Friday, November 28, 2008

Mascherano Has No Love For Hammers

Javier Mascherano insists he has no feelings about former club West Ham as Liverpool prepare to face The Hammers.

Mascherano joined West Ham along with countryman Carlos Tevez - who went on to play a major role in keeping The Hammers in the Premier League in 2007.

Tevez's controversial participation in West Ham's season is now leading to court battles - but Mascherano's Upton Park career passed off without anywhere near as much controversy.

Indeed the combative midfielder managed just seven games for The Hammers before joining Liverpool in January 2007 - and the player admits he has little feeling for West Ham given how little he played for them.

"West Ham brought me to England. That was very good for me, but I still could not play there, it was not like at River Plate or Corinthians when I could play and win titles," he said.

"I only played a few games, so I do not have a big feeling for the club.

"But I was very pleased that they brought me to England, and happy with the welcome I got there. They did give me the chance to play in England, which is clear.

"But I do not feel a big passion for the club because I couldn't play there. I was there for four months, I did not have a feeling with the people.

"I don't feel anything about them. My club is Liverpool, and I do the best for the people here, my team-mates and supporters.

"I do not think about anything now at West Ham. West Ham is nothing in my life now because I was not able to play there.

"It is just another team in the Premier League. I do not feel anything else.

"The important thing now for me is to win with Liverpool and to keep going. We want to be top of the table and we must just keep going."

Quiet Liverpool Can Win The Title - Ian Wright

Arsenal's former strike hero believes the Reds are odds-on for glory because they don't have any 'moaners', unlike their counterparts.

The newspapers and airwaves have been dominated by player-related fiascos in recent weeks. William Gallas has landed himself in hot water by blasting his Arsenal team-mates; Didier Drogba's future at Chelsea continues to look uncertain; and nobody knows whether Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo will still be at Manchester United next season.

Meanwhile, at Liverpool, rumblings about manager Rafael Benitez's contractual situation have triggered only gentle ripples over the club's otherwise calm surface. And why shouldn't the Reds be content when they have put together their best start to a season in years and, for once, look capable of contesting the Premier League crown?

Xabi Alonso's unsure footing at Anfield, combined with Benitez's unfulfilled interest in Gareth Barry, threatened to engulf the club during the off-season, but the Spanish midfielder's scintillating form has quashed any doubts - even if the Italian media, and Juventus, would like to think otherwise.

Controversy has been minimal on Merseyside after a turbulent couple of seasons, and Ian Wright believes this could be the secret to Liverpool pushing for a long-awaited 19th title.

"No team has ever won a league title when there has been disharmony in the dressing room," he said in The Sun.

"It’s difficult when a team-mate doesn’t want to be at a club or has been causing problems. It’s hard to train alongside him knowing he’s not pulling in the same direction as everyone else.

"When a team is happy, all scrapping for each other every minute of every game, that’s when they have the extra edge over their rivals.

"For that reason, Liverpool are currently my favourites for the title. While you will always get the odd player moaning if they are left out, the stars that really matter at Anfield - such as Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher - are doing everything they can to be a positive influence."

It has been 18 years since Liverpool won their last English championship, and Wright warned that their drought could stretch for many more years if they fail to claim top honours this season.

The ex-Gunners said: "If Liverpool don’t do it this term, it could be a very long time before they get another chance this good. Elsewhere, not everything is quite so settled."

Steven Gerrard Regrets Wanting To Leave Liverpool For Chelsea

The Reds' talisman rues ever trying to force a move from his beloved club to the billionaire Blues.

Liverpool finally look like a Premier League force. Their stunning start to the season has propelled them into contention after several years as domestic also-rans.

Captain Amazing Steven Gerrard is, of course, the heartbeat of their surge, as they go toe-to-toe with Chelsea.

However, it could all have been so different. The England international may have reached these heights years ago had he managed to force his way to Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea bid £20 million for him in 2004 and then £32m in 2005, at which point Gerrard handed in a transfer request, leading to outrage on Merseyside.

The botched Gareth Barry move from Aston Villa to the Reds had similar undercurrents. Martin O'Neill thinks Barry is best to stay put and Gerrard certainly believes he was right to stay at Anfield.

"It's only as you get older though that you realise how important playing for Liverpool is," he admitted.

"You cannot grasp that when you are setting out, so maybe that is why I look at things a bit differently.

"Looking back, I'm pleased how I have reacted. From the bad tackles and sending offs, to all the talk of a Chelsea move, which I regret getting involved in, and the own goal in the cup final.

"Without the setbacks, I don't think I'd have achieved as much as I have."

Now, he'll want to come full circle by pipping the Blues to the Premier League title.

Attitude And Desire Key To Steven Gerrard's Decade Of Excellence

A DECADE into his Anfield career, Steven Gerrard is showing no signs of letting up on what he does best.

By directing a header past Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda on Wednesday, the Liverpool skipper added yet another important goal to his bulging collection by easing Rafael Benitez’s into the knockout stages of the Champions League.

It was Gerrard’s 104th strike for the club and his 30th in Europe, moving him further clear at the top of Liverpool’s goal-scoring charts in Continental combat.

For one member of the backroom staff watching from the Anfield dugout in midweek, the midfielder was merely giving more affirmation of a talent apparent at an early age.

Sammy Lee was the reserve team coach when a certain teenager from Huyton began making his mark in the youth ranks at Liverpool.

Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of Gerrard making his debut as a late substitute in the home Premier League win against Blackburn Rovers.

And Lee, having returned to Anfield this summer as assistant to Benitez, says: “I saw him come through as a kid at the club, and the first memory I have of him is not of any one game where he suddenly stood out, but just of the talent he always had.

“From the start, you saw him around the place, and he had a great effect on people, because he was a young lad who had the right attitude.

“At every club, when you have young talent developing and coming through, it always has a positive effect on people, it’s what you’re there for, what the club is there for, and to see it happen always gives everyone a buzz.”

As a homegrown talent that forced his own way into the trophy-winning side of the late 1970s, Lee appreciates more than most what is required for a local boy to make good at Liverpool.

“Liverpool is a great environment for young players to develop, to learn what it takes to become a professional, and every time someone like Steven comes through and achieves that, it makes every one here feel great,” he says.

“I’m sure you’ll get an awful lot of people trying to claim that they were responsible for his development in some way, but I won’t be one of those. The truth is, the lad should take all the acclaim himself.

“It is the hard work he put in from the very start, and attitude he showed, the desire he had to succeed that got him where he is, and he should take all of the credit.

“Of course he’s got incredible ability. But it’s not just about the ability, it’s about the attitude too, and believe me, his has always been absolutely right.”
It’s an attitude that Lee believes has taken Gerrard to such heights. And, while loathe to compare the player with those of a different era, it’s an attitude that the assistant manager also recognised in some of Liverpool’s finest-ever servants.

“I played 10 years at Liverpool with some of the great players, people like Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish, and I’ve coached some of them too, and for me, all the world class players have one thing in common, and that is their attitude,” he says.

Personally, I don’t think it serves any purpose to compare players over different eras, because, for me, it’s impossible. So it’s not for me to say Gerrard is better or worse than Souness. But like Graeme and Kenny, he shares the same approach to the game.

“All the world class players I’ve seen, they go into training every day, not complacent about their talent, not thinking they’ve made it and they’re the best. Every day they go in there determined to BE the best – and importantly, to be even better.

“Steven had that mentality, that steely determination to do his best and become better, and he still has that now. I can’t say he’ll get even better, but I can say he’ll still be thinking that now, even after 10 years, that he can still improve on what he has already achieved.

“That’s what marks him out as up there with the great players.”

Gerrard has made 458 appearances for Liverpool and, since being made captain by former manager Gerard Houllier, has lifted the European Cup and the FA Cup as well as being named PFA Player of the Year in 2006.

With Liverpool keeping pace with Chelsea at the top of the Premier League, the 28-year-old has as great a chance as ever this season at filling the one glaring omission from his medal collection.

And saluting Gerrard’s longevity and loyalty, Lee says: “For him to be at a club like Liverpool for 10 years is an incredible achievement, especially these days in football. You see it is all the top sportsmen across all different sports. They sacrifice so much these days, and they are determined to improve on a daily basis no matter what stage they are in their career.”

He added: “These days, 10 years is such a long time to stay at the top with one club. Steven must have found it even harder, because he’s always had other clubs making offers, trying to take him away from Liverpool – there have always been temptations for him. And yet he has stayed, which shows his character.

“I look back on the 10 years since he made his debut, and the club has moved on, the game has moved on... and so has he. You need an incredible amount of commitment, an incredible amount of desire. You need to be a special person.

“He’s a great professional, and – believe me – a great ambassador, not just for Liverpool Football Club, but for football.

“What he has done over those 10 years is a fine example for any young kid, and that’s why I say he’s the only one who deserves credit for what he has achieved.”

Fernando Torres Hamstring Jinx Hits Liverpool

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres will be out of action for two to three weeks with a hamstring strain picked up in the Champions League win over Marseille on Wednesday.

The Spaniard completed 90 minutes at Anfield but underwent a scan on Thursday and is now due for another spell on the sidelines having only just returned from five weeks out with a similar problem.

Defender Fabio Aurelio will be out for a fortnight after picking up a calf problem in the same match.

A club spokesman said: "Fernando has a strain in his right hamstring and will be out of action for between two and three weeks. Fabio has a calf strain in his left leg and will be out for two weeks."

Torres' latest setback will be a blow to manager Rafael Benitez, who was hoping the 24-year-old would be able to re-establish the partnership with captain Steven Gerrard that worked well last season.

Gerrard scored the winner against Marseille in the 1-0 Group D victory that ensured Liverpool will be in the last 16.

But Benitez revealed after the game that Torres' role in his tactics was not working to the level of last season, when the Spaniard hit 33 goals and Gerrard chipped in with 21.

If Liverpool are still in this form come February, their participation in the knockout stages could be a short one.

Benitez said: "Clearly the main thing was to do the job and progress. But we didn't control the game or play well.

"We were too excited, we wanted to score the second goal with one pass. We should have passed more and been patient, and then find Torres.

"But we were trying to use him too quickly, the ball was hit straight up to him, and meant we kept conceding possession.

"We were giving the ball away and having to run back into defence, then doing the same thing over. It's difficult to control a game like that."

Benitez added: "We are concerned with our home performances. But we could have beaten Fulham on Saturday even though we were not playing well.

"Against Marseille some things were not possible. But at least we now have the chance to look at what went wrong. We have time before the next stage to put right what has been going wrong."

Pepe Reina: We Still Want An Eindhoven Victory

PEPE REINA believes Liverpool must aim for the final group victory that could make life easier in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Rafael Benitez’s side secured qualification to the last 16 with a game to spare after a narrow 1-0 win over Marseille on Wednesday night.

However, the Anfield outfit still trail Group D leaders Atletico Madrid on goal difference after the Spaniards defeated PSV Eindhoven 2-1.

Liverpool journey to Holland while Atletico travel to southern France on Tuesday week for the final round of group games.

Finishing ahead of Atletico would mean Benitez’s side avoid the other seven group winners in first knockout round and play the second leg at Anfield.

And Reina said: “First place in the group is important. Not so much because you avoid the better teams but because the second leg is at home and that is important.

“You want to play in front of your own supporters in the second leg but any team you face then is going to be tough.”

Liverpool were far from convincing in seeing off Marseille, with Reina required to make a fine save from Hatem Ben Arfa to ensure his first clean sheet of the group stage.

“We are still winning, we are still a tough team to beat,” said the goalkeeper.

“We have not been great lately but we are still top of the league and going well in the Champions League.

“Let us see if we can improve a little bit more and keep winning. It is a sign of a good team that you win when you are not playing at your best.

“I think the match in Marseille was a good one and we played really well at home against PSV Eindhoven.

“The games against Atletico Madrid were sort of all right and we didn’t play at our best on Wednesday but we are through and that is all that counts.”

Steven Gerrard returned from injury to net the only goal on Wednesday to join Barcelona’s Argentinian play-maker Lionel Messi as leading goalscorer in this season’s Champions League.

And Reina added: “We are very confident with him in our side – you must be.

“It is important that he keeps in the team and keeps scoring.

“When he is on the pitch you have a chance, a better chance of winning but we are Liverpool and if we depend on only one player there is something wrong.

“He is a great players but there are 10 others who are prepared to kill themselves for the team.

“But when he doesn’t play, I don’t worry that much because we still have some other good players.”

Liverpool Can Improve In Champions League, Says Agger

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger believes his side's performance against Marseille wasn't good enough - even though it helped them into the knockout stages of the Champions League.

A goal from Steven Gerrrard clinched victory for the Reds at Anfield but their visitors dominated the second half.Agger said: "It was disappointing. We're through but we could have done it in a better way.

We definitely have to do better in future than we did tonight. We didn't play a good game, it wasn't good enough.

"We're losing too many balls and allowing teams to counter-attack.

"But we got the right result and we have to take something from that at least. It was also a clean sheet at that's always important. Hopefully now we can improve in future games, we know we have to do that."

Reds Starlet Set For Dragons

Liverpool starlet Ryan Flynn is in line for a move to Wrexham, understands.

Flynn, who has yet to make his senior debut, is highly-regarded within the corridors of Anfield.

The midfielder is a regular in the Liverpool reserves after coming through the club's academy and helping them win the FA Youth Cup in successive seasons in 2006 and 2007.

Flynn is well down the pecking order at Liverpool and Reds boss Rafa Benitez is keen to loan out the Scot so that he can gain valuable first-team experience.

Dragons boss Dean Saunders is keen to bolster his squad before the close of the loan transfer deadline and is hoping to seal a deal for Flynn until January.