Friday, February 27, 2009

Liverpool FC Must Treat Middlesbrough Like Real Madrid, Says Javier Mascherano

It’s a long way from Madrid to Middlesbrough in just about every possible sense – but Javier Mascherano believes that what happened in the Spanish capital on Wednesday night could have a positive effect on what occurs in the North East tomorrow.

Liverpool head to Middlesbrough still basking in the glow of their glorious victory over Real and in the knowledge that another win is required if their fading Premier League hopes are to be reignited.

Mascherano – who was at his belligerent best at the Bernabeu – knows that the Reds need to pick up three points to try and raise the pressure on league leaders Manchester United and he is hoping that the feel good factor from their victory over Real will still be evident at the Riverside.

He said: “We are still fighting in the Premier League and we know that there are still quite a lot of games to go.

“So it is good that we have had a result like this against a team like Real Madrid because it gives us confidence for the games to come.

“On Saturday we face Middlesbrough and then after that we play against Sunderland so if we can beat them maybe we will be a bit closer than we are now.

“You never know if Manchester United can drop some points, so we are happy and we need to keep going.”

For a player whom Rafa Benitez reckons fits the bill of a Duracell bunny, keeping on going is something that seems to come naturally to Mascherano.

On Wednesday night he covered pretty much every blade of Spanish grass at the Bernabeu in a game which was always going to suit his playing style which is built on seeking out and destroying potential causes of danger wherever and whenever they exist.

After shackling the likes of Gago, Diarra, Marcelo and Gutti, the Argentinian is now ready to turn his attentions to doing whatever it takes to ensure Middlesbrough suffer a similar fate to Madrid.

“It is a different game against a different team but we need to try and play the same way and with the same concentration,” he said.

“Of course it was amazing to win against Madrid but now we must focus on our next game because Middlesbrough need points as well and it will be a tough match for us. “But we are showing that we are a good team and the important thing now is to do it again.

“What happened on Wednesday night was great news for Liverpool and for all the Liverpool supporters – the ones who were in Madrid for the game and the ones who were watching at home – because it showed that Liverpool can fight.

“I do not know if it will mean that we will go through to the quarter finals of the Champions League, we will see what happens.

“But we were playing at the same level as Real and that is good news for us.”

The victory over Madrid was far from being the first time that Liverpool have come up with a positive result on their European travels following a domestic setback.

Last weekend’s disappointing home draw against Manchester City left Benitez’s side trailing United by seven points and led to increased questioning about their ability to go the distance in this season’s title race.

Though Mascherano concedes that suffering such a disappointment just days before they came up against the nine time European champions was far from being ideal preparation, he insists the character within the ranks at Anfield will always stand them in good stead even when the chips are down.

He said: “Obviously when you draw like we did against City on Sunday it is difficult because we wanted to win that game before we went to Madrid to play against a good team.

“Unfortunately we could not do that but the important thing after this was that we responded in the right way and I think that we did that.” As far as the 24-year-old midfielder is concerned, few Liverpool players epitomise this spirit more at present than hero of the hour Yossi Benayoun.

When the Israeli international rose highest in a packed penalty area to send the winning header soaring past Iker Casillas, Mascherano was one of a number of Reds stars who had to do a bit of a double take due to the identity of the scorer.

But Mascherano insists he is not in the least bit surprised that Benayoun was Liverpool’s matchwinner – even if the manner in which his goal arrived was a bit of a stunner.

“It was amazing and I could not believe it,” laughed Mascherano.

“But I am really delighted for him because he is a good team mate and I know how hard he works all the time.

“He deserved this goal and like I said I am really happy for him.”

Should Benayoun manage to repeat the trick at the Riverside Stadium tomorrow afternoon, then the distance between Madrid and Middlesbrough will have been well and truly bridged.

Liverpool Suffer Injury Blow As Fernando Torres Is Ruled Out

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres looks set to be ruled out of playing against Middlesbrough at the weekend because of an ankle injury picked up against Real Madrid in the Champions League.

The Spaniard lasted for just an hour at the Bernabeu in midweek, before limping off, delivering yet another blow to manager Rafael Benitez's Premier League title campaign.

The injury was assessed after the side returned from Madrid, and while they wait to find out the extent of the damage, Torres looks set to miss out on the weekend's must-win clash at the Riverside.

"The ankle was bad but it maybe wasn’t the worst injury," Benitez said. “He was limping and uncomfortable and we decided to bring on Ryan Babel.

“We don’t know yet how bad it is. Probably he will miss some games. We have a game on Saturday and it will be difficult for him to be ready."

Already seven points behind Manchester United in the league, Benitez will not want to rush his striker and so could sit him out next week when Liverpool host Sunderland.

Should this be the case, along with the FA Cup giving the club a rest next weekend, Torres stands to return for the second leg against Real and the potentially title-deciding match at Old Trafford four days later.

The injury will frustrate Torres who has struggled for fitness all season with a series of hamstring injuries.

Liverpool Make A Special Request For Jose Mourinho If Rafa Benitez Goes

Jose Mourinho is being lined up as the next manager of Liverpool if Rafa Benitez refuses to sign his new contract.

The former Chelsea manager, now at Inter Milan, is top of an Anfield shortlist in case Benitez’s dispute with the club leads to him walking out.

Liverpool’s American owners are increasingly alarmed at the refusal of the Spaniard to sign a new deal after months of negotiations.

And associates of co-owner Tom Hicks have made contact, through a third party, with Mourinho’s agent Jorge Mendes to explore the possibility of a summer move. Frank Rijkaard, AC Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti and former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson are also being checked out.

Benitez has consistently moved the goalposts during negotiations even though the Americans have met most of his demands.

That has led to a frenzy of speculation which reached its peak this week, with bookies making him favourite to be the next boss to leave a Premier League club.

It is thought that Benitez is keen to see chief executive Rick Parry moved aside, and the manager has also indicated that he finds it difficult working with co-owner George Gillett.

He also wants assurances in the event of the club being sold.

Hicks is a staunch supporter of the Spaniard but Gillett is less committed and questioned if Benitez should be offered a deal that runs until 2013.

Both men are standing by their offer but they also realise they could be left in a desperate position if Benitez stalls until the end of the season and then decides not to renew - paving the way for his departure.

That is a position that becomes more likely with each day that passes without agreement.

And the owners have acted in the past, interviewing Jurgen Klinsmann for the manager’s job a year ago.

Mourinho clearly fits the bill if a replacement is needed. He has repeatedly stated in recent weeks that, despite success in taking Inter Milan to the top of the Italian League, he would love a return to England.

And he makes no secret of his admiration for Liverpool and the history of the club.

Javier Mascherano: Liverpool FC Players Glad Rafa Benitez Wants To Stay

Javier Mascherano has led the declarations of delight from Liverpool players that Rafael Benitez wants to stay on as manager at Anfield.

Benitez’s future was the subject of intense speculation ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash at Real Madrid, with some bookmakers stopping taking bets on the Spaniard being in charge by the end of the week.

Liverpool’s players shrugged off the rumours to earn a famous 1-0 victory at the Bernabeu to take a stranglehold in their first knockout round first leg tie.

Afterwards, Benitez reiterated his desire to stay and dismissed the suggestion of an imminent resignation by revealing further negotiations over his proposed four-year contract are expected in the coming days. And Mascherano believes the Liverpool squad are firmly behind their manager, who signed 15 of the 18 players on show at the Bernabeu.

“Rafa is doing a great job,” said the Argentina midfielder. “We are a top side and he has got us playing at this level. We have shown it against Barcelona, Inter last season and now Real Madrid.

“We know we are a team that works really hard and the manager has to take credit for that. Every single player gives 100% for him.

“It is hard to explain exactly how much he means and how much he has done for me.

“When I came to Liverpool I did not have any confidence left at all because I hadn’t been playing at all for West Ham.

“But now I find that I am always calm when I am playing because he has put such trust in me.

“All I can say to Rafa is thank you.

“He has taken me from the lowest point in my career to this. Now, everything I do is not only for the team but for Rafa too.

“Obviously I am delighted he has said he is staying. I haven’t spoken to him about his situation but Liverpool are doing a great job in the Champions League and Premier League and he is the main reason for that.”

Albert Riera, another player Benitez brought to Anfield, echoed the sentiments of Mascherano and believes the whole of the Liverpool squad feels the same.

“Of course I am happy to hear he will stay,” said Riera.

“He was very important in helping bring me to Liverpool and it is the same for a lot of players at this club.

“I am sure if you asked all the players if they wanted Rafa to stay with us, 100% would say yes.”

Benitez is confident the obstacles that have prevented a deal being brokered with Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett can be overcome.

However, the longer the impasse continues, the more likely it is the American owners will start to investigate an insurance policy in the event of Benitez failing to agree terms, with Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho likely to be one manager sounded out.

Liverpool’s victory over Real was all the more impressive given it was achieved largely without talismanic duo Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

Torres suffered a twisted ankle in the opening minute of the match and was clearly hampered by the injury before finally forced to concede defeat by hobbling off shortly after the hour mark.

The striker is now almost certain to miss tomorrow’s Premier League trip to Middlesbrough, with a bulletin expected on his fitness later today.

Gerrard failed to fully recover from the hamstring tear that sidelined him for three weeks, appearing only as a substitute for the final two minutes.

And Benitez revealed Liverpool’s players were always aware the skipper would not start in the Bernabeu.

“The team was always thinking about playing the game without Steven Gerrard because they could see he was not fully fit,” said the Liverpool manager.

“We delayed the decision until the very last, and in the end we decided it was not right for him to start.

“But the team already knew that from what they had seen.”

Liverpool Release Statement Confirming Rick Parry Departure

Liverpool have confirmed chief executive Rick Parry will leave his position at the end of the season.

Parry's position has become increasingly unstable in the last few months as a result of boardroom divides between American co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

A statement from Hicks on the club's website read: "Rick's commitment to Liverpool Football Club is epitomised by his desire to ensure that this transitional period is managed efficiently and we are grateful to him for his help. He will always remain a friend of the football club."

Parry, 54, made no mention of the ongoing feuds as he confirmed the end of his long association with the club.

Last April he was asked to resign by Hicks in a move he branded "offensive" and has had to compete with the American forming a 'shadow executive' led by commercial director Ian Ayre and finance director Steve Nash, who operates out of a city centre office away from Anfield.

"I have had 12 very exciting years at Liverpool and am extremely proud of what has been achieved by the club over that period," Parry said.

"The victory in Madrid was a wonderful reminder of the many high points we have experienced and adds to the moments that make Liverpool and its magnificent fans so special.

"It has been a privilege to serve the club and as a lifelong supporter I wish the owners, Rafa (Benitez), the players and the wonderful staff all the very best for the future.

"I will be leaving at the end of the season knowing that the club remains strong and with a set of supporters who deserve success in all that Liverpool does."

Gillett added: "I would like to thank Rick for his significant service to the club and the assistance he has given us since we joined Liverpool. He has been integral to the club's success over the past decade and leaves with our best wishes for the future."

Ironically, Parry facilitated Hicks' and Gillett's purchase of the club in February 2007 after Dubai Investment Capital's bid fell through and he was understood to have received a £500,000 bonus when the deal was completed.

But the relationship between the trio gradually disintegrated, leaving Parry allied with Gillett and Hicks to side with manager Rafael Benitez.

Rumours of boardroom discontent and instability have blighted Liverpool's last two seasons, and rumours that Benitez was on the verge of quitting earlier this week threatened to overshadow the crucial 1-0 defeat of Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League last 16.

Parry has already considered resigning this season when he was touted to be chief executive of England's 2018 World Cup bid but opted to remain at Anfield and stand his ground.

Having been born and raised on Merseyside, Parry studied at the University of Liverpool before becoming a management consultant.

He was chief executive of the Manchester 1992 Olympic bid and director of the 1996 bid, and was consulted about plans to found the Premier League in 1992 before becoming its first chief executive.

Liverpool confirmed they will begin their search for Parry's replacement and will "update supporters and other stakeholders when appropriate".

Benitez Must Not Leave Us, Warn Loyal Liverpool Stars

Liverpool players have given their full backing to manager Rafael Benitez and urged him to stay at the club.

The Champions League win at Real Madrid was overshadowed by pre-match rumours Benitez was on his way out of Anfield over the stalemate that has developed over his new contract.

After the 1-0 win, Benitez made it clear he had no intention of resigning, with further talks on his future due with owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks this weekend.

But this did little to allay the concerns of the Spaniard's players.

Midfielder Javier Mascherano said: 'The manager brought me to Anfield, he has done a very good job here.

'He is important for me. When I came to Liverpool I did not have any confidence after being at West Ham. The manager gave me that confidence.

'I cannot say what is going to happen but with him here, Liverpool is doing a great job.

'If we want to keep going in both the Champions League and Premier League it's important to have him with us.'

Spain full-back Alvaro Arbeloa agreed, adding: 'I do not really know what the problem is but people must know how important Benitez is for us. I hope he will continue with us for many years but in these things you never know.'

Winger Albert Riera said: 'Of course we want Rafa to stay. He is very important, not only for me but for the other players too, we all want Rafa to be here at this club.

'If you asked everyone, 100 per cent they would say they want Rafa to stay with us.'

Liverpool FC Are Top Ranked Club In Europe

Liverpool are officially the top ranked club in Europe.

Wednesday night's famous victory in the Bernabeu has sent the Reds to the top of UEFA's ranking system for the first time since 1985.

Based on performances in European competition over the past five years, the complicated system awards points for matches won and quality of opposition.

The victory in the Bernabeu has seen the Reds overtake Chelsea at the top of the table, with Barcelona third and AC Milan fourth.

Liverpool's five year record under Rafa Benitez – who arrived at the club in the summer of 2004 – has been phenomenal.

In his five years the Spanish coach has won the Champions League, taken his team to another final, reached last season's semi-final and got to the last 16 in 2006.

It's a record of unparalleled consistency in recent times.

Even when the Reds won the Champions League in 2005, their ranking for the season put them second behind AC Milan, while their five year record left them in fifth behind Barcelona, AC Milan, Valencia and Real Madrid.

This is the first time the Reds have topped the co-efficient rankings since 1985 when the European ban was imposed, effectively asking them to start their ranking points tally from scratch.

Liverpool also have the highest ranking for this present season with (18.1775 points) closely followed by Bayern Munich, who handed out a 5-0 demolition at Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday night.

UEFA's latest rankings:

1 Liverpool FC (114.077)
2 Chelsea FC (110.077)
3 Barcelona (109.403)
4 AC Milan (109.306)
5 Arsenal (101.077)
6 Sevilla (100.403)
7 Man Utd (99.077)
8 Bayern Munich (93.664)
9 Lyon (90.576)
10 Inter Milan (87.306).

Liverpool Aim To Beat Bolton And Reach FA Youth Cup Semi-Finals

Showing they have something to offer is just as key to the Liverpool Youth team players as reaching a third FA Youth Cup semi-final in four years tonight.

Hugh McAuley sends his young stars into tonight’s quarter-final clash with Bolton Wanderers at Anfield (kick-off 7pm), hoping they can make the most of another opportunity in front of a wider audience.

During the competition several attacking players like Lauri Dalla Valle, David Amoo, Nathan Eccleston, and Tom Ince have been key, while at the back Aussie keeper Dean Bouzanis and the central defensive pairing of Joe Kennedy and Daniel Ayala has looked particularly solid.

Liverpool had the perfect build-up with an impressive 3-1 win over Crewe in the Academy League last weekend and McAuley is looking for the same tonight. McAuley said: “They had a good attitude and played some good football and created good chances. And they defended well when they needed to.

“We have to build upon that and look forward to playing at Anfield again and hopefully taking advantage of a good situation for ourselves.”

He added: “It is a second time for a lot of them and a third for some of playing at Anfield. It does get easier – there shouldn’t be the same nerves – but at the same time it should give them a buzz playing on the first-team ground. For me you can’t play on that ground enough.

“It is another fantastic opportunity for the players to prove to themselves, their family and friends, the senior management and the supporters that they are good players and they have something to offer. Hopefully our better players who we think can move up and perform at a higher level can perform on the night.”

Liverpool know Bolton will be tough opponents. McAuley’s side scored a 5-0 win over the Trotters at the Kirkby Academy in the league earlier in the season. But the Liverpool coach doesn’t feel that result will have any bearing.

He said: “Bolton are a team we know well. They will have different players who have played for the reserves this year, like ourselves, and don’t play week-in, week-out for the Academy team.

“We will give Bolton the respect they deserve, because they are a good team. But at the same time we have the confidence in our own ability and the confidence from how we have performed in the previous rounds to play our own game.

Forward James Ellison is unlikely to feature due to a back injury, but left-back Christopher Buchtmann is expected to shake off a knock picked up on international duty with Germany against Scotland.

Attacking midfielder Tom Ince is also likely to return after being away with England under-17s at the Algarve Tournament for the past week.

LIVERPOOL YOUTH (from): Bouzanis; Scott, Metcalf, Ayala, Kennedy, Buchtmann, Ince, Kacaniklic, Amoo, Pepper, Roberts, Irwin, Eccleston, Dalla Valle, Cooper, Chamberlain, O’Connor.

Liverpool Won't Be Defensive When Hosting Real Madrid - Benitez

After returning from Madrid with a crucial away goal, Rafa Benitez has declared that his side will still be aiming for a win in the second leg at Anfield, and won't be employing defensive tactics.

Primera Division heavyweights Real Madrid have an arduous task on their hands when they travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool in the second leg of their Champions League clash in two weeks' time.

The Reds have a formidable reputation at home in Europe, bolstered even further by their vocal fans who have often been described as the club's 12th man.

Due to Israeli captain Yossi Benayoun's match-winning goal in the Santiago Bernabeu, it would not have been absurd to assume that Liverpool - who still harbour hopes of a memorable domestic and European double - would be looking to protect that lead with a defensive display at home.

Rafael Benitez though is adamant that the best form of defence is attack, and that his side will do all they can to ruin any chance of a Real Madrid comeback by going for the win.

"The away goal could be crucial but playing against Real Madrid is always difficult, so we have to approach the game at Anfield trying to win," he told the club's official website.

"I think with the fans behind the team we can beat anyone, so now we have to go forward. If we can work as hard as on Wednesday and play a little bit better at times I think we will have our chances."

Regarding the manner in which the club battled to a 1-0 win in their first ever game at Real Madrid's home ground, Benitez said, "I am really pleased - pleased for the players, the team, the club and for the fans. To win here in Madrid is very difficult and I think we did a very good job. The players were working so hard - they deserved to win."

On the injury to Fernando Torres, who is expected to be sidelined for the club's weekend Premier League tie with Teesside club Middlesbrough, the Spaniard added, "The ankle was swelling so we needed to protect him."

Regarding the manager's own future, most Reds' fans will be pleased to hear that the flurry of activity that prompted bookmakers to suspend betting temporarily yesterday morning was, in fact, founded on hearsay, as Benitez said, "I was not thinking about resigning, I was thinking about trying to win. Concentrating on the game was my idea, clearly."

Albert Riera: I Let Benayoun Hit Liverpool's Winner

The Reds' Spanish winger has told of his part in the winning goal at the Bernabeu, heaping praise upon the man who put it away.

Liverpool are in the box seat to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League after beating Real Madrid 1-0 in the first leg of their last-16 tie in Spain.

It was the diminutive Yossi Benayoun who rose late in the game to head home Fabio Aurelio's free kick, but Albert Riera was also lurking beneath the Brazilian's sumptuous ball.

"I was just in front of Yossi," Riera told the club's official website. "I think [Gonzalo] Higuain touched me and that made a bit of space for Yossi, so I left the ball for him and he made a great contact.

"It was a great header and a really important goal for us so you have to give Yossi a lot of credit for that. It was really good to see the ball hit the back of the net because we know how important away goals can be.

"It was the most important moment and it was a big victory for us because it means that maybe now we have a little bit of an advantage – but it is not a massive advantage."

Liverpool were made to work hard at the Santiago Bernabeu, but they came away with the spoils thanks to a ruthless display of defensive organisation.

Riera continued, "We made the game uncomfortable for Real Madrid because we knew that was what we had to do if we were to give ourselves a good chance.

"We always feel that we have a chance because we have some great players and we were waiting for the big moment to come and when it did we were delighted."

Statistically, the tie is well and truly in the Merseysiders' favour, considering they have never a lost a European Cup knock-out clash after winning the away leg.

But Riera said, "In big games like this no-one is ever the favourite – it comes down to what happens on the pitch on the night," he added.

"But we were not just thinking about what happened in this game at the Bernabeu, we were looking upon it more as a game over 180 minutes.

"At 0-0 we were thinking that maybe it could be a good score but to win the game 1-0 is an unbelievable result for us.

"Now we have to come up with another big performance in the second leg at home. But I am confident that we will go through to the next stage."

Carragher Hails Well-Oiled Liverpool Machine

Jamie Carragher insists Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool will know exactly how to finish the job against Real Madrid at Anfield.

The difficulty may come in the execution of Benitez’s plans, but Carragher knows the manager will have Liverpool fully prepared for everything Madrid can throw at them as the Spaniards look to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit.

With a place in the Champions League quarter-finals firmly in Liverpool’s sights after captain-for-the-night Carragher led them to victory in Spain, they are determined to complete their last-16 task.

Carragher said: “Away goals are massive in Europe and that means they have got to get one now in the second leg. Hopefully if they come at us it will give us more space and make it easier to reach the last eight.

“We have done well in this competition by being organised. We are one of the best organised teams in this competition. That is why we have done well in the last few years and we have done it again in Madrid. We got what we came for, a clean sheet and an away goal.

“But it is only half-time, they know what they have got to do and that is come to Anfield and score, so it’s still game on.”

Brazilian defender Fabio Aurelio supplied the free-kick to set up the winner for Yossi Benayoun against Real at the Bernabeu.

Aurelio said: “It was never easy out there, we had to work very hard together on defence to stop them, but that still meant we could and should have had more goals because we had the clearer chances.

“But now we still go forward to the second leg with a very good feeling that we get to the next stage.

“We know how important the away goal was and we hope now we can finish the job at Anfield.”

Reds Trio Back Benitez

Liverpool trio Javier Mascherano, Alvaro Arbeloa and Albert Riera have added their voices to calls for boss Rafa Benitez to stay at the club.

There is on-going speculation concerning the Spaniard's future at Anfield as his contract talks have floundered.

But he again showed what the Reds would be missing if he does go when masterminding Liverpool's 1-0 victory at Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.

In total, 15 of the 18-man squad on show in the Bernabeu were signed by the Spaniard, with Mascherano, Arbeloa and Riera among those players.

The trio started against Real and are in no doubt of Benitez's importance to both them and the club.

Mascherano said: "The manager brought me to Anfield, he has done a very good job here.

"We can get to the quarter-finals again and he has shown that against the top sides like in Barcelona, at Inter Milan last season and now at Real Madrid that he is a very good coach for us.

"We are always a team who works very hard and every Liverpool supporter has to be very happy with this. Every player gives everything for the club.

"He is important for me. When I came to Liverpool I did not have any confidence after being at West Ham.

"The manager gave me that confidence. The only thing I can say to Rafa is thank you, he helped me during a bad moment in my career and now I try to do everything for my team and for him.

"I cannot say what is going to happen, but with him Liverpool is doing a great job. If we want to keep going in the Champions League and Premier League it is important to have him with us."

Riera also backed Benitez, saying: "As for the situation regarding the manager, we are aware of the dispute over his contract. But it is not something we were talking about in the dressing room, the match took up all our thoughts.

"Of course we want Rafa to stay. I wanted to play for Liverpool and he was a very important person in achieving that for me.

"Not only for me but for the other players too, we all want Rafa to be with us. If you asked everyone, 100 per cent they would say they want Rafa to stay with us."

Arbeloa also backs the Liverpool boss but knows that, in football, you can never say never.

He said: "As for the manager and all the talk about him, I do not really know what the problem is but people must know how important he is for us.

"I hope he will continue with us for many years, but in these things you never know."