Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rafa Benitez Urges Liverpool To Forget About Real Madrid

The Liverpool boss wants his men to focus on the Premier League for the moment, and let the Champions League take care of itself.

Liverpool seem to have made domestic success their priority this season, with the ending of a 19-year wait for an English league title their main target rather than winning another Champions League.

Manager Rafa Benitez has today given weight to that supposition by urging his men to forget about next week's Champions League opponents Real Madrid for the moment, and keep their focus on the weekend's Premier League adversaries, Manchester City.

"The main thing for us right now is the game against Manchester City – that is very clear," Benitez told The Liverpool Echo today.

"This game has to be the priority because it is in the Premier League and we are in a good position and want to take three points.

"We have three days after we have played City in which we can look forward to Madrid but for now our focus must only be on the league."

Many of Benitez's squad were away on international duty last week, and the Spaniard feels that, coupled with a weekend of inactivity due to their recent elimination from the FA Cup by city rivals Everton, may have freshened them up a little, as they move into a crucial phase of the season.

"It was important for us that in our last game before the break we managed to get a win against Portsmouth because it is always good to produce a positive result in such situations," the coach added.

"Some of the players have been away with their countries since then and we have also had some time off with the break so this should mean that they will return with more energy.

"We are in a good position and our confidence is high, now we must look to build on what we have done."

Gerrard May Face Manchester City

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard could make his return from a hamstring injury against Manchester City on Sunday.

The England midfielder suffered the tear in the Merseyside derby on February 4 and was initially expected to be out for three weeks - with the Champions League clash with Real Madrid thought to be his most likely target.

Now Reds manager Rafael Benitez, whose side rely on Gerrard's surging runs and goals from behind the striker, has opened the door for a potential return from the bench at the weekend.

The Spaniard said Gerrard had reacted well to treatment and was eager to get back on the pitch as soon as possible.

"He is improving. In these situations each day is important. He is working with the medical staff and is progressing.

"Normally he is a player who recovers quickly. He needs less time than other players," Benitez told

"I was surprised because the Spanish press said he'd play some minutes this weekend and then play against Real Madrid, but the truth is we don't know yet.

"Maybe he could be on the bench against City but we don't know.

"He wants to play every single game. He knows the game against City will be very important, and also the Real Madrid one too."

Carragher Eyes Top Spot

Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool deserve a pat on the back for emerging as the main challengers to Premier League champions Manchester United but insists the Reds will not be satisfied with second place.

Carragher and his team-mates finished fourth in the table last season, behind United, Chelsea and Arsenal, but this term Rafa Benitez's side have emerged as genuine contenders to end a title drought which stretches back to 1990.

The Anfield outfit, however, will fall five points behind European and world champions United if the Red Devils secure home victory over Fulham on Wednesday night.

But with Liverpool still to travel to Old Trafford on 14th March, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD 1, Carragher feels the club remains well placed for a push at league silverware and insists overhauling Chelsea and Arsenal deserves high praise.

"There are still a lot of games to go so it's important everyone at the club remains calm," Carragher said in the Daily Express.

"United have got a bit of a lead on us at the moment, but if we can close that gap before we go to Old Trafford that would put us in a great position, especially if we are in form at the time of that game.

"A lot of people said at the start of the season that we needed to be in the title race at the end and at the very least be in with a fighting chance.

"We finished fourth last season, but we have risen to the challenge by overtaking Chelsea and Arsenal.

"Even though everyone at the club understands that it is not over by a long way, at the moment it looks as if it is going to be between us and Manchester United for the title.

"Overtaking Chelsea and Arsenal in the race is an achievement in itself already, and everyone should be proud of that.

"Now, hopefully, we can go one step further and win this title."

Liverpool Could Lose Seven Stars In Summer

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is set to face another summer without some of his top players with Spain and Brazil set to take part in the Confederations Cup in June.

Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Albert Riera and Pepe Reina are expected to be selected by Vincente del Bosque while Lucas Leiva and Fabio Aurelio are possible candidates for Dunga’s Brazil.

Arsenal are also likely to lose captain Cesc Fabregas for the South Africa based tournament which acts as a build up to the World Cup in 2010.

Egypt, New Zealand, Iraq, South Africa, Italy and the USA will also take part in the tournament which is scheduled for June.

Arranged every four years, the Confederations Cup is organised by FIFA and features the winners of each of the six FIFA confederation championships (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA, AFC, OFC, CONCACAF), along with the FIFA World Cup winner and the host country, to bring the number of teams up to eight.

Speaking to, Godfrey Nkwane, one of the tournament coordinators stated:

"For us it is really mouth-watering to have the FIFA World Cup champions Italy, as well as Brazil coming to our city. It will bring excitement to the city and will really help our promotion of the tournament. You couldn't ask for better matches and our supporters will definitely fill the stadiums.”

Why Steven Gerrard Struggles To Have The Complete Love Of The Kop

Those who don’t go to Anfield on a regular basis are often surprised to see the matchgoing Liverpool fans’ attitude to Steven Gerrard. They expect admiration, love, a fawning devotion to the Liverpool captain.

Instead, there is an unsettling undercurrent of antagonism towards Gerrard, one that is fading as the years go by but can still rise up into hostility at the slightest excuse.

When they come across it, outsiders attribute the griping to Gerrard’s double flirtation with Chelsea - but the doubts in the Kopites’ minds go back farther.

Almost from the beginning, more than ten years back now, there were those who found Gerrard’s demeanour irritating. As soon as it became clear that here was a prodigious talent, the critics in the stands saw room for complaint. At times, the youngster appeared to be looking for the flashy ‘Hollywood’ pass when an easy ball was the preferred option.

It got worse after he was part of England’s 5-1 victory over Germany. Suddenly he was a national hero. Scouse supremacists are always naturally suspicious of English heroes.

Gerrard was earning the nickname ‘Stevie Me’. When he scored, he pointed to his chest frantically. When he was used on the right of midfield - which the Kop, almost to a man considered his best position - he seemed to sulk, yearning for the central role the media demanded.

And, in the big games, the alehouse tittle-tattle said, he disappeared. That meant, in simplest terms, he'd never destroyed Manchester United single-handedly. Yet, by the time Benitez arrived, he seemed to feel he was the dominant power at the club.

The perfect example of ambivalence to Gerrard came in Istanbul. After he scored Liverpool’s opening goal, he turned to rouse the crowd, gesturing with his arms for fans to turn up the volume. The volume rose, for sure, but there was an irritated growl behind it: we didn’t need lesson in support from him. Afterwards, he hogged the cup, with only Jamie Carragher wresting it away for any length of time. Not the Liverpool way. Not the work of a captain, either.

Then there was the flirtation with Chelsea. It was almost too much to bear to see a Scouser apparently determined to take Roman’s roubles. But he stayed. And since then, things have got better.

He’s matured. The arrival of Fernando Torres has removed some of the expectation and burden from him. He’s had more bounce about him on the pitch. Plus, his recent arrest has made this aloof and seemingly troubled lad from Huyton simpatico at last.

All things considered, he deserves the place at No 2 in the list of Liverpool’s greatest players - if you need a goal with the time running out, where else would you want to see the ball but at Gerrard’s feet. But he also deserves the acclaim and adoration of the Kop. It’s coming, it’s coming.

Everton Reserves 1 - 1 Liverpool Reserves

It was honours even in the mini-derby at the Halton Stadium last night.

Andy Holden’s side had been looking to complete a club hat-trick of wins following recent victories for David Moyes’s first team and Neil Dewsnip’s under-18s.

It looked possible when Scott Spencer scored a freak opener midway through the first half, but the visitors hit back immediately with the unfortunate Hope Akpan heading in at the wrong end.

With Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling now fighting for first-team places and Lukas Jutkiewicz and John Paul Kissock away on loan, Holden was deprived of experience.

It gave the bulk of Everton’s Under-18s side the chance to impress, alongside lone old-head Carlo Nash.

Three minutes in a neat interchange between Liverpool’s Dani Pacheco and Gerardo Bruna fashioned an opening for Victor Palsson. The right-sided midfielder beat Carlo Nash but James McCarten was well positioned to hack off the line.

Nathan Craig and Jay Spearing then took it in turns to lash speculative volleys off target.

A neat backheel from Spencer allowed Craig to cross from the left, but when the ball eventually fell for James Wallace, Reds keeper Martin Hansen did well to smother.

At the other end Dani Pacheco found Andras Simon unmarked in the box soon after but the save for Carlo Nash was simple.

However, as the half-hour mark approached the strangest of goals gave Everton the breakthrough. Receiving the ball from Spencer following an injury stoppage, Martin Hansen contrived to miss-control and allow the ball to trickle across the line.

But Everton’s lead was short-lived, Akpan glancing Pacheco’s free-kick into his own net just four minutes later.

Luke Powell, handed a late start following Tom McCready’s withdrawal looked to keen to make the most of the opportunity, providing a constant outlet down the right.

But the visitors continued to threaten, Pacheco cutting in onto his right foot early in the second half and fizzing a shot inches wide of the post.

Half-time appeared to have galvanised the hosts and Eunan O’Kane saw a bullet header tipped onto the crossbar by Hansen.

At the back the unfamiliar centre back pairing of McCarten and John Irving proved water-tight, while Seamus Coleman looked solid on his reserves home debut.

Twice Irving went close from Craig set pieces as Everton continued to probe. But the game petered out, both sides tiring, and understandably so, given the nature of the occasion.

And tired legs perhaps accounted for late openings for either side. With four minutes remaining Simon produced a fearsome shot on the turn only for Nash to muster a stunning reaction save.

It allowed Everton to launch a counter which resulted in the impressive Luke Powell hitting the upright – the woodwork forcing Everton to settle for just a share of the spoils.

Robben On A Revenge Mission Against Liverpool

Arjen Robben has some old scores to settle when Real Madrid meet Liverpool in the first knockout round of the Champions League, which returns next week.

The former Chelsea winger will come up against a side he has twice lost to in the semi-finals of the competition, with Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina saved his penalty in a shootout two years ago.

The Dutch international is eager to get revenge for the heartache suffered in 2005 and 2007, starting iith the first leg in the Bernabeu on February 25 before Real make the trip to Anfield 13 days later.

The game at Anfield in 2005 was infamous for the "ghost goal" scored by Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia - then-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho still refuses to concede the ball crossed the line - and two years later the Premier League clubs could only be separated by penalty kicks. After the tie ended 1-1 on aggregate, Reina saved from Robben and Geremi as Liverpool took the shootout 4-1 on Merseyside.

"I want to beat Liverpool because I've lost against them twice in the semi-finals," Robben told Radio Marca. "Also (Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe) Reina saved a penalty of mine and I would like to take another and score this time."

Robben is in the form of his career at the moment after finally settling in Spain and is expected to be a crucial figure in the Round of 16 tie, although he missed the 4-0 hammering of Sporting Gijon on Sunday with a slight muscle strain.

"Liverpool are a very strong team, they have a coach who is very good tactically, and they know how they have to play in particular games," he added. "The most important thing will be to score goals at the Bernabeu.

"We have to win by more than two goals because the return at Anfield will be tough."

Reds Register Brazilian Interest

The agent of Brazilian wonderkid Keirrison has claimed that Liverpool have enquired about the Palmeiras forward.

Keirrison, 20, has been on the radar of a number of top European clubs after finishing as joint top scorer in the Brazilian championship last season with 21 goals.

This season he has only underlined his growing reputation by scoring eight times in five appearances in all competitions, including three in the prestigious Copa Libertadores.

The reigning Brazilian Young Player of the Year currently plays for Palmeiras but his rights are owned by a company called Traffic Sports Marketing in a similar arrangement to the one that saw both Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano owned by Media Sports Investment.

Now a representative of TSM has claimed that The Reds have made an enquiry as to Keirrison’s availability, even if the latest talent to roll off the Brazilian production line will not be moving to Europe until the end of the year.

“We agree with Palmeiras that Keirrison will stay in Brazil until the end of 2009 because we want Palmeiras to fight for the Brazilian championship and the Copa Libertadores,” Roberto Benevides told the Italian press.

“We believe the technical merit and market price of the player may also double in this period.

“Major European clubs have asked about him: I am referring to Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

“Roma? No, we have never received any call from the Giallorossi.”

More Charges In Gerrard Bar Case

Two footballers have been charged over the same incident in a Merseyside bar which saw Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard accused of assault.

Accrington Stanley's goalkeeper Ian Dunbavin, 28, and midfielder Robert Grant, 18, have both been charged with affray, said police.

Gerrard, 28, was charged over the attack in the Lounge Inn in Southport in the early hours of 29 December.

The England player is on bail and due to re-appear in court on 20 March.

Gerrard appeared before magistrates last month, where he said he intended to plead not guilty to the charge.

Two other men, John Doran, 29, and Ian Smith, 19, both from Huyton, face the same charges as the midfielder.

Merseyside Police have also charged Paul McGrattan, of Linden Drive, Huyton, with affray and assaulting a police officer.

Mr. Grattan, along with the two League Two players will appear before North Sefton Magistrates Court on Monday.

Two other men, a 33-year-old from Huyton and an 18-year-old from Roby, Merseyside, remain on bail pending further inquiries.

A 34-year-old man from Southport suffered facial injuries in the incident at the Lounge Inn.

Liverpool FC Can Win Premier League Title Battle - Mauricio Pellegrino

Three-time title winner Mauricio Pellegrino believes Liverpool have the character to battle back and win the Barclays Premier League.

The club’s first team coach dismisses the notion they are out of the race as almost a third of the fixtures have still to be played.

Yet when Liverpool line-up against Manchester City on Sunday they could be eight points adrift of Manchester United.

The leaders host their game in hand tomorrow against Fulham and then welcome Blackburn to Old Trafford on Saturday.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are building up a head of steam but Pellegrino - who won La Liga with Valencia (twice) and Barcelona - is adamant the picture could change.

"Everyone in our squad has personality. We have shown in difficult moments this season that we have character," he told

"We have a very good squad - all of them are very professional. I think the players are strong enough.

"They have to prove something in every single game but I am not worried about the pressure. For me, the best thing you can do in professional sport is fight for titles.

"I am sure we can get to the last two or three weeks and still have possibilities. In the end, the difference between first and second will be the small details.

"For me, the most important thing is to stay calm. We have to think about the next game, not the last game in May."

Asked if he was confident manager Rafael Benitez would eventually end Liverpool’s long wait for a title, Pellegrino added: "Why not?

"We can’t predict the future but I am sure that Rafa is one of the best trainers in the world and he is here at Liverpool.

"I am really happy here because the atmosphere at Melwood is very good. The most important thing is that Rafa is open minded.

"He listens to the opinions of every one of his staff, and he’s also a hard worker."

Ian Rush: Lay-Off Will Prove The Perfect Lift For Liverpool

By the time Liverpool kick off against Manchester City on Sunday it will have been more than a fortnight since their last game – and for me those two weeks may be the most important of the season so far.

As a player you love the games to come thick and fast, especially at this stage of the season because the more matches you play the more likely it is that you are doing well.

But it is absolutely vital that you get some rest at the right times and this is exactly what Liverpool have just had.

They would much rather have been involved in FA Cup action at the weekend, there is no question about that, and I am sure all the players and staff at Anfield did not enjoy looking on as other teams took part in round five.

But you have to take the positives from every situation, and in this case the benefit to Liverpool was clear in that the cup weekend came hot on the heels of an international break and this has allowed them to recharge their batteries.

Even though several of Rafa Benitez’s players went off on international duty this could still be beneficial because sometimes you just need a change of scenery and a different environment before getting back to the daily grind at Melwood.

The two biggest plus points for me are that the break will have allowed Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres to work on their fitness.

Gerrard, in particular, will have been delighted that there has only been one match since he picked up a hamstring tear against Everton.

At almost any other stage of the season Liverpool’s captain would have expected to miss several matches with that kind of injury.

So if it turns out that he only ends up missing one then it will be more than welcome both for him and for the team.

Torres had been looking a little short of his absolute sharpest after coming back from his own hamstring problems and this was why Benitez only brought him on during the final stages of Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Portsmouth.

So the fact that he has since played an hour for Spain and has also had the opportunity to work on his overall fitness at Melwood is another boost to Liverpool.

The challenge now is to make the most of the recovery time that the last fortnight has afforded them.

There can be no excuses about tiredness when Manchester City come to Anfield because the Liverpool players should be as fresh as they have been at any other time this season.