Monday, November 17, 2008

Steven Gerrard Forced To Prove He Is Injured To Fabio Capello

STEVEN GERRARD reported for England duty last night – even though he has withdrawn from the squad for Wednesday’s friendly with Germany.

Gerrard has been ruled out by Liverpool for “seven to 10 days” after suffering a muscle tear at Bolton on Saturday, which also makes him doubtful for Premier League home game with Fulham.

But England coach Fabio Capello still made him travel to the team’s base in Watford, where he will be assessed by Football Association medical staff before a final decision on his availability is reached.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is unlikely to be impressed with that but under FIFA rules Capello is entitled to have a look at the Anfield captain, who would be an automatic choice to face the Germans if he was fit.

A Liverpool spokesman said: “A scan has confirmed a tear in the adductor magnus muscle in his right leg, and he is expected to be out between seven to 10 days.”

Meanwhile, Robbie Keane has been ruled out of the Republic of Ireland’s friendly with Poland with a shoulder injury.

Keane reported for training yesterday ahead of Ireland’s game at Croke Park on Wednesday but has now returned to Liverpool for treatment.

Also in the England camp, Chelsea captain John Terry was also summoned by Capello, although having stated on Saturday he was experiencing a lot of pain from the foot injury he sustained at West Brom, it was thought the Three Lions skipper would not be involved either.

However, the 28-year-old had a scan earlier yesterday and the results made him feel it was worthwhile travelling to meet Capello, so at the very least, he must be rated less doubtful than Gerrard.

Terry’s presence would be invaluable as without him, the captain’s armband would presumably be handed to Frank Lampard or Gareth Barry who, with the exception of David James and Theo Walcott, are the only other members of what constitutes England’s first-choice side to remain involved.

Even Capello’s plans for experimentation are being hit following the loss of Manchester City Joe Hart, who had been expected to win his second cap, possibly as a substitute.

Hart was replaced after sustaining an ankle injury trying to keep out Daniel Cousin’s opener in the 2-2 draw at Hull, a blow that could keep the 20-year-old out for a month.

“He will have to be seen by our medical people,” said City managerMark Hughes.

“Missing England is a blow to Joe but more importantly, the injury is a blow to us because we have some key games coming up.”

However, Hart’s loss is Paul Robinson’s gain. The former England number one, who lost his place to Scott Carson after a dire display in the crucial Euro 2008 qualifying defeat against Russia was called into Capello’s squad last night.

While both James and Carson would be viewed as more obvious candidates to play, England’s first visit to the city to play a unified German side since a controversial trip in 1938, Robinson’s inclusion above the competing claims of Ben Foster and Robert Green should at least provide the Blackburn man with a confidence boost.

Having stated he did not want to disrupt a settled formula by bringing in too many new faces, Capello now finds himself with little option.

Ireland Captain Keane Pulls Out Of Poland Friendly

Republic of Ireland skipper Robbie Keane is out of Wednesday's friendly clash with Poland after reporting with a shoulder injury.

The Liverpool striker reported in with a shoulder injury picked up in the win at Bolton but after failing to train on Sunday afternoon, was withdrawn on medical advice and flown back to Merseyside.

Keane, who has started each of manager Giovanni Trapattoni's six games to date and scored in three of them, would have collected his 86th senior cap against the Poles.

Keane was absent as Trapattoni put his players through their paces at Gannon Park in Malahide having already made one change to the squad he selected last week.

Reading striker Noel Hunt, the younger brother of midfielder Stephen, earned a first call up as a replacement for Celtic winger Aiden McGeady, who will miss out with the calf injury he has been fighting for some time.

The 25-year-old Hunt has scored eight goals this season after making a £600,000 summer move from Dundee United. Just over two years ago he was playing his football in his native country with Shamrock Rovers.

The news of Keane's premature departure came after an animated Trapattoni had spoken at length of his intention to cast an eye over some of his emerging players on Wednesday.

Arbeloa Plays Down Atletico Link

Liverpool full-back Alvaro Arbeloa insists he is in the dark over rumoured interest from Primera Division side Atletico Madrid.

Atletico are reportedly monitoring the former Real Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna defender with a view to bringing the Spain international back to his homeland.

However, when asked if he knew anything of the speculation, Arbeloa said: "No. I have a contract with Liverpool for one more year.

"We've not spoken about renewing it, not knowing if (Liverpool manager Rafa) Benitez will continue...It seems to me a little soon to talk about this."

Arbeloa, who signed at Anfield from Depor in January 2007, went on to spell out that he has no doubts about the future of captain Steven Gerrard.

"A while ago there was some talk of Madrid wanting Gerrard; they can forget that, he will never move from here in his life," Arbeloa added in Spanish newspaper AS.

"He and (Jamie) Carragher are the ones here who the fans love a huge amount, and they love the club a huge amount.

"Now the dream of everyone is to win the league, as it is 18 years since Liverpool last achieved it and it hurts, but it will not be easy."

Rafa Benitez Happy To Have Angry Substitutes

LIVERPOOL manager Rafael Benitez says he is pleased to see his players angry when they are substituted as it shows the winning mentality needed to end the club’s long title wait.

After enduring a frustrating afternoon on his own up front and missing a seemingly straightforward chance from point-blank range, Robbie Keane was withdrawn by Benitez less than an hour into the game at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday.

Although Keane’s replacement Fernando Torres made an instant impact, setting up Steven Gerrard for Liverpool’s second goal, the Irish international striker did not look pleased to be taken out of the action so early.

Since his £20million move to Anfield in the summer Keane has made 20 appearances for the club but incredibly has only completed a full 90-minute game on two occasions and Saturday was the 14th time in 16 starts that he has been hauled off by Benitez.

However, the Spaniard insists he is encouraged by the former Tottenham man’s frustrations as it shows the character needed to compete at the top of the Premier League.

He said: “If we’re at the top of the table, players need to accept that I will change it if that’s what is best for the team. It is difficult, and Robbie is working very hard, but clearly it was a different type of football in the second half, more suited for Fernando.

“We know Robbie is a very, very good professional and he wants to play 90 minutes all the time, but players have to respect the decisions because we are doing what we think is best for the team. But a player has to be disappointed at coming off – that’s what I want to see.

“The response always has to be that you work even harder for the next game. It has to be like that in a winning team – you have to compete for the positions and that is a positive thing. Robbie knows the team will always be the important thing so I don’t need to speak to him about it (being substituted).”

With Liverpool having gone toe-to-toe with Chelsea at the Premier League’s summit for most of the season so far, Benitez believes that many of their rivals now consider them serious title contenders.

He said: “This season we can win games now sometimes even when we are playing badly. But the atmosphere and mood is really good, the confidence is really high. People always say how crucial it is to get a good start, how crucial this part of the season is, how crucial Christmas is. Well we will see after that, but clearly it is much better this season. You can see the players doing better because they know others teams are thinking ‘We’ve got to be careful, we’re playing Liverpool and they are at the top of the table.’ Now it’s important to stay there, but obviously we have better players now.

“The squad is so much stronger – the ones on the pitch are good, but now also the ones who are on the bench.”

Despite Benitez maintaining that his record signing is not fully fit, Torres’s introduction for the final half an hour stretched Bolton’s defence and created the visitors’ second goal.

Given the tight nature of the game before then, the Liverpool manager admits that he needed to make the switch.

He said: “The game changed a lot. In the first half there was plenty of passing, but in the second they played more long balls and it was more physical, so we couldn’t control the passing the same.

“It needed a long, penetrating pass for the strikers and with Fernando’s pace we were more dangerous. After the first half of pass, pass, pass we couldn’t do that, and Fernando is always a threat because he’s so quick and can beat players on his own.

“I have said we’ve got plenty of room for improvement. Steven Gerrard wasn’t playing at his level, others weren’t at their best and Torres wasn’t fit.

“Now, if Torres stays fit and keeps his momentum, Mascherano is improving, so is Stevie, so we have many more options.”

Time To Stop Making Hard Work Of Fixtures

LIVERPOOL march on as another historically difficult fixture is dealt with, but boy they made hard work of it.

The amount of chances that we squander is starting to concern me, and these long periods with a slender lead can be excruciating. Coupled with the woodwork and posts conspiring against us and you get the feeling we are going to come unstuck soon as proved in the Spurs league fixture.

Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard were the offenders on Saturday. I am happy with Robbie’s contribution but it was a horrible miss and I thought after his brace against West Brom that he would really start to take off. He just needs to keep battling and I’m sure the goals will become more consistent. He obviously disagrees with the decision to substitute him regularly but at the end of the day he is starting games which prove Rafa Benitez has faith in him.

Gerrard thankfully atoned for his miss as Fernando Torres provided how good a winger he is also! I think something we have lost in recent years is the headed goals from Gerrard. I recall the treble season when Gary McAllister was taking corners that Gerrard got on the end of quite a few times. With the latter now the corner taker we obviously then lose his threat in the box. Perhaps Xabi Alonso or Fabio Aurelio could take these? Just a thought, Rafa.

On to Aurelio and it looks like Dirk Kuyt has given him some of his magic potion because he looks like a player transformed; and the two linked up excellently for the first goal. The signs are promising as players who were struggling are now finding some real form. But my main gripe still is the missed chances that we are seeing week in, week out. Chelsea doesn’t seem to have this problem and they are ruthlessly dispatching teams with ease.

They are the benchmark and our players need to become more sharper when presented with opportunities and look for that crucial two-goal cushion.

Analysis shows that the majority of our league victories are by one goal margins. In the crazy world of the Premiership these can be so quickly wiped out, so come on give us some boring four or five nil wins please!

Liverpool FC Is Not Obsessed With Table, Says Xabi Alonso

LIVERPOOL midfielder Xabi Alonso believes it is more important for the team to be playing well at this stage of the season than worrying whether they are top of the table.

Playing in the Premier League’s early kick-off game at 12.45pm on Saturday, Liverpool briefly returned to the summit following their 2-0 win at Bolton Wanderers thanks to headed goals by Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard.

However, by the time Chelsea had finished their evening game, the Londoners had reclaimed top spot on goal difference with a 3-0 victory at basement club West Brom.

It’s been a similar sequence for most of the season so far with the two clubs frequently exchanging places depending on whoever plays first over the weekend.

Alonso’s goal at Stamford Bridge on October 26, which ended Chelsea’s record 86-game unbeaten home record, briefly put Liverpool into the ascendancy, but a first defeat of the season back in London just six days later against Tottenham ensured Benitez’s side were again on the same points total as Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men.

However, with a third of the season complete, Alonso is more concerned with Liverpool’s form than whether they occupy first place as the club bid to land their first title in 19 years.

He said: “The pressure is always there, you’re professional. I’ve been at Liverpool for a while and it’s nice to have the pressure of being at the top of the table.

“We don’t have to obsess about being top of the table, we have to obsess about each individual game.

“Now the job is done against Bolton and some of us will go off and think about an international and as soon as we are back we have to be thinking about Fulham at home.”

Despite Liverpool’s start being their best ever to a Premier League season, manager Rafael Benitez says he feels there is still plenty of room for improvement from several of his players. Alonso believes his team-mates will have no problem upping their game as the campaign progresses.

He said: “There are still a few things, but that is normal because the other sides have good teams as well.

“We try to have control in all areas of the game – that is something we’re working on – but other things are working quite well.

“As we improve as a team, each individual player will benefit from that improvement.

“I’m happy with the team and myself as well. As long as the team continues in this way and in this position I’m very happy.”

Gary Megson’s side were expected to push Liverpool hard, but after some of the nail-biting matches so far this season, Alonso was pleased with a relatively comfortable victory.

He said: “Overall the team is looking quite good in attack and defence. Of course we still think we can improve, but we are keeping the ball well, and working well together.”

With Benitez admitting that Fernando Torres is still several weeks short of match fitness, Liverpool have already shown that they can win without their most prolific marksman.

Alonso said: “It’s important whoever is playing that the team keeps the same identity and have the same ideas.”

Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard has been ruled out of England’s friendly with Germany in Berlin on Wednesday after tearing a leg muscle against Bolton.

He could return, however, for the meeting with Fulham at Anfield this Saturday.

Rafael Benitez Enjoys Liverpool's Class Acts

Let us get the pub talk out of the way. Liverpool will not win the title this season because their defence is not as good as Manchester United’s or Chelsea’s and because their squad is not as strong as United’s, Chelsea’s or Arsenal’s. Well, on Saturday, a Liverpool defence missing Martin Skrtel and Álvaro Arbeloa handled everything that Bolton Wanderers could throw at them, while Fernando Torres sat on the substitutes’ bench.

Liverpool have beaten Chelsea and United this season and if they fail to win the Barclays Premier League in May, it will not be because Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are better than Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger or because United can leave players of Torres’s calibre on the bench. It will be down to bottle. Some teams have it, some do not and we are about to find out whether Rafael BenÍtez’s side have what it takes.

Against Bolton, a team who used to punch above their weight and finished in the top eight for four seasons from 2003 to 2007 under Sam Allardyce, BenÍtez’s side proved that they have more bottle than a Merseyside milkman. But Bolton under Gary Megson, an honest and hardworking manager, are a different proposition.

Kevin Davies may still be leading the line and putting himself about but his teammates were happy to stand back and watch Liverpool play for 45 minutes before Megson could get them back in the dressing-room and remind them that they had to fight, tackle and compete if they wanted to get anything from the game. “At half-time I told them not to show Liverpool any respect,” Megson said. “Liverpool have fantastic players but we had to get about them properly.”

Megson’s team increased their workrate at the start of the second half but they would have lost 7-2 if Liverpool – and Ricardo Gardner, the Bolton substitute – had taken their chances. Dirk Kuyt put his side in front with a clever header after 28 minutes and Steven Gerrard doubled the advantage after good work by Torres 17 minutes from time but this was a game of missed opportunities. Robbie Keane, from four yards, Gerrard, from two, and Lucas Leiva, from six, all missed open goals.

Kuyt and Torres hit the bar and post respectively and Gardner lost first his footing, then his nerve, when it would have been easier to score twice. “We’re practising finishing but maybe we need to practise some more,’ BenÍtez said.

The Liverpool manager may not have been pleased with his side’s finishing but he had no complaints about Rob Styles, the referee who disallowed a Bolton goal on the stroke of half-time. Gary Cahill’s header from a corner exposed Liverpool’s zonal marking system but the referee made the right call after Kevin Nolan tangled with José Manuel Reina and prevented the Liverpool goalkeeper from leaving his line. BenÍtez congratulated Styles but Megson was perplexed, unaware of the Fifa guidelines that advise referees that “it is an offence to restrict the movement of goalkeepers by unfairly impeding him, for example, at the taking of a corner kick”.

Before BenÍtez departed, he was asked if this was the kind of game his side would have lost two years ago. “No,” he said. They did. 2-0.

Philipp Degen Devastated By Liverpool Injury Setback

Jinxed Liverpool star Philipp Degen has opened his heart on his injury hell - admitting he has never felt worse.

Swiss right-back Degen, a summer signing from Borussia Dortmund, has previously been sidelined with ligament, groin and lung injuries. He made his first-team comeback in the 4-2 Carling Cup defeat at Spurs on Wednesday, only to break a bone in his foot.

"This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me," said Degen, 25. "I simply burst into tears in the dressing-room. Tottenham's Gareth Bale made a bad challenge on me, and I did not even get a penalty.

"But the bone in my foot is torn apart, and I will be out another four to six weeks. It is the saddest event of my life - I keep asking myself if I did something wrong in a past life."

Gillett And Hicks Keen To Seal Deal For Manager And End Real Interest

One of Liverpool's owners is believed to be more enthusiastic than the other about concluding contract talks key to Rafael Benitez's future but both want the issue resolved, with the real prospect of a counter offer for his services if Real Madrid's troubles continue.

Tom Hicks, the co-owner with whom Benitez has a relationship, initiated the conversation with the manager over the new deal he has been waiting 18 months for and though Benitez cited him – and not George Gillett – at the weekend as the individual he expects his representatives to deal with, there is no suggestion that Gillett is cooling on the talks.

Both men sanctioned Benitez going public on the fact they were talking about a new deal to generate a sense of stability at a time when a buyer for the club would be more than welcome. That explains the coordinated news release put out the Friday before last.

Hicks and Gillett were not happy with the talk, when Benitez announced the contract developments 10 days ago, of his desire for a long-term deal and that much was apparent on Friday when Benitez sought immediately to clarify that he was not publicly discussing money or tenure. Weekend reports that Liverpool's Carling Cup defeat at White Hart Lane had cooled Gillett's ardour do not reflect Benitez's expectation that his agent Manuel Garcia Quilon will begin discussions with the owners this week.

"My advisors are talking with the owners and they will have a meeting if necessary next week and will progress," Benitez said on Friday. "At this stage we are not talking about anything else so I was surprised to read about figures and years. In the future I will not talk any more [about this]."

Dirk Kuyt And Steven Gerrard Boost Liverpool's Title Credentials At Bolton

There is increasing confidence and consistency about Liverpool to suggest that after this 2-0 win, a first Premier League title is finally within their grasp.

A visit to the Reebok to face a Bolton team buoyed by successive victories over Manchester City and at Hull might previously have been viewed with some trepidation; on Saturday lunchtime, goals in each half from Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard provided further evidence that Anfield's long wait to rule English footbal – they last won the former First Division championship in 1990 – could soon be over.

If there remains a failing requiring radical adjustment it is the need to kill off opponents far more readily than Bolton were dispatched in a game where a plethora of opportunities were all too carelessly abandoned. Robbie Keane, before he was replaced by Fernando Torres, and Gerrard himself proved particularly wasteful before the Liverpool captain delivered the all-important second goal that made the points secure.

Leading by Kuyt's sterling header from the cross on the left by Fabio Aurelio following a scintillating 20-pass move, Liverpool were always vulnerable to a Bolton side whose change of personnel and tactics for the second half enabled them to create their own gilt-edged openings, the best of which were squandered by Ricardo Gardner.

Gardner was the second-half substitute for Fabrice Muamba whose earlier shadowing of Gerrard had reduced his effectiveness for much of the opening 45 minutes. While Muamba's departure released Gerrard, Gardner offered a more meaningful attacking option.

Yet he lost his footing when provided with Bolton's clearest opening shortly after the break and blazed over when put clear six minutes from time although by then Liverpool had doubled their advantage.

However, Liverpool's goal front failings-Torres was equally guilty of wastefulness while Kuyt also struck the framework-could prove of greater significance in that this was a lost opportunity to bite into the huge goal difference that enables Chelsea to lead the table.

"It's a pity we didn't score more," said manager Rafa Benitez, who stressed: "I have said we have room for improvement. Steven Gerrard wasn't playing at his level, others were not at their best and Torres wasn't fully fit. Now, if Torres stays fit and keeps his momentum, Mascherano is improving and so is Stevie so we have many more options.

"This season we can sometimes win games when we are playing badly, but the atmosphere and mood is good and confidence is high. You can see players doing better because they know other teams are thinking 'we've got to be careful, we're playing Liverpool and they are top of the table.' Now it is important to stay there, but obviously we have better players now. The squad is so much stronger; the ones on the pitch are good, but now also the ones who are on the bench."

Stoke Boss Tony Pulis Eyes Jermaine Pennant

Tony Pulis has lined up a cut-price £4million move for Liverpool outcast Jermaine Pennant.

Stoke boss Pulis is ready to rival Blackburn in a scrap to sign Pennant in the New Year, with Rafa Benitez finally ready to cut his losses on the winger.

Pennant, 25, was all set to join Rovers in the summer but the move collapsed just before the transfer deadline over personal terms.

But Pennant has been a top target for the Potters ever since their promotion to the Premier League and they will try again in January.

Pennant, 25, has not made a league start for Liverpool this season and was axed from the squad for the Carling Cup clash with Spurs last week.

Stoke are also targeting Pennant's Liverpool team-mate Sami Hyypia, Aston Villa striker Marlon Harewood and Southampton winger Andrew Surman.