Monday, November 24, 2008

Liverpool Chasing Copenhagen's Jorgensen?

Reports suggest the Danish starlet, dubbed by some as the new Agger, is set for a January move to Merseyside.

Matthias Jorgensen, the young man they call 'Zanka' in Denmark, could be the future of the Liverpool back-line, according to The People.

Very much a stopper in the mould of current Red and countryman Daniel Agger, Jorgensen is a tough tackler, who in his spare time makes a nuisance of himself in the opposition penalty box.

Copenhagen value him at around €300,000, but the price could be inflated given the elite status of his suitors - perhaps as high as €750,000

The 18-year-old, beanpole defender is still rough around the edges, but his enthusiastic displays at club level have already won him a full international cap, which came against Wales in last week's friendly defeat. Anfield scouts are said to have been in the stadium watching his every move.

Zanka was signed from minnows Osterbro in 2007 and, if it had not been for a knee problem, reports suggest that Anfield gaffer Rafael Benitez would have swooped for him in the summer.

Arbeloa: Let's Focus On Marseille

Alvaro Arbeloa is confident Liverpool will book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League by taking out their Fulham frustration on Marseille.

The Reds full-back admits it was disappointing to drop two points against the Cottagers but feels his teammates will bounce back with victory against the French outfit.

"It was very frustrating," he told following Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Fulham.

"We always have the same problem when teams come to Anfield. They play really compact and narrow but it's up to us to break them down.

"We now need to turn attention to the Champions League. We need to make sure we put this behind us by beating Marseille so that we qualify for the next round."

The Spain international, who has enjoyed an impressive start to the season, believes the Reds are missing a clinical touch in front of goal and admits they were relieved to hear that Chelsea had also drawn a blank in their clash with Newcastle United.

"It's not a bad result for us," he said, referring to Chelsea's draw.

"They have also dropped two points so it could have been worse. We still feel we should have done our job and won the game though.

"We had two or three clear chances to score and we have to start taking them because otherwise you make life difficult for yourself.

"In the first-half we didn't play that well. We improved in the second-half but we couldn't find the goal to win the match. Once you get the first in a match like this it makes the rest of the match much easier."

Gerrard Wants Another Champions League Crown For Liverpool

Liverpool's very own 'Mr Champions League', Steven Gerrard, has told that he understands why people are getting so excited about Rafa Benitez's resurgent Reds.

Now, he wants to back up the hype by putting fresh silverware in the Anfield trophy cabinet.

The skipper's goal gave the Reds hope in 2005 when they were trailing Milan. His strike sparked a famous comeback which resulted in a 3-3 draw and a penalty shoot-out victory.

The midfielder said: "I've got a drive and a hunger to match Istanbul, if not beat it. I don't just want to milk that final... I think I'd have regrets if I didn't win anything else."

"Getting the captaincy was a big, big buzz, personally, but Istanbul was the club's finest hour for a long time.

Ahead of the Group D clash with Marseille in midweek, Gerrard is in a pensive mood, considering the club's European pedigree past and present.

"Liverpool belong in Europe and you have to earn the right to be in it," he continued. "The number of cups we've won in Europe shows that it's our stage. Players before our generation delivered, so fans expect the same of us today.

"Will we win things? I can see why people think that, but it's important to stay humble.

"We know we're a good team, we know we're getting closer to a title challenge, but we've got to stay in the race till the end."

Benitez Keen To Reunite Duo

Rafael Benitez believes the understanding between Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard will be key to Liverpool's trophy hopes.

The duo plundered over 50 goals between them last season as they formed a frontline that was likened to the legendary Rush-Dalglish partnership.

It is a link the Reds boss believes can get better and better and he is hopeful they could both line-up for Wednesday's Champions League clash with Marseille.

"Last season it was clear to see that the understanding between Torres and Gerrard was really good and there have been signs this year that it is getting better," said Rafa.

"Torres is back again after being injured and we hope that Gerrard will be fit enough to face Marseille.

"As a manager I don't like to single out players. But Gerrard and Torres have scored something like 54 goals between them since they began playing together, so it is clear that they are both very important to us."

Benitez - Babel Will Be Better

Rafa Benitez is optimistic that Liverpool will start to see the best from Ryan Babel this season.

Babel has yet to make a sustained impact at Anfield since his 2007 move from Ajax and has been forced to play second fiddle to Albert Riera so far this term.

The Dutch winger has made 15 first-team appearances for the Reds this season, but started only four times, with two of those coming in the Carling Cup.

He recently expressed his frustration at the situation after admitting he did not want to wait too long for his opportunity in Benitez's starting line-up.

Reds boss Benitez believes Babel is slowly adjusting to the demands of the Premier League and feels the 21-year-old is capable of being a success on Merseyside.

"He's improving and he's working hard and trying to learn and have a proper understanding of the Premier League, and hopefully we will see the best of Babel this year," said Benitez in the Daily Express.

"But he is still a young player and he needs to change some things and he will be better.

"He knows that sometimes he can be a very good player for us and he is trying."

Jimmy Bullard Delighted With Point At Liverpool Despite Fury At Fernando Torres

Jimmy Bullard, a thorn in Liverpool's side for so much of this frustrating Anfield afternoon, always seemed destined to have the final say, off the field if not on it.

As Liverpool's £50 million strikers, Robbie Keane and Fernando Torres, struggled to carve out chances against an impressively resilient Fulham, Bullard appeared the visitors' best hope of an unlikely victory.

Bullard's first-half strike, after good approach play from Bobby Zamora, forced a fine reflex save from Jose Reina, for example, but it was after the contest that the Fulham midfielder really let loose.

First, angered by what he viewed as an attack by Torres on his team-mate John Pantsil, Bullard vented his feelings at the Spanish striker on the final whistle, making a "yapping" gesture with his hand. Then Bullard, having played a key role in denying Liverpool their opportunity of moving two points clear of Chelsea at the top of the table, predicted that the London club would deny the Merseysiders in their quest to end a 19-year wait for the title.

"Who do I think will win the league? Chelsea, and I think they'll do it comfortably this year," said Bullard. "Liverpool do have an outstanding squad of individuals, it's awesome. But sometimes it's not about individual players, it's about the team.

"They're still up at the top and a very organised side. They made it hard to play but we were exceptional today and it might have looked a tad easier than usual because of that." As for the verbal altercation with Torres, Bullard said: "I just felt he had butted John and I wasn't happy that someone had done that to one of my team-mates. We're not making a thing of it, it happens. But I wouldn't have done it if that had been Duncan Ferguson – I'd have been nowhere near!"

Bullard's irrepressible personality and good humour summed up the spirit in a Fulham side that came to Anfield with just one away point all season and having failed to win any of their previous 27 visits to the ground.

Yet, Roy Hodgson's players appeared to play with more belief, confidence and camaraderie than did the hosts. Rafael Benitez has spoken so frequently and with such passion about the negative impact that travel for international football has on domestic performances that numerous sub-par Liverpool displays had the air of self-fulfilling prophecy on Saturday.

Benitez's concerns about travel fatigue also explained why he left Xabi Alonso on the bench for 64 minutes even though the pattern of the game – not to mention The Kop – were crying out for his talents.

In contrast, Hodgson pointed out that three of his most impressive performances came from goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and defenders Pantsil and Brede Hangeland, who spent the week travelling to and from Bahrain, Ghana and the Ukraine, respectively, on international duty.

"You can see that we didn't have enough quality on the ball and we didn't have enough energy," said Benitez. "We were giving it away and losing every challenge.

"You have to be strong to win this league, although you can say the same about Chelsea. Some days you have a bad day and today was a bad day."

Benítez At Pains To Explain Away Lacklustre Effort As 'A Bad Day'

The Kop jeered the selections and substitutions of Rafael Benítez, his revered compatriot Fernando Torres was taunted by Jimmy Bullard and after this excruciating performance was finally over a visiting Spanish journalist presented the manager with a book entitled Mala Vida. Bad Life would not tell the tale of any Liverpool coach, particularly one with a European Cup in the vault and awaiting an improvement on a £3.5m-a-year contract, but professionally it made appropriate bedtime reading for Benítez on Saturday night.

Long after a tireless Fulham had departed Merseyside with a merited point, only the second from their travels this season, the Liverpool manager, book in hand and visibly irritated, hung around the media room at Anfield to explain a performance at odds with the credentials of any title-chasing team. Life would appear more charmed than bad once results from Stamford Bridge and Villa Park arrived, Liverpool's own goalless draw resembling a missed opportunity and not a costly slip, but nothing could disguise Benítez's annoyance at having to defend his choices once again. Those days, he had dared to imagine, had gone.

The Brazilian Lucas Leiva was the object of Anfield frustration against Fulham, primarily as he began in favour of Xabi Alonso and ultimately when the in-form Spain international replaced Javier Mascherano. Benítez's response was to insist he needed more players as fresh as Lucas and, had they been available, would have sacrificed more of his international contingent. The argument had validity, with Mascherano, Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera all way below recent standards, but it was also a poor reflection on a squad Benítez has labelled the strongest of his Anfield reign. It demonstrated the turmoil facing Lucas, a £6m talent whose desperation to impress increases with every sporadic appearance, that the Kop began chanting Alonso's name after 36 minutes.

"Three or four did not have enough energy," the Liverpool manager admitted. "The players were thinking, 'It's a bad day, it is cold', so everything was against them" - which is not the mentality of champions, although when picked up on this point Benítez added: "You have to be strong to win the league and you can say the same about Chelsea. Some days you have a bad day and this was a bad day."

Injury to key players and international duty had caused minimal disruption to Liverpool this season but the drive of Steven Gerrard was missed. He could only squirm in the stands as Robbie Keane lofted the clearest chance of the game into the face of Mark Schwarzer, who also foiled Kuyt and Torres. Unlike for Kuyt, Mascherano and Riera, the international week offered no excuse for meagre contributions from Keane and Lucas while the excellence of Schwarzer, John Paintsil and Brede Hangeland - the Fulham trio who played in Bahrain, Ghana and Ukraine respectively last week - further undermined the official Liverpool line.

Roy Hodgson's team were comfortable throughout, taking the game to Liverpool in the first half as they denied them time and space. In the second, with Alonso's passing range forcing Fulham further back, their defence absorbed what little threat came. Fulham's only irritation came when Torres took out his frustration on Paintsil. Bullard was quick to intervene. "I felt he had head-butted John," he said.

Hodgson was happy with his team's performance. "They came up against a Fulham team that thwarted them in the correct way," he said. Marseille may have taken note for Wednesday.

Rafa Urges Liverpool FC Not To Dwell On Fulham Draw

FRUSTRATED Rafael Benitez believes his Liverpool players must not dwell on the disappointment of their latest title setback.

The Anfield outfit missed the chance to return to the top of the Premier League table when they were held to a home goalless draw by Fulham on Saturday.

Results elsewhere meant Liverpool did not lose ground on their main rivals and remain level on points with leaders Chelsea.

However, since their unbeaten start to the season was ended by defeat at Tottenham Hotspur, Benitez’s side have won just two of the next five games.

But the Anfield manager has told his squad they must not allow the weekend stalemate to linger long in the memory, with Liverpool aiming to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League when they entertain Marseille on Wednesday.

“We are disappointed about Saturday but we cannot talk about past games now,” said Benitez. “We have to think about making mistakes and analyse why and find solutions for the next game.

“We are frustrated, really frustrated. How can we change that now? We have to analyse and talk to the players about the mistakes and try to change for the next game.

“There was frustration at the end but relief because we are in the same position and Arsenal had lost.”

Seven of Liverpool’s starting XI were on international duty for their respective national teams three days earlier.

Liverpool had previously beaten Middlesbrough, Manchester United and Wigan Athletic following international fixtures this season, but Benitez was adamant the national call-ups had this time affected his team’s performance.

“Clearly you can see that when the players arrive late and you don’t have time to prepare them and you have to push the player,” he said. “Three or four did not have enough energy.

“From the beginning we were not creating and the passing wasn’t good enough and the tempo was not good enough to play against these teams.”

Although Steven Gerrard was ruled out, Xabi Alonso didn’t appear until the 65th minute after being benched following a full 90-minute outing in Spain’s 3-0 friendly win over Chile.

Benitez instead started with Lucas Leiva and Javier Mascherano in midfield, with Liverpool labouring, as they did against Stoke City earlier in the campaign, to break down a well-drilled Fulham side.

And the manager explained: “When we were preparing the game I had clear idea that you can use four or five players who can play 90 minutes and they can be tired at the same time so you normally try and use players with fresh legs.”

Steven Gerrard Absence Was No Excuse For Liverpool FC, Admits Fabio Aurelio

FABIO AURELIO believes Liverpool cannot use the absence of Steven Gerrard as an excuse for their failure to break down Fulham at the weekend.

Rafael Benitez’s side were held to a frustrating home goalless draw by the Londoners.

With Chelsea also drawing at home to Newcastle United, Arsenal losing at Manchester City and Manchester United later earning just a point at Aston Villa, it was a missed opportunity for the Anfield outfit to open a gap at the top of the Premier League table.

Gerrard was ruled out with the groin problem that caused such a furore with the England camp earlier in the week.

But having already shown they could win games without Fernando Torres, Aurelio accepts Liverpool should have had enough to beat Fulham minus their skipper.

“We were playing at Anfield and these are the type of games we should be winning,” said the Brazilian.

“And we can’t use Gerrard missing as an excuse for us not winning. We played more than a month without Torres and we kept on getting the results, so we’ve shown we can do it without certain players.

“Steven is a great player, and is important for us. But we had a lot of good players with quality on the pitch against Fulham. We have a big squad and we need to use that.”

Aurelio added: “We were disappointed after the game and even more so after we saw what the Chelsea result was. It was a good opportunity to move clear at the top, but at least we’re still on the same points as them.

“It’s always difficult when teams come to Anfield just to defend and ideally we need to score early on. We didn’t and then it became more difficult and the anxiety among the players became greater.

“Fulham defended well and defended deep. We were better in the second half because in the first half we didn’t keep the ball and couldn’t control the game.

“It’s always difficult after an international week. The team can’t prepare properly for the game, but we can’t use that as an excuse. The other teams have international players.”

Aurelio’s fellow Brazilian Lucas Leiva, who started in midfield at the expense of a benched Xabi Alonso, believes the onus is now on Liverpool to show Saturday’s performance was a one-off by defeating Marseille in the Champions League on Wednesday.

“We’ve just got to try and forget about this and move on to the Marseille game,” said Lucas. “We know we need to improve for the next game, but at least we are still up there at the top of the table.

“We’ll have to do better on Wednesday, we can’t afford to play like this again.”

Meanwhile, Rafael Benitez praised Fulham, but admitted his team had not shown their normal level of quality in possession.

“Fulham played well, but we were not passing the ball well,” said the Liverpool manager.

“The second half was very difficult for Fulham to score and for us it was a question of timing, the passes from us were not good enough.

“In the second half the team showed character and more energy, but we didn’t have the quality with the ball that we normally show at Anfield.”