Monday, December 15, 2008

Liverpool's Benitez Defends Decision To Bench Robbie Keane

Following his decision to leave his Irish striker on the bench for the entirety of Saturday's game with Hull City, the Liverpool manager today explained his reasoning.

Despite failing to find a decisive third goal against Hull City on Saturday, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez refused to bring on his prize summer signing Robbie Keane, who was left on the bench for the whole match.

The Kop were left in disarray after their team's third successive home draw came after The Reds had had to overcome a two goal deficit against the high-flying Tigers.

Liverpool have now drawn at home to Hull, Fulham and West Ham United, and back in September were held to a 0-0 draw by newly promoted Stoke City.

Having clawed their way back to 2-2 yesterday against Hull, Liverpool needed an extra goal that never came, but might have done had Keane been introduced. Benitez has subsequently been criticised for his failure to bring on the £20 million man.

The Liverpool manager instead preferred to bring on Nabil El Zhar, Ryan Babel and Lucas as his three substitutes, leaving Republic of Ireland international Keane on the bench.

However, the Spaniard has defended his decision by telling The Irish Times, "We wanted wingers with pace and ability. Babel and (Nabil) El Zhar were both very good.

"We wanted to get to the line and pulled the ball back, we do not want to play long balls, we are not that sort of team."

Liverpool were saved by their captain on Saturday, as Steven Gerrard scored both goals to bring The Reds back into the match after Paul McShane and a Jamie Carragher own goal put the away side 2-0 to the good.

However, Benitez has rubbished claims that without the Liverpool captain, Liverpool would struggle, saying, "Today it was Gerrard who scored the goals, in the last game it was (David) Ngog, (Ryan) Babel and (Albert) Riera. The previous game it was (Yossi) Benayoun, we have players who can also score goals.

Liverpool Owner In Financial Strife

According to the News of the World this morning, George Gillett must raise 50 million pounds within the next six weeks if he is to retain co-ownership of the Merseyside giants.

Gillett must pay back a massive loan he took out by using the club as collateral, by January 25. The Sunday newspaper speculates that co-owner Tom Hicks may revive his attempts to buy out Gillett.

There is also thought to be hope that investors from Dubai, who have made clear in recent weeks that they won’t be buying the Premier League club, will return to the negotiating table.

Gillett agreed a £50m loan with Mill Financial last January, but his debt has been put up for sale by the bank with a repayment deadline set for the end of January. If an investor buys the debt and Gillett fails to repay it, he’ll be forced to give up his 50 per cent stake in Liverpool.

Liverpool’s American owners could have further financial issues to solve by July 2009, when they have to find new investment ahead of a 350 million pound financing deal next July.

Liverpool Boss Benitez Wants Support For Gerrard

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has urged the forwards to contribute goals so as to take the weight off the shoulders of captain Steven Gerrard.

The England midfielder staged a great rescue act to pull the Reds out of trouble as he got a brace from his attacking midfield position after the hosts had fallen behind 0-2 to Phil Brown’s side.

The Reds could only manage a 2-2 draw at Anfield that also came at the back of stalemates with Fulham and West Ham United.

Liverpool are currently without injured Spanish star striker Fernando Torres, while £20m summer-signing Robbie Keane has failed to establish himself as first-choice and was an unused substitute against the Tigers yesterday. Dirk Kuyt has also failed to score regularly of late after being amongst the goals earlier in the season.

Benitez said: "Gerrard is always a threat playing in that attacking midfield role, but we need more people to score goals. We need to see more, especially the players up front, to score more goals."

Liverpool's Lucas Believes That Confidence Is The Key

Liverpool's Lucas believes that he can make his mark on the club if he can find the confidence to be able to play well consistently in the Premier League.

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva has stated that he just needs confidence in order to play well for The Reds, and the recent criticism he has received has not helped his cause.

The former Brazilian Under-20 captain has recently been criticised for his lack of contribution to Liverpool's title challenge, and despite receiving support from his manager, he has admitted that his game does suffer when he is lacking in confidence.

He is potentially a big player for Liverpool and is hoping to become a major part of the team in years to come.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Lucas claimed that, "all players need confidence. If you have that it can help you play better.

"Maybe you will try a pass that you may not normally do. If you miss, you try again. You have to try to make something different happen.

"But if you don't have confidence everything becomes more difficult for you as a player.

"I've had more time to go forward this year. Rafa says it's up to me to get forward to make more chances and that is what I am trying to do for the club."

Lucas has made a total of 25 Premier League appearances for Liverpool since his £6 million move from Brazilian Serie A side Gremio, but has failed to score in any of those games.

Keane Sets Key Riddle For Benitez

You don't get to win the Champions League, FA Cup and a brace of La Liga titles outside of Madrid and Barcelona while cloaked in football ignorance. However, you can still have bad days, and bad seasons and maybe you can even lose, if not the entire dressing room, the odd hugely expensive signing.

If Rafa Benitez had lost Robbie Keane to any greater degree on Saturday the £20m Dubliner might not have been scowling on the bench but inhabiting some unlogged South Pacific island. Suddenly Benitez's huge and apparently failed investment in a striker whose performances for Tottenham often pushed back the limits of overachievement seemed not so much misadventure as an indication of a potentially fatal weakness.

Certainly, the Liverpool manager's obscure reaction to a tough post-match grilling over his refusal to inject Keane into an increasingly futile attempt to find a winning goal in the second half – while sending on the midfielder Lucas and wingers Ryan Babel and Nabil El Zahr – could only add to the pressure facing him after a third straight failure to win at home.

Benitez said: "You have to think about winning. For me, the best thing was to use wingers and an offensive midfielder that can pass the ball better, because in the last minutes of the game you need someone calm who can pass the ball. To put more people into the box and start playing long balls is not the solution."

Perhaps not but Benitez's choice of options begged a question that is bound to gain ground as Liverpool's promise of ending their title drought slips back towards its old fantasy status.

Why spend £20m on a striker deemed not fit for purpose when the overwhelming priority is to find the net?

Was it because you thought you could build on the impressive levels of efficiency Keane had displayed in partnership with a restive Dimitar Berbatov at White Hart Lane?

That certainly is the only rational explanation, but what does it say of your judgement, and powers of nurturing, if the exercise is declared moribund inside half a season and at a time of desperate need?

Keane's poor form and yield of goals, no doubt made him less than odds-on to apply a sword stroke to a brilliantly organised Hull team but his idleness on the bench still carved a huge hole into any confidence in Benitez's long-term strategy.

For some it may also have highlighted the long-held suspicion that ultimately the man from Madrid will always put more faith in the strength of his own thinking than the potential of key players to adapt and succeed in the most difficult of circumstances.
For those arguing the point, the day Hull, extraordinary and wholly admirable Hull, came to visit surely provided a van load of supporting evidence.

Benitez was asked how he imagined his decision-making had affected an already demoralised Keane. The manager said: "All the players want to play. He will be thinking the same as [David] Ngog, another striker who played really well the other day. He scored a goal and will be thinking, 'Why not me?' But this is normal. They have to understand that we need to work within the squad." The manager was no more willing to accept the point that Ngog was a youngster who had cost the club only slightly more than a twentieth of the veteran Keane's asking price than he was the idea that Liverpool's financially embattled owners might wonder about the point of having a £20m asset wiling away his time on the bench.

Lots of expensive players sit on the bench, suggested Benitez. It's true enough, of course, but then sooner or later a lot of managers also walk the plank. The fact that Benitez retains great credit for past achievements, and is reportedly close to signing a new four-year contract, maybe does little to intensify his need for self-analysis, but then his own expression didn't do much to dispel the feeling that this was more than a bad day at the office. Indeed, that it was close to catastrophic was hardly mitigated by the fact that Hull were so splendid both in their coherence and their spirit.

They played with wit and backbone and would have carried away all three points but for two classic eruptions of scoring certainty from Steven Gerrard, which rescued a result if not a performance that was as troubling in its lack of creativity as it was in a creaking defence. Just to deepen Liverpool's embarrassment, the Hull manager, Phil Brown, did not lack photographic evidence when he claimed that both the Gerrard strikes had been accompanied by off-the-ball fouls on defender Michael Turner.

Brown accused the referee, Alan Wiley, of an ultimate offence against a football professional – ball-watching. He said the crime was at least as deplorable in a referee as it would be in a defender. Another terrible defensive fault is a lack of speed, one Liverpool's left-back Andrea Dossena displayed throughout a draining examination by Bernard Mendy.

Benitez pointed out that his £7m signing from Udinese had looked good going forward, a point which might have carried more weight if Mendy had not appeared, conservatively speaking, at least three times better going in any direction – and also standing still.

It was Mendy's complete ownership of the left flank of Liverpool's defence that gave his team immediate momentum, which brought a fine headed goal from Paul McShane and forced an untypically rattled Jamie Carragher to nudge the ball into his own net. Mendy's bite and authority were both unflagging and compelling. Indeed, an impeccably legal tackle that levelled Albert Riera also brought a skip of exhilaration from Brown in the technical area.

This was probably the most revealing moment of all. It showed a coach exulting in the commitment and the confidence of one of his team. In similar circumstances the suspicion would have to be that Rafa would make a note. Unfortunately for Liverpool, what it would say at the moment is anybody's guess.

Jermaine Pennant Has Rafa Benitez Fuming After Refusing Move To Stoke Or Blackburn

Liverpool face taking a £7million hit on Jermaine Pennant as the winger refuses to swap Anfield for a relegation battle.

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is furious after being told that the former Arsenal and Birmingham winger is not interested in a New Year move to Stoke or Blackburn.

Benitez was hoping to raise about £4m by selling Pennant to help fund his own plans for the transfer market.

Under the terms of the contract Pennant signed when he arrived at Anfield from Birmingham two years ago, he will become a free agent at the end of the season unless he makes 15 first-team appearances.

If Pennant reaches that number, Liverpool have the option of extending his contract by a further year.

But so far the 25-year-old has played in only four games and has been told by Benitez that he is surplus to requirements.

Both Stoke and Blackburn failed with attempts to buy Pennant in the summer.

That was despite Benitez warning the player that his first-team chances would be limited.

And the clubs' respective managers Tony Pulis and Paul Ince have been told not to bother trying to persuade the former Arsenal winger to change his mind in January.

Why Rafa Benitez Won't Be Joining Real Madrid

Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon has effectively ruled out any move for Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez following the appointment of former Tottenham boss Juande Ramos on an initial six-month contract.

Madrid-born Benitez is reportedly on the brink of signing a new four-year contract with Liverpool which is worth an estimated £16million to the Spaniard.

It will keep Benitez at the club until 2013 and Real, one of the clubs linked with an interest in the Reds boss, put an end to further speculation about his future when Calderon insisted they would prefer to keep Ramos.

Ramos has replaced Bernd Schuster until the end of the season and Calderon, speaking on BBC Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek programme, said: “We want to see what happens with Ramos and at the end of the season, if everything is okay, and I hope so as he is a good coach, we will see what happens in May or June.

“We had to take this decision very quickly. I had a meeting with Bernd Schuster and he was very disappointed and not excited about keeping his job, so we got in touch with two or three coaches who could come and one of those was Ramos. That is why we did it so quickly.

“Benitez is a very good coach and he was with us as everyone knows. He was training the youth team at Real Madrid. But he is the coach of Liverpool and I am sure he is going to be there for a long time and so he is not an alternative for us.

“We know him very well, he is Spanish and worked with Real Madrid a long time ago. He is a very good coach but I would like to have Juande for longer than six months. So let’s hope everything is going to be okay and if it is like that, he will continue with us.

“Ramos won the Carling Cup with Spurs and the UEFA Cup two years in a row with Sevilla. In England, with the problem of the language and different habits, maybe it affected him. But we trust him very much.”