Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Benitez Won't Be Drawn Into Future Talks

Speaking ahead of Liverpool's Champions League clash with Marseille, boss Rafael Benitez has sought to avoid talks regarding his own future.

It's well known that Rafael Benitez is keen to extend his stay at Anfield and reports suggested recently that he was in talks with club supremos, pen in hand and smile on face.

However, there have been suggestions that certain snags have been encountered during the meetings.

Either way, the Spanish boss wasn't giving anything away ahead of Wednesday's Group D clash with Ligue 1 side Marseille.

Asked if his new contract was still going to be sorted by the end of the month, as planned, he squirmed, before saying, "It could be... but I prefer to concentrate on the game."

Skipper Steven Gerrard is expected to return after recovering from a groin problem and training well on Tuesday, but he may not start and is very unlikely to last 90 minutes if he does.

Torres Loving Reds Life

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres believes the Premier League is the greatest domestic competition in the world.

The Spanish striker moved to Anfield from Atletico Madrid in 2007 and he admits he has fallen in love with the club and the English game.

The 24-year-old's second season with the Reds has been disrupted by some nagging injuries but he insists he would not want to play in any other league.

Torres has been particularly impressed by the level of support even smaller clubs get in the Premier League, while he feels honoured to play for Liverpool.

"It isn't easy to adapt but once you have, you would have trouble wanting to play anywhere else," said Torres.

"The Premier League is way ahead of the Spanish league.

"You go to play away at a team in the relegation zone and you find yourself playing on a perfect pitch, with the stands full to bursting and opponents who are there to play football.

"And even if they lose, the crowd are going to cheer them on until the death. You only see this in British football."

Torres added: "The club is a symbol of a city which fought to stay alive.

"Everyone is proud of the team. Players want to come here because they know that Liverpool is a truly great club.

"Anfield is the most English of all the grounds - people live and breathe football there.

"With just 45,000 fans there, that roar they give makes you think you have wings on your feet."

Torres wants to help Liverpool win their first league title since 1990, and he believes skipper Steven Gerrard can inspire the team to glory.

He said in France Football: "A captain in England must lead by example. Steve Gerrard is someone everyone wants to be like - always the first at training, it is he who grafts the hardest in each exercise, who sacrifices himself during each match.

"You follow him blindly. Moreover, he is a star who decided to stay at Liverpool despite all the offers.

"It is a pleasure to receive the through balls you get from Steven. He puts the ball where he wants, like Xavi for the national team.

"It is fair to say the Premier League is in front of everything else for us.

"It is 18 years since Liverpool were last champions of England and the wait is enormous."

Ian Rush: Robbie Keane Must Learn To Live With The Pressure

Robbie Keane is finding out the hard way just how different it is to play for Liverpool.

Playing up front for a club like Liverpool is totally different to playing for Tottenham, and I don’t mean any disrespect when I say that.

The pressure is completely different.

At a club like Tottenham you can get away with playing well in three of every six games. At Liverpool you have to perform five in every six.

That’s the kind of pressure Robbie Keane is discovering for the first time, and he has to learn to live with it.

I think he’s actually playing quite well – and certainly the team has performed well this season with him in it, Saturday’s match excepted.

But the number of chances he is missing is now starting to be commented upon and that will only add to the pressure he is feeling.

Some players have been unable to live with those unique pressures.

I’m thinking of strikers like Craig Bellamy, who was a great player for Blackburn but struggled at Anfield, Fernando Morientes who couldn’t reproduce his Real Madrid form in the Premier League and Emile Heskey, who is still England’s first choice centre-forward, but couldn’t live up to what was expected of him at Anfield.

In some situations I think Robbie has been trying too hard to prove himself, but it’s a difficult thing to do to ask players to relax when they find themselves in front of goal.

What Robbie has to do is to keep putting himself in those positions where he is getting goalscoring chances.

Carragher: The Fans Must Be Patient

Jamie Carragher has called for patience among the Anfield crowd after a frustrating 0-0 draw against Fulham on Saturday.

Despite boasting an impressive unbeaten home record, the Reds have now dropped points to defensive Stoke City and Fulham sides this season.

But Carragher is adamant his Liverpool team-mates won't let the setback get to them and believes the fans must keep things in perspective at such an early stage of the Premier League campaign.

"The crowd, especially at Anfield, want us to win so much that it transmits itself down on to the pitch at times," said the Reds' vice-captain.

"You could feel that when we were trying to get the goal in the second half on Saturday.

"The supporters have to realise we are in November and not March or April yet. Like us, they are so passionate to win the title, but sometimes that passion can bowl you over.

"We have to all stay patient. It’s a long race, and it's not the be-all and end-all if we draw a home game in November.

"Don't get me wrong, the fans are great for us. But the fans, and the players, all of us together have to realise we have to be patient."

Rafa: History Must Not Repeat Itself

Rafa Benitez today warned his players not to let history repeat itself when Marseille visit Anfield for the second successive season on Wednesday night.

The Reds almost had their Champions League campaign derailed last term after Marseille grabbed a shock 1-0 win on Merseyside.

Benitez will demand his players set the record straight this time with the kind of high-octane performance that was missing during Saturday's goalless draw against Fulham.

"Marseille have players with pace and ability; skilful players who are very dangerous," the Spaniard told reporters at Anfield. "We also have the experience of last season, when we know we didn't play well.

"The people talked about an easy game but we knew it was going to be difficult. Now everybody knows they have good players, so we need to take care."

Benitez added: "After Saturday's game we talked about being frustrated, but after that there was relief because Chelsea, Arsenal, Aston Villa and United also dropped points.

"It was a special situation because we were very disappointed with the first half, but then we ended up with one more point than Arsenal and everything else the same.

"So we have confidence and we know that, normally, we're playing well and creating chances.

"We have been talking and analysing why the first half was not good and the players know what was wrong. They know it was a lack of intensity and we have to change this."

Victory on Wednesday would secure qualification from Group D with a game to spare, but Benitez insisted his side would not take their foot off the gas during the final game in PSV if this was the case.

"PSV and Marseille are good teams. When you talk about the Champions League you are talking about top-class players. It's always difficult," he explained.

"We know winning three points will be enough to qualify but we also want to finish top of the group - that would be better."

Steven Gerrard is expected to return to the Liverpool squad after coming through today's training unscathed following his adductor tear.

Benitez added: "He was training and is available. He could start and I think he could play 90 minutes, but in the end that depends on the player during the game."

Rafa Set To Overtake Shanks

Rafa Benitez will tomorrow overtake the legendary Bill Shankly by leading Liverpool into a record 66th European game.

Benitez goes into the Group D clash against Marseille level with Shanks on 65 continental games as Anfield manager.

The pair are four ahead of three-times European Cup winner Bob Paisley on 61, with Gerard Houllier fourth on the list with 52.

Benitez has won 38, drawn 14 and lost 13 of his European games since taking charge in July 2004.

His win ratio is 58.5 per cent - bettered only by Paisley (63.9) and Joe Fagan (73.7).

After winning the Champions League in his first season, Benitez led the Reds to the 2007 final and 2008 semi-finals.

"I'm really pleased with this record because Liverpool have had many fantastic managers," said Benitez today.

"I didn't know about it until a couple of weeks ago but it shows we have a good squad of players who have done well in Europe over recent seasons.

"Hopefully we can have many more European games to look forward to in the future - including the final this season."

Our managers in Europe:

Rafa Benitez - 65 games (win ratio 58.5 per cent)

Bill Shankly - 65 games (52.3)

Bob Paisley - 61 games (63.9)

Gerard Houllier - 52 games (50)

Joe Fagan - 19 games (73.7)

Roy Evans - 16 games (50)

Graeme Souness - 12 games (50)

Steven Gerrard: Champions League Is My Liverpool Priority This Season

The focus at Anfield may be firmly on the holy grail of the title, but skipper Steven Gerrard revealed yesterday a burning European ambition.

The England midfielder rightly counts 2005's remarkable Champions League triumph as the greatest moment of his career so far, but he admitted that he is getting just a little weary of playing on that final.

Given the relative lack of success since, there is little else for Liverpool's longing fans to focus on, but Gerrard wants to offer a repeat as he looks to maintain the club's enviable European traditions.

This season's Champions League final will be held in Rome, the scene of possibly the Reds' greatest-ever night in Europe. And Gerrard says he will feel a fraud unless he can repeat the success of three years ago.

"Istanbul was my finest hour, and the club's too for a long time. But I've got a hunger to match Istanbul, if not beat it," Gerrard explained.

"I don't just want to milk that final. I'd have regrets if I didn't win anything else. I want to do even better."

Gerrard is stirred by Liverpool's history in Europe, and driven by the desire to add to the record books. "Liverpool belong in Europe," he said.

"Yes, you have to earn the right to be in it, but our history, the number of cups we've won in Europe, it's our stage and where we want to be."

"We see how successful the club have been. Players before our generation delivered, and fans expect the same of us today. We don't want to milk past success, we want to create new success."

Liverpool will progress to the knock out stage of the Champions League if they beat Marseille at Anfield tomorrow, but it is to the league that their supporters are looking for the next trophy.

It is almost 20 years since the last Anfield triumph, and there is now a real sense of expectation as the club remains at the head of the Premiership approaching the Christmas period.

And while Gerrard is excited by the prospect of challenging for the title, he knows - especially after the disappointment of drawing at home to Fulham at the weekend - that there is still a distance to go to fulfil that dream.

"I can understand why people are saying we are contenders.

We've gone down a couple of times by goals, we haven't given up, and we've managed to turn games around," he admitted.

"So now they're saying we've got title credentials. It's nice, but it raises expectations."

Benitez Focused On Marseille

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has told his players to focus on Wednesday's Champions League clash against Marseille and forget the frustrating draw with Fulham.

The Reds missed the chance to go three points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League at the weekend after failing to break down the resilient Cottagers at Anfield. But the squad have no time to dwell on lost opportunities as they are back in European action in midweek.

"We are disappointed about Saturday but we cannot talk about past games now," said Benitez.

A victory over the French visitors - shock 1-0 winners on Merseyside last season - would secure a place in the knockout stage with one Group D match still to play.

They would even go through with a draw on Wednesday if PSV Eindhoven fail to beat Atletico Madrid on the same night.

Ensuring qualification with a match to spare would allow Benitez to rest players and therefore assist their Premier League challenge.

Benitez added: "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."

Defender Jamie Carragher admitted the players have to accept they will encounter some frustrating times at home but they have to learn how to deal with them and ensure it does not have a knock-on effect.

"Pretty much every team that comes to Anfield plays counter-attacking football and we can't complain about that, especially as we've done the same thing in many big away games in Europe," he told the Liverpool Echo. "We've just got to adapt to it and overcome it because if we want to challenge for the title that is something we're going to have to do."