Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rafa Benitez: How We'll Revive Title Charge

Rafa Benitez reckons the ongoing return to form and fitness of three of his biggest stars is just the shot in the arm Liverpool need as they bid to get back to their best.

The disappointment of Wednesday night's draw with Wigan was only eased in the eyes of the Reds boss by the fact the game allowed Martin Skrtel, Fernando Torres and Javier Mascherano to get more playing time under their belts.

Incredibly, before last week the trio had not appeared in the same consecutive games all season.

Skrtel was out for three months with a knee ligament injury, Torres has been in an out of the side because of hamstring problems and Mascherano has not figured as regularly as expected because of struggles with his form and fitness following his participation in the Olympic Games in Beijing.

But, having seen them all start against Wigan and Everton, Benitez now believes it won't be long before all three are back to their best.

"We have some good options now," said the Reds boss.

"We have Skrtel and Mascherano, who have been much better, Agger who is fit again and Torres who is coming back.

"These are good options for us because they are good players who can play at a very good level and if they are fit we will have a strong squad for the rest of the season.

"Skrtel was a very nice surprise for us because in only his second game back against Everton he was playing at the same level as he was before."

Benitez believes the Olympics took a heavy toll on Mascherano, who has struggled to repeat his excellent form of last season in the current campaign.

But in recent weeks the Reds boss has seen indications that the Argentinian is about to get back to his best, something Benitez believes would be a massive boost to his team as Liverpool look to get back to winning ways.

He said: "Mascherano has shown in every training session that he has commitment, passion and is a good worker. Now, if he is feeling better, it will be a good addition for us.”

Benitez knows that Liverpool need to start winning games after a run of four consecutive draws and, with Chelsea set to visit Anfield on Sunday, is aware a victory over the London side is exactly what is needed to get back on track.

"We would like to start winning right now," he added.

Fernando Torres Out To Repeat Last Season's Heroics

HAVING been presented with a beautiful watch to commemorate his status as Liverpool's player of the year, Fernando Torres could not have picked a better moment to talk about his desire to make up for lost time.

Torres cuts a frustrated figure at present as he bids to shake off the fitness problems which have restricted his impact on Liverpool's season so far but he firmly believes he is edging closer to the level he wants to be at.

"It's been a strange season for me because I have never really had injuries before and I have had three on the run," he said.

"This has meant I have not always felt 100% but now I am feeling very good and every day I am feeling better.

"Now I just want to look ahead because there is still a lot to play for this season and hopefully I can play my part."

There would be no better time – and perhaps no better opponents – for Torres to announce his re-emergence from the sidelines than in Sunday's game against Chelsea. The London club have the dubious distinctionof being the first in the League to be on the receiving end of the Spanish striker's finishing skills.

In a moment that will never be forgotten by the 43,924 people at Anfield lucky enough to see it, Torres surged clear of Tal Ben Haim with a burst of electrifying pace before opening his body and stroking the ball into the net past a powerless Petr Cech. Mere mention of that game is enough to make Torres' face light up.

"It was my first game at Anfield in front of the Liverpool fans so it is a very special memory for me," he said.

"I also scored my first goal in that game so it was the beginning of everything for me. "Because of this there would be no game that would be better for me to score again at Anfield. "I know there will be so many people watching the game and our fans will be really wanting us to win so hopefully I can play at my best and score a goal.

"It is a special stadium for me and I would love to score there in every game we play."

Incredibly, scoring at Anfield is something the 24-year-old has not done since last May when he got the winner against Man City. That startling statistic is partially explained by the fact that injuries have meant Torres has started only a handful of games there since then. But it is a record he longs to put right.

He said: "It is something I want to change – for me, for my team and for the fans.

"Like I said, this has been a strange season for me and I have not been able to play in as many games or score as many goals as I would have liked but hopefully this will change.

"But more than anything I want to win a trophy with Liverpool and for this to happen we have to start winning more games.

"It's not just in the league either, we also have the FA Cup and the Champions League to aim for so there are a lot of big games coming up.

"But we are in a good position in all of these competitions and we have to be positive and I hope that this season will turn out to be a good one for Liverpool and for me."

Like everyone else at Anfield, Torres was hugely disappointed to see another two points go begging after being pegged back by Wigan on Wednesday night.

But he believes the meeting with Chelsea's line up of stars is the perfect motivation for Liverpool to get any such negative feelings out of their system and continue their involvement in the title race.

"We are in the race for the title and we will see what happens.

"Obviously, it was disappointing that we were not able to win against Wigan on Wednesday night.

"It was two points dropped at a time when Man United are two points ahead of us having played a game less.

"So we know that it is difficult for us but we also know that there are many more important games to come, starting with Sunday's against Chelsea, and we will have more chances to pick up important points.

"We must be positive because we are in a good position even though we have not been at our very best in recent weeks.

"If we can beat Chelsea then everything will change and that means this game is a big opportunity for us.

"Chelsea are fighting for the title with us and Man United so a win against them would boost our confidence for the rest of the season, that is why this is such a massive game.

"We are Liverpool and we are not scared of anyone. I know that Chelsea have some fantastic players and we respect them a lot but we have shown that we can beat them. Hopefully we can do that again.”

Masherano: Liverpool FC Will Make Chelsea Pay

Javier Mascherano is angry and now the Argentine wants to make Chelsea pay for Liverpool’s growing frustrations.

Mascherano has revealed Rafael Benitez’s squad are seething at being knocked off the top of the Premier League table.

Liverpool have let slip winning positions to draw successive top-flight games against Everton and, on Wednesday, at Wigan.

It means they have fallen two points adrift of leaders Manchester United and are also behind tomorrow’s Anfield opponents Chelsea on goal difference.

A month ago it was supposedly the Londoners who were the club in crisis. Now it is the turn of Liverpool to be scrutinised, despite having constructed a 15-game unbeaten run.

The problem for Benitez’s men is more than half of those games have ended in draws. And that inability to kill off teams that should have been beaten has forced a fuming Mascherano to admit Liverpool have no option to reinforce their title credentials by beating Chelsea.

“The players are very angry about the draws against Everton and Wigan,” says Mascherano. “These points are always crucial and, after a great season, it’s a shame to drop off.

“The road to the title is not lost, but certainly we have given chances to United to take advantage.

“The game on Sunday against Chelsea will be like a final for us. It’s win or nothing.

“A draw would be a disaster because, to offer United a four or seven points’ advantage, it’s almost the title for them.”

Liverpool must also welcome Arsenal and Aston Villa during the final third of the season, as well as make a potentially pivotal trip to Old Trafford in March.

Despite United being the only away team to win at Anfield in the last 65 league games, Benitez’s side have been hampered by five home draws already this season.

And Mascherano has called for a return of the “Anfield magic” and says: “I am an ambitious player and a fighter and I never give a chance to the opposition. From Sunday onwards, we must win all of our games to put fear into United and improve our chances of the title.

“This match won’t be at all easy because it is also a final for Chelsea. Chelsea are aiming for the title too and a point is nothing because the only beneficiaries would be Manchester United.

“I expect a difficult game, but I am optimistic and I want a return to the Anfield magic to claim three vital points in the season.

“Rafa Benitez ended the game against Wigan very angry and that’s normal because we have lost a lot of points when victory was in our grasp.

“It’s necessary to work as hard as possible now and get a great victory against Chelsea. Psychologically, it would be a massive injection ahead of the following games.”

Liverpool ended Chelsea’s 86-match home domestic unbeaten record with a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in October.

The last time they recorded a league double against the Londoners, Liverpool went on to win the league in 1990.

And striker Dirk Kuyt says: “We know we can talk all day but at the end of the day we have to beat Chelsea. But we have beaten them before and we know we can do it. It’s a big team, a big game, and we just need to win it.

“We’re still right in it. The players are probably more disappointed than anyone at losing points against sides like Wigan and Stoke.

“But that’s how it goes, and sometimes you need that bit of luck to go with it. But there are 38 matches so we will see. We just want to do our talking out there on the pitch.

“We’re not bothered what anyone else is saying. We have just got to win this game know and show we can beat our big rivals again. We’ve done it once and of course we know that would send out a message to everyone – but we are out to win every game really.
“We’re obviously very disappointed at the result against Wigan. We have had too many draws at the start of the second half of the season, and now the only message we can send out is by beating Chelsea.

“But the Wigan draw is not going to knock our confidence, it’s just a real disappointment because we know we can win these type of games. There are only a few little things we have to change, not too much, and we will be there again.”

Injuries have meant that Fernando Torres has played just 30 minutes in games against the other top five teams so far.

However, the Spaniard is expected to again lead the attack tomorrow against the team he scored his first-ever Liverpool goal back in August 2007.

And Kuyt adds: “Fernando Torres is back now after a bad hamstring injury, and you can see every week how he is getting better. It’s only a matter of time before he’s back scoring goals for us again.

“I think we showed in the first half of the season what can happen when we click. Sometimes we were missing players like Stevie and Fernando but were still winning.

“Now everyone’s coming back and we’ve been dropping points with draws, so we know we’ve got to start picking up wins again – starting with Sunday.”

Rafa Pleads For Trust Of Supporters

Rafael Benitez has urged Liverpool supporters to “trust” him as he dismissed suggestions his team are too cautious to win the title.

The Anfield outfit entertains fellow championship contenders Chelsea tomorrow afternoon having slipped below the Londoners to third place in the Premier League, with both teams two points adrift of leaders Manchester United.

Liverpool have been hampered by a run of form that has seen them draw seven of their last 10 top-flight fixtures, including successive draws in their last three outings against Stoke City, Everton and Wigan Athletic.

Many supporters were critical of Benitez’s team selection and substitutions as they surrendered a one-goal lead late on at the JJB Stadium on Wednesday.

But the Spaniard has urged fans to keep the faith and believes victory over Chelsea would “change everything” for his team.

“The supporters need to trust the team, the team is doing well,” said Benitez.

“I am the manager and I will make the decisions and if the team can continue winning everyone will be happy, if not we will be disappointed.

“This year we have a very good problem. Expectation has gone high. Now we need to manage the situation. We have to keep going whether we win or cannot.

“Clearly this kind of game can change everything. If we win everyone will be talking about us being back in the title race, we are fantastic, we have an opportunity.

“The draws have been disappointing. If we win against Chelsea everything will change.”

Responding to accusations his tactics are too safety-first, Benitez said: “119 goals last season, 82 points record in history of club, four trophies, seven finals, 14 trophies, you cannot be cautious and have all this.

“We scored more goals last season than any team in England. The problem is we are well organised as a team and when a team is like this it is seen as being less offensive.

“We have a very good balance. But you see the difference between Torres being fit and scoring goals like last season and being injured for three months.”

Benitez has been taunted in the past fortnight by rival supporters chanting “Rafa’s cracking up” but the Spaniard insists he is delighted Liverpool are competing for the title.

“When you play to avoid relegation you are under pressure, but when you play to win the Premier League, or to progress in the Champions League or FA Cup, I am pleased to be in this position,” he said.

“I don’t feel under any more pressure than when I was at Valencia trying to take on Real Madrid and Barcelona.”

Liverpool’s American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are both due to attend tomorrow’s game, but Benitez refused to be drawn on whether a possible new contract will be discussed.

“If the owners want to meet me, I have no problem with that,” he said. “It will be a private conversation. If we have to talk I don’t have any problem.”

Xabi Alonso and Albert Riera are likely to return to the starting line-up.

Chelsea Manager Scolari Lends Backing To Liverpool Boss Rafa Benitez

Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has leapt to the defence of Liverpool counterpart Rafael Benitez following his attack on Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson earlier this month.

The Brazilian insists he has some sympathy with Benitez as the two clubs prepare for their crucial Barclays Premier League showdown at Anfield tomorrow, where a draw would give United a clear edge in the title race.

Benitez accused Ferguson and his staff of putting referees under pressure, especially at Old Trafford, and of consistently showing them little respect.

Now Scolari, who takes his side to Anfield on Sunday for their first away league fixture since a 3-0 drubbing at United, says he can understand the reasons behind Benitez’s controversial rant.

“It’s one of his ideas and I haven’t spoken to him about it,” said Scolari.

“Maybe I will at the weekend. I understand. I understand very well.

“I understand that, sometimes, when we play there (at Old Trafford) and at Stamford Bridge, I know what happens.”

Liverpool have drawn four out of their last five home games in the league but Scolari is reticent to boast that it is the perfect time to play them.

Benitez is under pressure as his contract dispute continues while he has also been criticised for his handling of striker Robbie Keane.

But while Scolari accepts the Spaniard has problems, the Brazilian still expects a difficult game.

“He may have more problems at the moment, but if you work in the same place for three years or so, you know how to react to that,” said Scolari.

“I don’t know what’s happened there. I don’t know what’s happened with Benitez. I know when we’ve drawn or lost at home, we’ve needed to change something but I don’t know what’s happened there.

“Benitez is a fantastic coach with good players. We’ll need more ’adaptation’ than in the other games for this match.

“I think about my job, not his. I’ve lost 14 points at Stamford Bridge and I’m not a bad coach because of that. I like Benitez so much and I wish for him all the best. Not in our game, sure, but all the best in his life, in the rest of his career.

“He’s a very good coach who knows the Premier League more than me because he’s been here four or five years.”

Chelsea have yet to beat any of the other recognised members of the ’big four’ this season but Scolari is unconcerned.

He insists his side have a psychological edge after their victory over Middlesbrough in midweek lifted them above Liverpool into second place on goal difference.

“We started the Middlesbrough game under pressure because we were in fourth position,” said Scolari.

“(Aston) Villa had won and the other teams were in front of us.

“For confidence it’s very good, but we know we are behind Manchester United and level with Liverpool.

“We are not better than these two teams. But, for confidence, it’s very good. We’ve played better in the last four or five games.

“We’ve won games, played better than before, and have shown more heart.”

Liverpool also ended Chelsea’s 86-match unbeaten home league run earlier in the season but the Brazilian refuses to crank up talk of a revenge mission for his side.

“Any victory is very good for me,” Scolari added.

“Here at Stamford Bridge or away. It’s a game that, maybe, maybe, will decide the direction of winning or not winning the championship.”

Tottenham Hotspur End Interest In Liverpool's Robbie Keane

Tottenham Hotspur have abandoned their pursuit of Robbie Keane after initial talks, according to reports form several sources, including broadsheet newspaper The Independent.

Liverpool are said to have wanted the bulk of the £20.3 million they paid the White Hart Lane club in the summer for the 28-year-old Irishman's services. Spurs, of course, wanted him at a cut price.

Keane has flitted in and out of the Reds’ setup over the last few weeks and Spurs boss Harry Redknapp expressed his admiration of the player before sounding out the Merseyside men.

Other proposed transfer structures are thought to have been offered, such as a part-exchange deal involving unsettled Lilywhites Aaron Lennon and Jermaine Jenas, or having existing the £11m debt wiped clean. Liverpool, though, wanted hard cash.

Now, Keane is expected to fight for his place at Anfield, while Spurs will turn their attention to challenging Manchester City for the signature of Blackburn Rovers hitman Roque Santa Cruz.

We may not have heard the end of the matter, though, as Liverpool are said to be pointing the finger at Spurs, accusing them of tapping-up their former charge.

Atletico Want The Liverpool Trio Of Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa And Xabi Alonso

Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso are all being monitored by Atletico de Madrid as the Spanish outfit are keen to make a triple bid in the summer to land them all.

Atletico de Madrid are considering making an approach for Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso from Liverpool, but may wait to see what happens to Rafael Benitez, according to a report in AS.

Los Colchoneros are already drawing up plans for next season's squad and the Anfield trio are the main players that the club believe can bolster their squad.

Last summer Atletico coach Javier Aguirre wanted a playmaking midfielder and pinpointed Alonso only for him to appear to be ready to go to Juventus, before the Italian outfit opted to Christian Poulsen instead.

Now the Mexican trainer is intent on attracting Alonso to compliment the impressive forward line of Sergio Ag├╝ero, Diego Forlan, Mai and Simao.

Benitez would probably not want all three of the Spanish players to leave Liverpool if he were to stay but a new manager may allow them to go to raise funds.

That may be the only way that Atletico could prise Reina away as they are desperate to land the son of goalkeeper, Miguel Reina, who played in the 1974 European Cup Final.

Arbeloa may prove to be an easier proposition, but even the Spanish international defender is seen as a vital squad member by the Merseyside outfit.

One way that the club could be assured to having a chance of signing the trio would be to make Benitez the coach and that could be a realistic proposition towards the end of the season.

Wenger Considering Joining Atletico In Alonso Bid

Atletico Madrid are set to bid for Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso according to reports in Spain, and sources have revealed that Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is monitoring the situation and could be tempted with an offer for the Anfield talisman.

Wenger had a last minute deadline day offer rejected in the last transfer window and has been honest and open in his admiration for the former Real Sociedad playmaker.

Atletico see Alonso as the perfect addition in their pursuit of Barcelona at the top of the La Liga. The Spanish international was the first player this season to reach over a 1,000 completed passes in the Premiership.

The speculation surrounding Alonso is the next chapter in a difficult for Rafa Benitez and the Liverpool board.

Fernando Torres: 'Father Figure' Rafa Benitez Must Stay At Liverpool

Fernando Torres remains confident that Rafa Benitez - the man he describes as a father figure - will sign a new contract with Liverpool.

Benitez recently rejected Liverpool's offer of a new deal on the grounds that the contract put forward by club owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett did not give him the control over transfers and influence over the academy that he had been seeking.

The future of the Reds boss remains up in the air although Hicks has pledged to thrash out a deal during his visit to Merseyside this weekend,

Torres is hopeful that a deal can finally be tied up and warned it would be "a mistake and a great pity" if the impasse continued and Benitez ended up quitting Anfield.

"Negotiations always take time and there's a lot to sort out but I'm sure he'll end up renewing his contract," said Torres.

"Sooner or later they'll come to an agreement. Rafa wants the best for him and for the club, so I'm not worried.

"He's been like a father to me and I hope and trust that he continues.

"He's been very important for me: he gave me confidence and taught me so much. He's one of the coaches you learn the most from.

"He's given a lot to the club and brought in some great players. Some of us wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him. If you ask the other players, they'd tell you the same thing.

"Letting Rafa go would be a mistake and a great pity."

Reds Starlet In Demand

Liverpool starlet Ryan Flynn is a target for a host of clubs before the close of the transfer window, understands.

Flynn is currently on loan at Wrexham, but his deal is due to expire at the weekend.

The 20-year-old has impressed at the Racecourse Ground, scoring one goal in five games and his performances have not gone unnoticed.

A number of League One and League Two clubs are believed to be exploring the option of signing the talented winger once his deal at Wrexham comes to an end.

Flynn is a regular in the Liverpool reserves after coming through the club's academy and helping them win the FA Youth Cup in successive seasons in 2006 and 2007.

The young Scot is well down the pecking order at Anfield and Reds boss Rafa Benitez could decide to loan him out again in order to get more first-team experience under his belt.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Marin Skrtel: Liverpool FC Can Win Premier League

Martin Skrtel is convinced Liverpool can still follow the example of his former club Zenit St Petersburg by ending their long wait for the championship.

Skrtel was part of the Zenit side that won the Russian title in 2007 for the first time in 23 years.

Liverpool have slipped down to third in the Premier League table after their damaging 1-1 draw at Wigan Athletic on Wednesday night.

But Skrtel said: “Titles are not won in January. Whether we are first, second or whatever position, the pressure is still the same.

“There is still a long way to go and a lot of games until the end of the season.

“We still have to play Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Aston Villa – all the teams up around the top of the table.

“We know we can beat these teams and it is far from over yet.

“We’ve already beaten United this season so we know we are capable of doing that again. But it’s not just them we have to beat, though. If we want to win the league, we have to try and beat everyone we come up against.”

Of his experience in Russia, Skrtel added: “Zenit hadn’t won the league since 1984 and it was such a long time to go without being champions. In that respect it was even better when we won it.

“There is only one club in St Petersburg so all the people in the city support the club. It was great to win the title for them after so long.

“It would be great to experience that feeling again here with Liverpool. Nineteen years is a long time to wait for another league title. It would be brilliant to help Liverpool win it again after all this time.”

Despite losing only one league game this season, Liverpool’s main problem has been an inability to kill off teams.

Wednesday’s result was their seventh draw in their last 10 top-flight games, and Skrtel admitted: “We need to start winning again after a couple of draws in the league.

“We’re not losing, though, and we’ve lost just once in the league all season. If we can start winning again, we can keep up our challenge at the top of the table. That is where we want to be as we get towards the end of the season.”

Yossi Benayoun, who opened the scoring just before half-time at the JJB Stadium, denied the players were struggling to cope with the pressure of a title challenge.

Chelsea, who overtook Liverpool in the table on goal difference, are their next opponents at Anfield on Sunday and the Israel midfielder believes they are up to the test.

“There is always pressure to win games. I think we can cope with this pressure and hopefully we will prove it on Sunday,” said Benayoun.

“We have to keep working hard to turn it around because we have drawn four games in a row (including the FA Cup tie against Everton).

“We have to try to play better and finish games. We have creative players on the pitch and we try to do our best and make sure everyone gives 100% but sometimes it is not enough.

“We expected to win those (drawn) games and be top of the league. Now we have made it a bit more difficult as Manchester United could be five points ahead if they win their game in hand.

“We have to start winning games soon. We have a very important game against Chelsea on Sunday and we have to win games if we want to try to win the league.”

What Rafa Benitez Has To Do To Win Liverpool The Title: Darren Lewis

It pains me to say this as a Liverpool fan, but I'm rapidly coming to terms with the fact that, yet again, this is not going to be our year.

The same old politics, the same old frailties and the same old ludicrous tactical decisions are weighing us down like an anvil.

And all the while the well-oiled machine that is Manchester United is gathering pace. Sir Alex Ferguson's men are gearing up for the momentum in the second half of the season that traditionally powers them to the title.

To be fair, Chelsea and Arsenal have had similar nightmares inside the boardroom and on the pitch this season.

But as a Liverpool fan I felt a real tinge of excitement when Robbie Keane - who had scored 100 goals over six years at Tottenham - was captured last summer.

When we powered our way to victory over United without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres there was, again, a real sense that we had the squad rather than the team to do the business.

Yet Rafa the Gaffer has allowed the pressure to get to him. Since Raf Rant early in January the Reds have not won a single League match. It has been an implosion of Kevin Keegan-esque proportions.

In mid-December, when United boarded the plan for Japan and a World Club Cup they clinched to global indifference, Liverpool had 37 points and United just 31.

That six-point deficit, however, has turned into a two point lead for Sir Alex Ferguson's men.

After just ten goals away from home in the League up until last Tuesday night, United unloaded on West Brom to give further evidence of why only a fool would bet against them to retain the title.

Liverpool, no, sorry Rafa, by comparison is way too negative. United would never have taken off Gerrard - the hero of Istanbul, Olympiakos and the FA Cup Final against West Ham - with the game in the balance against lowly Wigan.

Rafa did.

United would never have left Keane on the bench against Wigan with Chelsea to come at the weekend.

Rafa did.

United would never have left Keane on the bench against Stoke with Torres not fit to play.

And United would never have left Keane on the bench against Hull with the Tigers proving ultimately too difficult to break down.

Rafa did.

The former Valencia boss stubbornly sticks to his insistence of playing two strikers at home and one away.

It has brought seven draws from Liverpool's last ten games and after the latest draw against Wigan it was particularly annoying to see Benitez branding the game 'crazy', but not saying why. We all had to guess.

It was simply an attempt to distract attention from yet another shocker.

Rafa still has his supporters, and has managed to convince them it is everyone's fault but his.

But if he doesn't win the Premier League this season, it will be five years and a small fortune that he has wasted in trying to prove he is not much of a muchness.

He won the Champions League with Gerard Houllier's team. Gerrard pulled that FA Cup victory from the jaws of defeat and all the while the trophy that Reds fans really want to win has eluded us.

It's now time for Rafa to prove he is worth this new megabucks contract he is trying to get out of the Anfield board.

It's time for him to start fighting for this title and stop trying to blind us all with science.

It's time for Rafa to either play Robbie Keane regularly or give the guy a break and just sell him.

It's time for Rafa to put his petty spats within the boardroom to one side and focus on the job in hand.

In short, it's time for Rafa to strap on a pair and prove he IS all he is cracked up to be and not simply cracking up.

Liverpool Buckling Under Title Pressure Fear Past Champions Aldridge And Hysen

Rafa Benitez's "crazy, crazy" rant was pinpointed last night as the most obvious symptom of the infection that threatens to kill off Liverpool’s title dream.

The Anfield boss appeared to be losing his marbles as he launched into his meandering and bizarre explanation for Liverpool’s third successive draw which saw them overtaken by Chelsea and drop into third behind leaders Manchester United.

It followed his needless verbal rucks with Sir Alex Ferguson and the act of public contract brinkmanship with his own board, coinciding with the slump that has left the Kop fearing their worst nightmares - of gift-wrapping the title to old Trafford - coming true.

And two of the members of the last Liverpool side to conquer the country believe Benitez and his players are simply succumbing to the pressure of expectations.

John Aldridge and Glenn Hysen played for Kenny Dalglish in the 1989-90 campaign, which ended with Liverpool crowned for the 18th time in all and 10th occasion in 15 seasons.

And while the pair are both desperate to see their former side satisfy the cravings of the red half of Merseyside, both of them fear the Spaniard is exhibiting the distress signals of a drowning man.

Aldridge, who scored 50 goals in 83 league appearances before leaving at the start of that last title campaign, insisted the seeds of disappointment were sown before the New Year slump - but that Benitez has done himself few favours.

The former Republic of Ireland striker said: "I honestly don’t know what all that was about on Wednesday but after dominating the first half they lost control completely and I’ve never seen them give the ball away so much.

"You can’t blame the rant he had at Fergie. That’s nothing to do with it. In fact, what Rafa said about Fergie was right but it put him under pressure if things went wrong, and they have.

"After the Newcastle game over Christmas I was really hopeful, although perhaps we all failed to see how bad Newcastle were.

"But since then the problems have become more obvious and it looks as if it’s started to fall away."

He added: "People will draw their own conclusions and look at the team selections and the substitutions. He knew Stoke would be a physical game but went with Yossi Benayoun and Lucas.

"Too many draws all season have cost them, not just the last three games.

"Before Christmas there was Stoke, Fulham, West Ham and Hull. That’s eight points dropped at home, points that would’ve put the side six clear of United even though they’d still have a game in hand.

"What Rafa has to do now is show his character and get things back on track. United have had the sort of run everybody feared and expected and Chelsea on Sunday is a massive, massive game.

"If things don’t improve soon, then it’s really possible to see Villa breaking in and that would make it a real danger for Liverpool to not be in the top four at all and we all know what that would mean on the money side."

Benitez’ post-game gibberish has already drawn parallels with Kevin Keegan’s "I would love it" blast at Fergie in 1996, while Arsene Wenger also lost control as the title slipped from his side’s grasp to the Scot in 2003.
And Hysen, who joined Liverpool at the start of that glory season, is even more convinced that Benitez and his players cannot cope with the burden of giving the fans what they want.

The Swede said: "They shouldn’t be fixating on the league so much but they are and it’s something that is now stuck in the heads of the players.

"They’re reminded that it’s 19 years and counting every day, in training, after games, hearing "you’ve dropped two more points again" and if that is inside your heads it’s hard to shift it.

"Benitez doesn’t want to be affected by it but something is obviously not right and hasn’t been for a couple of months.

"I thought before Christmas that this was going to be the year they’d make it. But it’s all about the league. That’s the only thing anybody in Liverpool is talking about and it’s got to them, including Benitez.

"When I spoke to him on Tuesday he wouldn’t give me any real answers, just 'yes/no'. When you see that you have to say he is a big part of what’s gone wrong and the way he’s behaved recently proves it."

Israeli midfielder Benayoun, whose first half goal looked to have been enough to secure the points at the JJB Stadium, admitted that Liverpool are paying the price for becoming their own worst enemies.

"We have drawn four in a row so we have to try and play better and also try to finish games off when we are winning 1-0," said Benayoun.

"Again we were ahead and we wanted to get a second but the goal didn’t come. We expected to win these games and to be on top of the league but we have made things more difficult for ourselves.

"All we can do is remain working hard to try and turn things round. We will do it, I’m sure but Chelsea is a very important game for us. We have to start winning if we want to have a chance of taking the league."

Hysen, however, fears the lack of title-winning experience in Benitez’ ranks will prove the final nail in their coffin.

"Between them they don’t know what it takes to win the league because they haven’t done it," he added. "You have to be consistent over the long trip.

"When we won it in my first year, most of the other players had been at the club long enough to have already won five or six titles. They knew what they had to do.

"If someone had told me in 1990 that it would be the last title Liverpool would win for two decades, I wouldn’t have believed them. It seems amazing still and I don’t understand it.

"But this season it’s obvious they don’t know how to finish games off. Against Everton and Wigan they’ve been 1-0 up and not been able to put the second one away, or keep it tight at the other end. And then you look at United and that consistency is frightening."

And Aldridge was equally pessimistic. "Looking at it now, I can’t see Liverpool winning the league unless they can beat Chelsea, Villa and Arsenal at home and United away," he added. "And that’s a big task.

The Worst Decision Ever Made?

That was the statement made by John Aldridge in reference to Gerrard's withdrawal from the action against Wigan on Wednesday.

There have been several defining moments looking back through previous seasons, and I'm afraid we all witnessed another Wednesday night at the JJB in the aftermath of Wigan's late equaliser. I had to rub my eyes in the stands as I saw Gerrard starting to walk over to the touchline.

Is he going over to take instructions from Benitez? Taking on some fluids for the final few minutes? He then walks off, sits in the dugout and is replaced by Robbie Keane. My jaw hit the floor, and while others around me vented their frustrations, I just stood there in shock. We'd just conceded with less than 10 minutes to go in a game we simply had to win, had already removed Torres through tiredness, taken off our goal scorer Benayoun, and we're now taking off our captain and only remaining goal scoring threat as he was apparently tired. I'm still in shock today.

The worst decision the manager has ever made? I'm finding it hard to disagree with that statement, and it could certainly turn out to be a defining decision in the future of this club and his position as manager.

In the past few weeks, we've drawn 4 games back to back. In each of those games, there has been next to no urgency to win the game late on. For a side that is supposedly hungry for that league title, you'd expect to see men pouring forward in search of a winner; yet last night we witnessed our saviour on so many occasions being taken off and practically accepting the point. Is that good enough if we want to win the league? No.

I've been labelled as a Rafa apologist on a number of occasions. I've defended him time and time again in the face of fierce criticism, but this time, I can't defend the indefensible. There was no excuse for taking off Gerrard last night. Benitez claimed he was tired in his post match interview, but surely he had enough energy to play out the remaining 7 minutes in search of a much needed winner? This is the man that has rescued us time and time again late in the game. The only player left on that pitch capable of creating a goal out of nothing. How can anyone defend taking him off? It was accepting a point, which is nowhere near good enough.

When he came to this club, Benitex inherited a squad in disarray. I've covered my thoughts on his rebuilding in previous articles, and I stand by those. He's worked wonders in his 4 years in charge and given us some of the greatest nights of our lives, as well as presenting us with a realistic chance of winning the league; something that was unimaginable when he first came to the club.

In that first season, we may have won the European Cup through some act of god, but we finished the season a massive 37 points behind the champions, Chelsea. The fact we're now up there and within a few points of the leaders is a testament to the work he's done at the club. But the man responsible for getting us into this position, is now the man responsible for ensuring we go no further. He is costing us all chance of winning this league title, and I never thought I'd see the day I said that. It hurts to say it, but last night was a slap in the face for the likes of myself that defended him and believed in him.

If we want to win this league we need winners. We need a manager that wants to win every game, and a set of players that will go out there and give their all in search of 3 points every single week.

At the start of the season we had that. We fell behind in numerous games, but responded with late winners time and time again. At home to Middlesbrough, Benitez took off the full backs, threw on an extra couple of forwards and went for it. We turned the game around and rescued another 3 points. That approach gave us all the belief we could go on and win it.

Against Hull, we soon fell 2 goals behind, and the reaction was immediate. We poured forward, scored 2 goals to get ourselves back into the game, and could have been 5-2 in front by the time the half time whistle blew. Yet during half time, the manager decided the game was too open and changed things around in order to "control the game". As a result, we did have a lot of the ball, but slowed the game down to snail pace, and the result was a 2-2 draw. Hull were there for the taking and feared an onslaught; yet we let them off the hook in a big way. All through the manager's fear of not controlling a game.

But the game in this country isn't a game of chess. It's a game of football against 19 others sides, all of whom play different styles of football. A different approach is needed in the games against lesser sides that will put men behind the ball, yet Benitez still hasn't seemed to grasp that concept. He's a genius in the big games, where his tactical chess moves seem to work. But against the lesser sides, throw caution to the wind, and 9 times out of 10 the better side will succeed. Not draw.

If we want to have any chance of getting back into this title race, then I'm sorry Benitez, but you need to throw that cautious approach out of the window and release the shackles. Stop playing the likes of Lucas and Babel that are just not good enough and offer nothing to the side, play your best 11 and go for it. We've got nothing to lose anymore. Our support is now accepting defeat and facing up to the reality of United drawing level on 18 titles come May. The only way to stop that is to respond on Sunday with a new approach, and continue with it for the rest of the season.

Play your best 11 and attack, attack, attack attack attack!

Benitez still seems to think he's untouchable and loved by the fans. The majority of the press also seem to have this belief, and maybe the owners of the club as well, with Tom Hicks recently backing him in a bid to get fans onside (sorry fat head, you'll never do that no matter what you do). But let me give all of the above a reality check; the time when he was untouchable has long since passed.

Every single fan walked out of that away end last night dejected and distraught. Everyone questioning the decision to take Gerrard off when we needed that winner. He did the same at Goodison last season, replacing Gerrard with Lucas, and got away with it when Kuyt put away a late penalty to win the game. Without that winner, the backlash from the fans may have come sooner. But make no mistake, it's been brewing for a while and last night it surfaced in a big way.

People have been questioning why our away support has been so poor in recent months. Some have blamed Thomas Cook getting tickets, day-trippers getting tickets and other such excuses that pop up all the time. But the reality is our support at Stoke and Wigan was 90% scouse and full of the regular faces. It wasn't an end full of "new fans" demanding instant success. The away sections were full of the faces you've seen everywhere for years, our proper support. The lads that have followed us everywhere. Yet we now turn up at games knowing exactly what to expect and it deflates us before we even reach our seats.

When the team was announced last night, the wind was knocked out of the sails of anyone who had even the slightest bit of optimism that we might go there and have a go at them. We all knew what was to come and it proved to be true.

He's losing the support fast, and unless there is a change in his approach, he's going to lose it completely.

There are signs appearing of Gerard Houllier Mark II. Post match interviews where he treats us all like idiots. Gerrard being tired and controlling the game. Both complete rubbish, and does nothing but infuriate the travelling fans even further.

I'm off to drown my sorrows and hope these acts as a wake up call. But sadly, I very much doubt it will.

Some leopards never change their spots.

Barnes: Keane Is On Borrowed Time

Former Liverpool midfielder John Barnes believes Robbie Keane's days at Anfield are numbered.

Keane has failed to make any impact following his £20million move from Tottenham last summer and was left out of Rafael Benitez's squad for the FA Cup game against Everton last Sunday.

The Republic of Ireland international has struggled to find the form which saw him become one of the best forwards in the Premier League with Tottenham.

Keane was left out of the team once again for the 1-1 draw against Wigan on Wednesday night and Barnes cannot see how he will fit into the team alongside Fernando Torres while Benitez is in charge.

Barnes, a pundit for, said: "Robbie is struggling to find a place. Whatever the reason, it's plain to see the move hasn't worked out for either the player or club.

"We can only speculate but there is obviously a problem there as to why he hasn't made the impact we all expected him to.

"I'm as surprised as to why he's struggled. It may well be a case that the player hasn't quite managed to integrate into Liverpool's pattern of play and doesn't suit the tactical style that Rafa Benitez's team operates."

Barnes, who made more than 400 appearances for the Merseyside club, refuses to criticise Benitez over paying so much money for a player who cannot get into the team.

Barnes added: "Every club has signed good quality players that haven't proven to be a success for one reason or another.

"It doesn't necessarily mean the manager made a mistake. Take Sir Alex Fereguson signing Diego Forlan and Juan Sebastian Veron. Were they bad players before he signed them? No. Sometimes transfers unfortunately just don't work out."

Liverpool Accuse Tottenham Of Tapping-Up Robbie Keane

According to UK tabloid The Sun, Liverpool will lodge an official complaint over Tottenham Hotspur's behaviour with regard to Robbie Keane.

The Irish striker has struggled to settle at Anfield since his £20 million move from White Hart Lane last year, and it is rumoured that he could be on his way back to north London in the near future.

The Lilywhites have made no secret of their interest in re-signing the 28-year-old, but the Reds are less than happy with their fellow Premier League club's conduct.

Harry Redknapp said recently, “I won’t sit here and say I wouldn’t like to have Robbie Keane at my club because I would be a liar if I did.

“I have a lot of time for Robbie as a player and as a person, he’s fantastic. But he belongs to Liverpool so unfortunately it’s not an option.”

Liverpool view the Tottenham manager's comments as an illegal and unauthorised declaration of his intention to sign Keane, and Kop chief Rick Parry will demand that the Premier League investigate the matter.

This could be seen as payback for Spurs' complaints over the manner in which the Merseyside giants landed the former Inter forward in the first place.

Liverpool Enter Race For Arsenal's New Henry

Rafa Benitez has entered the race for Henri Saivet, the youngest player to play for Bordeaux in their history.

Arsene Wenger has tracked the player for the last two years, inviting Saivet to visit Arsenal's North London training ground as well as sending chief scout Steve Rowley to watch the player on a number of occasions. As it turned out, Saivet signed a professional deal with Bordeaux having previously been subject to a youth contract at St Etienne.

The 18 year-old has only made a handful of appearances for Bordeaux since moving from St Etienne and according to reports in France, Benitez has entered the race to sign the player dubbed the 'new Thierry Henry.'

Bordeaux are reluctant to sell their prized asset with any talk of a move away from France pure speculation at the moment.

The club refused to provide any comment on the rumours linking Saivet with two of England's top clubs.

Spurs Sound Out Keane

Sky Sports News sources understand Tottenham have enquired about Robbie Keane's availability at Liverpool.

Keane's future at Anfield has been the subject of intense speculation after he was left out of the squad for last weekend's FA Cup clash with Everton.

The Republic of Ireland international has endured a difficult time at Liverpool since his summer arrival from Tottenham struggling to establish himself in Rafa Benitez's plans.

Benitez has refused to confirm Keane's future and the player was only given a late run-out in Wednesday's draw with Wigan.

Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is thought to be in the market for a new striker and he has never hidden his admiration for Keane.

Sky Sports News sources claim Spurs have made an informal enquiry for Keane, but no bid has been tabled for the former Leeds ace.

Liverpool's Treatment Of Keane Is Baffling, Admits Redknapp

Former Liverpool star Jamie Redknapp has admitted he is baffled by boss Rafael Benitez's tactics and treatment of Robbie Keane.

In an interview with METRO, the Sky Sports pundit admits Benitez's outburst against Sir Alex Ferguson has not helped and how he was shocked by the decision to take Steven Gerrard off on Wednesday with Wigan holding the Reds.

Redknapp also wrote in today's Daily Mail: 'Liverpool are going backwards.

'The decision to take off Steven Gerrard - who was not injured - at Wigan is confusing. What message does it send out? Gerrard will win you a game standing on one leg, so I don't understand what was behind the change.

'The manager has started tinkering with the team again and the body language of the players is not good.

'The destabilising of Robbie Keane is bizarre. He has not performed as well as many expected - me included - but he is better than he is being treated.

'Many clubs would like to have a player of his ability. Keane is a strong personality and a popular player in the dressing room, so the management of the Irishman can only have a negative impact on the squad.'

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Match Report: Wigan Athletic 1 - 1 LiverpooL

Liverpool's inability to convert possession into goals returned to haunt them as they conceded an 83rd-minute equaliser at Wigan - which severely dented the Reds' Premier League title ambitions.

For the fourth successive match, Rafael Benitez's side failed to capitalise on their domination - and had only Yossi Benayoun's 41st-minute effort to show for their efforts.

It proved not to be enough when Brazil midfielder Lucas Leiva's senseless, rash challenge on Jason Koumas allowed Mido - signed on loan from Middlesbrough last week - to convert the penalty.

With Chelsea beating Middlesbrough, Liverpool dropped to third in the table - two points behind leaders Manchester United, having played one match more, and only one point ahead of fourth-placed Aston Villa.

The tone was set in the second minute when Steven Gerrard curled in a left-wing free-kick to the near post. But Lucas managed to get in the way of Fernando Torres, and the ball bounced to safety.

The same combination almost brought a goal in the 13th minute, Gerrard crossing from the left with Torres' glancing header beating Pollitt but rebounding back off the far post - across the goal to safety.

As was the case on Sunday, Liverpool were enjoying huge amounts of possession - but it was in areas which were not really threatening to the hosts.

Torres, who had scored once in nine injury-interrupted matches, was looking sharper - and from a Jamie Carragher long ball, he controlled on his chest and unleashed a shot on the turn which was a few feet wide of Pollitt's left-hand post.

When Liverpool did cut open the defence, Benayoun's final pass let him down. The Israel international had dummied to allow Ryan Babel to play the ball in behind - but when he got to the byline he failed to pick out Torres or Gerrard.

Lucas' 22-yard shot was even worse, scuffing wide after Gerrard had teed him up with the defence backing off.

Wigan did not win their first corner until the 34th minute - when the unmarked Emmerson Boyce, clearly offside but with no flag, headed wide.

The home fans were screaming for a penalty when Paul Scharner fell under pressure from Aurelio, but referee Phil Dowd was not interested.

In the 38th minute Babel cut inside and unleashed a shot which Pollitt failed to hold. But fortunately for him, it did not drop to an opponent - and the danger was cleared.

Claims for a Martin Skrtel handball, which looked accidental, a few moments later were waved away by Dowd.

Liverpool promptly went straight down the other end and scored in the 41st minute.

Javier Mascherano's defence-splitting pass looked to be too heavy for Benayoun. But he rounded Pollitt and squeezed in a shot, which clipped the near post from the narrowest of angles.

The first action of the second half saw Maynor Figueroa booked for bringing down Benayoun. Fabio Aurelio curled the 25-yard free-kick straight at Pollitt.

Wigan's goalkeeper had to be alert to tip over Mascherano's right-wing cross under his bar, but Liverpool's short-corner routine broke down.

After a scrappy 15 minutes, Liverpool slipped back into their patient passing game - by which time Wigan manager Steve Bruce had seen enough and sent on Jason Koumas for Daniel de Ridder.

Benayoun should have either made or scored the second in the 65th minute when he turned left-back Figueroa inside out twice but delayed his final pass from inside the six-yard box - and the ball was hacked clear.

With 20 minutes to go, Benitez replaced Torres with Albert Riera - meaning Babel was given the chance to play up front. Yet there was still no sign of Robbie Keane - back in the squad after being dropped for Sunday's FA Cup Merseyside derby - getting a run.

Gerrard had a chance to score the second after bursting into the right side of the area, but his shot across goal was wide of the far post.

Benitez's second substitution was to send on Dirk Kuyt for Benayoun. Bruce responded by giving Colombian striker Huge Rodallega his debut.

But with nine minutes to go, Lucas crazily clipped Koumas in the penalty area - and Mido sent Jose Reina the wrong way from the spot.

Keane was finally given his chance immediately after that when he replaced Gerrard but could not produce a response to his manager's decision to leave him out at the weekend.

It could have been much worse for the visitors as Rodallega, who received international clearance only just over an hour before kick-off, hit the bar with an injury-time free-kick.

Benitez Insists Liverpool Can Win Title

Defiant Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez insists they can still win the Premier League despite the 1-1 draw at Wigan.

Yossi Benayoun gave Liverpool a half-time lead at the JJB Stadium but Mido equalised from the penalty spot on his debut.

Benitez reacted by replacing his talisman Steven Gerrard with Robbie Keane but Wigan almost won the match in injury-time when Hugo Rodallega curled a free-kick against the Liverpool crossbar.

Benitez said: "When you are top of the table you know that every single game is really important so when you lose two points you have to be disappointed.

"If we play like we played in the first half we can beat anyone.

"All the games will be important until the end of the season. It depends on the other teams too but we have to try to play well and try to win."

If Liverpool had held on to beat Wigan, they would have been level with Manchester United at the top of the Premier League.

But they are two points behind, level with Chelsea, and united have a game in hand on both clubs.

Liverpool and Chelsea meet on Sunday at Anfield.

Rafael Benitez: I Don't Know What Is Happening At Liverpool

Liverpool conceded more ground in the title race last night, drawing 1-1 with Wigan Athletic after Mido's late penalty cancelled out Yossi Benayoun's opener.

The result has seen the Anfield giants slip to third in the Premier League, two points behind leaders Manchester United and seven goals' difference adrift of second-placed Chelsea.

Rafael Benitez's men are yet to record any league win in 2009, after starting the year with a handy lead, and the Spanish tactician aired his frustration with a signature set of cryptic utterances.

"I don’t know what is happening. Actually I do know, but I can’t say anything about it. It is just crazy," he told the press after the Wigan game.

"You can’t control what you can’t change. It could be like this for years.

"[Man United manager] Alex Ferguson has been here for 22 years and you can see what it means when you have been here for so long.

"The past three games have something in common I don’t like."

Reds Fans On Liverpool's Latest Title Woes

Ian Richardson from Rock Ferry said: Once again a resilient Liverpool side looked ike they would go yet another game unbeaten.

Unfortunately they also looked like they wouldn’t be winning another game either.

The Anfield draw specialists were once again in evidence last night at Wigan. This time though it could be one draw too many in our faltering title challenge.

Yes we may still only be within two points of the leaders but so too are Chelsea and Aston Villa, two teams who are currently grinding out results.

That’s something Liverpool have to get back into the habit of, and fast. Once again it was a sloppy late goal after a bright first half in which they created chances including Yossi Benayoun’s clever finish. But they came out for the second half looking tired and devoid of ideas.

Paul Anderson from Orrell Park said: Last night was the latest addition to the catalogue of draws we have notched up in recent weeks.

Combining the inability to break sides down with the lack of passion to hold on to any lead we have obtained leaves us likely to come away with one point instead of three.

Lucas Leiva looks to be trying his hardest to justify taking the scapegoat title from John Arne Riise, as the boo boys nod agreement at yet another inept performance.

The hunger is not there and the midfield is unbelievably weak. Kuyt, Babel, Benayoun and Reira have all left a lot to be desired the past few weeks.

January has not been kind, a series of draws along with the transfer kitty being locked away from the manager means the players available need to stand up and be counted. The danger is that all to soon this could be another silverware free season.

Robert Gillies from Aigburth said: Liverpool FC is leaking credibility from every pore. The poison from the boardroom fills the national sport and business pages most days. Remember that the club is only six months from being repossessed by the bank!

Draws at Stoke and Wigan have resulted from the manager’s conservatism and over-estimation of the opposition. It is not necessary to have two holding players in midfield and rest star players against this standard of team. The draws – home and away – will cost us the title this year, not results against the other top teams.

At Wigan we had the typical passive first half with the ball being surrendered far too cheaply.

Our forwards give lesser teams too much time to get organised. We are at least two class fullbacks and wide men from being title winners.

Paul O'Leary from Allerton said: We are throwing any chance of the title away. Another poor performance, another draw, the loss of another two points, and tactics that are baffling to put it mildly.

What is happening to Liverpool FC?

It’s bad enough having the ownership saga going on off the field, but with several of our stars out of form and doubts over Daniel Agger and Robbie Keane’s futures, it’s getting as bad on the football front.

The Wigan result was indicative of the general downturn in what is becoming the ‘norm’ performance. We needed a show of power, creativity and goals. What happened? Rafa Benitez plays two "holding" midfielders in Lucas and Mascherano, and an out of form Babel.

The next two games will make or break the season domestically. If results aren’t good, we might just be chasing a Champions League dream.

Yossi Benayoun: We Can Get Out Of This Rut

Yossi Benayoun believes Liverpool have the talent and the belief to emerge from a mini slump which has seen them drop 14 points in their last ten league games.

Last night’s disappointing 1-1 draw at Wigan was Liverpool’s latest setback and and Rafa Benitez’s side have now dropped to third place in the Premier League, two points behind leaders Manchester United, who also have a game in hand.

But a defiant Benayoun, who gave the Reds the lead with a coolly-taken first half strike, reckons hard work will take Liverpool back to the kind of form which took them to the top of the league earlier this season.

The Israeli said: “Of course we are disappointed, particularly because we were leading 1-0 with just a few minutes to go.

“All we can do is keep on working hard to try and turn things round.

“We have drawn our last four games in a row so we have to try and play better and also try to finish games off when we are winning 1-0.

“We have big players like Stevie, like Carra and like Torres and I am sure that we will turn things around because we have the quality to do so.

“We will do it, I am sure.”

Liverpool were again not at their best against Steve Bruce’s side and they paid a high price for their below-par performance when Mido equalised from the penalty spot with just seven minutes remaining.

Benayoun says a failure to kill teams off is currently costing Liverpool heavily and he knows that the Reds need to get back to winning ways immediately if they are to sustain their title challenge.

“Again we were ahead and we wanted to get a second but the goal didn’t come,” he added.

“We do have creative players and everyone tries to give 100%, but sometimes it is not enough.

“Again we had a little bit of luck go against us when Fernando’s header came back off the post and from one counter attack they have got a penalty – this is football sometimes, if you don’t get the second goal your opponents can always score towards the end.

“We expected to win these games and to be on top of the league but we have made things more difficult for ourselves.

“Man United are now top by two points and they also have a game in hand.

“Chelsea is a very important game for us and we have to start winning if we want to have a chance of winning the league.”

Month Of Misery Could Cost Liverpool The Premier League Title

Rafael Benitez will be glad to see the back of January. The problems off the pitch, the public spats with Sir Alex Ferguson and his board, his captain’s court appearance and his own contract problems have transferred on to it. The only team Liverpool have beaten this year are Preston, in the FA Cup.

Were it not for one moment of sheer lunacy from Brazilian midfielder Lucas, it would all have been very different. Ahead through Yossi Benayoun, Liverpool looked on course to wake oday level on points with Manchester United. At such moments are titles won and lost.

Where he should have stood his ground and shepherded Jason Koumas to the byline, Lucas stuck a leg out in the box. Phil Dowd blew his whistle, Mido duly converted the penalty. Two more points dropped, more ground lost, third in the league. A month ago, Liverpool had never been closer to their first championship for 19 years. Now it is as far away as ever.

Between now and Sunday, Benitez will hope to iron out as many of his problems as possible. Tom Hicks flies in to sort out the contract, Robbie Keane, restored to the bench but only allowed to play for eight minutes, will have stayed or gone. Then Chelsea, now ahead of Benitez’s side on goal difference and recovering their shattered confidence, visit Anfield. It never rains but it pours, and it is starting to show.

“It was a crazy game in the second half,” said Benitez. “We controlled the game in the first half and could have scored two or three –goals, but the second half we lost control and it was crazy. But I cannot control that craziness, so I am calm. It might be crazy against Chelsea on Sunday, I do not know. Maybe it will be crazy for years.”

Asked if he was referring to his players, Benitez insisted they were fine. He did not wish to comment on Wigan or the performance of referee Dowd. An oblique reference to Ferguson – “he has been here 22 years and you can see how things are” – suggests Rafa has either been watching the box set of Lost or was suggesting the nefarious hand of the Manchester United manager as explanation for his team’s shortcomings.

What craziness he meant is unclear, but Liverpool will need to get to the heart of the mystery before Chelsea arrive.

There is a lingering suspicion among the Anfield faithful that this will be a season of what ifs. What if Benitez had not launched his attack on Ferguson? What if his contract had been sorted out? What if Liverpool had one more goal threat?

Add to that a few more from the JJB. What if Benitez had replaced Fernando Torres, with 25 minutes to play, with Keane and not Albert Riera? What if he had brought him on for Benayoun? What if he had left Steven Gerrard on and introduced the Irishman when Wigan equalised? What if Liverpool did not look so nervous?

Nerves or not, they did enough to win this game. Wigan, decimated by injuries to Antonio Valencia, Chris Kirkland and Titus Bramble, as well as the sales of Emile Heskey and Wilson Palacios, offered little. But the mark of champions is not winning when playing badly but finishing teams off. Liverpool do not, yet, have it in them.

The early signs were positive. Torres flicked a header against a post from Gerrard’s left-wing cross, and Benayoun would have tapped in had he not been too busy celebrating. From a Jamie Carragher long ball, Torres held off Paul Scharner, swivelled and sent a volley just wide. Only a last-ditch Mario Melchiot lunge stopped Torres converting Benayoun’s cut back. Ryan Babel fired straight at Mike Pollitt.

They got their reward through Benayoun, slipped through by a clever through ball from Javier Mascherano and rounding Pollitt to finish from the acutest of angles. Benayoun is not exactly a fans’ favourite at Anfield, but he has something which Riera, Dirk Kuyt and Babel sometimes lack: ideas.

That was exactly what Liverpool ran out of in the second half, one mazy run from Benayoun smothered by Pollitt apart. Wigan sensed their visitors’ nerves, their aimlessness, and they pounced. First, Lucas tripped Koumas and Mido drew the hosts level from 12 yards. Then substitute Hugo Rodallega rattled the bar with a 30-yard free kick.

“We had a right good go, like we always do,” said Bruce. “It’s been a difficult January, but that’s what happens at Wigan. We buy players like Hugo who dream of using this club as a platform to come and be a success in the Premier League like the other lads. But then the big boys come and nick your players. It happens. You have to be realistic.”

Bruce, though, did offer one crumb of comfort to his strained opposite number. “Titles aren’t won in January,” he added. Very true but Benitez may find they can be lost then.

Spirited Fightback Pleases Hughie McAuley

Liverpool under-18s coach Hughie McAuley praised his side’s character after they battled back to earn a point at home to Manchester City.

The Reds fell behind after just three minutes against the Premier Academy League leaders but levelled before the break courtesy of Lauri Dalla Valle’s goal.

Dalla Valle and Nathan Eccleston both had chances to win it in the second half, while at the other end the Reds were indebted to a couple of fine stops from goalkeeper Martin Hansen.

McAuley said: “We started slowly and paid the price when we conceded a bad goal. We had a free-kick on the edge of their area but they broke away and scored.

“We let them have too much possession early on and struggled to get control.

“We changed things around and pushed Nathan Eccleston further forward alongside Lauri. That helped us to get back in the game and after that we were more of a threat.

“We had some decent chances in the second half but we couldn’t put them away and to be fair our keeper also had to make some good saves.

“It could have gone either way and in the end a draw was probably a fair result.

“They beat us 4-1 earlier in the season but this time we were much better and the lads gave a good account of themselves.

“It’s the start of a big run of games for us as this Saturday it’s Everton away and then the FA Youth Cup tie with Chelsea the following Thursday.”

The Reds had to play the final 10 minutes with 10 men after striker Eccleston was sent off after picking up a second yellow card.

“Nathan is always full of endeavour and I think the two challenges looked a lot worse than they were,” McAuley added.

“There was nothing malicious in either of them but in this day and age they were both bookable offences and I had no complaints.”

There was a recall to the Academy side for Swedish midfielder Astrit Ajdarevic, who returned to the club after a trial at Blackburn Rovers.

The 18-year-old has been told he won’t be offered a deal when his current contract expires this summer and is still looking for a new club.

McAuley said: “Astrit needed a game, but he’s going to find his opportunities limited here as we’ve got young lads like Michael Roberts and Alex Cooper in that position. They need games.

“The change of manager at Blackburn ended his opportunities there so he still needs to get himself sorted out. He’s probably going to be moving on before too long.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool reserves boss Gary Ablett is backing Spaniard Francisco Duran to bounce back from his latest injury setback.

The 20-year-old midfielder has been ruled out for six months with a cruciate ligament injury he suffered in training.

Duran has already had two separate spells on the sidelines with damage to his right knee since he signed from Malaga in January 2007.

Ablett said: “We’ve had some really bad news with Francisco damaging his cruciate, this time on his left knee.

“It was something really innocuous in training and as soon as he went down we saw the pain in his face and we feared the worst. He has had an operation and will be out for six months at least.

“Mentally, the boy is as strong a kid as you will ever meet in terms of what he’s been through, and we are all doing our best to keep the lad going.

“Fran is probably as technically a gifted a player as we have in the reserve squad and it’s unfortunate he’s had these injuries.”

Kraft Rubbishes Rumours Of £270m Liverpool Investment While Keane's Spurs Return Is Mooted

American billionaire Robert Kraft has no intention of bidding for a stake in Liverpool, despite reports that he was ready to offer £270million for George Gillett's 50 per cent share.

The paper and packaging tycoon was prepared to lend his expertise to Liverpool's new stadium plans, prior to Gillett and Tom Hicks assuming control, but has never expressed a wish to buy into the club.

Though linked yesterday with a move for Gillett's holding, he has always maintained he has enough to contend with, as owner of American football team New England Patriots and Major League Soccer's New England Revolution.

Robbie Keane's proposed move back to White Hart Lane on Monday night fell through because Tottenham flatly refused to include winger Aaron Lennon in any deal.

Sportsmail revealed how close Keane came to rejoining Tottenham after lengthy negotiations were called off, due to Rafa Benitez failing to land the player he asked for in part exchange.

Lennon was the target for the Liverpool manager, but Tottenham counterpart Harry Redknapp refused to sanction the winger's departure, much as he wanted Keane to help spearhead his side's fight to steer clear of relegation.

Keane's Liverpool future remains in doubt, but it now seems unlikely agreement could be reached with Tottenham before the January window shuts at 5pm on Monday.

Building New Career Child’s Play For Ex-Liverpool Star Rob Jones

Nearly a decade has past since Rob Jones’ world was turned upside down.

In the summer of 1999, the Liverpool defender was forced to hang up his boots after admitting defeat in his battle to overcome a serious knee injury.

At the age of 27 a player widely regarded as one of the best right-backs in Premier League history should have been in his prime, but instead he was facing up to life away from football.

It was a shattering blow for the boyhood Reds fan and one which took him a while to bounce back from.

“The first six months were really tough,” he said. “You never think something like that will happen to you and when I finished playing it was difficult to take.

“Some players in that position spend all their time down the pub and their life goes downhill. But I was lucky to have a good family behind me.

“My wife gave me a kick up the backside and told me to stop moping around.

“I soon realised it wasn’t the end of the world and there’s more to life than football. You have to get on with it and things have worked out well.”

Over the past decade Jones, who lives in Warrington, has made the transition from footballer to successful businessmen.

In 2001, together with wife Sue, he launched the Kids Academy Nursery Group and the company has gone from strength to strength.

“My wife had always been interested in childcare and after I finished playing she went to college to learn more about it,” he said.

“I went looking for properties and found one in Stockton Heath. Everything fell into place. We set up a nursery and it was very successful.

“We ended up selling that and with the money we were able to open more nurseries.

“We’ve now got four nursery schools and we’re also launching two adult care homes.

“At the start, I was hands on, but now my wife deals with the day to day running. I’m always there to help out but a lot of my time is spent looking after our three kids.”

Jones has also launched a comeback of sorts with the Liverpool Legends side.

“I’m off to Norway this weekend and it’s always great to see the lads again,” said the 37-year-old. “Manchester United are also sending a team over so it should be a good occasion.

“I try to get to the gym a few times a week to strengthen the knee and it’s been holding up okay. The games aren’t that competitive and I can just about manage half an hour each way. The knee swells up a bit, but it’s worth it.”

Jones enjoyed a remarkable rise up the ranks after Liverpool boss Graeme Souness spotted him playing for Crewe in October 1991.

He was signed for £300,000 and made his Reds debut 48 hours later in a goalless draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

The following February he was handed his England bow against France and in May helped Liverpool clinch the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Sunderland at Wembley.

“It was an unbelievable time for me,” he said. “I remember playing for Crewe on the Wednesday and Souness was at the game with chief scout Tom Saunders.

“They were there to watch a lad called Steve Walters, who had played for England Schoolboys.

“Next thing, I got a phone call on the Thursday from Crewe boss Dario Gradi to say Souness wanted to see me at Melwood on Friday. I was shocked.

“That weekend I should have been playing Darlington away in the old Third Division, but instead I played for Liverpool at Old Trafford.

“In the space of a few months I went from Crewe to playing for Liverpool, England and winning the FA Cup.

“I had some great days in football but nothing beats the day I signed for Liverpool. I supported the club as a kid and my granddad, Bill, played for the club in the 1940s and 50s.

“To realise that dream was a massive achievement.”

Jones continued to be a regular after Roy Evans took over from Souness in 1994 and he played in the League Cup final victory over Bolton a year later.

However, his injury problems started to mount. Shin splints had kept him out of Euro 92 and he missed Euro 96 on home soil with a cracked vertebra.

The back injury sidelined him for most of the following season and when he returned he was plagued by a persistent knee problem.

The last of his 243 appearances for the Reds was at Chelsea in April 1998.

After his contract expired in 1999, he went on trial to West Ham, but after playing just one Intertoto Cup match he had to pack it in.

Jones said: “I didn’t want to finish and kept on trying, hoping the next operation would finally sort it.

“I gave up counting how many operations I had but in the end I had to accept it wasn’t to be.

“It was an injury to my patella tendon and the problem kept coming back.

“They can do amazing things with cruciates these days but this is an injury that surgeons still can’t seem to put right.

“Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Owen Hargreaves have had the same problem. If it flares up they struggle to get the inflammation down and the knee just gets weaker and weaker.”

After retiring, Jones initially found it tough going back to Anfield, but recently his love for the Reds has been rekindled.

“I didn’t really go for a couple of years,” he revealed. “I just didn’t enjoy it. I loved playing but when I was there watching I always wished I was still out there.

“But my son Declan, who is seven, plays for a junior team and about 18 months ago he asked me to start taking him to matches.

“He’s seen a couple of my old games on LFC TV but I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet that I played for the club. He looks a bit confused when people stop me for an autograph because to him I’m just dad.

“I took him to the FA Cup game against Everton last weekend and now I get back to Anfield whenever I can. It’s always good to see old friends and catch up with people.”

Jones is happy with his lot and resists the temptation to wonder what might have been.

“It is weird to think it’s been 10 years since I played – at 37 some people are just coming to the end of their careers,” he added.

“These days I never look back. You’ve got to look on the bright side and I enjoyed my time at Liverpool. I achieved quite a lot in a short space of time and I’m proud of that.”

Andrea Dossena Aims To Prove He’s The Real Deal At Liverpool

The last time Liverpool faced Wigan, Andrea Dossena was endeavouring to convince Anfield regulars that he was worthy of a place in Rafa Benitez’s side.

Three months on, last night’s opponents was the same and so is the challenge facing the Italian defender who is yet to make Liverpool’s left back position his own.

A combination of the usual problems associated with settling into a new style of football in a new country, poor form and the odd niggling injury has left many questioning Dossena’s value to the Reds but the man himself is happy enough to allow his manager to determine when he does and doesn’t play.

“I feel good at the moment because I have now recovered from my injury and I want to play,” said the 28-year-old.

“But that will be up to the boss because he makes the decisions.”

With Emiliano Insua still away on international duty with the Argentina under-20s side, the Reds boss had a straight choice to make between Dossena and Brazilian Fabio Aurelio for the Reds left back spot in last night’s Premier League clash with Steve Bruce’s side.

As ever, Benitez is non-committal on whose name will feature on the team sheet he hands in at the JJB Stadium an hour before kick off but he is more than happy to allow the defensive duo to fight it out for a place in his own team.

“Emiliano had been doing well for us and I know people were saying that we were losing something with him going away.

“But we have a lot of confidence in Fabio and Andrea and both players can now compete for the position.”

In a bid to prove that he should win the battle, Dossena has been putting in extra hours at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground in the hope that it will help lift his levels of both fitness and form.

“Like every player, I always want to improve,” said the Italian international.

“To do this you must work hard every day in training and that is why I have been doing some extra work at Melwood.

“I want to improve my level and I think that things are getting better now.

“I have been doing extra running and work in the gym as well as other things that are open to all of the team. I have been staying after training to do this.

“Also, the manager has been helping me by focusing on the details which I need to improve.”

Last Sunday, Dossena enjoyed one of his best outings in a red shirt to date as he slotted in at full back with little fuss.

He was undoubtedly assisted by the fact that visitors Everton did not put too much pressure on Liverpool’s defence but equally the former Udinese man played his part in a team performance which was an improvement on recent displays against the Blues and Stoke.

As far as Dossena is concerned, the experience of being involved in a Merseyside derby at Anfield – even one that Liverpool failed to win – was “beautiful” and now he is hoping that the victory which evaded them against their neighbours will come at Wigan.

“We tried everything to get the win that everyone wanted so badly,” he said.

“We went forward every time we had the chance and we had a lot of shots but we were not able to get the winning goal.

“But this is the nature of football – sometimes you do not get the result that you deserve.

“It was a very beautiful occasion though and it is very special to be able to play in matches of this kind.

“The atmosphere was fantastic and it would only have been better for me if we had managed to win the game.

“Now we have to take the positives from the derby into our next game against Wigan.

Like everyone else at Anfield, Dossena is adamant that Liverpool’s forthcoming replay against the Blues must not become a distraction from their Premier League aspirations.

Having drawn their last three league games, the Reds have allowed Manchester United to take the initiative and Dossena knows Liverpool must now show their mettle if they are to maintain their challenge.

He added: “Because we have to play Everton again in a replay there will be a lot of talk about that game but we have other games before then and we must focus on them.

“Wigan will be tough opponents so we cannot be distracted from this challenge because it will become even more difficult for us if we are.

“We are Liverpool and we want to win – this is the same for every single game.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Match Preview: Wigan Athletic vs. LiverpooL

Wednesday’s Premier League fixtures pit Wigan Athletic against Liverpool in a North West quasi-derby. The visitors will be hoping to keep pace at the top of the table, but the men from Greater Manchester have plenty to play for themselves.

Wigan’s decidedly unglamorous location, modest fanbase, disappointing home attendances, relative lack of history and uninspiring style have in recent years seen their name become synonymous with the undesirable side of English football. “Wigan on Wednesday night” has come to mean “a fixture not worth watching or attending” in the punters’ vernacular, while, “and now he might as well be playing for Wigan” succinctly sums up a once-promising player’s slide into obscurity.

The Latics have struck out on the right path toward changing that perception this season, however, as they have been one of the competition’s more refreshing performers. They sit seventh in the standings, albeit 10 points shy of fifth-placed Arsenal, and their manner of play hasn’t been nearly as hard on the eye as in previous years.

Central to that success have been midfielder Wilson Palacios and striker Emile Heskey. Unfortunately for Wigan, both have just joined other clubs. Palacios’ stellar form attracted interest from all over the country, with Tottenham Hotspur eventually landing the Honduran, while Heskey – whose contract was set to expire in the summer – moved to Champions League hopefuls Aston Villa.

Just how Wigan will cope with these losses remains to be seen, although they signed a batch of talented players capable of filling the void. The signing of young Ben Watson from Crystal Palace should boost their midfield, while Hugo Rodallega and Mido will provide some new options in an attack that has always needed an extra goal-threat.

Steve Bruce’s men come into this clash on the back of two consecutive defeats, following a run of four league wins on the trot. Furthermore, they have never beaten Liverpool. Still, they may take some confidence from the havoc they wreaked at Anfield earlier in the season.

Wigan’s visit to Merseyside in October nearly ended in disaster for the hosts. They conceded the lead twice through sloppy defending (combined with some Amr Zaki brilliance, it must be said) before Dirk Kuyt came to the rescue to clinch a nervy 3-2 win with a spectacularly unorthodox volley five minutes from full-time.

That victory was just one among a series of classic comebacks that put Liverpool on track for their first realistic title-chase of the Premier League era. However, after holding first place going into the New Year, those notorious mid-season wobbles are threatening to break out and shake the legs of their campaign.

Rafael Benitez’s men have not won a league game since their 5-1 mauling of Newcastle United at the end of December, and people are once more – if they ever stopped, that is – questioning whether they possess the mettle and the experience to keep touch with Manchester United going into the business end of the season.

The frustrating thing for the Reds is that their stumbles have come against unfancied opposition. Their record against the rest of the ‘Big Four’ this term is excellent – seven points from three games – but they have failed to beat Stoke City (twice), Hull City, Fulham and West Ham United. Their lone defeat came against a rock-bottom Tottenham Hotspur outfit.

So Wednesday’s skip across the historical county of Lancashire is undoubtedly a danger game for Liverpool. However, their record on the road this season – seven wins, three draws, one loss – could give them a lift as they head to the JJB.


Wigan Athletic

Jan 17 Manchester City 1-0 Wigan Athletic (Premier League)
Jan 14 Manchester United 1-0 Wigan Athletic (Premier League)
Jan 11 Wigan Athletic 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League)
Jan 02 Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Wigan Athletic (FA Cup)
Dec 28 Bolton Wanderers 0-1 Wigan Athletic (Premier League)


Jan 25 Liverpool 1-1 Everton (FA Cup)
Jan 19 Liverpool 1-1 Everton (Premier League)
Jan 10 Stoke City 0-0 Liverpool (Premier League)
Jan 03 Preston North End 0-2 Liverpool (FA Cup)
Dec 28 Newcastle United 1-5 Liverpool (Premier League)


Wigan Athletic

Heskey is gone and Palacios’ move to Spurs is signed and sealed, although he is still waiting on a work permit. Thus, there could be a debutant or two in the Wigan line-up. Watson, Rodallega and Mido are all expected to make the squad, and the latter may start alongside Zaki, his fellow Egyptian.

No suspensions for the Latics, although Paul Scharner carries four cautions.

Possible XI: Kirkland – Melchiot, Bramble, Scharner, Figueroa – Valencia, Cattermole, Brown, Taylor – Mido, Zaki


Xabi Alonso shrugged off a foot problem to play both games against Everton, while Alvaro Arbeloa returned from a hamstring injury on Sunday to make his first start of 2009. Daniel Agger has been troubled by a sore calf but could be available this week.

Possible XI: Reina – Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio – Alonso, Mascherano – Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera – Torres


Amr Zaki caused all sorts of problems when Wigan last faced Liverpool, scoring twice amid a period of blistering early-season form. The Egyptian has got quieter as the weather has got colder, but he remains a serious threat to Pepe Reina’s goal.

At the other end, Fernando Torres should be particularly lively as he approaches full fitness after a lengthy lay-off. The Spaniard showed his creative abilities by setting up Steven Gerrard’s equaliser against the Toffees at the weekend, but he’ll be hungry to find the net himself.

Ian Rush: Liverpool Must Get Back To Business At Wigan

Liverpool can’t afford to dwell on the frustration of Sunday’s draw with Everton as it’s a massive week in the title race.

With a trip to Wigan tomorrow night followed by the home clash with Chelsea on Sunday it’s vital the Reds return to winning ways.

It’s not going to be easy at the JJB Stadium because Wigan are a difficult side to beat.

Their home form is good and they had the benefit of a weekend off, but I’ve got a feeling this could be a good time to play them.

They’ve been weakened by the sale of two of their best players with Wilson Palacios heading to Spurs and Emile Heskey to Aston Villa.

Liverpool have got to be positive and take the game to Wigan. We certainly need a bit more urgency in our play than we’ve shown recently.

With Manchester United taking on West Brom tonight we could find ourselves three points adrift and there is no more room for slip-ups.

After Wigan, preparations will start for the clash with Chelsea and that could be a key date in the chase for the Premier League crown.

I’ve heard people at Chelsea saying they have to beat Liverpool to stay in the race and I certainly believe if we can beat them then you can write off their title hopes.

Its roles reversed this season as in recent years it’s been Liverpool having to win games like this just to stay in contention.

Six points would be the perfect boost heading into the FA Cup replay at Goodison a week tomorrow.

Everton will fancy their chances of progressing after getting a draw at Anfield. I know they will have a few players back but I think playing away will suit Liverpool.

There’s no doubt we could have done without an extra game but I don’t think we did enough to beat Everton on Sunday.

Rafa Benitez said only one team wanted to win it, and I agree with that, but we always knew that would be the case.

The only teams that come to Anfield looking to win are Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal. All the rest set their stall out to get a draw and Everton got what they came for.

We’ve drawn far too many home games against teams we should be beating this season and this was another one for the list.

We knew all about the threat Everton would pose from set-pieces but our defending for their goal was poor.

You have to give Tim Cahill credit. He was clever going off the pitch and then timing his run right to get on the end of the corner, but defenders have got to be alive to situations like that.

That was a brief venture forward for the Blues who got men behind the ball and were very well organised.

It’s okay to say Everton were negative but the onus was on Liverpool to break them down and we didn’t do that.

Yes, we dominated possession and territory but too often the ball went sideways, enabling Everton to get back in position.

The ball needed to be played a lot quicker and too often the tempo of our play was too slow.

Steven Gerrard made a great run from midfield to get past Fernando Torres for the equaliser but there wasn’t enough of that going on.