Monday, December 01, 2008

Match Preview: LiverpooL vs. West Ham United

Liverpool will be looking to return to their dominant best when they play host to West Ham United on Matchday 15 of the Barclays Premier League. A repeat of the result in last season’s corresponding fixture would suit the Anfield club just fine, but they will be missing a crucial contributor.

Fernando Torres was the name being bellowed by the Kop when these two teams last met on Merseyside, and with good reason. The Spanish striker, in the midst of an astonishing debut term in England, put on what remains one of his most impressive displays in a red shirt – be it for Liverpool or La Furia Roja. He combined stunningly with Steven Gerrard all evening and scored a beautifully taken hat-trick as the Reds romped to a 4-0 victory.

But while the skipper is back in action after an injury lay-off, Torres will sit out having suffered a reoccurrence of the hamstring problem which has plagued him all year. The 24-year-old had just made his way back from a three-week spell on the sidelines, and this latest setback is both frustrating and worrying for manager Rafael Benitez. The last thing Liverpool need is for their new idol to turn into another Harry Kewell, after all.

However, El Niño’s absence could be a blessing in disguise, as it has proven to be at times during the early part of the campaign. Whereas the team relied heavily on Torres and Gerrard to haul them out of trouble last season, the rest of the squad has stepped up during their stints on the treatment table. Xabi Alonso has firmly re-established himself at the heart of midfield, while Dirk Kuyt has vindicated Benitez’s persistence with him by scoring crucial goals and making a right nuisance of himself whether on the flank or up front.

Javier Mascherano is another hard-working player at Rafa’s disposal, and one who has become a central figure since his controversial move from West Ham in 2007. But the Argentine battler stressed during the week that he will have not the slightest pang of guilt as he sets about dispatching his former club.

"I don't feel anything for West Ham," he said. "It's nothing in my life because I couldn't play when I was there. They are just another team in the Premier League. "

Mascherano’s team-mates should strive for a similarly ruthless mindset, as they now have the chance to claim the outright lead in the league after Chelsea’s defeat to Arsenal. The Hammers aren’t pushovers, but their form on the road is less than encouraging.

West Ham’s 1-0 win at Sunderland last Sunday raised their away tally to seven points from as many games – a decidedly disappointing stat which has played a big part in their tumultuous start to the season.

Apart from coughing up points whenever they set foot outside Upton Park, the Irons have also lost a manager, a shirt sponsor and a hell of a lot of money during the first few months of the 2008-09 campaign. That situation could become catastrophic if they lose their legal battle with Sheffield United over the Carlos Tevez saga, as the Blades are demanding over €30 million in damages.

Things began to look up when Gianfranco Zola was appointed to take over the reins after Alan Curbishley’s controversial departure in August. A 4-1 drubbing of Blackburn Rovers was as good start as the Italian could have hoped for, but six defeats in the 11 games since have left the Londoners lying just two points above the drop zone in 15th place.

West Ham hard for their win at the Stadium of Light, and they will no doubt bring a similar level of endeavour to Liverpool. But the men from Green Street will have their work cut out as they seek to overturn a simply abominable record at Anfield. They have tasted defeat on their last seven visits to the Kop, their last point coming in 1999 when Frank Lampard and Marc Keller helped them to a 2-2 draw. Their last win was in 1963.

Zola and his charges would no doubt be happy to hop on the coach home on Monday evening with a point in their pockets. A draw would not only help the Hammers inch further from the bottom three, but it would also put pressure on Rafa Benitez after their goalless draw with the Cottagers last weekend.



Nov 26 Liverpool 1-0 Marseille (CL)

Nov 22 Liverpool 0-0 Fulham (PL)

Nov 15 Bolton 0-2 Liverpool (PL)

Nov 12 Tottenham 4-2 Liverpool (CC)

Nov 08 Liverpool 3-0 West Brom (PL)

West Ham

Nov 23 Sunderland 0-1 West Ham (PL)

Nov 15 West Ham 0-0 Portsmouth (PL)

Nov 08 West Ham 1-3 Everton (PL)

Nov 01 Middlesbrough 1-1 West Ham (PL)

Oct 29 Manchester United 2-0 West Ham (PL)



Fernando Torres misses out, while Steven Gerrard returned against Marseille after missing the Fulham game with a groin problem. Dirk Kuyt could move up front, while Robbie Keane, Ryan Babel and youngster David N’Gog are also options.

It will surprise no-one that Fabio Aurelio is injured, meaning under-fire Italian defender Andrea Dossena should come in at left-back.

Possible XI: Reina – Dossena, Agger, Carragher, Arbeloa – Mascherano, Alonso – Reira, Gerrard, Kuyt – Keane

West Ham

While Dean Ashton and Danny Gabbidon remain long-term absentees, the Hammers have been buoyed by several players returning to training. Mark Noble and Jonathan Spector are on the comeback trail, but neither is likely to feature on Monday. Kieron Dyer is also nearing a return to action after breaking his leg early last season.

Scott Parker was laid up with a virus during the week, but he is expected to line up in midfield as per usual.

David Di Michele and Luis Boa Morte starred in a reserves win over Portsmouth on Tuesday and could be called up for the trip to the North West.

Possible XI: Green – Neill, Collins, Upson, Ilunga – Faubert, Parker, Mullins, Bowyer, Behrami – Cole



The captain, the match winner, Steven Gerrard. Liverpool’s favourite son stepped up to the plate on his return to action to steer his side to victory against Marseille, his first-half header proving the difference. The 28-year-old ran riot in the corresponding clash last term, and he is well capable of dishing out an encore performance.

West Ham

If Liverpool click, it could be a busy night for Hammers ‘keeper Robert Green. The former Norwich City player hasn’t kept too many clean sheets this season, but his marvellous shot-stopping has saved his side on more than a few occasions. Unlucky to be overlooked for England selection recently.

Benitez Wants To Bring Owen Back To Liverpool

Liverpool are lining up a £2 million swoop for former Kop idol Michael Owen in January, a move that the England international is likely to favour ahead of offers from Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, according to the News of the World.

With the future of Newcastle United as yet undecided due to Mike Ashley's failure to find a buyer for the club, Owen is one of just a number of players tipped to leave St James' Park.

While current incumbent Joe Kinnear has repeatedly stated his desire to keep hold of the striker's services, Rafa Benitez is keeping tabs on Owen as he looks to bolster Liverpool's Premier League title bid, and he is aware that a cut-price deal could suffice with the 28-year old entering the final six months of his contract.

Benitez would be required to sell first, with Jermaine Pennant cited as one player who could leave Anfield, but rumours suggest the Spaniard has now placed Owen ahead of original target Emile Heskey.

“I don’t know how much I can spend because we have not really talked about it," Benitez said.
“It could be OK if I bring nobody in but I might be able to sell some players. It depends on the interest.”

Several first-teams at Liverpool are also approaching the end of their current deal, including Dirk Kuyt, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio, and Benitez added that his main priority is to secure the future of such players first.

“The first thing we want to talk about is my contract.

“Once we finalise this we can talk about the future. We have more than a couple of players that we have to decide about for the future.”

Liverpool Still Have Belief, Says Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez has urged Liverpool's title rivals to continue to dismiss the club's hopes of ending their 19-year wait for the league championship after insisting that recent comments from within both the Manchester United and Chelsea camps will have no destabilising effect at Anfield.

Liverpool are in second place ahead of Monday night's clash with West Ham on Merseyside, but their goalless draw at home to Fulham and another lay-off for Fernando Torres, who will be on the sidelines for three weeks, have raised doubts over Liverpool's ability to sustain a challenge for the Premier League title.

Senior players at both Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford have questioned Liverpool's credentials recently, but Benitez believes that the old Anfield tradition of allowing actions to speak louder than words will ensure his players remain in the title hunt.
Benitez said: "My message to the players is the same. We have to concentrate on our own team and on our own games.

"I cannot change what people think, I can only give my players the right message.

"After two games without playing well, people say that we are looking nervous, but we are still close to the top of the table.

"We have qualified for the next round of the Champions League, I think we are still in a fantastic position."

Liverpool Miss Out On Gareth Barry Again

Will Liverpool ever give up in their pursuit of Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry? It looks as though they may have to - at least for now.

Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry was unsuccessfully pursued three times by fellow Premier League side Liverpool during the summer transfer window. The Reds now look to have lost out a fourth time after the 27-year-old stated his intentions to remain with the Birmingham based club for the rest of the season.

Previously the Liverpool board failed to agree to Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's £18 million valuation of Barry, but the midfielder was eager to accept any offer that was forthcoming. Now the tables appear to have turned.

Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill believes the news that Barry is staying will give the whole club a boost, and more determination to break into the top four.

Speaking to the Aston Villa official website O'Neill said, "This news will lift me, the players and hopefully, the player himself. It increases our determination to keep going and shows we are pushing in the right direction.
"This is what Gareth wants to do. It is very, very pleasing and I am delighted. We will sit down again in the summer, have a chat and see what progress we are making.

"He has given the football club fantastic service and wants to put the trauma of the summer behind him. His game is top-notch at the moment and he is playing very well.

"He wants to leave all the speculation behind him and get on with his game."

Arbeloa Happy To Shun The Limelight

FOR someone who marked no less a talent than Lionel Messi out of the game on his full Liverpool debut, recognition has been a long time coming for Alvaro Arbeloa.

While the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard claim the headlines with their important goals and similarly newsworthy injuries, the unassuming Arbeloa has gone about his business with the minimum of fuss.

It was only with his well-taken strike in injury time against West Bromwich Albion last month that the 25-year-old attracted any significant attention outside Merseyside.

Those closer to home, though, are aware of the consistently impressive performances that have enabled Arbeloa to become the regular right-back in Rafael Benitez’s side this season.

Witness the concern among Liverpool fans when Arbeloa was ruled of the trip to Bolton Wanderers a fortnight ago, given Philipp Degen is rarely outside the treatment room and young Stephen Darby remains untried in the Premier League.

Arbeloa is pragmatic enough to realise that, despite that fan fretting, he has far from star billing among the Anfield cast. But the modest Spaniard wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I’m not bothered that the Kop don’t sing my name,” he says. “We all know who the best players are, such as Fernando and Stevie, and I’m happy that the fans sing their name.

“I’m not a star in the same way as some of the other players. Stevie, Xabi and Fernando are all massive players, whereas I’m a normal player.”

Life at Anfield hasn’t always been as content for Arbeloa.

The defender admits he initially struggled to adapt to the demands of the Premier League after arriving from Deportivo La Coruna for £2.6million in January 2007.

It was perhaps a sign that his impressive first start against Messi was while operating at left-back, as Arbeloa found himself shunted back and forth across the back four throughout the first year of his Anfield career.

Only towards the end of last season did the Spaniard wrest his preferred right-back slot away from previous incumbent Steven Finnan, a position he has since kept a firm grip of to help Liverpool keep pace with Chelsea at the top of the table and eased in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

And Arbeloa believes his game has benefited from performing in a settled role.

“I did have some doubts when I first came here, but now it is much better,” he says. “I feel much more comfortable here. I am playing in my preferred position and in the same position every week.

“That is much better for my performances level because maybe when I first came here I would be playing two games on the right, five games on the left and then some games at centre-back.

“That’s good because it helps the team but it’s better for me if I can stick to one position.

“You are always happy when you can play and help the team, but you cannot do your very best when you are changing positions frequently.

“But if for example on Monday I am asked to play left-back, then it would not be a problem to me.”

There was one particular aspect of playing in defence for Liverpool that proved startlingly unique for Arbeloa.

Anyone close to the Anfield pitch will know Jamie Carragher is not shy at barking instructions at a considerable volume towards his team-mates.

And with Arbeloa often in close vicinity to the vice-caption, the Spaniard’s eardrums have taken something of a battering over the last two years.

“I know what Jamie is like!” laughs Arbeloa. “He wants to help his team-mates, and as far as I’m concerned that’s okay.

“At the beginning it was a little bit difficult to make out what he was saying, though. I’d just pretend I could understand him!

“I don’t think I’ve ever played alongside anyone quite like Jamie before. But it’s great that he is always helping me and the rest of the team.”

Arbeloa is set to make his 76th appearance for Liverpool when West Ham United visit in tonight’s Premier League encounter, with Benitez’s side looking to move clear at the top of the table after Chelsea’s 2-1 home defeat to Arsenal yesterday.

His strike against West Brom was only his second for the club – “I have to score at least one every two years!” reckons Arbeloa – but it’s in keeping goals from entering Liverpool’s goal that the defender is taking just as much satisfaction.

“I’m playing better than last season, but as always the most important thing is for me to help the team,” he says.

“I want to stay here for a lot more years if possible, if the club and Rafa want to do that. I’ve got the rest of this season under contract and then the next one, so maybe in the summer we can talk about a new deal.

“But right now, for me it isn’t that important. I just want to concentrate on doing well for this season.

“I am really happy to be here and I do not want for anything more… except some medals.”

Time For Babel & Keane To Deliver

MARVELLOUS – we make it through to the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday and then get the news Torres is out again for a few more weeks.

The Gerrard/Torres axis is vital to this teams’ success and we are struggling to get them both on the pitch at the same time.

It’s been said before but it’s time for some of the other players to step up.

Babel has been doing a bit of moaning about being on the bench lately and views himself as a centre forward.

Over to you then Ryan? Likewise Mr. Robbie Keane.

I was really pleased when we signed Keane, I still think he is a cracking player but he needs to be clinical in front of goal.

No flicks, no back-heels, the odd side-foot will do nicely Robbie. This weekend is both a test and an opportunity for Liverpool – and to some extent Rafa.

By the time we play this evening, Manchester United have already won their derby but at least Chelsea slipped up at home to Arsenal.

The pressure and spotlight will nevertheless be on us to deliver three points. There is now an opportunity to open up a lead at the top. Rafa’s been accused of too much caution again lately and with no Torres to call on, the team selection and the performance we produce tonight may really tell us if we have a shot at the Premier League or not. Three points are a must.

Rafael Benitez Urges Liverpool Players To Show Title Credentials

Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, has urged his team to rise above the dismissive comments of Michael Ballack and others who have questioned their title-winning credentials. The Chelsea midfield player wrote off Liverpool’s chances when he said that his team were the only challengers to Manchester United’s crown, but Benítez has told his team to make their point on the pitch, where they face West Ham United at Anfield this evening.

Asked about Ballack’s comments, with the Chelsea player describing Liverpool as “a club for the Champions League”, Benítez said: “It doesn’t matter what people say. At the end of the day, it depends on the players and the team. We are at the top end of the table and we know that if we beat West Ham we will be at the top of the table for another week. I am not worried by what they say.

“My message to the players is the same. We have to concentrate on our own team and on our own games. I cannot change what people think. I can only give my players the right message. The thing for me is that the team is doing well, but it can also improve.”

Liverpool will have to make do without Fernando Torres, who has been ruled out for three weeks with a hamstring injury, but Benítez maintains that he has the players to cope without the Spain forward. “We have enough people up front with [Dirk] Kuyt, [David] Ngog, [Robbie] Keane and [Ryan] Babel,” he said. “Torres is an important player for us, so it will be different, but we have to think about solutions.”

West Ham have not won at Anfield since September 1963, but Gianfranco Zola, their manager, has urged his players to draw inspiration from their surroundings. “It’s a tough place to play, but it’s also a fantastic place to play and the crowd is magnificent,” he said. “As a player, it’s one of those matches you want to play all the time, so I hope my players feel the same.”

Carragher Snub Shocked Zola

WEST HAM boss Gianfranco Zola admits he is still shocked that Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has turned his back on England.

Kop star Carra, 30, gave up on international football in 2007 after winning 34 caps.

He quit the Three Lions set-up because he was unhappy at being included in the squad but rarely starting a game under Sven Goran Eriksson.

By contrast, Zola was often kept on the sidelines during international matches, yet never, ever thought of rejecting a call from his beloved Italy.

The Upton Park coach said: “There were times when I was disappointed – but being called into any squad was an honour.

“Carragher’s decision really surprises me. I would never say I would not play for Italy. You just don’t.”

Zola is eyeing the clash with Liverpool as a game he insists West Ham can win.

He has fond memories of playing in front of the Kop while with Chelsea and said: “Anfield is a ground full of joy.

“I was never subjected to any abuse. I loved the crowd and if any player is frightened of Anfield then he should not be here. It’s a football stadium. You want to play in places like that. The crowd is magnificent.”

Zola realises it won’t be an easy task against high-flying Liverpool. He added: “Liverpool are going through one of their best spells but we can achieve something.”

Meanwhile, Zola is still trying to come to terms with the money problems facing West Ham.

The club is fighting a court case brought by Sheffield United in which the Blades claim the Hammers breached Premier League rules in hiring striker Carlos Tevez.

The player, now at Manchester United, was instrumental in keeping the club in the top flight in the 2006-07 season, when United went down.

Zola said: “It has not been easy. Who knows what will happen over the Tevez case? But I have spoken to my players and like me they are confident things can be resolved.”

Rafa Benitez Will Ask For More Transfer Cash Once His Own Future Is Resolved

Rafa Benitez wants to put an end to his contract saga this week - so he can hit Liverpool's owners with a demand for more transfer cash.

The Kop boss has admitted he is yet to put his plans for the January transfer window to American pair Tom Hicks and George Gillett while his own future has still to be resolved.

But Benitez expects to sign a new deal that will keep him at the club until the summer of 2012 in the next few days.

And although he is likely to be told he must offload players like Jermaine Pennant and Andrea Dossena to generate transfer funds, the Spaniard believes he must be given the scope to improve his squad if he is to maintain Liverpool's challenge in the Premier League and Champions League.

Benitez said: "My advisers have been in contact with the owners and we are now wait ing for the new contract to be agreed. I haven't spoken to them about what will happen in January because I wanted the contract extension signed first.

"I hope that in the next few days we will get to talk about January."

Dirk Kuyt has revealed how he has finally come through the trauma of his father's death to become the player he always wanted to be at Anfield.

The £10million Dutchman spent last season under a cloud after losing dad Gerritt 17 months ago. But his club's march into title contention has coincided with his new positive attitude. Kuyt, 28, said: "I was having problems on the pitch and off it. My father's illness, and his death, was very tough for me to take, as it would be for any son.

"Now things are different because I have been able to move on as we all must do."