Saturday, February 07, 2009

Match Preview: Portsmouth vs. LiverpooL

Liverpool travel to the southernmost destination in the Premier League this weekend as they take on Portsmouth. The visitors will be aiming keep pace in the title race, while the home side are desperate to dig themselves out of an ever-deepening hole.

Tony Adams' side have plummeted to 16th in the standings, just one point above the drop zone in what is shaping up to be one of the fiercest relegation battles in recent memory. With just six points separating 10th from 20th, the margin between a cozy mid-table finish and playing in the Championship next season is very fine indeed.

However, on current form, a return to the second tier looks more likely for Pompey. They have now gone eight league games without collecting a victory, following last weekend's loss to Fulham, their last win coming against fellow flounderers Blackburn Rovers in November.

Thus, it has been a miserable winter for last season's FA Cup champions, as they were also been forced to sell star duo Lassana Diarra (Real Madrid) and Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur) during the January transfer window. Defeat on Saturday could see them slip into the mire, and who knows what that would mean for Adams' future.

Meanwhile, Liverpool have a few problems of their own. They may be just two points behind leaders Manchester United, but problems with the playing squad and upstairs threaten to derail what has been the club's best Premier League campaign to date.

The big news, of course, is Steven Gerrard's hamstring tear, picked up in the midweek FA Cup loss to Everton, which will see him sidelined for the next three weeks. The fact that Rafael Benitez, having just sent Robbie Keane back to Spurs, now has no recognised deep-lying forward in his senior squad only compounds the problem.

It is as yet uncertain who will step in for the in-form England man; what is clear, though, is that whoever gets the gig will have mighty big boots to fill. Gerrard was instrumental in last Sunday's win over Chelsea, and it will take a big performance - whether collective or individual - to overcome his absence.



Jan 31 Fulham 3-1 Portsmouth (Premier League)
Jan 27 Portsmouth 0-1 Aston Villa (Premier League)
Jan 24 Portsmouth 0-2 Swansea City (FA Cup)
Jan 18 Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 Portsmouth (Premier League)
Jan 13 Bristol City 0-2 Portsmouth (FA Cup)


Feb 04 Everton 1-0 Liverpool (FA Cup)
Feb 01 Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea (Premier League)
Jan 28 Wigan Athletic 1-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Jan 25 Liverpool 1-1 Everton (FA Cup)
Jan 19 Liverpool 1-1 Everton (Premier League)



The return of captain Sol Campbell should boost the Blues. The veteran stopper missed the loss at Fulham with a thigh problem, but he is back training and should slot straight into the first team. However, his defensive partner, Younes Kaboul, could miss out with an ankle injury picked up at Craven Cottage.

Niko Kranjcar is touch-and-go with a groin strain and will be subjected to a late fitness test. Nadir Belhadj will return from suspension, but Jermaine Pennant - on loan from the Reds - is ineligible. Jamie Ashdown, Papa Bouba Diop, Richard Hughes and Marc Wilson are all out of action.

Greek duo Theofanis Gekas and Angelos Basinas, newly arrived from Bayer Leverkusen and AEK Athens respectively, should make the squad.

Possible XI: James, Campbell, Hreidarsson, Distin, Johnson, Belhadj, Mullins, Davis, Utaka, Nugent, Crouch.


As already discussed, Gerrard is out with a torn hamstring, leaving a gaping hole in Liverpool's attack. Ryan Babel, Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun are the prime candidates to fill the space behind Fernando Torres.

Lucas Leiva is suspended after seeing red at Goodison Park in midweek, meaning Javier Mascherano will be recalled to the first team to play alongside Xabi Alonso in the centre of the pitch.

It is extremely unlikely that Andrea Dossena will retain his place after his abject showing against the Toffees, meaning Fabio Aurelio will almost certainly start at left-back.

Possible XI: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Mascherano, Alonso, Benayoun, Riera, Kuyt, Torres.


Glen Johnson (Portsmouth)

The England defender was repeatedly linked to Anfield last month, but instead he penned a new deal with Pompey. He has established himself as one the best full-backs in the country, and his attacking play down the right flank could cause problems against a defence that is susceptible to good crossing.

Xabi Alonso (Liverpool)

This man will take on extra responsibility in Gerrard's absence, and he has shown in the past that he is up to the task. The Basque midfielder has been one of the Premier League's most impressive performers this term, and his organisational skills will be vital in this testing period for the Reds.

Why Portsmouth Can Get A Draw Against Liverpool

Tony Adams has changed so much from his early playing days to manager that sometimes it’s hard to take him seriously as Portsmouth boss.

Yet Adams takes himself very seriously now. He is also in a very serious situation.

It’s rare that you are given a dream job as a manager and Fratton Park has certainly been no bed of roses for Adams.

But he does have enough quality in his squad to stay up, I think they will stay up.

The biggest fear for Portsmouth is the long-term future of the club.

Adams was a terrific fighter as a player. A hard-living, no-nonsense defender who captained both Arsenal and England wearing his heart on his sleeve.

He is a recovering alcoholic who has reinvented himself as a very rational and very serious character. Sometimes it appears as if he is trying to convince people that he’s a deep thinker as if it’s the right thing to do.

Adams’ managerial career did not work out at Wycombe but, via Holland, he came back as Harry Redknapp’s No.2 before being promoted when his former boss left for Tottenham.

Frankly, they were impossible shoes to fill. Portsmouth had just won the FA Cup, they had reached Europe and Redknapp had brought in internationals and the club had rarely had it so good.

But Redknapp was also clever in choosing his time to leave. He left at the top and, in reality, the only way was down.

The owners have signaled their intent to sell and the star players are already being sold off. As soon as you sell Lassana Diarra and replace him with Hayden Mullins you are making it pretty clear which way the club is heading.

There were others who wanted to bail out as soon as Redknapp left, and Portsmouth certainly miss Jermain Defoe’s goals. But Adams has also been shrewd. He’s managed to keep the majority of the squad together and has made good additions.

Jermaine Pennant was a great piece of business. How he persuaded Liverpool to allow him to go out on loan with his contract up at the end of the season is anyone’s guess, especially when he is a brilliant crosser of the ball.

Together with David James, John Utaka, Peter Crouch, Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin there is quality there. If you pick apart their performances then you will see that generally they have been good and solid, hard to beat even.

They got thumped at Fulham last week which was the exception and left Adams’ job in danger. He certainly has to pull it round.

But I think he is growing into the job. I was worried at first when, after his first game at Liverpool, he was talking about himself in the third person.

But Adams seems to have found reality and one thing is abundantly clear from their performances - the players are playing for him. I expect them to get a draw against Liverpool and that will be a huge boost for Portsmouth.

Fratton Park is a hard place to go and therefore Adams will get Portsmouth out of danger.

But what worries me far more is the future. I am given to believe the club has 16 players on their books who are out of contract at the end of the season. Glen Johnson, James, Crouch and Campbell could all go in the summer.

Who will replace them? Will there be any money? Sadly for Pompey, even if they get through this season there may be more troubles ahead.

For Liverpool, the big concerns are this season. Sadly, they have gone from being top of the table, riding high to crashing out of the FA Cup and being a rudderless ship again.

Selling Robbie Keane with no obvious replacement made no sense. Crikey, the Keane deal has been in the offing for weeks so to not line someone up is just criminal.

Steven Gerrard is out for three weeks, Fernando Torres is lacking match fitness and sharpness and who is to come in? No one.

Liverpool rely so heavily on Torres and Gerrard that they will have to play in 95 per cent of Liverpool’s remaining games to win anything - and I’m not sure that will happen.

Keane Would Give Medal Away

Robbie Keane says he would give away his Premier League winners' medal if Liverpool go on to claim this year's title.

Keane rejoined Spurs in a £12million deal before the winter transfer window closed following an indifferent six-month spell at Anfield.

The former Leeds marksman qualifies for a winners' medal having played in 16 league matches for the Merseysiders.

The Reds remain in with a good chance of ending their title-drought, but 28-year-old has no thoughts of what silverware he could receive from the club - only how Spurs get on between now and the summer.

"My brother is a Liverpool fan so I'd probably give it to him," he said when asked what he would do with his winners' medal if The Reds claim the Premier League crown.

"The way I look at it is that a medal means something when you are a part of the squad and involved in winning a trophy.

"When you are in and out of the squad and not involved in games, there are times when you don't feel part of it.

"Next month's Carling Cup final means more to me because I'm a Tottenham player now, even though I can't play.

"Liverpool is gone. It's the past. What happens there now is not my problem."

Liverpool FC's Fernando Torres Injury Worry

Rafael Benitez admits he will be keeping his “fingers crossed” over the fitness of Fernando Torres as Liverpool’s season enters a critical five-day period.

The Spain international has yet to rediscover his sharpness after returning from his latest hamstring problem last month.

Despite two goals against Chelsea last Sunday, a listless Torres had been substituted at Wigan Athletic four days earlier and further raised concerns over his physical state with a below-par performance in Wednesday’s FA Cup defeat at Everton.

But the sale of Robbie Keane and the absence of Steven Gerrard (pictured right) mean Benitez is almost compelled to start with Torres in attack at Portsmouth this evening.

Although Liverpool will then not have a game for a fortnight, Benitez’s worries over Torres are heightened by his likely appearance for Spain in their friendly against England next Wednesday.

And Benitez said: “I was talking about Torres before the Chelsea game and saying he’s not sharp enough but he scored two goals although you could see he was not fully fit. He is improving but not fully fit.

“I think he is over his hamstring problems. Maybe three or four weeks ago, he was still a little bit concerned about this, but the work with the physios has been really good.

“He is not sharp enough. It is a risk to play him, and we took him off against Everton because he was just not able to work any more towards the end.

“The first thing is to decide if he will start, and then if he does, to decide how long he will play. There is no point worrying about him playing for Spain next week because we know he will be selected, whatever we say.

“You cannot change things so I’ll just watch the telly and keep my fingers crossed.”

With Gerrard out for up to three weeks, another injury for a patently unfit Torres would be a major blow to Liverpool.

After Torres returned injured from international duty in October, Benitez sought to liaise more closely with the Spanish set-up and in particular fitness coach Javier Minano.

“I was speaking to the fitness coach this morning,” said Benitez. “The Spanish national team are trying to get all the information they can everything about our players.

“We just have to keep them informed so they can take care of them.

“I worked with (Spain coach) Vicente del Bosque for years. The fitness coach for Spain is the one I had in my youth teams at Madrid, so we have a very good communication.

“We are looking to protect Fernando. Not because we don’t have enough strikers, but because we don’t have any other strikers like Fernando. There aren’t too many like him around the world. He’s a very important player for us.”

Liverpool Missed Ricardo Quaresma Opportunity

Former Liverpool winger Steve McManaman has told Setanta Sports that he'd have liked Ricardo Quaresma to move from Inter to Anfield on loan, as opposed to Chelsea's Stamford Bridge.

He said previously that the Reds could cope without crocked Steven Gerrard, but he now appears to be concerned about Robbie Keane's return to Tottenham Hotspur and the lack of creativity in the squad.

Writing in his column, he explained, "It was something of a shock to see Robbie Keane leave Liverpool. The current lack of creative players means that it hurts to watch the Reds right now.

"They may as well have kept Robbie until the end of the season. I don’t think his price would have depreciated between now then.

"Liverpool haven’t brought anybody in. Look at Chelsea with Quaresma on loan until the end of the season. I would have rather Liverpool did that. They’re desperate for a right winger.

"I think it would have been better to bring in a player like that who can change a game. They have right midfielders, but no right winger."

Spurs were the other party interested in Quaresma, but it does seem strange that there wasn't more interest in the talented Portuguese, even just as a gamble.

Mascherano Moves On

Javier Mascherano will return to Liverpool's starting line-up this evening at Portsmouth demanding that the side forget their FA Cup woes and instead build on the impressive victory over Chelsea last weekend.

Liverpool's week has been transformed from one of delight to one of despair, having beaten Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday and then seen their unbeaten 16-match record ended by the extra-time defeat at Everton in the FA Cup fourth round.

Now Liverpool must raise themselves in the wake of Robbie Keane's departure, Steven Gerrard's three-week hamstring injury and Lucas' suspension after being sent off against Everton.

With doubts over whether Fernando Torres will start the match, and Xabi Alonso's ankle problem, boss Rafael Benitez could send out a much-changed side at Portsmouth that may include Fabio Aurelio in a midfield role.

But if Liverpool win at Fratton Park, they will be back on top of the Premier League before current leaders Manchester United play West Ham tomorrow.

Then Liverpool, by virtue of their cup exit, have a two-week break before their next game at home to Manchester City on February 22.

And Mascherano wants Liverpool to take full advantage of an away game against struggling Pompey.

He said: "We have played a lot of games lately but we soon have a two-week break so we need to make sure we concentrate on winning against Portsmouth.

"If we play like we did against Chelsea then we can beat anyone. We have to win at Portsmouth, although we know it will be a difficult game because they can be a good team.

"It is always difficult to play them away from home, because it will be a physical game with a lot of long balls to Peter Crouch.

"But we must counter that and play as well as we did against Chelsea, and then I am sure we will win. We know everyone is disappointed about the game at Everton but we need to remember we are still in a good position in the league and in a few weeks we will play Real Madrid in the Champions League. We've still a lot to play for."

Liverpool's defeat to Everton in midweek brought an end to an unbeaten run which had stretched back to the beginning of November, but Mascherano is confident the Reds will bounce back. The Argentina captain came on as substitute in the cup tie after Lucas had been sent off, and said: "It was very difficult to lose in the way we did at Everton. We played for 40 minutes with a man less and still came within a couple of minutes of going to penalties.

"But we cannot let our heads go down. We have to remember we are in a good position in the league and we want to stay there."

Reds Eye Barca Wonderkid

Liverpool are planning a move to lure Barcelona wonderkid Gerard Deulofeu away from Camp Nou to Anfield.

Deulofeu is regarded as one of the best young prospects in European football and scouts from a host of clubs have been tracking his progress.

Chelsea and Arsenal have both been strongly linked with the 14-year-old, but Liverpool are hoping to steal a march on their rivals by bringing him to Merseyside.

Liverpool scout Paco de Gracia has recommended the youngster to Reds boss Rafa Benitez as they look to pull off a similar coup to that which saw Daniel Pacheco make the move from Barcelona to Anfield.

Reports emanating from Spain claim are now ready to firm up their interest in Deulofeu by making an offer for his services.

Crouch Not Keen On Rafa's Methods

Portsmouth striker Peter Crouch has sympathy with Robbie Keane over his treatment at Liverpool, labelling Rafael Benitez's methods as "frustrating".

Keane was largely a bit-part player in his short stay at Anfield, scoring seven goals in 28 games before securing a move back to Tottenham.

And Crouch, who suffered similar treatment before joining Portsmouth last summer, said he felt for the Republic of Ireland striker.

"There are a few similarities between what has happened with Robbie and my own situation. I feel sorry for him," Crouch told the Sun.

"We all know what a great player Robbie is but he didn't get a fair crack of the whip at Liverpool.

"But that is the way Rafa operates and it can be very frustrating because, when I was there, he never really explained why I was not playing.

"There were times when I thought he didn't fancy me but then he'd start me for two or three games on the spin.

"It got to the stage where I gave up second guessing which games I would be playing and which ones I wouldn't.

"The biggest letdown for me was the Champions League final against AC Milan, when Rafa went with one up front and played Dirk Kuyt, as I was desperate to show what I could do on the big stage.

"The Liverpool fans won't care about what Rafa is like as long as they keep winning and you cannot argue with his record but, at the same time, it can be very frustrating."

Rafa Was A Baffler: Keane Hits Back At Liverpool Boss Benitez

Robbie Keane last night blamed Rafa Benitez for turning his Liverpool dream into a nightmare, insisting he was left 'baffled' by the Spaniard's decision to ignore his talent.

Keane, 28, was sold back to Tottenham on the final day of the transfer window after 190 days at the club he supported as a boy.

Breaking off from preparations for tomorrow's north London derby, Keane revealed he had not even been given an explanation by Benitez as to why he turned his back on him so quickly.

He said: 'I believe that maybe with a different manager, it possibly could have worked out. I never regret anything I have done. It's not a mistake. I went there, it didn't work out for me. For whatever reason, I didn't fit into the way Rafa plays football.

'I was doing everything possible to do well for the team. That was the most important thing. I never had a fall-out with the manager, I was never late for training and I came and trained every day. I worked my socks off, it's as simple as that. You're probably as baffled as I am.'

Having played 19 Barclays Premier League games for Liverpool, Keane would be eligible for a medal should his former team win the title. But Keane conceded a medal would be an empty gesture, adding that he would probably give his away.

Asked whether a medal would mean anything, Keane replied: 'Not really. Not at all. My brother is a Liverpool fan so I'd probably give it to him, although he's a Tottenham fan now.

'If I was there (at Liverpool) and I was out of the squad, it probably wouldn't mean as much to me because, as a player, you want to be a part of it. When you are in and out of the squad and left out of the squad, sometimes you don't feel a part of it.'

Benitez's decision to omit him from the Liverpool squads for the first FA Cup meeting with Everton and the vital Premier League game against Chelsea provided the greatest disappointment for the Ireland striker, while frequently being named on the substitutes bench or being hauled off when handed a start did little to improve his mood.

'I've never been left out of a squad in my career,' said Keane. 'I think I've proven over the years that I'm quite capable of doing a job and scoring goals. No disrespect to anybody at Liverpool and the players that were ahead of me but if you look at my record compared to most of them, I think it's probably a little bit better.

'I believed that I should have been in the squad, and I believe in my ability, that I should be playing more games than I did. The fact is I didn't.'

Portsmouth striker Peter Crouch agreed with Keane's view that Benitez did not feel the need to explain his selection policy to his players.

Crouch said: 'I feel sorry for Robbie Keane. He didn't get a fair crack of the whip under Benitez. Rafa doesn't give a lot away and he's been a very successful manager, but there were times when I used to try and second guess him to work out whether I would be playing.

'I was usually wrong, so in the end I just gave up. The big one for me was the Champions League Final against Milan when he played one up front - Dirk Kuyt - and left me on the bench. I was desperate to get on because you never know if you will ever play in a European final again.'

Keane has now swapped league title hopes and Champions League aspirations for a relegation battle at Spurs.

He has been handed the captain's armband by Harry Redknapp and will lead the team out to face Arsenal at White Hart Lane tomorrow lunchtime.

With his Liverpool career consigned to history, Keane is eagerly anticipating the challenge of ensuring Tottenham's topflight status under Redknapp, a manager with whom he feels he can build a close bond.

'Obviously, Harry has a record of having a great relationship with his players,' beamed Keane. 'I've been speaking to the lads about him and I am really good mates with Jamie Redknapp, so I know Harry through that. He speaks to the players, and when he gets a player in, he certainly gives them an opportunity and that's something I'm relishing.

'You don't become a bad player overnight. I believe in my ability and I believe I could have brought a lot to that Liverpool squad. Maybe it was fate. I move on to the future and I am fully focused on Tottenham. I am back where I think where I belong.'

Liverpool's Sami Hyypia Happy With Champions League Boost

Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia has revealed he could have quit Anfield in the winter transfer window had the club not made it clear he was part of their plans.

Newcastle and Sunderland were both strongly linked with the veteran centre-back, who is out of contract in the summer and is no longer guaranteed first-team football on Merseyside.

However, Reds boss Rafa Benitez has added the Finland international to his squad for the UEFA Champions League knockout stages.

And Hyypia admits the club left him in no doubt regarding their feelings, saying: "There were a lot of rumours, and a few offers as well. Newcastle and Sunderland were both really interested in signing me.

"But Liverpool made it clear that they were not willing to sell me. That was it, although I might have considered another option.

"The club decide these things, Liverpool didn't want to sell me. So I will spend the rest of the season in Liverpool, this is my 10th season and it is a great achievement."

The 35-year-old does, however, confess that he will look at his future at the end of the campaign.

"I will consider my options again in the summer when my current Liverpool contract expires," added Hyypia.

"It is too early to say what will happen then. It is not my style to worry about these things in advance. Now I will concentrate on helping my team to win trophies in a role the manager decides, whether it is on the bench or on the pitch."