Thursday, January 22, 2009

Liverpool Legend Rush: Benitez Must Pick Keane

The Liverpool striking legend feels that Liverpool's manager has the key to turning round the performances of the enigmatic Irishman.

Robbie Keane is a shadow of the player he was at Tottenham Hotpsur. Since moving north to Anfield for around £20 million in the summer, the Irishman has shown merely brief flashes of the verve and attacking flair, as well as goalscoring, that he showed during his highly entertaining spell with Spurs.

Keane came into the Liverpool side for Monday night's Merseyside derby with Everton, and turned in yet another disappointing performance in a season of them that has left Reds fans scratching their heads in bafflement at the player's poor form.

Now former Liverpool centre-forward Ian Rush, a man whom one would expect to know a little bit about what makes goalscorers tick, thinks that Keane needs some security, and that Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is the man to help provide it.

"Robbie Keane didn’t have the best of games against Everton and I’m sure he will know that himself because he has always been an honest player," Rush writes in today's Liverpool Echo.

"He didn’t get any chances, didn’t create anything of note and by and large struggled to impose himself on the game.

"It could have all been so different had Fernando Torres played the ball square to Keane for a tap-in when through on goal but you wouldn’t get too many centre forwards doing that in that position so Torres can’t be criticised for taking a shot.

But other than that it’s hard to think of another moment when Keane looked like a chance was about to come his way."

And the former Welsh international feels that the only way Keane will begin to settle in properly is when Benitez gives him a run in the side and makes him feel wanted and comfortable.

Rush adds: "If he is going to get back to the level we all know he can reach then Rafa Benitez is going to have to take Keane to one side and tell him he will be in his starting line up for the next four or five games."

Meanwhile, Rush also thinks that the FA Cup tie with Everton on Sunday now assumes greater significance for Liverpool after Monday's disappointing league draw with the Toffees.

"Getting through to the next round of the cup would be great, especially if it comes at the expense of your local rivals. But for me the most important thing is to use the game as a springboard for the rest of the season," said Rush.

Liverpool now find themselves trailing Manchester United in the league, as Rafa Benitez's attempt to avail the world of some "facts" the other week begins to look increasingly ill-advised.

Barnes Backs Benitez In Contract Negotiations

Former Liverpool midfielder John Barnes believes Rafael Benitez was right to turn down a new contract but hopes it will not affect the players' title challenge.

Barnes, who made more than 400 appearances for the club, is not concerned at the recent dip in form - which saw Liverpool drop two more points against arch-rivals Everton on Monday night.

Benitez's men blew the chance to regain their position at the top of the table and the power struggle between the Spaniard and the board appears to be filtering down to the players.

But Barnes is convinced that Benitez will keep the players' minds focused on events on the field and says he should have the same power Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson enjoy at Arsenal and Manchester United.

Barnes, a pundit for, said: "I don't know Rafa that well but he's 100% right in demanding full control over who he buys or sells for the club. He needs full control over how he spends any transfer funds as he's the one that lives or dies by those decisions.

"From his statements, he wants the same power that the likes of Wenger and Sir Alex possess and that's perfectly correct. The manager would not allow his players to be sidetracked by off-field disputes and that is how it should be."

Despite Liverpool's failure to beat Stoke and Everton in their last two league games, Barnes is expecting his former club to challenge Manchester United right to the wire.

He added: "Manchester United may have more experience in terms of winning the title but that does not necessarily mean they hold the advantage as Chelsea had not won the title for far longer than Liverpool and it did not affect them."

Benitez Backing Torres To Continue Derby Scoring Record

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez warned Everton that Fernando Torres is ready to renew his record of scoring in Merseyside derbies on Sunday.

The Spain international has bagged three in three against our bitter rivals, though missed a golden opportunity to add to that on Monday when he hit the post after going one-on-one with Tim Howard. It was Torres' first start since November, and Benitez expects his hitman to be much sharper this weekend following an intense 85-minute run-out.

"I was impressed with him on Monday. It is not easy to play in a derby when it is so intense. He was exhausted at the end but he did well," Benitez said ahead of Sunday's FA Cup fourth round clash with David Moyes' men.

"He is very close to full fitness - now it's just about getting match fitness. He needs to play games.

"You know a striker needs to play games and be in front of the goal a few times. That's the key - getting the confidence. The more chances you get the more likely you are to start scoring goals. Hopefully he can score this weekend."

Asked if he would rotate players on Sunday, Benitez said: "We will see. We have plenty of time before the game but we have to think about Wigan and Chelsea. Anyway, I think we have enough quality in the squad."

Benitez expects all of the top sides to drop unexpected points over the coming months.

While Liverpool have slipped up at home to the likes of Hull and Stoke this term, United have stuttered against strugglers Newcastle and Tottenham, while Chelsea were surprised by West Ham, Newcastle and Fulham.

Benitez added: "I think it will continue. The level of the teams in the Premier League is improving. There are teams who can beat you at home or away. Normally the top sides will win more games than they lose, but you can still lose or draw."

Liverpool To Sport Charcoal And Gold Away Kit Next Season

Liverpool will play their away games in black shirts next season, Sportsmail understands.

The new Adidas kit will have a gold trim and red piping with the club's Carlsberg sponsor emblazoned in gold across the chest.

The design echoes the kit Liverpool used as their third and European away strip last season, as well as the black shirts worn by Manchester United in 2007/08.

A predominantly white shirt will be designed for Liverpool's third strip of the 2009/10 season.

Liverpool To Rest Key Players For FA Cup And Concentrate On League And Euro Glory

Rafa Benitez is ready to risk Merseyside derby pride for Liverpool's title dream.

The Anfield boss has revealed that he will rest some key players in the FA Cup against bitter local rivals Everton on Sunday.

The Reds have two big Premier League matches coming up the following week. And that means even star players such as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres could find themselves on the bench for the Mersey showdown.

Liverpool play Wigan in a must-win league game just three days after the clash with Everton, and Benitez has long been of the opinion that is simply too short a recovery period.

It means he won't risk certain players, despite the pressure to field the strongest side possible to ensure derby bragging rights.

Benitez was devastated by the late goal his side conceded to lose two points against Everton on Monday, and with the Wigan game as well as a crucial game with Chelsea on the horizon, he insisted he will rotate.

"We have players coming back from injury and it is important that they get the chance to play matches like the Cup tie," he said.

"We may have to play with different players for the Everton game on Sunday because afterwards we have two important games at Wigan and then at home to Chelsea."

It is 19 years since Liverpool won the title, and the manager is so focused on the quest to bring it back to Anfield that even cup defeat at the hands of Everton won't deflect him.

He looks certain to bring Javier Mascherano back into the starting line-up, and with Lucas likely to play alongside him in midfield that could mean rests for Gerrard and Xabi Alonso.

Alvaro Arbeloa and Daniel Agger are also coming back from injury and are likely to play, while Yossi Benayoun and Ryan Babel should get much-needed game time.

Torres could be left on the bench, especially after a hard game against Everton in his first real test since returning from hamstring injury.

Mascherano is determined to avenge the costly draw on Monday night.

"I love this kind of game where first you have to win the physical battle before you can think about winning the match," he said.

"I like playing against Everton. Every tackle matters and you have to be brave in every situation.

"We feel that we can't come off the pitch with anything left. We have to give everything to make sure Liverpool get the right result.

"When the game is the FA Cup, it is even more important because we want to go far in this competition."

Juventus Plan Summer Move To Sign Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt

Juventus are planning another raid on Anfield by identifying Dirk Kuyt as their number one transfer target.

The Serie A club signed Momo Sissoko from Liverpool during last year’s January transfer window but failed to secure the signature of Xabi Alonso over the summer.

However, Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri is again eyeing one of Rafael Benitez’s midfielders in the shape of Kuyt, who has reinvented himself as an energetic right winger over the past year, as he looks to strengthen is squad.

The former Chelsea manager is looking for an early replacement for the ageing Czech playmaker Pavel Nedved as he looks to reshape his side and while Werder Bremen’s Diego, CSKA Moscow’s Yuri Zhirkov and Real Madrid’s Rafael van de Vaart have also been linked with a move to Turin, 28-year-old Kuyt has now been identified as the preferred choice.

Manager Benitez, a big admirer of Kuyt’s tireless work-rate and is unlikely to welcome any interest in the Dutch international who remains a key part of his plans despite no longer operating in the central striking role he was originally brought to Anfield to fill on a regular basis.

Reds Handed Cahill Warning

Liverpool have been warned to be on their guard when Merseyside derby hero Tim Cahill returns to Anfield on Sunday.

Everton make the short trip across Stanley Park once again this weekend for an FA Cup fourth round clash, less than a week after snatching a Premier League point against their local rivals.

Steve Gerrard's long-range effort looked set to send Rafa Benitez's men back to the top of the table on Monday night, only for stand-in striker Cahill to grab a late leveller.

And defender Leighton Baines is backing the Australia international to throw a similar spanner in the works of the Reds' FA Cup bid.

Midfielder Cahill has been pressed into service as an emergency forward due to David Moyes' squad being hit hard by injuries.

Baines told the Daily Mirror: "What he did against Liverpool is his trademark.

"He just keeps popping up with these important goals. He is a real threat.

"Just looking back over the past month, he's scored massive goals for us against Manchester City and Middlesbrough.

"He does it time and time again. He gets in the right place at the right time and we'd be lost without him.

"It's the sheer honesty of his play. He chases everything down, contests every ball."

Liverpool FC Relishing Everton FC Re-Match

DIRK KUYT revealed the determination among Liverpool’s squad to “put things right” after their derby disappointment on Monday.

Everton put a significant dent in the title hopes of their neighbours by snatching a 1-1 draw at Anfield.

After leading the table for more than a month, Rafael Benitez’s side are now second behind leaders Manchester United on goal difference having played a game more.

Liverpool entertain Mersey rivals Everton again on Sunday in their FA Cup fourth round tie, and Kuyt said: “We wanted to beat them and thought we could win, but now we want put things right on Sunday. We will learn from the mistakes we made against them, and we will be ready for them in the cup game.

“We are very disappointed at the moment. We controlled the game, had some good chances and scored a great goal through Stevie, so it’s difficult to accept this kind of result when you concede so late in the game.”

Fabio Aurelio joined his team-mate in admitting Liverpool must cut out the errors if they are to make amends in the FA Cup tie on Sunday.

“It was a tough game and both sides were fighting for everything,” said the Brazilian. “I don’t think it was a very good game in terms of the football that was played but both teams put all of their effort into it.

“We know that they have been scoring a lot of goals from set-pieces. There is nothing we can do to change it now so all we can do is focus on our next game which is again against Everton.

“But we have to learn from our mistakes – that is always important, especially when you have conceded a late goal.

“It is always difficult to defend those kind of free-kicks, particularly when the opposition has a very good taker and good headers of the ball. But I think we can improve.”

Aurelio paid tribute to Steven Gerrard, who marked his 250th game as Liverpool skipper with a trademark strike from 25 yards to give Liverpool a 68th-minute lead that was equalised by

“It was a fantastic goal by Steven,” said Aurelio.

“Everyone knows what he is capable of when he gets the ball in these positions and it was a really good strike.

“I thought it could have been enough to win the game, but unfortunately it did not turn out that way.”

Title rivals United have won eight of their last 10 games without conceding a goal and dropping just four points from 30. During the same period, Liverpool have won just four times and taken only 18 points compared to United’s 26.

Four of those games have been home draws, with the Everton stalemate following those against Fulham, West Ham United and Hull City.

But Spanish winger Albert Riera said: “We’ve dropped a lot of points at home this season through draws, but this wasn’t like the other times.

“In the other games, the teams were mainly here to defend and we simply couldn’t break them down.

“But against Everton we got the goal, and we could have even scored in the first half when Fernando hit the post.

“It wasn’t like the Fulham or West Ham games.

“We created chances on Monday, and we don’t feel disappointed in the same way we did after those games.”

Militant Mascherano Hopes To Rremain Unbeaten Against Everton In FA Cup

Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano has admitted he loves playing against Everton.

The Argentina captain was rested for Monday's Premier League encounter between the two rivals, but is desperate to feature in Sunday's FA Cup fourth round tie.

He said: 'I like playing against Everton. Every tackle matters and you have to be brave in every tackle and every situation.

'I love this kind of game where first you have to win the physical battle before you can think about winning the match.

'At Anfield the crowd roars you on and you just feel that you can't come off the pitch with anything left.

'You have to give everything to make sure Liverpool get the right result.'

Tim Cahill scored a late equalise on Monday to further damage Liverpool's title ambitions and Mascherano is desperate to gain revenge and progress in the competition Liverpool last won in 2006.

'When the game is the FA Cup, it is even more important because we want to go far in this competition.

'I haven't lost to Everton in my Liverpool career. Every player loves being in the big games and I am the same.

'They bring the very best out of everyone. These derbies, though, are more civilised in England, people know you can win or lose. In Argentina and Brazil they have a different mentality and winning is all they understand.'

Benitez Calls For Return To Form For LIverpool FC

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has called on his team to return to the top form they showed a month ago when Newcastle United were dismantled 5-1.

Only a heroic performance by Magpies goalkeeper Shay Given stopped the visitors from netting double figures on a remarkable day at St James’ Park when Liverpool looked every inch potential champions.

However, since then Benitez’s side have stumbled to draws their last two league games allowing Manchester United to take their place at the top of the Premier League.

Benitez wants a return to the form they showed at Newcastle, which saw them marked down as genuine title challengers.

“On that day we scored a lot of goals, created a lot of chances and played some good football so clearly we are looking for this kind of performance in every kind of game,” he said.

“If we can play as well as we did against Newcastle then I am sure that we can win a lot of games.

“I think that game was really good because we passed the ball well and kept the ball well, there were a lot of positives.

“That is the idea of how we want to play.”

Meanwhile, Jermaine Pennant has spoken of his desire to play regular first team football after completing a loan move to Portsmouth.

The right winger has been out in the cold at Anfield for most of this season and has not made a single appearance for the since the 1-0 win over Pompey back in October.

Pennant said: “Tony Adams has given me the opportunity to come to Portsmouth and hopefully play regular first team football.

“I played with him at Arsenal so I know what he’s like. He was desperate for me to come which is very encouraging for me to hear.”

Agger Worry For Reds

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger is a major doubt for this weekend's FA Cup clash with Everton.

Agger missed Monday's 1-1 draw between the two Merseyside rivals with a calf problem.

The Dane is yet to recover from the injury and now faces a race against time to prove his fitness for Sunday's showdown at Anfield.

Reds boss Rafa Benitez admits he is waiting to see if Agger will be available to him for the fourth-round FA Cup tie.

"He was injured," Benitez told the club's official website. "He couldn't train normally.

"He is progressing now by working with the physios. He'll still need one or two days, so we'll see.

"It depends more on the physios than on me - we just have to wait."

Better news on the injury front is that Xabi Alonso is set to be fit despite suffering a recurrence of his foot injury on Monday.

"Xabi had a problem on Monday but he was training again today so I don't think he'll have any trouble for the weekend," added Benitez.