Sunday, November 30, 2008

Benitez Wary Of Craig Bellamy Return

Rafa Benitez is hoping Craig Bellamy will not come back to haunt Liverpool tomorrow night at Anfield.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has warned his side to keep an eye out for Craig Bellamy as the former Reds striker returns to Anfield on Monday night with West Ham United.

Bellamy joined Liverpool from Blackburn Rovers in 2006, but failed to make enough of an impact on Merseyside and only lasted one season before moving to Upton Park last summer.

The Welshman has struggled with injury during his time in East London so far, although he has started the last seven Premier League games for the Hammers and should again be fit to face his former side on Monday night.

Whilst Bellamy has only one league goal this season, scored on the opening day against Blackburn Rovers, he will surely be hoping to double his tally at Anfield and make a point to Benitez.

Speaking to the club's official website, Benitez revealed he is expecting a tough game on Monday and acknowledged the threat posted by Bellamy.

“We have experience of teams coming here very well prepared and defending, and I think it will be the same situation with West Ham - they will be organised and have some good players with Bellamy up front, so they will be a threat,” he said.

“Bellamy is a good player and was a very good professional when he was with us - he worked very hard,” explained the Reds’ boss.

“We had a lot of confidence in him, he was a good player for us and he is a winner, but some players prefer to play every week and it's something you need to understand.”

Liverpool will be hoping to bounce back from the disappointment of being held to a goalless draw at Anfield by Fulham last time out and keep pace at the top of the table.

West Ham, meanwhile, are only two points away from relegation and will want to follow up last weekend’s victory against Sunderland with another away win.

Whilst the Hammers have a poor record at Anfield they did beat Liverpool at home in January and Benitez is clearly expecting another difficult challenge.

He concluded, “It will be difficult for them to take something away from Anfield, but it will be hard for us too because it is the Premier League and it's always tough.”

Benitez Welcomes UEFA Action

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has welcomed UEFA's decisive action after they charged Marseille following an incident at Anfield when an object was thrown at Steven Gerrard.

The Reds skipper appeared to be hit by a missile thrown from the Marseille fans' section as he went to take a corner in the first half of Liverpool's 1-0 Champions League victory.

European football's governing body today confirmed to PA Sport that Marseille will answer the charge at a meeting of UEFA's control and disciplinary panel on December 11.

UEFA also confirmed the French club have been fined 15,000 euros (£12,378) following a near identical incident at the Stade Velodrome in September when Liverpool were also the opponents.

While welcoming UEFA's decisiveness, Benitez has some sympathy with the French club.

He said: "It is good that UEFA have acted. But the problem is that it is just one person out of thousands who decides to do something like that, so how can you control it? It is not easy to stop these things.

"It is difficult to control everyone, if someone wants to do something like this then it is hard to stop.

"You can fine the club and look for solutions afterwards, but you cannot control everything. But the response of Gerrard was very good."

Gerrard's only reaction was to fix a withering look on the Marseille section and then turn away to take a corner.

Benitez Set To Sign New Liverpool Deal

The Reds' gaffer is poised to end speculation over his future by putting pen to paper on a long-awaited contract extension.

Liverpool are flying higher this season than they have for the best part of a decade. Only goal difference separates them from the Premier League leaders, Chelsea, and they secured their spot in the Champions League knockout rounds with Wednesday's win over Olympique Marseille.

And still, there has been considerable doubt as to whether Rafael Benitez will remain the club's manager beyond the end of the current campaign.

The Spanish tactician was promised a contract extension at the start of the year but, after a series of false starts, negotiations only kicked earlier this month.

Liverpool co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have seemed curiously reluctant to reward Benitez with a new deal, perhaps due to lingering uneasiness between the two parties after the boardroom antics that plagued the club last season.

However, Real Madrid's increasing interest in Rafa appears to have spurred the American investors into action, as a two-year extension is expected to be wrapped up by Christmas.

Benitez said in the News of the World: “My advisers were in contact with them and we are waiting for a new contract right now. Sooner rather than later we will have another communication.”

NOTW's Liverpudlian journalist, Chris Bascombe, also reports that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres will receive new deals in 2009.

Benitez Backing For Dossena

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has called for patience over Andrea Dossena as the defender adapts to the physicality of the Premier League.

Dossena has made 13 appearances for the Reds this season since signing from Serie A side Udinese in the summer.

The left-back has competed with Fabio Aurelio for a place in Benitez's starting XI and has sometimes struggled for form.

Benitez, though, is content with the 27-year-old's development at Anfield and feels he will eventually prove a success for the club.

"The main thing for me is that he is working very, very hard," Benitez told the club's official website.

"The other day against Marseille he was trying to impress. He was going forward well and, okay, he made some mistakes in defence, but he also blocked some shots.

"He is working very hard but maybe he needs to be a little bit calmer and relaxed when he plays because he's a little bit anxious now."

Benitez added: "It's difficult because Italian football is very tactical. Everyone is together and they don't play too many long balls - it's less physical than English football.

"So, he will need time - but the main thing for me is that he wants to improve, that's clear.

"He needs to know the system here and he will improve. You never know how long it will take but hopefully he'll be better in the next game."

No Date Put On Torres Return

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has warned fans not to expect a swift return of striker Fernando Torres after his latest injury setback.

The Spanish striker pulled up with the hamstring injury that has plagued him this season during Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over Marseille in the Champions League at Anfield.

Although Torres played the full 90 minutes, tests after the match showed he had sustained more damage to the injury and reports last night suggested he will be out until the festive fixtures.

But Benitez told the club’s official web site today, “You cannot guarantee when he’ll be back. I was with him and the physios two minutes ago and he’s already working. But it always depends on the player.

“It’s a blow especially because we lost him before and we’ve been talking about the understanding between him and Robbie Keane, and him and Steven Gerrard.

“It’s important not to put too much pressure on it and for him to keep working.”

Steven Gerrard Plays Golf To Avoid Being A Football Obsessive

Steven Gerrard has revealed how he handles the obsession for football he believes overwhelms his Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and team-mate Jamie Carragher.

Gerrard prepares to celebrate 10 years in the Reds' first team as he leads Liverpool into action against West Ham at Anfield on Monday.

The 28-year-old wants to win the title even more than the Champions League and Liverpool – without a league title for 18 years – acknowledge the manic desire from their fans to win the Barclays Premier League puts increasing pressure on the side.

Gerrard watches the way football dominates every waking hour for Benitez and Carragher, and just has to get away from it all.

"Football is the priority, but not an obsession," Gerrard said. "I love it, I make sacrifices for my job and I wouldn't put anything before it.

"But there are times when you have to get football out of your system.

"I don't know how Rafa and Carra do it. You have to take your hat off to them, they are obsessed 24/7.

"I have to get away from it to help my game, maybe Rafa and Jamie need it all the time to help theirs.

"I find it helps me to get on to a golf course for four hours, and don't talk or think about football. I spend half my time looking in the trees for my ball, but at least I am not thinking about football."

Gerrard is single-minded when he has to be, however, saying: "I can understand why people are saying we have title credentials, it is because when we have gone a goal down in games we just haven't given up. We have managed to turn things around.

"So now everyone says we have title credentials. That is the sort of pressure I suppose we expect.

"It is nice, but it raises expectations so it is important for us to stay humble.

"We know we are a good team, we know we are getting close to a title challenge. We know we can say that.

"But we have now got to prove we can stay in the race right to the end.

"The longer we go without delivering the title the more the pressure comes. But this is Liverpool, you have to expect that and deal with it. Every single game we play there is pressure to win.

"Even more so now because the wait for the 'bread and butter', as Bill Shankly used to describe the title, is getting longer.

"I have lived with it since I broke into the first team 10 years ago, but we are always under pressure.

"Making the Champions League every year is the minimum target, you have to earn the right to be in it.

"But with our history, and the number of cups we have won in Europe, we know it is our stage, it is where we want to be.

"We see how successful the club has been, players before our generation delivered, and fans expect the same today."

Liverpool are still unbeaten in the league at home in 2008, and it would be a major shock if West Ham – who have not won at Anfield since 1963 – were to wreck that record.

They will be without striker Fernando Torres again – he has a recurrence of his hamstring injury - and also Fabio Aurelio, who has a calf problem.

Steven Gerrard's Best Years With Liverpool Are Still To Come, Says Rafael Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has told Steven Gerrard that the best years of his career still lie in front of him after claiming that the 10th anniversary of the midfielder's Premier League debut today is merely a milestone on the route to him becoming an even more influential player at Anfield.

The 28-year-old, who will captain Liverpool against West Ham on Monday night, took his first steps in the Premier League as an 89th-minute replacement for Vegard Heggem during the 2-0 win over Blackburn on Nov 29, 1998.

Gerrard has since become one of the most celebrated players in Liverpool history and Benitez believes there is more to come.

Benitez said: "Stevie is still young and 28 is the best age for a player. He can only improve because he will read the game better as he gets older. I don't know how long he will be as strong as he is, but if he can stay like this for three or four years, he will just get better and better."

Meanwhile, striker Fernando Torres faces his third hamstring injury lay-off of the season. Benitez has revealed that the Spaniard will be subjected to rigorous testing in an effort to resolve the problem.

He said: "Sometimes it is a problem with your back or how you walk, so you need to analyse everything. It's not a question of what the players do every day, but there may be one or two things that are important.

"We need to check all the things. I have a lot of confidence that we can find a solution sooner rather than later."