Monday, February 23, 2009

Steven Gerrard Could Return For Liverpool's Real Madrid Clash

‘Pool manager Rafael Benitez has revealed the club will decide whether the midfielder is fit enough after training on Monday.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has only missed the club's last two fixtures, but his absence has been sorely felt during that short period.

The Reds struggled to overcome a struggling Portsmouth side at Fratton Park on February 7, although they did eventually pick up three points with a 3-2 win.

However, the Merseyside-based outfit lost further ground on Premier League table toppers Manchester United yesterday as they were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City.

Next up for Liverpool is Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Wednesday evening in the Champions League and Reds manager Rafael Benitez has revealed Gerrard may be fit enough to play.

"Gerrard may be fit for Wednesday," the Spaniard told Liverpool's official website.

"He has to train on Monday and then we will let the doctor decide. It's not an easy decision but he's very close and hopefully he'll be okay."

Jerzy Dudek Knows That Liverpool Pose More Problems Than Just Fernando Torres

Iker Casillas' understudy at the Bernabeu has stated that 'El Nino' is not the only player who can worry Los Blancos' in their Champions League clash with Liverpool.

The Champions League makes a welcome return this week after an 8-week sabbatical, and the round of sixteen witnesses some mouth-watering clashes, none more so than the titanic battle between Real Madrid and Liverpool.

Madrid have found some formidable form since Jaunde Ramos took over as manager in December, and are unbeaten in 2009. Liverpool meanwhile are struggling to keep pace with Manchester United in the Premier League, and that title seems to be slipping away from them.

However, Polish stopper Jerzy Dudek is under no illusions, knowing that domestic form can count for nothing at this stage of the tournament, and believes that while Spanish forward Fernando Torres is a great talent, Liverpool have quality in all areas of the pitch.

He said, "[Fernando] Torres has great speed and is a player who can make a difference. But I think it would be a mistake to choose only one Liverpool player who can be dangerous.

"[Pepe] Reina is an excellent goalkeeper, while in defence [Jamie] Carragher has great quality in the air. [Steven] Gerrard and [Xabi] Alonso play with a great tempo in midfield, and this forms a superb spine to their team."

Dudek also believes that the matches are likely to be close encounters with little to choose between the sides.

He added, "Real Madrid and Liverpool are two sides who have worked well in their defence, so I would be surprised to see many goals scored."

The pair clash on Wednesday evening with the first leg taking place at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.

Cannavaro Has Reds Gameplan

Fabio Cannavaro has called on Real Madrid to "play smart" in their Champions League last-16 tie against Liverpool.

The Spanish giants meet the Merseysiders on Wednesday in the first leg at the Bernabeu on the back of a 6-1 thrashing of Real Betis - their ninth successive Primera Liga win under new coach Juande Ramos.

The deficit to leaders Barcelona has been trimmed to seven points, breathing new life into the title race and boosting morale further ahead of the visit of Rafael Benitez's men.

Italy defender Cannavaro told Real Madrid's website: "We're in good form.

"The team is doing well and it has the fans' support. We're up against a historic team that is used to winning the Champions League. We must play smart, score and not concede any goals."

Cannavaro is likely to come up against Liverpool striker Fernando Torres, a player he admires.

"He's a player I like very much. He's gained a lot of confidence playing outside of Spain," he added.

"He also won the European Championship last summer with Spain. He's one of Europe's best strikers."

Cannavaro also had words of praise for Ramos, who has revitalised a Madrid squad underachieving under previous boss Bernd Schuster.

The former Juventus centre-half believes Ramos, sacked by Tottenham in October, has done wonders for team spirit.

"The coach is doing a good job, we've gone back to being a team," he said.

"We made many mistakes during the first half of the season because we thought we could win just by wearing this shirt.

"We need to play as a team. That's what Juande has done."

Match Report: LiverpooL 1 - 1 Manchester City

Liverpool's title dreams appear all but over after they were held at home by Mark Hughes' Manchester City at Anfield.

Hughes finally saw his expensive side produce a display of substance after an erratic season, and it did a big favour for his former employers Manchester United.

United will have relished this performance by their neighbours, which could have given the crown to the Old Trafford club.

Liverpool started the game eight points behind the champions, and this one point leaves them a seemingly impossible mountain to climb with just 12 games left.

City took the lead early in the second half through former Liverpool forward Craig Bellamy, which left Liverpool with an increasingly desperate fight on their hands.

Eventually Dirk Kuyt scored his ninth goal of the season to save the club's 14-month unbeaten home league record, but as Anfield emptied at the end, the muted response of their fans said it all.

Liverpool made four changes from the side that won at Portsmouth last time out.

There was still no Steven Gerrard with his hamstring injury, while Lucas, back from suspension, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera returned to the starting line-up in place of Ryan Babel, David Ngog, Fabio Aurelio and Daniel Agger.

City made one enforced change from the side that drew 2-2 at FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Cup on Thursday, Nigel de Jong replacing the suspended Shaun Wright-Phillips.

City's defensive frailties shown in Denmark were far from evident in this Barclays Premier League clash.

Despite being under plenty of early pressure, Shay Given was rarely called into action.

Riera headed wide from an Alvaro Arbeloa cross, under intense pressure from Micah Richards. Then Jamie Carragher's long ball down the right was touched on by Yossi Benayoun for Torres to fire wide first time.

Kuyt was next away on the right, with Richard Dunne clearing the near post cross from Riera's toes, while both Lucas and Yossi Benayoun failed to connect with crosses.

The pressure mounted and Kuyt drove wide after being set up by Torres before Richards then chested away a Riera hook in the six-yard box.

City had weathered Liverpool's early fire and eased their way into the game. They should have scored after 30 minutes when Andrea Dossena lost possession and the ball was switched immediately to Robinho.

The little Brazilian had been very quiet in the early stages, but he jinked inside to lay a pass invitingly into Stephen Ireland's stride.

The Irishman had a free run at Jose Reina, but the Spanish keeper blocked the first shot, with Ireland firing the rebound into the side netting.

Torres set up Riera and Benayoun, both chances flying wide before Kuyt missed with a far-post header to end a frustrating half for Liverpool.

Four minutes into the second period, City were ahead. Robinho fed the ball into the box for Vincent Kompany to turn it into the path of Craig Bellamy.

And the former Liverpool forward struck a 49th-minute shot from the corner of the penalty area that flicked off Arbeloa, but the effort was clearly on target and flew past Reina into the far corner.

This was the fourth time this season that Bellamy has scored against a former club, having netted for West Ham against Newcastle and Blackburn, and for City also against Newcastle.

Ireland had an effort disallowed for offside, Liverpool leaving gaps now as they went forward looking for an equaliser.

Kompany was booked for a high challenge on Martin Skrtel, with Liverpool having brought on young winger Nabil El Zhar for Riera, with the Moroccan soon booked for a foul on Pablo Zabaleta.

City, who had gradually grown into this game, started to look like a team which has had £120million spent on it in under a year.

They flowed forward, looked fierce and committed, while Liverpool lacked the leadership of Gerrard.

But the Reds responded with fight of their own. After 78 minutes Benayoun got away on the left and drove in a cross that Torres missed in the six-yard box, allowing Kuyt to force home the equaliser.

Kuyt them forced his way past countryman De Jong, and cracked in a fierce 25-yarder that Given beat away. Given's next save, a close range block from Benayoun, was even better.

But when Benayoun hurled himself at the rebound, the ball looked to hit Dunne's arm as it deflected away.

Liverpool had Aurelio and Babel on for Dossena and Mascherano by now, a point just not good enough. Kuyt spun to fire across goal and a foot wide.

City then took off Robinho and sent on Felipe Caicedo up front for the final minutes as Liverpool searched in vain for a winner.

Benitez: Liverpool Must Win At Old Trafford

Rafa Benitez has conceded that Liverpool must win at Manchester United to claim the Premier League title.

The Reds' title challenge suffered another set-back on Sunday when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester City at Anfield. They now lie seven points adrift of Sir Alex Ferguson's champions, but they still have to play at Old Trafford.

And Benitez admits that nothing less than victory against their biggest rivals will do, otherwise their dreams of a first title since 1990 will be gone.

"I think we will have to beat Manchester United now," said Benitez, whose side are due at United on March 14th. "Clearly it is more difficult now. It is a bad result. We have to beat Middlesbrough and Sunderland and start thinking about if we can win at Old Trafford.

"You never know what can happen but clearly they can win games and win games without playing well.

"I have confidence that we can beat Middlesbrough and Sunderland and then it will be a different situation. There are still 12 games to go, you can't say anything is finished."

And City boss Mark Hughes summed up the situation, saying: ''Manchester United will have to slip up now, and they do not do that very often.

''There are still a lot of games to go, but it is very much in their hands and they will have to lose three games now. You cannot see them doing that.''

Hughes' side did his former employers a massive favour after Craig Bellamy's deflected shot put City ahead, only a late Dirk Kuyt strike preserving Liverpool's 14-month unbeaten home league record.

''That was an excellent performance and we were good value for the point and probably deserved more,'' Hughes added. ''We were playing a side going for the title, and after we had been involved in a tiring UEFA Cup game in Denmark on Thursday.

''But we put in an excellent performance, we were strong and resilient and we deserved the result.''

Hughes also praised Bellamy, whose shot from the edge of the box secured the lead in the second period.

He said: ''It is always the case a club's ex-players want to do well against them. Craig is a proud man and maybe he feels he did not get a fair crack of the whip when he was at Liverpool. He has played extremely well since he joined us.''

A despondent Benitez refused to be drawn on his contract negotiations, which again cast a shadow over Anfield and would only say: ''I have not said anything about this in a press conference, and we must now concentrate on football.''

Benitez will also assess skipper Steven Gerrard's fitness before deciding whether his hamstring injury can be risked in the Bernabeu.

He added: ''We will talk with Steven and the doctors, he is improving but we will make a decision after he has trained.''

Carragher Not Giving Up On Liverpool Title Push

The iconic defender is not giving up on the Premier League title just yet, despite the crown seemingly slipping further from their grasp today.

Liverpool centre-back Jamie Carragher is refusing to admit defeat in his club's challenge to bring the league title back to Anfield for the first time in 19 years, after a disappointing 1-1 draw with Manchester City on Merseyside today appeared, to all intents and purposes, to have ended the Reds' hopes.

"Yeah, it is a big blow," Carragher told Sky Sports News. "We were five points behind before the weekend, which was something we try to cut over the weekend, but with Manchester United winning and us drawing it has gone the other way.

"We would have prefered to have gone three or four points behind and it is going to make it more difficult for ourselves, but there is still a long way to go."

Liverpool travel down the East Lancs Road themselves on March 14 to take on City's local rivals Manchester United in a game that many had pinpointed as being crucial to the eventual outcome of the Premier League.

After today's result, it may well turn out to be less vital than anticipated, but Carragher feels that a winning run centered upon that game will pull the Reds back into the mix.

"I think we are going to have to go on a great run to catch Man United but I think we are capable of that," he added.

"We have still got to go there and it looks like we are going to have to win there, which is going to be difficult as they are a great side Man Utd, but that is something we are going to have to do I think."

As for today's game, the former England defender felt that, although City deserved much credit, Liverpool had clearly not performed anything like their best.

"You have got to give credit to Man City but we probably never created as much as we have liked," he said.

"But to come back into it from 1-0 down we are pleased with that, we have done it a few times coming back this season but couldn't quite do it today."

Liverpool Boss Benitez Set For The Sack

Rafa Benitez may no longer have the chance to sign a new contract if Liverpool crash out of the Champions League and continue to lose ground of Manchester United in the Premier League.

Yesterday's 1-1 draw with Manchester City at Anfield means the Reds are now seven points behind their arch-enemies and with a vastly inferior goal difference.

The two teams have to play each other next month and a failure to keep in the race by carving out a critical victory could cost Benitez his job.

Liverpool co-owner Tom Hicks runs the Texas Rangers in Major League Baseball where he has shown he is not afraid to fire underachieving managers and Benitez is also losing faith with George Gillet, who shares power at Anfield, meaning his job security could soon hang in the balance.

Benitez was in a position of strength at the turn of the year when Liverpool were favourites to win their first title in nearly two decades.

But six home draws and four shares of the spoils away from home mean no team has drawn more than Liverpool in the league this season.

And with his Champions League triumph in Istanbul now fading into distant memory and his refusal to sign a new deal irking his bosses, there is no doubt the Spanish manager's lustre is also beginning to fade.

His position will become untenable if Liverpool fail to beat Middlesbrough at the Riverside on Saturday and crash out to Real Madrid in the Champions League.

After that they face Sunderland and then it's off to United at Old Trafford where Sir Alex Ferguson's team could hammer the final nail in Benitez' managerial coffin.

If the axe falls on the former Valencia coach, former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, now at Inter Milan, will be the favourite to take command with Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill also in the running.

Reina Ready For Real Test

Pepe Reina knows that he and Iker Casillas will be watched closely when Real Madrid play Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, but thinks there is not much difference between the two teams.

The Anfield shot-stopper is full of admiration for Los Blancos and is looking forward to locking horns with his international team-mate Casillas.

Liverpool head to the Spanish capital for the first leg of the enticing European encounter and Reina believes that they will have to be at their best to beat Real's talismanic keeper and register an all-important away goal.

"We will be compared as people speak about me and him, but it is not about Casillas and Reina, it is Real Madrid and Liverpool in the Champions League," he told AS.

"He was without doubt the best goalkeeper of 2008. He is the best in the world, but I think there is little difference between the best keepers."

There is not much between the teams, according to Reina, and the side that progresses to the next round could well be the one that makes the least errors.

"The two teams are very similar and small details could decide the tie. I think Madrid are more confident now and more organised," he continued.

"I think the winning team will be the one that makes the least mistakes."

Reina is not anti-Real Madrid despite his family connections to Atletico Madrid, where his father spent much of his career, and his many years spent learning his trade with Barcelona.

"I like to see Barca win because I came through the ranks there, but I am not a supporter. I also want to see Villarreal do well for the same reason," he explained.

"I am not anti-Madrid. I was always taught to be anti-nobody and everyone has a good side. I will not dislike something because it is a system."

City Setback Proves Just How Much Liverpool Need Stevie G

Liverpool fans were enraged by the suggestion in this column last November that Rafa Benitez's side relied too heavily on Steven Gerrard.

Don't worry, there is no need to apologise now that it must have become obvious to even the most blinkered supporter after Sunday's 1-1 draw with Manchester City.

Even Benitez, the manager whose grip on the job at Anfield has never looked weaker, might admit to the problem in private (in public he sticks with a state of denial, claiming the title race is not over yet).

There are a few other key players too of course (think Xabi Alonso, who Benitez wanted to replace with Gareth Barry) but the thin Liverpool squad cannot manage for long without Gerrard and unless he recovers from his hamstring injury and is fit to face Real Madrid in the Champions League it could all end in tears.

Rafa Benitez Contract Row Overshadows Liverpool's Title Ambitions

Rafa Benitez’s Anfield future continues to overshadow his side’s pursuit of Premier League leaders Manchester United, with reports claiming the Liverpool manager is ready to quit the club.

The Sunday Mirror says Benitez will leave Liverpool at the end of the season after making clear to the club’s owners that he is unwilling to work under chief executive Rick Parry.

Benitez rejected a new deal because he wanted more control over transfer policy, and with Real Madrid likely to recruit a new manager in the summer, his future is far from clear.

The Sunday Mirror quotes a source close to Benitez saying: "It has been claimed that Rafa wants full power on transfers, contracts and the academy, but what he really wants is everyone at the club pulling in the same direction.

"The club are missing out on transfer targets and that contracts for players and staff are not being done because things move too slowly. Rafa had transfer targets lined up in January.

Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Blackburn has left Liverpool eight points behind the champions ahead of their game against Manchester City.

United were below their best, but Sir Alex Ferguson believes the manner of their victory shows they have the making of champions.

“When we're in a controlling position, we gave away a really bad goal and when you consider how we've defended over the past few weeks that's not indicative of our performances.

"They became very determined in the second half and put on a real show and made it a fight for us.

"Sometimes when you don't play your very best you can get a result like that and it goes some way to winning the title, hopefully."

Meanwhile, United are waiting to discover the extent of the ankle injury suffered by Jonny Evans against Rovers.

Evans faces tests on the injury later today to determine whether he will be fit to face Inter Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Ferguson rates the Northern Ireland international "very doubtful". But he will give Evans every chance because – with Nemanja Vidic suspended, Gary Neville and Wes Brown definitely out and John O'Shea absent from United's latest win due to a heel problem picked up against Fulham – he is facing a defensive nightmare at the San Siro.

Evans missed four matches with the original injury – and since he was also set to feature in next Sunday's Carling Cup final against Tottenham, he can only hope the damage is not as bad this time.

"It is a recurrence of the ankle injury I had before and is a bit tender," he admitted.

"I caught it when I kicked the ground during the game.

"At this point, I don't know whether I will be fit for the San Siro. The doctor said he will have a look at it – and we will have a better picture then."

Keirrison Reveals Big Offers

Brazilian starlet Keirrison has claimed he has rejected some huge offers to move to Europe.

A host of clubs, including Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, have been linked with the 20-year-old forward, who is currently plying his trade with Palmeiras.

He only joined Palmeiras on loan in January from Cortiba, where his contract will expire in 2009, although most of his rights are owned by a third party - Traffic Sports Marketing.

A move this summer looks the most likely option now, although the player insists he wants to see out his current deal with Palmeiras and has set his sights on making the full Brazil squad.

"I want to fulfil my contract with Palmeiras and join the Selecao [national side]," he told French sports paper Aujourd'hui Sport.

"I have received a lot of good offers from Europe and I even refused a truck load to stay in Brazil."

One of Keirrison's agents in the last week revealed that Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich had all made contact.

Lyon, Roma and Atletico Madrid are also said to be considering bids for highly-rated Samba starlet.