Sunday, August 16, 2009

Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur vs Liverpool

If one thing is for certain as Tottenham Hotspur prepare to embark on another Premier League campaign, it is that they will be desperate to get off to a better start than they did last season.

Under Juande Ramos, the Lilywhites went winless for the first eight games of the season, resulting in the Spaniard’s departure and the subsequent appointment of Harry Redknapp.

The former Portsmouth boss turned things around markedly, leading the London club from the bottom of the table to the brink of Europa League qualification.

This season, after some significant changes to the squad throughout the summer, Redknapp and his men have the Champions League in their sights.

First and foremost, however, they are aiming to kick-start the new term with a bang, as they host a Liverpool side with serious title ambitions.

"It's such a big game for everyone, especially at this early stage of the season. The lads can't wait for it and we all feel it's a game we can win," Jermain Defoe told the press.

"We're at home, we know the fans will be right behind us and it's all about our belief. We want to make a good start and we're after the three points."

The Reds enter the 2009-10 season off the back of their finest domestic campaign in many moons, having finished four points behind champions Manchester United last term.

There can be no question that Rafael Benitez’s crew aim to lift the Premier League trophy come next May, but there are kinks in their consistency which will have to be ironed for that to occur.

Liverpool were supreme against their fellow title challengers, doing the double over both United and Chelsea, but they often struggled against the less fearsome teams in the division.

No better can this be demonstrated than by the fact that their first loss of the 2008-09 campaign came at White Hart Lane, against a Tottenham outfit who were then sat in the relegation zone.

It is there, in Spurs’ domain, that the Merseysiders begin their push for a long-awaited 19th league triumph, and Fernando Torres knows that anything but victory will be considered a failure.

"We have no problem beating Manchester United or Chelsea, but it is games like Sunday's at Tottenham where we need to show our real title intentions," the Spanish striker said recently.

"Tottenham is not an easy place to go, but these are games we must be winning if this is to finally be our year."



Aug 9 Tottenham 3-0 Olympiacos (Friendly)
Aug 2 South China 2-0 Tottenham (Friendly)
Jul 31 Hull City 0-3 Tottenham (Friendly)
Jul 29 West Ham United 0-2 Tottenham (Friendly)
Jul 26 Tottenham 0-2 Celtic (Friendly)


Aug 8 Liverpool 1-2 Atletico Madrid (Friendly)
Aug 5 FC Lyn 0-2 Liverpool (Friendly)
Aug 2 Espanyol 3-0 Liverpool (Friendly)
Jul 26 Singapore 0-5 Liverpool (Friendly)
Jul 22 Thailand 1-1 Liverpool (Friendly)



Spurs have the usual injury problems right from the off: Jonathan Woodgate is out with a groin problem, and Ledley King is a doubt with back pain.

As Michael Dawson is also yet to prove his fitness, new boy Sebastien Bassong is likely to start in defence.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the park, Peter Crouch – who spent three years on Liverpool’s books – could also make his Lilywhites debut, having moved from Portsmouth.

Possible Starting XI: Gomes; Corluka, Bassong, King, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Jenas, Palacios, Modric; Defoe, Crouch


With Daniel Agger out injured, the Merseysiders face a nervous wait over the status of Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher, but both are expected to be pronounced fit. Emiliano Insua will step in for the oft-sidelined Fabio Aurelio at left-back.

Of even more concern is Steven Gerrard, who missed England’s midweek friendly against the Netherlands with a groin complaint. The skipper is 50-50 at this stage.

Italian import Alberto Aquilani is recovering from a lingering ankle problem, leaving Lucas Leiva to fill the void in midfield following Xabi Alonso’s big-money move to Real Madrid.

Possible Starting XI: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua; Mascherano, Lucas; Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera; Torres



Just as his career at White Hart Lane seemed to have stalled, Aaron Lennon kicked into overdrive midway through last season to re-establish himself as one of the most exciting young talents in the Premier League. The England man could have an interesting tussle with inexperienced, yet similarly promising, Insua.


In what was otherwise a disappointing pre-season for the Reds, one man shone. Lucas Leiva has copped his fair share of flak since joining the club from Gremio in 2007, and now – with Alonso gone and Aquilani out – is the time for the young Brazilian to stake his claim for a regular berth in midfield.

Rafa Benitez: Liverpool FC Have Come A Long Way In Five Years

Liverpool have come a long way since Rafa Benitez last took his side to White Hart Lane on the opening day of the Premier League season.

August 14 2004 was the Spaniard’s first competitive domestic assignment in the Anfield hot-seat but he headed to the capital with Gerard Houllier’s team.

Josemi and Djibril Cisse were the only new faces but even the later had been bought by Houllier before he got the bullet.

Cisse’s first half strike was cancelled out by Jermain Defoe in a 1-1 draw but early promise failed to blossom as four league defeats by early October dashed any hopes of a title challenge.

Of course European glory ultimately made it a season to remember but in the league the Reds finished a distant fifth – losing 14 games and securing a haul of just 58 points.

Fast forward five years and only skipper Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher remain.

Slowly but surely, Benitez has compiled a squad capable of challenging for the Premier League crown.

With third, third, fourth and second placed finishes, Liverpool have closed the gap and now the challenge is to take the hardest step of all.

“I remember that first game very clearly and a lot has changed since then,” Benitez admitted.

“Clearly the club has been going in the right direction.

“You can see the value of the squad we had back then compared to the value of the squad we have now.

“Now we have more players with quality and experience. But we also have exciting young players who are improving all the time.”

Benitez knows his side will be hard pressed to beat last season’s remarkable haul of 86 points, which left them four points adrift of champions Manchester United.

Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Sami Hyypia have departed with the boss’ summer spending limited to £17million right-back Glen Johnson and £20million midfielder Alberto Aquilani.

However, Benitez insists the Reds are better equipped for domestic glory this time around.

“By selling Arbeloa and Alonso and bringing in Johnson and Aquilani I believe we are more or less in the same position but with different kind of players,” he said.

“Johnson is an attacking full-back who will hopefully help us turn draws into wins. Aquilani is also more attacking than Alonso.

“One really important thing for me was extending the contracts of our key players.

“We got 86 points with more or less this squad. We know what this team can achieve.

“We can talk about players who have gone and who have just arrived but we have young players already here like Insua, Lucas, Babel, El Zhar, Ngog, who can improve and make a big difference.

“The players know we were very close last year and everyone wants to improve.

“Pre-season has been difficult with a lot of players coming back late but we will be ready to face Tottenham.”

Tomorrow will be the sixth successive campaign Liverpool have started on their travels and Benitez is looking for his side to continue where they left off last season.

After losing at Middlesbrough in late February the Reds won 10 and drew one of their last 11 league matches, scoring 34 goals in the process.

Rafa Benitez: Lack Of Funds Won't Shake Our Title Challenge

Rafael Benitez is ready to do battle with Sir Alex Ferguson once again after insisting his commitment to Liverpool has not been shaken by a lack of transfer funds.

Benitez’s side begins their quest for a record-breaking 19th championship when they open their Premier League season at Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow.

Liverpool were the nearest rivals to Manchester United last season only to fall short in stopping their bitter North West neighbours from moving alongside them on 18 titles.

The emergence of Liverpool as strong contenders caused a deterioration in the relationship between Benitez and Old Trafford counterpart Ferguson.

And the United manager has already began stoking the flames by claiming Chelsea are the main threat to his team securing a fourth successive Premier League crown this season.

But Benitez has warned Ferguson he wants to further test the boundaries of his patience by pushing United all the way once again.

“I would like to win every game, so we will see how it affects the relationship,” said the Liverpool manager. “I want to win. If our fans are happy then I’m happy.”

Asked if Ferguson was already up to his old tricks with the comment on Chelsea, Benitez added: “I have no idea. There are a lot of top sides that can be very, very strong.

“We can always talk about the top four, but Manchester City are doing a very good job and have bought some excellent players. They will be a big problem to us, but mainly to United, as they are their neighbours.

“I can understand why Mr. Ferguson at Manchester United is a little bit worried.”

Benitez’s efforts to overhaul United have been hampered by a tightening of the purse strings by Liverpool’s American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Close to £37million has been spent on Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani, but that has been recouped by the sales of Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sebastian Leto, Adam Hammill, Paul Anderson and Jack Hobbs.

But Benitez has dismissed the notion the lack of major funds has made him have second thoughts after signing a new five-year contract in March.

“I don’t know too many managers happy with the money that they have to spend,” said the Spaniard. “There are two or three clubs around the world that have big, big money, but the rest of the managers I am sure will ask for more money.

“It is not impacting on my commitment. Always when you have some difficult, you have to work harder.

“We were doing a good job with the options that we had. We are happy with the additions, and if they can settle down quickly I will be really pleased because the rest of the squad is more or less the same.”

Liverpool, who have lost only two of their last 27 opening league games, are being tipped by many this season to end a title drought that stretches back to 1990, with many supporters similarly expectant.

But Benitez said: “I don’t feel any extra pressure because we haven’t won anything for three seasons.

“We have to manage the expectations. We know the situation. If you talk about the title, everybody is saying that we have to win it this season. But I don’t think so. We have to be realistic, we want to be in the top four and to be contenders.

“I was being asked the same questions this time last year, and I said we wanted to be in a good position come January. We were, and we stayed in a good position all the way through to the end of the season.

“We have tried to manage expectations but it’s not easy when we finished with 86 points last season and came so close, and people will now be talking about 20 years since winning the league.

“But that is the situation now. We have to work with the players, have confidence in the youngsters and try to improve the squad.

“How will we know if we are right or not? After three or four games you will see more or less where we are, and also where the other teams are.”

Johnson will make his debut at White Hart Lane tomorrow, while Benitez is hopeful Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel and Steven Gerrard will all overcome their injury niggles.

Liverpool Will Win Premier League Title This Year - Alan Hansen

Liverpool's former captain Alan Hansen reckons this will be the year that the Reds finally reclaim the title.

"I believe that this will be Liverpool's year," Hansen told Liverpool's official website.

"Draws at home against lesser teams cost Liverpool last season, but I think manager Rafael Benitez has learned how to play against them," he added.

Hansen believes Benitez has developed his style of play into a more attacking, up-tempo approach.

"Instead of waiting to see what they will do, he has gone for what Liverpool fans expect, which is to try to hem these teams in and batter them.

"It was a style of play that started when they thrashed Real Madrid 4-0 in the Champions League and continued from there," he said.

"It was great to see, and I can see it bringing the title back to Anfield for the first time in 20 years this season."

On Liverpool's closest rivals, Hansen was dismissive.

"I actually do not see United winning the title this year," he said.

"Ronaldo just won too many games for them."

Liverpool's History Cannot Be Ignored - Alberto Aquilani

New Liverpool signing Alberto Aquilani has spoken of his admiration for the club's history, after getting a lesson from Roma director Bruno Conti.

Liverpool won the 1984 European Cup, defeating Roma on penalties when Conti sent his spot-kick over the cross-bar.

"You cannot ignore the huge past of this club," Aquilani told Sky Sports.

"I grew up in Rome and knew about the final between Roma and Liverpool. It was a game I became very much aware of," he continued.

"Bruno Conti talked to me a lot about it, especially his big mistake.

Aquilani was reluctant to leave his home town club, but said he was delighted to move to Liverpool. The Italian also revealed that he spoke with his team-mate John Arne Riise before making the move.

"I knew I would only leave Roma for a club such as Liverpool. I hope to do the shirt proud and help them win more honours.

"Riise spoke highly of Rafael Benitez and said he would help me grow," Aquilani added.

"I am aware of the pressure the club is under and I will be under. But if you want to play for a big club, you have to handle the pressure."

The Italian said that he is eager to taste the atmosphere at Anfield.

"I have heard a lot about the unique atmosphere at Anfield, the Kop and the great fans. I am looking forward to getting fit and making my debut."

Aquilani is also hoping to cement a place in the Italy squad for the World Cup in South Africa in the summer.

"Going to the World Cup is a big objective for me, but in order to do that, I need to do well with Liverpool," he said.

"I spoke to Marcello Lippi before coming to England and he reassured me it will not be a problem."

Rafael Benítez Plans To End Liverpool's Long Wait For The Title By Going For Broke

A manager must build expectations but it is revealing how Rafael Benítez already speaks of "managing" them. The financial sands have shifted under the Spaniard this summer and yet, after five years of gradual and occasionally fraught progress, he knows the anticipation is that his building work is nearing completion at Liverpool. He cannot promise the club's first league title since 1990 but nor does he deny, to use a favoured word, its possibility.

Title predictions are peculiar this year given the leading contenders are judged not on how they have improved but how much they have weakened. On this score Benítez encourages Anfield's optimists with the assessment that his Liverpool squad is equal to that which finished second and four points behind Manchester United last season. And this despite the loss of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid and the influential midfielder's replacement, Alberto Aquilani, being at least a month away from his Premier League debut due to ankle surgery.

In Aquilani, Benítez believes he has located one of the keys to improvement. The final step has proven the hardest for every Anfield manager since Kenny Dalglish left the club in 1991, and Benítez is confident the £20m Italian can remedy the seven home draws that, along with repeated hamstring injuries to Fernando Torres, cost Liverpool the title last season. More adventurous than Alonso, the former Roma playmaker has been designated a role in support of Steven Gerrard this term, leaving Javier Mascherano as the lone holding midfielder at home, with his goals and swift, incisive passing removing the handbrake from those teams intent on parking the bus. That is the theory at least.

Liverpool will stretch those same rigid defences to a greater degree with Glen Johnson raiding from right-back. Benítez has never been sold on the value of an out-and-out winger but the England international, while needing to improve defensively, can provide the width Liverpool have sorely lacked on occasion. So far, so encouraging for a team that added a swagger to its consistency as last season progressed and fielded Gerrard with Torres only 14 times in the league due to injury.

"If you analyse the two players we have signed, they are players with quality," Benítez insists. "We needed a little bit more quality at right-back and we got Johnson. Trying to find that extra quality is difficult. [Andriy] Voronin has come back and has done really well in pre-season and did really well at Hertha Berlin last season. Yes, we have lost something with Alonso, but we couldn't stop him from going. We have tried to manage that loss and have brought someone in, Aquilani, who we feel can help us win the games that we were drawing at home last season. Aquilani, Voronin and Johnson are three players with game intelligence and quality going forward that can all help in that manner."

Hold on. Voronin? Benítez is looking to Voronin to help Liverpool erase 20 years of desperation in May next May? Here is where concerns over Liverpool's title credentials surface. This scepticism is not a criticism of Voronin directly. He did, after all, score 11 goals in 23 games on loan with Hertha last season and would have signed permanently had they qualified for the Champions League. But if the answer is Voronin, who scored five league goals for Liverpool before being shipped back to Germany, then the question is what happened to the £20m Benítez was promised on top of the money he raised through player sales this summer?

The Liverpool manager had David Silva of Valencia in mind as the calibre of player who could improve his team's penetration. Now he is reliant on the reinvention of the 30-year-old Ukrainian or the penny finally dropping with Ryan Babel. Benítez's budget has been revised and is understood to have had to incorporate the lucrative contracts awarded this summer to Gerrard and Torres, who put pen to paper on a £110,000-a-week, four-year deal with the option of a fifth year yesterday. They are worth every penny, but strength in depth could prove a fundamental weakness at Anfield unless funds are forthcoming in the final weeks of the transfer window.

Benítez has resisted entering into another divisive confrontation with the Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett over finance, but it is no surprise he enters the new campaign with characteristic caution. "I don't feel any extra pressure because we haven't won anything for three seasons. We have to manage the expectations," he said ahead of tomorrow's opener at Tottenham Hotspur.

"We know the situation. If you talk about the title, everybody is saying we have to win it [the title] this season. But I don't think so. We have to be realistic, we want to be in the top four and to be contenders. I was asked the same questions this time last year and I said we wanted to be in a good position come January. We were, and we stayed in a good position all the way through to the end of the season. We have to have that same approach this season, taking it one game at a time and seeing where we are at the end of each week. People will say I'm always saying the same thing, but it has to be like this."

John Aldridge: Liverpool FC Need More Options In Attack

Having come so close last season, we all desperately hope this is the year when Liverpool finally clinch the Premier League title.

It’s been a mixed summer with a couple of big signings but a few key players moving on.

We’ve lost Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso but gained Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani so I would say the squad is about as strong as the one we had last season.

I’ve seen Aquilani play a few times and there’s no doubt he’s a very talented player.

The concern is we don’t know how long he is going to be out injured.

And we also don’t know how long he will take to adapt to the demands of the Premier League.

I was disappointed to see Arbeloa go and I thought £3.5m for him was a great bit of business for Real Madrid but Johnson is undoubtedly a better attacking full-back.

I would still like to see Rafa strengthen our attacking options by either signing a striker or a wide player.

Andriy Voronin has come back from a year on loan at Hertha Berlin but I can’t see him making much of an impression. I hope he can prove us all wrong but I doubt it.

The options up front are limited and the fear is we’re still short of one top quality player.

The worrying thing is it looks like the money has run out and that’s unbelievable considering how much Rafa Benitez has brought in by selling players.

Before the Americans arrived the manager would always have £20m to £25m to spend each summer plus whatever he could raise from sales.

Whether what’s happened this summer is a sign of how difficult things are behind the scenes I don’t know.

Our first XI is still as strong as any in the Premier League.

But we just have to hope and pray everyone stays fit because our second string is probably the poorest out of all the clubs in the top four.

Even Spurs probably have more in reserve than we have.

If we keep everyone fit then we will challenge but my fear is that if we have to rely on fringe players then we will struggle.

The first target has to be to get through to the international break at the start of September unscathed.

The Reds have got to be looking for 10 points out of 12.

Liverpool couldn’t have been handed a much tougher opener than a trip to Tottenham.

Harry Redknapp has done a great job and turned things around since taking over from Juande Ramos.

He has made some great buys and I’ve got no doubt Spurs are going to be one of those clubs, along with Manchester City, fighting to get into the top four this season.

Spurs have certainly got plenty of firepower. Robbie Keane and Peter Crouch will be desperate to do well against their old club, while Jermain Defoe will be flying after his two goals for England in midweek.

Defoe was excellent against Holland and the Reds will have to keep a close eye on him.

Of course we lost 2-1 at White Hart Lane last November but that was one of our best away performances of the season.

We battered them but missed so many chances and ending up paying the price.

If we can reproduce that display and be more clinical then I’m confident we’ll be celebrating a great start to the campaign.

Rafa In Milner Bid

Liverpool have made a cheeky enquiry about Aston Villa's young star James Milner.

Anfield boss Rafa Benitez is a big admirer of the emerging England winger but has received little in the way of encouragement.

Milner cost Villa £12million from Newcastle last August and has three years left on his contract.

And Villa manager Martin O'Neill has no intention of selling one of his prize assets.

Milner, 23, made his debut for the full England side against Holland on Wednesday and set up one of Jermain Defoe's two goals in the 2-2 draw.

Liverpool Youngster Mikel San Jose Sent On Loan To Athletic Bilbao

According to a report in The Daily Mail, young Liverpool centre-back Mikel San Jose has been loaned out to Spanish club Athletic Bilbao on a one-season basis in order to gain some experience.

The 20-year-old defender has spent two years at Merseyside playing for the reserves, but has not made a competitive appearance for the club yet.

The promising Spaniard has now been sent to his home country in order to ply his trade with los Leones, the club of his youth.

San Jose was a part of the Spain Under-19 squad that won the UEFA European U-19 Football Championship in 2007, and was an unused substitute when the Reds played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season.