Friday, November 21, 2008

Torres Looks Set To Start For Liverpool But Gerrard Will Miss Fulham Clash

Fernando Torres looks set to make his first Anfield start for almost two months when Liverpool seek to extend their unbeaten home league record in 2008 against revitalised Fulham tomorrow.

The last Anfield game he started was against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League on November 1 before he was hit by a hamstring problem on international duty.

It is clear that sharp words from boss Rafael Benitez had some effect on the Spain management team this week, with Torres used only for the final 31 minutes of the 3-0 win over Chile.

Torres took the captain's armband when he came on in Villarreal and scored within two minutes.

Benitez had said before the game: 'I do not like the fact that Fernando has been called up after being out injured for so long, but there is nothing I can do about it.

'But we have spoken to the Spanish staff and asked them to protect him.'

Benitez will check on the fitness of the 13 Liverpool players away on international duty this week, but it is expected that Torres will start against the Londoners, having recovered from his hamstring problem.

Steven Gerrard, though, is likely to miss out. He withdrew from the England squad this week with a muscle tear, and Benitez believes that his skipper is doubtful for next Wednesday's Champions League home game with Marseille.

By then Liverpool hope to have extended their unbeaten home league record for the calendar year so far to 16. In fact, Liverpool have only lost one of 26 home games in all competitions in 2008.

Victory will also give Liverpool 35 points, three more than their previous best start to a Premier League season after 14 games, which was set in 2001-02.

Liverpool are already five points better off than they were at this stage last season.

Fulham have hauled themselves up to mid-table, and have the best away defensive record in the division outside the top four, conceding just six times on their travels.

Initial reports suggest Liverpool suffered no new injury worries in the week's international friendlies, when five players were involved for Spain.

Torres, Xabi Alonso, Albert Riera, Pepe Reina and Alvaro Arbeloa all appeared in the win over Chile.

Benitez is no lover of mid-season friendly internationals, but he was delighted to see a quintet of Liverpool players in the Spain team.

He said: 'It was good to see so many of our players involved because it shows how important Liverpool are. I was especially pleased for Arbeloa and Riera because they are getting their reward for working hard and doing a good job for a good club.

'Hopefully the players will come back and be fit and ready for the game against Fulham because that is the most important thing for us now.'

Liverpool’s Skrtel Warning To Agger & Hyypia

Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel is keen to make his comeback before Christmas, but is aware that he will have to fight to make his way back in Rafa Benitez’s side.

The Slovakian international is on the sidelines following a cruciate knee ligament injury during the 3-2 win over Manchester City on October 5. And since then, the Reds defence has been well served by Daniel Agger and occasionally by veteran Sami Hyypia.

However, Skrtel, who moved to Anfield from Zenit St Petersburg in January, is desperate to play his part for the Merseysiders as they continue to go strong in the title race where they are joint-leaders along with Chelsea, and says he can’t wait to start full training.

“I don’t know exactly the date, but the predictions were for before Christmas and I am hoping it is as soon as possible,” he said in the Daily Post.

“It has been a long time. I can’t wait to start kicking a ball again and resume full training.”

Before the injury, the 23-year-old had established himself as the regular partner for centre-back Jamie Carragher, but he will now have to come back and fight with Denmark international Agger and Finnish star Hyypia for place.

He said: “Daniel and Sami are excellent players and they are playing well.

“It will be difficult to get back into the team but I am working hard and I will do my best to impress the coach and fight for my place back.

“I am sad that I am not currently part of the team, but I am happy that we are winning and at the end of the day it is the goal of all of us to win matches.

“Being at the top of the Premier League gives us a lot of confidence. We are trying to win every game and hopefully our form can continue for as long as possible.

“Of course I would like to win some silverware, but it’s still early and there is a long time to go until the end of the season.”

Martin Skrtel Stays Here - Rafa Benitez

RAFA BENITEZ today rubbished claims that Martin Skrtel is unhappy with life at Anfield and is looking to leave Liverpool.

The Slovakian international defender is currently recovering from a serious knee injury and is hoping to be back in action in time for the Christmas fixtures.

But reports in the UK and Russian press suggest Skrtel is struggling to adjust to life on Merseyside and would welcome a return to former club Zenit St Petersburg.

Those claims have been dismissed out of hand by Reds boss Benitez, who insists the 24-year-old is settled and is enjoying life at Anfield.

“These sort of stories always tend to come out during an international week,” scoffed Benitez.

“I was talking with Martin at Melwood yesterday and it was clear that he is very happy and just wants to get back playing.

“He is working very hard to get himself fit again and he is very settled at Liverpool – both in the city and at the club.”

Skrtel is expected to return to action in around a month’s time after suffering knee ligament damage during Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Manchester City in early October.

Benitez was today awaiting the return of his international players ahead of Saturday’s home game against Fulham.

Initial reports suggest Liverpool suffered no new injury worries in last night’s round of international friendlies and the Reds boss was happy to see no fewer than five of his players feature for reigning European champions Spain.

Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Albert Riera, Pepe Reina and Alvaro Arbeloa all appeared in Spain’s 3-0 win over Chile in Villarreal last night.

The Reds boss is notoriously cynical of the value of international friendlies at such a busy stage in the season, but was delighted to see a quintet of Redsl players in action for Europe’s best national team.

“It was good to see so many of our players involved because it shows how important Liverpool are,” he said. “I was especially pleased for Arbeloa and Riera because they are getting their reward for working hard and doing a good job for a good club.

“Hopefully the players will come back and be fit and ready for the game against Fulham because that is the most important thing for us now.”

Lazio Linked With Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano

Serie A outfit Lazio are reportedly set to make a swoop for Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano when the transfer window opens in January.

Lazio are currently in the Champions League and are looking to strengthen their midfield with the Argentina international captain reportedly being their top target.

According to sources in Italy, Macherano’s agent Walter Tamer has been informed about Lazio’s interest in the player where Tamer has reportedly said that the midfielder could make a switch to Italy.

Mascherano is getting frustrated about his lack of chances at Anfield, as Reds boss Rafa Benitez seems to prefer Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso to the Argentinean and Lazio are apparently looking to take full advantage of the situation.

Liverpool Give Up Attempt To Trademark Liver Bird

LIVERPOOL FC has agreed to withdraw its application to trade mark the Liverbird, after the city council told the club it would oppose the bid.

Intellectual property lawyers acting for the city council wrote to the club this week stating they planned to lodge an objection with the UK Intellectual Property Office before a deadline for doing so expired on Saturday.

Liverpool city council deputy leader Cllr Flo Clucas said: "I am delighted the owners of Liverpool FC have seen sense and withdrawn this controversial application.

"The outcry from residents and the threat of a legal challenge from the council has forced them to think again about registering the Liverbird as its own, exclusive trade mark.

"The Liverbird is and will always remain the proud symbol of the whole city.

"The city council has no objection to the football club registering its own badge, and this should be more than enough to prevent its shirts and merchandise from being counterfeited.

"There was never any justification for them attempting to claim ownership of the Liver Bird which would have prevented the council and hundreds of other organisations from using the city’s iconic emblem."

Aurelio Happy With Rotation

Fabio Aurelio believes Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez's rotation policy will prove crucial in the battle to secure Premier League glory.

Ahead of Saturday's visit of Fulham, the Reds sit level on points with table-topping Chelsea as they bid to end an 18-year wait for league silverware at Anfield.

And Aurelio, who worked under Benitez at former club Valencia when winning La Liga in 2002 and 2004, believes his boss' much-debated tactical changes could be a decisive factor.

The Brazilian left-back has struggled to hold down a place in Liverpool's first XI after being regularly swapped with Andrea Dossena, but he believes Benitez's decisions to rest players will bear fruit.

"There are similarities with what happened at Valencia in terms of the rotation of the players," Aurelio told Liverpool's official website.

"Rafa knows when to rest players and back in 2002 we were fresher than other teams at the end of the season because he'd rested players at the right times.

"Of course Rafa has experience of winning titles so he knows how to keep focused, but also how to keep the morale high within the squad.

"He and (assistant manager) Sammy Lee are good at motivating the players."

Aurelio, though, has warned his Merseyside colleagues that they must keep their feet on the ground.

"We have a good opportunity to do something great for the club this year, but there is still a long way to go and we have to keep focused," he concluded.

Henry: Why I'd Love To Play Alongside Stevie

In an exclusive interview with to celebrate Steven Gerrard week, Thierry Henry reveals all about their close friendship and why his dream of playing alongside the Reds skipper could never come true.

Thierry Henry had been in England less than a month when he paid his first visit to Anfield in August 1999.

A stunning goal from Robbie Fowler helped Liverpool to a 2-0 win on the day, but it was the performance of another Scouser that caught the eye of Arsenal's new striker. One born in Huyton, not Toxteth.

As Dermot Gallagher blew the final whistle and both sides sloped down the tunnel, Henry tapped teammate Partick Vieira on the shoulder and asked, "Who was that kid in midfield?"

"Steven Gerrard," replied his countryman. "He's going to be a brilliant player."

Over the next few years Henry and Gerrard would learn a lot more about one another as each set about writing his name in Premier League history.

It wasn't long before a mutual respect prompted an exchange of phone numbers, and from there a friendship blossomed.

Before Henry left Arsenal for the Nou Camp, there were even rumours that Gerrard tried to woo him to Merseyside.

Here, in an exclusive interview with, the French ace reveals all about that conversation and assesses how history will judge his mate...

You played against Steven so many times. Is there an occasion that stands out?

There are so many. Whenever you play Liverpool you know you have to get him out of the game. If not, it's all over for you. He's a midfielder and if you look at all the important goals he's scored - well I can't even think of a striker in the world who has scored as many important goals, never mind a midfielder. How many times has he done it in the dying seconds of a game? I am trying to think of a striker now who does it - there aren't any. Think about it.

Tell us about your friendship. How close did you become?

Yes, really close. I played against Liverpool and Stevie G so many times, and when you appreciate a player so much and see them at every game, you talk. I always told him how much I admired him and he said the same to me. We exchanged numbers and kept in touch from there.

And do you still speak these days now you're at Barcelona?

We haven't spoken for a little while. I think the last time was at the beginning of the season. I'll text him and he'll reply very quickly.

Is it right the pair of you talked about you coming to Liverpool when you were leaving Arsenal?

Well, it was mentioned but it would have been difficult for me to go to another Premier League club after Arsenal. We talked about it but nothing was in it, really. It was just us talking about our wishes.

Maybe you could come back to the Premier League one day…

No, I really don't think so. In life, you can never say never, right? But right now I really don't think so.

How much would you have liked to have played with him?

Oh, so much, so much. That's normal - I would have liked to have played with some others too, but he is an inspiration. He reminds me of Patrick Vieira in that he doesn't talk too much. He just does what he does. He inspires Liverpool without talking. I find it a disgrace that he didn't win European Football of the Year in 2005 after Istanbul. For me, he is one of the best ever.

How do they compare - Steven and Patrick?

They are different types of player. Patrick was a holding midfielder who also had the ability to go and score goals. Stevie G is someone who plays with the ball. He goes to put his name on the scoresheet every game. It is difficult to compare the two: it's like comparing Paul Scholes and Roy Keane. They are both great players but they don't do the same thing on the pitch.

Where does Steven rank in world football in your opinion?

For me, and I have always said this, he will be regarded as one of the greatest midfielders ever when he finishes his career. No doubt. Okay, he doesn't do the showboating thing. That doesn't matter. The guy is always putting his foot in, always scoring and doing what he has to do to make his team win. That is what football is all about. He is the guy who makes Liverpool spark.

What, for you, is his biggest attribute on the pitch?

Ah, where do you begin? Maybe I would say that when he needs to put his foot in, he does it. Look at Istanbul. He needed to go play at right-back and so he did it. And he did it well. He will put his head on the line and go to places other players won't. I don't know of a single word that describes Stevie G. Even if he is not playing at his best, you know you can count on him.

You don't get many players who play for their hometown club for 10 years, do you?

Well, it happens more in England than in other countries. There is a thing in England where people want to play for their hometown team and be the local hero - be like the people they used to look up to. But it is amazing what Stevie has done and is doing. It's not like he has relaxed for all this time. He has been everywhere for 10 years: putting his foot in, scoring goals, passing and being committed to his club. No one can ever doubt his commitment to Liverpool. He, for me, is Liverpool.

Agger Is Outstanding - Bellamy

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger has been hailed as the "the closest thing I have seen to Alan Hansen" by former team-mate Craig Bellamy.

Wales captain Bellamy crossed swords with the Danish centre-half in Copenhagen on Wednesday.

Bellamy came out trumps in the clash with 23-year-old Agger, netting the second-half winner in a friendly international against Denmark.

And in a week when it was being suggested that Agger's defensive rival Martin Skrtel was unhappy with life out of the side at Anfield, Bellamy underlined how tough the competition for places is now for the title chasers.

Bellamy, a lifelong Liverpool fan who achieved his ultimate career ambition when he had a year with the club after a £6million move from Blackburn in July 2006, rates Agger highly and understands the battle for a first-team shirt between the Dane and Skrtel.

Bellamy said: "Agger is outstanding. I have watched Liverpool a lot over the years and for me Agger is the closest thing I have seen to Alan Hansen.

"That's the best compliment I can give him. When he gets possession he can move confidently into midfield, he joins in the passing.

"He is comfortable on the ball and has really impressed me. I liked him a lot as a person, he is down-to-earth and level-headed.

"Nothing fazes him, nothing gets on top of him, he is an outstanding player."

Liverpool bought Skrtel last January because of the continued injury problems that had kept out Agger for months.

Bellamy said: "Agger was injured and that cost him his place to Martin Skrtel. Even when he was fit again he could not get back into the side, but at a place like Liverpool you have to earn the right to play.

"He had to bide his time and although it was bad luck for Skrtel when he got injured, Daniel has got his chance again.

"The same will happen when Skrtel is fit again. He will find it hard to get back into the team because Daniel is playing so well.

"The roles will be reversed. But that does not surprise me at a top club where the best players do hold down their places in the side."

There was a spell earlier in the season when Agger could not fight his way back into the side after injury with Skrtel then the man in possession of the shirt.

Captaining Country Was ‘Amazing’ – Mascherano

Javier Mascherano described skippering Argentina to victory in their first match under the Diego Maradona’s leadership as an “amazing” experience.

The Liverpool midfielder helped his country to a 1-0 win over Scotland at Hamp-den Park on Wednesday night as the new era under Maradona began smoothly.

Former West Ham United player Mascherano had already forced Allan McGregor into a diving save from a 25-yard volley when Argentina took the lead in the eighth minute.

Atletico Madrid winger Maxi Rodriguez finished off a superb passing move as Maradona’s men began in dominant fashion.

The South Americans failed to maintain their electric start and Scotland created half-chances but the visitors were well worthy of their controlled win.

It was an emotional occasion for Mascherano, who wore the armband for the first time since Maradona visited him at Liverpool’s training ground to offer him the role.

The 24-year-old took over from veteran Javier Zanetti, who also played at Hampden on Wednesday night.

“I couldn’t believe it was true,” Mascherano said of Maradona’s offer. “I’m very happy with my first game. It was a new experience and I’m really happy with the win. It was an amazing experience. I’m not just thinking about being captain, I’m thinking about the team.”

Each player was hugged by Maradona – who guaranteed Mascherano his place – as they left the park after the morale-boosting display, which followed last month’s World Cup qualifying defeat to Chile.

Maradona said: “Taking Mascherano aside, nobody has a place secured in my team. It doesn’t matter what his name is.”

Mascherano added: “We came back with a win,” Mascherano said. “We need to improve but it’s good to start to the new era. We will try to continue to improve and see what happens.”

While Mascherano is revelling in his role as national team captain, he admits the same honour at club level is “impossible” given the esteem Anfield skipper in which Steven Gerrard and his fellow Liverpudlian Jamie Carragher are held.