Monday, November 10, 2008

Rafa Still Sees Improvement

Rafael Benitez has warned Liverpool's Premier League title rivals that his star players will only improve as the season gathers pace.

The Reds are only separated from first-placed Chelsea by goal difference after a 3-0 victory over West Brom on Saturday.

Robbie Keane netted a brace in the Anfield win, his first league goals of the campaign, while star striker Fernando Torres made his return from injury.

And Benitez believes that the best is yet to come from his attacking duo, while the Spaniard also insists captain Steven Gerrard has more to offer.

"Gerrard can improve, Torres will improve with fitness, Daniel Agger and Javier Mascherano can all improve," Benitez said in the Daily Express.

"Keane's goals were important and you will see him score a lot more now."

Robbie Keane: I Never Doubted Myself

The Liverpool striker has revealed he was never worried despite taking 12 games to open his Premier League account for his new club.

The £20 million striker grabbed his first league goals for Liverpool in their 3-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion yesterday.

However, according to, Keane claims he always knew the goals would come.

“The manager always had confidence in me, and I always knew the goals would come,” said the former Spurs man, “It has taken me longer than I had hoped, but with every game I am getting more confident. The evidence was there for everyone to see.”

Keane was denied a hat-trick after being substituted in the second half but admitted being taken off had not been a problem.

“I was looking for the hat-trick, but it is not about me. I'd got two goals and would always like more, but seeing the board go up with my number was not an issue for me,” said the striker, “People are trying to make a big deal out of it, which is not the case. Things like that do not matter - because this is a team.”

The result propelled Liverpool back to the summit of the Premier League and Keane claims that the win was most important that his goals. He said: “The most important thing was that we keep winning, and that I am part of that winning side.”

Despite scoring two goals yesterday, Keane was quick to pay tribute to his team mates, whom he praised for their excellent service, in particular skipper Steven Gerrard.

“I am getting great service. I have Stevie, Xabi (Alonso) and (Javier) Mascherano behind me - and they can all see a pass for me,” admitted Keane.

He continued, “Stevie's pass was excellent. But over the years he has been fantastic, and it is something I have noticed. Now I am on the end of those passes, which is fantastic for me.”

After netting his first league goals for his new side Keane appears confident the goals will continue to flow. He concluded: “My aim is to keep doing my job, and I know the goals will happen.”

Rafael Benitez Still Ready To Rotate As Robbie Keane Keeps Liverpool The Charge

It is still a strange feeling for those at Anfield to genuinely still be 'in amongst it' even in November but Benitez demonstrated in the victory over West Bromwich Albion that he is unlikely to change his ways despite these heady times.

Firstly Robbie Keane was the player he chose to withdraw when he wanted to bring on Fernando Torres with just under 20 minutes remaining. That Keane, who has now been substituted 13 times and has completed just two games this season, had scored his first two Premier League goals and was enjoying his best display since arriving from Tottenham in a £20.3 million deal in the summer was considered an irrelevance.

The Spaniard bristles at the word "rotation", insisting that when other top managers do what he does, it is simply termed "making changes" but that will not dissuade him from resting Gerrard, who underwent surgery on a groin problem in August, in the coming weeks.

Such stubbornness is likely to serve Benitez well when he opens contract negotiations this week and he said: "I think Gerrard's level will improve with Torres available. It is clear that Stevie is a bit tired at the moment, but with Torres he will have another player that can benefit from the accuracy of his passing.

"I think Gerrard can improve, Torres will improve with fitness, and Fabio Aurelio, Daniel Agger and Javier Mascherano can all improve. We are in a very good position and we have enough quality in the squad to be there for a long time. Stevie needs a bit of rest. He was injured during the international break and it is important to try and keep players fit all the time."

Playing two in attack was seen as the antidote to the issues Liverpool have had at times at Anfield, where they have been held by Stoke and Atletico Madrid and have had to come from behind against Middlesbrough, Manchester United and Wigan this season, but teams rarely come to Anfield in a mood like the positive frame of mind adopted by Tony Mowbray's West Brom.

Actual chances were a rarity but in the opening half an hour they enjoyed long spells of possession in the Liverpool half, with Keane passing up the best early opportunity when he failed to make a decent contact with a shot after Mascherano won the ball on the edge of the area.

But just after the half-hour, Keane put Liverpool in front with a trademark bending run on the 18-yard line. Aurelio found Gerrard, who spotted Keane's clever movement that gave the Irishman a couple of yards of space in front of Jonas Olsson and he lifted over Scott Carson to open the scoring.

Just before half-time, Keane again benefited from a defensive lapse as Olsson played him onside as he chased Aurelio's long ball down the left flank. Keane's first touch took him around Carson and he slipped the ball into an empty net.

West Brom continued to press but their best opportunities were hopeful efforts from Robert Koren before Alvaro Arbeloa's second Liverpool goal, a curling shot in added time, completed the scoring.

With 10 goals and 11 points from West Brom's opening 12 games, Mowbray acknowledges that a failure to make the most of spells of dominance is his team's current downfall, although he concedes that he will not have the kind of money to buy a player that guarantees goals in the new year.

He said: "It's very difficult to find someone with a proven goal-scoring record a club like ours can afford. Come January we will hopefully make additions, but proven goal scorers at this level are not going to be available."

Torres Will Lift Gerrard, Says Rafa

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has hinted that Fernando Torres' return to action will spur Steven Gerrard to new heights of excellence.

With Torres missing three weeks due to a torn hamstring, the pressure was heaped back upon Gerrard to be Liverpool's main man. It is a role he is used, and one he has performed brilliantly throughout his career, but itse physical toll has been evident over the last month.

But 'El Nino' is back in action, having returned as a susbstitute against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, meaning the skipper has his partner-in-crime by his side - or, more accurately, just ahead of him - once more.

"It is clear to me that Gerrard's level will improve now Torres is available again," Benitez said in the Daily Mail.

"You can see Stevie is a bit tired after putting so much in over the past few weeks but having Torres around will help him.

"Apart from all the things Torres brings to the side on his own he will be another outlet for Stevie, another target who will benefit from the accuracy of his passing."

However, with Robbie Keane hitting form and Xabi Alonso performing so consistently in midfield, there is the possibility that Gerrard could be afforded a recuperative spell on the sidelines.

Benitez added: "Ideally, Stevie could do with a bit of a rest but maybe it will be easier to do that with Fernando back."

Reina - Reds Lack Experience

Jose Reina admits that inexperience in Premier League title chases will work against Liverpool.

The Reds sit level on points with Chelsea at the top of the table after suffering only one defeat this season.

But Reina fears that the Blues, and fellow title rivals Manchester United, will possess greater know-how when the going gets tough.

Liverpool have not won the league since 1990 and Spanish goalkeeper Reina recognises that a title tilt would be a new encounter.

Reina said in the Daily Star Sunday: "We haven't won the league in 18 years and it's going to take the effort of every player to change that.

"United and Chelsea have the experience because they have won the title before - and recently.

"They know what winning the title is all about and that is something which we don't have."

Robbie Keane: Liverpool Can Win The Premier League

Liverpool striker Robbie Keane scored his first league goals for the club - then claimed the Merseysiders have the confidence to go for their first Premier League title.

The Irishman netted twice in today’s 3-0 win over West Brom as Liverpool returned to the top of the Premier League following last week’s defeat at Tottenham.

And, asked if Rafael Benitez’s side can maintain their challenge where they have faltered in previous seasons, Keane told Setanta Sports: “I can’t comment on the past because I haven’t been here but confidence is high.

“Even though we lost at Tottenham last week, we’ve bounced back.”

Keane - who also has two Champions League strikes to his name - was delighted with his double in his 12th league outing for Liverpool.

“It’s been a while coming but I think you’ve seen Robbie Keane back to his best,” he said.

“Each game I feel like I’m getting better and better. Luckily enough for me, I got my goals but it’s not about Robbie Keane, it’s about getting three points.”

Benitez said: “This year we have showed character in a lot of games.”

On Keane, the manager added he had not been worried about the Republic of Ireland international’s struggles to score.

The Spaniard said: “He was playing well, working so hard for the team. Two goals, and there could have been another one, will relax him.”

West Brom manager Tony Mowbray admitted the better team had won but, although his side have to play Chelsea next, he is confident they will avoid an immediate return to the Championship.

He told Setanta Sports: “We’ll win enough football matches to make sure we’re still here next year.”

He added: “We aren’t going to get judged on these games, we try to take the positives.

“We want to come here and play football and try to score a goal, and next week we’ll do the same.

“I thought we gave a good account of ourselves but at this level, if you have a sloppy 10 minutes, you could be out of the game.”

Rafa Benitez: Why I Subbed Two-Goal Robbie Keane

Rafael Benitez believes Robbie Keane can follow the example of Peter Crouch and go on a goal-scoring spree after opening his Barclays Premier League account for Liverpool.

Keane netted twice as the Anfield outfit kept pace with Chelsea at the top of the table with a comfortable 3-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

Having already scored in the Champions League this season, it had taken the striker 12 games to register in domestic competition after his near £20million move from Tottenham Hotspur during the summer.

Crouch famously suffered a similar barren league run when he arrived from Portsmouth three seasons ago before rediscovering his goal-scoring touch.

And Benitez reckons Keane is capable of now embarking on a profitable run of his own.

“Robbie was working hard and has been playing well but it is massively important for a striker to score so it’s both good news for him and for us,” said the Liverpool manager.

“I think you’ll see him get a lot more now. If the team keeps playing well and creating chances there is no reason why he won’t get a lot more. It was just a question of time.

“You could see the difference in Keane as soon as he scored the first goal. It made a massive difference to him.

“I remember talking about Peter Crouch when he first arrived and we were waiting for his first goal. Once he got off the mark, a lot more came and it will be the same with Robbie.”

Benitez added: “I spoke to Robbie before the game, he was under pressure to score but I told him that he had to stay calm because he has been playing well for the team.

“He told me that he was fine, that he had no problems, but you know a striker is always thinking about scoring goals and so it was very important for him to get his first in the league for us.

“Hopefully we will see him scoring a lot more every week now. I wanted to reassure him because it has been difficult for him.”

Keane was denied the chance of completing a hat-trick when he was replaced 18 minutes from time by Fernando Torres, who was making his comeback after missing the previous six games with a hamstring problem.

It’s the 13th time in 15 starts the Irishman has been substituted this season and Benitez said: “I also spoke to Robbie about the substitutions before the game. I said ‘I know I am changing you a lot but it is only because we need a different kind of player at certain stages of the game’.

“I didn’t want to do it again against West Bromwich because, after his two goals, I was expecting the hat-trick. But we had to win the game, that was the most important thing, and Torres had to play too.

“I’m sure he was thinking ‘Why me? Leave me on the pitch’, but I wanted to use the pace of Torres. They were playing high up the pitch.

“I didn’t get to speak to him after the game, apart from saying ‘congratulations’ when he came off, because he was getting his man-of-the-match award.

“You can have sentiment as a manager sometimes but at 2-0 you have to be careful because one goal for them and it becomes very nervous at the end.”

Keane was partnered by Dirk Kuyt on Saturday with Steven Gerrard reverting to a central midfield role.

And Benitez said: “I had been using Robbie and Stevie up front and he is different type of player to Torres.

“Torres has the pace to run behind defenders and Keane has good movement.

“For Gerrard, it was more difficult to find the pass to Robbie and more difficult for Robbie to find the run behind defenders but, with two strikers, I knew he would have more chances and it would make things easier for him.

“The only thing is you lose some of the balance of the team playing that way but we were better than them.

“Sometimes we’ll play with two strikers and other times we’ll just go with one.

“Going with two strikers helped Robbie in this game but it will be a good problem for me to have Torres fit again, Gerrard and everyone else fit.”

Alvaro Arbeloa scored his second career goal for Liverpool by sealing the victory with a well-taken strike in injury time. However, the Spanish full-back also picked up his fifth league booking of the season and will miss Saturday’s trip to Bolton.

Rafa Benitez: Robbie Keane Is Worth Every Penny Of £20million

Rafael Benitez insisted he had no doubts Robbie Keane would start banging in the goals despite an 11-match barren spell in the Barclays Premier League.

The £20million striker finally got off the mark in the league for Liverpool with two first-half goals that sent West Brom to defeat at Anfield and the Merseysiders back to the top of the table.

Alvaro Arbeloa added a third in the final minute to secure a 3-0 victory.

But it was Keane’s contribution that pleased Benitez. The Reds boss said: “I have always wanted to support Robbie, he has been playing and contributing to our victories.

“I have had no doubts that he would start to score regularly for us. Robbie has told me he has got a monkey off his back, not an expression I had heard before but I understand what he meant.

“Robbie has game intelligence and he is always a threat to defenders. It was only a matter of time before he scored in the league.

“He is quick and can punish any mistakes that defenders make, and that is what he did.”

Keane, a former Wolves player, clearly enjoys games against their Black Country rivals. He has now scored eight in his last six starts against Albion.

Benitez also explained his reasons for not leaving Keane on the pitch in the final stages to try to complete his hat-trick.

He said: “We needed to get Fernando Torres into the game, we needed his pace to complete the victory and maybe get the third.

“Fernando is not match-fit, but we needed to get him into the action. We had some tired players out there, Robbie was trying hard but Fernando was important to us in the final stages.”

It was Torres’ first game after missing six matches with a hamstring injury.

Albion boss Tony Mowbray considered his side had done their best. He said: “We intended to be positive, to ask Liverpool some questions and go for it.

“We intended to be attack-minded and for long spells we held our own. We had a sloppy 10 minutes and we were punished for that.

“But we had some young strikers out there against top-class defenders. They were a little naive at times.

“But games like this will not define our season that will come against clubs around us in the table.

“But if we can stay up, and come back next season with some better players, we will be able to improve.

“There is no lack of belief about us, we have confidence, and I am not worried at this stage about our position. We are still very much in touch with everyone.”