Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Benitez Puts His Hopes In Lucky Break

International breaks are always an anxious time for Rafa Benitez. Three times in the past two seasons the Liverpool manager has waved off Fernando Torres only for the Spain striker to return to Anfield injured. Ryan Babel, Sami Hyypia, who has since left, and Yossi Benayoun have also been wounded in the heat of international battle in the past 12 months.

So Benitez can hardly be blamed for feeling some trepidation over the course of the next 10 days. Yet the Spaniard has reason to be feeling jitterier than ever as he monitors the progress of his players across the globe.

If the likes of Torres, Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, one of the few consistent performers in an inconsistent start for Liverpool, and Javier Mascherano can return unscathed, then Benitez can look forward to the rest of the season with much more optimism than before his side's laboured victory over Bolton.

By the time the Premier League resumes, Fabio Aurelio, the Brazilian full-back who has yet to play this season because of a knee injury, is expected to be pushing for a return, along with Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel.

The restoration of Agger and Skrtel, who was missing at the Reebok because of a jaw injury, to the heart of the defence will at least ensure Benitez a less stressful afternoon than the one he experienced on Saturday when Sotirios Kyrgiakos, the Greece international defender, had a debut to forget alongside Jamie Carragher.

While there has been frustration among the club's followers about their team's indifferent start, Liverpool's players now report for their countries frustrated that they will have to wait until Burnley's visit to Anfield on 12 September for the opportunity to record back-to-back league wins for the first time this season.

"You could say the international break has come at a bad time, but it gives us time to get the likes of Fabio Aurelio and Daniel Agger fit," said Gerrard, scorer of Liverpool's late winner in a thrilling five-goal encounter.

It required the dismissal of Sean Davis for Liverpool to enforce their authority. Bolton were leading 2-1 thanks to goals by Kevin Davies and Tamir Cohen when Davis was dismissed in the 55th minute for his tackle from behind on Lucas.

Bolton believe the Liverpool midfielder made a meal of the challenge yet Davis needlessly picked up a first-half booking for kicking the ball away after the visitors had been awarded a free-kick.

The end of Davis spelt the end of Bolton's game plan. Gerrard, subdued after being man-marked by Fabrice Muamba, rattled the bar within seconds of Bolton having been reduced to 10 men before Torres equalised.

Liverpool, who had levelled first time round through Johnson, scored the winner seven minutes from the end, Gerrard's trademark finish from 16 yards going some way to erasing the pain of the 3-1 reversal to Aston Villa earlier in the week. "It was a difficult first 45 because Muamba was like my shadow," Gerrard added. "I'm sure if I'd have gone to the toilet he would have followed me, but he wasn't able to do that when they were down to 10 men.

"I've had a difficult start to the season. I held my hands up in the dressing room after the Aston Villa game and said I wasn't good enough."

The Bolton manager, Gary Megson, preferred to concentrate on Liverpool's tactics instead of reading Davis the riot act. "Did they take the rule out that if someone throws themselves over and they don't get booked that they can get punished for that?" he asked. "I think it is still in there but when did you last see that happen? Twice people chanced their arm on trying to get a penalty. I am not saying who they were. Tell me the last Bolton player you saw throwing themselves all over the place."

Agent Dismisses Dossena Exit

Andrea Dossena's agent claims his client is unlikely to leave Liverpool during the transfer window.

The Italy international has been the subject of much speculation this summer, with a return to Serie A widely touted.

The full-back only moved to Anfield from Udinese last year, but has struggled to make an impact in England.

That has helped to fuel exit rumours, with Juventus and Napoli both believed to be keen on offering him a route back to his homeland.

However, the Italian transfer window is set to close on Monday and Dossena's representative believes there is little chance of a deal being struck.

"I am about to arrive in Milan," said Roberto La Florio to calciomercato.it.

"I know nothing regarding those rumours (Juve and Napoli).

"I have read those stories myself, it's only rumours.

"I don't think he will return to Italy, it's difficult for an agreement to be reached today.

"I really think it's too late."

Meanwhile, Liverpool are hoping to welcome Daniel Agger back into their first-team fold in the not too distant future.

The Danish centre-half is currently recovering from a back injury, which required an operation, and has only recently resumed full training.

He is making positive progress in his rehabilitation, though, with countryman and Reds team-mate Nikola Saric delighted to see the commanding 24-year-old back in action.

"Agger played with a lot of pain, but now that has gone and that's the most important thing," Saric told TV2.

"He has been working with the physio and he says that things already feel a lot better."

Juventus, Napoli & Roma Tracking Liverpool's Andrea Dossena

Juventus' search for a left-back has apparently come to rest on Liverpool's Andrea Dossena, but Napoli and Roma are also competing with the Bianconeri to sign the 27-year-old.

"The situation is still in the balance - Napoli, Roma and Juventus are after him," Dossena's agent, Roberto La Florio, explained to Il Corriere dello Sport.

"There is still everything to decide on, the day is long. For now, he is still a Liverpool player."

Juventus have been well-documented in their chase for Olympique Lyonnais' Fabio Grosso, while the Giallorossi were thought to be interested in Dossena in order to replace John Arne Riise.

The Norwegian had been linked with Bayern Munich, but looks set to stay at the Stadio Olimpico.

Meanwhile, Napoli are believed to be preparing to make one further signing this summer, as there are strong suggestions that Manuele Blasi will leave for Palermo, and Dossena could be the player they are lining up.

Roma To Replace John Arne Riise With Liverpool’s Andrea Dossena

Reports emerging over the past 48 hours suggest that Roma’s John Arne Riise could be on his way to Germany, to join Bayern Munich.

With this in mind, the Giallorossi have been on the lookout for a direct replacement for the Norwegian, and they seem to have found one in the form of Andrea Dossena from Liverpool.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the 27-year-old Reds defender is keen on a return to Serie A, as he feels it will enhance his chances of earning a place in Marcello Lippi’s Italy squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Napoli have also expressed interest in the former Udinese man over the course of the summer, but at this late stage of the transfer period Roma seem to be Dossena's sole suitors.

Title Charge Starts Now, Insists Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard believes Liverpool’s dramatic 3-2 victory at Bolton will kick-start their title challenge.

The skipper grabbed a stunning late winner at the Reebok Stadium to ensure the Reds bounced back from their defeat to Aston Villa.

The international break means Liverpool are without a game for a fortnight but Gerrard is confident they will build on Saturday’s triumph.

“It’s been well documented that it’s been a tough week and this is a big win for us,” he said.

“No-one expected us to lose two of our opening three games and there was a lot of pressure on us to deliver three points.

“The performance played second fiddle today and it was all about the result.

“People were writing us off after three games which is madness.

“But we responded in the right way and we can take a lot of confidence from this result.

“I think things will settle down now and we will go on a good run of results.”

Gerrard admitted the recent criticism aimed both at himself and the team made Saturday’s winning strike extra sweet.

“All the players knew the performance wasn’t good enough against Aston Villa,” he said.

“I’ve had a difficult start myself and I held my hands up in the dressing room after the Villa game and said I wasn’t good enough.

“I’m man enough to do that. I needed to react personally today and I felt I did that.

“It’s always nice to win and score but if throughout the week you are under extra pressure and you hear people sniping away, trying to put the team down, then you get a little bit more satisfaction.

“We needed to react today and everyone stood up to be counted. We controlled the game all the way through and it was well deserved in the end.”

Gerrard was closely marshalled by Fabrice Muamba in the first half but the sending off of Sean Davis gave him the chance to run the show after the break.

He said: “I played a little bit deeper today and tried to get on the ball. It was the same role I played here last year.

“It was a difficult first 45 minutes because Muamba was like my shadow.

“I think if I had gone to the toilet in the first half he would have probably followed me!

“When they went a man down they couldn’t man mark me. That’s when the game opened up and we could punish them.”

The Reds are six points adrift of early pace-setters Chelsea and Tottenham but Gerrard insists that gap is of little concern at this stage.

And after a testing opening few weeks he expects the Reds to be a different proposition after the international break.

“After finishing second last year everyone expected us to get off to a flying start and go straight to the top of the table,” he said,

“But we didn’t have a perfect pre-season. Players joined up late and we had bad luck with injuries. I’m not looking for excuses but we had disruptions.

“We always knew at times it was going to be difficult and we’ve been a bit edgy.

“I think the league this year is a lot different to last year when the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United were winning every game.

“I don’t think that will be the case this year. I think there are seven or eight top clubs in this league now who will be taking points off each other and the total needed to win the league will be lower this time.

“You can say the international break has come at a bad time because we’ve won and you want the next game to come as soon as possible but we can use this time to get people back. “Fabio Aurelio isn’t far away and Daniel Agger won’t be far away either.

“Hopefully the boys who are off on international duty can stay fit, win for their countries and come back stronger.”

The Reds wore black arm bands on Saturday following the death of Diego Cavalieri’s father. The Brazilian keeper missed the game to fly home to South America.

Gerrard Shouldn't Be The Only One Praised For Liverpool's Return To Winning Ways

The Sunday papers overlooked the bigger picture as they hailed a return to winning ways for Liverpool after the dramatic 3-2 win over Bolton Wanderers.

Rafael Benitez called for his senior players to raise their game following the embarrassing defeat to Aston Villa last Monday. The manager had singled out Steven Gerrard for criticism in the aftermath of that game and his words had the desired effect as the Reds’ skipper ran the show for his side at the Reebok Stadium.

Despite scoring the winner that snatched all three points for the visitors, Gerrard wasn’t alone in stepping up to the plate and putting in a shift. Dirk Kuyt deserves credit for his usual faultless work rate, especially the way he played Torres in for our second goal as it wasn’t easy to divert the ball into El Nino’s path from the angle he met the ball.

Gerrard’s goal will no doubt be a contender for August’s Goal of the Month award but Glen Johnson’s first-half equaliser was also one of great technique and finishing. The England full-back has been a breath of fresh air on the right-hand side. He gives us more options than Alvaro Arbeloa or Steve Finnan ever did during their days at Anfield.

Unfortunately, the win only papered over the cracks in terms of the overall performance. Defensively, we were at sixes and sevens. Jamie Carragher had yet another stinker and Emiliano Insua’s marking was lax during the corner that led to Kevin Davies’ opener. Sotirios Kyrgiakos had a mixed debut and gave away the ball on a few occasions but recovered well in the second half. Had it not been for Pepe Reina making some crucial saves, we would have been further behind before Gerrard’s rescue mission.

Looking at the positives, we will be going into the international break having played four, won two and lost two. Admittedly it’s not our best start to a season and it wasn’t the best performance in the world. However, as we proved last season, a win is a win, regardless of how scrappy or poorly fought. A fortnight’s reprieve lies ahead for us long-suffering Kopites before we welcome Burnley to Anfield. Hopefully, injuries permitting, we will come back stronger and ready to right the wrongs of the past three weeks.

Liverpool Allow Charles Itandje Join Kavala On Loan

Charles Itandje, 26, formerly of Racing Club de Lens, where he established his first-team credentials, accumulating 170 first-team appearances in the league, has left Liverpool to join Greek side Kavala on loan, according to the BBC.

The move, scheduled to be complete at the end of June 2010, was perhaps cemented in April last season, when various members of Liverpool's congregation during the Hillsborough memorial service complained about inappropriate behaviour from Itandje.

The Frenchman was perceived to be nudging team-mates, and giggling, and the club indicated that they would be imposing the most severe of punishments. Itandje later apologised for his actions.

The Bobigny-born glovesman amassed just seven first-team appearances for Liverpool during his two seasons on the Mersey, none of which were in the league.

Kavala are top flight new-boys in Greece, having placed third in the Beta Ethniki last season.