Monday, November 30, 2009

Match Report: Everton 0 - 2 LiverpooL

Liverpool claimed a smash and grab Merseyside derby victory to claim fifth place in the Premier League on a day of raw tension at Goodison Park.

But they will have sighed with relief after being pounded for almost all of this very local showdown, but somehow emerged with the points.

An own goal from Joseph Yobo, deflecting a Javier Mascherano effort past Tim Howard saw Liverpool ahead at the break despite being almost permanently on the back foot as Everton poured forward.

But their eighth win in their last 10 visits to Goodison Park was secured with 10 minutes to go when Dirk Kuyt scored from close range after another Yobo error.

Everton were the dominant force, but could not turn their pressure into goals, with Liverpool now having lost just two of their last 20 league games against the old enemy.

Rarely can a Merseyside derby have been played out with both rival managers - David Moyes and Rafael Benitez - having had to handle questions over their longevity in their jobs.

The 212th clash between these bitterest of rivals certainly held the immediate futures of both seriously under-achieving clubs. Everton, fighting to get away from the relegation zone and Liverpool desperate to put their distressing season back on track.

Everton made four changes from the side that lost so poorly at Hull in midweek, Tony Hibbert, Jo, Marouane Fellaini and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov all returning with youngster Jack Rodwell the most notable omission with a groin injury.

Liverpool fielded the side that had won in Hungary against Debrecen, but could not save the Reds' Champions League lives.

And again there was no Fernando Torres in the squad, leaving young striker David Ngog to continue his Premier League education in the unforgiving glare of a derby battlefield.

With so much at stake, the opening exchanges were even more ferocious than usual. Mascherano and Tim Cahill traded kicks and warnings from referee Alan Wiley, with Cahill finding himself dumped on the track by the Argentina captain.

But it was Mascherano who was soon celebrating, having had a major part in Liverpool's 12th-minute lead.

Everton criminally allowed the midfielder to advance towards their box, where he lashed in a 20 yarder that deflected off Yobo and into the opposite corner than had been intended with Howard hopelessly wrongfooted.

It was the lead Liverpool had craved, but one that ignited a fierce and sustained response from Everton.

Twice they had the ball in the net before the break, but two efforts by Jo were ruled out for offside, the second when Fellaini blocked Jose Reina right on the line.

But there were other chances for Everton, with Bilyaletdinov managing to shoot wide from six yards when it would have been easier to score.

Reina saved from Russian winger, while the excellent Steven Pienaar was twice close as Everton surged forward in search of an equaliser they fully deserved.

Liverpool were barely noticeable up front, although Kuyt fired over and Howard made a fine save from Emiliano Insua's close-range header.

But they were rare excursions into enemy territory for Liverpool in a one-sided first-half.

Everton came out after the break intent on more of the same. They hurled themselves at Liverpool's creaking defence in which Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger were working overtime to keep the blue waves at bay.

Liverpool were hanging on under the most searching of examinations. Saha replaced Jo after 66 minutes, still Everton rolling relentlessly forward.

Yobo managed to deflect an Ngog effort wide, but that was a rare venture out by Liverpool.

Reina produced a stunning double-save from Cahill and then Fellaini, Liverpool penned back and defending with increasing desperation.

In all of this, Steven Gerrard was a peripheral figure. Clearly short of pace and movement he was unable to influence what was going on all around him, until taking a hand in the critical second goal.

Ngog was finally withdrawn with 15 minutes to go, Yossi Benayoun arriving to play on the right with Kuyt taking the central attacking role. Albert Riera was next into the fray, in place of Fabio Aurelio, somehow Liverpool still ahead.

But with 10 minutes left, all Everton's brave efforts came to nothing as Liverpool dealt them a sickening blow.

Reina's long clearance was headed down by Kuyt with Yobo slashing wildly at the ball. It fell to Gerrard who set up Riera for a shot that Howard pushed into the path of Kuyt, who stabbed home the second.

Ayegbeni Yakubu came off for Cahill, and Lucas Neill for a crestfallen Yobo. But it was all over for Everton, who will never know how they lost this one.

Javier Mascherano: Liverpool Would Be Crazy To Get Rid Of Rafa Benitez

Javier Mascherano has claimed it would be madness for Liverpool to part company with Rafa Benitez.

Mascherano has been linked to a New Year move to long-time admirers Barcelona – but he insists the players and fans are right behind Benitez in his hour of need.

Mascherano said: “You can’t talk about changing the manager, that would be crazy. The fans are right behind Rafa Benitez – and I know the players definitely are.

“We know you can’t just take recent results into account. Liverpool have improved a lot over the last five years – and that is all down to Rafa. Remember, the club didn’t qualify for the Champions League every year before he came to the club.

“The fact that people think it is normal for us to be in the Champions League and challenging for trophies is down to one man – the manager.

“There is a big disappointment that we suffered in Europe, but now we must start winning games in the league.

“Rafa signed a new contract only a few months ago. I think the players, the fans, the owners all believe in him.”

Mascherano says it is crucial that Liverpool produce the form that will enable them to claim a place in the top four once again. The Argentina captain insists he still hasn’t given up on the title – but knows that a victory at Goodison is vital.

Mascherano said: “It is still not impossible to win the league, but our first job is to get back into the top four and qualify for the Champions League. When you see Chelsea winning all the time you have to accept that getting to the top will be very difficult for us, but our first job is to start winning games regularly and see what the future brings.

“It sounds stupid to talk about winning the League, but if Chelsea start to lose some games then maybe we will be given a chance to get back into it. At the moment, though, the aim must be the top four and it is down to the players to show we are the right players for Liverpool.”

He added: “Liverpool expect to win every game because we are a top club. We cannot think of going to Everton to just draw. That would not be a good result for us in our position.

“We have to go there and win. We can’t think about injuries or off-the-field distractions.

“We want to win for the fans and for Rafa Benitez. We know how special it is to beat Everton.”

Jurgen Klinsmann's After Kop Offer No.2

Jurgen Klinsmann will tell Liverpool's American co-owners: I wouldn't turn you down again.

The ex-Germany striker rejected the chance to replace Rafa Benitez at Anfield two years ago after holding secret talks with Tom Hicks and George Gillett, preferring instead to take over at Bayern Munich.

But he is back in the job market after being sacked in the summer and desperately wants to take over on Merseyside when Benitez's reign ends.

Klinsmann, 44, is no longer the first choice of Hicks and Gillett as the Spaniard's replacement.

That man is Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill, as People Sport revealed last month.

But the former Tottenham star would jump at the chance to take over if O'Neill rejected any approach from the Americans.

With Benitez's future on a knife-edge, that opportunity could come sooner rather than later.

The pressure is mounting on Benitez, whose side are out of the Champions League and whose hopes of winning the Premier League are effectively over.

The cost of sacking Benitez and his backroom staff - around £15million - is one obstacle for the cash-strapped owners.

But plans are afoot for a financial injection in January.

One option available is a shares-selling exercise which could release around £100million.

Liverpool Will Never Agree To Everton Ground-share Proposal

Liverpool have rejected the chance to share a super-stadium with Everton.

Sunday Mirror Sport can reveal that Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett will not accept a proposal from Blues chief executive Robert Elstone that the Merseyside rivals should ground share.

A senior Anfield source said: “There is absolutely no chance that Liverpool will be sharing a stadium with Everton. It will never happen.”

Elstone called on Liverpool to go to the negotiating table after the government refused to grant permission for Everton to build a £400million new stadium and retail park in Kirkby.

Liverpool have had plans rubber-stamped for a 60,000-capacity stadium at Stanley Park.

But the project had to be shelved when the economic downturn made it impossible for them to finance the development.

However, the club’s American owners are confident that they will secure the £350m they need for the stadium once the pressure on the financial markets has eased.

And they expect to raise about £150m of the cash through stadium naming rights.

The gap in capacity between the Mersey giants and the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal has led to a gulf in revenue that shows no sign of changing.

And stadium ownership is one of the main assets football clubs can use on their balance sheet.

Rafa Benitez Ready To Bring Diego Forlan Back To Premier League

Rafa Benitez wants to bring Diego Forlan back to the Premier League - but must sell before he can buy the former Manchester United hitman.

Liverpool boss Benitez has also asked about another ex-United striker, Ruud van Nistelrooy.

But Atletico Madrid raider Forlan, 30, is his first choice for a January swoop, although Benitez would have to stump up around £15million.

Forlan is desperate to leave his club, who are struggling near the foot of La Liga and also out of the Champions League.

The Uruguay international was not a resounding success during two years at Old Trafford but since going to Spain has been prolific for Villarreal and Atletico, shooting both clubs into the Champions League.

Forlan joined Atletico when Fernando Torres left them for Liverpool in 2007, but he could end up partnering the Spain international at Anfield. Benitez has also shown interest in Van Nistelrooy. But he will only want the Dutchman on a free if he fails to snap up Forlan.

Babel Heads For Exit To Bayern

Liverpool are ready to offload motormouth Ryan Babel to Bayern Munich.

Boss Rafa Benitez lost patience after the Holland star complained about his lack of starts for the club in midweek.

He will be loaned to Louis van Gaal's side with a view to a £9million move in the summer.

A source said: "Rafa has totally blanked Babel since his outburst. He understands some of his concerns but has made it clear to the player more than once he will only play who he believes to be his strongest XI and won't budge.

"Rafa cannot give Babel the assurances he needs with the World Cup coming up so he will let him go if he's not happy.

"The manager's only concern with this is that he won't be getting any money to improve the squad from the move."

Former Ajax star Babel has only made 24 Premier League starts since arriving at Anfield for £11.5m in the summer of 2007.

Holland boss Bert van Marwijk has told Babel he will only go to the World Cup if he plays regularly.

But Babel's representatives are already working to secure a perfect escape route.

Van Gaal has known Babel since he was a child and is confident the 22-year-old can make his mark at Bayern and the club have no problem taking on his £40,000-per-week wages.

The Dutch coach's ongoing feud with Italian striker Luca Toni is also likely to give Babel an opportunity to play up front with either Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose.

Benitez Wants Aurelio To Be Realistic

Brazilian Fabio Aurelio, 30, has been offered an appearance-related deal to seal his Liverpool future after this season.

Boss Rafa Benitez wants a 'realistic' agreement because of the full-back's injury record.

Aurelio, who was in the most recent Brazil squad for the friendly against England, is available on a Bosman next summer.

Benitez said: "Fabio has been really unlucky. When we spoke to him about an extension he had an injury and he has had a lot of injuries in the past.

"We made him an offer and the agent said not at the moment.

"We will talk to him again in the future because he is a good person and great professional.

"Maybe the situation needs to be looked at in a different way. He has to be realistic. I know he's pleased here and the important thing is I have a good relationship with him."

Benitez Lost Young Stars

Rafa Bennitez is on a mission to plug the Anfield fame drain which has seen stars like Jack Rodwell, Aaron Ramsey and Darren Fletcher slip through the net.

Rodwell played against Liverpool on Sunday in the Merseyside derby – a constant, painful reminder to Kop boss Benitez of the calibre of teenage starlets he has been denied – with Merseyside neighbours Everton beating them to his signature.

It’s understood Ramsey was also close to becoming a Liverpool player before they lost out to Arsenal because of behind-the-scenes dithering.

Fletcher escaped the Anfield clutches, too, and ended up in the grateful arms of bitter rivals Manchester United.

But Benitez is now hell-bent on securing such obvious talent in the future and has definitely adopted a more hands-on approach to the club’s academy since the departure of old Kop idol Steve Heighway.

The arrival of Kenny Dalglish has taken the academy to another level in terms of status and Benitez believes that promising kids will be attracted by such a famous figurehead.

It’s Benitez’s new ‘baby’ which he hopes will produce stars of the future over the next fi ve years of his contract, when his Liverpool dynasty will be a giant step closer to completion.

Benitez knows he can’t compete cash-wise with the likes of United and Chelsea, so discovering a golden nugget or two is the way ahead for him and Liverpool.

He said: “When I was discussing my new contract, people were saying it was about money. It wasn’t. I had better offers in terms of money.

“It wasn’t power either. I didn’t need more power. Before Rick Parry left I could do more or less what I wanted, although I couldn’t sign more players because sometimes it was the lack of money or we were too slow.

“I have the same control as I had before. But the difference now is the academy. I have an influence and people in the academy I can trust. The philosophy of the club is now the same. We are working together.

“I’m not stupid. If we have more Jamie Carraghers, more Steven Gerrards, it will be better and easier because the motivation and the commitment will be there.

“The message now is that we have Kenny Dalglish and his team and we are trying to do something which makes sense. It’s common sense. We couldn’t change things for five years and now we can.”

It’s the arrival of Dalglish which has certainly put a spring in Benitez’s step and given him more hope than ever before that his squad will be strengthened from within without gambling on foreign imports.

Benitez added: “This is the beginning for me. We are thinking about Kenny Dalglish as someone who can bring a lot of people into the club.

“They will think that if Kenny’s there – and he’s a legend – then something is right. We brought him in because with his experience he can certainly help.

“He has been with us around Europe and we have had a lot of conversations. He has had some contact, some meetings with people and young players who want to come. To see Kenny there is amazing.

“But afterwards we have to give them something more and we are doing that. We have improved the equipment and the coaching 100 per cent. And we are now at the beginning of something which can be really good for the team.

“If we can produce three, four, five players from our system that means a massive difference in terms of money.

“When you commit to your club for five years and you know you don’t have the same money available as some of the top sides in England, you know if you are to compete you have to produce local players.

“It’s something very simple to say but it’s not very easy to do. These players don’t grow on trees but I’m clear that we will be even better in the future.”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Match Preview: Everton vs. LiverpooL

Everton will be aiming to make amends for Wednesday’s horror-show at Hull City when they play host to an equally out-of-sorts Liverpool in the latest edition of the Merseyside derby this weekend.

The Toffees came out on the wrong end of a five-goal thriller at the KC Stadium, where they allowed their relegation-threatened hosts to go three goals clear within the first half-hour before fighting back in the second period to make it 3-2.

That result, hot on the heels of last Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Manchester United, leaves David Moyes’ men languishing in the bottom half of the table. But while news of their faltering relocation plans has taken the focus off Everton's on-field form, their struggling arch-rivals have had nowhere to hide.

The Reds’ stuttering campaign took a turn for the worse on Tuesday despite their win at Debrecen, as Fiorentina’s victory over Olympique Lyonnais saw the Anfield giants bundled out of the Champions League in the group phase.

It is the first time in Rafael Benitez’s reign that Liverpool have failed to reach the last 16 on Europe’s elite stage. They will now have to settle for a run in the Europa League, where they may find themselves from the off next term if their domestic form doesn’t pick up soon.

Last weekend’s draw with Manchester City made it three Premier League games on the bounce without a win, leaving them seventh in the standings – some 13 points behind leaders Chelsea, and five behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

And yet, from all outward appearances, morale remains high at Melwood, and Sunday’s short trip to Goodison Park provides an ideal opportunity to jump straight back on the horse – or at least get a foot in the stirrups.



Nov 25 Hull City 3-2 Everton
Nov 21 Manchester United 3-0 Everton
Nov 8 West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool
Nov 5 Everton 0-2 Benfica (Europa League)
Oct 31 Everton 1-1 Aston Villa


Nov 24 Debrecen 0-1 Liverpool (Champions League)
Nov 21 Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City
Nov 9 Liverpool 2-2 Birmingham City
Nov 4 Olympique Lyonnais 1-1 Liverpool (Champions League)
Oct 31 Fulham 3-1 Liverpool



The home side will be boosted by the return of both Marouane Fellaini and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov from suspension – a big relief for the manager, given how many of his stars currently reside in the treatment room.

Leon Osman, Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta all remain sidelined, as do Phil Jagielka and the forward duo of Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan.

Young gun Jack Rodwell is the latest concern, after the England Under-21 star hobbled off in the second half against Hull.

Last starting XI (vs. Hull City): Howard, Neill, Yobo, Distin, Baines, Cahill, Rodwell, Heitinga, Pienaar, Saha, Yakubu.


Star striker Fernando Torres missed the midweek trip to Hungary and faces a race against time to get up to speed by Sunday, meaning the ever-improving David Ngog remains on standby.

Yossi Benayoun may be available to start as he nears full fitness after a hamstring problem, while Albert Riera is still out of action.

Alberto Aquilani has an outside chance of making his first Premier League start, but boss Benitez’s cautious handling of the Italian thus far suggests that another cameo from the bench is the best that can be hoped for.

Last starting XI (vs. Debrecen): Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Insua, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard, Aurelio, Ngog.


Everton – Louis Saha

The Frenchman has put his fitness problems behind him and is reminding everyone why Manchester United spent nearly £13 million on him back in 2004. A tally of eight goals in 12 outings puts the 31-year-old among the Premier League’s form forwards, and he would surely love to knock in another against an old enemy.

Liverpool – Steven Gerrard

It is in games like these that the Kop look to their ‘Captain Fantastic’ to shine. The lifelong Red has yet to recapture his usual verve since returning from injury, but what better time to step up than now?

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Taking Extra Caution With Alberto Aquilani

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is waiting patiently for the right moment until he gives summer signing Alberto Aquilani his full debut in Liverpool colours.

"The player is fit," declared Benitez to the Liverpool Daily Post.

"He is training. Match fitness is something you can improve by playing games, so why have I not been playing him? Because the games are so close that if you put a player on the pitch who is not physically ready [then] maybe he cannot settle down in time.

Benitez has limited Aquilani's contributions, even from the bench given the nature of Liverpool's recent encounters whereby the team has rarely enjoyed a comfortable winning margin.

"If it is 1-0 like it was the other day and they are attacking a bit more and you changed Lucas, Gerrard or Mascherano to play him, maybe you are making a mistake because you will lose the control.

"If we were winning 3-0 in the first half of every game he would be playing because it would be easier for him to settle down.

The ever-defiant Benitez maintains he would still sign the Italian even if he knew the player would take three months to fully recover from injury.

He added: "I’d still have signed him if I’d known that. We were bringing in a player with quality for five years. If he had been fully fit maybe he could have cost £25-30m.

Aquilani is available for selection for this week's Merseyside derby, but the Spanish tactician is insistent on wrapping his player in cotton wool; he isn't keen on the fragile Italian taking part in the tenacious Everton-Liverpool encounter just yet.

He continued: "The derby game is a physical one and everyone knows that when you are not fully fit they can be difficult to manage so you have to think about what’s best for the player and the best for the team.

"I was talking with Alberto and he understands. He is clever and he knows that he hasn’t played for months so he has to be ready and fully fit if he is to be able to play at the level that he can play in England. He knows that it is a matter of time."

Given Aquilani's rather slow start to life at Anfield, Rafa still feels the need to remind Kopites of his summer acquisition's qualities, and that he is the perfect player to fill Xabi Alonso's boots.

"He has quality, he is very clever, his touch is very good, he has mobility, he is dynamic and the final pass is very good," he said.

"We were looking for someone with these qualities.

He concluded: "He is a different kind of player to the ones that we have now because he can pass and move, pass and move, support and he can give the final pass."

Rafa Benitez: I'll Finish The Job At Liverpool FC

Rafa Benitez has come out fighting ahead of tomorrow’s Merseyside derby as he vowed to stay at Liverpool FC and help prove their doubters wrong.

And the Spaniard remains “100% convinced” the Anfield outfit will finish in the top four and regain their place among Europe’s elite.

Benitez made the impassioned speech ahead of the 212th Merseyside derby at Everton with Liverpool still coming to terms with their Champions League exit in midweek.

It increased the pressure on the beleaguered Anfield manager, with his team already out of the Carling Cup and a lowly seventh in the Premier League table, a massive 13 points behind leaders Chelsea.

With Steven Gerrard calling for unity, both Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina have since publicly backed their manager.

And Benitez has underlined his determination to continue in the role by revealing he turned down significant offers from other clubs – clearly intimating one was Real Madrid – before signing a five-year deal at Anfield earlier this year.

“When I decided to stay here, I knew that we could be facing a difficult season,” he said. “I was aware that a lot of things could happen and the competition stronger. But I decided to stay because I wanted to.

“When Real Madrid played Liverpool in the 1981 European Cup Final, I was a Real Madrid player, a fan. I decided to stay here after years of receiving offers, listening to big clubs, top sides, offering me more money, and I decided to stay here because I want the best for this club.

“I signed a five-year contract because of my commitment to the fans and the club, the staff and the players. I will keep working hard and I will keep winning games for this club and hopefully in five years’ time we can be talking about an extension to my contract.

“I understand the fans. I understand if some of them are disappointed because we want to win. I had massive offers from different clubs, but I decided to stay. I will fight and I will try to do my best every single game.

“When I signed my new contract I had offers from other clubs for more money, and a lot more money to spend in the transfer market. But I decided to stay because I felt we had a very good team. We will prove this during the rest of the season.”

Fernando Torres will have a fitness test today on his groin problem, with only Ryan Babel (ankle) definitely ruled out tomorrow.

And as the injury list starts to finally clear, Benitez believes his team can kick-start their campaign with a third successive league victory at Everton.

“We will win two or three games in a row and everything will be different,” said the Spaniard. “And I am 100% convinced that we will finish in the top four.

“We have plenty of room for improvement. Why? Because we are not playing with Gerrard, Torres, (Albert) Riera or Yossi (Benayoun).”

Peter Beardsley Knows Value Of Merseyside Derby Victory Having Played For Liverpool And Everton

Peter Beardsley is a rarity in Merseyside derby history.

As one of just two players alongside David Johnson to score the winner for Liverpool and Everton against the other, he is also one of a very select few still to be held in high esteem by both sets of fans.

If Beardsley was to be presented on the pitch at half-time on Sunday he would probably get a warm reception from all four corners of Goodison Park.

“I’m not sure about that,” he says. “I appreciate the thought but it would more likely be a minute’s silence!”

His four years with Liverpool compared to just two at Everton means he will be leaning toward a Red victory tomorrow.

“Simply because I won trophies with Liverpool,” he explains.

“But that’s not to take anything from Everton. Howard Kendall was one of the best managers I ever worked with.

“Although by the time I arrived Everton weren’t the team that they’d been under Howard in the mid-80s, he and Colin Harvey were absolutely sensational. Their knowledge of the game was second to none. When I left Liverpool people said it would be all downhill but Everton proved otherwise. The club and the fans were absolutely top class with me.”

They say form goes out the window in the derby. Fans of both a Red and Blue persuasion will be hoping that’s the case on Sunday.

Liverpool’s record of two wins from 11 games is marginally better than Everton’s one win in 10, while both teams have accrued just five league points each from the last possible 18.

Beardsley agrees there is more than just local bragging rights at stake this weekend.

“Both teams have struggled to find any form or consistency this season, but I still believe there are a good few teams that would swap places with Everton in the table right now.

“They’ve become much stronger under David Moyes.

“I also fully expect Liverpool to be in the top four come the end of the season. Alberto Aquilani is a top player. He showed flashes of what he is capable of in the Carling Cup against Arsenal. Once he’s match fit I think he will make a difference.

“Then there’s Fernando Torres. He can win games on his own and could be key to Liverpool’s chances on Sunday if he’s available.”

Injuries have been a major factor for both clubs this season.

While Rafael Benitez will hand a late fitness test to Torres ahead of the short trip to Goodison, Moyes has greater concerns.

Steven Pienaar returned for the 3-2 defeat at Hull in midweek but the Blues are still without key men Mikel Arteta, Phil Neville and Phil Jagielka, plus Louis Saha and Jack Rodwell could also be the subject of late fitness tests.

“It’s been a massive problem for both manager’s this season,” says Beardsley.

“When you lose players like that, or in Liverpool’s case Gerrard and Torres, you’re not going to be the same team.

“If Manchester United were to suddenly lose Wayne Rooney I doubt very much if they’d be the same side.

“A win for either will provide great confidence moving forward. Everton have lost too many games of late whereas Liverpool seem to take one step forward and two steps back. They appear to have broken the hoodoo of struggling against the smaller clubs though. Even the games they’ve lost have come against some good sides.

“They both need a win though and there is no better game than a derby to do that.”

With a Premier League record of 17 red cards in this fixture, the Merseyside derby is littered with villains.

It often throws up heroes too, a feeling Beardsley has experienced on both sides of Stanley Park.

“I managed to score the winner for both Liverpool and then later Everton at Goodison,” recalls Beardsley, who figured in 14 derbies for Liverpool, facing Everton more times for the Reds than any other club. “When I scored against Liverpool in a 2-1 win there (in 1992) it was at the same end where I’d got past Martin Keown to score two for Liverpool in a 3-2 win a few years earlier. It’s a great feeling to score in a derby. Looking back it’s those moments in your career that are so special.”

Javier Mascherano Is Desperate To Beat The Blues At Goodison

It’s often been said that the fizz and fervour of the Merseyside derby has been diluted in recent years due to the influx of so many foreign players.

The suggestion is that because they were brought up in places where the first question visitors get asked is not ‘are you Red or Blue?’ they will never fully appreciate what it means to win or lose one of these local squabbles.

Put that theory to Javier Mascherano, though, and it’s clear to see from the way he bristles that the opposite is true; he may be from Argentina but his desire for Liverpool to beat Everton tomorrow is as strong as those Reds who will congregate in the Bullens Road.

Smarting after an inglorious exit from the Champions League on Tuesday, Mascherano and his colleagues are in need of a boost, having lurched from one low to another during a ruinous autumn.

So what better way to beat the blues is there than beating the Blues?

“This is the perfect game for us to try and catch a bit more confidence,” said Liverpool’s midfield tiger, a player destined to thrive in the hurly-burly of contest.

“We know how important it is for us in terms of our position in the league and for our supporters.”

David Moyes and his players may revel in their role as the neighbours from hell, and they will be just as determined to put their own recent misery behind them with a repeat of the display that enabled them to knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup in February.

Mascherano, however, does not expect that game, which was settled by a solitary Dan Gosling goal in extra time, to have any bearing on the outcome of the latest instalment of a fixture that neither side can afford to lose.

He might have cut a dejected figure the last time he slipped out the Goodison Park exit door, but Mascherano has no intention of being on the receiving end of a similar scoreline this weekend.

Aware that Liverpool cannot afford to squander many more points if they are to keep tabs on the sides who are jostling for a Champions League spot, Mascherano – whose form has been outstanding in the last month – is ready to carry the fight to Everton.

Three points, of course, are only on offer to the winners, but the suspicion remains that whichever side is victorious will get the kind of boost money cannot buy, while the vanquished will be subjected to intense scrutiny. Given they have had every move dissected during a run of two wins in 11 games, Mascherano is tired of having to bat off questions about the state of Liverpool’s health and is determined to get people talking about Rafa Benitez’s men for the right reasons.

“If we could go to Goodison and win, it would give everyone such a massive lift,” said Mascherano.

“It’s so disappointing to have gone out of the Champions League, but there is still a lot to play for.

“We have the FA Cup, and we want to try and win the Europa League.

“We want to make sure we get back into the Champions League again, too.

“The last time we went to Goodison, was very disappointing, one of our worst games of last season. But this is a completely different story. We are absolutely desperate to win for our supporters.

“We only have to remember what we did to Everton when we played them in the league (and Fernando Torres scored twice).

“The FA Cup defeat is just a statistic now, it will have no bearing. We know how special it would be to win at Goodison Park.

“We all want that feeling again. We need to win to get three points and get back towards the top of the table again, where we expect to be.

“We know we haven’t played well so far. This is one of the most special games you can be involved in as a Liverpool player.

“Games against Everton and Manchester United are the ones you want to win most for the fans, you only have to see the way they celebrate. And we have to play with same passion and intensity.

“If we can play like we did against Manchester United, with the same control and same determination, I think it will be a very good afternoon for the supporters. We will be doing everything we can to win for them.”

There have been occasions in the past – notably at Old Trafford in March 2008 – when Mascherano’s emotions have got the better of him such has been his determination to impress, and Benitez has made a point of telling his squad to keep cool.

Bone-shuddering tackles are inevitable in the same way the opening pass of play is likely to resemble a pinball board, but Benitez is hoping a serene, composed approach – if that is possible – will enable his players and supporters to enjoy a “sunny Monday”.

“These games are similar every year,” the manager pointed out. “A lot of passion in the stands and also on the pitch. You have to play a physical game and you have to play well. It will be a high tempo with direct play and you will need to win second balls.

“Hopefully it’ll be good for the fans, especially our fans.

“It’s an important game for everyone in the city but, at the end of the day, it’s three points in a crucial time for everyone. We need this passion but we also need to do the right things.”

Lucas Faces Up To Detractors

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva believes he will never win over all of his detractors as he prepares himself for another daunting challenge in the 212th Merseyside derby.

Last season the Brazilian was sent off at Everton in an FA Cup replay defeat, a run of three league and cup games in 17 days between the two clubs in which Liverpool failed to achieve a victory.

It was not the best of times for the 22-year-old as he suffered abuse and criticism from all quarters.

But manager Rafael Benitez has stood by him, and in a season that has seen Liverpool lurch from one crisis to another, Lucas has established himself in the side and started to win grudging praise from his critics.

Lucas says: "I am trying to improve all the time and I am feeling good on the pitch. I have improved a lot since last season and hopefully I will keep going.

"But things might always be more difficult for me at Liverpool, to be honest, but I am trying to prove I can do well for myself and my team-mates. The real supporters of Liverpool know this and support me a lot."

Lucas has been linked with a possible move away from Anfield in the next transfer window, but Benitez has constantly praised the youngster's attitude and effort and intends to persevere with a player who is expected to be in Brazil's squad for the summer World Cup finals in South Africa.

That is a measure of his improvement, and the player adds: "When I came to Liverpool I came with a challenge of winning titles and making history for the club. Hopefully I can still do that.

"I am playing almost every game now. I have a good link with Javier Mascherano. I understand the way he plays and he helps me a lot. I think it's good for the team that we can keep the balance."

Liverpool find themselves facing their local rivals after plunging out of the Champions League despite the scrappy 1-0 group E victory in Hungary against Debrecen.

That leaves Lucas and co facing life - with Everton - in the Europa League.

He went on: "We have to move on. We did not do enough to get to the next stage of the Champions League, and so now we have to concentrate on the Europa League and getting into a better position domestically. "We will try to win the Europa League because it is still an important competition. Some good teams play in it but we will be trying to get a title for ourselves."

But first Liverpool need to re-assert themselves in the Premier League as the pressure to oust them from the big four grows.

Benitez said: "We know that three points is crucial for everyone considering the position both clubs find themselves in.

"I will try to send the players out with the right message, to be calm, to do our jobs properly and not to be overcome just by passion, we have to do the right things regardless of the opponents.

"But this derby will not be any more aggressive than before, it does not matter where the two teams are or what their form is, the derby is always played the same way.

"It is good for the city. Everyone has to defend and support their own team, but afterwards we all have great respect for our rivals.

"The game has more passion and more emotion than others in the Premier League. But that never changes."

He added: "But it is not just about winning the derby, our players want to prove they are good enough. To prove we can be in the top four.

"We have to start winning, then we will see a massive difference. Being in the top four is the main objective now.

"It will be high tempo, more physical with a lot of direct play. We know this and hopefully it will be good for the fans to experience, especially our fans."

Benitez Empathises With Res Fans

Rafael Benitez insists he understands the distress of Liverpool's fans at the club's current plight, while re-affirming his commitment to the club.

The Anfield manager faces a Merseyside derby at Everton on Sunday with the club's Champions League campaign over and their place in the Premier League top four under threat.

Benitez may have Fernando Torres fit for the Goodison Park showdown, with his top scorer facing a fitness test after training on Saturday.

With or without the £20million striker, Benitez knows Liverpool must change their fortunes quickly with Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City threatening their place in the top four.

He said: "You cannot be a fan and be happy when your team is not winning. There are reasons why, but I will not be making any excuses, we will improve.

"Everyone at this club is disappointed we are not winning. The only way to change things is to work hard.

"I had some contact with the (American) owners last week, and they were reassuring. This week we have not needed to speak, only that Christian Purslow (managing director) supportive and we speak every day."

And Benitez has made it clear he has no intention of leaving, despite big offers.

The Spaniard: "This situation for me is not new. After winning the league in Spain, then the UEFA Cup and then here winning the Champions League and the FA Cup, it meant I have had a lot of offers.

"Last season the offer was for massive money, but I signed for Liverpool and I have not had any regrets.

"I had given my word to the staff and the players. I love this city and I love the club and the fans.

"When I signed my new contract I had offers from other clubs for more money and a lot more money to spend in the transfer market. But I decided to stay because I felt we had a very good team.

"We will prove this during the rest of the season. We know we are not playing at the level we can but we will improve, we will be back in Europe."

Benitez signed a new five-year deal last season, and said: "When I decided to stay here, I knew that we could be facing a difficult season. I was aware that a lot of things could happen and the competition stronger. But I decided to stay because I wanted to.

"Look, I was a Real Madrid fan. I knew off by heart the names of the Real Madrid team that played Liverpool in the European Cup final of 1981.

"I was a fan, and also a Madrid player at that time. Now, considering that, I decided to stay in Liverpool because I liked the city, I liked the fans, I liked the life here and the passion in the Premier League.

"Why am I telling you this? Because when I decided to stay here, I wanted to fight for this club.

"We now need to win at Everton to get closer to the top four. if we win two or three more games we will be back amongst the clubs at the top of the table."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Alberto Aquilani Set To Play Mersyside Derby Role For Liverpool

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is likely to miss Sunday's match at near-neighbours Everton but midfielder Alberto Aquilani will be given his first taste of a Merseyside derby.

The Spain striker has sat out the last three matches with a groin problem and is probably still a week away from rejoining the squad.

Torres scored both goals in the 2-0 victory at Goodison Park last season to take his tally of goals to three in five derbies but David Ngog, with five this season, is in line to deputise again.

However, Aquilani will be hopeful of getting on the field after just three substitute appearances totalling just 22 minutes since returning to fitness after his £20 million summer move from Roma.

Manager Rafael Benitez will not throw the Italian in from the start in what is likely to be another tempestuous clash between the two near-neighbours, but the 25-year-old should play some part.

Former academy graduate Jay Spearing faces competition from Aquilani for a place in midfield but accepts the former Roma star will, in time, have a central part to play.

"You can tell he's a world class player," said Wirral-born Spearing.

"For him, I think it's just a matter of fitness and sharpness really.

"He's doing more and more each day in training and you can see that he's very clever with some of the passes that he plays. Hopefully he can bring that out into our first team."

Spearing added: "The boss has given him 15 minutes here and there and I think that will do him good just to try to get used to the pace of the Premier League, because it will be completely different than in Italy."

The 212th Merseyside derby finds both teams in poor form but provides the opportunity for a much-needed morale-boosting win.

Liverpool have won just twice in 11 games, although at least they travel to Goodison on the back of a win in Hungary against Debrecen - even if that also coincided with their failure to qualify for the Champions League knock-out stages.

Everton have won one in the last 10 and slipped to a 3-2 defeat to Hull in the Premier League on Wednesday.

Liverpool Striker Fernando Torres Faces Late Fitness Test For Everton Clash

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez could be handed a timely injury boost ahead of his side's clash with local rivals Everton, as Fernando Torres faces a late fitness test in order to gauge his availability.

Liverpool have slid down the Premier League table in the past two months due to a series of poor results. Injury-hit Everton have also been struggling, and Benitez is hopeful that if the Reds play to their potential then they could leave Goodison Park with three points.

"He's training with the fitness coach and we will test him tomorrow and then we will see if he is fit for the weekend," Benitez said of Torres at his press conference today. "If he is okay it means we think he can play. It is a massive game, he is keen to do it.

"It's always important to win, especially if its a derby," he added. "The position in the table is the first thing we have to improve. It will be a lift for everyone, for us.

"We have confidence, we think we can win."

When asked what Liverpool will have to do in order to beat David Moyes' men, Benitez joked: "To play better than them!

"It will be a physical game, everybody will be working hard, we will play to our qualities, and do our job."

Gerrard Calls For Unity

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard believes his side can get their form back on track but insists the club must "stick together".

The Reds beat Romanian side Debrecen on Wednesday night yet suffered an early UEFA Champions League exit after Lyon were beaten by Fiorentina.

The setback has plunged Rafa Benitez' side into the Europa League, but Liverpool's domestic problems leave them struggling to finish the Premier League season in the top four.

With their title credentials already looking quashed, Gerrard insists the players must get over their European heartache and focus on returning to winning ways as they prepare to face local rivals Everton on Sunday.

"We are all aware the season is not going the way we would want it to and we are really disappointed to have gone out of the Champions League," Gerrard told the club's official website.

"We are far from happy with our form in the Premier League as well but the only way to turn things around is by sticking together.

"We have shown in the past what we can achieve when we stick together and if there is one positive about the difficult time we have been having, it is that we have all pulled together."

Lying seventh in the table, Liverpool have Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City ahead of them with each club signalling their intent to grab a Champions League spot.

Gerrard admits that their start to the league campaign, in which they have lost five of their first 13 games, has handed them a huge task, but he believes they have what it takes to rescue their season.

He added: "The manager, the staff and the players are all working as hard as we can to try and get the improvement we have been looking for.

"It will not be easy, as we have given ourselves plenty to do, but we still have the confidence and belief that we can finish in the top four."

Mascherano's Lucas Aid

Lucas Leiva has hailed the impact that fellow midfielder Javier Mascherano has had on his emergence in the Liverpool first XI and has called on his team-mates to end their three-year wait for silverware this season.

Lucas has been an ever-present in Reds' engine room this term after the summer sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid, while the Spaniard's replacement - Alberto Aquilani - has yet to start a game following his recovery from an ankle injury.

The Anfield faithful have signalled their approval of the 22-year-old in recent weeks, with the 2007 signing beginning to show the pedigree which heralded him as the Brazilian league's best player prior to his move to Merseyside.

Lucas has had his doubters during his time at Liverpool, but the Brazil international insists they will never faze him and has praised his fellow South American ball-winner for helping him grow into the Reds shirt.

"I'm trying to improve all the time but I'm feeling good on the pitch," he told the club's official website. "I think I've improved a lot since last season and hopefully I'll keep going.

"I think things might always be more difficult for me at Liverpool, to be honest, but I'm trying to prove I can do well for myself and my team-mates. The real supporters of Liverpool know this and support me a lot.

"When I came to Liverpool I came with a challenge of winning titles and making history for the club. Hopefully I can do that.

"I'm playing almost every game now. I have a good link with Javier Mascherano. I understand the way he plays and he helps me a lot. I think it's good for the team that we can keep the balance."

Lucas has targeted his first trophy in Liverpool colours by the end of the 2009/2010 campaign, identifying the Europa League as an attainable honour after the Reds' untimely exit out of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

He added: "We have to move on. We didn't do enough to get to the next stage and so now we have to concentrate on the Europa League and getting into a better position domestically.

"We'll try to win the Europa League because it's still an important competition. Some good teams play in it and we'll try to get a title for ourselves."

Reds Duo Support Benitez

Liverpool duo Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina have moved to offer their support to under-fire boss Rafa Benitez.

Benitez has seen his position at Anfield come under further scrutiny following their elimination from the UEFA Champions League in midweek.

Liverpool have won just two of their past 11 competitive matches and go into this weekend's Merseyside derby needing to get back on track in the Premier League if they are to finish in the top four and clinch a spot in next season's Champions League.

Torres, who is battling to be fit for the showdown with Everton as he struggles with a groin problem, believes Benitez is the man to turn things round at Anfield and has called on everyone at the club to stick together.

"Benitez has shown that he is the right man to take Liverpool forward," Torres said.

"When the club has needed to be strong it always has been. Now is the time for everybody to stick together from the manager right down to the lowliest member of staff because above all else we want to make our wonderful fans happy with our performances and results.

"We must be united to finish as high as possible in the Premier League. I am convinced that we will end up in the top four. We also have high hopes for the FA Cup and the Europa League. At this time, this tournament has become a goal for the club.

"Nobody expected it [to be knocked out] because this team has shown itself over recent seasons to be very reliable.

"This is a competition that we won in 2005 and on another occasion [2007] we got to the final. Since I have been with the club we have got to a semi-final and a quarter-final."

Reina also dismissed suggestions that Benitez has lost the support of the players at Liverpool.

"Benitez has 100 per cent credibility and support among the players," said Reina. "He is a great coach and he knows how to get the best out of his players.

"He has done important things for Liverpool and will continue to do so. When he is under pressure, that's when he brings out the best in himself. He is perfectly capable of turning the situation around at Liverpool.

"The fans know that, for a number of reasons, results are not good now but they will be again. We need a bit of good luck for things to get back to normal: we have had so many players injured - like Torres, Benayoun and Riera."

Reina also pointed to the absence of Torres through injury as a major reason for Liverpool's struggles.

"We all know that Torres at 70 per cent fit is still better than lots of strikers on the planet at 100 per cent," added Reina.

"It's important for us that he recovers and recovers fully. Liverpool are one team with Torres and another, different team without him.

"It's not that we depend on him but he is very important because he inspires respect in the opposition."

Liverpool Tracking Inter Midfielder Patrick Vieira

Liverpool are the latest club to show interest in Inter midfielder Patrick Vieira, according to The Irish Independent.

The 1998 World Cup winner has fallen down the pecking order at the Nerazzurri and has constantly found himself starting matches on the bench this season under coach Jose Mourinho.

The Frenchman recently announced his intention to stay with the Nerazzurri until the end of the season and fight for his chances, but with his place at the World Cup 2010 in jeopardy he may change his mind if the right offer comes along.

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez reportedly believes Vieira's experience and leadership would be useful for the Reds after they crashed out of the Champions League and currently sit seventh in the Premier League.

The 33-year-old is well aware of what it takes to compete in England, having spent nine years with Arsenal earlier in his career.

Tottenham, Lyon and Barcelona have also been linked with the tough tackling midfielder over the last few months.

Kendall: Groundshare Could Happen

Everton great Howard Kendall is against the idea of a groundshare with Liverpool, but admits it may be the only solution if both clubs want to play at a new stadium.

Everton's plans for building a 50,000 seater stadium in Kirkby were rejected by the government yesterday, but the idea of sharing a new ground with their Merseyside rivals has since been floated by Everton chief executive Robert Elstone.

Former manager Kendall, who guided the Toffees to two league championships, an FA Cup and a European Cup Winners' Cup during the 1980s, is against the proposal.

"A groundshare? I don't think it's a good idea," Kendall said.

"I don't think any supporter in Liverpool will like it, I bet they don't like it in Milan and Rome either."

Kendall was not in favour of Everton's proposed move out of Liverpool either.

"I think its good Everton aren't moving to Kirkby," he added.

"I wanted them to move to the docks, because at least the docks are in Liverpool. It's there and it would be the right move."

Liverpool are in the midst of their own ground troubles, having been granted permission to move from Anfield to a new stadium in Stanley Park in a project currently on hold due to financial troubles.

While the status of both Liverpool and Everton's potential stadiums are up in the air, there is a real fear the city's bid to host matches as part of the 2018 World Cup could disappear.

Kendall admits the financial climate means the Merseyside rivals - who meet on Sunday in the Premier League - may be forced into a compromise.

"You can't suddenly pick up millions of pounds to build two new stadiums," he added.

"Liverpool have permission to build in Stanley Park, but it seems they can't afford it because they're in financial problems.

"I think it's too late to do a Newcastle and improve one section of their current ground at a time.

"Maybe a groundshare may have to be done."

Liverpool And Arsenal Face Dilemma Of Whether To Let Javier Mascherano And Cesc Fabregas Play In Christmas International

Liverpool must decide whether to take on Argentina after Diego Maradona called up Javier Mascherano for a showpiece friendly next month.

The South Americans face Catalonia in the Nou Camp on December 22, while injury-hit Liverpool will be preparing for the busy Christmas period.

The match is not on a date set aside by FIFA for internationals, meaning clubs are under no obligation to release players, but Argentina captain Mascherano will no doubt want to play.

The midfielder is the only England-based player called up to the squad, while the other 18 players are all at clubs who will have started a winter break.

His Liverpool team-mate Emiliano Insua, Manchester City's Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta, plus Newcastle United's Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini were all left out of the group.

Argentina are taking on a Catalonia side picked by Johan Cruyff, which should feature Barcelona stars such as Xavi and Gerard Pique. Arsenal face a similar dilemma to Liverpool after Fabregas was called up to the friendly, which sits between the Gunners taking on Hull City and Aston Villa.

Liverpool play Portsmouth three days before the friendly, before hosting Wolverhampton Wanderers on Boxing Day.

Both Liverpool and Arsenal have suffered injury crises in recent weeks and maybe reluctant to risk their midfield linchpins before a busy period of matches.

I'll Make Liverpool Great Again, Says Rafa Benitez

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has vowed to restore the club's reputation in the Premier League and in Europe.

Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League this week and are seventh in the Barclays Premier League, 13 points behind leaders Chelsea.

But Rafa Benitez has made it clear that he wants to steer the club back on track, starting with Sunday's clash with Everton.

He said: “When I decided to stay here, I knew that we could be facing a difficult season. I was aware that a lot of things could happen and the competition stronger. But I decided to stay because I wanted to.

“Look, I was a Real Madrid fan. I knew off by heart the names of the Real Madrid team that played Liverpool in the European Cup final of 1981.

“I was a fan, and also a Madrid player at that time. Now, considering that, I decided to stay in Liverpool because I liked the city, I liked the fans, I liked the life here and the passion in the Premier League.

“Why am I telling you this? Because when I decided to stay here, I wanted to fight for this club.

“I had signed a new five-year contract because I wanted to fight for Liverpool.

“Sometimes it is good, sometimes there are bad moments. But still I will fight.

“So we will play in the Europa League, which will be a target. We will play against Everton on Sunday and that will be our target.

“Every single week we will fight and try to win. If we can, we will be happier. If we cannot, we will still have to fight.”

Calls for Benitez to be axed, along with suggestions he may even jump ship, provoked the Spaniard into an impassioned speech that followed a string of supportive words from key players.

Skipper Steven Gerrard has called for unity, while Fernando Torres and Jose Reina have insisted that Benitez is the right man to lead Liverpool back to the top of Europe.

Torres, who has been struggling with a groin problem, will have a fitness test tomorrow to see whether he can be involved at Goodison Park, while only Ryan Babel (ankle) is ruled out as the side’s fitness problems finally clear.

Benitez added: “When I signed my new contract I had offers from other clubs for more money, and a lot more money to spend in the transfer market. But I decided to stay because I felt we had a very good team.

“We will prove this during the rest of the season. It is long race and we know we are not playing at the level we can, but we will improve, we will be back in Europe.

“It doesn’t matter what people are saying, maybe trying to take advantage of the situation. We will win games, we will improve and things will change.”

Liverpool need to quickly address a situation that sees them seventh in the Premier League and with their top four place seriously threatened by Aston Villa, Manchester City and Spurs.

Benitez said: “If you have seen the players since the Champions League disappointment, you will know they want to fight too.

“I have seen the reaction of Torres and Pepe Reina with their words of support. Now Steven Gerrard has called for us to fight together.

“All the players know that we have to improve, we have to push harder, we have to start right now.

“I have talked to them about belief and trust. And of course I am pleased that they have come out and said I am the right man for the job.

“We are together, we are working hard together, and that is the main thing for me.”

Benitez 'Faces Exodus Of Unhappy Reds'

A host of Liverpool players will seek to leave the club in the January transfer window, an agent has claimed.

ESPN Soccernet quotes an unnamed agent of one of Liverpool's 'stars' as saying Rafa Benitez is in danger of losing the dressing room.

"The atmosphere is really bad," the agent said following the club's midweek exit from the Champions League. "There are a lot of unhappy players around."

When asked if some of the aggrieved players would seek moves out of Anfield, despite the difficulties associated with January transfers, the agent said: "I am sure that there will be some players who would like to move on now, that's for sure."

Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League this week despite beating Debrecen 1-0 in Hungary.

Their fate was sealed as Fiorentina beat Lyon; consigning Liverpool to the Europa League as the Reds failed to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since Benitez joined the club.

The Spaniard has been backed by the club's owners and is just five months into a five-year contract.

Defeat against Everton in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park this Sunday will raise more doubts about his long-term future at the club, however.

Liverpool are currently in seventh place in the league and in danger of missing out on qualification for the Champions League next season given the ominous form of Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Manchester City above them.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Rafa Benitez Looks For Return Of Liverpool's 'Winning Mentality'

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez claims that his side's early exit from the Champions League has not placed any extra pressure on him.

But he does admit that his team needs to rediscover a "winning mentality" soon, especially with a view to Sunday's trip to Goodison Park to face local rivals Everton.

"I do not feel under any greater pressure, Liverpool are under pressure in every single game, anyway, whatever the competition. This is nothing new for me," Benitez said, according to Press Association Sport.

"My aim is just to help the players, working and preparing the team.

"The players know we are better than our results suggest, they can see that we could have won in every game, even if not playing well.

"We have played better than many of our opponents in this run, we have had plenty of opportunities to score. They know the situation.

"We have ideas, we have solutions to problems, and plans for matches. The players know we have been a lot better than people are saying.

"We need a winning mentality to return, but we have not planned any differently for matches, just the same organisation.

"Things are still positive, we have players coming back from injuries. We have been positive in recent league games against Birmingham and Manchester City, things have been improving."

Benitez has indicated injuries to key men, in particular Fernando Torres, played a major part in the Reds' Champions League failure.

He does expect to see captain Steven Gerrard back in action on Sunday though.

"Steven Gerrard has started to play 90 minutes again, so there are a lot of things that give us confidence that we are improving," he added.

"Some players are fitter now. So we can manage the team and matches in a different way. If you do not have a strong bench, it is difficult to change games.

"Now with more options it can be easier for us in such circumstances.

"When you have injuries it is always difficult. But it has been worse recently when we have had to contend with two or three injuries during a game."

Liverpool FC Boss Rafa Benitez Says He Feels No Added Pressure

Rafael Benitez insists he does not feel under added pressure following Liverpool's Champions League exit and claims his side are "better than their results".

The Merseysiders had to settle for a place in the Europa League despite their 1-0 win against Debrecen on Tuesday night - Fiorentina's defeat of Lyon meaning they advanced instead from Group E.

"We have not been able to go through to the last 16 of the Champions League, so we must make sure we double our efforts in the league and always do our very best in future matches," said Benitez.

"Then the confidence of the team will be much better, we will be able to approach league matches in a better frame of mind."

Reds chief executive Christian Purslow again backed Benitez to improve the club's fortunes this week - they have won just two of their last 11 games to fall well behind in the Premier League title race - and the former Valencia chief is adamant he does not fear the sack.

He added: "I do not feel under any greater pressure, Liverpool are under pressure in every single game, anyway, whatever the competition. This is nothing new for me.

"My aim is just to help the players, working and preparing the team.

"The players know we are better than our results suggest, they can see that we could have won in every game even if not playing well.

"We have played better than many of our opponents in this run, we have had plenty of opportunities to score. They know the situation.

"We have ideas, we have solutions to problems, and plans for matches. The players know we have been a lot better than people are saying."

Ruud van Nistelrooy Will Snub Arsenal To Sign For Liverpool

Ruud van Nistelrooy is ready reject a move to Arsenal to rescue Liverpool's season.

The Real Madrid striker needs to play regular football to secure his place in Holland's World Cup squad and is expected to be allowed to leave the Bernebau at Christmas.

Rafa Benitez will not be allowed to spend his way out of Liverpool's current crisis, so must raise any funds he wants to splash in the January transfer window - or make loan signings.

Benitez was told his job at the club is completely safe, even after his team crashed out of the Champions League - with a game still left to play - on Tuesday night.

He has also been told that former Manchester United star Van Nistelrooy is ready to turn down interest from the Gunners in a bid to secure a move to Liverpool.

Liverpool's budget planning means they will not make funds available until next summer, when Benitez will have at least £20million to spend on squad strengthening.

The Anfield boss has, however, identified a pressing need to enhance a strike force that has managed just four goals in their five Champions League games so far, a meagre total rendered even less impressive by the fact they have twice played Debrecen, the worst team in the competition.

Van Nistelrooy has already fielded some discreet enquiries from the Emirates Stadium, but he has told his advisors that he would prefer a move back to the north west of England and a switch to Anfield, if - as seems likely - he is allowed to leave Real Madrid at Christmas.

The Dutch striker knows he must play more football if he is to feature in next summer's World Cup finals, and has little chance of doing that at the Bernabeu, where he is behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Kaka, Gonzalo Higuain and Raul in the Real pecking order.

As back-up to injury stricken Fernando Torres at Liverpool, he would get more opportunities to play, and Benitez is now weighing up his options as he creates a blueprint to sort out his impoverished attacking options.

No money will be available for a high profile signing, but he can raise funds by selling the likes of Andrei Voronin - who has been axed from the squad completely despite the lack of cover for Torres - Ryan Babel and Andrea Dossena.

The flaw in that plan, of course, is that the trio of Anfield fringe players are hardly in demand across Europe, and it may be difficult to offload big money-earners with such a patchy recent playing record.

Instead, Benitez may be tempted to let the three misfits go out on loan, at least creating a gap in the Anfield wage bill to bring in a loan player until the end of the season when he can turn the deal into a permanent signing.

Madrid may be prepared to accept that sort of deal for Van Nistelrooy or Rafael van der Vaart, and Tottenham will consider a similar plan for their out of favour Russian centre =-forward Roman Pavlyuchenko, providing a fee is agreed for the summer.

In the short-term, Benitez is praying he has Torres back for the visit to Everton on Sunday, a game he knows he dare not lose if he is to keep a sceptical Anfield support behind him.

The Spanish coach is aware that, even though he has received complete backing from Liverpool's owners and MD Christian Purslow, if he loses the fans, then that support could quickly change.

And defeat at Goodison is unthinkable now, after crashing out of the Champions League in such embarrassing style, because losing to the Old Enemy would put the current crisis into stark context for the silent majority who are beginning to waver in their backing for the current regime.

There have been few murmurings of discontent so far, but Benitez has already twice been booed by his home support this season, and nothing is designed to create unrest more than defeat to Everton, especially at such a sensitive time.

Torres though, has made real progress in his recovery from an abdominal injury, and has trained for much of this week while his team-mates have been away in Hungary, and Benitez is now quietly confident he will have his main striking option back for the absolutely crucial showdown on Sunday.

Rafa Wants Babel Answers

Rafa Benitez has revealed that he will demand an explanation from Ryan Babel when he talks to the forward about his recent comments.

The Dutch international admitted that he could leave Liverpool in January if he fails to win a regular place in the starting XI.

The timing of the outburst will not have pleased the Reds boss having come on the morning of the vital UEFA Champions League clash with Debrecen.

Since signing for £11.5million from Ajax in summer 2007 Babel, who arrived with a weight of expectation, has made just 24 Premier League starts - 15 coming in his first season and only six last term.

The winger has failed to force his way into Benitez's plans this campaign with just three starts to his name despite injuries to fellow wideman Albert Riera.

Babel has stated his unhappiness at the situation in the past but has always insisted that the quotes have been taken out of contest.

Benitez remained guarded on the issue, only stating to the Liverpool Echo: "I have got to talk to the player and I will see what his explanation is."

Liverpool FC Striker Fernando Torres Nets 10 Goal Landmark Award

Liverpool FC striker Fernando Torres has won another honour - and by doing so can support a charitable cause close to his heart.

The Spanish marksman has been presented with a '10 Goal Landmark Award' from Premier League sponsors Barclays.

The award is in recognition of him being the first player this season to reach double figures in Premier League goals.

Despite a stop-start campaign due to niggling injuries, Torres has found the net on 12 occasions so far for the Reds, 10 in the Premier League and two in the Champions League.

Torres will now receive £10,000 to donate to a charity of his choice.

Eintracht Frankfurt After Liverpool Striker Andriy Voronin

According to a report in The Daily Post, Bundesliga outfit Eintracht Frankfurt have joined the race to secure the services of Liverpool attacker Andriy Voronin in the January transfer window.

Eintracht are eager to add an extra attacker to their squad in the winter due to the predicted lengthy injury absence of Ioannis Amanatidis, and head coach Michael Skibbe has made Voronin one of his main candidates.

The 30-year-old Ukrainian international is finding regular first team action hard to come by at Anfield and is thought to desire regular first team football.

Liverpool are believed to be ready to let go of the striker on a temporary basis.

Bargain Buys May Yet Prove The Worth Of Rafael Benítez

The Liverpool manager has still to be repaid by young signings but they could come of age in the chase for a top-four finish.

The remainder of the season must have been viewed with glazed eyes by Liverpool supporters on Tuesday night even if they did put on a show of boisterousness for 15 minutes. It came while they were held in the Puskas Stadion following the 1-0 win over Debrecen that did not avert elimination from the Champions League.

That was a show of defiance while the cameras and microphones were switched on in Budapest. There is no rebellion but it would still have been dismaying for fans to think of the dullness to come now that the side's interest in the Champions League is at an end. The remainder of the campaign, however, will be absorbing for Rafael Benítez.

The Liverpool managing director, Christian Purslow, claimed after the match with Debrecen that the financial harm need not be severe. He will, all the same, be speaking in wholly different terms if the club does not make up the present five-point gap to clinch its usual top-four finish in the Premier League. There is work ahead for Benítez and it had better be effective.

He himself has a security of sorts. The Spaniard is in the early days of a five-year contract that would make his dismissal breathtakingly expensive. The owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, will feel all the more attached to him when they think of the sums a new manager of the customary high profile would demand as he insisted on reshaping the squad.

The usual verdict on Benítez is that he buys well when spending heavily but flounders when hunting for bargains. Beware the footballer whose fee in millions was not in double figures. At this stage in the accusation it is obligatory to mention the £7m Andrea Dossena, where the argument may have substance.

On the other hand Daniel Agger, for instance, was a bargain at £5.8m and all that is wrong with him is an injury record for which Benítez is not to blame. If fans have not yet taken the £5m Lucas to their bosom, the reasons for taking exception to him are diminishing. Of late, David Ngog, bought for £1.5m from Paris St-Germain, has begun to assume some significance.

His claims were, of course, enhanced when he added the second goal in a 2-0 win over Manchester United this month but there is also a general improvement. In Budapest Ngog showed more confidence and caught the eye with persistent contributions.

He is no prodigy but there are merits. Ngog, 20, regularly turns down interview requests from the French media with the disarming comment that he will speak when he has done something worth talking about. Should the progress of a fairly strong and quick attacker continue, he may soon face the microphones.

Note has been taken of the young striker and Paul Le Guen, once the manager of PSG, has begun to argue that an under-used Ngog should have been more patient when at the club. Comments like that will make Benítez feel satisfied with his scouting system.

Ngog may not be on the rampage in the Premier League but he epitomises the sort of option Liverpool crave. Their squad, as it is, lacks the depth of those at Manchester United, Chelsea and conceivably Arsenal. Injuries have trained a harsh light on that fact.

Still, a slow process of evolution at Liverpool might have been applauded if players had not been hurt. Benítez shies away from suggestions that he has been trying to add adventure to the ranks but it is hard to interpret the arrival of, say, Glen Johnson in any other way.

There has been a desire to alter the characteristics of the squad, even if the wish has been thwarted for much of the time. He has been eager, for instance, to stick with the Argentinian Emiliano Insúa, even if the 20-year-old's lack of positional sense led to Lyon's equaliser at the beginning of this month.

The mistake ought to have been covered by Sotirios Kyrgiakos but the Greek centre-back looked exactly like one of those cheap squad players who turn out to be costly indeed. It is in having to resort to such stopgap recruits that Benítez's predicament is apparent.

The easing of Liverpool's load will be to his distaste, with the Europa League campaign unlikely to drain players as the Champions League would, but it could be a help on the domestic scene. Steven Gerrard should regain full match fitness, Fernando Torres will return and one day the £20m Alberto Aquilani could start a match.

Leeds Bring In Trio On Loan Deals

Leeds United have signed Queens Park Ranger winger Hogan Ephraim, Cardiff defender Tony Capaldi and Liverpool goalkeeper David Martin on loan.

Ephraim, 21, will stay at Elland Road until 1 January, Capaldi is due to remain up until 4 January and 23-year-old Martin goes back on 28 December.

Northern Ireland international Capaldi, 28, can play either left-back or left midfield and will not be cup-tied.

Martin provides added cover for injured keeper Shane Higgs.

Ephraim has scored twice in seven games for QPR this season, both in the Carling Cup.

"Hogan is quick and direct," Leeds manager Simon Grayson told the club's website. "He'll give us options and competition for places."

Ephraim started his career at West Ham before making his first competitive start while on loan at Colchester.

He then moved on loan to QPR before making the move to Loftus Road a permanent one in January 2008.

Capaldi began his career at Birmingham City and enjoyed a loan period with Hereford United.

But he moved from Blues in April 2003 to Plymouth Argyle, where he won most of his 22 international caps.

Since joining Cardiff in 2007, he has made 68 appearances for the Bluebirds, including nine this season, but had his opportunities restricted last term with a knee injury.

Martin has not played a competitive match for Liverpool but played 25 times as a teenager for MK Dons before his move to Anfield in 2006.

Since then he has enjoyed loans at Accrington Stanley and Leicester City. And he was again out on loan at Tranmere Rovers earlier this month prior to his latest move.

Duo Complete Accrington Loan Move

Accrington have signed Blackburn's Johnny Flynn and Liverpool goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis on loan until January.

Northern Ireland under-21 defender Flynn, 20, who joined Blackburn from Ballymena in January 2008, has also been on loan at Chester this season.

He is unavailable for Accrington's FA Cup Second Round tie against Barnet on Saturday because he is cup-tied.

Sydney-born Bouzanis, 19, helped Liverpool reach last season's FA Youth Cup Final against Manchester City.

Meanwhile defender Chris King has left the club after his contract was cancelled by mutual consent.

The 29-year-old joined Accrington at the start of last season, going on to make over 30 appearances.

He has been hampered by injury during the current campaign.

Everton FC Look To Convince Liverpool FC On Groundshare

Everton FC face a much bigger battle than Sunday's 212th Merseyside derby, if they are to convince rivals Liverpool FC to ground-share.

Everton FC's plans for a new £400million 50,000-seater stadium and shopping complex in Kirkby, in association with Tesco, are in tatters after being rejected by Communities and Local Government Secretary John Denham on Thursday.

Chief executive Robert Elstone admits Everton FC will now consider all possibilities, including teaming-up with their neighbours across Stanley Park.

On the face of it a ground-share would seem the obvious option with Liverpool FC having put their more advanced plans for a replacement to Anfield on hold due to the current global recession.

However, the Reds’ American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are opposed to the suggestion as it would severely impact the anticipated revenue streams which come from sole ownership of a 61,000-capacity stadium.

Rivals fans would also not welcome a ground share but Elstone admits, with a club debt of upwards of £36million, they have to explore every alternative.

"It’s certainly one of the options that we will need to cover," he said.

"We are going to look forward and look forward positively. A shared stadium is perhaps an option if it’s affordable.

"We have to look at where we can raise money, because potentially Liverpool will have to obviously contribute to that, and Liverpool City Council perhaps might need to find some money.

"If we are the first major English club to look at sharing then we’re not scared of making those decisions.

"So we’re going to have to start to have those conversations, we’re going to have to be open-minded about solutions."

However, Liverpool FC’s deputy executive director Peter Shaw played down the possibility of the city’s two clubs sharing a stadium.

"It’s not on our agenda at the moment. Liverpool are progressing forward with our own stadium. That is the position we are still in," he said.

"The LFC stadium is quite far progressed and once the financial markets reopen for business the LFC stadium will progress further."

When asked whether the idea of a groundshare with Everton FC could be a possibility, he said: "That’s not for me to answer."

Finance is at the heart of Everton FC’s problems - as it has been for Liverpool, whose new Stanley Park stadium was scheduled to be open in 2011 but now has no completion date.

Part of the attraction of the Kirkby plan was the tie-in with Tesco, and Elstone admits they need to search out new ways of bringing in the funding.

"The solution is not about finding land - this is a solution that is about finding money; it’s about affordability," he said.

"That was the big attraction to Kirkby, that it was affordable.

"Then it’s about reviewing alternatives and sitting down with partners, all the stakeholders in this region and anybody who can help Everton deliver what it needs - which is a world-class stadium that’s going to secure our future for years to come.

"Anything that we have to do going forward has to be clearly affordable and clearly make commercial sense. So that’s the big challenge."

The knock-on effect of not having a bigger ground generating more income than Goodison Park will be felt in the club’s longer-term planning.

Everton FC hoped the Kirkby project would provide the boost to revenue to help manager David Moyes with necessary funds to invest in the squad and push for a lucrative place in the Champions League.

Elstone accepts those plans will need to be re-thought.

"The motivations were about driving Everton forward and ultimately giving David Moyes a fairer crack of the whip in the transfer market," he said.

"That challenge hasn’t gone away and it’s a challenge now that we’re going to have to pick up and run with and perhaps find another solution."

Liverpool City Council leader Warren Bradley refused to discuss the possibility of the two clubs sharing a stadium.

Speaking at Wembley, where Liverpool was submitting its bid to be part of England’s 2018 World Cup bid, Bradley said: "I’m not going to even go there on that. I don’t think it’s the time and place to talk about ground-sharing.

"We haven’t had any discussions, real hard discussions, around the future of Everton and Liverpool football clubs, and I think it’s up to the clubs first and foremost to lead those discussions."

However Bradley and Elstone have had a short conversation since the stadium plan was rejected.

Bradley said: "We haven’t resolved everything, in fact we’ve resolved very little at the moment, but it’s about agreeing to come forward and talk about Everton Football Club in the future."

He explained: "As a lifelong Evertonian it’s been very, very difficult through this period but we are where we are and we’ve got to work with them now."

The Kirkby plans could still be revised and resubmitted.

Detailing what must happen next, Bradley stressed: "We need to make sure there’s a lot of trust there.

"There’s got to be trust built between Liverpool City Council, between all the other partners, and Everton Football Club to move forward. Once we’ve established that trust I do believe we can move this forward quite quickly."

Merseyside Could Face World Cup Woe

The possibility of hosting a World Cup in England without a match in Liverpool came into sharp focus as 15 cities put forward their cases to stage games if the 2018 bid succeeds.

Neither Anfield nor Goodison Park would fit FIFA criteria for the tournament, according to 2018 vice-president John Barnes, with Everton's move to Kirkby rejected by the Government and Liverpool's Stanley Park plans hit by a number of delays.

Barnes, the former Liverpool player, said: "They need a new stadium, we always knew that. When the bid was submitted it was on the grounds of new grounds being in place, not Anfield hosting the World Cup in nine years' time.

"I'm sure that would have been the case anyway because neither Anfield nor Goodison would fit the criteria for hosting a World Cup. They would have had to have built a new stadium anyway."

Everton chief executive Robert Elstone was at Wembley for Liverpool's submission to the selection panel of Lord Mawhinney, 2018 chief executive Andy Anson and chief operating officer Simon Johnson.

Elstone afterwards admitted the club would consider a ground-sharing arrangement with Liverpool.

He said: "It's certainly one of the options that we will need to cover. A shared stadium is perhaps an option if it's affordable.

"We have to look at where we can raise money, because potentially Liverpool will have to obviously contribute to that, and Liverpool City Council perhaps might need to find some money.

"Our history is one of creativity and innovation and if we are the first major English club to look at sharing then we're not scared of making those decisions."

Liverpool deputy executive director Peter Shaw, however, added on Sky Sports News: "It's not on our agenda at the moment. Liverpool are progressing forward with our own stadium. That is the position we are still in."

The 15 host cities put forward their cases to Mawhinney, Anson and Johnson, with the panel selecting due to announce between 12 and 18 stadiums on December 16.

The 2018 team itself has previously received negative publicity for in-fighting, being warned by FIFA vice-president Jack Warner for not being aggressive enough - and this week the shock resignation of Sir Dave Richards from the bid board.

Barnes added: "I'm not on the board and not party to the political wranglings or shenanigans going on. It's unfortunate but I'm hoping it will not hamper the bid because the most important thing is the ability to deliver a top-quality product.

"While this is not necessarily helpful, it should not detract from the ability of England to host one of the best World Cup's ever."

Aston Villa chief financial officer Robin Russell, representing Birmingham's bid, feels there is unity in the public wanting the tournament, despite the publicity.

Russell said: "It's slightly depressing to hear that because that is not what is happening on the ground, where everyone is working in the same direction in securing the bid for England and Birmingham."

MK Dons chairman Peter Winkelman added: "The in-fighting that goes on is about the bid being in the best position it can be to help the country win it next year.

"I think it's a positive sign, not a negative sign, which people are working so hard to make sure the situation is right. You have to go through those processes because it is important and people are prepared to fight about it."

Winkelman represented Milton Keynes' bid along with his manager Paul Ince, while Olympic diver Tom Daley showed his support for Plymouth.

Daley, 15, said: "It's a beautiful city and it will be amazing for the west country to see a sporting event so prestigious.

"Everything is normally based in London or the north and I think it's a good opportunity to have it in the west country."

In London, Wembley will host the opening match and final, with Arsenal, Tottenham and the Olympic Stadium their other possible venues.

Newcastle and Sunderland both put in bids. Alan Shearer is hoping the ridicule after Newcastle renamed their ground James' Park Stadium will not be affect the decision.

Shearer said: "We don't think there will be negativity. We know it's St James' Park and that's how it will stay."

Paul Gascoigne added: "There were odds of 500-1 on it being called The Paul Gascoigne Stadium, you heard it might go to Tesco or a settee company. It will be called St James' for life, it doesn't matter what it's officially named."

Chelsea's Stamford Bridge is not one of London's stadiums, although London United chairman Simon Greenberg said: "We are included as a showcase training venue, as is the Cobham training complex, so Chelsea will play a full role in the World Cup but won't be hosting matches.

"Unfortunately the stadium is not quite big enough and the nature of the site is not technically correct for hosting World Cup matches."