Monday, April 13, 2009

Gerrard To Return For Mission Impossible

Rafael Benitez expects to be able to set about Liverpool's monumental Champions League challenge at Chelsea tomorrow night with Steven Gerrard playing from the start.

Benitez will need to use his captain sparingly during the run-in, a factor which adds to the tension on Merseyside as Liverpool continue to outperform Manchester United, but his gamble on leaving him on the bench for Saturday's league encounter with Blackburn Rovers has paid off, with Gerrard (right) not needed.

"The risk was there but he has got more chances [of playing Chelsea] now," Benitez said of Gerrard, who has slightly strained an adductor muscle in his groin. "The physio will work with him, so hopefully he'll be there."

The seven-day break between the Stamford Bridge second leg and Arsenal's arrival at Anfield in the league provides the recuperation Gerrard would need from a major contribution to what will need to be one of their greatest comebacks to progress to another semi-final.

Gerrard seems to have returned from England duty with the strain, the latest in a string of groin problems to have affected him this season. Benitez had been prepared to use him if necessary on Saturday, with the prospect of overturning Chelsea's 3-1 first leg lead seemingly more remote than catching United, who regained the title ascendancy in unconvincing fashion with their 2-1 win at Sunderland.

Fernando Torres, whose two goals against Rovers took his tally to 11 in 19 league starts, said the manner of Liverpool's victory had lifted hopes that they can score the three they need in west London. "We have kept our confidence after the Champions League game," Torres said. "I think Chelsea will play for a win. If they score one or two it is over, so they will not just defend."

Michael Essien, whose command of Gerrard was crucial in the first leg, will be fit for tomorrow, having been rested on Saturday. Hiddink is almost certain to start him against Liverpool, having seen the difference without him on Saturday.

Torres, anonymous and looking tired after scoring Liverpool's opener at Anfield last Wednesday, has admitted that his preparations for next season must be better than this. "I will try and get enough rest. It is just four or five games [left]," he said. "But we have to talk at Liverpool about the next pre-season and try and do the right things."

Benitez can only wait and hope his two main assets make it through and believes the Premier League may have had a different complexion had Torres been fitter throughout. "We have had some games this season that ended in draws that, had Fernando been playing, it could have made a massive difference," he said.

Guus Hiddink Sends Warning To Liverpool

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink has stated that his team are ready for the visit of Liverpool in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

The Dutchman feels the Blues are growing in spirit, as they aim to go for the domestic and European treble.

The Blues have a 3-1 advantage going into the crunch match on Tuesday at Stamford Bridge, meaning Liverpool have to score three goals without reply.

Hiddink, who is only in charge at Chelsea until the end of the season, believes that his side are in the right frame of mind at the business end of the season.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Hiddink said, "There is a fantastic spirit around this club at the moment - everyone believes in what we can achieve this season and it is exciting to be a part of that.

"But we must not lose our focus for one game or one minute, and that means each game is as important as the next one. We have the same aim, which is to try and win all of them.

"It is important that we take the momentum gained from winning at Anfield into this game and keep our level of performance up."

The former PSV Eindhoven manager has stated that even if the Blues win the Champions League, it would not be enough to persuade him to stay on into next season, as he wishes to concentrate on getting Russia to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before retiring after the tournament.

Jamie Carragher Hails Top-Class Fernando Torres

Fernando Torres confirmed his position in the top bracket of world strikers with one of the season’s finest goals.

The Spaniard’s sensational early strike against Blackburn had a touch of Marco van Basten at his best about it, such was the movement, control and execution of a stunning hooked volley that set Liverpool on the way to a comfortable 4-0 win.

He followed that up with an excellent header, outmuscling Rovers’ powerful defender-turned-attacker Christopher Samba.

It took Torres to 11 goals in 19 Barclays Premier League games this season, 14 in all for the frequently injured 25-year-old, and Chelsea will be well aware of the threat he poses to their Champions League hopes heading into Tuesday’s quarter-final second leg.

But in the end it did nothing to cut the lead - one point and a game in hand - that Manchester United hold over Liverpool at the top of the table.

And Liverpool have only six games left to halt the seemingly inevitable United march to the title.

But haunting Liverpool is the thought of what might have been had Torres been fit all season, and just how many goals and extra points would have been secured with the Spaniard in this current brilliant form.

Statistics underline that feeling. Torres has now scored 35 goals in 52 league games for the club, 47 in 78 matches across all competitions.

The partnership with Gerrard - who was not risked in the Blackburn game - shows 89 goals between them since Torres’ arrival at the start of last season.

Torres and Gerrard have both had their injury problems all season, and Liverpool’s title challenge has been hampered accordingly.

The problem for Liverpool is that Torres came back from winning the European Championship with Spain last summer tired and vulnerable. Only in the past few weeks has he been anything like fully fit.

He will play in FIFA’s Confederation Cup tournament with Spain in South Africa in June, so he will have no full summer break to assist with his recovery from hamstring trouble.

"Yes, I will have to play in the Confederation Cup during the summer, maybe it is not the best for the next pre-season, but it is my job and I have to play.

"Then I will have to work with the staff at Liverpool to make sure I get a good pre-season and do not make the same mistakes as at the end of last summer.

"My first one was a good goal, maybe one of the best I have ever scored.

"People may compare it with Van Basten, but I do not think so, he was one of the best players in football history and I have a bit to go before I am as good as him."

Torres added: "The way we played is good for our build-up and preparation for Tuesday at Chelsea in the Champions League.

"This win gives us confidence after the 3-1 defeat by them in midweek. But I believe the team can score three goals at Stamford Bridge.

"We won away to Manchester United, they scored but we still won 4-1.

"Chelsea could just defend, but I doubt that. They will want to score themselves and that will give us a chance ourselves."

Boss Rafael Benitez said of Torres: "Fernando’s first goal was very special, but I am the kind of manager who always likes to push his players so I know he can do better.

"I suppose it was similar to Van Basten’s famous goal, but if Fernando wants to be at the level of Van Basten then he knows he has to improve."

Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce could do without Torres being any better after this humbling.

Allardyce said: "It is nothing to do with the possession Liverpool get and keep, the one area we could beat them is when balls are knocked down from a big man, but Liverpool were far better than us even at that.

"Add that to the way they pass and move the ball, which is why they dominated the game.

"There may well have been some fear from us. We were missing a lot of our top players, and if they had been on the pitch we would not have lost 4-0."

Fernando Torres Keen To Remain Injury-Free For Liverpool

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres has stated that he is desperate to remain injury free for the rest of the season in order to help the club win silverware.

The former Atletico Madrid man has been plagued by injury on the back of a successful European championship with Spain last summer, but has vowed to work with the Reds medical staff to ensure that he stays injury free.

The Spaniard has struck 11 goals in 19 games so far this season for the Reds, but he feels he could have contributed more to the cause had he not been injured.

Speaking to Sky Sports, he said, "Maybe if I had played more then we would have scored more. I feel that 11 in 19 league games is a good record, and it is frustrating thinking what it could have been.

"But we must learn from this season and the injuries I have had, and try to stay 100 per cent fit from the beginning of the season and play all the games.

"I could have had more goals had I been fit more, but I will have to make sure I am fit all next season and then see how many I can get.

"Yes, I will have to play in the Confederations Cup during the summer, maybe it is not the best for the next pre-season, but it is my job and I have to play.

"Then I will have to work with the staff at Liverpool to make sure I get a good pre-season and do not make the same mistakes as at the end of last summer."

The 25-year-old showed how valuable to the team he is with two goals in the 4-0 demolition of Blackburn Rovers yesterday, and the striker feels this is a good way to prepare for Tuesday's crunch match against Chelsea in the Champions League.

"The way we played is good for our build-up and preparation for Tuesday at Chelsea in the Champions League," continued Torres.

"This win gives us confidence after the 3-1 defeat by them in midweek. But I believe the team can score three goals at Stamford Bridge.

"We won away to Manchester United, they scored but we still won 4-1.

"Chelsea could just defend, but I doubt that. They will want to score themselves and that will give us a chance ourselves."

The Reds are still in the hunt for the Premier League trophy, sitting in second place just a point behind Manchester United, who have a game in hand.

Liverpool's Jack Hobbs Set For Leicester City Move

Leicester City's on-loan central defender Jack Hobbs is set to make his deal at the Walkers Stadium a permanent one, according to The Sunday Mirror.

The youngster is currently on-loan from Premier League side Liverpool, and it is believed that the Foxes are hoping to tie up the deal in the summer transfer window.

Any deal involving the 20-year-old moving to the Walkers Stadium may end up relying on whether fellow Reds central defender Daniel Agger remains at the club or not.

The young Dane has been continually linked with moves to Italy's Serie A or Spain' Primera Division, after failing to establish a first team place at Anfield.

The 24-year-old has not been in contract talks until recently and, it is rumoured, that he will sign a contract extension with the club.

Agger has certainly stated his intentions to stay at Anfield, so a deal for Hobbs to go to Leicester may be on the cards.

Hobbs has been at Liverpool since 2005, after being spotted by Reds scouts playing for Lincoln City.

The Portsmouth-born defender has been on-loan to Scunthorpe United as well as Leicester, in order to gain some first team experience.

He has only played two first team games for the Reds since his arrival four years ago, but is still thought to be a star in the making.

Liverpool Legend Kenny Dalglish Reflects On Hillsborough Disaster

One of Liverpool's all-time greats has described his experiences on the day which represented far and away an all time low for the historic club's.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 will mark the 20th anniversary of the darkest day in English football, when 96 innocent Liverpool supporters - women and children amongst them - were crushed to death at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield during the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

Liverpool's manager on that fateful day in 1989 was club icon Kenny Dalglish, who recently spoke on BBC Five Live's Sportsweek program about an event that changed him and English football forever.

"I do think about it quite a lot," said Dalglish, revealing that his two children, who were literally just children at the time, were in the stadium grounds when disaster struck.

"We were one of the lucky families. Our children came home to us that night and obviously we are eternally grateful for that but that doesn't mean to say we don't have a great deal of sympathy for those who were not as fortunate as us.

"I always feel for anyone who was there and for anybody who is a Liverpool fan or has any feelings for Liverpool.

"But more important than that is the feelings of the families. I don't think that Liverpool Football Club have ever shirked their responsibilities and I don't think they ever will.

"One fantastic thing to know is that not just Liverpool fans, but football fans in general, have never vandalized in any shape or form the Eternal Flame that burns outside the Anfield Road end, which shows the great respect that football fans have everywhere."

The entire city of Liverpool will come to a standstill at 3.06pm for two minutes on Wednesday, exactly 20 years since the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was abandoned.

Liverpool FC Can Bridge The Gap

Fernando Torres is convinced Liverpool can pull off a remarkable Champions League comeback tomorrow.

The Spaniard netted twice as the Anfield outfit responded to their shock defeat to Chelsea in midweek by thrashing Blackburn Rovers 4-0 at home on Saturday.

It kept the pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester United, who still lead Rafael Benitez’s side by a single point.

Liverpool step out at Stamford Bridge tomorrow aiming to overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit and reach the European Cup semi-finals for the fourth time in five seasons.

And Torres said: “We have kept our confidence after the Champions League game and it was important to win for the fans.

“It was an important victory because it was the last game at home before the Hillsborough memorial service and I think they enjoyed it.

“I hope that we can score three goals against Chelsea. We know it is a very difficult task.

“They are a strong team, but we have confidence we can do it and we have to go there to win the game. We beat Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford so we know we can do it.

“We know it is difficult and it is difficult to score against them, but we will prepare the game and see what happens. I think Chelsea will play for a win. If they score one or two it is over, so they will not just defend.”

Saturday’s brace of goals moved Torres to 11 goals in only 19 league appearances of a campaign that has been hampered by continual hamstring problems, a hangover of his efforts in helping his country win Euro 2008 last summer.

Torres is expected to endure another lengthy season with Spain taking part in the Fifa Confederations Cup in South Africa. The competition runs from June 14-28, with Vicente del Bosque’s side playing as many as five games in that period.

Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Alvaro Arbeloa and Albert Riera are also expected to figure, but it is Torres that will be the major concern to Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.

And the striker said: “It has been really frustrating to miss league games this season. Just 19 league games and 11 goals is a good record.

“We have to try and learn from this for next season and try and help me stay 100% fit for all the games.

“I have to play in the Confederations Cup in the summer because it is important for my country Spain after the European Championships.

“We are a good team and we have to try and win trophies and this is the next one. I know it might not be the best preparation for pre-season but that is our job.

“I will try and get enough rest. It is just four or five games. But we have to talk at Liverpool about the next pre-season, try and do the right things and not make the same mistakes that we did this season.”

Torres scored the opening two goals of Liverpool’s weekend win, with Daniel Agger and substitute David Ngog completing a comfortable win late on.

Torres’ first goal was a goal of the season contender, a dipping cross-volley reminiscent of Marco van Basten’s magnificent strike for Holland in the final of Euro 88.

“It was a good day for me,” said the Spaniard. “The first one was a great goal and a great start to the game. To then get three more goals was good for the team.

“I work hard on my heading so I was pleased with the second one. I am always pleased to score at Anfield and I almost had a hat-trick but the main thing was to win and stay fit for Tuesday which is a big game.

“I don’t know if the first one is the best I have scored. Maybe one of the best. I don’t think it was like van Basten. He was one of the best players in the history of the game.”

Steven Gerrard was an unused substitute as Benitez elected not to risk his skipper’s adductor problem.

And the manager said: “It was almost perfect, but it could have been better as we could have scored more goals. It was the perfect response after the result in the Champions League in midweek, so it was a very positive afternoon.

“United are under pressure, Ferguson is always talking about us now and that’s a positive as he wasn’t talking about us for the last few seasons.”

Asked if having a fully-fit Torres for more of the season would have seen Liverpool clear at the top by this stage, Benitez said: “Yes, could be. We have had some games this season that ended in draws that, had Fernando been playing, it could have made a massive difference.

“If you have Torres and Gerrard fit, then you know the team is much better.”

Blackburn Star Hails Unsung Hero Dirk Kuyt

Dirk Kuyt has been hailed as Liverpool’s unsung hero after helping sweep aside Blackburn Rovers.

With injury concerns consigning Steven Gerrard to the bench, Kuyt partnered Fernando Torres in attack for Saturday’s visit of the Lancastrians.

And while the Dutchman was not among the goalscorers in a 4-0 romp for the Anfield outfit, his performance earned the plaudits of the opposition.

“Torres is such a big threat with his running in behind you,” said Blackburn midfielder David Dunn. “Obviously as a team we knew that and dropped deeper. He makes those runs and is such a handful.

“But Dirk Kuyt, in my opinion, is just as important. He is such an unselfish player and gives just as much to the side. He plays a number of positions, works his socks off for the team and never stops running.

“He's very, very good, but maybe doesn't always get as much credit as he deserves.”

Torres set Liverpool on their way with two goals before the interval, the first of which was a genuine goal of the season contender.

The Spaniard has started only 15 of 32 league games this season but has now netted 11 goals in that time.

And while Dunn is convinced the availability of Torres for longer periods would have enhanced Liverpool’s title chances, he believes every challenger is affected by injuries to key members.

“I'm sure they would have got a lot more points if he hadn't been injured for parts of the season, without a shadow of a doubt,” he added. “He's a top, top player.

“I know what people will say, but I'm not sure it would have made a difference in where the title ends up though. United have had their injury problems, likewise Chelsea, and over the season I think that balances out. The best team will win the league over the whole course of things.”

Dunn added: “We set our stall out, but weren't great. Take nothing away from Liverpool, they're a top side, and that's why they are where they are. But it was disappointing. “

Glen Johnson And Peter Crouch Up For Grabs

Portsmouth duo Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson are targets for Manchester City and Liverpool respectively, according to Sunday Express Sport.

City and the Reds are ready to make bids totalling £20 million for the pair, as Pompey prepare for a possible clearout in the summer, which may be forced upon them if they are relegated.

Johnson has been linked with moves to Anfield before, with the full-back nearly making the move from Fratton Park in the January transfer window, but the Reds failed with a reported £8 million bid for the 24-year-old.

Crouch's career has been rejuvenated since he was signed by former Pompey boss Harry Redknapp, and he formed a good partnership with striker Jermain Defoe, before the latter moved back to Tottenham Hotspur.

Both players were rumoured to be leaving the club when owner Alexandre Gaydamak announced Pompey's horrific debts, meaning that both players could still be sold in the summer in order to raise money for the financially stricken south coast outfit.

Former Liverpool striker Crouch has been at Fratton Park for a year, and has since played 29 Premier League appearances for the club, scoring 11 goals.

Ex-Chelsea and West Ham United man Johnson has spent a little longer with Pompey, having made his loan move from the Blues permanent in 2007, and the full-back has played 52 Premier League games Portsmouth, scoring four times.