Monday, April 27, 2009

Rafa - United Can Still Crack

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez insists that Manchester United can still crack under the pressure in the title run-in.

The Reds went to the top of the Premier League on Saturday as they put Hull City to the sword at the KC Stadium.

But the Merseysiders' time at the summit was brief as United came from 2-0 down at half-time to crush Tottenham with five second half goals at Old Trafford.

The champions' result means they now sit three points ahead of Benitez's men with a game in hand but the Spaniard still believes the title race is not over.

"We have to keep on winning," he said.

"This football is always difficult and United are a good team, but if we keep winning I think maybe they will feel the pressure.

"You never know in football."

The former Valencia boss praised his team's 3-1 win at the struggling Tigers in what he described as difficult conditions.

"It was a terrible, terrible pitch, really difficult to play," he added.

"The ball was like a rabbit and it is difficult to catch a rabbit. It was a dry and long, terrible.

"If you lose you can say that is an excuse but we won, so I can explain it was difficult to play on.

"Pepe Reina was under pressure every time he tried to play the ball. We needed to be patient and try and pass the ball. We were a little bit under pressure.

"Credit to them, they played with 10 players and they were still pushing."

Kuyt Believes In Miracles

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt has warned Manchester United the title race is not over yet.

Kuyt, who marked his 100th Premier League appearance for the club with two goals against Hull on Saturday, remains hopeful Liverpool can beat United to the title.

United are overwhelming favourites to clinch the championship as they are currently three points clear of their arch-rivals with a game in hand.

Time is running out for Liverpool to catch United with just four games left, but Kuyt is refusing to concede defeat and has vowed to push the leaders all the way.

"I believe in miracles in football," insisted Kuyt. "I have certainly seen stranger things happen in football.

"We'll just keep fighting for it - all we can do is keep winning our games.

"We have got a great team and will fight until the end and we shall see what happens on the last day of the season.

"I think they will need to slip up to make things interesting and as soon as they have dropped some points the pressure will be on them again.

"We will just have to wait and see and focus on ourselves.

"If we don't win anything, that's football. We just have to give everything we can as a team."

Kuyt appeared to mimic Rafa Benitez's infamous crossed hands salute when he scored his second and Liverpool's third goal at the KC Stadium, but the Dutchman insists there was nothing behind his celebration.

"It was not about Rafa's signals last week - he makes signals like that all the time in games," added Kuyt.

"It was just spontaneous. I was just happy because we were struggling in the game to be fair.

"That was game over but it is not game over in the league. We will keep chasing them until the end."

Rafa Benitez Takes Valuable Lesson From Liverpool FC Campaign

Rafael Benitez believes his players will learn from their experience of their title scrap with Manchester United while reiterating Liverpool have no intention of throwing in the towel on this season’s challenge.

The Anfield outfit kept up the pressure on their bitter North West rivals with a nervy 3-1 win at Hull City on Saturday.

United remain three points clear with a game in hand after their controversial 5-2 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur later in the evening.

For the first time since 1991, Liverpool remain in the hunt for the championship going into May.

And Benitez reckons the lessons learned from this season’s title tilt will hold his squad in good stead for future Premier League campaigns.

“The team, the squad, has shown that it’s better and this is a fantastic experience for the next years because we are in a position now that we were not before, for me that is the positive thing,” said the Liverpool manager.

“Always you can talk about trophies but in England there are so many strong sides, it’s not easy. At least you have to be there, you have to be contending – then you see what happens.

“We have four games now to finish the season and we’re still in the title race so I think it’s very positive.

“Normally when you play this level you know that at the end of the season you will play for trophies and can lose but if you analyse the whole season I think the team’s done very well, especially without Gerrard and Torres for a lot of games.

“I have confidence that we can fight until the end. After that, it’s very good experience because we have been in a position we were not before, not for a long time.”

United need to drop at least six points in their five remaining games for Liverpool to have any chance of lifting the championship for the first time in 19 years and prevent the Old Trafford outfit drawing level with their record 18 titles.

And Benitez added: “I have confidence United will drop points. So we need to keep going, keep doing our job, put them under pressure and then we will see.”

A goal from Xabi Alonso put Liverpool ahead on the stroke of half-time at the KC Stadium on Saturday, before Hull striker Caleb Folan was sent off on 58 minutes after kicking out at Martin Skrtel.

Dirk Kuyt doubled the visitors’ advantage shortly afterwards and although Geovanni pulled one back for Hull, another Kuyt strike in the closing moments sealed the win.

Of the game, Benitez said: “We were talking with the players about these kinds of games that could be the difference. This year we’ve won against the top sides, so these kind of games, which we’ve been drawing, have to be the difference in the future.

“We assessed the game and I thought we could control it, but it was difficult because they were pushing. We were making mistakes, and we need to improve.”

Hull’s defeat means they remain deep in the relegation mire having won just two of their last 25 league games.

But Benitez added: “I think Hull can be safe. It’ll be difficult for all the teams near the bottom because they’ll play now with more nerves, more anxiety, but I think it will be a good battle – if you’re not in it. But Hull have the potential to stay up.”

Benitez also revealed that Steven Gerrard, who has missed Liverpool’s last three games with an adductor problem, trained over the weekend and should be available for the visit of Newcastle United on Sunday.

Steven Gerrard Backs Kenny Dalglish's Potential Return To Liverpool

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard has reacted to the recent speculation linking Kenny Dalglish with a return to Anfield by saying it would be the best signing Rafael Benitez could make for the team in the summer.

The Reds manager has hinted in the last week that Dalglish could return to the club in an advisory role to help the Spaniard.

Talks are reportedly at an advanced stage, and confirmation of the deal may come as early as next week after Dalglish is said to have been relishing the chance to return to Anfield.

The club captain has now given his opinions on the speculation, believing it could greatly benefit the club.

Speaking to The Mirror, Gerrard said, "My first response to the news was, 'Great, get him in now' because the man is a legend.

"It's a great idea to get Kenny in because it would give the club a massive lift.

"Put it this way, if I was a young player again and a number of clubs wanted to sign me, if Kenny Dalglish came to me and asked me to sign for Liverpool then there is only one place I would go."

The Reds are closer than ever before to winning their first Premier League trophy, but still have some catching up to do as they sit in second place, three points behind Manchester United, who have a game in hand over the Reds.

Liverpool FC Youngsters Must Use Youth Cup Final As Stepping Stone

Hugh McAuley is hoping his players use the FA Youth Cup final as a platform for success further up the football ladder.

The Liverpool coach was delighted his side secured the club’s third appearance in the final in the past four seasons with Friday night’s 3-1 second leg victory over Birmingham City.

Two goals from top scorer Lauri Dalla Valle and another from Swedish left-winger Alex Kacaniklic sealed a 6-1 aggregate success over the Midlanders to set up another two-legged tie with Arsenal at the end of next month.

McAuley, who coached Liverpool to their first-ever success in the competition in 1996 with a team which included Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and David Thompson, knows that the competition can be used as a springboard for progress through the ranks.

He is hoping some of the current crop of young talent can follow in the footsteps of the class of 96 eventually into Rafael Benitez’s first team.

McAuley said: “It was very pleasing. It is a very long Youth Cup campaign, but I think everyone can see we deserve the right to play in the final. We have had some excellent games and I think the team has improved as we have gone on in the competition and we have seen the emergence of some excellent youth players.

“I think that is the highlight and the feature of the Youth Cup. History tells you that the top players do come through that way. Although Steven Gerrard didn’t play a major part in the Youth Cup early doors, at the same time other players have at this club and at the other clubs.

“The Youth Cup provides that stage for young players to develop in high-profile games. It is a fantastic development programme and we have enjoyed that this year and hopefully we can go on and do that in the final.”

He added: “It is three out of the last four years we have been involved in the Youth Cup final. It is fantastic for the boys and for the football club.

“It gives us that high-profile situation where our boys can be on show and do well and I think big clubs like Liverpool Football Club will benefit ultimately from being in the finals of this type of competition.”

McAuley is happy to have played a part in the latest run to the final, and he is already preparing for a tough clash with Arsenal, who beat last season’s winners Manchester City 6-2 on aggregate to book their place in the final.

The first clash is expected to be at the Emirates on May 22 with the return at Anfield pencilled in for the following Tuesday.

McAuley said: “For me personally it is fantastic. I was lucky enough to be the manager in 1996 when we had Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Davie Thompson in the team that was successful against West Ham on that occasion.

“Then a long-time on, a good few years on it is good to manage a team in the final again. It is good that over the last few years the youth team have done particularly well in getting to these finals and we are looking forward to the games against Arsenal. Hopefully we can good account of ourselves and produce some good games of football and some good individual footballers as a result of it.

“Having watched Arsenal they are a very good team and I am sure the games we play against Arsenal will be very good football games.

“We played them in the Youth Cup here last year and were fortunate to beat them 1-0 on the night. We were very good on the night and gave a good account of ourselves and played some excellent football. I am anticipating two very good games.

“There are some excellent footballers on show. Arsenal have some excellent players. Hopefully we can get our homework right and do some good preparation work and I am sure by time we play the games in May we will be ready for that.”

Key to the run to the final has been top scorer Dalla Valle with the Finn firing in seven in the competition so far.

Owen was top scorer back in 1996 and the 17-year-old Dalla Valle’s striking ability plus the fact he has blond hair and wears the Liverpool number nine shirt comparisons to current star Fernando Torres and past strikers are inevitable.

McAuley knows he has a long way to go to match those illustrious Anfield stars, but the Liverpool coach said: “He is typically like a Michael Owen or Fernando Torres in that he is goalscorer.

“He is instinctive, he is always looking to get on the end of passes. He is always looking to run in the box and cause problems for the opposing defence. He is very quick and very sharp in the penalty area. There are a lot of similarities with Michael in that he is a goalscorer and he loves scoring goals. Half chances and loose balls into the penalty area he latches onto very quickly.

“He knows he has a lot to do, a lot to work on like all young players. But he has a touch and an instinct that gets him goals and he has done that all season. The boy is getting stronger, his game understanding is improving a lot more and his hold-up play is improving.

“There are parts of his game he needs to work at and he is working at, but he continues to score goals at youth team level and it is important he gets the right development and the Youth Cup is giving him that development to push on and improve his game.

“But he is an excellent prospect for the future.”

Dalla Valle went off against Birmingham with a thigh strain, but more as a precaution and he will be available for the final.

Midfielder Adam Pepper, though, faces a race against time to be fit. The Liverpool-born youngster suffered a groin problem and left the stadium on crutches. Liverpool, though, are hopeful the injury is not as bad a first feared and he can make the first leg of the final in four weeks.

Liverpool's Finnish Forward Lauri Dalla Valle Has Feet On Ground

Lauri Dalla Valle is not getting carried away after spearheading Liverpool Youth team’s charge to the FA Youth Cup final.

The Finnish forward has played a key part in the run to the final, having scored seven times so far in the competition.

The 17-year-old scored twice against Birmingham in Friday night’s 3-1 semi-final second leg win. They added to the double he hit in the first leg as Liverpool triumphed 6-1 on aggregate to set up another two-legged tie with Arsenal.

The Kontiolahti-born youngster said: “To score two in the first leg and two in the second leg I am pleased. I am a striker, I try to score and I am scoring, so I am happy.

“I try to get in good positions to score goals, and it is going well. I will always try to do my best. It is easy for me to keep my feet on the ground. I am always like that. I always think I am Lauri.

“It was very easy to settle into the country because I have had many people to help me. It took a couple of months to settle down in the English game because it is much faster and more physical but it is going better now.

“I am waiting for the final now. It would mean a lot to win it because it would be my first trophy in England.”

The Importance Of Alonso

This time last year it looked as though Xabi Alonso was on the brink of a move to Juventus with Gareth Barry being lined up as his replacement. Barry, of Aston Villa, was reportedly valued at £18 million which Rafa was not prepared to cough up. The move seemed to hinge only on Xabi Alonso continuing his career in Italy. I think the majority of Liverpool fans out there would certainly agree with me when i say, ' Alonso made the right choice to stay!'

Rafa has elected to play the majority of the season with two holding midfielders, primarily being Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano and it is definitely clear to see that the whole team are reaping the benefits. The facts are clear to see, the new formation is certainly working, and in my opinion the secret to the success is the partnership of Alonso and Mascherano. I also beg to differ that Gareth Barry would have had the same impact on the team, should his move actually have been completed.

It's fair to say that judging by last year’s performances the Spaniard seemed to be losing his touch a little, maybe that was the reason Rafa seemed keen to offload the Spanish international, but this season it's almost as if Alonso has transformed into a totally different player. Pin point passes, an eye for goal and a good report with 'Masc', as well as some incredibly vital goals against Chelsea most notably.

The plaudits will obviously go to the ever present Stevie G as well as Fernando but i thought it only seemed fair to build the praise up of Xabi Alonso as he's almost become an unsung hero. Before the goal against Hull City for example, on the weekend the team looked shaky to say the least, who knows what could have happened if Alonso hadn't have rattled that goal in on the stroke of half time. One thing is for sure, that goal brought some stability to the side and okay we looked a bit complacent when Caleb Folan was sent off for a kick out at Martin Skrtel, but we then ended up killing the game off and subsequently winning 3-1.

In my opinion if there was to be a player of the season Xabi Alonso would certainly be a contender due to the importance he plays within the team, thank god he didn't switch Anfield for the Stadio Olimpico di Torino in the summer, eh?

Sami Hyypia To Spurn Liverpool's Coaching Contract Offer

According to a report in the British tabloid The Daily Mirror, Sami Hyypia will decline the opportunity to become a member of Liverpool's coaching staff in order to prolong his playing career.

Apparently, the 35-year-old has been offered a new one-year deal to remain at Anfield as a player-coach.

However, the 97-time capped Finland international believes his chances of playing regular first-team football with the Reds will be few and far between, so he will seek a move away from the club in the summer.

It is thought that manager Rafael Benitez convinced the 6ft 4in centre-back to reject overtures from the likes of Fulham, Newcastle United and Stoke City during the January transfer window to remain with the Merseyside outfit.

However, Cottagers boss Roy Hodgson is expected to make yet another offer for the former MyPa and Willem II star at the end of the season.