Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Match Report: Fiorentina 2 - 0 Liverpool

Liverpool's Champions League hopes took a shattering blow as Fiorentina claimed an impressive victory in a delirious Stadio Artemio Franchi.

This was their first away defeat in Europe since the semi-final defeat at Chelsea in April 2008, and only their ninth away reverse in 38 attempts in the competition under boss Rafael Benitez.

Montenegro international Stevan Jovetic did the damage with a quick-fire double inside 10 first-half minutes.

Liverpool had no answer to the 19-year-old's drive and pace, and their Group E future is now under serious threat.

Liverpool did not manage a shot on target in a disappointing first period and although they fought back after the break, Fiorentina were not going to let a prized victory escape their grasp.

Benitez's response to the loss of Javier Mascherano with a hamstring injury was to recall Brazilian defender Fabio Aurelio to his side.

Aurelio has had only a Carling Cup run-out against Leeds after a summer knee operation, and he was be used in a midfield role against the Italians, who are fourth in Serie A.

Otherwise it was the same Liverpool side that beat Debrecen in the first group match.

Aurelio was used in a holding midfield role to allow Steven Gerrard to continue his advanced role supporting Fernando Torres.

But it barely worked, with Fiorentina quicker and more mobile. Martin Skrtel, at the back, had to be at his best to halt a run and shot from Jovetic, who from the resulting corner set up Marco Marchionni for an overhead effort that just cleared the bar.

Jovetic saw another effort flash wide after 22 minutes, Adrian Mutu having created the opening having beaten both Lucas and Aurelio in midfield.

There had been constant indecision in the Liverpool defence, and a failure to retain possession in midfield, and they were punished after 27 minutes.

Mutu was in a clear offside position on the edge of the box, but Zanetti's through ball was aimed at Jovetic - running from an on-side position - who was allowed to close in on Jose Reina before guiding the ball past the Spaniard.

Reina needed to save well from Vargas soon after as Fiorentina sought to capitalise on their success.

The second was not long coming. After 37 minutes Marchionni crossed from the right and the ball found Vargas on the left.

His low shot to the near post was deflected past Reina by Jovetic.

Liverpool needed something quickly after the break, and Lucas saw a powerful header flash just over the bar inside a minute of the re-start, before Sebastien Frey beat away a Dirk Kuyt drive.

Gerrard miskicked after good work from Kuyt, before Torres saw a low header deflected wide from Gerrard's cross.

Aurelio shot wide from a Torres set-up, but Fiorentina looked to have weathered the Liverpool storm at the beginning of the half.

Gerrard, who had been strangely quiet during the game, then saw a shot charged away by Massimo Gobbi from Lucas' chip.

Ryan Babel was sent on for Emiliano Insua after 71 minutes, with Aurelio switching to left-back. Fiorentina responded by sending on an extra defender, Martin Jorgensen for Vargas.

Skrtel was next to venture forward, and he got to the byline before crossing for Torres to fire over. Seconds earlier a frustrated Torres had been penalised as he set up Kuyt, who fired past Frey only to have the effort disallowed.

Next on was Andriy Voronin in place of Kuyt, as Liverpool searched for any way back into the match. Gerrard lifting a 20-yarder over did not help that quest.

Liverpool FC Owners Tom Hicks And George Gillett Looking For Outside Investors

Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have confirmed they are looking for investment in the club.

Following the appearance of Saudi Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud in the stands with the Americans at the weekend; the pair released a statement confirming they had retained Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Rothschild to evaluate the possibility of an outside injection of equity into the club.

It added: "However the process is at an early stage, there is no agreement with any party."

Sports investment firm F6, chaired by the prince, had previously claimed an exclusivity deal with Gillett, and that he was in talks to buy his 50% stake.

Hicks is looking to raise £100m from investors in return for a 25% stake in a bid to turn around the club's debt.

Mark Lawrenson: Fernando Torres Needs Trophies To Be True Liverpool Great

Fernando Torres is usually bang on target – and he certainly was after his hat-trick against Hull City on Saturday.

Rather than basking in the glory of his outstanding individual achievements, the Spaniard was right to point out that it’s winning the major trophies that really matters in a player’s career.

Which is why Torres can’t yet be talked of in the same terms as the true Liverpool greats – even though for me he is the best striker in the world at the moment.

When you think about the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, they are the only players who are on the same kind of level and they’re not out-and-out centre-forwards. If you’re talking about leading the line and finding the back of the net, I’m convinced Torres has no equal in the world game.

But in terms of playing for Liverpool, it’s all about the medals. Which is why Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush are the ultimate Anfield legends.

And you can’t put Torres in the same bracket as them at the moment.

You can say that he has the potential to be up there and could possibly even surpass them one day – but he has to be in a team that delivers.

Dalglish and Rush both have the League Championship and European Cup medals to back up their outstanding individual achievements.

Torres is scoring a lot of goals, but he knows himself that they will prove to be nothing but consolations if they don’t lead to Liverpool getting their name on the big trophies once again.

So next question: what are the chances of that happening in the near future?

Well, in terms of the title the maintaining is that Liverpool are well up there and giving themselves a chance. They made a bad start but it’s still only September and they seem to have got over those early shakes.

Besides, as much as those two early defeats to Spurs and Aston Villa were a setback, I think more surprise defeats could be in store for the leading clubs throughout this campaign.

Villa and Spurs, along with Manchester City, seem better equipped to be a threat to the top four this time and Manchester United and Chelsea have already been rocked by sides you would expect them to turn over.

In short, whoever wins the league this year is probably going to lose more games than usual anyway and that kind of trend will only play into Liverpool’s hands after that stuttering start.

And if proof were needed that people got a bit carried away wiring them off after three games then it arrived in the shape of Chelsea’s performance at Wigan on Saturday.

For a team that is flying on the back of eight straight wins, they were made to look awful by Wigan, especially in defence. They normally do the basics so well at the back – their defending from set pieces was particularly poor.

But it just goes to show that if you knock off for 90 minutes in this league, no matter who you play, you will get done.

I can only think that Chelsea must have sat in the dressing room before the game thinking they had won. If so, then it really bit them on backside.

But it’s a complacency, coupled with a huge dent to their confidence, that will only give Liverpool even more encouragement when the sides meet on Sunday.

Kuyt Can't Fathom Rush Record

Dirk Kuyt today spoke of his immense pride at the prospect of matching Ian Rush's European Cup goals tally.

Kuyt is just two shy of Rush in Europe's premier club competition after taking his haul to 12 against Debrecen.

If the Dutchman draws level with his Welsh predecessor, only Steven Gerrard with 28 will have scored more Champions League goals for Liverpool.

"That is unbelievable," said Kuyt. "To have the chance maybe to draw level with someone like Ian Rush is unbelievable.

"He is one of the biggest names in the history of Liverpool Football Club and it would give me a great feeling if I could manage to do that.

"I have to be respectful of his achievements in his career, but it would be good to match his goals and then maybe continue scoring.

"It is nice to get personal things, but for me the most important thing is winning trophies. The milestones are nice, but if you don't have anything to go with them like a trophy then it is not the same.

"Don't get me wrong, individual honours are nice, but it is all about the team winning."

Remarkably, Kuyt didn't trouble the scoresheet on any of his first 10 Champions League games for Liverpool.

That sequence ended in the 2007 final, when the 29-year-old bagged a consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat to AC Milan.

"I'm not sure why it has gone so well for me," said the Holland international. "In my first games in the Champions League I couldn't score at all. I got one in the final and it has just gone on for me since then.

"I think I have scored in every stage of the competition now and I am enjoying it. I just want to keep going. I don't try and do anything different to what I do in the Premier League.

"It is always nice to be involved in big Champions League nights and I feel confident going into them."

Collymore: Squad Looks Weaker & More Reliant Than Ever On Torres & Gerrard

The former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker Stan Collymore believes his former club are more reliant than ever on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, following the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid.

Collymore acknowledges the aforementioned two as world class performers but suggests the club is too reliant on their abilities, and will struggle away from Anfield.

Collymore told “Fernando Torres has now scored 33 goals in 34 games at Anfield for Liverpool.”

“It is a quite astonishing statistic and he walked off with the match ball after Liverpool trashed Hull 6-1.”

“But sadly I do believe Liverpool are becoming a two-man show, with Steven Gerrard and Torres running things for Rafa Benitez's side.”

“I had a few callers at the weekend saying Liverpool play a better, faster attacking style of football without Xabi Alonso.”

“But I disagree, as apart from Gerrard and Torres, Alonso was arguably Liverpool's only other world class performer before he quit for Real Madrid.”

“Now he has gone, Liverpool's squad looks weaker and more reliant than ever on Torres and Gerrard.”

In the past Liverpool always used to buy from a position of strength, but they have not done so this summer.”

“They still have Alberto Aquilani to come back from injury in the next few weeks following his £20million move from Roma.”

“But Liverpool badly need to buy some more players to do the business for them away from home.”

“We know Anfield is a fortress but they need another striker to supplement Torres and take the burden off the forward.”

Cascarino: Torres Is Better Than Samuel Eto’o In His Pime

The former Chelsea and Aston Villa striker Tony Cascarino believes Liverpool forward Fernando Torres is a better player now than when Inter Milan’s Samuel Eto’o was in his prime at Barcelona.

The Spaniard leads the Premier League scoring charts with eight goals, five in his last two against West Ham and Hull City, and Cascarino suggests he is almost untouchable.

Cascarino told “The performances of Liverpool in the last few weeks only go to prove that main men Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are all-important to the Reds chances of glory this season.”

“Torres’ form has been scary in the last few weeks.”

“The Spaniard is not just one of the best strikers in the Premier League, he is one of the best in the world.”

“He has exceptionally quick feet and can transfer the ball from one foot to the other with great effect.”

“Torres is totally confident at the moment and is at the same level as Thierry Henry when he was in his peak at Arsenal and Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United.”

“The Spanish striker is so good he is almost unsellable for Rafa Benitez unless of course there was to be an absolutely outrageous bid.”

“There are few strikers who have a bit of everything like Torres has.”

“He has guile, excellent technical ability, is strong in the air and is quick.”

“He reminds me of Samuel Eto’o was in his prime but the Spaniard is even more skilful.”

“Torres’ aerial ability also makes him stand out from the Cameroonian.”

Liverpool Coach Rafa Benitez Not Worried About Leaking Goals

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez insists that he's unconcerned about his side's leaky defence this season, pointing out that the Reds are in sterling form at the other end of the pitch.

Striker Fernando Torres, who leads the Premier League scoring charts with eight goals, is the primary reason for Liverpool's best offensive start to a campaign in over a century.

"Our form has a lot to do with Torres, obviously," said Benitez. "In the last three games he has been outstanding.

"Torres can still improve, because he likes to learn. He is on fire at the moment and is a key player for us, but the Champions League is more difficult and he is aware of that.

"His confidence has grown as the team has started to do well. We are creating more chances and there are plenty of options for him."

Benitez added: "When you are winning matches, opponents have to attack more and leave space, and that is what Fernando is exploiting.

"He can use his pace and ability. He is playing more games; he has acquired match fitness and is making life very difficult for defenders."
The backline, however, has been less reliable, and Benitez has had to defend Jamie Carragher, who has been criticised for his poor form.

Nevertheless, the club come into their Champions League match with Fiorentina on Tuesday on a six-game winning streak, in which they've racked up 18 goals.

"We are scoring more goals and not really worried that we have conceded a few more," said the ex-Valencia boss.

"Our aim is to score goals and win matches; keeping clean sheets is a bonus.

"This has been a very good goal-scoring start to the season, I'm told the best for over 100 years at this club.

"But even if you score goals and also concede, then someone will see the negative of that.

"But we always look to the positives; we are scoring a lot of goals and we aim to continue to do the same.

"We can improve in defence, of course, and I would like a lot of goals and none conceded, but that is hard to do if you do try to attack," Benitez continued.

"We will try to find the balance but I find it is easier to improve defences because you can work in training on basics, repeating the same things.

"With strikers it depends more on the quality of the player; that is more difficult."

Benitez is optimistic about Liverpool's chances in the Champions League, and claims that a win against Fiorentina after defeating Hungarian title-holders Debrecen on the tournament's opening day will put the club in a good position to make it through to the round of 16.

"To start a Champions League group winning matches is very important. We have won our first game, now we am to win the second.

"That will be fantastic; we will be in a very strong position," he added.

"We have not faced Fiorentina before in Europe and this will be a big occasion. Hopefully we can score some more goals and that will almost certainly put us into the group stages.

"But Fiorentina play good football and will be dangerous. They are fourth in Serie A and have excellent players."

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Blasts Back At Jermaine Pennant

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has responded to the criticism levelled at him and his players by Real Zaragoza winger Jermaine Pennant by leaping to the defence of Dirk Kuyt.

Pennant claimed that Benitez's coaching and tactics were "robotic" last week, and also asserted that when he was a Liverpool player himself he had found the continued selection of certain players ahead of him mystifying.

The latter remark was perceived to be a swipe at Kuyt, who has been a consistent selection in Pennant's position of right wing for the last couple of seasons at Anfield.

"I saw what he [Pennant] had to say, but I don't intend saying too much about him," said Benitez.

"Kuyt's record is there for everyone to see and he doesn't need me to defend him. You only need to look at the impact he has made to see he is picked on merit and has become an extremely important member of our squad.

"He speaks out on the pitch and doesn't have to say a single word to justify his place. He is a striker who is as effective on the wing or as second striker, and, as you can see from his record, he scores goals as well as working hard.

"He is the sort of player who would be good for any manager. We signed him then extended his contract because we knew he was an excellent player and outstanding professional. I could put him in central defence and he would be as good as anyone."

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Hopeful Over Javier Mascherano Fitness

Javier Mascherano will be sidelined for Liverpool's Champions League trip to Fiorentina on Tuesday evening due to a hamstring problem, but Rafael Benitez has allayed fears that it will be a lengthy lay-off by implying that the player will be fit for the upcoming clash with Chelsea.

"He was shooting in training and felt something in his hamstring," Benitez explained to journalists at a pre-match press conference. "He went to see the doctor and we found he had a small problem in his hamstring."

When probed as to how long Mascherano will be unavailable, Benitez estimated: "It could be two or three days, but we are not sure."

The one-game absence does not worry the Spanish gaffer. "It is not a problem because I think we can manage with Stevie [Gerrard] or another player. To lose a player like Javier is not good. But we will find solutions, whether it is with Gerrard or someone else," he said.

Meanwhile, Benitez reacted to the kind words bestowed upon him by Fiorentina manager Cesare Prandelli. The Viola boss, who has been with the Artemio Franchi outfit since 2005, described Benitez - a Champions League winner with Liverpool - as a "role model".

Benitez was graceful in his reaction: "First of all, I'd like to say thank you to Mr. Prandelli.

"He has done a very good job. I was watching some games and they have been doing very well. They are well organised and know what to do; how to attack and defend.

"They are in a good position now, but I think they can do better. To be in the Champions League is a big success for them and hopefully it will be the same this year."

Fiorentina qualified for the Champions League by finishing fourth in Serie A last season - a position they maintain this season, too, having won four and drawn one from six games. They are two points shy of surprise leaders Sampdoria.

George Gillett Explores Billionaire’s Interest In Liverpool Investment

An Indian billionaire is the latest wealthy individual to express an interest in investing in Liverpool.

Representatives of the unidentified man, who made his fortune in the energy industry, held talks with George Gillett Jr., the Liverpool co-owner, at a dinner meeting held at the Cipriani restaurant in Mayfair, Central London, on Sunday.

Gillett is following up the initial findings of Rothschild, the investment bank that he set the task of finding potential stakeholders in Liverpool. The American bought the club with Tom Hicks, his co-owner and compatriot, in February 2007.

Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager, dismissed fears that speculation about the club and their ownership could be a distraction to his team as they look to build on a run of six successive victories. “I spoke to George after the game against Hull on Saturday and all we talked about was football,” he said.

Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud, a member of the Saudi Arabian Royal Family who claimed he is ready to offer up to £350 million for a 50 per cent stake in Liverpool at the weekend, has confirmed that a deal has been done with the Merseyside club that will lead to the opening of two academies, one in Saudi Arabia and the other in North Africa.

The agreement signed by Gillett and Prince Faisal on behalf of the F6 group he chairs will also extend the interests of the American’s Nascar franchise. “The memorandum of understanding with the George Gillett group will establish an exclusive partnership between F6 group, Liverpool FC and Richard Petty Motorsports team,” an F6 statement read. “His Highness Prince Faisal stated that the partnership with George Gillett’s group will be a good addition to F6. This partnership will provide a lot of investments in football, racing and sports media in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

Barry Didato, a director of F6, claimed last night that Prince Faisal is carrying out due diligence with a view to buying all or part of Gillett’s shares.

Gillett is in Italy for Liverpool’s match against Fiorentina and has refused to speak on the record about his plans for the Anfield club or the possibility of incoming investment.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Match Preview: Fiorentina vs Liverpol

Liverpool will be without midfielders Javier Mascherano and Yossi Benayoun for Tuesday's Champions League Group E clash with Fiorentina.

Mascherano is sick and Benayoun picked up a leg injury against Hull in the 6-1 thrashing of Hull on Saturday.

Mascherano's absence means winger Albert Riera is likely to start.

The hosts are without suspended top-scorer Alberto Gilardino, meaning Stevan Jovetic and Adrian Mutu could start up front together.

Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli admitted Liverpool's free-scoring form, with 18 goals in their last six matches, has him worried.

Striker Fernando Torres in particular is in rampant form, having scored a hat-trick in Saturday's 6-1 victory over Hull, and Prandelli is well aware his side face a tough task in trying to stop the Spaniard.

"We're not going to start already beaten, but all those goals are starting to make me a little anxious," said Prandelli, who played in the Juventus side that beat Liverpool in the 1985 European Cup final.

"How do you stop Torres? You must concentrate all the time, and be very lucky because he is so good.

"We have watched the last three Liverpool games on DVD and we know what a difficult task we face."

The Italian side took only two points from a possible nine at home in last season's group stage, and the team will hope to do better against a Liverpool side unbeaten on their travels in last season's competition, with three wins and three draws.

To that end, the absence of Gilardino, who begins a two-match ban for elbowing Jeremy Toulalan in Fiorentina's defeat by Lyon two weeks ago, is a significant blow.

Five-time European Cup winners Liverpool are level on points with Lyon in Group E, having opened with a 1-0 win over Hungarian champions Debrecen.

And Rafael Benitez's side posted a 1-0 victory at Inter Milan on their last visit to Italy in 2008.

"It was a great night in the San Siro. I enjoyed every minute of it and hopefully we can do the same against Fiorentina," said forward Dirk Kuyt, who scored the only goal against Debrecen.

"It will be great if we can win in Florence and get six points from the first two games. It would give us more confidence ahead of the other group games."

Match Facts & Stats:

The Reds last six matches:

Liverpool 6-1 Hull
Leeds 0-1 Liverpool
West Ham 2-3 Liverpool
Liverpool 1-0 Debrecen
Liverpool 4-0 Burnley
Bolton 2-3 Liverpool

Fiorentina's last six matches:

Livorno 0-1 Fiorentina
Fiorentina 2-0 Sampdoria
Roma 3-1Fiorentina
Lyon 1-0 Fiorentina
Fiorentina 1-0 Cagliari
Fiorentina 1-0 Palermo

Dirk Kuyt: Liverpool Will Use Italian Experience Against Fiorentina

Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt feels that the Reds' previous experience of beating Italian teams will stand them in good stead when they face Fiorentina in the Champions League on Tuesday.

The Merseysiders beat Inter in the San Siro on their last visit to Italy in 2008, and Kuyt feels sure that they can manage a repeat in Florence in midweek.

"It was a great night in the San Siro. I enjoyed every minute of it and hopefully we can do the same against Fiorentina," the Dutchman told Liverpool's official website.

"All the teams in our group are good but Italian teams are normally very strong in defence and it can be difficult to go there. Having said that, it will be the same with the trips to Lyon and Debrecen.

"It will be great if we can win in Florence and get six points from the first two games. It would give us more confidence ahead of the other group games."

Kuyt became the Reds' third highest goalscorer in Europe with the winning goal at Anfield against Debrecen in their first group match, and the versatile front man is targeting many more.

"It's great to be important to the club and score important goals in Europe," he added. "Hopefully there will be more in the future and I can go higher in the list.

"It's not the most important thing for me though, doing well for Liverpool is what matters most of all."

Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva Silencing The Critics

A month ago Liverpool were a club in crisis: outplayed at Spurs and out-muscled at home to Villa, last year’s Premier League runners-up slumped to two early defeats.

For a club that suffered only two losses in 38 games last campaign it was a stuttering start which saw many critics write off any possibility of Liverpool winning an elusive 19th League title.

A young 22-year-old in the heart of the Reds midfield bore the brunt of the blame. Lucas Leiva was the easy victim. He’d been given the daunting task of replacing the fulcrum of the Liverpool side: Xabi Alonso.

The problem at White Harte Lane was clear. Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres were isolated from the rest of the team. Neither Mascherano nor Lucas could provide the link between defence and attack.

They aren’t renowned for their distribution or creativity. They are destroyers. The absent Xabi Alonso was sorely missed. Over a week later against Villa, Lucas wilted under the pressure, the bating breath of the Kop sent shivers done his spine, leaving him paralysed in midfield.

However the Brazilian has shown a wealth of improvement in the past few weeks.

The player deserves credit for the unerring mental toughness that he has shown. He has defied critics and has produced mature performances against Burnley, West Ham United and Hull City.

Why has he been targeted?

The loss of Xabi Alonso has of course had a huge impact on the team. He was the cog in the engine room and vital to the system Liverpool had used to such great effect.

Mascherano would sweep up any attacks playing the short, simple pass to Alonso. The Spaniard maestro would unleash memorising passes to thrust Liverpool’s attackers into action. That system was disrupted when Alonso was sold to Real Madrid.

Lucas was never going to be a suitable replacement for Alonso. He is the same breed of player as Mascherano. Therefore Liverpool were always going to miss that creative flair in midfield and inevitably as the new worker in the Anfield engine room, blame was assigned to the Brazilian.

The owners failed to provide reasonable funds for further investment in players. Rafa Benitez was forced to sell in order to generate revenue for new acquisitions. It is another example of broken promises from Gillett and Hicks.

Arguably Lucas suffers from the Brazilian stereotype. When you think of great Brazilian players names like Pele, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka all spring to mind.

A defensive, holding midfielder isn’t exactly a ‘Brazilian’ position. Ironically Brazil’s current manager Dunga was a great defensive-minded player in his day and was a hero for Lucas.

Benitez too must shoulder some of the blame for his side’s shortcomings. He purchased a midfielder who was crocked and wasn’t due to return before October. Alberto Aquilani has the talent to prove a hit on Merseyside but with his prolonged absence, the first few weeks were always going to be ropey for the Reds.

Benitez stuck with his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation despite the loss of Alonso. The losses to Spurs and Villa encouraged Benitez to tinker with that tactic. In recent weeks, Gerrard has dropped back to central midfield and the results of this switch have been evident.

Gerrard has revelled in the central midfield role. He has the license to room while Lucas provides that vital insurance defensively. The Brazilian sits in front of the back four breaking up any sparse attacks from the opposition.

Meanwhile Gerrard is able to expend his boundless energy making explosive runs from midfield. In addition he has the ability to spot the intelligent runs of team-mates and if required is able to defend too.

The tactical switch has sparked a revival in Liverpool’s form. Since the loss to Martin O’Neill’s men, Fernando Torres et al have scored 16 times, only conceding five.

Lucas was particularly impressive against Burnley, West Ham and Hull. He cut out the rash challenges, didn’t over complicate matters and released the ball early.

While he partnered Gerrard in midfield, there was no pressure on the 22-year-old to produce blockbuster passes or unlock resolute defences.

The talismanic Liverpool captain has been quick to defend the Brazilian. When questions were asked over the future of Lucas at the beginning of the summer, Gerrard was quick to jump to his defence.

“Lucas has had criticism and for me it’s been unfair,” said Gerrard, in an interview last May.

“He’s a young lad learning his trade and he’s certainly got a bright future. He does a lot of work that goes unnoticed in this team. He’s come into some big games when the manager has said ’sink or swim.’

“He swam, very well, and he’s done really well for us.”

It is a fair evaluation of Lucas’ contribution. Reflecting upon past seasons he has enjoyed success in some of Liverpool’s biggest games, even asked to deputise for the missing Alonso at the 4-1 Old Trafford success.

Gerrard has been quick to pipe up in defence of his midfield partner this season too, especially in the wake of the out-pouring of discontent from many Liverpool fans.

He had lavish praise for the “mental toughness” Lucas showed after the demoralising early season losses.

The Brazilian could take heart from Darren Fletcher. He is another midfielder player who suffered from a lot of criticism at the start of his career but has now firmly established himself as a regular fixture in the United side.

Rafa - Torres Is Priceless

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has described Fernando Torres as priceless following his demolition of Hull City at the weekend.

Torres terrorised the Hull defence during Liverpool's thumping 6-1 win at Anfield helping himself to a clinical hat-trick.

It brought Torres' tally to eight goals in seven Premier League games this season and it was fourth treble in his Reds career since his arrival from Atletico Madrid.

Benitez has revealed a couple of English clubs, believed to be Manchester City and Chelsea, sounded out Liverpool about the Spanish hit-man in the summer, but Benitez has warned any potential suitors they would be wasting their time in trying to prise Torres away from Anfield.

"How much is he worth?" said Benitez. "Well at least £70million, you would say.

"I'm not saying he's the best in the world because he is young and can get better, but of course he is one of the best, and he can still improve if he wants to.

"This year we had some agents acting for other English clubs who were coming to us asking about the price of Torres, with big, big figures, but we said that he's not for sale.

"I would say at this moment in time he is not for sale at any price."

Liverpool Preparing €49m Bid For Valencia Forward David Villa

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has urged the club's owners to make funds available in order to secure the transfer of David Villa from Spanish Primera Division side Valencia.

Villa was courted by both Barcelona and Real Madrid during the summer but while the Blaugrana eventually opted to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter Milan, Los Blancos signed Karim Benzema from Lyon.

The Spanish international was thought to be devastated at failing to secure a move away from the Mestalla but now it seems that a move to the Premier League could be an option.

Former Valencia coach Rafael Benitez has earmarked Villa as the type of player who can take Liverpool to the next level and has approached George Gillett and Tom Hicks to provide him with a suitable transfer budget to secure a deal for the striker.

The Sunday People suggests that a fee in the region of €49m would be enough to persuade Valencia to part with their prized asset, who scored 28 goals in La Liga last season.

If the move were to go through, then it would unite the strikeforce of the Spanish national team as Fernando Torres currently plays in the Premier League for the Reds.

Saudi Interest Comes As A Surprise To Liverpool

Neither George Gillett Jr. nor Tom Hicks, the co-owners of Liverpool, is expecting imminent investment in the club from Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud, a member of the Saudi Royal Family, despite reports to the contrary over the weekend.

Hicks and Gillett are in ongoing talks with a number of potential third-party investors as they seek first to reduce Liverpool’s £250 million debt and second to bring in the kind of sizeable cash injection needed to finance the club’s move from Anfield to a long-planned new stadium on nearby Stanley Park.

Prince Faisal, who visited the club’s academy in Kirkby on Saturday before attending Liverpool’s home match against Hull City, is the latest potential investor to express an interest in taking a stake in the club and his public admission to this effect has come as a surprise to Hicks in particular, but also to Gillett.

According to a report in Saudi Al-Riyadh, the newspaper, Prince Faisal, who chairs Fama Group, the Saudi holding company, and the F6 Sports Investment Firm, is willing to take a stake in Liverpool of up to 50 per cent for a fee in the region of £200-350 million.

The high-profile nature of his reported interest, which began on Friday night with a news item on television in Saudi Arabia, has taken the Liverpool hierarchy aback, particularly Gillett who invited Prince Faisal to Merseyside as his guest to open negotiations about proposed Nascar and Liverpool academy initiatives in the Middle East. Gillett is holding talks with a number of interested parties at present and, as yet, there is still to be an official approach from Prince Faisal or any other members of the Saudi Royal Family.

In the past two years, Hicks and Gillett have entertained a number of potential investors at Anfield, but a deal is yet to materialise and The Times understands that Gillett held talks with another interested party in London last night.

Gillett’s visit to Merseyside was not without controversy as members of the Spirit Of Shankly (SOS) fans group, which has long been opposed to his and Hicks’s regime, protested against the American ownership of Liverpool at the club’s Melwood training ground.

An attempt to stage a similar protest at Anfield during the Hull game was stifled when flags and banners criticising Hicks and Gillett were seized by Merseyside Police shortly after they were unfurled in the Kop stand.

Saudi Arabian Investment Company Reaches Agreement On Liverpool Academies

F6, the Saudi Arabian sports investment company, has confirmed that it has reached an agreement with Liverpool to establish a number of football academies in the region.

The deal was signed with George Gillett Jr., the Liverpool co-owner, and will seek to set up two exclusive academies in Saudi Arabia and two in North Africa while also extending the interests of the American’s NASCAR franchise, Richard Petty Motorsports.

“The memorandum of understanding will establish an exclusive partnership between F6 group, Liverpool FC and Richard Petty Motorsports team,” a statement released by the company read.

“His Highness Prince Faisal [the F6 chairman] stated that the partnership with George Gillett’s group will be a good addition to F6. This partnership will provide a lot of investments in football, racing and sports media in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

Prince Faisal confirmed that the deals were done following Liverpool’s 6-1 defeat of Hull City at Anfield on Saturday, a game he attended as a guest of the club. “We have signed several contracts with Liverpool after visiting the club and attending the match with Hull City in the Premier League,” he told Al Riyadh daily newspaper. “The contracts are basically sports investments, which also include establishing football academies that will definitely help the future of Saudi sports in the future.”

Prince Faisal has claimed that he is closing in on purchasing a 50 per cent share of Liverpool, for a price of between £200 and £350 million, but Gillett views the reports as premature and is holding talks with a number of interested parties.

No Liverpool Takeover Bid Imminent – Top Football Broker

Liverpool are unlikely to receive a takeover bid any time soon, according to leading football broker David Bick, who has handled a number of high-profile takeovers, including those of Aston Villa, Manchester City, Manchester United and Leeds United.

Bick told UK exclusively that he does not expect Saudi Arabian Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah to make any concrete bid for control at Anfield, despite reports emanating from the Middle East over the weekend that the Prince was close to securing a £350 million deal for a 50 per cent stake in the club.

Only today there were reports that Saudi sports investment company F6 had confirmed that talks to buy a major share in the club are ongoing – but Bick is sceptical of any such reports.

"As far as I'm aware, all talk has been pretty much squashed by the majority of papers this morning," said Bick, "And judging by the way it has been reported, with figures of between £200 million and £350 million suggested, it just seems a bit vague to me.

"There is a huge difference between those two figures. If serious investment was imminent, I would expect a much more specific figure to be given."

Prince Faisal was sat alongside Liverpool co-owner George Gillett at Anfield on Saturday to see the Reds thrash Hull City 6-1, but Bick, a trusted adviser of American billionaire Randy Lerner, believes this is not necessarily evidence of any proposed takeover bid.

"My understanding is that the reason this gentleman was at the game on Saturday was to do with the setting up of Liverpool FC academies in the Middle East," said Bick. "As far as any suggestion of a takeover goes, I would be say there is very little chance of any such deal occuring in the near future."

Liverpool's long time suitors, Dubai International Capital (DIC), have also distanced themselves from the story, claiming to know nothing of any such deal.

Amanda Staveley of PCP Capital Partners – DIC's financial advisory firm during their failed takeover bid at Anfield last year – told UK exclusively that she was completely in the dark over the story.

"I'm afraid I have no comment to make whatsoever, as I know nothing of this story," said Staveley, who led negotiations with Reds' co-owner Tom Hicks during DIC's attempt to buy into Liverpool in late 2007.

Liverpool fans unfurled a huge banner at Anfield on Saturday in protest against their American owners, continuing what has been a long run of vociferous opposition against the way the club is being run financially, an opposition that looks set to continue for the foreseeable near future.

Fernando Torres And Steven Gerrard Seek More Goals

Liverpool's dynamic duo of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are fast being accepted as the world's best goal-scoring double act.

Liverpool have recorded six successive victories in all competitions ahead of Tuesday's clash with Fiorentina in the Champions League.

Fiorentina moved into fourth spot in Serie A on Saturday with a 1-0 win at Livorno, while Liverpool thrashed Hull 6-1 with a hat-trick from Torres and one from Gerrard.

The pair arrived in Tuscany on Monday with their own mutual admiration in full flow, both claiming the other is "the best in the world."

And the statistics seem to bear them out.

Torres has scored 58 goals in 92 Liverpool games since his debut in August 2007, while Gerrard has 123 in 492.

But the true mark of their quality and chemistry comes from the 77 games the pair have played together, when they have plundered 86 goals between them - Gerrard with 39 and Torres 47.

Gerrard said: "I wouldn't swap Fernando for any other striker in the world, he's the best."

And Torres added: "If you play alongside someone like Stevie, who is the best in the world, it can only help you. He is a great passer and can score goals."

Fiorentina will also be aware the pair have a pretty impressive Champions League record.

In the 15 Champions League games they have played together, they have scored 15 goals.

Torres arrives in Tuscany as the Premier League's top scorer with eight in eight games, while Gerrard has three.

Manager Rafael Benitez had suggested earlier in the campaign that both players had been below their best, but he still claims Torres is "priceless" and Gerrard the best in Europe.

Their response has been emphatic. Since Benitez uttered those words calculated to arouse a response, Torres has hit five in two games, while Gerrard has been outstanding.

Benitez said: "The main thing is that these (two) are good players with quality and intelligence. Gerrard is very quick passing the ball and Torres is very quick to run into space.

"If you analyse the goals they have scored together over the past couple of seasons, you would be amazed.

"The understanding between the pair, with Torres up front and Gerrard in space behind him, has been the real difference for us.

"Playing Steven further forward means he can link well and be a real partner for Torres, he still has to help in midfield but he does not have to go back 40 metres, only 15 metres now, no more.

"But I believe they can both improve, both get better. They can always produce more."

Torres has taken that to heart and readily admits that Benitez has made him a better player.

He said: "From the first day I arrived here I have always been improving, and Rafa has helped in that.

"I am a better player now than when I was at Atletico Madrid. I hope to continue to keep improving with the manager and my team-mates who can all help me get better and better.

"Under Rafa I've started to play much more in the middle. I've scored a lot of goals from this position, rather than playing further out towards the wings.

"I like to play between the centre-backs and keep them busy and leave some space for the midfielders. That can make it easier for me to receive a pass when we attack.

"You have to play to your strengths. I don't know how to play in another position. Striker is the right position for me.

"Maybe I don't have the same qualities as Stevie to play between the lines. I guess it is the same for players like Emmanuel Adebayor or Didier Drogba.

"If they were to play on the wing or in between or behind the lines, they may not be the same players as when they play as a striker."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Hat-trick Hero Fernando Torres Happy To See Ryan Babel Score Double

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres scored a hat-trick against Hull City in the Reds' 6-1 victory this afternoon and said he was delighted to score for his side.

“The role of the striker is to score; I had scored three so I'm really happy,” Torres told Sky Sports.

Torres was also full of praise for his team-mate Ryan Babel. The Dutch forward came off the bench to score twice in the victory.

“Ryan Babel came in my position and scored two so I'm really happy for my team-mates as well because they deserve to play,” said the Spaniard. “Not all of us can play 90 minutes so it is adapting work, and that is the main thing.”

Torres appears to be approaching his peak form, and the Spanish striker admitted he has been fatigued after a long campaign last year. Torres represented Spain in the Confederations Cup during the summer while some of his Liverpool team-mates were on holiday.

“I'm getting better because it was a long season for me, the last one, and I'm training, trying to reach 100 per cent and we are working for that,” said Torres.

Liverpool's No.9 emphasized that the Reds haven't yet reached their peak, despite sitting third in the Premier League.

“I'm scoring goals now but the main thing is we are improving physically and as a team as well so I think we will be near our best soon,” he concluded.

Fernando Torres Still To Peak, Says Benitez

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez says Fernando Torres has yet to reach his peak despite a brilliant hat-trick in the 6-1 demolition of Hull City at Anfield.

The Spain striker hit three goals in the opening 47 minutes - after Geovanni had briefly equalised - and terrorised the Hull defence all afternoon.

Steven Gerrard added the fourth on the hour before Ryan Babel hit two late on but the day belonged to Torres, who has now scored eight in seven matches and an incredible 33 in 34 matches at Anfield.

"In the last three games he was really good, he is improving his mentality, work-rate and movement and he is now showing his ability but I think he can do it better," said the Liverpool FC boss.

"The main thing is the mentality of the player. He is keen to learn and he will improve but how much depends on him."

Benitez said he was always confident the 25-year-old would become one of the world’s greatest strikers after bringing him to Anfield from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2007.

"If you think about the money we were spending on players we then decided to spend £20million on Torres - that was a massive figure for us," admitted the Spaniard.

"We decided to bring him here because of his quality but also his potential and the future he had.

"We had a lot of confidence he would get better and we are pleased now but he can improve."

Benitez did not go so far as to class today as a perfect performance - they conceded a goal - but he was impressed by the attitude of his players even when the game was won midway through the second half.

"The first goal was important but after we conceded I thought our second goal made a big difference," he added.

"The team was playing with confidence, creating a lot of chances and at the end of the game we could change players and think about the next game.

"Six goals is fantastic but it could have been even better because we had more chances at the end.

"The positive thing was the mentality of the team going forward, trying to win the game and still trying to score more goals."

Hull manager Phil Brown, whose side are second from bottom in the Premier League with four points after three successive defeats, could barely contain his anger at the performance.

"I was disgusted with some of the defending, individually and collectively," he said.

"For me it was demoralising and I hope it was for the players as well.

"People will say Torres was the difference between the two sides but I thought we gifted them the goals.

"To come out in the second half and throw away a third goal and give up our position was disgusting.

"That killed us off and one or two towels went in after that, which is bitterly disappointing from my point of view.

"It is going to have to be uncomfortable for one or two this week - myself included - because there is a little bit of pain flying around at the moment and it is all coming my way."

Gerrard Contemplates Management

Steven Gerrard admits he is already pondering the thought of becoming a manager when he hangs his boots up.

But the Liverpool captain insists he will have to become 'crazy' to adapt to the rigours of life as a football boss.

Gerrard, who scored his third goal of the season in Saturday's 6-1 mauling of Hull City, has no intention of calling it quits at Anfield just yet, but the 29-year-old midfielder has confessed that he is fascinated by the work ethic of the top managers in the business.

The Reds skipper told The Daily Mail: “People ask me what I would like to do after football and I'd love to be a manager.

"But then I wonder if I could ever be as good as those guys because it is 24/7, it's their life, there is nothing else and I don't think I could be crazy like that

"I like to switch off after games. I've got two daughters. I like to play golf. I think of Rafa and in five years I have never had a conversation with him that was not about football; Capello the same. They fascinate me, those people.

"When I get talking to John Terry or Wayne Rooney, I am always asking about their managers, how they work, how they interact with the players. I'll pull Gary Lewin, the England physiotherapist, and ask him about Arsene Wenger at Arsenal."

Gerrard reckons team-mate Jamie Carragher has what it takes to become a top manager after the Liverpool vice-captain previously announced his desire to become the Reds boss in the future.

Gerrard added: "On Friday, I love getting home, sitting on the couch, turning Sky Sports News on and listening to all the interviews coming in from the training grounds, just to hear these characters talking about football.

"I don't know if I could be that obsessed. Jamie Carragher, now he could, definitely."

Liverpool's Emiliano Insua Delighted With First Argentina Call-Up

Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua has spoken of his joy at being called up to the Argentina squad for the very first time for the crucial World Cup 2010 qualifiers with Peru and Uruguay next month.

The 20-year-old defender has impressed in the string of performances he has made at left full-back for Liverpool thus far this season as he continues to deputise for Brazilian Fabio Aurelio.

Argentina coach Diego Maradona has an uphill struggle if he is to ensure qualification to the World Cup finals in South Africa next year with his side currently sitting in fifth place in the group, one point adrift of fourth placed Ecuador.

The upcoming fixtures against Peru and Uruguay will certainly prove decisive if the Albicelestes are going to book a place at next summer's showpiece event and Insua is relishing the chance to help his team achieve qualification.

"It [the call-up] is very special," he told

"Argentina are fighting for their place in the World Cup and I want to help my country get there. I am very happy.

"Everyone knows how good Maradona was as a player, so it will be fantastic for me to play under him as a coach. I hope we can make it to South Africa and would love to play my part."

The former Boca Juniors youngster went on to praise the performance of Fernando Torres in Liverpool's 6-1 thumping of Hull City in the Premier League on Saturday.

"He [Torres] is one of the best strikers in the world," Insua added.

"It is incredible to play with him. He is a great player but he is also a great person too. I enjoy playing alongside him - I wouldn't want to play against him.

"In the first half it was more difficult for us because they [Hull] tried to press high. It was easier in the second half, we played more freely and scored a lot of goals."

Liverpool In Talks Over £125m Investment From Arab Prince

Liverpool co-owner George Gillett was in talks on Saturday night about selling a 25 per cent stake in the Anfield club to an Arab prince in a deal worth £125million.

Sunday Mirror Sport understands that Gillett has met with Prince Khalid al-Faisal and members of the Saudi royal family about investment opportunities at Liverpool.

Discussions initially began about various commercial projects but quickly progressed into talks aimed at bringing the prince in as a co-owner to work alongside Gillett and his fellow American Tom Hicks.

Any share deal would require the blessing of Hicks before it could be rubber-stamped. And although Hicks is yet to meet personally with Prince Khalid, it is understood that the Texan is ready to welcome a new partner if the terms of the deal are right.

Hicks and Gillett have been searching the Middle East for potential investors to ease the burden of the club’s £300m debts.

Liverpool had a record turnover last year and have just announced football’s biggest shirt sponsorship deal, worth £20m-a-year with Standard Chartered Bank.

But the club has been unable to finance the construction of a new 60,000-capacity stadium at Stanley Park because of the credit crunch.

And manager Rafa Benitez has been told that he must work within a strict transfer budget of £20m-a-year.

Rafa Backs Aquilani To Shine

Rafael Benitez believes Liverpool new boy Alberto Aquilani will prove to be a better playmaker than Xabi Alonso.

Aquilani has yet to make his Reds debut since his £20million summer switch from Roma but the Italian international has stepped up his rehabilitation from an ankle injury and should be available in October for the Merseysiders.

Reds boss Benitez has previously backed the Anfield new boy to fill the void of the departed Alonso - who returned to his homeland in a £30 million move to Real Madrid.

But the Spanish tactician has elaborated further, claiming the 25-year-old midfielder will carve out more chances for the likes of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres than Alonso did before his summer switch.

Benitez told The Daily Mirror: "Alberto is running again and when we travel to play Fiorentina in the Champions League this week he will stay behind to continue with his rehabilitation program.

"I know the fans are frustrated but we have signed a good player with talent and I never worried that we would have to wait for him to be fit.

"Xabi was a player who received the ball and played long and short passes. Aquilani wants to play higher up the pitch than that.

"He wants to be in the final third so that he can create chances.

"In that respect, playing passes to give the strikers the chance to score, he is better than Alonso.

"When he is fit the team will be more dangerous because he has the ability to find Torres and Gerrard with passes that will give them more chances to score.

"He is ahead of schedule for his comeback, but we must be careful with him."

Pennant Questions Rafa Reign

Jermaine Pennant claims Rafael Benitez attempted to turn him into a "robot" during his days at Liverpool.

The winger spent three years working under the Spaniard at Anfield before making a switch to Spanish outfit Real Zaragoza this summer.

Pennnant struggled to secure regular first-team football while on Merseyside, with Benitez renowned for his rotation policy.

The 26-year-old admits he grew tired of being prevented from playing his natural game, claiming he was unable to perform to the best of his ability due to the incessant demands placed upon him by his manager.

"When I was on the touchline all I could hear was Benitez giving me directions," Pennant told the News of the World.

"At times I'd think 'why don't you just put the batteries in and turn me into a robot'.

"Sometimes I just wanted to play my natural game, but there were so many instructions: how to go forward, how to defend.

"He has been through so many players, so many strikers, so many midfielders that he takes the best attributes out of them."

Pennant has also revealed he endured a distant relationship with Benitez, meaning that he was never able to fully understand why he was overlooked on so many occasions.

He added: "I didn't understand it. There are players at Liverpool and you think 'how is he getting a game?', but Rafa has faith in them. He thinks some of the players are the best thing since sliced bread.

"Rafa didn't have confidence in me. I'd play one week, then I'd be out of the team and think 'hold on a minute - last week I scored one and made two. How does that work?'

"He can be cold, but that's his style. He has a special relationship with Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher - but that's because they are Liverpool. There were times when he took offence with me because he could see how frustrated I was.

"I don't know the reasons, but he's won the European Cup and you can't argue with that. It kills half of Liverpool that they haven't won the league for so long. Something can't be right and they need to start looking into it quickly."

Pennant is delighted to have broken his Anfield shackles after completing his move to Spain, and claims he has set his sights on forcing his way into the England fold this term.

He added: "The ambition is to get into the World Cup squad. I've never been named in a squad, but I've never given up hope. (Fabio) Capello has twice been a manager out here and if he comes to Spain he's only coming to watch one player.

"Ian Wright got into the England team when he was 26 or 27 and I know it can be done.

"My assets are pace, going past players and crossing. I don't think anyone in that squad crosses the ball as well as me."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Match Report: Liverpool 6 - 1 Hull City

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres scored a brilliant hat-trick to blow away struggling Hull at Anfield.

The Spain striker scored twice in the first half either side of Geovanni's equaliser and added a third soon after the interval.

Captain Steven Gerrard scored a fourth just before the hour and substitute Ryan Babel added two late goals as Liverpool made it four league wins - including 16 goals - in succession.

But the day belonged to Torres, who took his tally for the season to eight in seven matches and an incredible 33 in 34 matches at Anfield.

This was also his fourth Liverpool hat-trick and the third he has scored in the Premier League.

The writing was on the wall for Hull, who have not won in their last nine away matches, from the 11th minute when Liverpool took the lead with a neat passing move and a clinical finish from Torres.

Dirk Kuyt and left-back Emiliano Insua combined to allow Albert Riera to cross to the near post where Torres shimmied past Ibrahima Sonko to coolly fire past Boaz Myhill.

This season Liverpool have leaked goals through defensive mistakes and another one cost them just four minutes later when Martin Skrtel's weak header dropped to Geovanni eight yards out and he volleyed home the equaliser.

The goal unsettled the home side but Lucas should have done better in the 23rd minute when he tamely side-footed Insua's cross straight at Myhill from 15 yards.

But if there is one Liverpool player you can rely on to hit the target it is Torres and his individual brilliance put his side ahead again in the 28th minute.

Yossi Benayoun's incisive through-ball picked out the Spaniard's run into the penalty area but there was still plenty of work to do.

Torres cut back inside, beating Sonko, Myhill and then 18-year-old debutant Liam Cooper to poke home from close range.

Frailties were still apparent at the back, however, and twice Riera gave the ball away 10 yards outside his own penalty area only to be saved by Jamie Carragher and poor shooting from Kamil Ghilas.

Two minutes into the second half Torres scored his third, again with an assist from Benayoun.

He raced into the inside-right channel and, with everyone in the ground expecting him to shoot right-footed, he turned inside Sonko and fired through Paul McShane's legs and into the far corner.

Torres continued to terrorise the Hull defence and was only inches over the crossbar with a looping 58th-minute header from Skrtel's cross

On the hour Gerrard, who had been quiet by his standards, added a fourth when he curled a shot into the far corner from wide on the left wing after his original corner had only been half-cleared to Insua.

Hull then seemed to self-destruct with McShane, who had been having a running disagreement with Riera all afternoon, lucky not to be sent off after being booked for a clash with Carragher and then appearing to show dissent to referee Peter Walton.

With a Champions League clash away to Fiorentina on Tuesday, Torres departed to a standing ovation in the 68th minute as he was replaced by Babel with Gerrard following soon after.

By then the hard work had been done, although Babel had a point to prove and added a fifth by turning in Kuyt's right-wing cross late on.

The Dutchman scored a fortunate second in injury time when he deflected Riera's shot over Myhill.

But even the former Ajax forward would admit he is not in the class of Torres, who once again showed how intrinsically linked he is to Liverpool's ambitions.

John Aldridge: Fiorentina Clash Will Be Tough Test

The Champions League trip to Fiorentina on Tuesday is going to be a real test for the Reds.

The Italians are going well in Serie A and are strong at home. They might have lost their first match away to Lyon but they fought hard after the sending off of Alberto Gilardino and only went down 1-0.

Fiorentina will be fired up and we’ll need to be at our best to avoid a repeat of what happened in Besiktas a couple of years ago.

The fact that we’ve got experience of playing against AC Milan, Inter and Juventus should stand us in good stead.

Whatever happens against Hull I hope Rafa doesn’t make many changes.

Aurelio and maybe Agger if he is fit could come back in but we need to get to 10 points as soon as possible.

Fiorentina Duo Mario Santana & Gianluca Comotto Likely To Miss Liverpool Match

After picking up injuries in the 2-0 win over Sampdoria, Fiorentina midfielder Mario Santana and defender Gianluca Comotto are likely to miss the matches against Livorno and Liverpool, according to Rai Sport.

Comotto will definitely miss both matches, being out of action for ten days, but there is a slight chance that Santana may be available for the Champions League match next Tuesday at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. However, he will certainly miss the Tuscan derby against the Amaranto.

It is a bitter blow for the Viola, who were already without suspended striker Alberto Gilardino against the English outfit.

Fiorentina lost their opening group stage match in the Champions League to Olympique Lyonnais and will want a positive result in order to keep pace with the French side and Liverpool in Group E.

Gerrard Hails Benitez's Methods

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard believes Rafa Benitez operates on a 'different level' to other managers after revealing how he has adapted to his boss' methods.

Former Valencia chief Benitez arrived at Anfield in 2004 and has since guided the Reds to UEFA Champions League glory and an FA Cup win, while also transforming a struggling side into genuine Premier League title contenders.

England international Gerrard has been an inspirational on-field influence throughout the Spaniard's five-year tenure and has risen to a status as one of the best players in the world.

But the Liverpool skipper confesses that he found it difficult to adapt to Benitez's meticulous methods before realising that his manager's dedication is what is required for success.

"Even after five years with Rafa, I still feel I want to please him, that I want to impress him in every game I play," Gerrard told the Daily Mail.

"The great managers are like that. There are a handful operating on a different level and I am lucky enough to play for two of them, Benitez and (England boss) Fabio Capello.

"It is when you see what they put in, some of the little things they spot, that you realise how hard they work. Rafa will make a point, and you'll be thinking, 'has this guy not got a life?' because it seems so minor, but it is what sets him apart.

"I can have a good game - tell you what, I'll be big-headed, say I've had a fantastic game - we've won 2-1 in the last minute and I've scored both.

"I come back into the dressing-room and I'm buzzing, bouncing off the walls, thinking, 'I feel good today', that is when Rafa comes up and starts talking about a throw-in when they changed the play and I pressed far too late. He'll say, 'if you want, we'll go out there and I'll show you'.

"Or you'll have a run of 10 games when you're in form and flying and he'll pop you a DVD of your recent play and it's broken up into sections good and bad. And you're thinking, 'hang on, bad? I didn't do anything wrong'. But you'll watch it and you're out of position in one match, or you pressed late or you let a man go at a set-piece. You wonder when the guy sleeps.

"At first when he did things like that, I'd be asking, 'has he not watched my last 150 games for Liverpool?' There is a danger that you think he has it in for you because he pulls you so much.

"When he arrived, he would keep saying to me, 'left foot, left foot' or I'd shoot and he would say, 'hit the target' and I'm thinking, 'look, mate, I'm trying to hit the target'.

"I would say to people, 'I'm 26 - if he doesn't think my left foot's working now, it's never going to work' but then a few weeks later I scored with my left and he came up with a little smile and said, 'lucky goal today, left foot and it hit the target' and then the penny dropped.

"Finally, I realised it was the way he helped push you on and as a player, you either recognised it or fought it and, with these guys, if you fight it there is only one winner."

Liverpool FC Defender Daniel Agger To Make Injury Comeback

Daniel Agger is set to make his comeback from injury next week.

The 24-year-old Liverpool defender has missed the start of the Premier League season after undergoing back surgery last month.

However, he has made good progress and is closing in on a return to action.

Saturday’s Premier League clash with Hull at Anfield will come too soon for the Dane but he could pull on a red shirt on Tuesday night – either in the Champions League clash away to Fiorentina or for the reserves at Manchester City.

Boss Rafa Benitez said: “Daniel is training really well and improving.

“He has a specific programme with weights to strengthen his back. He is doing well and progressing but the main thing for him now is match fitness.

“We have to be careful with him and we have been talking with the doctor and the fitness coach Paco (De Miguel).

“We are hoping he could be back playing next week. When and where we still have to decide but we have the match against Fiorentina and also the reserves game on the same night.

“It will be very positive to have Daniel back.”

Benitez has been handed another fitness boost with the news that Alberto Aquilani has stepped up his rehabilitation following an ankle injury.

The £20million signing has started running but the manager is refusing to put a date on a possible debut.

“There has been a massive improvement and we’re really pleased with him,” Benitez said.

“Clearly he is a player with quality we are desperate to see on the pitch but we won’t push him too much and we haven’t set a target.

“He has to go one step at a time and we will see how he progresses. We knew he had the problem when he signed – but we knew we were signing a player for five years, not five weeks.”

Pundits Will Be Sorry To Write Stalwart Jamie Carragher Off

Knee-jerk reactions are increasingly common in the modern game. It seems you are either a world beater or a no-hoper; the middle ground has never been smaller.

After the opening weekend defeat at Spurs, critics were queuing up to claim Liverpool would be consigned to a season of struggle without “lynchpin” Xabi Alonso.

Fast forward five weeks and on the back of five successive wins the Spaniard barely merits a passing mention.

Steven Gerrard has a rare off night against Aston Villa and inquests are held on the airwaves into why he’s “lost his way”.

One swing of his right boot at Bolton and those same pundits are lauding the skipper as the greatest midfielder on the planet.

Fernando Torres goes two games without scoring and is said to be fatigued and in need of a rest.

A devastating two-goal burst at West Ham and Rafa Benitez is asked if Torres is now favourite for the Golden Boot.

This week it was Jamie Carragher’s turn to be on the receiving end of some misguided flak from the “experts”.

The 31-year-old centre-back didn’t need to be told he wasn’t at his best against the Hammers.

He had an off day in the capital but the fact that he was once beaten for pace by 20-year-old Jamaican speed merchant Javon Hines was seized upon as somehow proof that Father Time is catching up with him.

Former Reds striker Stan Collymore, who retired at the age of 30 having never fulfilled his own potential, was one of the first to stick the boot in.

“As much as I respect Jamie Carragher and everything he’s done for Liverpool, I do think he’s starting to dip,” he said.

“It makes me wonder if Rafa Benitez shouldn’t take whatever transfer budget he will have in January and spend it all on a top quality centre-half.”

Former Manchester City goalkeeper John Burridge chipped in with: “I think Jamie Carragher is finished. His legs are gone and he’s going the way of Sami Hyypia. He is coming to the end of his career now.”

Of course being written off is nothing new for Carragher. He has seen the lot since he broke into the Liverpool side back in 1997.

There was the frustration of being played out of position by Gerard Houllier.

It took him the best part of five years to stop letters to the Echo saying Liverpool would never win major honours with players like him in the side.

Not only did he emphatically win over supporters but he established himself as the ultimate player of the people.

A home grown defensive rock who wears his heart on his sleeve and gives his all regardless of whether he’s up against Burnley or Barcelona.

A man brave and honest enough to front up when things go wrong, while happy to slip into the shadows and let others take the plaudits on nights of triumph.

The Kop love him because he’s one of them and he boasts a medal collection the likes of Collymore and Burridge can only dream of.

When things don’t go right he hurts. After his own goal in last year’s 2-2 home draw with Hull he couldn’t bring himself to attend the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards at the Echo Arena.

“I couldn’t get out of the house, couldn’t look at anyone,” he said.

But Carragher has no reason to beat himself up about Liverpool’s defensive problems so far this season. Nine goals conceded in six league games isn’t acceptable but then this is a new look back four.

Glen Johnson is still settling in following his summer move and his burning desire to attack can leave the Reds exposed. On the other flank Emiliano Insua has made great progress but is still a rookie with only 25 appearances under his belt.

Injury has meant that Carragher has already had three different centre-back partners in Martin Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Daniel Ayala.

Liverpool’s backline is a work in progress and to suggest Carragher is on borrowed time is ridiculous.

He will make his 586th appearance for the club against Hull on Saturday. He is currently ninth in the club’s all-time list and before the end of the season should overtake Alan Hansen (620) and Bruce Grobbelaar (628).

With Daniel Agger coming back to fitness, competition for places is about to hot up. A defensive partnership of Agger and Skrtel, who are both 24, may represent the future but it’s a long way off.

Carragher took up boxing this summer to ensure he was in peak physical condition for the start of the campaign and expect the gloves to come off in the coming weeks as he proves the critics wrong.

Arsenal To Meet Liverpool In League Cup Fourth Round

The draw for the fourth round of the League Cup has provided stiff opposition for Arsene Wenger's young guns, as Arsenal take on Liverpool at home.

Mark Hughes, aiming for a first tournament win with fiscal superpower Manchester City, has been offered, on paper, a relatively straightforward encounter with Scunthorpe United. Their local rivals Manchester United, meanwhile, travel to lower league Barnsley.

Other all Premier League ties include Bolton Wanderers' trip to Chelsea, Sunderland's hosting of Aston Villa, and Tottenham Hotspur's home tie with Everton; a side who harbour hopes of claiming the competition, as David Moyes indicated earlier in the week that the League Cup would be taken seriously.

Darren Ferguson could be hoping for a showdown with his father, Sir Alex, providing his Peterborough United outfit negotiate a path into the fifth round pot. Blackburn Rovers stand in their way.

Fixtures: to be completed on week commencing October 26

Arsenal - Liverpool

Barnsley - Manchester United

Blackburn Rovers - Peterborough United

Chelsea - Bolton Wanderers

Manchester City - Scunthorpe United

Portsmouth - Stoke City

Sunderland - Aston Villa

Tottenham Hotspur - Everton

Gerrard: Trial Made Me Better Man

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has revealed he is a changed man after his recent court case, which he found "frightening and intimidating".

The England midfielder found himself charged with affray following an altercation in a Southport bar after the Reds' 5-1 victory over Newcastle in December last year.

Gerrard, who insisted he was acting in self-defence during the incident, was found not guilty at Liverpool Crown Court and the judge told him he could walk away with his reputation intact.

But the events of that night and the following police investigation and court case have clearly left their mark on the talismanic midfielder.

"The trial changed me. I had to learn from it, learn from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What hour I am out, where I go out, I will be more careful in future," he told the Daily Mail.

"From now on, if we win 5-1, if I score two goals and we go top of the league, I won't try to enjoy it in a bar with my mates anymore. I'll go for a meal and be in my house by half past ten. We get paid very well and there have to be sacrifices.

"Throughout the trial I kept telling myself that whatever happened I would never be back in one of these rooms again. It was not a pleasant place to be, the whole experience was very frightening and intimidating.

"I have never been through anything like it. I kept thinking of my team-mates away in Thailand playing football, and me being so far from where I should be.

"You have to be able to let your hair down like anyone else but I have always tried to treat people as they treat me. I think I have had respect because I give respect back.

"There have been very few instances when I have had problems, but I will think about my spare time, even my holiday time, more carefully now. I reckon I have another six years as a professional footballer. It is not so long to make those choices."

Gerrard's burning ambition on the field remains to end Liverpool's 20-year wait for the league title, despite having enjoyed continental and domestic cup success.

And while the Anfield favourite has no intention to leave the only club he has ever played for, he accepts that if he did ever move on and taste Premier League glory elsewhere, it would not be as sweet.

He admitted: "If I never won the league title, there would be regrets and an empty space, I admit it.

"Yet even if Liverpool were no longer challenging I would still find it difficult to leave. I could win 90 per cent of my medals here and one league championship elsewhere and that last medal would not mean as much.

"I've been part of this club since I was eight. I remember my first final, the Worthington Cup against Birmingham City in Cardiff. Swarms of people around the coach, me looking out at their faces.

"It was at that moment I felt I was part of something more than a football team. I would have been one of them, but I was just better at kicking a ball. That could have been me standing on the street. I felt responsible. I still do."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Hull City

Three weeks into the season, some quarters of the press were on the verge of writing off Liverpool's title chances altogether. Losses to Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa had highlighted what many deemed to be glaring weaknesses in Rafael Benitez's squad, with Xabi Alonso's absence singled out as the key missing ingredient.

Now, with five consecutive victories under their belts in all competitions, the Reds have hushed a few of their more vocal critics. Tuesday's League Cup win over Leeds United may not have been pretty – and the 1-0 scoreline hardly encouraging, on face value – but it sends the Mersey men into the weekend as confident as ever in their ability to deal with less-fancied opponents.

Even more than the result at Elland Road, the 4-0 home wins over Stoke City and Burnley underline a marked change from the Liverpool of previous seasons. Whereas frustrating draws were once the order of the day when facing the underdogs, now the Anfield giants have become that most dangerous of prospects: the flat-track bully. It is in just such a mode that Manchester United have claimed the last three Premier League crowns.

Hull City were among those teams that troubled 'Pool on their own patch last term, only a classic Steven Gerrard rescue job denying the Tigers all three points. The newly promoted side were flying at that point, threatening to snag the most unlikely of European places; but it is under different circumstances that they return to Merseyside.

Phil Brown is well and truly under the pump following the 4-0 league Cup defeat to Everton in midweek, forcing club chairman Paul Duffen to come out and throw his support behind a manager whose charges have won just two league games since the turn of the year. While a result this weekend is a tall order, fans are sure to scrutinise the overall performance closely.

Hull currently sit second from bottom with four points from six games, while Liverpool are third, six points behind leaders Chelsea.



Sep 22: Leeds United 0-1 Liverpool
Sep 19: West Ham United 2-3 Liverpool
Sep 16: Liverpool 1-0 Debrecen
Sep 12: Liverpool 1-0 Burnley
Aug 29: Bolton Wanderers 2-3 Liverpool

Hull City

Sep 23: Hull City 0-4 Everton
Sep 19: Hull City 0-1 Birmingham City
Sep 12: Sunderland 4-1 Hull City
Aug 29: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-1 Hull City
Aug 22: Hull City 1-0 Bolton Wanderers



Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Martin Skrtel, Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun and Lucas Leiva are all expected to return to the first XI, having been rested for the Leeds clash.

Fit-again Fabio Aurelio could usurp Emiliano Insua at left-back, although the versatile Brazilian featured – and impressed – in midfield against the Whites on his first start of the season.

Daniel Agger (back) and Alberto Aquilani (ankle) remain sidelined.

Possible Starting XI: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Kuyt, Mascherano, Lucas, Benayoun, Gerrard, Torres.

Hull City

George Boateng only lasted 45 minutes on his return from injury in midweek, and it remains to be seen whether the Dutch veteran will be included on Saturday.

The inexperienced trio of Liam Cooper, Tom Cairney and Nick Featherstone will hope to get another chance to shine, while Craig Fagan could return after a spell on the pine.

Ian Ashbee and Anthony Gardner are out with knee injuries, alongside Jimmy Bullard, who is reportedly around four weeks away from a return. Steven Mouyokolo has a hamstring problem.

Possible Starting XI: Myhill, Dawson, Sonko, Zayatte, McShane, Kilbane, Hunt, Olofinjana, Geovanni, Vennegoor of Hesselink, Ghilas.


Liverpool - Yossi Benayoun

The little Israeli tore Hull to shreds when he visited the KC Stadium towards the end of last season. Presently in career-best form, the jinking genius will no doubt be looking forward to the prospect of bamboozling a defence still at odds after the departure of Michael Turner to Sunderland.

Hull City - Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink

As imposing as his name is bizarre, new boy Vennegoor of Hesselink brings with him an impressive CV that boasts of success with PSV Eindhoven, Celtic and the Dutch national team. The tall targetman could pose problems for a defence that looked less than cohesive at West Ham last week.

Rafa's Reds Hitting The Target

Rafa Benitez says his side are playing the same system as last season but are scoring more goals.

Liverpool have seen plenty of goals go in at either end of the field as they have racked up 15 Premier League goals and conceded nine in just six games.

Benitez's side have battled to two 3-2 away wins against Bolton and West Ham respectively, sparking criticism of their defensive abilities.

Despite the defensive mishaps, Liverpool look sharp at the other end but Benitez insists nothing has changed except their shooting accuracy.

Benitez said: "It is similar to last season - we are creating more or less the same situations but now we are scoring more goals because the accuracy is better," said Benitez.

"It is true we score a lot of goals. It's funny because people were talking before about us needing to score more goals because we were good in defence.

"Now they are saying we are scoring goals but conceding goals - so we can never win.

"Maybe it is because we are more offensive - but it is not because we are changing the system."

New full-back Glen Johnson has added extra threat to the Red's attack but question marks remain about his defensive qualities, but Benitez insists his side is generally attack-minded.

"Glen Johnson likes to go forward all the time," he said. "Alvaro Arbeloa defended a bit better so he had more balance," Benitez said.

"Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard are all going forward, maybe it is more than last year but they have confidence and are playing well.

"We have been trying to do the same things as last year - the difference is the players have more confidence going forward as we have more people comfortable with the ball.

"It is not because we are playing higher or changing the system."

Benitez also feels the players have grown in stature after running United close in the title race last season and will use the experience to spur them on to better feats.

"It was very important for us. We won a lot of games in a row at the end of the season because we had a lot of confidence and we wanted to be as close to them as possible," he explained.

"You can take it as a positive because we were so close.

"This season it has almost been a problem because from the first day people were expecting us to win and score five goals in every game.

"Now, despite not starting well, we are in a good position and everyone has more confidence to play better.

"We know the teams at the top of the table will not make too many mistakes so we have to keep winning games."

Emiliano Insua Is Eager To Keep Improving

It’s a sign of the progress Emiliano Insua has made that he was nowhere to be seen at Elland Road on Tuesday night.

Not long ago a Carling Cup tie represented the young defender’s best chance of a Liverpool first team appearance.

In fact when the Reds were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition at Tottenham last season Insua couldn’t even get in a largely second string starting line up.

With Fabio Aurelio then established as first choice, Rafa Benitez turned to Andrea Dossena and Insua spent much of the night kicking his heels on the bench.

However, times have changed dramatically for the 20-year-old Argentinean who has made the left-back slot his own so far this season.

Aurelio’s knee injury presented him with an opportunity and he has grabbed it with both hands.

Rock solid defensively and a threat going forward, he has consigned £7million Italian international Dossena to life among the substitutes.

Insua, along with Yossi Benayoun, Dirk Kuyt and Lucas Leiva, was told to put his feet up in midweek.

It shows how far he has come that he’s now being left out of certain games and saved for bigger occasions.

Insua is expected to return to the backline for tomorrow’s Premier League clash with Hull City at Anfield and he is desperate to maintain the high standards he has set this season.

“The chance to play regularly has been great for me,” he said.

“Fabio’s injury gave me an opportunity to play and I have done my best to make the most of it.

“There is a lot of competition for places here with Fabio coming back and Andrea as well.

“It is a big challenge for me and I am enjoying it. Every game I have to show the manager that I deserve to stay in the team.

“When there are players pushing for your place you have to play even better each time you are selected.

“The fact that Rafa has faith in me has given me a lot of confidence. Every day he is looking at my game and helping me develop.

“I have learned a lot from him but I know I still have a lot to prove.”

Insua was snapped up on an 18-month loan deal from Boca Juniors in January 2007.

His first team debut arrived against Portsmouth three months later and his switch to Merseyside was made permanent following Gabriel Paletta’s move in the opposite direction.

Insua spent most of the 2007/08 campaign helping the reserves win the league and was rewarded with a new three-year deal.

Last season he made his mark with 13 appearances. He broke into the first team just before Christmas but January’s Under-20 South American Championships in Venezuela meant he was missing for a month and he only got back in the side in the closing weeks of the campaign.

This time the 5ft 8ins full-back has been in from the start and believes he’s now better equipped to cope with the demands of the Premier League.

“The game is so much quicker here than in Argentina,” he said.

“It’s very different to what I had been used to and it took time for me to adjust.

“But I’ve got stronger in the past two years and I love the physical side of English football.”

In the modern game defending is only half a full-back’s job and Insua has shown an increasing talent for joining up with the Reds’ attacks.

It was his forward burst and pass which created the opening for Fernando Torres’ stunning strike at West Ham last Saturday.

“Of course the priority is to defend well but I know I also have to influence things in the attacking third too,” he said.

“As a full-back it’s your job to get forward and help provide width.

“Against West Ham I anticipated Fernando’s run and picked him out with the pass.

“The way he beat the defender was amazing and it was a special goal. Fernando proved what a very important player he is for us.

“Hopefully I can have a part to play in lots more goals like that.”

Tuesday’s Carling Cup victory at Leeds was the Reds’ fifth successive triumph in all competitions.

Spirits are high but Insua insists there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Torres’ heroics helped secure the 3-2 win at Upton Park but defensive errors meant the Reds were twice pegged back after taking the lead.

Insua is hoping to ensure Hull aren’t handed the same kind of gifts.

Last season Phil Brown’s side raced into a 2-0 lead at Anfield before the Reds rallied to claim a share of the spoils.

“It was a difficult game for us at West Ham,” Insua added.

“We started well and passed the ball with a good tempo in the first half.

“But we made some mistakes at the back which meant rather than going into the break in front it was 2-2.

“The manager told us to forget about the mistakes and start again at the start of the second half.

“He asked us to keep the ball a bit better and try to play a bit higher. We kept pushing and in the end we were thankful to get the third goal.

“To get a run of wins is good for our confidence but we know we can play better.

“We are still in the first two months of the season and we have got a long way to go.”

Liverpool Can Beat Anyone At Anfield, Says Dirk Kuyt

Liverpool FC striker Dirk Kuyt says the Reds can make Anfield a more profitable venue in terms of Premier League points having struggled to break down teams at home last season.

Seven draws against the likes of Stoke, Fulham, West Ham and Hull ultimately cost Rafa Benitez’s side what would have been a first title in 20 years as they finished second, four points behind Manchester United.

Although Liverpool FC have already lost to Aston Villa at Anfield this campaign - their first home league defeat since December 2007 - they also swept aside both Stoke and Burnley 4-0.

And Kuyt feels that shows they have learned important lessons about playing against sides who arrive on Merseyside looking to frustrate.

"Apart from the Villa match, I think we have shown that we can beat any side at Anfield this season," said the Holland international.

"We had difficulties last season with all the draws but now we are able to score goals in the first half.

"It’s really important to score as early as possible because then it will be more difficult for them and easier for us.

"We know the Barclays Premier League is one of the hardest leagues in the world and every team is good with some fine players."

Hull return to Anfield on Saturday nine months after they shocked their hosts in taking a 2-0 lead inside 22 minutes before they were pegged back by two goals from Liverpool FC captain Steven Gerrard.

At the time the Tigers were enjoying a dream start to their maiden Premier League season but this time around their fortunes have changed dramatically, taking just four points from six matches.

Liverpool FC, by contrast have won three successive league matches and are on a five-game winning streak.

"I believe Hull are a good team as well but we have to look at our own strengths and we must believe we can beat them," added Kuyt.

"We must focus on ourselves and respect the opponent.

"We didn’t start that well and have already lost twice. But we have now started to win a couple of games in a row and we want to keep that going, beginning with Hull."