Sunday, December 07, 2008

Match Report: Blackburn 1 - 3 LiverpooL

Yossi Benayoun's superb solo effort helped to keep Liverpool on top of the Barclays Premier League at Ewood Park.

The Israel midfielder latched on to a fine ball over the top from Dirk Kuyt in the 79th minute.

There was still worked to be done but he skipped past Stephen Warnock before rifling a shot into the corner for his team's second.

That sealed an important victory for Liverpool after Xabi Alonso had opened the scoring 11 minutes earlier.

Roque Santa Cruz got a consolation goal in the 86th minute only for Steven Gerrard to have the last word in stoppage time.

Blackburn have now failed to win in 10 league games yet there was little to choose between the sides in the first half, despite the vast difference in league positions.

Liverpool were caught cold in the sixth minute when Morten Gamst Pedersen got clear in the penalty area.

But he only succeeded in sending his cross into the arms of goalkeeper Jose Reina to the disbelief of the home supporters.

Tugay then tried to release Santa Cruz but put too much weight on the pass and the goalkeeper was able to make the interception.

It was an encouraging start by Blackburn and Pedersen swung in a corner after 13 minutes, only for Santa Cruz's touch to let him down.

Liverpool, though, almost took the lead in their first attack after 19 minutes following superb vision from Kuyt.

He released Benayoun with a marvellous through ball but it was taken off his toes by Stephen Warnock as he shaped to shoot.

It was little wonder the Blackburn full-back got a pat on the back from goalkeper Paul Robinson for a crucial tackle.

Blackburn hit back and almost stunned Liverpool in the 29th minute when Gerrard lost possession to Pedersen.

The Norway midfielder raced on and rattled in a 25-yard shot but Reina reacted superbly to push it onto the bar.

Pedersen could hardly believe his eyes - and it was a narrow escape for Liverpool.

The visitors were again forced on the back foot in the 39th minute and Reina showed good reflexes to push Pedersen's free-kick from distance around the post.

Liverpool responded and Gerrard tried to pick out Kuyt but Robinson was alert to the danger and made the save.

Rafael Benitez's side were beginining to dictate the pace and two minutes later Alonso fired in a shot from inside the six-yard area.

But Robinson stood tall to make the block and keep Blackburn on level terms.

Liverpool then won a free-kick after Warnock's challenge on Babel and there was keen anticipation from the visiting fans.

But Gerrard only succeeded in sending his effort from 25 yards high into the stand.

Gerrard was then denied by Robinson in the 61st minute when the goalkeeper made a splendid parry and Benayoun was unable to make the rebound count.

Liverpool went ahead in the 68th minute when Gerrard delivered a cross from the rigtht. Kuyt took a swipe at it and in the process released Alonso, who beat Robinson with a weak low shot he probably should have saved.

This was a worrying spell for a Blackburn side who had all but forgotten what it was like to win a league match.

Liverpool extended their lead with that marvellous solo effort from Benayoun.

He latched on to ball over the top from Kuyt and skipped away from Warnock before rifling a shot into the corner.

Blackburn secured a consolation goal in the 86th minute with a Santa Cruz header but Gerrard had the final word in stoppage time after substitute Albert Reira laid the ball into his path with Robinson marooned.

Benitez Turns Down New Liverpool Deal

Press reports in England suggest that Rafa Benitez has rejected Liverpool's opening offer as negotiations for his new contract begin.

Rafa Benitez has said no to Liverpool's initial £12 million offer in negotiations for his new contract, reports the News of the World. The Spaniard is holding out for improved terms after the Anfield hierarchy put forward a two-year extension to the manager.

The new deal was planned to last until 2012, and would have upped Benitez's salary from £3.5 million a year to just under £4 million for the rest of his time with the club.

The Liverpool manager is keen for his wages to match those earned by his rival managers at the other so-called 'Big Four' clubs. Both Manchester United's Alex Ferguson and Arsenal's Arsene Wenger are reputed to earn £4.5 million a year.

Talks will continue, but it is understood to be these wage demands that are causing a stumbling block, with the club's owners arguing that Liverpool have not won another trophy since Benitez's last contract renewal in 2006.

Benitez also apparently wanted a five-year deal, as he has vowed to remain on Merseyside and ignore the efforts of other clubs, most notably Real Madrid, to prise him away from Anfield.

Negotiations are expected to continue.

Rafa Looks Set To Ring The Champions League Changes As Liverpool Look Forward To Last 16

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez will make major changes for the side's final Champions League group D match in Holland next week and will not rule out resting his top stars.

Liverpool, already assured of a place in the last 16, have the luxury of being able to use several squad players when they face PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday.

The match is still hugely significant for PSV as they fight for the win which could see them qualify for the UEFA Cup by finishing in third spot, pipping Marseille to that objective.

The Dutch champions lie bottom of the group, level on three points with Marseille but behind the Ligue 1 club on the head-to-head record.

This means that to leapfrog Marseille they must better the French team's result against Atletico Madrid.

For Liverpool to win group D, and then secure a knockout phase opponent who finished runners-up in their own group, they must either better their Spanish rivals' result in Marseille, or - if the sides secure the same outcome - record a better scoreline to overturn their present one-goal deficit.

Benitez knows he can shuffle his pack - and that means he could leave out the likes of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Dirk Kuyt, Jose Reina and Alvaro Arbeloa.

Brazilian youngster Lucas, Ryan Babel, Yossi Benayoun, David Ngog and goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri could all start, while Benitez may even gamble on rookie reserves Stephen Darby and Jay Spearing.

Four of the 25 named for the group stages are injured - Fernando Torres, Martin Skrtel, Fabio Aurelio and Philipp Degen - so Benitez does not have much room to manoeuvre.

The Spaniard said: "It is difficult to say now who will play in Eindhoven, but it is clear that we will be making several changes.

"But we will probably take most of the senior players because of the prospect of injuries.

"The players are involved in more matches these days. (Dirk) Kuyt, Carragher and Arbeloa have all played a lot of games this season.

"But we have to send out a squad with four local players because of the regulations, so that does not make it easy.

"We cannot obviously, use young players who are not on the list registered for the tournament, so we are limited in making many changes.

"But Lucas will be involved. People have criticised him recently but he has been working so hard, he is the kind of player with a great character who will become very important for us.

"There is still a lot on the match itself. It is still important for PSV and Marseille to get points to get into the UEFA Cup.

"But it will be difficult for Marseille against Atletico because the their opponents are very good on the counter-attack and dangerous.

"And PSV also need to win, so they will make it very difficult for us. They have ability, pace and they are playing at home."

It is debatable whether it will benefit Liverpool in the draw for the next stage if they finish top.

Benitez said: "It is difficult to know whether you want to finish first or second in the group.

"We cannot play an English side in the last 16, so that reduces the options.

"Looking at the groups we could finish top and still end up playing against Juventus or Real Madrid, it is also possible to face Lyon or Bayern Munich so it is very difficult to decide who you would rather play next.

"The best thing about winning the group is that you play the second leg of the next round at Anfield, which is very important for us."

PSV need one point to avoid registering their worst haul at this stage of the Champions League.

In a run of 11 successive seasons of competing in the group stage they have never managed fewer than four points - their total in the 1999-2000 campaign. Liverpool, by contrast, will record their highest points total in the group stage if they win in the Philips Stadion.

PSV are still seeking a first win against Liverpool at the sixth attempt. Liverpool can take further encouragement from an unbeaten away record in this season's competition - plus the fact they have lost just once in 11 previous encounters with Dutch clubs.

Tottenham Want Liverpool's Keane Back - Reports

Press reports in England suggest that Spurs will be launching an audacious bid to re-sign Robbie Keane in January.

Tottenham Hotspur are set to bid to take Robbie Keane back to White Hart Lane in January, reports the News of the World, and an offer that anything like approaches the £20 million that Liverpool paid for the Irish striker's services could see the player heading back to North London.

Keane, a Liverpool fan as a boy, has struggled to make an impact at Anfield, where the Reds' way of playing does not seem to suit his all-action style.

The player's days on Merseyside are rumoured to be numbered anyway, as he remained sitting on the bench throughout Liverpool's 3-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday afternoon. Now Spurs manager Harry Redknapp is looking to test Rafa Benitez's resolve in hanging onto the player.

Benitez could well be tempted by the deal as a means of recouping some of the money squandered in his summer transfer dealings. Out of all the players signed, only Albert Riera has looked anything like at home at Anfield.

Left-back Andrea Dossena, signed £7m from Udinese, is set to be offloaded back to Italy at the first opportunity, whilst right-back Philipp Degen, who was given a £2m signing-on fee and £38,000-a-week salary when he joined from Borussia Dortmund, has barely featured for the Reds after suffering a succession of injuries.

Benitez is rumoured to want to bring Emile Heskey in, as well as some competition in the full-back positions. Keane's departure may well ease this, though there are likely to be complex financial implications if the Irishman were to move.

Keane has played 90 minutes for Liverpool only three times so far this season and has been subsituted 15 times. He has scored four goals.

Gerrard - I Won't Be Selfish

Steven Gerrard has admitted to being 'selfish' in his desire to play in his favourite position.

The Liverpool skipper has complained in the past when moved away from the central role he has become accustomed to, saying his performances suffered as a result.

He admits he was wrong to be so stubborn but insists he is now happy to play anywhere to help the Reds in their quest for Premier League glory.

Rafa Benitez has asked Gerrard to play more defensively at times, while he has also had to switch out wide, but the 28-year-old maintains that he is only focused on the welfare of the team.

"I used to worry because I was selfish and wanted to be in my favoured position every game - like you do on the playground when you're a kid," Gerrard told the News of the World.

"But the game has changed. I have learned to understand I have a job to do for the team.

"You can't afford to be selfish. If I play out of position and we get a win I still get the same buzz.

"If the manager says to me I'm playing centre midfield or off the front man, there's no massive difference to me.

"But yes, I enjoy playing further forward, especially behind Fernando Torres.

"I'll play wherever the manager wants me to play and not worry about it."

Gerrard feels Benitez is one of the best bosses in the business and has saluted his man-management skills.

He said: "You have to take your hat off to him. He's one of the best managers there is.

"Rafa is the type that when you finish a game as man of the match having scored three goals, he won't even mention it. Instead, he'll mention that you never used your left foot at a certain point!

"But Rafa does it right. When I need a pat on the back I get it.

"I have had lots of 'well dones' from him, but when I need a kick up the backside I get it too."

Rafa Lauds Under-Fire Lucas

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has backed Lucas Leiva to have a prosperous future at the club despite recent criticism.

The Brazilian midfielder will again be looking to force his way into Liverpool's starting XI for Saturday's trip to Blackburn as the Reds look to maintain their lead at the top of the Premier League.

But even if Lucas has to settle for a place on the bench in the Ewood Park fixture, the 21-year-old can do so with words of encouragement from his manager.

"Lucas is a fantastic player and a fantastic professional. He was the captain of his team when he was 19 years old, he has caps with Brazil, not with any other country - Brazil," Benitez told the club's official website.

"He was the captain of the Under-21 Olympic team for Brazil, again I will say - Brazil - and has a very, very good mentality.

"When you talk about Brazilian players, OK you can say they are maybe skilful players with ability, but Lucas is a worker, he has quality and has a very good approach for each game.

"He can tackle, he can win the ball in the air and he can pass well.

"But he is still a young player in a different country and he is competing against Javier Mascherano, the captain of Argentina, Steven Gerrard, one of the best players in the world who has captained England and Xabi Alonso, one of the best players in the Spain side, the champions of Europe.

"I think it is difficult for a young player to compete with them, but that just shows the amount of quality in our midfield.

"If you analyse how Lucas was playing before, and how he is playing now, he was working so hard in the last few matches but people were disappointed with him.

"He is the kind of player who has a very good character and I'm sure he will be a very good player for us in the future."

Rafa Benitez: We Won't Be Held To Ransom In January Transfer Window

Rafa Benitez today admitted sky high asking prices could prevent Liverpool from entering the market when the transfer window opens at the beginning of next month.

The Reds boss is keeping his eye on the market and his scouts have been monitoring a number of players, but the Spaniard is not yet convinced he will be doing any business in January.

"It could be difficult," said Benitez. "As always, we are monitoring players and we have some names, but we have to talk with the owners and analyse what we can do and what we cannot.

"The price when you ask about some players is too much. Everyone is asking for big money.

"So the important thing is to find the right player and to make your move at the right moment, but I do not see prices coming down."

Meanwhile, Benitez has hailed Sami Hyypia after the long serving centre back was named Finnish player of the year for the seventh time.

The 35-year-old came back into the Liverpool starting line-up against West Ham on Monday night and could continue in the role at Blackburn today at Daniel Agger's expense.

His manager believes he is a fantastic example to everyone at the club and a deserving recipient of his latest personal accolade.

"Sami is a very good professional and a great lad," said Benitez.

"He has been an important player for us in the past and he will be again this season.

"He has lots of quality and the experience he has means he is always an example to his team mates.

"I think he deserves this award, but not just this one - all the awards he has got in his career because he has been an amazing servant to this club and to his country.

"If he can receive this award three times more he will make it 10 and that will mean he is playing until he is 40!"

Benitez was quick to quash speculation that Fernando Torres could be out for longer than expected, insisting that the Spanish striker's recovery from his latest hamstring injury is progressing as expected.

"Fernando is progressing and improving so hopefully he will be back sooner rather than later," he said.

"It's just a question of waiting and not pressuring the player. He has a lot of confidence now, and when you have confidence, you can be fitter sooner.

"Everything is going well and I think it will be more or less the time we said."

George Gillett Could Face Battle To Keep Liverpool Stake

Liverpool co-owner George Gillett could face a battle to keep his 50 per cent holding in the club.

In January this year Gillett pledged part of his stake as collateral for a personal, 19 per cent interest $75 million loan with US firm Mill Financial.

Mill, part of Virginia-based Springfield Financial, has put the debt up for sale with at least one outside party believed to be interested.

If Gillett fails to purchase or refinance the debt and defaults the new lender could seek to call an administrator with a view to taking the collateral – Gillett's holding in Liverpool – as payment.

Ron Devine, Springfield Financial's founder, said: "I'm very uncomfortable commenting on the note. It is a matter for Mr. Gillett."

Dirk Kuyt Rises To The Challenge

To Dirk Kuyt, although this is his first visit, it is a place that resonates. We are at Woodlands, a day hospice in Aintree that through the Premier League’s Creating Chances initiative was awarded £4,000 towards its appeal to build a new bedded unit, plus a player appearance from one of the Liverpool squad.

More than 100 terminally ill people and their families are supported by Woodlands. Kuyt has come to talk football. The hospice holds discussion groups that encourage participants to focus on a subject bringing them pleasure and to treasure positive memories connected with it. Football is today’s topic and attending is important to Kuyt. His wife, Gertrude, was a geriatric nurse before their children were born and in June 2007 he lost his father, Dirk senior, to cancer, after a long struggle.

“I look at the families visiting the people here and of course I’ve had the same moments a couple of years ago,” says Kuyt. “I know what people are feeling when they come here. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to visit and maybe leave some people with a bit of a positive feeling. You know, put something else in their minds. I think the way of life in Liverpool is to be positive and the people look to the future and not so much to the past. It’s good to see the people here laughing and sharing some moments and trying to forget their problems.”

The death of his father, such a proud supporter of his son’s career, who when he was ill still travelled over from Holland to see games at Anfield, affected Kuyt badly. He is a lesson in how the public sometimes see footballers in two-dimensional parameters no more revealing than the pictures on their television screens. Kuyt, Liverpool’s top league scorer in 2006-07, scored just three league goals last season, two of them penalty kicks, and was criticised for his loss of form. Few took into account the personal grief that was weighing on him.

“It was difficult last year,” he says. “It’s hard to play when you are losing somebody who’s really close to you. It’s hard, with your life, just to keep moving. Football is always moving on and the world keeps going on and you are just standing still by a moment, a very sad moment. I needed some time. These things happen and of course they can also happen to a footballer, so the only thing you can do is keep working really hard and try to get your form back as quick as possible. Now I’m feeling stronger than I was feeling a year ago.”

Kuyt’s performances attest to that. Only Xabi Alonso has an equal claim to be regarded as Liverpool’s player of 2008-09 and, despite his spending most games stationed on the right flank, the goals have returned.

“I’m feeling good, really confident and strong, and I can only say I want to keep this form up until the end of the season,” says Kuyt.

The subject of his father’s death is not raised during his afternoon at Woodlands. Most of the patients and staff are unaware of his loss and down-to-earth Dutchness means Kuyt is not going to make an issue of it. He is happy, anyway, leading the football chat.

The older many people become, the less reluctant they appear to be to say what they mean. The questions to Kuyt are more direct than a journalist would dare ask. “Do you like a drink?” (answer: yes, a glass of beer, but Kuyt doesn’t touch alcohol often) is one. “Do you only socialise with the Dutch guys?” (answer: no, he plays golf and goes for meals with Steven Gerrard and others, although Ryan Babel is his roommate on away trips) is another. Brian Hall, the stalwart of Shankly’s early 1970s Liverpool team, who accompanies Kuyt on his visit, gets a cracker. “So, what was the real problem between Emlyn Hughes and Tommy Smith?” An elderly gentleman suggests to Kuyt that footballers’ salaries are so high that ordinary people struggle to accept they are fair.
“I think you’re right,” he says. “We’re on massive wages and sometimes you’re a bit shy when you have that money. But when I step on the pitch I do not think of one penny, I want to win the game. I used to play for nothing. I was still an amateur [at the Dutch side Quick Boys] when I was 17.”

Such an outlook may explain one of the most prodigious workrates in football. Kuyt, a chaser and harrier from first whistle to last, admits: “I never feel tired.” He adds, with reference to his adaptation from striker to right-winger: “I know I’m not Ronaldo or Ronaldinho, not the best dribbler in the world. But I’ve got other things. I know I can score goals and give assists and that my workrate can be important for any team. Workrate is one of the things you always need to show.”

No wonder he is one of Rafael Benitez’s favourite players. The Dutchman’s flexibility is such that Benitez has convinced himself Kuyt even spent time at right-back when he was younger and has mentioned this at press conferences. “No!” says Kuyt, laughing. “I never played right-back, but you never know what might happen.”

Under Benitez he is prepared for anything. The manager still asks him to play as a frontline forward, on occasion, and sometimes as a second striker, and he has even been stationed on the left. “I did play in different roles in Holland,” he says “and what’s important is that, in English football, which is different, I’m now showing I can play every position up front. I’m not really a right-winger but I play the way I like to play it and sometimes, because Steven [Gerrard] and [Fernando] Torres get a lot of attention from opponents, that gives me more space to score goals and make assists.”

He says Liverpool are a family club, it’s one of the first things you recognise when you arrive. For example, Steven is an absolute star on every pitch in the world he steps on to, but outside the pitch he’s really down to earth. This is the best Liverpool team I’ve been involved in. Winning games like the Manchester United one is a massive step. We’re showing we have the power and strength to win difficult games. We want to show we can win this league”.

Dubai Royals End Interest In Buying Liverpool

The Dubai Royal Family have ended their interest in a £500million offer to buy Liverpool, leaving the controversial American owners in charge until at least next July.

The high asking price and financial downturn in Dubai have persuaded the family of Sheikh Al-Maktoum to pull the plug on the deal that Amanda Staveley (pictured), who brokered the Abu Dhabi takeover at Manchester City, has been mediating.

The lack of any realistic buyer means the Royal Bank of Scotland and American bank Wachovia are even less likely to force owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to sell the club on or before January 25, when their £350m refinancing deal runs out, and will therefore agree to the July extension allowed for in the original deal.

The Dubai royals had tried to buy Liverpool before the American pair in December 2006.

They renewed their interest a year later when the Americans quoted them a £1billion price tag.

The Al-Maktoums indicated they would pay around £500m, but the reluctance of the Americans to sell to them, combined with the economic climate, has dashed their enthusiasm.