wins, four have come after having fallen behind but Keane accepts Benitez’s side cannot afford to be so charitable tomorrow.

“We’ve certainly made hard work of our last couple of games and we definitely can’t keep doing that,” he says. “Last weekend we managed to get another good win after going behind.

“When you’re playing at home you expect to take the initiative and to take the game to them but you have to give Wigan credit because they played well and made things hard for us.

“But we ended up getting the win and we can take a lot of heart from that because it shows how much character there is in the side and how much we want to win games.

“But the more often you do that the more chance there is that you will come unstuck because games won’t always go your way after going behind.”

Liverpool Need To Be Perfect To Beat Chelsea

Rafa Benitez has warned that Liverpool will not beat Chelsea if they are not on top form.

Liverpool travel to Stamford Bridge on Sunday in a top of the table clash to take on Chelsea and Reds boss Rafa Benitez has warned that if his side play to anything less than 100 per cent of their capabilities then they will not leave London with a positive result.

Liverpool have often come from behind to sneak a win this season, but that task may prove impossible in a ground that is notorious for frustrating forwards for over 80 games and four years.

"Every manager is looking for the perfect 90 minutes... If they score first it will be really difficult for us so we have to do everything perfectly from the first whistle. When we get a chance we have to take it because we know they will have chances as well," Benitez told the club's official website.

"They have a lot of good players playing good football. They're passing the ball really well and scoring lots of goals. But we're going there with confidence, looking to work hard, play well and produce some nice football."

Hyypia Still Committed To Liverpool

Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia has declared that he is still ready to feature for the club, in spite of Rafa Benitez's continuing refusal to choose him.

The Finnish defender was delivered the ultimate snub by Benitez this season when he was omitted from the club's Champions League squad.

The 35 year-old has been one of Liverpool's best serving defenders over the past decade but has been cast into the shadows during this campaign.

The early season form of Martin Skrtel combined with the resurgence of Dan Agger has left Hyypia kicking his heels in the stands.

He admits to frustration at not being picked for the side but the former Liverpool skipper insists that he will be ready when called upon.

He told the club's official website: "I am always fit and ready to come into the side. It's very unfortunate what happened to Martin Skrtel because he was playing very well.

"Defensively it may take either Daniel [Agger)] or myself some time to get into the rhythm because we haven't played much, but hopefully it won't take too long.

"Of course all players want to play and I am no different. It can be frustrating when you train hard every day and then on a match day you are at home, in the stands or on the bench.

"That is something I have had to get used to, but I am feeling alright and waiting for my chance to play. When it comes along I want to be ready for playing well."

Anfield Legend Blasts 'Negative' Rafa

Liverpool legend Ronnie Whelan believes that the negative attitude of Rafa Benitez will continue to leave the Reds behind their traditional rivals.

Liverpool are enjoying their best ever start to a Premier League season under Rafa Benitez and go into this weekend's table-top clash against Chelsea with a real chance of ending the Pensioners' 86-game home streak without defeat.

However, an Anfield legend, Ronnie Whelan believes that the tactics favoured by Benitez will continue to hinder the side.

He compared the performances of the Reds' full-backs to those of their Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea counterparts and concluded that the Anfield side are found wanting.

Whelan believes that unless the ex-Valencia manager alters his mindset, then Liverpool's long wait for the League title will go on.

The ex-Irish international used the midweek Champions League encounter against Atl├ętico Madrid to emphasise his claim.

He told the press: “The manager’s negative vibes don’t help Liverpool, especially in the second half [against Atl├ętico on Wednesday].

"We’ve sat here many times and we’re looking for the [Liverpool] full back to get forward. If it was Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal the full back would have been flying down the wing.

“But Liverpool’s full backs are not allowed go forward, and it was killing them in the second half because so many times there was open space but they wouldn’t do it because they’re not allowed get forward.”