Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reina Out To End Real Record

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina is hoping to finally break his losing streak at Real Madrid when they two sides meet in the UEFA Champions League.

The Reds travel to the Spanish capital for the first leg of their last 16 encounter next week and Reina is determined to enjoy success at El Santiago Bernabeu.

Reina has never won at Real's home during his time playing in Spain and he is also looking to exact revenge for his father who never enjoyed much success against Real while he was at city rivals Atletico Madrid.

"I have yet to win in the Bernabeu. In all the time I've played against them, I think I've managed only two draws," said Reina.

"But then of course it's a really tough place to get a result. That's always been the case. When my dad played against them in the 60s and 70s it was the same story. He also had a bad record against them.

"It won't be easy but we know we can do it, and that would be great for me and my family.

"Real are one of the best clubs in the world and if we did go out against them there would be no shame in it.

"But we will be doing our utmost to make sure that doesn't happen and I'm confident we can reach the quarter-finals.

"Every player wants to play in these massive games, and we feel we can do well there."

Reds Duo Wary Of Real

Xabi Alonso believes that Liverpool have to score at Real Madrid to give themselves a good chance of winning their UEFA Champions League tie.

Rafa Benitez's men travel to El Santiago Bernabeu next week and Spanish midfielder Alonso feels the La Liga outfit are better at the back under Juande Ramos.

The Reds' playmaker knows exactly what Los Merengues have to offer and recognised that an away goal could be crucial to their chances of triumphing.

"For us it is important that we score in the Bernabeu because that gives you something for the second game at Anfield and gives us more options to go through," he told Radio Marca.

"If we do not score then it could limit us for the return leg because if we then concede at home it will make things very difficult.

"I think it will be a very even tie and a great one to watch for the fans.

"Madrid have improved a lot defensively under Juande as they let in less goals and that will be something to think about.

"But we have good players and we expect to score and go through."

Goalkeeper Pepe Reina was also present with Alonso and he feels that things could be cagey as both sides, in his opinion, know how to defend better than they attack.

"I do not think that there will be many goals in the tie," he explained. "I am sure that they are in great form and it will be difficult to score against them.

"It will be very tight with few chances and the games will be decided in the details. Both teams are better at defending than attacking."

Steven Gerrard is facing a race to be fit for the first game and Reina hopes that the Liverpool captain makes it back in time to play.

"He will be doubtful until close to the game, but nothing has been decided. We hope that he recovers in time because he is a player that can win games," he added.

"I believe that he is not only one of the best players at Liverpool but also in world football."

UEFA Consider Liverpool FC Request Over Hillsborough Date Clash

UEFA are considering a request from Liverpool to move a Champions League match to avoid a clash with the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.

Liverpool have asked if the second leg of their quarter-final - should they reach it - can be brought forward from its currently scheduled date of April 15.

That day marks exactly two decades since 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives at Hillsborough before and during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

Liverpool would like the game to be played on April 14, allowing players and staff to attend a memorial service at Anfield the following day.

The club have alerted UEFA to this potential clash but European football’s governing body will not make a firm decision until after the last-16 ties are played and the quarter-final draw made.

A UEFA spokesman said: "We have received a request and we will try our best to accommodate it, but we cannot guarantee at this stage that we will be able to."

Liverpool must first come through a two-legged tie against Real Madrid to reach the quarter-finals.

Xabi Alonso Gutted To Miss Liverpool's Manchester City Clash

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso has passed the yellow cards threshold and will sit out the weekend visit of Manchester City.

Thus, he'll have to endure the game from the Anfield stands. 'Pool cannot afford any more slip-ups if they want to stay in the hunt for the Premier League title, therefore, spectator Alonso is hoping for a more straightforward game than October's thrilling 3-2 comeback win at Eastlands.

"It's always frustrating to watch games from the stands but I have known for a while [that] I was likely to miss a match at some point and it has to be this one on Sunday," he told the club's official website.

"This game with Manchester City is going to be very important for us if we want to challenge for the title.

"Hopefully it won't be as dramatic as our game at City when we were two goals down at half-time. We had to play with a lot of belief in that second half and score three goals, which eventually we managed. This time it will hopefully be more comfortable.

"They are a good team and, even though they haven't got the best of away records this season, we know we will be in for a tough match."

Sir Alex Ferguson: Liverpool Are Manchester United's Title Rivals

Sir Alex Ferguson doesn't think that Chelsea will provide any major threat to Manchester United's drive for the Premier League title this season. Instead, he is viewing Rafa Bentiez's Liverpool as the main threat to his domestic ambitions.

"At this moment in time, Liverpool are our main challengers and our greatest threat," the Scotsman told The Manchester Evening News today.

Guus Hiddink has been appointed as temporary manager at Chelsea, but Ferguson clearly sees that making negligible difference to a title race his men currently lead by five points from Liverpool.

The gap to Aston Villa in third place is eight points, with Chelsea a further two points behind them, and Ferguson clearly views this as an insurmountable gap for the Londoners. Aston Villa remain something of an unknown quantity, whose lack of experience might tell in the run-in.

Ferguson has identified the period when United returned from Japan with the World Club Championship as key to the progress that they have subsequently made in climbing to the top of the table.

"We went to Stoke [December 26] and it was a lively pitch and we had just got back from Japan. But we scraped a result because we never gave in," the Scot added.

"We ended up with Ryan Giggs at left-back because we wanted to win the match. It was an important marker to lay down after coming back from Japan. We needed to win that game. Once we won that we have just gone on.

"Then I looked upon the West Ham match as our hardest away game in the run in. They had been playing their best football of the season and it is a tough place to go to.

"We had to play them at a great moment for them in terms of confidence and form so it was always going to be a big task for us. But the players delivered. We didn't lose our composure or nerve to play. The players know how to handle pressure."

Sielva Lining For Liverpool

Liverpool are understood to have first option on signing Espanyol’s 17-year-old attacking midfielder Oscar Sielva, according to Sky Sports.

The Anfield side’s agreement appears to stem from business done last summer when Albert Riera swapped his Barcelona surroundings for Merseyside.

Rafael Benitez is known to be keen on expanding Liverpool’s academy system as he looks to create a sustainable programme of development for young talent.

Sielva, who played against Manchester United in a pre-season friendly, is valued at around £2million.

Kuyt - Best Is Yet To Come

Dirk Kuyt has fired a warning to Liverpool's title rivals by suggesting the Reds have yet to hit top gear.

Rafa Benitez's side currently occupy second place in the Premier League standings, sitting five points adrift of leaders Manchester United.

The Anfield outfit have not been so well placed to launch a title charge since 2002, while they have failed to land the top-flight crown for 19 years.

However, Kuyt believes that long wait could be about to come to an end, with Liverpool set to hit their peak at a crucial stage of the season.

"It's right to say we have players who are just reaching their peak," the Dutchman told the club's official website.

"Steven Gerrard just seems to get better every season. Maybe he hasn't even reached his peak yet. He scores loads of goals and everyone can see how important he is. It's the same with Fernando (Torres) and a few others.

"We have a lot of young, talented players who have now been at the club for a long time.

"I think this is the best team I have played with at Liverpool."

Liverpool's next step on the road to potential Premier League glory sees them welcome Manchester City to Merseyside on Sunday.

The Reds have had two weeks in which to prepare for the game, having slipped out of the FA Cup at the hands of neighbours Everton, and Kuyt believes the enforced break will prove beneficial to Benitez's men.

"The manager gave us a few days off so I went back to Holland to see family and friends," he said.

"Hopefully it will be my last opportunity to go back this season, because that would mean we are doing really well.

"We're all ready for the season now. If we'd have got through in the FA Cup we would have been playing but we have to see this as an opportunity to be fresh for the games ahead."

Gabonse Starlet Linked With Anfield

Gabonese youngster Bruno Ecuele has reportedly become a target for Rafael Benitez, according to recent reports in the press.

Ecuele, 20, is currently on the books of French second division side SC Angers and has caught the attention of Premierleague scouts in recent weeks with some fine performances.

The young centre back has been linked with both Liverpool and Arsenal and Ecuele insists the interest surrounding him is flattering.

When speaking to Ecuele stated 'It is fantastic to get noticed by huge clubs from the Premier League. It means I am doing well,'

'What I need to do is to concentrate on improving my game and see what happens.

He added, 'However, it would be a dream come true to play for a top team. Three years ago I was at FC105 of Libreville (in his homeland) and today I am linked with the best league in the world.'

Defensive Lapses Bring Liverpool Down To Earth

Coach Hughie McAuley is looking for a reaction from his players in Saturday’s Premier Academy League home clash with Crewe.

The Reds came back down to earth after their FA Youth Cup triumph over Chelsea as they were hammered 4-0 at West Brom last weekend.

McAuley’s men were second best throughout and conceded two goals in each half.

“It was a disappointing performance but that’s youth football for you,” he said.

“You have to take the good times when you beat Chelsea in the Youth Cup and the bad times when you get thrashed by West Brom.

“There were too many defensive lapses and we gave them too much space all over the park.

“They controlled the game and we never really got at them. It was just a bad day at the office for us - you get that sometimes when you are trying to develop youngsers.

“You just have to learn from it and move on. We’ve put a lot of hard work in this week to put things right.

“We need to get back to form ahead of the next round of the Youth Cup.”

The Reds sorely missed the attacking talents of Laurie Dalle Valle, James Ellison and Nathan Eccleston.

Dalle Valle (ankle ligaments) and James Ellison (back) missed out through injury, while Eccleston served a one-match ban.

David Amoo and Alex Cooper failed to take a couple of early chances and the defeat left the Reds still searching for their first league victory of 2009.

“We changed the team around and gave some game time to those in the squad who haven’t been playing regularly, but unfortunately the boys just didn’t get going at all,” McAuley added.

“West Brom were brighter and more up for the game than we were, so full credit to them. It was a bit of a hiding for our lads and we can’t say it wasn’t deserved.

“There wasn’t too much to shout about for us. Joe Kennedy and Thomas Ince did okay, but we struggled.”

The good news is that Dalle Valle and Eccleston are expected to return to action this weekend, while McAuley hopes to have Ellison back for for the FA Youth Cup quarter-final with Bolton at Anfield a week tomorrow.

Thomas Ince is part of John Peacock’s England under-17s squad for the Algarve Tournament in Portugal this weekend.

Ryan Babel: I Will Learn From Fernando Torres

Ryan Babel has told how he is hoping to put an indifferent season behind him – by becoming a Kop idol like Fernando Torres.

The Dutch forward has endured a difficult second season in English football and has found himself on the fringes of Rafa Benitez’s title challenging side.

But with the sale of Robbie Keane to Spurs having left the Reds boss short of attacking options, Babel is hoping to be given more opportunities to prove himself.

“With Robbie having gone to Tottenham that has increased my chances a little more,” said the 22-year-old.

“I feel that I am ready for more playing time so hopefully that will come.

“I have spoken with the manager and he has told me what my role can be in the future. If necessary, I will play as a winger, but I have made no secret of my desire to play as a striker at Liverpool.”

Babel was selected in his preferred central attacking role in Liverpool’s most recent game at Portsmouth.

Though the former Ajax man did not get on the scoresheet that day, he was happy that Benitez gave him a run out up front, and now he wants to repay his manager’s faith by proving his worth to the team.

And he is looking to learn from Torres as he endeavours to make the improvements he feels are necessary if he is to cut it as a top class striker.

He added: “I have to be realistic. I know Fernando is the number one striker, there is no doubt about that.

“But there are a lot of games and I want to prove that I can be a striker, too.

“Fernando has wonderful movement and that is what makes him the player he is. It’s definitely an area where I can get better, so I look at him in training.

“My shooting with my left foot could be better, too, and Fernando is good with both feet so I have been watching how he positions his body to strike the ball.

“I have to keep telling myself that I am only 22. it is easy to forget that.

“It is good for me that I have been playing more as a striker because that is where I feel most comfortable.

“But I have time on my side and there are more players in the squad who have more experience and are good in that role, too.

“As long as I am playing, though, I am happy being anywhere on the pitch.”