Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Match Preview: PSV Eindhoven vs. LiverpooL

Liverpool travel to Holland to take on PSV Eindhoven in their final clash of the Champions League group stages. It is something of a dead rubber, for the visitors at least, and questions are being asked as to whether they will put on their best show.

The Reds have already secured safe passage to the knock-out rounds, as they sit all but top of Group D – only Atletico Madrid’s slightly superior goal difference keeps them in second spot.

But that doesn’t seem to worry the Merseyside club terribly much. Indeed, it could work out better for them if they concede first place to Atleti, pending results in the other groups. Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, said as much when discussing his side’s prospects yesterday.

"It is difficult to know whether you want to finish first or second," Benitez said. "We cannot play an English side in the last 16, so that reduces the options. Looking at the groups we could finish top and 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’d rather play next."

Still, top spot would guarantee the Anfield giants a home game in the second leg of their last-16 tie, something which has served them well in the recent past. And after trouncing PSV in the reverse fixture earlier this season, they must be favourites to claim the points tomorrow night.

The Dutch giants have no hope of progressing from the group. They sit last, their inferior goal difference leaving them behind Olympique Marseille, although they share the same number of points.

Thus, PSV are still able to snatch a spot in the UEFA Cup if OM lose to Atletico – who have already qualified – if they defeat Liverpool at home, or if they draw, or even if they lose.

But that all depends on the French side. If Marseille match Eindhoven’s effort, then they will continue their European campaign and the Eredivisie giants will drop out of continental competition altogether.

So expect PSV to field a strong line-up, versus Liverpool’s potentially weak one, in what could be their final hit-out in Europe this season.


PSV Eindhoven

Nov 16 Ajax Amsterdam 4 - 1 PSV Eindhoven
Nov 22 PSV Eindhoven 4 - 0 SC Heracles Almelo
Nov 26 Atlético Madrid 2 - 1 PSV Eindhoven
Nov 29 Heerenveen 2 - 2 PSV Eindhoven
Dec 06 PSV Eindhoven 4 - 2 FC Groningen


Nov 15 Bolton 0 - 2 Liverpool
Nov 22 Liverpool 0 - 0 Fulham
Nov 26 Liverpool 1 - 0 Marseille
Dec 01 Liverpool 0 - 0 West Ham
Dec 06 Blackburn 1 - 3 Liverpool


PSV Eindhoven

The hosts have a few injury concerns, most notably Ibrahim Afellay. The promising playmaker has been out of action since suffering a sprained ankle against Atletico late last month. Jan Kromkamp is carrying a similar knock.

Dirk Marcellis and Nordin Amrabat returned recently, while Danny Koevermans could feature despite a calf problem.


Fernando Torres will be missing until the New Year after re-injuring his hamstring against Marseille. Dirk Kuyt is also injured, meaning Robbie Keane could be recalled after sitting out Saturday’s win over Blackburn Rovers. David N’Gog and Ryan Babel are other striking options.

The likes of Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard could well be given a breather in favour of bench-warmers like Damien Plessis, Diego Cavalieri, Yossi Benayoun and the under-fire Lucas Leiva.


Jason Culina (PSV Eindhoven)

The Australian international is one of the more unassuming players to grace Europe’s elite competition, but he is often at the heart of all that is good about PSV. Solid as a rock, neat on the ball, tidy with a pass and, most of all, a tireless worker. Can play pretty much anywhere and everywhere, and will be vital to his side’s chances against the Reds.

Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)

The Brazilian youngster has come in for staunch criticism in recent weeks due to his lacklustre performances. Has had few starting opportunities this term – Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard are stiff midfield competition, after all. But after receiving a vote of confidence from Rafa Benitez he should be given the chance to answer his critics. Will he step up?

Torres Delighted To Be Free Of Atlético Pressure

The goalscorer believes he rose too quickly and was handed too much responsibility at a time when he was not old enough to have it.

Fernando Torres has revealed that he is enjoying life at Liverpool because he feels free after becoming burdened by the attention and captain's armband at Atlético de Madrid.

The Spanish international striker has become an idol at Anfield since his move in the summer of 2007 and he thinks that it was the lifting of all the pressure placed on him at Vicente Calderón that helped.

At 19, Torres was made captain of Los Colchoneros and he thinks that he was too young to be the leader of a team and is revelling in the fact that he is not the main man at Liverpool.

"Here I am not longer like I was in Madrid where everything was focussed on me," he told Spanish news agency EFE.

"I did not have any experience so how could I have been the leader of players with more experience? That was pressure.

"At Liverpool I feel free because I do not have the captain's armband. My play has gone up in quality since moving here."

Torres is still a fan of the Spanish outfit and admits that he would relish being able to meet them again in Europe this season in his home city of Madrid.

"Liverpool is in a different dimension to Atlético, even though they will always be the club for life. My dream is really to play in the Champions League final against Atleti in the Bernabéu," he continued.

When Rafa Benítez was given permission to talk to Torres about a move to Liverpool, the youngster was not expecting the call and stated that he had to do some checking up.

"I thought it was a joke and called Pepe Reina to see what the manager's phone number was," he added.

Benitez Set For Juventus Move?

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez may be set for an unexpected move to Juventus, if the latest reports are true.

Despite having hit back at speculation that he was demanding a significant pay rise in recent times, the Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is reportedly considering a move away from the club.

According to the News of the World, the reason behind Benitez’s decision to reject the proposed renewal of his contract at Liverpool was due to the fact that there has been interest shown by an Italian team.

As a result, it appears that the Spanish tactician is one of the candidates to eventually succeed Claudio Ranieri at the club, and if the rumours are said to be true, expect there to be a large sum of cash involved.

With Real Madrid also reported to be tracking the Liverpool manager, the Bianconeri may have a battle on their hands if and when he declares his availability.

Rafa: Reds Want Home Advantage

Rafael Benitez says Liverpool are determined to win away to PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday to be sure of finishing top of Champions League Group D.

Claims that he has been demanding a massive pay-rise have been angrily rejected by the Reds boss, who claims he is more concerned with seeing Robbie Keane prove he is worth the £20million price tag while ensuring Liverpool finish top of their group ahead of Atletico Madrid.

Benitez said: "We want to be top of the group, if only to ensure that we are at home in the second leg of the first knockout stage match in the next round.

"It is debatable whether it is important to finish first or second, because you can come up against some very good sides in the next phase who have finished second in their group.

"But as a club we always want to win. And that is the aim now. I will probably utilise the squad more, and I have left Dirk Kuyt at home to give him a rest.

"There is a very small injury problem, but I want him to have a rest after playing so many games this season."

Why Robbie Keane Has Turned From Liverpool's Missing Link To A Spare Part

Rafael BenÍtez must have believed that he was building a forward trio with the movement, flair and goalscoring ability to rival Carlos Tévez, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United when Robbie Keane joined Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt at Anfield in July.

Even at £20.3 million, Keane looked a great signing, but the dream move has been more of a nightmare. He’s the same talented forward he was at Tottenham Hotspur but he simply does not fit at Liverpool. I can’t pick out one game where he has recaptured his form of last season and it’s down to tactics and teammates.

I played with Keane for Ireland and he needs the right partner to bring the best out of him. He did not gel with Darren Bent or Jermain Defoe at Tottenham, but struck up a superb understanding with Dimitar Berbatov. Had Peter Crouch stayed at Anfield, they would have worked well together. Crouch would have provided flick-ons and lay-offs to put Keane in the position he likes best: slipped in behind the defensive line, slightly to the left of goal from a central starting position, running towards the net with the ball at his feet.

Torres is too similar and there is no doubt that he is the main man at Anfield, so Torres will be accommodated, not Keane. The Spain striker looks to pull away from his strike partner and ghost into space. Keane needs someone like Berbatov who is not afraid to do the opposite: stick close to him and play one-twos or through-balls, even in congested areas, using possession to create room to run into rather than finding it moments earlier through clever movement before the ball arrives.

Whoever he plays with for Liverpool, Keane looks lost, as though he’s not sure where to go. He spends a lot less time in and around the box than he did at Tottenham, and when he does enter it he does not resemble the poacher of last season because he has lost confidence. Being dropped by BenÍtez will take its toll on his self-belief too, as will the knowledge that he did not establish himself while Torres was out of the side.

At Tottenham, everything was geared towards supplying the front two because the midfield was not productive. But Liverpool’s midfield is a great strength, especially with Steven Gerrard bombing on. They are not afraid to bypass Keane. And neither, it seems, is BenÍtez.

Hyypia: Liverpool Should Enjoy Top Spot

Liverpool's veteran Finn has urged his team-mates to enjoy their current league position.

Sami Hyypia is pleased with the way Liverpool's season has gone so far and has urged his team-mates to forget about the extra pressure being top brings and concentrate on taking each game as it comes.

"I don't think we should see being top as extra pressure," said the defender.

"We have done well to get there and now we just have to do our best to stay there.

"All we can do is try to win every game and then we will see what happens, there is no point looking too far ahead or putting ourselves under any unnecessary pressure.

"We should be happy to be top and just enjoy being there."

Hyypia put in a man-of-the-match performance in the 3-1 Liverpool victory over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, after replacing Daniel Agger at the heart of the Reds' defence. He believes that the victory was a timely boost for the Anfield men, and demonstrated the patience that is part of their armoury.

"It was an important win for us because we know if we keep on winning we will remain top," he said.

"Ewood Park is never an easy place to come and win and Blackburn played with a high tempo and made things hard for us but our performance was quite controlled and we got our reward in the end.

"We held on to the ball and eventually the chances came and thankfully we managed to take them."

The Reds had drawn their previous two games at home against West Ham United and Fulham and Hyppia was pleased that they returned to winning ways, identifying Xabi Alonso's opening goal as crucial to the victory. He also praised the performance of Steven Gerrard, who scored the clinching third goal in injury-time at the end of the game.

"The first goal in any game is always important but particularly in this game because we had gone a couple of matches without scoring.

"We managed to get it and when we scored again I thought that was it but they managed to score towards the end and that put a little bit of pressure on us.

"But Steven came up with the goods again and it was nice to see that one go in. We knew the points were in the bag then. We’re happy to take the three points."

Rafa Benitez Hits Out Over Money Grabbing Contract Claims

UNHAPPY Rafael Benitez has hit out at claims he has demanded a massive pay rise in negotiations over a new contract.

The Liverpool manager is furious that talks over a new deal at Anfield are being depicted in some quarters as money-orientated.

Benitez insists he instructed his agent, holding talks with Liverpool co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over a new deal to replace his current contract which runs out in 18 months, not to discuss money first.

And the Spaniard said: “I was surprised by what I read. I was surprised that I have seen that I was demanding more money. That is not true.

“I told my agent when he went into the talks to not talk about money, the question was about the length of the contract, and after that it was my role. The last question was about the money.

“So when you see things said (about money), it means people are either not telling the truth or that people have very bad information or they want to create a mess.

“I was very disappointed with this. I say again, it is not true. I was not asking for anything, just telling my advisors to go to the meeting and hear what they (the owners) want. The owners were talking about an extension.

“Again I say, people have very bad information. Hopefully it will be resolved sooner rather than later, but I do not know when.

“I was pleased with the first meeting, and more so in the second meeting, that was better. Again I am very clear, people are trying to create a mess and I do not know why.”

Meanwhile, Yossi Benayoun has held clear-the-air talks with Benitez – but admits his long-term future may still lie away from Anfield.

Benayoun went public last month with his frustration at playing a bit-part role for Liverpool this season.

The Israeli international has since been reassured by Benitez he will be given first-team opportunities for the Premier League leaders.

And Benayoun has started the last two games, scoring in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Blackburn Rovers, and is likely to retain his place for tonight’s Champions League group game at PSV Eindhoven.

But the midfielder has intimated he could review his position during next month’s transfer window, with Ajax, Roma and Spartak Moscow among a clutch of clubs monitoring his situation.

“The boss had a chat with me a couple of weeks ago, after all that stuff appeared about my future,” said Benayoun. “I didn't ask for any talks, he said he wanted to speak to me about it.

“He just told me I had to stay calm, because I would get chances in the team, and we agreed it was important now to put any personal feelings to one side and concentrate on trying to keep us at the top of the table.

“There will be time to think about my situation in January or at the end of the season, so for now, I'm happy to put that behind me and focus on doing my bit for the team.

“The problem for me is that the manager is not rotating as much as he used to. It is the same 11 players every week, and they are doing so well, no-one can really complain.

“I have to be patient, but I'm still not sure whether, in the long term, my future will be here.”

Will Not Sell Robbie Keane But He Must Improve, Says Liverpool's Rafael Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insists he will not sell misfiring striker Robbie Keane but admits "he is not playing at his level".

After being dropped for the game at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, Keane will be handed the responsibility of scoring the goals on Tuesday night which ensure the club's concluding Champions League group fixture ends in victory over PSV Eindhoven, hopefully giving them top spot in the group.

With Fernando Torres out with a hamstring injury and Dirk Kuyt also missing the flight to his native Holland with a similar problem, Benitez has little choice but to bring Keane back into the fold after the £20.3 million signing spent the entire 90 minutes at Ewood Park on the bench.

Benitez has told Tottenham, who are interested in bringing their former striker back to White Hart Lane, that he has no desire to sell the player, although Keane will be well aware that the Spaniard is not known for his patience when it comes to misfiring forwards.

Craig Bellamy, after an underwhelming campaign, lasted just 12 months before being sold to West Ham; Fernando Morientes left for Valencia within a couple of years of being signed by his compatriot, and Djibril Cisse was allowed to join Marseille, although Gerard Houllier had bought him shortly before Benitez took charge.

However, Benitez continues to back Keane, 28, despite his meagre return of two goals in 15 Premier League appearances. Keane also came in for criticism from some fans at a charity dinner attended by Benitez last week.

"We don't want to sell Robbie," insists Benitez, who is set to give keeper Diego Cavalieri a rare start.

"I think he knows we have confidence in him, but he knows also he is not playing at his level. You cannot give a player with his experience too many messages. He knows he has to perform well and he will be there.

"People talk about the fact he didn't play at Blackburn, but we were playing with Kuyt, who is a striker, and [Ryan] Babel, who is a striker on the left side.

"Carlos Tevez scored four goals last week for Manchester United and he didn't start the match against Sunderland, but there isn't the same debate. Why?

"Always at the beginning it is not easy and when someone moves to a top side it is more difficult, but Robbie has quality, he is working hard, so it is not a problem.

"For me the key is the team playing well. If the team plays well, he will have more chances and he will score more goals. I think all the players want to play, so he will be disappointed. He will be thinking, 'I want to play, I need to play'."

ACADEMY: Liverpool Go Into Manchester United Clash On A High

Liverpool under-18s followed up their FA Youth Cup win Leeds with another excellent 3-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion at the Kirkby Academy on Saturday.

Goals from Joe Kennedy, James Ellison and substitute Lauri Dalla Valle saw Hugh McAuley’s side remain second behind leaders Manchester City in FA Premier Academy League Group A table.

Liverpool almost went behind in the opening minutes, but Danish keeper Martin Hansen saved well low down from Josh Knight.

The home side hit back with Ellison being denied by the Baggies keeper Ryan Allsop, but from the resulting corner captain Kennedy stabbed home after six minutes.

West Brom hit back and Hansen saved twice and despite going close from Michael Scott and Adam Pepper’s free-kick it wasn’t until the second half that Liverpool doubled their lead.

On the hour mark a quick move on the break ended with striker Ellison finishing off with a inch-perfect strike.

Liverpool completed the win when substitute Dalla Valle came off the bench to score a third on 71 minutes. The Finnish striker went on an excellent run down the right before cutting in and cracking home an unstoppable effort.

Coach McAuley said: “It gave us a chance to play a few of the lads who didn’t play at Leeds. And they took their chance well.

“It was a good win, and we scored three good goals. But I was a little disappointed at times with the quality of the game in regards to the passing and the movement.”

Liverpool’s will look to end the year on a high when they take on Manchester United at the Kirkby Academy this Saturday (kick-off 11am) before the four-week Christmas break.

McAuley said: “We are second in between Manchester City and United. United can overtake if they beat us, so we will be looking for a good result to end the year in second. The fact we are also still in the Youth Cup gives us fresh impetus to come back after the break to go from there.”

Jack Metcalf picked up a knock and went off at half-time against West Brom, but is expected to be fit to face United.

LIVERPOOL UNDER-18s: Hansen; Metcalf (Dalla Valle 45), Kennedy, Wisdom, O’Connor; Scott, Pepper, Roberts, Cooper (Ince 57); Kacaniklic (Pourie 65), Ellison. Subs: Duyan, Buchtmann.

Liverpool Run Out Of Suitors Amid World Financial Woe

Top of the league and a top place in their Champions League group if they collect more points in Eindhoven tonight than Atletico Madrid do in Marseilles but Liverpool's co-owner has not dismissed suggestions he has employed investment bankers to find a buyer for what appears to be the most unwanted English club.

In an interview with a Canadian radio station, George Gillett avoided a direct response to a suggestion that he and co-owner Tom Hicks have enlisted the help of Merrill Lynch to find a buyer, with the loans they took out to buy the club due for rescheduling in January. "We wouldn't have any comment on that, there's too much speculation already'," Gillett said. Some financial analysts believe that with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, who has been trying to purchase the club for the last two years, no longer interested, a purchaser will probably only now be found if the Americans are forced into a fire sale by their banks foreclosing on them or them running out of money. The Americans may be wishing they accepted the £500m Sheikh Maktoum offered them before the credit crunch hit and may even accept £350m, the total sum of the loans, some financiers believe.

There appears to be no prospect of the mystery Middle East suitor who came to the table several months ago returning, despite the competition provided by Sheikh Maktoum having gone. Though some sources suggest a £500m deal, with the prospective buyer also taking on the club's debt, was agreed and that the deal was within minutes of being signed, that prospect seems to be in the past.

Gillett said that he was not worried about the club's revenues dropping in the financial crisis. The public's discretionary spend on sport to "take your mind off the trouble of the day" tended to hold up well, he said. "We have a list of season ticket fans which is substantially larger than the amount of tickets available," Gillett added. But Liverpool's growth is dependent on having owners who can fund a new stadium, a project which, Gillett reiterated, was off in the "intermediate" future.

Emotions do not drive decision-making for individuals like Gillett but he and the Canadian media present his "soccer" franchise "over the pond" as the antithesis of his Montreal Candiens hockey franchise. While he eulogised about the cash he has ploughed into a new training facility for the Canadiens, his distaste of the British media which he expressed after a business conference in London last month was barely concealed once again.