Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Match Preview: LiverpooL vs. Portsmouth

Wednesday night’s Premier League clash at Anfield will see two sides in very different states going head-to-head. On the one hand, Portsmouth are plagued by uncertainty following their much-publicised managerial change; on the other, Liverpool are flying after an incredible weekend win.

Xabi Alonso’s deflected strike at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon brought an end to Chelsea’s incredible run at home, halting their sequence of league games without defeat at 86. The Spanish midfielder, who nearly left the club during the summer, may also have put Liverpool on the road to a new era of domestic success.

The Reds remain unbeaten atop the league ladder with 23 points from nine games – easily their most impressive start to a campaign in the Rafael Benitez era. While most observers were sceptical of the club’s title credentials before that remarkable result in West London, even the most cynical doubters are now whispering, or at least entertaining the thought, of the Premiership trophy making its way to Merseyside for the first time.

The Liverpool camp has been very hush-hush following their win at the Bridge; seasoned veterans Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard have been almost dismissive of the result’s significance. It may be that they have seen too many false dawns during their illustrious, yet obviously unfulfilled, careers. But reading between the lines of even Gerrard’s and Carragher’s recent statements, you cannot help but sense an underlying anticipation and excitement that has not existed at Anfield since the early 1990s.

The message from Benitez and his charges has been clear: the victory over Chelsea, and the one over Manchester United last month, will mean nothing if Liverpool slip up against Portsmouth this evening.

They have had their scares this season – going behind to the likes of Wigan Athletic and Middlesbrough are rarely considered firm foundations for a title tilt. But such encounters have allowed the Reds to display their newfound ruthlessness and their ability to claim points even when playing well below par. If Sir Alex Ferguson’s championship-winning sides have proven one thing, it is that every great team needs to be both a flat-track bully and a grafter.

Hence, Wednesday’s game against Pompey will prove just as important in Liverpool’s title chase as their clash with Arsenal in December. And while they head into the fixture brimming with confidence, it is unclear exactly what mindset their opponents will be in.

The announcement that Juande Ramos had been sacked as manager of Tottenham Hotspur came as little surprise to anyone, despite the media’s insistence that he had been given until Christmas to save his job. However, the news that Harry Redknapp would take up residency at White Hart Lane shocked the football -following public.

Just months after leading Pompey to the FA Cup – their first major trophy since 1950 – and their first taste of European football, Redknapp jumped ship due to the club’s well-documented financial restraints. It is being reported that Tony Adams, the assistant manager, will be promoted to the job; if so, the former Arsenal skipper faces a stern task on his first outing in charge.

Despite suffering humiliating defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City, Pompey’s points tally reads relatively well. They sit in seventh spot, sandwiched between the two Mancunian clubs. Their last trip to Anfield ended in a comprehensive defeat, but the boys from the South Coast could be due for a bout of ‘New Manager Syndrome’.



Oct 26 vs. Chelsea (A) WIN 1-0
Oct 22 vs. Atletico Madrid (A) DRAW 1-1
Oct 18 vs. Wigan Athletic (H) WIN 3-2
Oct 5 vs. Manchester City (A) WIN 3-2
Oct 1 vs. PSV Eindhoven (H) WIN 3-1


Oct 26 vs. Fulham (H) DRAW 1-1
Oct 23 vs. Sporting Braga (A) LOSS 3-0
Oct 18 vs. Aston Villa (A) DRAW 0-0
Oct 5 vs. Stoke City (H) WIN 2-1
Oct 2 vs. Vitoria Guimaraes (A) DRAW 2-2



It was hoped Fernando Torres might be fit enough to take part this match, but the Spanish striker is expected to sit out once more as he continues to recover from a hamstring tear. Martin Skrtel and Philippe Degen are also on the injured list, but fitness concerns are otherwise few and far between for Rafael Benitez. Robbie Keane and Xabi Alonso both played against Chelsea after picking up knocks against Atletico Madrid last week, and they should be available on Wednesday.

The real dilemma for Rafa is who to play up front. Keane got the gig on Sunday, but Ryan Babel impressed after coming on as a substitute and Dirk Kuyt’s experience and reliability cannot be overlooked.

Possible XI: Reina – Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio/Dossena – Mascherano, Alonso/Lucas – Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera – Babel/Keane.


Peter Crouch is expected to start up top on his return to Anfield after leaving the Reds during the summer. Wide-men Glen Little and Glen Johnson are likely absentees as they battle injury problems, while Niko Kranjcar could return to the starting line-up. Lassana Diarra returned from suspension – and a knee injury – against Fulham at the weekend, a game in which Sol Campell was rested. Younes Kaboul might make way for the skipper, although the 5-3-2 was experimenting with could come into play.

Possible XI: James – Paramot, Campbell, Kaboul, Distin, Traore – Diarra, Bouba Diop, Kranjcar – Crouch, Defoe.



In Fernando Torres’ probable absence, Steven Gerrard will bask in the limelight after a true captain’s performance against Chelsea at the weekend. The man knows how to win games, regardless of where he is played. If Liverpool revert to the status quo and concede the lead, all eyes on the Kop will turn to Stevie G.


Two-metre Peter Crouch earned cult status during his stay on Merseyside, where he established himself as an international-quality striker despite his limited opportunities. So liked was he at Liverpool that even the most die-hard Kopite wouldn’t begrudge him a goal on his return to Anfield - as long as the end result is right, of course. Jamie Carragher might even help him out, as the centre-half reserved some particularly glowing praise for Crouch in his autobiography.

Benitez Hails Alonso

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has hailed the form of Xabi Alonso after the midfielder got the winner against Chelsea on Sunday, to fire the Reds to the top of the league.

The Spaniard struck the only goal at Stamford Bridge to inflict a first defeat on the Blues in 86 games on home soil.

But it could have all been different if he had been sold to Juventus in the summer to finance a bid for Gareth Barry from Aston Villa.

But Juventus did not match Liverpool's valuation of the player and the Reds could not prise Barry away from Villa Park, which is now giving Alonso a new lease of life at Anfield, where Portsmouth next visit on Wednesday.

Benitez said: "What happened in the summer with Alonso is just football, and you always have to try to change things.

"Maybe I will now tell half a dozen players that I may sell them, maybe they will all start to play as well as Xabi!

"It doesn't matter whether I change my mind about something or the player changes his mind. What matters is that as a manager if I have a good player, a good professional, I will use that player for the benefit of the team.

"He is our player and we will try to take the best from him."

Benitez added: "He is showing the quality we know he has. Always he is a good professional, a good player.

"Just like Peter Crouch, who we sold to Portsmouth, people must not forget that these were players I wanted to sign, and did sign. They are good players.

"We did not sell Xabi in the summer because the price was not good enough for such a talented player.

"That is simple, this is a football market, and now he is showing character and we have a very positive situation with competition for every place in the side being very high.

"Alonso and Barry are two different issues. Barry is still a very good player, a fantastic player. As is Alonso.

"Now Alonso is playing well and the team are playing well, that applies to everyone from Steven Gerrard to Daniel Agger."

Benitez Ready For Crouch Backlash

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez expects Peter Crouch to return to Anfield on Wednesday night intent on proving the decision to sell him in the summer was wrong.

Crouch left Anfield for Portsmouth because he became frustrated at spending so much time on the bench, believing it was hindering his England career.

That means Crouch, as well as new Pompey boss Tony Adams, will have extra motivation against the Premier League leaders.

Adams' appointment on Tuesday to replace new Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp adds extra spice to Wednesday night's clash.

Benitez said: "Peter is a fantastic lad, we signed him and wanted to keep him. But we couldn't - he wanted to play more. I still wish him every success and hope he scores many goals for England, but not for Portsmouth this week!

"I am sure he will come here with that extra motivation, I would be surprised if he felt any different playing again at Anfield.

"He did well here, the fans liked him, and we know he will be dangerous."

Commenting on the latest managerial changes in the top flight, he said: "I must admit I was surprised by the changes in management at Spurs and Portsmouth. I know Tony Adams as a player and have great respect for him, I wish him well in his new job. But just as with Crouch, not in this game.

"Adams has taken over a good team with fine players. I consider the situation for Liverpool to be very dangerous, because everyone now expects us to take another three points after beating Chelsea.

"But Portsmouth will have a new manager and determined players, and they have Crouch and Defoe up front, a very good partnership."

Benitez knows Liverpool must not waste the win at Chelsea on Sunday by failing to claim a victory over Pompey.

He said: "It is a crucial week for us. We are at the top for the first time and everybody is waiting for our reaction, to see whether we can handle it.

"So we must concentrate even more now. We must not slip up or lose our focus.

"We are in a fantastic position and we will try to stay there as long as we can.

"The key for me is that the team is working together, all of them helping and motivating their team-mates. That is a massive difference.

"It is good to have confidence, but there is a long way to go. I do not want to hear people saying 'we can do this or that'.

"Forget it. I want them to go out and do it.

"Keeping a lid on expectation is difficult. The fans want to see the team at the top and they badly want the title, so it is difficult to keep our people calm."

He added: "We know we have the responsibility to give the same message to everyone, the fans in particular.

"We are top, and we are pleased to be there. But we also have a clear understanding and vision about the future, and we know there are a lot more games to go.

"The team has confidence and is playing well, but we dare not allow our thoughts to stray too far beyond Portsmouth next.

"But there is a massive difference between this season and previous seasons. There is a character and quality about our team, and I cannot hide this."

Everyone Looking For A Liverpool Reaction

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has warned his side that after their wins over Manchester United and Chelsea, all teams will now be looking for a reaction.

Liverpool's Spanish boss Rafa Benitez has warned his side against complacency. The Reds have moved three points clear at the top of the table after a quarter of the season, and believes that the teams they face in the upcoming games will be looking for them to stutter.

"It's a crucial week for us because we are, for the first time, at the top of the table. Everyone is looking for our reaction," Benitez told the club's official website.

"We are playing against two tough teams with good players and we have to concentrate only on the teams and the three points - nothing else.

"Beating Manchester United and Chelsea has shown the character of the team this year. I cannot hide this but that's it - we know how difficult it is to win titles and we have to keep going. If we want to stay at the top we need to win the next game," he continued.

"The team is playing well and has confidence, but as for anything else, well we just have to prepare for games."

Liverpool are the only side in the Premier League who remain unbeaten. They host Portsmouth on Wednesday evening.

Torres Fighting To Be Fit For Atlético

Fernando Torres might have missed out on his return to the Vicente Calderón but the Spaniard is fighting to be fit to face Atlético Madrid when they come to Anfield next week.

It was the homecoming everyone had been waiting for but unfortunately it never happened as Fernando Torres saw his return to the Vicente Calderón ruined by injury.

The ex-Atlético Madrid player was ruled out of that match but he is hoping to be fit for the rematch at Anfield which takes place in a weeks time.

Liverpool recorded a splendid win over Chelsea at the weekend without the striker but they will still be keen to have him back as soon as possible with a busy fixture list approaching.

Likewise, he will be desperate to play against his former club who he is known to have a lot of affection for and wanted to play against in Madrid.

He is now training his hardest in an attempt to make that return possible after injuring himself whilst with the Spanish national side a few weeks ago.

The striker has scored five goals in six games for Liverpool this year and was a revelation last season as he scored 24 times in 29 Premiership matches.

Liverpool & Man United Eye Tottenham’s Bale?

Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp is reportedly considering selling left-back Gareth Bale with Premiership powerhouses Liverpool and Manchester United said to be interested.

The former Pompey manager is apparently looking to bringing more experience in the side and reports suggest that he is interested in Chelsea’s England international left-back Wayne Bridge.

According to The Sun, Redknapp is ready to cash in on the Wales international, who has struggled since his arrival from Southampton.

And with the attack-minded Bale only being 19-years-old, English giants United and Liverpool are apparently ready to pounce on the opportunity if Spurs make the Cardiff-born player available.

Spurs To Join Liverpool In Race For £15million Argentine International?

New Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp has reportedly identified Argentine International striker Fernando Cavenaghi at Ligue 1 club Bordeaux as a potential transfer target in the January transfer window, with Premier League rivals Liverpool also linked with a move for the former River Plate front-man, according to reports from

Redknapp is only to aware of the shortage of strikers at White Hart Lane, with new signing Roman Pavlyuchenko, Darren Bent and on loan Fraizer Campbell the only recognised forward’s at the North London club, following the departure of Dimitar Berbatov to Manchester United and Robbie Keane to Liverpool in the summer.

The former Portsmouth boss is heavily tipped to raid Pompey for England International Jermain Defoe in January, with Argentine Cavenaghi now also reportedly on the Spurs manager’s wish list.

25-year-old Cavenaghi joined Bordeaux from Russian side Spartak Moscow in January 2007 and scored 22 goals in 35 appearances for Bordeaux last season, with sources close to the French club suggesting a move to a top European side in January is likely.

Cavenaghi is understood to be valued in the region of £15million, with Redknapp in pole position ahead of counterpart Rafa Benitez to land the Striker due to the Reds boss having to sell in January before he can bring in new faces to Anfield. There will be no such financial restraints for Redknapp, who is certain to receive a huge transfer kitty in January to bolster the squad at Tottenham in the winter transfer window.

Benitez Urges Reds To Handle Pressure

RAFAEL Benitez has called on his Liverpool players to prove they are worthy Premier League leaders.

The Anfield manager, however, wants his players to grasp the opportunity at home to Portsmouth tonight to strengthen their lead at the top while trying desperately to keep the lid on the rapidly-growing expectation among the club’s supporters.

Benitez, who will again be without hamstring casualty Fernando Torres, said: “It is a crucial week for us. We are at the top for the first time and everybody is waiting for our reaction, to see whether we can we handle it.

“The key for me is that the team is working together, all of them helping and motivating their team-mates. That is a massive difference.

“It is good to have confidence, but there is a long way to go. I do not want to hear people saying, ‘We can do this or that.’ Forget it. I want them to go out and do it.

“Keeping a lid on expectation is difficult. The fans want to see the team at the top and they badly want the title, so it is difficult to keep our people calm.”

Benitez understands the desire among Liverpool fans for a title triumph after an 18-year famine since they last lifted the English crown.

But he said: “We are top, and we are pleased to be there. But we also have a clear understanding and vision about the future, and we know there are a lot more games to go.

“The team has confidence and is playing well, but we dare not allow our thoughts to stray too far beyond Portsmouth next.

“But there is a massive difference between this season and previous seasons. There is a character and quality about our team, and I cannot hide this. Everything is very positive but we know how difficult it is to win titles so we just must keep going.”

Sunday’s 1-0 win at Chelsea, ending the west Londoners’ 86-game unbeaten home league run, has seen Liverpool’s title odds slashed and a realisation that this Benitez side has the makings of champions.

Benitez said: “We know that if we want to stay at the top we must keep on winning the next games, if we do not then people will say that all we did at Chelsea is wasted.

“Each season you know you have to win virtually every game. The big teams lose very few.

“And we find that every team that comes to Anfield plays defensively, deep and it is very difficult to break them down. But that is the Premier League.”

Babel Striking Out For More Chances

ON an afternoon packed with positives for Liverpool, it was a contribution that could easily have been overlooked.

Few were left in any doubt of the Anfield outfit’s championship credentials as they brought an emphatic end to Chelsea’s 86-game unbeaten home league record with a richly-merited 1-0 triumph.

From the dogged defending of Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger, the mixture of steel and skill of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in midfield and the incisive probings of Steven Gerrard and Albert Riera, Liverpool possessed the game’s stellar performers.
But it was from the bench that another, less obvious impact was made.

With Robbie Keane having played through the pain barrier in the absence of the injured Fernando Torres, the Irishman was replaced on the hour by Ryan Babel.

Babel has been a frustratingly inconsistent performer since arriving from Ajax for £11.5million last summer, having so far only once played the full 90 minutes in a Premier League match.

The 21-year-old’s most effective performances have come as a substitute, having already this season netted the match-winner against Manchester United.

And Babel again played his part on Sunday by busying the Chelsea back-line and ensuring the game remained stretched, twice coming close to scoring himself.

The continued absence of Torres and concerns over Keane’s fitness mean Babel could be handed his first league start of the campaign when Portsmouth visit Anfield this evening.

And Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez says: “When we signed Riera we thought of Babel being more of a striker. Ryan is still a young player. Some Dutch players come to England for only one or two years.

“In this case, this is his second year and he was injured at the start coming back from the Olympic Games.

“But he is giving us something more and I was really pleased with him the other day at Chelsea. I think that was the perfect game for him.

“At that time we needed pace and power and ability, so he could cope with the two centre-backs. He could beat them, it was perfect for him and really good for him.”

Nine of Babel’s 11 goals have come as substitute, with 27 of his 58 appearances coming from the bench.

Benitez believes the Holland international remains most effective as an impact player for now, but is confident Babel can soon make the progression to producing the same threat over the full 90 minutes.

“Clearly there is a massive difference when you are talking about a player with pace, normally their stamina levels are not the same,” says the Liverpool manager.

“To do the same thing 20 times at maximum intensity, it’s not easy, so they need time to rest. For these kind of players to play 90 minutes at this pace and high tempo is impossible. That is the reason why he can make a massive difference in 20-30 minutes.”

Benitez has dismissed the suggestion Liverpool could struggle to cope with the unique pressure of leading from the front, and points to the wealth of experience behind the scenes.

“The people in the staff – Sammy Lee, Mauricio Pellegrino – have experience and the players have won the Champions League, which is a massive trophy,” he says. “We have some experience of that. I have won the league in Spain, too.

“The first year we came from behind at Valencia, but the second year for a long time we were on top of the table. If we can stay there in three weeks’ time we will start feeling pressure. But that is good.

“People said we were like a machine in that second season. We had the balance. We were attacking very well and defending well.

“That team had the balance. We were attacking. We lost the last game against Albacete 1-0 when we were champions and by just scoring one goal we would have scored more goals than Real Madrid, who scored something like 71 goals, and we conceded less than anyone else. So we had the balance. Being a machine was a compliment.”

Liverpool face a tricky next two games. Both Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur, who Benitez’s side visit at the weekend, have installed new managers in the last few days, with Harry Redknapp moving from Fratton Park to White Hart Lane with Tony Adams his replacement.

“You don’t know if it is good or bad for them because the players want to impress the new manager,” says Benitez. “Always it’s a risk. To change the manager is always very dangerous in terms of the results at the end, but the first two or three weeks you always have more motivation so it’s difficult.”

Of Adams, the Liverpool manager adds: “He was a fantastic player, and he won a lot of trophies with a very good Arsenal team. So everybody knows he has experience on the pitch as a player and now he will need to have more experience as a manager and that is something very different.”

Liverpool will come up against former striker Peter Crouch tonight, who moved back to the South Coast after scoring 42 goals in 134 appearances during three seasons at Anfield.

“Normally when you come back to a club you want to show you are a good player,” says Benitez. “But in this case, I think Crouch is a fantastic lad and we wanted to keep him. But he wanted to play every week.

“So he is playing well and scoring goal so I will be happy to see him and wish him all the best, but not in this game.”

Chelsea Coach Ray Wilkins Writes Off Loss To Liverpool As A 'Blip'

Chelsea coach Ray Wilkins has dismissed defeat by Liverpool as nothing more than a blip and has tipped his side to bounce back and go on another long unbeaten run.

Xabi Alonso's goal for Liverpool inflicted the first defeat that Chelsea had suffered at Stamford Bridge in 86 League games spanning more than four seasons and while Wilkins says the atmosphere after the game was of immense disappointment he says they have the strength of character to help them go on another run.

Wilkins says that captain John Terry, who is celebrating ten years since his debut this week, at the club is a massive bonus as he is a strong leader who is able to help pick the players up.

The Chelsea coach said: "The atmosphere after the game was like a morgue; the players were very down because of the standards they set themselves.

"The disappointment was not that the record had gone, but that we had lost three points to Liverpool.

"John Terry is different class around the place, we need men around and we are lucky to have him.

"When you think about what happened last season, losing the Carling Cup final, second in the League and missing out on the Champions League on penalties, then Sunday was just a blip.

"They have shown their character in the past to come back from disappointment, so we know they can come back from this and go on another run."

Chelsea travel to Hull City next and while Wilkins has been impressed with Phil Brown's side, he believes it will be difficult for them to continue their run - which featured only one defeat - for the rest of the season.

He said: "It will be difficult for them to maintain their form because they play with so much energy and if you are doing that for 90 minutes week in, week out it gets hard.

"They have amassed 20 points so far and I am sure Phil Brown will be looking to get the next 20 points as quickly as possible and see them safe and then kick on from there.

"It is going to be a very difficult season for all the promoted clubs and the adrenalin rush at the beginning is immense, but it will be tough.

"However, they have demonstrated they can play and one defeat won't burst that bubble, but we are looking to inflict that defeat."