Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Benitez Defends Liverpool FC Selection And Tactics

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez revealed his decision to make wholesale changes in personnel and tactics for his side’s dramatic late 3-2 win at Portsmouth was taken on the advice of the club’s medical staff.

Already without injured skipper Steven Gerrard and the suspended Lucas, Benitez started the game at Fratton Park with Xabi Alonso, Albert Riera, Dirk Kuyt and Fernando Torres all dropped to the substitutes bench.

Benitez said: “We were speaking to the medical staff who were treating the players, we spoke with the technical staff, with the fitness coach, with Sammy (Lee) and (Mauricio) Pellegrino and after we had a meeting and we decided on this team.

“It’s not easy to leave Torres or Alonso or Kuyt on the bench, it was a difficult decision, but sometimes you have to do this to be contenders until the end of the season.”

Benitez claimed he had faith in the rest of his squad, having given several of his fringe players an opportunity and declared he wanted to make a statement about the strength of his squad.

He said: “It was important to show this. We had players like Ngog, Babel, Benayoun working really hard and playing well and after we had the big names.

“So it was really good for the team because now we have more confidence and everybody will say maybe they can be there until the end of the season.”

However, with some of the players who came into the side failing to make an impact, Benitez had to rely on his more established stars coming off the bench to rescue the points although the Spaniard claimed he considered such possibilities before the game.
He said: “When you prepare you have an idea. The idea was to start with these players and see what will happen and we started really well so I thought we could win with them.

“We were playing very well. At the end we had some players who were really tired, you could see Arbeloa was really tired so we were thinking about substitutions.

“Ngog was also tired and he felt something so we thought okay we changed him.

“After we conceded the goal we needed more quality in the pass so Xabi Alonso was the second option. The last one was Torres because we were trying to win the game.”

Arguably Benitez’s most intriguing selection was the decision to hand a first Premier League start to striker David Ngog, but the Liverpool manager remains an admirer of the French teenager.

He said: “You can see he is a very good player. Clearly he has quality, he has talent.

“He needs to be strong to play in the Premier League, but his movement is really good and if the players around him can play well, he will play well too.”

Benitez also reshaped his defence by adopting a three centre-back system behind two wing-backs, but he rebuffed any suggestions that the system was a failure or that his continual use of zonal marking was costing the side unnecessary goals.

He said: “The use of a back three depends on the games.

“We needed to do it because we didn’t have too many fresh legs and we were trying to put players in good positions.

“If you look at corners and free-kicks normally we are doing the same as other teams. So everyone is conceding, it doesn’t really matter if it is man to man or zonal.

“It’s easy to talk but you can check, how many goals do you see that are scored in the Championship and the Premier League that are conceded man to man.”

Voronin Won't Get Liverpool Recall Despite Striker Crisis

Andrey Voronin has offered to return to Liverpool to ease their striker crisis.

And the Ukrainian misfit, on loan at Hertha Berlin, has cheekily claimed Liverpool have been in contact with him over the prospect.

Voronin was shipped out to the German club after just one season at Anfield and is in talks to make the move permanent.

But yesterday he claimed he could replace Robbie Keane, who returned to Spurs in the transfer window.

"I still have a contract at Liverpool and now Keane has been sold I could go back," said Voronin. "I was playing regularly at Anfield until they signed Keane, and with him gone, they don't have many strikers.

"I know my agent has talked with Liverpool and I could help them."

Yet far from talking to Voronin about a return, officials at Anfield explained they are trying to discuss his departure for good as they are still paying a big chunk of his wages.

Meanwhile, defender Martin Kelly has been given a contract extension to June 2011.

McAuley Eyes Albion Scalp

AS Liverpool under-18s continue to progress in the FA Youth Cup, they will now turn their attentions on getting back to winning ways in the FA Premier Academy League.

David Amoo’s goal gave Liverpool a 1-0 fifth round victory over Chelsea at Anfield last Thursday, but now they return to Academy League action this Saturday at West Brom.

Hugh McAuley’s side lost 3-2 to Everton on their last league outing and haven’t won for almost two months, due to the Christmas break and Youth Cup commitments, ironically against Albion at the Kirkby Academy in early December.

But they have progressed in the cup during that time and faced arguably their three toughest fixtures against Manchester United, North West league leaders Manchester City and neighbours Everton.

McAuley said: “The two games we have played in the league this year have been against two tough teams, but we have played really well in both. We drew with Manchester City and lost to Everton, although I thought we were the best team and it was a game we should have won.

“Performances have been good, if not results. But we go into the next game a team full of confidence after the win over Chelsea. We are playing some good stuff. We have shown good spirit and really good enthusiasm. We have no problem on that side of it and I am sure if we keep that up, results will come in the league.

“It is important we keep our consistency, enthusiasm and the right motivation.”

He added: “The game at the end of the week or the Youth Cup match are the situations where we judge our players particularly when we play the bigger clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Everton and also Arsenal in the Youth Cup last year. They tell where our players are and how far we are compared to those teams.”

Liverpool Warned Over Benitez

Liverpool have been warned it would be a massive mistake to allow Rafael Benitez to walk away from the club - by the man who let him leave Valencia.

Jesus Garcia Pitarch was Valencia's Sporting Director when Benitez quit the club for Anfield in 2004 after a disagreement over transfer policy.

And that same issue is reportedly now causing conflict between the Spaniard and Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry - with the manager's new contract still unsigned.

But Pitarch says Benitez must be backed by the Liverpool hierarchy after building a team that is finally challenging for the Premier League title.

"I think it would be a huge error if Liverpool allowed Benitez to leave," said Pitarch, who saw Benitez win two La Liga titles and the UEFA Cup at Valencia.

"Rafa is a great manager, which he demonstrated with Valencia. I haven't been surprised he has had success at Liverpool.

"He is always ready for any challenge and I believe that Liverpool can win the title this season."

And Pitarch has revealed Benitez's methodical approach and analysis of opponents are the pillars of his success.

"He is a very methodical tactician," explained Pitarch, who is now Atletico Madrid's Sporting Director.

"He studies every aspect of a rival club in such detail and thinks of what they will do in any situation. That was his principal innovation at Valencia and now all clubs do the same."

Fernando Torres Defiant Over Liverpool's Title Hopes

'El Nino' reckons the Reds are still well and truly on course for their first English crown since 1990.

Liverpool are still hanging around in the title race, as their consecutive wins - against Chelsea and Portsmouth - see them sit just two points behind the Premier League leaders, Manchester United.

It was Fernando Torres' heroics which saw off Pompey and the Blues (and doomed Tony Adams and Luiz Felipe Scolari to the sack), as he struck late in both games to seal nervy wins for victories for the Reds.

Pundits have dubbed the Merseysiders' form since the turn of the year 'unconvincing'; but Torres, while admitting his have had some sticky moments, thinks that it as unfair label.

"We began very well and at the moment we're going through a period which isn't the best," he said on the club's official website.

"But we're not bad, maybe it's just that we're stifled by lesser teams who are happy with a draw. We are better against the big teams and we have to show that against Real Madrid.

"We're getting back players that have been absent with injury like me."

Torres believes it is all a matter of perspective. Liverpool might not be in tip-top touch, but they are in a far better position than they were this time last year.

"It all depends on how you look at things," the Spaniard continued. "You can be pessimistic and think we have been knocked out of the cup and that it was tough for us to win.

"Or you can think positively, which is what I do, and see that we are fighting for the league, which we're in the last 16 of the Champions League, that on the whole we are better than previous years.

"That's what I think."

Torres has endured an injury-riddled campaign, yet he boasts 11 goals so far this season.

Vicente Del Bosque Denies Rift With Liverpool Manager Rafa Benitez

The La Furia Roja coach has dismissed suggestions that the Reds boss is unhappy with the number of Spanish players returning to their homeland for this Wednesday’s friendly.

Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez was reportedly left fuming again ahead of another week of international friendlies after four of his key players, including a fit but “tired” Fernando Torres, were called up to the Spanish national team to face England this Wednesday.

In the lead-up to the game, Spain coach, Vicente del Bosque has clarified that there are no issues between himself and Benitez in regards to the number of players leaving Anfield for Andalucia this week.

“It’s logical for each person to look after their own interest, but the national team must be put above everything else,” the 58-year-old said during an interview with Radio Marca program, ‘La Futboleria’.

“However, there has never been an instance where the players were forced to take part. We have sufficient players. He [Benitez] has not made any special requests not to take any of his players, and as such, the responsibility falls on me to make the decisions,” he added.

Del Bosque then went on clear the air once and for all, saying that the Reds gaffer was not at all upset with his players being called up.

“I spoke to him last Friday and he told me that what was published in the press is untrue. And I believe what he said,” he remarked.

Focusing on the game itself, Del Bosque is certain that Wednesday’s clash at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in Seville will be a classic encounter.

“It will be an attractive game between two very big teams.

“They [England] have certainly improved a lot since the arrival of Fabio Capello. It won’t be easy to get a good result because both sides have a lot of great players and it will be very evenly matched,” he predicted.

Finally, ex-Real Madrid coach assured that his decision to call up young Barcelona midfielder, Sergio Busquets, will not be a once-off selection.

“We are preparing for the future with young players of this calibre.

“There are clubs who promote their youth players a bit too quickly and that is usually a bad decision, but in Barcelona’s case, it was the right thing to do,” he concluded.

Dirk Kuyt Hails Impact Of Fernando Torres In Liverpool Victory

The hard-working Dutchman has praised the contribution of his striking colleague following the weekend’s victory over Portsmouth.

After both players came off the bench to net crucial late goals and claim a dramatic win for Liverpool over Portsmouth on Saturday, consigning Pompey manager Tony Adams to the burgeoning ranks of the British unemployed in the process, Dirk Kuyt has been moved to shower yet more praise on to the shoulders of team-mate Fernando Torres.

Kuyt had levelled the match at 2-2 in the dying minutes before the Spaniard won the game with an injury-time header. The Dutchman was quick to acknowledge the vital role Torres plays in the Liverpool side.

"He is really important for us," Kuyt told The Liverpool Echo.

"It’s great that he’s back from injury, he was very important against Chelsea, he was great today [Saturday] and I’m sure he will be [great] for the rest of the season as well."

The nature of Saturday's victory also pleased Kuyt, who believes that the Reds demonstrated the character and heart that is present in the team.

"It was our best game,” the Dutch international added. “It doesn’t matter how you win matches as long as you do. What we did was show character today. It was a crazy match.

"We lost in the FA Cup against Everton, which was a real disappointment, and we knew it was a big game today. To come back twice from behind is very good."

Fernando Torres: Liverpool Is Steven Gerrard And Ten Others

Talismanic Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard had recently been ruled out of action for up to three weeks after scans revealed he had torn his hamstring.

Silky striker Fernando Torres though has indicated that this is an absence that the Reds can ill afford as they aim to maintain the pressure on league leaders Manchester United.

'El Nino' believes that Gerrard is irreplaceable, and even stated that Liverpool is "Gerrard and ten others."

Torres is currently linking up with his Spanish squad as the current European Champions host England in an international friendly.

He told The Daily Telegraph, "There is simply no substitute for Gerrard. Every great team has a talisman, the player who has been at the club for ever – he is ours.

"People come and go but he is always here. He is everything to us. Liverpool is Gerrard and 10 others. They talk about him being out for three weeks but hopefully it will be less.

"I am encouraged by the fact that he asked for the change as soon as he felt the pull. I hope that he will be out for less time than originally thought."

Regarding the Anfield reception that Torres is subject to, the modest Spaniard revealed that he remains overwhelmed by the adulation, adding, "It is wonderful when they sing my name. I am not Gerrard or Carragher, I am not one of theirs.

"But when you get so much support so soon, it is very special. And it drives you on to achieve things for those fans with goals and titles.

"The other day I was walking the dogs in the street and I walked past two men. Once I was ten metres ahead they started singing my name. It’s a great feeling."

Agger Wants Fewer Draws

Daniel Agger believes Liverpool have drawn too many games and has challenged his team-mates to stop dropping so many points.

The Reds have only lost once all season but they have slipped behind Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table following a disappointing run of seven draws in 12 games.

They have secured late victories in their last two matches against Chelsea and Portsmouth and Agger was especially buoyed by the performance at Fratton Park.

Pompey led 2-1 with just five minutes remaining but Dirk Kuyt equalised and Fernando Torres then fired home a last-gasp winner.

"You are not going to win a title if you are drawing every second game, we know that," Agger told the Liverpool Echo.

"So games like this one which we have won after going behind are a big bonus for us.

"Every game is only worth three points, you don't get any extra points for coming back but it always gives you a boost if you can come from behind.

"We worked hard for the win. The way the game turned out was not the way we had planned for it to be but the most important thing was to take the three points so we are just relieved that we did that."

Agger accepts that Liverpool will need to improve defensively if they are to wrestle top spot back from United

"The way they scored both goals was really disappointing for us and it was hard work to get back into the game," said the Dane.

"All we could do was keep our focus and continue believing in ourselves and thankfully the goals came.

"We had some really good moments in the game, passing the ball on the ground where it should be played.

"Even though it was a difficult pitch we passed it really well at times but sometimes we just needed to attack with a bit more determination.

"That's maybe the reason why we didn't create as many chances as we should have done before the goals finally came."