Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Match Preview: LiverpooL vs. Atletico Madrid

A fortnight ago, Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez retuned to his home town as the Reds took on Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderón, which was freed up for the contest despite concerns over crowd behaviour.

It wasn't exactly a classic, but both sides got what they wanted from the fixture in the end. Robbie Keane scored after 14 minutes despite hints of offside, but Simão Sabrosa – a player Benitez is a known admirer of – drove a low shot past Pepe Reina inside the last ten minutes.

The point leaves both sides sitting pretty in Group D ahead of the return leg in Liverpool...on paper at least. If Dutch side PSV Eindhoven were to beat Marseille in the other fixture, any loser in this game would all of a sudden be under massive pressure – just one point ahead in second with two games to go.

Since the last Champions League game much has been made of Liverpool's blossoming Premier League title challenge.

Before the first Atletico clash, they edged back-to-back games against upstarts Manchester City and Wigan, both to the tune of 3-2. Then, Benitez's troops completed Mission Improbable, beating Chelsea at The Fortress, AKA Stamford Bridge. A hard-fought win over Portsmouth followed and many started thinking that this Liverpool side could be for real.

Indeed, normally coy Rafa started to discuss his side's surge to the league summit with enthusiasm and confidence. He admitted that he was planning to 'lead from the front' and was oozing something of a 'told you so' attitude as the chip started to remove itself from his shoulder after several seasons of piloting an also-ran operation.

Then came the Tottenham acid test. Harry Redknapp's revitalised Spurs had shown Arsenal what they were made of, coming back to draw 4-4. However, even with that warning shot, the Reds couldn't fare any better and were beaten 2-1. It was very telling. Dirk Kuyt scored after three minutes, but Rafa's falterers missed a ridiculous amount of chances and allowed Spurs to steal their points.

One game on, Liverpool need to show that they're unflappable. Second in the Premiership only on goal difference, five time European Champions – they should cruise this one, right?

As for Atleti, Simão's strike in the first game probably kept his boss Javier Aguirre in his job. Simão's brace in their next game in Villarreal's El Madrigal, where they scored two late goals to draw 4-4 with the Yellow Submarine, made it that little bit safer.

An unconvincing win in the Copa del Ray followed. Diego Forlan gave Atleti an undeserved lead over Segunda División B outfit Orihuela just before the break and, although they did improve after the interval, Atleti failed to kill off the 'Skorpion' fully and still have a little work to do in the second leg.

Then came Real Mallorca and, finally, the performance Atleti were waiting for from the man they were waiting for – Sergio Agüero. Komeback kid Kun bagged a first half brace and looked pretty sharp in shrugging off the Balearic outfit, who were in dazzling form beforehand.

Boss Aguirre sees signs of improvement, but admits that his side are still wounded.

Relishing being up to sixth, he said, "We've come out of the intensive care unit, but we are still in hospital. We had gone four weeks without winning and we're aware that we have to improve."

On half-fit talisman Agüero, he warned, "He's still a couple of weeks away. I'm taking him to Liverpool, but we aren't reliant on him."

Maybe not, but like Liverpool superstar Fernando Torres, who's similarly unfit, few would disagree that having Kun in the starting XI would be a massive confidence boost.

Aguirre himself will be keeping a low profile on the night, as he begins a two match ban.

Atleti are travelling to Anfield, where the Reds have won eight of ten at home, losing none. In comparison, the Spanish side have won four of ten on the road, conceding ten in their last two Liga outings. However, Atleti have failed to score on just one of those away days, although it was the Champions League trip to Schalke.

Liverpool are three goals from scoring their 300th strike in the elite competition. However, they've not beaten a Spanish club in five attempts. Atleti's record in England includes one win – against Leicester of all teams – three draws and two losses.



Nov 01, 2008 Tottenham 2-1 Liverpool EPL

Oct 29, 2008 Liverpool 1-0 Portsmouth EPL

Oct 26, 2008 Chelsea 0-1 Liverpool EPL

Oct 22, 2008 Atletico Madrid 1-1 Liverpool CL

Oct 18, 2008 Liverpool 3-2 Wigan EPL

Oct 05, 2008 Manchester City 2-3 Liverpool EPL


Nov 01, 2008 Atletico 2-0 RCD Mallorca Primera

Oct 29, 2008 Orihuela 0-1 Atletico Copa

Oct 26, 2008 Villarreal 4-4 Atletico Madrid Primera

Oct 22, 2008 Atletico 1-1 Liverpool CL

Oct 18, 2008 Atletico 1-2 Real Madrid Primera

Oct 04, 2008 Barcelona 6-1 Atletico Primera



The big fitness sweat, of course, is over the fitness of striker Fernando Torres, who has a 70% chance of recovering from his hamstring injury to feature against his former side, according to Benitez.

Otherwise, the decks are more or less clear.


Luis García and Florent Sinama Pongolle would enjoy running out against their former employers on Merseyside.

However, the main news concerns the aforementioned Argentine Agüero, who has been strongly tipped to start despite Aguirre's public reservations.

'Keeper Gregory Coupet is back in the squad after injury. However, a pair of defenders in the shape of Giourkas Seitaridis and the influential Tomas Ujfalusi are out.

Diego Forlán will be relishing the “very special” trip, with the brace he scored for Manchester United at Anfield in 2002 sure to be in his mind.



The Atleti camp has Fernando Torres firmly in mind when they contemplate the mission ahead. Boss Aguirre asserted, "I want him to be 100% fit and playing against us, as I want us to be challenged by the very best."

Former Red Luis García added: "When I was here we did not have player like Torres. He's given Liverpool that extra dimension and made them a better team."

Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard are also match-winners, but all eyes will be on El Niño, whether he plays ninety minutes or six.


Agüero starting would be a massive boost, but he can't be fit enough to dominate throughout. A man who can do that, however, is Simão Sabrosa.

The man will not give up and, as Spurs showed at the weekend, the Reds often struggle to kill off plucky sides like the one Simão will inspire.

Fitness Comes First For Fernando As Rafa Reveals 'Liverpool Have Not Missed Torres'

Rafael Benitez insists Liverpool have not missed Fernando Torres and is refusing to gamble on his fitness against Atletico Madrid tonight.

The manager will wait until after training today before deciding whether the striker will return from a five-game lay-off with a hamstring injury to face his former club at Anfield.

Torres is desperate to play, having missed the trip back to Atletico a fortnight ago when the sides drew 1-1 in the Group D match.

Despite Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Tottenham, which cost Liverpool top spot in the Premier League, Benitez insists Torres will only play if he is fully fit.

'We do not have to rush Torres back,' said the manager. 'He is a fantastic player, he can change games, but we have been playing so well we have not missed him.

'If he is confident and wants to play, he will play. If he is not ready then we will not take a risk.'

Benitez is confident his side can win tonight, which will see them through to the last 16 of the Champions League providing PSV Eindhoven lose in Marseille.

'We have nothing to prove, the main thing now is to just concentrate on what we know is right,' said the Reds boss. 'Since we drew in Madrid, they have drawn 4-4 with Villarreal and beaten Mallorca 2-0, with Sergio Aguero returning to score twice.

'Madrid are doing well but they do have problems. Their strengths and weakness are the same, but they do have Aguero back and he is a very good player.'

Luis Garcia Relishing Return

Former Liverpool forward Luis Garcia is looking forward to walking out at Anfield again - only this time in the colours of Atletico Madrid.

The Spanish club arrived on Merseyside on Monday ahead of their Champions League D clash with Rafael Benitez's side and Luis Garcia was immediately in familiar territory.

"This will be a special game for me personally, but it should be for anyone playing here at this stadium with such a fantastic atmosphere," he said.

"I spent several years here and enjoyed the time - it is a special occasion for me.

"I even had a big reception at the airport. I have had messages of goodwill from fans, letters and emails. It is great to come back and see these people again.

"A special part in my heart will always be with these people at this club and in this city.

"I still remember a lot of people from when I was here, fans and players."

The match could also see another reunion with Liverpool's former Atletico hero Fernando Torres poised to make a return from a hamstring injury.

Benitez said he will leave it to the player to make the final decision after training later today but Madrid boss Javier Aguirre insists he wants to see the player on the pitch facing his side.

He said: "We are aware that he has been injured, but I want him to be 100% fit and playing against us, I want us to be challenged by the very best."

The Mexican coach, now three years into his spell in Madrid, is conscious there could be a backlash from the hosts after they lost their unbeaten record for the season at Tottenham on Saturday.

He said: "They could well be angry. We will see, but they did not deserve to lose at Spurs. If you watched the game, you will understand. They should have won and had the best chances."

Aguirre has 20-year-old Argentina star Sergio Aguero back in the squad, after the highly-rated striker was only a half-time substitute in the 1-1 draw between these sides in Madrid a fortnight ago.

Aguero scored twice at the weekend in the 2-0 win over Mallorca, and he has been linked with a £30million move to Manchester City in January.

But Aguirre said: "He is very happy here, he is still a young lad and young player and because of that I know he will be with us for many years, despite the amounts of money I hear being mentioned for him."

Simao: Anfield Is Special

Simao Sabrosa admits he is relishing the prospect of playing on another European night at Anfield.

The Atletico Madrid winger scored a sublime goal for Benfica as the Portuguese outfit knocked the Reds out of the tournament back in 2006, and he is hopeful he can help produce a repeat when Group D's top two lock horns tonight.

"It is clear that this is a special stadium," he said. "Everyone knows the mystique that Anfield has but, above all, we want to win.

"It would be a very important victory for Atletico, because we'd practically be into the knockout round. We are having a great campaign and we want to continue on the same line."

Simao's sentiments are echoed by his coach Javier Aguirre who is hoping his side can overcome the Anfield factor and inflict a second successive defeat on Liverpool.

"The one thing we can learn from that game (Spurs) is that every football match lasts 90 minutes and I have to admit that they (Liverpool) did not deserve to lose that game," he said.

"But these things happen sometimes and I hope that we can take advantage of their slip-up and inflict more damage on them."

He added: "The crowd brings an extra level of sensation and intensity to the game and it will be a different feeling for us.

"But once the whistle goes, it’s eleven against eleven. The fans will show their support, but they won’t be playing".

Torres Should Win European Player Of The year Ahead Of Ronaldo, Says Rafa

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez says fit-again striker Fernando Torres should be named this year's Ballon D'Or winner.

Torres, who scored Spain's winner in the Euro 2008 final and 24 league goals in his debut season in England, trails Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United and Barcelona's Lionel Messi among the favourites for the December 2 gong formerly known as the European Player of the Year award.

'Fernando would be my selection,' Benitez said.

'He has scored a lot of goals and won the Euros with Spain. Ronaldo is also a very good player but I choose Fernando.'

Torres should return to the Liverpool starting line-up against his former club Atletico Madrid in Tuesday's Champions League Group D match at Anfield.

He has been out of action for three weeks after picking up a hamstring injury while on international duty.

'He's 70 per cent fit. We have to train tomorrow and I will talk to him,' Benitez said.

'He was training, but not a hard training session. He was doing almost everything. It's a decision between him and me.

'It depends in the confidence of the player. If the player is confident you can take a risk, if not you have to wait.

'Clearly he would like to be play against Atletico Madrid to show he is a very good player. He has a very good relationship with the players and the club.'

Liverpool currently top the group, level on seven points with Atletico. PSV Eindhoven, who play pointless Olympique Marseille on Tuesday, are third with three points.

Dirk Kuyt Eager To Be Part Of An Anfield Success Story

His honesty is such that he commands the complete trust of his manager. So when Dirk Kuyt senses a subtle change in mood around Anfield, it’s worth taking note.

The Liverpool striker has been at the heart of an encouraging start to the campaign for Rafael Benitez’s side that was checked only by an unlikely defeat at Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend.

That setback, though, has not altered Kuyt’s opinion that the Anfield outfit are on the verge of a renaissance of which he wants to remain very much part.

The 28-year-old has entered the final two years of his contract, with Benitez yesterday revealing talks will soon begin concerning a new deal.

And Kuyt has no intention of missing out on what he believes could be a trophy-laden future for Liverpool.

“I am enjoying every day here,” he says. “I knew it was a big club before I came here but now I know it is one of the biggest clubs in Europe and the world.

“My intention is to stay here for as long as possible. Hopefully the contract will come in the next couple of months. In football, you know the decision will be made before you enter the last year of your contract – but I definitely want to stay.

“I have been here now for three years and it is a great joy to play with so many great players.

“I am now in my third year, Torres is in his second and you have players like Gerrard, Carragher, Reina and Alonso that have been playing together for a while now.

“Fernando did very well last season but when you are at a club for a second season you feel even more settled in.

“In the time I have been here the team has been getting stronger and I still have the feeling we are getting stronger by the day. Hopefully, I will win trophies at Liverpool.”

Kuyt will again be on the right wing for this evening’s Champions League group game against Atletico Madrid, with Liverpool hoping to show they can bounce back from letting slip the Dutchman’s early opener at White Hart Lane on Saturday.

And Kuyt believes Benitez’s side have the mental resolve to avoid any adverse reaction to their first defeat since April.

“Everyone was disappointed with the result, especially as we were playing really well,” he says. “We had a lot of chances to kill the game and we didn’t do that. We were doing really well at the start of the season.

“We’ve still got the confidence and belief and even though we lost on Saturday we showed that we have the quality.

“I don’t think we have got anything to worry about. It becomes a worry if you are not playing well and you are losing.

“You have to make sure in the future that we take our chances and win those kind of games. We still have the feeling that it will be really difficult for teams to beat us. People are saying that how we do in the next game will be important now.

“But for us I don’t think anything has changed much.”

Kuyt, described by Benitez as “a player you can trust 100%,” has become a favourite with supporters who appreciate his relentless hard work and happy knack for chipping in with important goals.

The forward can claim a remarkable feat of having scored in every round of the Champions League and, having scored 10 goals in his last 17 games in the competition, will draw level with Kenny Dalglish in the club’s overall European goalscorers with another tonight.

While prospering abroad, Kuyt found goals more difficult to come by last season in the Premier League as his form suffered following the death of his father.

His last-gasp winner at Manchester City was his first league strike in 10 months but, as Liverpool’s top scorer this season with six goals, Kuyt is repaying the unshakeable faith shown in him by Benitez.

“As everyone knows, I had a really hard period at the beginning of last season with the loss of my dad and it is more difficult when you are in a different country,” he says.

“But lots of people helped me – my family, my friends and my team-mates and the people here at Liverpool.

“It’s important for a player to have the confidence of a manager. It’s always good when a manager says these things in public.

“I think he believes in my qualities and strengths and what I can do for the team – they know I am always going to be there for the full 90 minutes.

“When I am playing on the right I obviously know there are less chances to score but it doesn’t matter what position I play in.

“I am enjoying it on the right and I was enjoying it when I played up front against Portsmouth, Wigan and Man United. I will go wherever the manager needs me. I just want to play as often as possible.”

Kuyt adds: “I am not bothered about any criticism because that’s part of the game. The most important thing is when your manager and team-mates believe in you.

“They were always there through the difficult times and that’s what makes you stronger when you come back.

“I am feeling really well at the moment. I am playing in a different position on the right but I am enjoying it.

“I am now enjoying my football and am being involved in important moments and helping set up important goals.

“I have also scored some important goals myself and I want to keep on doing that. But for me the most important thing is to be giving my best for the team.”

Liverpool Will Move On From Tottenham Blip

All great sides have to lose games – but what makes them great is the way they react. But I think the overall public reaction to Liverpool’s first loss of the season already says a lot about the progress they are making this season.

In past years, they would have gone to somewhere like Tottenham and we’d be pulling them apart.

Maybe Rafael Benitez would have been questioned for his team selection. Maybe we would have been slating the players for not performing or bemoaning their lack of consistency.

And we would certainly have been writing Liverpool off as genuine title challengers for another year.

Not this time. It says everything about this current Liverpool side that the general consensus seems to be ‘let’s forget it and move on’.

For a start, you can’t blame the players for the defeat at Spurs. They absolutely battered them and if that game had finished 4-0 nobody would have batted an eyelid.

On Match of the Day I said Liverpool created enough chances to have won three games, never mind one, so you certainly wouldn’t criticise them after such a dominant performance. It was just one of those days when the ball would not go in.

As for Benitez, there’s not much he could have done really, is there? Mangers don’t miss the chances. Managers aren’t responsible for balls hitting posts and crossbars or indeed for Xabi Alonso missing free headers.

There was an eight-minute spell at the start of the second half when Liverpool had four great chances to make it 2-0 and that would have killed the game off, and if Fernando Torres had been fit it surely would have been.

But Benitez picked pretty much his best side and they played well, so what more could he do? How can you legislate for Jamie Carragher heading into his own net of all things?

The only worry for me overall was perhaps the performance of Pepe Reina, who seemed to want to come for everything but didn’t make it. But we all know any lapse in his form will only ever be temporary.

And that’s what Liverpool need to ensure Saturday was. Just a blip.

The best thing for them now is to have a game straight away.

If they can get back to winning ways tonight against Atletico Madrid and beat West Brom on Saturday then Tottenham is well and truly out of their system. Ancient history.

A bit like how the home defeat to Liverpool is to Chelsea.

They bounced straight back in midweek by beating Hull 3-0 then they hit five past Sunderland on Saturday.

I would also draw parallels with Manchester United’s experience at Everton. They could have been four or five by the early stages of the second half but, similar to Liverpool, they lost their way and in the end dropped some vital points. But it didn’t affect them. They easily beat West Ham then put four past Hull City to get themselves right back on track following a disappointing weekend.

Liverpool have already beaten United and Chelsea this season – now they have to match them again and respond to a bad result in the best way possible.

The fact that everyone seems to believe they can shows how much Benitez’s side have changed opinions so far this season.

Liverpool Reserves 1 - 2 Manchester City Reserves

LIVERPOOL Reserves slumped to a fourth defeat in a row as Manchester City the Halliwell Jones Stadium in the FA Premier Reserve League Northern Section last night.

The visitors went ahead on nine minutes when Marshall capitalised on a poor clearance from Damien Plessis and drilled in a low 18-yard shot.

Liverpool rallied and Nabil El Zhar was denied by the keeper after a neat pass by Dani Pacheco. The Moroccan fared better three minutes before the break when he scored with a fabulous individual effort, jinking away from several defenders before firing a shot into the bottom corner.

Liverpool’s joy was short-lived however, as City regained the lead through Benjani almost immediately. The experienced front-man netted at the second attempt after Peter Gulacsi had made a good save.

Liverpool never really looked like finding a way through, although Jordy Brouwer went close when he was put clean through by Ronald Huth but shot straight at the keeper.

City had chances to wrap the game up, but Gulacsi made some excellent saves to keep the score down.

LIVERPOOL RESERVES: Gulacsi, Darby, Insua, Ayala (San Jose 71), Huth, Plessis, El Zhar, Spearing (Weijl 71), Brouwer, Pacheco (Simon 81), Bruna. Subs: Bouzanis, Irwin.

MANCHESTER CITY RESERVES: Johansen, Logan, M Ball (Poole 46), Mee, McDonald, Clayton, Weiss, Marshall, Vassell (Williamson 46), Benjani (Daly 46), McDermott. Subs: Hartley, Kay.

Rafael Benitez Keen For Dirk Kuyt And Daniel Agger To Sign New Liverpool Deals

Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, has called on the club's board to offer Daniel Agger and Dirk Kuyt new long-term contracts.

Both players have 18 months to run on their contracts and while Benitez, whose contract expires at the same time, says it is time the Anfield club secured both players' futures.

"Agger is very close and he is talking with the club," Benitez said. "There is no news yet with Kuyt but he is another player that I would like to get done as soon as possible. They have to be done before the new year.

"In each team you need people with quality, that work hard and with a good character.

"I want to do it as soon as possible because it is better for them and better for the club."

Kuyt is eager to ensure that he is a part of any future success at Anfield.

“I’m really happy here and I want to stay, but so far there has been no talk of a new contract,” he said. “Hopefully that will come in the next few months.”

Gillett Admits To Feeling 'Embarrassed' Over Liverpool

With his appetite for remaining as Liverpool's co-owner in serious doubt, George Gillett has revealed ambitions to invest in other sports, with India seemingly now a source of interest to him.

Gillett has taken several trips to India and any investment there would come on top of his entry this month into the race to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Montreal, Canada.

The 70-year-old did not say how long he intends to remain at Anfield, with or without co-owner Tom Hicks. "You feel a responsibility and an embarrassment on occasions when you haven't provided all you might have," Gillett said. "There's a level of embarrassment and you want to correct it quickly."

Gillett said that the financial crisis is affecting his sports interests. "All the sports teams I know of are re-examining all of their futures." He claimed that his sports franchises do not necessarily need big-money superstars.

"We now have [clubs] that will be successful in the long run, that can compete for the championship every year and don't depend on buying high-priced players every year," he said.