Friday, April 10, 2009

Biggest League Match Of My Life, Declares Carragher

Jamie Carragher has billed tomorrow's Anfield showdown with Blackburn as “the biggest league game of my career”.

But boss Rafa Benitez will have to decide whether or not to gamble on Steven Gerrard’s fitness for a match which could take the Reds back on top of the table – at least until Manchester United meet Sunderland at the Stadium of Light later in the day.

Carragher is in no doubt about the enormity of the occasion.

“I’m not just saying this because of what happened against Chelsea the other night but the league has always been the priority for everyone at the club,” said the Reds defender.

“In the 13 years I have been involved in the first team this will be the biggest league game I’ve played in – it really is that important.

“If we win we can go top of the league with just six games to go and if someone would have told us that we would be in this position when the season started we would have all been delighted.

“This is a massive chance for everyone at the club and I’m sure the fans will create a great atmosphere because they know what is at stake.”

Chelsea’s victory in the Champions League on Wednesday was the first time the Reds have been beaten by a fellow member of the big four this season.

Carragher added: “Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say that the other team played well on the night and this was one of those occasions.

“But it’s important to remember that we’ve now played them and Man United five times this season and we’ve won four of those games.

“That’s a record we can be proud of even though we are obviously disappointed about what happened the other night.

“We’ve played more than 40 games in the Premier League and the Champions League – the two biggest competitions – and we’ve only lost three times and one of the most important things is that when we have lost we’ve tended to respond in the right way by going on good runs.

“That’s what we’ll be looking to do again and no-one should be too downhearted about what happened against Chelsea because they are a good side who did well on the night and we’ve still got a hell of a lot to play for.

“The incentive is there for us to go back on top of the league and it may only be for a few hours until United play but you never know it could even be for longer than that.

“That’s how big this game is and that’s why I honestly believe it’s the biggest we’ve had in the league since I’ve been at the club and maybe for even longer than that.”

Skipper Gerrard's involvement is in doubt, however, after a scan yesterday revealed a minor groin strain. Though the injury is not considered serious it will need to be managed to ensure it does not become a bigger problem.

Should Gerrard be pitched in against Blackburn then it would be something of a calculated gamble by the Liverpool manager.

Benitez was set to discuss the situation with his captain and Liverpool’s medical staff today.

Big Sam: Benitez Loves To Whinge

Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce has taken a swipe at Rafael Benitez by claiming that the Liverpool manager loves to "whinge and moan".

Having clashed with the Spaniard during his tenure at Bolton, the Blackburn manager is now intent on ruffling Benitez and his side again when Rovers travel to Anfield in the Premier League on Saturday lunchtime.

"Bolton always used to batter them at the Reebok but we were never capable of reproducing that form at Anfield," Allardyce told The Sun.

"But you can't help him whingeing and moaning, can you? He loves it.

"It's great when a manager moans about the way my teams play, though.

"Irrespective of what label they might give me, if I can beat Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United home or away, then I am a major tactician and a very good manager.

On Benitez's feud with Sir Alex Ferguson, Allardyce had this to say: "You'd be foolish taking on Sir Alex because he knows every trick in the book.

"I've managed to psyche out a few managers in my time but nobody has ever psyched me out."

However, Allardyce, who was at Anfield on Wednesday night to see the Reds beaten in the Champions League, has defended Benitez's use of a zonal-marking system after Chelsea scored two of their three goals from corners.

"I went to watch what was probably the most in-form team in this country at the moment come a little unstuck on the night," said Allardyce.

"We can only hope that that knocks their confidence a little bit.

"It can happen to us all on occasions, but Chelsea got the tactics right and also used their outstanding ability to punish them very heavily in the end.

"I just want to get as many of my experienced players as fit as possible to go and pick a side who can combat a very good Liverpool team, and then try and expose one or two weaknesses that were shown up.

"But I thought there was a little of unfair criticism of the zonal marking system, because I don't think any system would have stopped those two goals on the night."

Benitez Urges Reds To Response

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has challenged his side to keep their Barclays Premier League title dreams alive.

The Anfield men were left reeling on Wednesday after their Champions League quarter-final first-leg 3-1 defeat by Chelsea.

But the Spaniard has urged his players to put disappointment aside and make sure they are ready to face a Blackburn team desperate to haul themselves away from the relegation zone on Saturday lunchtime.

Benitez said on Thursday: "We have an important league game next so we have to be ready. We have two full days to think and plan for the Blackburn game. That is the first priority now.

"Only after that will Chelsea be the priority in the Champions League second leg on Tuesday.

"We will have Javier Mascherano back from now on for both these games and the rest of the season. He is very important to us now.

"We have to believe anything can happen. Firstly we must do the right things against Blackburn and then go to Chelsea with confidence. If we score first there we will be in the game.

"But at Anfield this weekend I know our fans will be behind us again, that is always the case. They will know what the first priority is, and that is to win a league game.

"They know people make mistakes. But they will be determined to help us through this situation.

"To stop the result against Chelsea having a damaging effect on us, we must keep working really hard and prepare properly for the next game.

"We must find the form that we were showing in the recent weeks. We know we can do that."

Goalkeeper Jose Reina has also called for a positive reaction to the midweek mauling by Chelsea.

Reina could do little about any of Chelsea's goals at Anfield as Liverpool's zonal marking system was twice exploited by Branislav Ivanovic.

"It is Blackburn next, another competition, and we are very much alive in the title race," said Reina.

"It is an important game, and early kick-offs are never easy against a rested team so we have to be ready.

"It is our job to be ready. Whenever we lose games you have to come in the next day and forget about what happened so we can try to move forward and improve.

"We now have to prove to ourselves and our fans that we're still there in the league."

Mascherano will return to the side and there could be a place for central defender Daniel Agger, while full-back Andrea Dossena is also in line for a recall.

Liverpool Midfielder Xabi Alonso Insists Chelsea Defeat Must Be Forgotten

Liverpool's deep-lying ball-pinging midfielder Xabi Alonso has issued a plea to his Anfield team-mates indicating that the painful 3-1 midweek defeat against Chelsea needs to be put to bed, buried, and forgotten, so that it does not jeopardise their Premier League title ambitions.

Liverpool host Sam Allardyce's Blackburn Rovers in an early kick-off tie on Saturday that will introduce the latest round of domestic action. The Reds have an opportunity to usurp Manchester United at the head of the table should they claim a positive result, therefore keeping the pressure on the current league leaders, who do not get their own game underway until the afternoon.

Alonso told the club's official website, "It's very important for us. I hope it won't be tough to forget about Chelsea because we are professionals and this is another competition. We still have a chance to fight for the Premier League.

"At home this season we have dropped too many points - this time it has to be different. We have to start very well and play very well to win the game. It's important to do our job and that is to win this game. Of course I will be happy if we are still top after United's game but we have to wait."

Regarding the manner in which the side snuck a 1-0 win against Fulham last weekend, Alonso continued, "We enjoyed ourselves after Yossi Benayoun scored because it was reassuring after the international break that we were still in the title race. Obviously I could see the fans were enjoying it too.

"Of course, there is no doubt United are still favourites. They have the advantage and we respect that but our job is to try to go for it and fight."

On the prospect of facing a hard-working Allardyce unit, Alonso concluded by saying, "They work very well as a team and they got a great result against Tottenham last weekend from a difficult position.

"They are also fighting relegation, which will make it even more difficult."

Fabio Aurelio: It's Not Over Yet

Fabio Aurelio today insisted no-one at Liverpool is yet ready to give up the ghost on this season’s Champions League dream despite last night’s first leg setback at the hands of Chelsea.

Guus Hiddink’s side ran up a 3-1 lead to take back to Stamford Bridge for next week’s second leg on a night to forget for the Anfield men as a brace of headers from Branislav Ivanovic and a Didier Drogba strike from close range cancelled out Fernando Torres’ opener.

Though willing to concede that Liverpool now have a mountain to climb if they are to make it through to the semi-finals at Chelsea expense, Aurelio vowed that everyone in a red shirt will fight until the end in a bid to keep their European hopes alive.

“We are really disappointed, particularly after the good start we made to the game,” said the Brazilian left back.

“We scored a good goal and we were controlling the game but after they drew level we started to lose control of the game.

“Dirk (Kuyt) had a good chance when he went one on one but unfortunately he was not able to score and I think if that had gone in it might have changed the game.

“But you have to give credit to Chelsea because they played really well, especially in the second half, and they were more effective.

“After going behind we probably became a little bit desperate to score a goal to give ourselves a better chance for the second leg and we started to give the ball away easily and this meant they could use counter attacks which is one of their strengths.

“We know that it will be really difficult for us now because as last night showed we are playing against a really good team but we will not give up.

“We will fight until the very end because this season as shown that there have been many occasions when we have had setbacks but we have managed to turn things around.

“This means that we have to fight until the very end.”

He added: “We know it will be difficult but we want it really badly and we will try everything.”

Liverpool Players Got John Terry booked, Seethes Frank Lampard

Frank Lampard claimed last night that Liverpool players helped to get John Terry the yellow card which rules him out of the second leg.

Chelsea's inspirational skipper had challenged home keeper Pepe Reina in what looked like a 50-50 ball.

And Lampard suggested that Liverpool's reaction was payback for the controversial yellow card which caused Xabi Alonso to miss the second leg of the 2005 semi-final.

He said: "It's unfortunate that when he got booked all the Liverpool players ran around to make sure he did.

"I remember them moaning about Alonso being booked a few years ago and it was the reverse on Wednesday.

"But hopefully we have enough cover. Ricardo Carvalho is nearly fit and if we can go through, John will have a clean slate going into the semifinals." Lampard admits the Blues are now setting their sights on treble glory.

The titanic Champions League victory at Anfield leaves Chelsea close to the semi-finals and another showdown with Barcelona. And Lampard is convinced the performance that stunned Merseyside can have a psychological effect on Chelsea's rivals.

Lampard said: "I don't know if Barcelona will be too worried about anyone, the way they're playing. But if we can carry on playing like that we will put fear into a lot of teams.

"Who knows what can happen in the league, FA Cup and the Champions League? Everything is still up for grabs.

"Even though we're still behind in the league, it's important we keep the standards we set at Liverpool.

"When we play to those standards, when we look at the strength we have throughout the pitch, we're as good as anybody.

"We've just got to play to that standard all the time. We have been doing that in recent weeks and at Liverpool we did everything right except maybe get an two extra goals."

Liverpool Skipper Steven Gerrard To Miss Champions League Game With New Injury

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard dealt Rafa Benitez another crushing blow last night.

Just 24 hours after being humiliated by Chelsea at Anfield, the England midfielder was almost certainly ruled out of the Reds' next three games.

Gerrard is set to miss tomorrow's home match against Blackburn and boss Benitez will leave him out of the Champions League return at Chelsea on Tuesday.

That rest could give him a 50-50 chance of being fit to face Arsenal at Anfield on April 21.

Benitez could decide to risk his captain against Blackburn this weekend, in a game Liverpool MUST win to keep their title dream alive.

But it would be a massive gamble that could aggravate the problem. It seems more likely the manager will rest Gerrard for the next two weeks, and attempt to get him fit to face Arsenal.

The Liverpool boss knows it is pointless risking his skipper in the Chelsea game, given his side face an almost hopeless task, needing to win by three goals to claw back the deficit.

Instead Gerrard looks likely to be left with a battle to be fit for the league game that will go a long way to deciding who will be champions this season.

Liverpool have a break after their European trip because of the FA Cup semifinals, before they entertain the Gunners.

If Liverpool win that they will feel they can still catch Manchester United, and they will be desperate to have their captain available.

Liverpool will get the results of the scan this morning to determine exactly how long Gerrard will be out, at a time when they need him most.

Benitez And Liverpool Will Pay The Price For Allowing Gerrard To Play Through The Pain

Steven Gerrard's groin problem has returned and it could derail Liverpool's season, but they seem to have only themselves to blame.

The club are saying it will only keep him out for a match or two but what is the betting the injury ends up lasting a lot longer than that?

Liverpool cannot afford for him to be out at all as they have little hope of glory without him and, as he has indicated he will play through the pain, are bound to throw him back into action soon.

But for how long will he have to put himself through it and why wasn't the injury cleared up when he had surgery last August?

Rafael Benitez's over reliance on Gerrard must be at least partly to blame and so too must the player's reluctance to rest.

The midfielder is similar to Chelsea's John Terry in that he far too often plays in pain regardless of the consequences.

But the attitude of Gerrard and approach of Benitez have come back to haunt them and they need to learn from this, the end to Liverpool's season, otherwise the pattern of pain for their captain and for the club in the Premier League will continue.