Saturday, March 07, 2009

Ramos Only Has Eyes For Anfield Tie

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was the scorer the last time Atletico Madrid defeated neighbours Real. That was 10 years ago but Atletico are hopeful of a repeat tonight after Juande Ramos declared next week's Champions League tie away to Liverpool more important for Real than the derby match, despite his team's narrowing of Barcelona's La Liga lead.

Real have cut Barca's advantage from 12 to four points, but Real trail Liverpool 1-0 and Ramos said: "The Atletico game is important but we have 12 more games afterwards to put right any errors. Anfield is life or death."

In view of that, Guti and Arjen Robben may be rested despite Pepe and Wesley Sneijder being suspended. Atletico need to win at Porto in midweek to progress in the Champions League themselves, but Abel Resino intends to field his best side tonight.

Barcelona host Atletico Bilbao, in a precursor of the Kings' Cup final which both clubs reached this week, though Barça still extended their winless run to five games, having drawn their second leg with Real Mallorca.

Internazionale remain seven points clear in Serie A but controversy continues to follow coach Jose Mourinho, who faces a disciplinary hearing after criticising Roma, Milan, Juventus and referees. Asked if the criticism of his outburst had made him think about leaving Italy, he said: "In football you never know. You could stay two, three, four, five years, it depends on everything. But I'm certainly not working so that another coach can come in."

He added: "Angry is not the adjective to define me at this moment. Pride is the right word. I am proud of myself." Inter are at Genoa today.

John Aldridge: Liverpool's Blank Weekend Filled With Expectations Over Real Madrid Tie

Liverpool might have a blank weekend - but it is one filled with anticipation for next Tuesday night’s visit of Real Madrid.

All eyes are firmly on the clash against the Spaniards and it should be another unforgettable European night of course.

But for the players, the manager and staff it’s all about doing the business and making the most of the advantage Yossi Benayoun’s header winner in the Bernabeu.

Rafa Benitez certainly knows his way around the European scene and I expect him to be figuring out ways to break down Real - while ensuring there are no slip ups.

We can’t be too cautious and try and defend what we’ve got. That would be wrong. Rafa will remember us winning in Barcelona but losing the return at home, only going through on the away goal rule. He won’t want that again.

I hope the reds do go at Real in a sensible but determined way and get even further ahead on aggregate as soon as possible.

I actually believe it might well be a game where Steven Gerrard could be used on the right hand side.

I saw the number of times we got space on Madrid’s left side in the first game - and Steven has everything in his locker to exploit those gaps again.

Everyone knows how good Stevie is in the centre of midfield or just behind Fernando Torres. But on this occasion I think that role could be tailor-made for him.

But whoever we put on that right side must try and take full advantage of what I believe is a definite weakness.

The other huge thing the Spaniards will have to cope with on Tuesday is the Kop and the rest of the fans at Anfield.

Hopefully they won’t know what has hit them and it will be a completely different atmosphere to the one at Sunderland, when everyone was feeling pretty flat after seeing our title chances take another hit at Boro.

I know supporters were down but I can’t forgive those people who booed Lucas Leiva.

I don’t believe he is good enough to hold down a regular first team place. But he’s a Liverpool player and when he’s in that red shirt everyone must support him.

Booing men in red is most definitely not the Liverpool way and hope we don’t ever hear it again.

Particularly next Tuesday, when every supporter has a part to play in getting behind the lads.

Sunderland points were so important

At least we go into the game against Real Madrid on the back of a victory.

It wasn’t fantastic stuff against Sunderland but the three points were all that mattered after the loss at Middlesbrough - and we got them.

I was at Boro and Rafa Benitez was right when he said if we had taken our chances at the Riverside, particularly early on, then it could have all been so different.

When El Zhar - who to be fair looked quite bright at times - missed that glorious opportunity in the second half you just knew it was not going to be our day.

At that moment it was if the realisation set in that again, it was not going to be our year in terms of the title.

There has been so much going on off the field too that it has just worn everyone down recently. But the important thing now is that no one gives up.

Let’s beat Madrid and then have a real good go at United next weekend.

There is simply nothing to lose - so let’s just go for it and see.

Liverpool FC Hopeful Of Fitness Boost Ahead Of Real Madrid Showdown

Rafael Benitez is hopeful Alvaro Arbeloa can join Fernando Torres in lining up against Real Madrid next week.

But Daniel Agger is unlikely to figure as Liverpool aim to finish the job and reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the fourth time in five years.

Torres revealed earlier this week that he is confident of overcoming the ankle injury that has sidelined him since sustaining the damage during the 1-0 first-leg win at the Bernabeu 10 days ago.

Arbeloa also missed last week’s defeat at Middlesbrough and the win over Sunderland on Wednesday with a hamstring problem.

And Benitez is prepared to give the Spanish pair every chance to prove their fitness ahead of Tuesday’s visit of Real.

“Fernando is improving but it’s still too soon to say if he’ll be fit,” said the Liverpool manager. “He is working hard with the physios and we now have two or three more training sessions before we have to make a decision.

“I think he can be close but each player is different. We just have to wait and see.

“Arbeloa is much the same as Torres and we will try to push him harder over the next couple of days.”

Agger has not played since the win at Portsmouth a month ago after suffering a back injury.

And Benitez added: “It will be harder for Agger but he too is working hard with the physios. All three could be close.”

Gerrard Rallies Reds

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard insists the club's season is 'still alive' in the Premier League and Champions League.

The Reds have dropped off the pace in the race for the Premier League title after a run of indifferent form which has allowed Manchester United to build up a seven-point lead at the top of the table.

Liverpool's title chances look slim with only ten games remaining, while they face Real Madrid in the Champions League next Tuesday hoping to book their place in the last eight after a 1-0 in the Spanish capital last month.

Gerrard was happy with the midweek win over Sunderland and he remains optimistic that the campaign could end up a success.

"It was a comfortable win and it lifted everybody," Gerrard told club's official website.

"We've struggled at home this season but in midweek we were patient and got our rewards. It was important to bounce back with a win and a good performance.

"The following night it was frustrating watching Newcastle play United because there were times when I thought United could drop points. Newcastle went in front and then I was off the couch when they almost scored a second.

"United seem to be playing well and getting the results but if teams believe they can take points off them then I am sure it will happen sooner or later.

"It's important for us not to let the gap get any bigger and if they make mistakes we have to be ready to pounce. Of course, we all know how big our game at Old Trafford is going to be.

"Our season is still very much alive. We're not giving up in the title race and we're 1-0 up in the Champions League and one win away from a place in the last eight.

"It's important people stay positive and upbeat and not be down or worried about things."

Gerrard is also hoping striker Fernando Torres will recover from injury in time to tackle Real Madrid and Manchester United next week.

Torres has missed the last two games with an ankle problem and Gerrard is keen to be reunited with the Spaniard for the last few weeks of the season.

"It's been frustrating because I certainly love playing with him and from reading some of the things he's said, he loves playing with me," added Gerrard.

"Ideally we want to end the season playing together and performing for the team.

"I spoke to him a couple of days ago and he seems very optimistic so fingers crossed he can pull through for Tuesday because you know how much I like playing against Everton, and I'm sure it's the same for him playing against Madrid."

Emiliano Insua Return Is Good For Liverpool FC - Fabio Aurelio

Fabio Aurelio could have been forgiven for feeling a bit threatened by the return to Liverpool’s starting line-up of the young pretender to his left-back throne.

The Brazilian defender made way for Emiliano Insua in Tuesday night’s home win over Middlesbrough but rather than feeling put out by Rafa Benitez’s decision to choose youth over experience, Aurelio was delighted to see the 20-year-old back in action in a Liverpool shirt.

“Every time that Emiliano has been given an opportunity he has shown his quality and the other night was no different,” said Aurelio.

“That is good for him as an individual but it is also good for the team because it means we have another player who is getting involved and this makes the squad stronger and gives the manager more options.

“When you are at a big club like Liverpool you always know that you will have to compete for your place but when it comes down to it we are all competing for the good of the team.

“We all work harder to help the team and competing for your place is just one part of that.

“We work together and in the case of Emiliano and myself we both just want what is best for the team.”

Having missed the previous ten Liverpool games through his involvement with the Argentinian national team at the under-20 World Cup, Insua slotted seamlessly back into Benitez’s starting lineup against Boro.

In doing so, he jumped ahead of £7m man Andrea Dossena in the pecking order and his latest impressive performance will have served to underline the growing belief that he could provide a long term solution to a position that has been a problem at Anfield for far too long.

But for the time being, the former Boca Juniors youngster is just happy to be back in the fold with Liverpool having endured a difficult tournament with Argentina out in Venezuela where his national team failed to qualify for the finals for the first time in 16 years.

Insua’s disappointment was made all the more pronounced because not only was he captain of the side, he was also sent off during the 1-0 defeat to Colombia which ended Argentina’s hopes.

“It was not a good experience for me because we did not qualify for the next stage,” said Insua.

“Obviously we had wanted to do better than this but unfortunately things did not work out as we had hoped.

“I had to be there which meant I had to miss games for Liverpool but this is in the past now and I have to put it behind me and just focus on Liverpool and the games that we have to come.

“We have ten games left in the Premier League so hopefully I will be able to play in as many of these matches as possible.

“While I was away I was able to keep an eye on Liverpool’s results but it is not the same as being there and being involved in the squad. But now I can look forward to the games to come.”

Unfortunately for Insua he will not be able to feature in Liverpool’s next game - against Real Madrid.

Having not been registered with UEFA on Liverpool’s Champions League squad he will have to sit this one out but with a Premier League clash with Manchester United to come the defender is not too downhearted.

He said: “I cannot play in the Champions League against Real Madrid so this means I must keep on working hard in training and look forward to our next game.

“I am very excited at the thought of playing against Man United. I do not know whether I will be in the team or not but I have to keep giving everything I can in training and if I can play it will be very good for me.

“I can remember watching matches between Liverpool and United when I was young in Argentina.

“It is a match which is watched all around the world. It is a massive game for anyone to play in and now I have a chance to be involved so I have to keep my focus and hope that I can be in the team.”

Having tasted victory upon his return to the Liverpool side, Insua is now looking for a positive end to the season both for himself and the team.

But he knows the hard work is only just beginning as he attempts to nail down the left back spot with Aurelio in particular staking his own strong claims for that position in the team.

“I’m really happy that I was picked to play in the team against Middlesbrough because I know that we have other good left backs at Liverpool,” added Aurelio.

“But I know that I must keep on going and trying to give everything in every game because there is so much competition for places at a club like Liverpool.

“It was really good for me to be back in the team and I enjoyed it a lot because we won in front of our fans.

“We played quite well and the important thing for all of us now is to try to keep on going and to keep our level up so that we can keep on picking up points.”

David Prentice: Versatile Yossi Is Worth Every Penny

When West Ham were demanding transfer fees ranging from £6m to something nearer £10m for Yossi Benayoun, Reds fans laughed.

Even when the Israeli international arrived for a more modest £5m, there were plenty of raised eyebrows.

But Benayoun has proved himself to be the epitomy of the invaluable modern squad player.

Capable of playing a variety of roles, capable of scoring vital goals, he’s even prepared to accept that he won’t be playing every week.

His form at present, however, ensures that he should be. Benayoun has been a shaft of light in a mixed month for Liverpool Football Club, and a better addition to the Liverpool squad than many expected.

Coaching Role Would Prove Ideal For Hyypia

Sami Hyypia’s gesture to donate £23,000 to rescue a Merseyside hospital charity appeal quite rightly won the veteran defender plenty of plaudits.

It came as no surprise to those who know him best that he dug deep into his own pockets to help fund the planned building of a seven room Ronald McDonald House at Arrowe Park.

The big Finn has been a model professional from the moment he first set foot in Anfield and his status as one of Liverpool’s greatest servants has long since been established.

The 35-year-old Hyypia’s playing days may now be coming to an end but his commitment to the club he has served for almost a decade and the Merseyside area in which he has lived during that time remains as strong as ever.

Should a position come up on Liverpool’s coaching staff in the near future could anyone think of a more deserving candidate than a genuine Reds legend whose character is so widely admired?

Liverpool Midfielder Lucas Leiva Open To Atletico Madrid Move

The Reds’ Brazilian midfielder has revealed that he could join his famous uncle’s former club in the near future.

Liverpool’s Lucas Leiva has opened the door for a possible move to the Primera Division to join Atletico Madrid as he struggles to nail down a permanent first team place at Anfield under Rafa Benitez.

Despite a strong showing last term following his transfer from Gremio, the 22-year-old Brazilian has been limited to substitute appearances this campaign and he has not ruled out an exit in order to find regular playing time.

Accompanying his uncle, Leivinha, a well-known former Atletico Madrid striker, to an interview with Radio Marca, Lucas revealed, “I have come close to joining Atletico before and I do not discard the possibility of playing for the rojiblancos. But for now, I am happy at Liverpool.”

Leivinha, however, quickly interjected by saying, “Leiva is still a young lad and perhaps in a few seasons’ time, he could play for Atletico.”

Lucas then looked ahead to the Merseysiders’ second leg Champions League clash with Atleti’s fierce city foes, Real Madrid this Tuesday.

“We will have to strive at Anfield if we want to make it to the quarter-finals,” he warned.

Lucas is not the only player in the Reds payroll who could end up in the red-and-white of Atletico in the future. Goalkeeper, Pepe Reina has also previously expressed a strong desire to move to the Vicente Calderon, the ground where his father, Miguel Reina, made his name.