Thursday, January 01, 2009

Why Steven Gerrard Is So Important To Liverpool's Title Bid

It says it all about how vital Steven Gerrard is to Liverpool that over the last six league games he has scored more goals than Manchester United's entire star-studded side.

Liverpool's captain fantastic has netted five times, which is one more than Rooney, Berbatov, Tevez and Co put together.

Little wonder then that Liverpool should rush to pledge him their total support within hours of him being charged with assault and affray on Monday.

Gerrard will be thankful for the club's backing and for all his success on the pitch, he has always carried the weight of the Anfield world on his shoulders.

Liverpool's fear is that his scintillating form and their title hopes could be hit by his looming court case.

Rafa Benitez will try to avert this nightmare scenario for Liverpool by making it business as usual for Gerrard when he and his team-mates return to training at Melwood today.

Liverpool's title rivals may see Gerrard's difficulty as their opportunity, but in reality they have worries of their own to contend with.

United, despite boasting £100million worth of attacking talent, can hardly buy a goal.

Arsenal have lost midfield general Cesc Fabregas to longterm injury and Chelsea's stuttering form goes on, transfer money is suddenly an issue and Didier Drogba continues to rock the boat.

Sir Alex Ferguson rarely offers hope to his adversaries, but after seeing his Manchester United side squeeze past Middlesbrough 1-0 on Monday, even he admitted he was worried by their lack of goals.

United's goal tally over their last six league games reads like some binary code - 1, 1, 0, 1, 1, 0. Those four goals may have earned United four 1-0 wins and 12 precious points, but Ferguson knows they cannot keep relying on such fine margins.

"We are concerned that we're making so many chances and not taking them," he said.

"I hope we don't live to suffer because of it.

"If there's one part of the game that's giving us any concern, it's the finishing.

"It's a big worry for us and we had to work hard for it again against Middlesbrough.

"The players' performance level is very good and the concentration and energy of the team are very good as well, so we've got to hope we can start scoring regularly." The United manager will be particularly concerned by the form of his three frontline strikers - Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov.

The enigmatic Bulgarian's winner against Boro was only his third league goal for United in 15 appearances.

And Tevez has managed two in 13 games and Rooney just one in his last nine Premier League matches.

But all is not well elsewhere, either.

Chelsea, who have dropped 11 out of their last 21 points, should be boosted by the return to fitness of main goalscorer Drogba.

Instead, the sulky Ivory Coast striker has continued to bemoan his misfortune at playing for one of the richest clubs in the world.

And boss Luiz Felipe Scolari wants to change the team's fortunes with a major transfer market plunge.

But he is coming under increasing scrutiny and has been told he must sell players before he buys. At Arsenal, Arsene Wenger's reluctance to spend big in the summer has come back to haunt him, with the loss of Fabregas and Theo Walcott exposing a lack of depth in the Gunners squad.

In addition, William Gallas's outburst, which saw him stripped of the club captaincy, has created dressing-room tensions and there is now uncertainty about the ownership of the club following recent boardroom upheavals.

The only certainty in the second half of what is shaping up to be one of the most exciting Premier League seasons ever is the uncertainty hovering over England's most powerful clubs.

Tommy Smith: Reds Good Enough To Go All The Way

It could hardly have been a happier Christmas for Liverpool and the fans.

Two first class performances against Bolton and Newcastle and at last, goals galore to celebrate as we go into New Year at the top of the league.

Now the business end of the season is here and things really start to shape up.

The pressure and expectation will mount from here on in but I’m confident we’ve got the manager and the team to handle it all.

Thankfully, those goalless draws at Anfield which have had everyone a bit worried have come in the first half of the season.

We’ve got away with those results because of other really good results against the likes of United, Chelsea and Everton – and also because the other top sides have been slipping up too.

But now at last Liverpool have turned on the style and it’s been a joy to see,

I thought it was a terrific performance against Bolton and then 48 hours later they gave Newcastle one hell of a hammering.

We all know it could easily have been six by half time, never mind five by full time.

But now when we’re missing chances or having shots saved, the lads are just shrugging off the disappointment and not letting the near misses upset their rhythm. It’s as if they know there’ll be more chances soon and the goals will come eventually. It’s great to see that confidence and style in the side now.

In the last two games Liverpool really have played like champions in waiting – they’ve passed the ball so well and been a real team. But there’s such a long way to go that you have to keep this level up week in, week out now.

I’ve heard the question asked as to what Liverpudlians now see as the priority – a Premier League title or a sixth European Cup.

Everyone knows how much the fans crave a 19th league title but at Anfield there can be no question about the answer. It has to be both.

As Sammy Lee so rightly keeps saying, it’s all about keeping feet on the ground and concentrating only on the next game, never mind the next trophy.

If you’re playing consistently well the successes usually take care of themselves in the end.

However, if you lose focus and start looking even one game ahead of the next, you’re asking for trouble.

But it’s clear we are at last starting to turn the screw.

And we’ve shown over Christmas that this Reds team is definitely good enough to go all the way.

Rafa rotated his side again after the Bolton win and while he inevitably raised some eyebrows, he’s come away proving to his doubters that he knows exactly what he’s doing.

You can moan and groan all you like and instinctively I am not a fan of rotation.

But Rafa has proved it can work much more than it fails – and you’ve got to give the boss enormous credit for that.

It seems to me the players are also getting used to it and accepting it as being in the best interests of the club and the hunt for trophies.

Eight goals and six points over the past few days shows the manager for all his recent illness, is right at the top of his game too.

Next up is Preston and I’m sure we’ll see even more changes for what will be an intriguing tie.

Of course whichever side is put out they will be expected to handle matters, but for me the FA Cup has lost some of its lustre.

When we were beaten a few seasons ago by Burnley there was real anger. When we lost to Barnsley last season it was dismay.

With the Reds hopefully in the hunt for the top honours at home and in Europe, sadly the FA Cup doesn’t seem quite as important as it once was.

Daniel Agger: Anfield Must Be A Fortress

Daniel Agger believes Liverpool should go into the New Year looking to turn Anfield into an impregnable fortress after ending 2008 on a high.

The Reds finished the year in fine style with back-to-back victories against Bolton and Newcastle that took them three points clear at the top of the Premier League.

But it was the convincing 3-0 victory over Bolton at Anfield which fired Agger’s belief that Liverpool could even win every one of their remaining home league games.

Before that win, Rafa Benitez’s side had recorded three consecutive draws in front of their own fans and the Danish defender thinks such setbacks could become a thing of the past if Liverpool can keep on repeating the kind of form they showed against Bolton.

Liverpool were actually the only team in the entire league to go 2008 unbeaten at home but the 24-year-old believes even that impressive record can be improved upon.

Agger said: “It doesn’t matter if we win one, two or three nil as long as we win.

“We had a few draws at home when we found it difficult to break teams down but when you get an early goal, like we did against Bolton, it opens things up a bit more and we are able to play more freely.

“Now it is important that we just keep on going. We know that we can score goals at home and win games at home.

“If we play like we did against Bolton on Boxing Day then I believe we can win every game.

“Liverpool Football Club go into every game trying to win it, especially when we are playing at Anfield.

“We know that in the real world it’s not always possible, but we will try as hard as we can to do it.”

Jermaine Pennant Move To Real Madrid On Rocks

Jermaine Pennant’s hopes of securing a dream move to Real Madrid appear to have been dashed after the Spanish giants withdrew their £3m offer to Liverpool.

The Reds received a bid from Real for their out of favour winger two days before Christmas but the proposed deal has now mysteriously collapsed.

Initially, personal terms were said to be a possible stumbling block but sources in Spain have indicated that Real withdrew their offer at the request of manager Juande Ramos who is said to be unconvinced about Pennant’s ability to make an impact at the La Liga club.

Pennant has become an increasingly peripheral figure at Anfield and has not made a single appearance in Rafa Benitez’s side in more than two months.

The 25-year-old is set to become a free agent in the summer and Liverpool would have been delighted to receive a £3m fee for a player who can walk away for nothing in six months time.

But with Real now looking at alternatives it seems highly unlikely the deal will be resurrected, despite Pennant having admitted to being attracted to a move to Spain.

“I cannot imagine playing for another Premier League team after Liverpool,” Pennant told website

He added: “I know Real Madrid made an offer for me. Real Madrid is a great club, so is Liverpool.

“I am not sure of the situation now; I am flattered that a club as huge as Real has shown interest in me, so we will have to see.

“I just want to play regular football and one of my dreams is to be able to do it in Spain one day. I love the way teams like Sevilla, Barcelona, Valencia or Real play.

“I think my style of football will suit La Liga.”

Wigan have maintained an interest in Pennant throughout this season and could provide an alternative should Real not return to the negotiating table.

Latics boss Steve Bruce is thought to be keen to recruit the Nottingham-born wide man who he actually sold to Liverpool when manager of Birmingham.

Pennant played some of the best football of his career under Bruce before signing for the Reds in a £6.7m transfer in July 2006.

Bruce is refusing to rule out a move for his former player although Wigan are unlikely to be willing to match the offer Real Madrid tabled before making a dramatic about-turn.

Real In For Rafa: Benitez Was First Choice At The Bernabeu Before Ramos Got The Nod

Rafa Benitez was Real Madrid's first choice to replace Bernd Schuster as manager, according to reports in Spain.

Catalan-based newspaper Sport claims Real made an approach for the Liverpool boss, but were told Benitez could not leave Anfield mid-season.

The Bernebeu club then appointed former Tottenham boss Juande Ramos, who was available to start immediately after being replaced by Harry Redknapp at White Hart Lane.

The report was made in the paper's 'Confidential' section, which also suggested Real Madrid could make another attempt to sign Benitez at the end of the season.

Ramos only has a contract until the end of the season and failure to win La Liga or the Champions League could see Real in the market for yet another manager.

The club are currently fifth in Spain's top flight, 12 points behind rivals Barcelona.

Real will play Benitez's Liverpool in the first knock-out stage of the Champions League on February 25 and face a tricky return leg at Anfield on March 10.

Benitez was Real's favoured target as the Spaniard coached at the Bernebeu in numerous backroom roles for almost a decade in the 80s and 90s.

The Liverpool boss, 48, was born in Madrid, played for Real as a youngster and was appointed youth coach in 1986.

Benitez also has a proven track record as a manager in Spain, winning La Liga twice and the UEFA Cup in three remarkable years with Valencia.

The first Spaniard to manage in the English top flight, Benitez has reiterated his pedigree in European competition by leading Liverpool to glory in the Champions League in 2005 before taking them to the final again two years later.

Liverpool also won the FA Cup in 2006 and currently sit top of the Premier League as they bid to win their first league title for 19 years.

Gerrard Shares Jokes With Liverpool Team-Mates On Return To Training

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard returned to training today with little fanfare.

The 28-year-old - charged with assault and affray after a nightclub brawl - joined team-mates at Liverpool's Melwood training ground.

The England international arrived at the ground in the suburb of West Derby in his black Range Rover Sport at 10.05am.

He was greeted by a few fans that turned out despite the freezing temperatures to see him drive straight through the waiting open gates.

He has so far remained silent about the controversy and his wife Alex Curran, 26, last night said they would not be commenting.

Gerrard was charged with two other men following a fight at the Lounge Inn, in Southport, Merseyside, in the early hours of Monday.

The father-of-two was celebrating his team's win over Newcastle when trouble began.

He was arrested and interviewed by detectives who later charged the international, who was awarded an MBE in the last New Year's honours.

It is claimed the player assaulted part-time DJ Marcus McGee, 34.

Mr. McGee, of Southport, allegedly lost a tooth and needed stitches to a face cut.

In the hours after the fracas, blood and broken glass were visible on the floor of the club.

Gerrard, of Formby, Merseyside, will go before magistrates on January 23 with John Doran, 29, and Ian Gerard Smith, 19, both of Huyton.

They are also facing counts of assault and affray.

Revealed: First Picture Of Man At Centre Of Steven Gerrard Assault Charge

This is the bruised face of the man at the centre of the night-club assault charge facing Liverpool FC captain Steven Gerrard.

Marcus McGee’s swollen right eye was clearly visible as he left his Merseyside home yesterday, the day after Gerrard and two other men were charged with assaulting him.

Mr. McGee emerged as LFC manager Rafael Benitez came out in strong support of his club captain and talisman, while Gerrard himself returned to training at Melwood.

Benitez said: “Steven is our captain and a key player for us, but more than this, I know him as a nice person.

“He explained to me what had happened and I told him he has my full support and backing, along with everyone else at the football club.”

Mr. McGee’s injuries were partially hidden by the grey beanie hat he wore yesterday to fend off the biting cold as he left his family home – a bungalow in Churchtown.

The 34-year-old, who lives with partner Gina Lord, 33, and their daughters Francesca, 12, and Helena, six, was acting as the DJ at The Lounge Inn, on Bold Street, when the alleged assault took place in the early hours of Monday.

Mr. McGee, who runs a double glazing repair company called Cloudy 2 Clear UK Ltd, lost a tooth and needed stitches to a head wound.

The melee is thought to have blown up after Mr. McGee was asked for access to the computer- controlled record selection system.

He is thought to have refused, triggering the brawl in which he was badly injured.

The following day, shards of glass and smears of blood were found on the floor of The Lounge Inn.

Gerrard, 28, along with two friends, John Doran, 29, and Ian Smith, 19, both from Huyton, is charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and affray.

They were among a group of six held at Southport Police Station, on Albert Road, for close to 24 hours.

Now the trio are on police bail, awaiting their first appearance at North Sefton Magistrates’ Court, on January 23.

Fellow Kop legend Kenny Dalglish revealed in yesterday’s Daily Post that Gerrard had been chatting about doing some work for his wife, Marina’s, charity shortly before the incident.

Montero: I Understand Gerrard

Legendary Juventus hard man Paolo Montero stands up for Steven Gerrard. “I used to get in fights with Fiorentina fans all the time!”

Liverpool hero Gerrard was charged with assault and affray following an alleged incident at a local nightclub that left a 34-year-old man in hospital with facial injuries.

“Sometimes I tell myself that I went over the top, but then I shake my own hand and think at least I never faked anything,” Montero told La Stampa newspaper.

“We are men too, exactly like everyone else. In that precise moment at night, you don’t feel like the number one player in the world. You are simply a man who doesn’t want to be provoked.”

The Uruguayan still holds the record for more red cards than any other player in Serie A history – 13 in nine years at Juventus – and assures he understands where Gerrard is coming from.

“It happened to me, of course. I was in Viareggio with my dear friend ‘Attila.’ Wherever we went, there were Fiorentina fans all around us. Imagine the scene, me a Juventus player surrounded by Viola supporters.

“The first time it was some swearing, the second a push and the third a punch.”

Montero is glad to see there is an heir to his throne at the heart of the Juventus defence, although one less likely to get sent off.

“I see myself in Chiellini. Giorgio is a tough guy, but more of a goalscorer than I was.”

Steven Gerrard 'Furious' Over Nightclub Disaster

Stevie G is deeply worried that the controversy surrounding his late-night fracas could derail the Reds' push for a maiden Premiership crown.

When news broke of Steven Gerrard's arrest for his involvement in a brawl at Southport's Lounge Inn early on Monday morning, it was instantly clear that the implications could be vast for Liverpool.

The 28-year-old had just led his Merseyside giants in a stunning demolition of Newcastle United, one which cemented them as Premier League leaders heading into the back half of the season.

Just hours after returning from Tyneside, though, not only had Gerrard's squeaky-clean image been badly tarnished, but the shine had well and truly been taken off the Reds' exploits at St James' Park.

And the Daily Mail reports that Anfield's superstar skipper is fearful that the media storm surrounding the whole affair could seriously disrupt the club's title charge.

"It has been a day of soul-searching," an anonymous friend of Gerrard was quoted as saying by the tabloid newspaper.

"He's a very proud man and someone who takes pride in being a model professional and someone who sets the right example and he is furious with himself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"He has been heartened by the support he has received. He probably now feels part of the Liverpool family more than ever. But he's just sitting at home beating himself up."

Gerrard will answer charges of assault and affray at the Sefton Magistrates' Court on January 23.