Friday, August 28, 2009

Liverpool Legend Ian Rush: Rafael Benitez’s Side Can Bounce Back

Liverpool's early season accumulation of three points from a possible nine has prompted the club's title-credential doubters to pen doom-mongering claims, yet former striker Ian Rush has tipped Rafael Benitez's Reds to bounce-back.

A resounding 4-0 win over Stoke City has separated respective 2-1 and 3-1 losses to top of the league Tottenham Hotspur and Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa.

Rush, 47, told The Daily Mail, "After losing only two games throughout the whole of last season, we’ve now managed to lose two in the space of just ten days.

"It means that Liverpool have to adopt a positive mental outlook in every game from here on in. The Reds were held to too many draws last season, but the margin for error in the modern title race is so slim that draws are no use any more.

"United won the title last season, despite losing four matches," stated Rush, "And that’s because they drew five fewer than Liverpool throughout the course of the campaign. The three points for a win format means that a defeat – even a home defeat as desperately disappointing as [Monday] night – is not as damaging as it might otherwise have been.

"That’s why I think it’s far too early to be writing Liverpool off as credible title challengers as some people already appear to be doing," he concluded.

Liverpool's next league clash is against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium.

Reds Happy With Euro Draw

Christian Purslow feels Liverpool have been handed a favourable draw in the UEFA Champions League.

The Reds' managing director was in Monaco on Thursday to see the Merseysiders paired alongside Lyon, Fiorentina and Debrecen.

With little travelling involved in away trips for any of the sides in Group E, Purslow admits he could not have hoped for much more.

"We are very happy," he told Sky Sports News.

"We tend to focus on our travel commitments - short trip to France, short trip to Italy and a slightly longer trip to Hungary - we are pretty happy with that."

Ligue 1 giants Lyon and Serie A outfit Fiorentina have prior experience of life in Europe's premier club competition, while Debrecen are competing at this level for the first time.

The Hungarian champions will be something of an unknown quantity for Liverpool, but Purslow is pleased to see French and Italian representatives alongside the Reds.

"Both have come through the qualifiers, so that means they're doing something right, and I think they are very well known European opponents who won't bring us any surprises," he added.

Liverpool have endured a difficult start to the 2009/10 campaign, losing two of their first three fixtures in the Premier League, with question marks raised over the club's decision to offload key midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Few new additions have been brought into Rafa Benitez's squad to help build on last season's impressive campaign, but Purslow insists Reds supporters should not expect further fresh faces to be acquired by the time the transfer window closes on Tuesday.

"I wouldn't bank on it," he said.

Finally, with Uefa trialling a new scheme in the Europa League this season, with five match officials involved in each game, Purslow admits he would be happy to see the idea phased into the Champions League in the future.

He said: "I think technology is a good thing. The stakes are so high now in all sport, especially professional football, that anything that helps is a good thing.

"We saw the goal that wasn't at the start of this season in the Championship and if that were to happen at the highest level of football, the Champions League, then it would be very costly for all concerned. We are a big supporter of this."

Five Key Areas For Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez To Address

Three games, two defeats and six points adrift of the Premier League's pace-setters are hardly the criteria Liverpool would have wished for at the start of the season they were supposed to end their 20-year wait for the title.

Yossi Benayoun has insisted that Rafael Benítez's players still think they "can win the title", the Israeli adamant that "we believe we are strong enough, even if maybe we cannot lose any more games".

Glen Johnson, equally defiant, remains convinced their rivals "will drop points, because the likes of Aston Villa and Tottenham can beat anybody".

Yet that should not detract from the scale of the problems facing Benitez and his squad.

Outplayed at White Hart Lane and out-thought at Anfield for the first time in 18 months, Liverpool must find an answer to their mounting problems if they are to live up to their pre-season billing as champions in waiting.

The numbers game

As Benítez pointed out on Monday night, it is inherently flawed to suggest that Liverpool, who finished second last season, are suddenly incapable of competing for a slot in the top four simply because their side are much the same as they were last year.
The loss of Xabi Alonso aside, Liverpool are not exactly a shadow of their former selves. Alvaro Arbeloa has been upgraded for Glen Johnson and Benítez's first XI on Wednesday – plus the injured Fabio Aurelio, Daniel Agger and Alberto Aquilani and substitutes Ryan Babel and Albert Riera – still provide a spine as good as any in the country.

The problem lies in the outlying areas. Liverpool's bench is populated by promising youngsters and substandard squad men. As he cast his eye over his substitutes on Wednesday, it is hard to believe that Benítez would feel he had the firepower to turn the game around.

Benítez, it has been noted, is alone among managers in that he only ever wins. If Liverpool lose, the blame inexorably shifts to the club's owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, for not providing their manager with the requisite financial support.

Culpability, though, must be shared. Benítez has only been able to spend what he has raised, but his decision not to cash in on the likes of Andriy Voronin and Andrea Dossena has deprived his side of the infusion of quality it needed.

The missing midfielder

One player who was sold this summer, Alonso, has achieved by leaving what he failed to do during his five years on Merseyside: demolishing the myth of Liverpool as a two-man team.

For half a decade, Alonso was Liverpool's secret heartbeat, dictating the pace and tempo of their play. Few noticed, preferring instead to highlight the contributions of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, perpetuating the idea that without their strike duo, Liverpool would struggle. As soon as Alonso left, though, the obituaries poured in, stating that Benítez's two-man team would be bereft without the Basque.

The Liverpool manager is right to suggest that how keenly Alonso's departure will be felt can only be judged when Aquilani is fit. There remains the possibility that by the time he is, though, too much ground may have been lost in the title race.

The missing midfield

Before Aquilani appears, Liverpool must learn to live within their means. Benítez's side have yet to adapt their style to deal with life after Alonso.

Lucas Leiva, much-maligned and much-improved, has borne the brunt of the criticism, but in truth the Brazilian international has been among Liverpool's best players in the nascent campaign. The problem is more one of structure than personnel.

Like his midfield partner, Javier Mascherano, Lucas is used to playing deep, coming short for his defenders to pick up the ball and begin attacks. Lacking the passing range of Alonso, though, he has found himself playing sideways more often than forward, a situation exacerbated by Gerrard seemingly fitting in against Aston Villa as an auxiliary striker.

Steven Gerrard

The Liverpool captain is usually immune to criticism, but his performance against Aston Villa was among the worst he has produced under Benítez. All players are entitled to off nights and it is testament to Gerrard's consistency that his lows are so noticeable.

His display, though, brought back memories of Basle in 2002, when the midfielder was substituted at half-time after a listless showing which he has since admitted was due to personal problems. The parallels with a sluggish start to this season are obvious.

Gerrard has had a difficult summer, and it would be understandable if the stress of his trial has affected his performances. That there is nobody available to take the weight of expectation from him is an indictment of Liverpool's strength in depth.


Benítez, whenever he chooses to leave England, is unlikely to want to hear the words 'zonal marking' ever again. The statistics over the last five years prove that the manager's favoured system is no more or less flawed than man-to-man marking, yet there is room for concern that all five of the goals conceded by the Spaniard's team this season have come from set pieces.

Little or nothing could be done about Ashley Young's penalty, Lucas's own goal or Benoit Assou-Ekotto's thunderbolt, of course, but the fact the fouls central to each goal were unnecessarily conceded means all three were thoroughly avoidable.

Benítez has built his success on a sound defence but his side have now looked vulnerable from set pieces for more than a year. Zonal marking may or may not be to blame, but the Spaniard is open to criticism until he finds a solution.

Liverpool In No Hurry To Replace Rick Parry

Liverpool face "no time pressure" to appoint a permanent chief executive to replace Rick Parry almost six months after it was revealed he would stand down, sources close to the club have claimed.

Headhunters Odgers Berndtson were tasked with finding a replacement in June but, as yet, no appointment has been made.

While Christian Purslow, a Spanish-speaking Liverpool fan, was named as managing director – purely on a "short-term basis" – it is believed Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the club's owners, are not concerned by the lack of progress.

Sources have confirmed that, while a number of candidates have been identified, the Americans have placed no time limit on ending the search.

Pepe Reina Confident Liverpool FC Will Find Form As Champions League Beckons

Liverpool’s Pepe Reina is convinced that Rafael Benitez’s side can overcome their stuttering start to the campaign.

The draw for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League competition took place in Monaco at 5pm this evening.

Liverpool are ranked joint second in the seedings, alongside Chelsea and behind only European Cup holders Barcelona.

It means they will also avoid Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Sevilla while the country protection rule ensures the Anfield outfit cannot face either Manchester United or Arsenal.

However, dangers lurk in the second group of seeds that includes Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Juventus.

Nonetheless, Benitez’s side will have to improve on their form so far this campaign which has already seen defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa.

But goalkeeper Reina has urged the worried Liverpool support to keep faith in the team.

“The fans can trust us until the end because as a team we have always been strong,” said the Spain international.

“Obviously we are disappointed because it is not normal for us to play three games and lose two of them, but we have to look forward, try to improve and carry on with our title challenge.

“We are the same team as last season – the same team that won 86 points in the league.

“We have plenty of good players in the dressing room and we have to look forward because as soon as we win two or three games in a row, things will change a lot.”

Glen Johnson Maintains Title Hopes

Glen Johnson insists Liverpool's title challenge remains intact despite their disappointing start to the season.

The Reds suffered their second defeat of the 2009/10 campaign on Monday night against Aston Villa, meaning they have now lost as many games this term as they did in the whole of last season.

Two setbacks in three outings is far from the ideal start Rafa Benitez's men were looking for, especially as they were tipped to be among the contenders to take the crown this year after falling agonisingly short in 2008/09.

Johnson insists Liverpool are still capable of conquering the Premier League, with 35 games still to come, but the England ace does accept that a lacklustre opening was not part of the Anfield plans.

"Obviously this is not the start to the season that we wanted, but it's only the third game and there is a long way to go," Johnson told the club's official website.

"It's still the early part of the season so we are not going to beat ourselves up at the moment.

"Of course, we'd like to have a few more points but it's not to be so we'll just keep going."

Next up for Liverpool is a trip to Bolton on Saturday and Johnson is hoping the Reds can kick-start their season at the Reebok Stadium.

"Bolton is a hard place to go next but hopefully we'll start there the way we started the second half against Villa, by going at them from the first minute to get three points," he added.

It's Tough At The Top - Yossi

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun believes the competition in the Barclays Premier League is shaping up to be tougher than ever.

While the Israel international is frustrated at his side losing two of their opening three games, he insists they can mount a challenge as the other top teams will drop points.

Liverpool are aiming to bounce back from the home defeat by Aston Villa when they face Bolton at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday.

It has always been an unpopular venue for manager Rafael Benitez but Benayoun is just focusing on the challenge in hand.

He said: "I feel the big four will lose more points than expected as other teams are now stronger and Villa have proved they can beat anyone.

"I am sure Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal will have tough games against the likes of Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham.

Hopefully, at the end of the season we will still be there.

"We need to try and improve and quickly, starting on Saturday against Bolton. To lose two out of three is unusual for us.

"We lost only twice through the whole of the last Premier League season, and we have to show that we are still a strong team.

"We need to recover from this and look to work game by game, and work hard to play better.

"At a club like Liverpool, if you lose two or three games then people will ask if we are strong enough to win the league. But there is still a long way to go, everything can change.

"If we go on a long winning run then people will start talking differently about us."

Benitez was critical of his team in the wake of the Villa defeat and Benayoun says the players have to share responsibility for the poor display.

He added: "I don't think it's the senior players who need to come to the fore, it's everyone. We know what we need to do to improve.

"I'm sure we have enough quality. We still think we can win the title but maybe we cannot lose any more games until the end of the season."