Friday, October 31, 2008

Home Wins Are Key For Liverpool's Title Push

Liverpool glovesman Pepe Reina believes his side can maintain their early season momentum if they carry on winning at home, and stay consistent away.

Liverpool stopper Pepe Reina kept another clean sheet on Wednesday night as the Reds narrowly beat visiting Pompey by a goal to nil.

Reina believes the key to keeping distance between themselves and the chasing pack is to win at home, and stay consistent when on the road.

"This was a hugely important three points for us because we have to keep on winning," Reina is quoted by the club's official website as saying.

"Once you are at the top of the table you have to do everything to defend that position and that means winning every game you can.

"We cannot afford to drop any points at home. It is important we keep winning at home and also be consistent away," he declared.

"We can only go step by step and the next game for us is Tottenham on Saturday, which is going to be tough. They had a great result against Arsenal on Wednesday night, so we know it will be difficult.

"But let's see if we can beat them and then after that we will think about qualifying from the Champions League group stages and hopefully being able to concentrate even more on the Premier League," the 26-year said.

"This is what we look for - to defend properly and not concede too many chances.

"Every time I go onto the pitch I am looking for a quiet game because it is better for me and better for the team if I am less busy."

Lucas Reflects On His Best Red Performance

Liverpool's young Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva believes his performance in last night's victory over visiting Portsmouth was his best in a Red shirt.

Liverpool needed a late Steven Gerrard penalty conversion to secure victory at Anfield over a stubborn Portsmouth side last night. But they achieved what they needed to, by adding a further three points to their league tally.

Lucas Leiva was gifted a rare start in Liverpool's midfield and the Brazilian put in a fine display in the centre of the park by breaking up play and contributing to the attack.

The 21-year old feels his Pompey showing was his finest in a 'Pool shirt, and the former Gremio ace told the

"I feel I have adapted to English football and I can play much quicker in games now.

"I was getting into the box and also had a few chances to score against Portsmouth, so I am happy and I am trying to improve every day," he said.

"I think it was my best performance for the team."

Reina: We Don't Need 'Nando

Liverpool goalkeeper Jose 'Pepe' Reina has suggested that his side's excellent run of results in recent weeks demonstrates that they are no longer reliant on their superstar striker.

Fernando Torres burst onto the Premier League last season, scoring 33 goals and fully justifying the club's decision fork out £21million for his services.

And yet the Reds endured arguably their worst season under Rafael Benitez, finishing fourth, trophyless and even missing out on their customary appearance in the Champions League final.

While off-field issues concerning the club's ownership and the manager's future clearly played their part, many believe part of Liverpool's problem was their reliance on Torres.

The Merseysiders had often been accused of heaping too much burden upon Steven Gerrard in the past; and although he and Torres formed a formidable tandem, the only difference was that the team were relying on two irreplaceable players instead of one.

That seems to have changed, for Liverpool sit unbeaten at the top of the table despite Torres being injured for much of the campaign to date. He was absent from the win over Chelsea, and he warmed the pine when Manchester United fell at Anfield last month.

Pepe Reina believes this can only be a good sign. "The Man United game was a big moment for us. We already had a lot of belief but we had a big job ahead of us when they took the lead," he said in the Daily Mail.

"The way we responded told the Premier League a lot about us. It wasn’t just that we scored two goals, it was the way we controlled the game.

"That we achieved it without two of our better players Torres and Steven Gerrard, was also a confidence booster. We have built not only a strong team but a strong squad.

"It was the same at Chelsea. We did not have Fernando Torres but other players made their contribution to our victory.

"Over the course of a season these things are going to happen. We have proved we can cope without Martin Skrtel, Steven Gerrard and Fernando."

Torres is a possibility to return against Atletico Madrid next week, but he is expected to sit out this Saturday's clash against Tottenham.

Brazilian Hot-Shot To Liverpool?

Premier League leaders Liverpool have been linked with a January move for Brazilian teenager Keirrison.

The 19 year-old currently plays for Brazilian league side Coritiba but has already been linked with a move to La Liga with either Valencia or Barcelona.

The Daily Mirror reports that the forward has been offered to Liverpool and not to the Spanish pair, who are known to have been tracking Keirrison since he was drafted into the Coritiba squad in 2007.

The teenager has gone on to score over 50 goals in just over 100 matches and has now come to prominence across the Atlantic.

Liverpool now have an extensive scouting network across Brazil, with samba stars Lucas and Diego Cavalieri acquired by Rafa Benitez's side from their home land.

However, it is not stated whether Benitez would add the player in January but los Chés and Barça would allegedly be interested.

Liverpool Co-Owner George Gillett Urges Stability As Sami Hyypia Expresses Title Belief

As Liverpool co-owner George Gillett was vowing that he would "let the club do the talking", Sami Hyypia was doing the same following the win over Portsmouth while in the same breath explaining why he feels they have never been better placed to take the title in his 10 seasons at Anfield.

While the manner of Wednesday's 1-0 win that keeps Rafael Benitez's team three points clear at the top of the Premier League will be seen as further evidence that they will not stay the course, Hyypia believes the fact that they came away with three points actually demonstrates that they can.

Liverpool toiled at Anfield, as they have all season, where they have been held to a goalless draw by Stoke and have had to come from behind to take the points against Middlesbrough, Manchester United and Wigan.

However, Hyypia feels that the only fact of importance is that with 10 games gone, Liverpool, who travel to Tottenham on Saturday, have dropped just four points from their 10 matches this season.

Despite maintaining a level of caution in the face of growing excitement that the wait for a first league title since 1990, Hyypia, 35, feels Liverpool now have the quality and the character to sustain the level of performance they have shown in the first quarter of the season.

"It's still early days so we will keep our feet on the ground and take it game by game, and just try to win every game," the defender said. "We are letting all the other people do the talking. We're not ones to go shouting about what we're going to do.

"The difference from the previous seasons I have been here is that in the summer we made some good signings that have settled very well straight away into the team. We also have a lot of competition for places, which is something we haven't maybe had as much in past seasons.

"I think this season maybe we are a bit stronger mentally too. You only have to look at the way in which we have won some games to see that. The result is always more important than how you play. At the beginning of the season there were some games in which we didn't perform brilliantly, but we got the result.

"If, come May, we are at the top of the league, then nobody will remember that we played bad football at the beginning of the season."

Gillett must wish he was in a similarly simple situation but the American, who refused to comment on the proposed sale of the club yesterday, has insisted that plans to build a new stadium on Stanley Park are still ongoing despite the delay in the start of building.

He said: "We put it off on a temporary basis and we continued to invest substantial money every month in both engineering, architecture, planning, approving and zoning."

Gillett has pledged he will continue with a policy of not destabilising things at Anfield with controversial public statements and added: "I think they are at a point now where they are allowing the boys to demonstrate their skill. And also to allow Rafael Benitez, who is one of the great coaches, to do his thing and we just want to leave it that way and we will operate behind the scenes and let the club do the talking."

Gillett Speaks For Hicks In Declaring Liverpool Sound

George Gillett believes Liverpool are in a sound position to ride out their financial problems but has refused to comment on whether the club is up for sale.

There had been speculation that Gillett and his co-owner, Tom Hicks, are ready to sell their stake in the club, with the investment bank Merrill Lynch understood to have been contacted to find a buyer as the Americans need to restructure the £350m loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland that expires in January. However the RBS, about to be part nationalised, has now adopted more stringent policies.

"The stories feed on themselves and some are made up," Gillett claimed. "With regard to what we're doing, we would not have any comment on that - there has already been enough speculation."

Gillett is confident Liverpool - and Premier League clubs in general - are in a good position, despite their debts, to survive in these testing times. "What I read is not in the newspapers because it is an unreliable source - what I am looking at are other financial filings which I think are more reliable," he told Toronto's Sports Radio. "There are certain sports which have felt the impact. It's a good time to be cautious but it's a bit early to write the obituary of professional sports."

Gillett, also the owner of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey franchise, added that plans for a new stadium in Liverpool have not been shelved permanently. "We put it off on a temporary basis and we continued to invest substantial money every month in engineering, architecture, planning, approving and zoning. There is still a substantial effort going on but the current situation in the financial world has made it prudent to delay it for an immediate period until the money market eases up.

"There are some things which have happened which have upset the fans and got them mad at Tom and myself. At this point, based on the media that we are seeing and an awful lot of the fan communication, I think they are at a point now where they are allowing the boys to demonstrate their skill; and also to allow Rafael Benítez, who is one of the great coaches, to do his thing. We just want to leave it that way and we will operate behind the scenes and let the club do the talking.

"Tom and I are talking and we are working together. They seem to have a measure over in England as to how well you're getting along as friends by whether you use first names to each other or not. And the answer to that is that we are talking to each other on a first-name basis. Things are good. Tom is a great guy and he is smart as hell. We got off on the wrong basis and I think we are a little embarrassed by that."

Sami Hyypia, meanwhile, maintains that he is unconcerned about the manner of Liverpool's victories, seven of the eight by the odd goal, as long as they remain at the top of the table. The 35-year-old Finn, now in his 10th season at the club and returned to the starting line-up for the 1-0 win over Portsmouth, claims they have never been better equipped.

"At the beginning of the season there were some games in which we didn't perform brilliantly but we got the result," he said. "If, come May, we are at the top of the league, then nobody will remember that we played bad football at the beginning of the season. The difference from the previous seasons is that in the summer we made some good signings that have settled straight into the team. We also have a lot of competition for places, which is something we haven't maybe had as much in past seasons. I think this season maybe we are a bit stronger mentally, too."

Mascherano Welcomes Maradona Move - But Does Not Want To Be Argentina Captain

Javier Mascherano has welcomed Maradona's appointment as Argentina boss - but has pleaded: "Don't make me captain."

Maradona is poised to take the national job next week and has long praised the Liverpool hardman - already saying the Argentina team will be "Mascherano and ten more.

"But it seems the 24-year-old does not want the responsibility of leading his country.

He said: "I do not have the charisma to be the captain of my country.

"I can put my determination and my strength on the pitch and that can spread, but being captain is not in my personality - it is something you are born with, not something you acquire."

Although Mascherano has shunned the captaincy, he says Maradona will be a success and that he cannot wait to play under him after getting a little taster before the 2008 Olympics.

Maradona joined the national side just before the tournament in Beijing for a kickaround and left Mascherano impressed.

He added: "I believe Maradona as coach will be really special. The experience around Beijing was spectacular.

"The day he came to Ezeiza, just before the trip, and requested permission to coach us, was impressive.

"I think it will be very positive to all be under the command of Diego."

Riera Senses Increasing Pressure

Liverpool new boy Albert Riera knows the club's rise to the Barclays Premier League summit will bring growing pressure for the Anfield men.

Winger Riera, already a big hit after only 10 games following his £8million summer move from Espanyol, thinks Liverpool will become the scalp everyone wants.

Tottenham, reborn under new boss Harry Redknapp, will provide the next test at White Hart Lane on Saturday.

Riera said: "We have to concentrate now even more, clubs will know that we are top and they will want to beat us even more.

"Before last weekend, everyone was talking about Chelsea and the fact that they were top of the league and unbeaten so far this season.

"But we are now in the same situation and under that sort of pressure. Maybe, though, people now know that we are a good team also and that we want to continue at the top of the league.

"But if this is to happen we know we have to keep on working hard in games and in training and doing the same things that have helped us get to the position we are in right now.

"We know it will be tough because the Premier League is very competitive and you have to work hard in every single game otherwise you can come unstuck."

Riera was only used as a late substitute in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Portsmouth, having picked up a minor muscle injury against Chelsea last weekend.

But he is expected to return to the front line at Spurs, as are Daniel Agger, Javier Mascherano and Robbie Keane, who were all rested on the bench in midweek.

Fernando Torres could also return after his hamstring injury, but Liverpool may well hold him back to face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Riera said: "The win at Chelsea last weekend was a very big result, but it was only one result and the most important thing for us now is that we must build upon it.

"It was very important for us and for our confidence in ourselves but in football you can never afford to think that you have done enough, you always have to look ahead and try to keep on getting better.

"We are at a good moment but we cannot afford to stand still. And as for myself, I know I can still get better.

"The best way to progress is to believe that you can get better and give more to the team, and that is the way I am."

Boss Rafael Benitez wants his side to learn how to be leaders.

He said: "The expression in England I have learned is that we must keep our feet on the ground.

"That is the key for us from now on. We must learn to be patient, learn to handle the situation we are now in.

"The players know the position we are in, how to handle it is easy.

"Everyone must be calm, take their time in matches, with feet firmly on the ground."