Monday, February 09, 2009

Rafael Benitez Accused Of Relying Too Heavily On Steven Gerrard And Fernando Torres

Liverpool narrowly beat Portsmouth on Saturday, with a Torres goal in the final minutes of the game proving to be the winner, leading some criticism towards the Liverpool boss.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has been accused by The Times' Matt Dickinson of becoming too reliant on his main stars Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

The Reds came from behind to beat Portsmouth yesterday with a late Torres goal, and Dickinson believes that without the influential pair, Liverpool would not be sustaining as much of a challenge for the Premier League title.

Speaking on Sky Sports' Sunday Supplement programme, Dickinson said, "Liverpool are hanging in there, but I think yesterday's win just re-emphasised that he's so reliant on two players - Torres and Gerrard.

"Gerrard is out for a couple of weeks and Torres has had his injury problems. He goes off on international duty with Spain this week and Rafa will have everything crossed for a few days, because if Torres is out for another few weeks you feel then it will really all be over.

"I just don't see them sustaining the sort of pace Manchester United will set without Fernando Torres. He's one of the top finishers in the world."

The journalist also believes that any chance Liverpool have of winning their first Premier League crown is if Manchester United become too distracted by their pursuit of other trophies.

"Their best hope is that United have too much on their plate - that United carry on in Europe, the FA Cup, and, of course, they have the League Cup final."

Despite the recent bizarre transfer activity at Anfield, with Robbie Keane leaving the club to return to Tottenham Hotspur only eight months after joining the club, Dickinson believes the current Liverpool side are still capable of mounting a decent title challenge.

"He's made some mistakes in the transfer market, but don't all managers?
"He's put together a team who are, genuinely, challenging for the title. I don't think they'll win it because United have been there a million times before and have got the stronger resources.

"It's not easy taking on Man U when, for example, you go in for [Nemanja] Vidic, you pay the money to trigger his get out clause, Man U turn up a day later and say we'll trump you by another couple of million. That's the world he has to work in."

Hunger For Title Evident

Well, that was an emotional rollercoaster Alton Towers would be proud of. An unbelievable game that showed the spirit of this Liverpool team.

To come back again and again proves that these players really are hungry for the title. The celebrations of the winner epitomised that.

Interesting how people are still having a go at us in the media when Manchester United would be hailed for their resilience if it was they who came back. We have also scored more league goals than United this season which makes a mockery of the perception that Ferguson’s team are an attacking dream.

I am really pleased for Rafa Benitez; some of the rubbish being spouted by the media has been way over the top. Here we have a fantastic manager who really is a victim of raising expectations.

This man could have easily left on many occasions to take the Madrid job but why didn’t he? Simple – the man truly loves this football club, time for everyone to give him the respect he deserves.

The squad did look a bit threadbare, which led to a bold team selection. And for a long time it looked like it would lead to a damaging result.

However the old guard thankfully rescued us in the form of Dirk Kuyt and Fernando Torres. Kuyt has his detractors including myself, but it was a great finish, maybe the way forward is to use him as an impact substitute when the opposition are tiring.

It’s impossible to not admire Torres, already a true great. A consummate professional and a great ambassador for the club, we have had a long list of these but I have the feeling we’ll still talk about this guy decades down the line.

The international break has scarcely been more welcome. Torres himself has admitted he’s played too much football, which vindicates Rafa’s decision to use him sparingly in this fixture. When the league action resumes we need to keep the momentum, because the league is still very much winnable. To be in this position is proof of the progress – fact.

Jamie Carragher Warns Best Is Yet To Come From Fernando Torres

Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher has warned the rest of the Premier League that the best is still to come from striker Fernando Torres.

With skipper Steven Gerrard injured, centre-back Carragher took the armband for Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Portsmouth which took them back to the Premier League summit until Manchester United’s 1-0 victory at West Ham yesterday.

Portsmouth led 1-0 and 2-1 before goals in the last five minutes from Dirk Kuyt and Torres snatched the points for the visitors.

Manager Rafael Benitez made six changes to his starting line-up from the midweek defeat to Everton.

And having played 101 minutes at Goodison Park on Wednesday night, Torres, who has recently returned from a hamstring injury was one of the players left out as the Spaniard handed French youngster David Ngog his first Premier League start up front.

Despite still not possessing full match fitness, Torres came off the bench to score a last-minute winner for Liverpool for the second time in consecutive weekends and take his goal tally to three in six days.

Carragher has warned Liverpool’s rivals that with Torres doing such damage when he’s not 100% fit, he could become a force to be reckoned with when he’s back firing on all cylinders.

He said: “Fernando is massive to our title challenge. It’s credit to the players and the staff that we are where we are considering he’s been missing for a long time this season.

“To get him back, the way he’s been firing against Chelsea with a couple of great goals and then he’s done the damage against Portsmouth has gained us an extra four points in two Premier League games.

“If he can keep doing that for the rest of the season then we’ll run whoever it is close for the title.”

Torres is one of five Liverpool players in the Spain squad to face England in Seville on Wednesday and although his club manager has been nursing him back to fitness gradually, Vicente Del Bosque is expected to use him.

Carragher said: “At the moment Fernando is just coming back to fitness and he played into extra-time on Wednesday and now he’ll be going away with Spain so given the injuries he’s had this season the manager is being very careful with him.

“He’s doing okay with the goals he’s scoring but he’s not quite 100%. Given that, if he keeps coming on and scoring then we’ve got something to look forward to in the coming months when he is fully fit.”

Some glaring individual errors from Portsmouth’s former Liverpool duo Peter Crouch and David James handed their ex-team victory at Fratton Park.

And Carragher admitted that with a two-week break ahead of them because of their FA Cup exit, it was important to bounce back with a win following their derby defeat.

He said: “There are small details in football, little things which can change games. Against Everton we were a little bit unlucky that it went against us but against Portsmouth it went for us but that’s football.

“It’s a massive result for us because the next game is two weeks away. If we’d have gone into that break off a bad result it would have been hanging over us for a couple of weeks. We had an opportunity here a couple of days after the Everton game which was vital for us.

“It wasn’t too bad because we got the three points because we didn’t want to wait a long time to get a result and the Manchester City game is a couple of weeks away.”

For the first time this season, Liverpool switched to a back three formation with Carragher marshalling Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger either side of him but the skipper claimed there was no problem adapting to the alternative system.

He said: “We were fine with the three at the back – we’ve played that a lot of times under Benitez.

“We haven’t played it this season but we’ve done it plenty of times before under Rafa and we always seem to get good results with it.”

David N'Gog: I Want To Be Liverpool's Next Fernando Torres

David N'Gog arrived at Liverpool last summer from Paris Saint-Germain after impressing Rafael Benitez's scouts with his occasional outings in Ligue 1.

Very much a project player, the 19-year-old has taken up the role of Fernando Torres' understudy, beating a host of talented reserves - including Krisztian Nemeth and Daniel Pacheco - to the first-team bench.

The French striker has been paying close attention to his Spanish squad-mate, and he is delighted at how much he is learning simply by observing one of the world's most dangerous forwards.

"I have spent a lot of time watching Fernando Torres in training and in the games he has played," N'Gog told LFC Magazine.

"He is a great striker - he moves well, he finds space where other players would struggle, and more than anything else, he works hard for the team. I am learning a lot from him.

"Some strikers play for themselves first, they only react when the ball comes to them. I don't want to be one of those players, so I have been watching what Fernando does very closely.

"Not just Torres, but Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard too - you can learn a lot from players like them. Any young player would be delighted to have these players to look up to, and I am very fortunate to learn from them every day. I am picking up things from them all the time."

With Robbie Keane back at Tottenham Hotspur and Gerrard sidelined due to a hamstring injury, N'Gog could be given a several chances to strut his stuff over the coming weeks.

He added, "I am excited to be here at Liverpool, and hopefully I can impress the manager in training every day and play some more games in the second half of the season."

Fabio Aurelio Hails Liverpool's Winning Mentality

The Reds' Brazilian left-back was pleased with how he and his team-mates fought their way to victory at Fratton Park.

Liverpool looked certain to slip further behind Manchester United in the title race on Saturday, as they found themselves 2-1 down to Portsmouth with five minutes remaining.

However, the Reds rallied late, with Dirk Kuyt beating David James at his near post before fellow super-sub Fernando Torres finished the game off with a powerful, injury-time header.

The result put the Merseysiders back on top of the Premier League table, if only for a short while, and Fabio Aurelio was delighted with the battling qualities shown on the South Coast.

"It was really important to win and we kept going right until the end," the 29-year-old defender told the club's official website.

"The manager made a lot of changes to the team because we had a lot of players who were tired after the FA Cup game against Everton, so everybody tried to do their best.

"We had difficulties during the game but we twice came back and we have to be really pleased with the win. I thought we controlled the first half but in the second half it was like the beginning of the season when we were behind and then kept coming back.

"To win a game like this will help us for the rest of the season to keep fighting right until the end. It was really important three points, because we have two weeks now before our next game.

"We have a winning mentality and it gives us a lot of confidence. We will keep fighting hard and keep the pressure on Manchester United."

Aurelio, who scored Liverpool's opener at Fratton Park with a free kick inside the box, was given an unfamiliar role in what was a most curious team selection from Rafael Benitez.

The former Sao Paulo star was deployed as a central midfielder, a position he had never before filled as a Red, but he has received glowing reviews for his composed performance.

"It's not my natural position but I did play some games there for Rafa at Valencia," Aurelio said. "I haven't played in the centre of midfield for quite a while and the manager told me on Saturday morning I would be playing there.

"It's always difficult when you haven't played in a position like that for some time but I tried to do the best I could, and I am happy because I could help the team get a great result."

Fernando Torres Wants 'Irreplaceable' Steven Gerrard Back Soon For Liverpool

The Spanish striker wants his England international team-mate fit and firing again as soon as possible.

As Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez faces criticism that he is over-reliant on the superlative talents of his attacking duo Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, it would seem that the Spanish half of that formiable partnership may be a little guilty of the same thing, with some comments in the Spanish media today suggesting that Gerrard's absence with a hamstring injury is troubling Torres deeply.

Liverpool managed to secure a last gasp 3-2 victory over Portmsouth at Fratton Park yesterday, with the help of a goal from Torres, but at times such an outcome looked unlikely, with the Reds fielding an unfamiliar looking line-up due to injury and the well-publicised fatigue of the squad.

Despite that success, Torres is eager for his talismanic skipper to return to first-team action as soon as possible.

"He is irreplaceable," the striker said of Gerrard to AS. "Every great team has a model player, one whose home is there, one who stays there for life.

"People come and people go and he always stays. Here that's Gerrard. Liverpool is him and 10 others. He is everything for us.

"They're saying he'll be out for three weeks, let's hope it's less. I hope and would love his lay-off to be shorter."

Gerrard's injury will also prevent him from facing his team-mate in England's much-anticipated friendly with Spain in Seville next week.

Ryan Babel: I Can Become New Liverpool Hero Now Robbie Keane Has Gone

Ryan Babel believes the departure of Robbie Keane can finally make him a striking star with Liverpool.

Holland international Babel said: "I've had a really good talk with manager Rafa Benitez. I told him I am really happy at Liverpool.

"This is the place where I want to become a top-class player. Robbie has gone to Tottenham and that increases my chances so much more.

"I'm ready for more playing time. Meeting the manager, and having a talk about the future, was really important."

Babel joined Liverpool from Ajax in an £11million deal in the summer of 2007 but has been a fringe player since.

There have been increasing calls around Anfield for the Dutchman to take some of the pressure off Fernando Torres's shoulders.

Babel - who missed a sitter at Portsmouth last night - added: "I understand Liverpool is a massive club. When you play here, you know you are going to face so many matches every season.

"We play in all competitions and not a single player can play all of those matches.

"The manager invests so much time and energy in talking to us. He takes time with me. We talk about the system we play, about how he wants me and others to operate in his system. He has told me what my role can be in the future and what he expects of me now, if necessary as a winger.

"But I have not made a secret of my big desire to become a striker for Liverpool.

"That is where my ambition is and Benitez now knows that. I have told him that I have a real hunger for that position."

Some Liverpool fans are beginning to question Babel's progress, but the Dutchman insisted: "I have made big progress as a player at Liverpool.

"I train with the best players in the world and I feel as if I have one of the best coaches in the world.

"The Premier League is heaven for a player. You see and you meet the best of the best. Every opponent has quality and is physically strong. When I used to play at Ajax I could play and win matches without having to give 100 per cent. Under Benitez, and in the Premier League, that is impossible."

Babel still thinks Liverpool will win the title. He said: "Our rivals are going to drop points. They can't keep winning. It is important we show character when they make a mistake."

Kuyt - Rafa Proved Right

Dirk Kuyt admits Rafa Benitez was proved right to drop several first-team regulars for Liverpool's 3-2 win at Portsmouth.

Reds boss Benitez sprung a surprise with his team selection at Fratton Park after leaving Kuyt, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres on the bench, while also changing to a three-man central defence.

Benitez's substitutions worked perfectly as Kuyt brought the Reds level at 2-2 before Torres headed home a stoppage-time winner.

Dutch attacker Kuyt concedes he would prefer to be starting games, but he understands Benitez's decision to freshen up his team.

"It's the choice of the boss," said Kuyt. "Of course, as a player you always want to play, but it is the manager's choice - and he was right."

Jamie Carragher acknowledged Benitez had taken a gamble and feels the victory at Pompey proves Liverpool's desire to win the Premier League title.

"There are a few times that we've come back, so that tells you about the spirit of the team," said Carragher.

"It's always a gamble when your big names are on the bench.

"But we had extra-time against Everton in the week, so it wasn't about big names but fresh players.

"They came off the bench to make a difference and that's what they did."

No New Agger Deal Yet - Agent

Daniel Agger's agent has denied reports that the Liverpool defender has signed a new contract with the Premier League club.

Reports on Saturday claimed that the Denmark international had committed his future to the Reds by agreeing a new £70,000-a-week deal.

Agger's current contract expires next year and he has been waiting for the title contenders to discuss an extension.

However, the 24-year-old's representative Per Steffensen insists the centre-half has yet to resolve his future on Merseyside.

"It is simply not correct," Steffensen told TV2 Sporten in reference to the latest rumours. "There has not been any deal signed with Liverpool.

"Apart from that, I have no comments regarding Daniel's situation."

Since joining the Reds from Brondby just over three years ago, Agger has made over 70 appearances for Rafa Benitez's side.