Monday, September 14, 2009

Yossi's Giant!

Charlie Nicholas believes Yossi Benayoun underlined his value to Liverpool as his hat-trick blew Burnley away at Anfield.

The Isreal international was making his third start of the season, but pressed his claims for a permanent starting role as Rafa Benitez's side ran riot against the Premier League newcomers.

The decision to include him meant Steven Gerrard dropping deeper, unable to link up with Fernando Torres, but the Reds manager was proved right in emphatic fashion.

And Nicholas, who has already advocated playing Benayoun just off a lone striker this season, believes it underlines how vital he is to their title chances.

"Benayoun, I think we have all said more than once needs to play in this position," he told Soccer Saturday.

"He played in that Gerrard role; it withdraws Gerrard a little bit but his movement creates space and it also helps Stevie Gerrard get a little bit more space because that threat is there in the last third. With (Fernando) Torres' movement, Kuyt coming in from the wide area and Benayoun just being prepared to take people on, it just makes more space.

"Burnley played quite well, they were sharp, they moved it well without any real penetration, but once Benayoun scored a lovely goal for the second - it was a decent run from the right-hand side, he just kept running at them and on his favoured right foot cut it across the keeper into the bottom corner - after that they just burned it, in cruise control.

"The second then came from a simple tap-in from Dirk Kuyt after a mistake from (Brian) Jensen and then it was really just a matter of how many Liverpool wanted to score - and Benayoun got his hat-trick with two more in the second half."

Despite the scoreline, Nicholas was full of praise for Owen Coyle's side, centre-backs Clarke Carlisle and Andre Bikey in particular, and because of that, still has some doubts over Liverpool's title credentials.

Struggling against supposedly lesser opposition, especially at Anfield, has often being single out as the reason they have trailed behind Chelsea and Manchester United.

And Nicholas says even this does not prove anything - but will do them the world of good after losing to Aston Villa and Spurs already this season.

"Liverpool are back, they've got their confidence up and they've responded well to those two defeats," he said. "It's a sign that they are going to be in there battling, no doubt about that.

"But there's still a question mark for me: I know Thommo finds it hard because he thinks we're picking on them, hut Liverpool at this moment, I don't know if Rafa is going to start with Benayoun in every game or play Stevie Gerrard further forwards. He needs that variety because he's not got that strong a squad.

"There are tougher games to come no doubt about that, but there's nothing wrong with gathering momentum and confidence - and that's exactly what they've done on Saturday."

Benayoun Looking To Cement Place

Yossi Benayoun hopes his hat-trick in Liverpool's 4-0 success over Burnley can help secure regular first-team football under Rafa Benitez.

The former West Ham winger has featured frequently as a substitute during his two seasons with the Anfield side.

The Israel international acknowledges competition for places in Benitez's side is fierce, but that has not diminished his desire to become a regular.

Benayoun showed what he can do against The Clarets with a hat-trick, his first goals of the new season as The Reds returned to form.

He has admitted fatigue was a factor after enduring a gruelling trip home from Israel in midweek, although he will stop at nothing to secure regular first-team football.

"The competition is very high at a club like Liverpool, you have to want to play every time," explained Benayoun.

"It is always difficult after being away on the international break, but this one came at the right time for us.

"We had lost two of the first four, we needed the break. The team needed to think about the things that we did wrong and come back to try to put things right.

"We have learned from our mistakes, and you could see that from the first moment. I played 90 minutes for Israel on Wednesday and then there were two long flights to get back here.

"But everyone wants to play, regardless of tiredness. Nobody wants to be on the bench, but particularly at a big club like this there are a lot of good players and you cannot let someone else play."

Benayoun has conceded it has taken him a little time to settle on Merseyside, although he believes his recent form proves he deserves to be with Liverpool.

He added: "From the moment I arrived at Liverpool I told myself that I would take every opportunity to do my best and prove I deserved to be in the team.

"I have had ups and downs in the last two years here, but from the final months of last season I have showed I can play better and better when I have confidence.

"You must accept you will be on the bench sometimes, but even if you get just 10 minutes, you have to do your best and show your quality.

"It was the perfect day for me, and we have started to win matches. The season didn't start too well for us, and maybe it has been good that people have already written us off.

"There will be less pressure. We can build our confidence slowly and when we win games like this, everyone can see we have the quality to be up there in the race."

Benitez Learns Lessons

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez admits his side used the disappointing experiences of last season as guidance in Saturday's 4-0 victory over Burnley.

Yossi Benayoun hit a hat-trick, with a Dirk Kuyt goal sandwiched in between, to wrap up a comfortable win against the newly-promoted Clarets on their first league visit to Anfield in 33 years.

The win marked progress for Liverpool after last season's Premier League title challenge was derailed by home draws against the likes of Stoke, Hull City, Fulham and West Ham.

Benitez acknowledges that work has taken place to devise strategies to help his side, who hammered Stoke on Merseyside in August in an earlier example of development, break down stubborn visitors.

The Spaniard told Sky Sports: "Clearly we have used experiences from the past years. We try to play our football.

"In the first half they (Burnley) were not bad and they were doing well. But as soon as we scored the first goal, and especially the second goal, they needed to go forward.

"There was some more space for us and clearly with quality we can always be a threat."

Burnley could not cope with the intricacy of movement from Liverpool, who appear to be rediscovering momentum following earlier defeats to Tottenham and Aston Villa.

Israel captain Benayoun and Kuyt were particularly troublesome to last season's Championship play-off winners, with the intelligence of the duo's inter-changing runs from opposite flanks proving unstoppable.

Benitez is delighted with the way the pair worked together and believes former West Ham player Benayoun is now showing the characteristics of a first-team regular after beginning his Liverpool career on the fringes in past seasons.

"The understanding of both of them is really good," he said. "One of the strengths of Yossi is to go between the lines and do the right things and the right movement."

Benitez added: "Yossi had been away on international duty in midweek and done a lot of travelling, but he wanted to play. It is important to him to show his quality in every training session and every match.

"Over the seasons he has shown his value coming off the bench, but now he is showing how important he can be with movement and passing ability from the start."

Benitez Hits Back At Carragher's Critics

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has hit back at critics who have targeted Jamie Carragher.

The Reds have made a stuttering start to the new Premier League season, losing 2-1 to Tottenham on the opening weekend and slipping up at home to Aston Villa.

They have conceded seven goals in five games but Benitez believes it is unfair for the defenders to be blamed for poor performances.

Carragher has been singled out by some pundits who have suggested the 31-year-old no longer has the pace and fitness to perform as consistently as he has in the past.

However, Benitez has no such doubts and maintains that Carragher will continue to play a key role this term.

"When the team hasn't done well it is the defenders who take the rap," Benitez said in the Daily Star Sunday.

"When you are losing, they will get criticised more than the strikers.

"Jamie is still a top player. He's training as always. He's fit and quick and he will always be the same.

"He's a professional who has taken care of himself, so I don't see him slowing down quickly."

Benitez accepts that Carragher has perhaps had to shoulder too much of the responsibility in terms of making the team a cohesive unit and he has called on other players to do more.

"It depends now on the team. If they help the defenders it will be easy for the defenders to play well," he explained.

"It's more difficult for Carragher because he's been playing with a lot of team-mates.

"He likes to talk but the other players around him are important too. If he doesn't need to be talking much it's easier for him to focus on his own game."

Rafael Benitez: Lucas 'Key' For Liverpool Against Burnley

Yossi Benayoun may have scored a hat-trick and set up another goal in today's 4-0 drubbing of Burnley but manager Rafael Benitez attributes another player as Liverpool's show-stealer. Brazilian youngster Lucas Leiva - heavily criticised by the Anfield faithful for an as-yet mediocre two years in England - has his manager purring.

Benitez told the club's official website: "Lucas supported and managed in the middle and kept everyone else going forward,

"For me he was the key player today. We can talk about Yossi but it was thanks to Lucas. One thing everyone told me when I came here was that if you work hard the fans are with you. They could see again today that Lucas is a worker who had quality. He can challenge in the air, can tackle and pass the ball."

The 22-year-old arrived from Gremio in 2007 as the youngest player to ever to receive Placar magazine's 'Bola de Ouro' (Golden Ball), given to the best player in the Campeonato Brasileiro. He was expected to star at The Kop but a string of uninspiring performances brought rise to doubts about his ability to impose himself on the Premier League. However, Benitez feels his young gun is often overlooked.

He continued: "He worked so hard in different positions and allowed the other players more freedom. For me he was a very important player for us today."

With Xabi Alonso's departure for Real Madrid, Lucas seems to be starring at the right time. Also starring is similarly unheralded Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun, whose hat-trick was a worthy by-product of intelligent movement and flawless technique today. Benitez saluted his performance.

"We know he's a player with quality. We have seen how good he is coming from the bench and we were talking about whether he could start or not. Today he was very, very good and his movement was fantastic for the team," Benitez said.

"During the internationals I was talking with some players about how they could change things, and it was just to work hard. Yossi was away but he wanted to play, and when a player wants to play it's very easy: you have to prove these things in every training session and in a game if you get the opportunity."

After two defeats in their first four matches, Liverpool's resounding victory over Burnley has hushed some critical whispers and kick-started their title challenge.

Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun Hails 'Perfect Day' Against Burnley

Liverpool midfielder Yossi Benayoun believes his three-goal performance against Burnley on Saturday was the best of his career for the Reds thus far.

The Israeli scored a superb hat-trick to help the Anfield club to a 4-0 victory over Owen Coyle's Burnley, with Dutch international Dirk Kuyt grabbing the other goal.

The result moves Liverpool up to fifth in the Premier League table, ahead of Arsenal and just three points behind third placed Manchester United.

As well as acknowledging his own performance, Benayoun was quick to declare that the result was more important than his individual contribution.

"It was a good day for me and it was great to score three goals," the former West Ham United star told Liverpool's official club website.

"But the most important thing is the three points. We played a lot of good football at times and won the match - that is more important to me than scoring goals."

With the absence of combative Argentine ace Javier Mascherano, Benayoun claims he was afforded more of a license to roam forward by manager Rafael Benitez, a ploy that the Israeli feels brought the best out of him.

"I started on the right but Rafa [Benitez] told me to move around and try and get in between the lines," he added.

"Every time I did that I found space so I could turn and go forward.

"I was lucky because the rest of the team provided me with good passes to score.

"It was the perfect day for me."

Rafa Expects Masch Return

Rafa Benitez is confident that Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano will be fit for the start of Liverpool's Champions League campaign.

Mascherano was missing as his side demolished Burnley 4-0 at Anfield, with his replacement Yossi Benayoun scoring the third hat-trick of his Liverpool career.

But Benitez expects Mascherano to be available for Thursday's (AEST) game against Hungarian side Debrecen at Anfield after the midfielder was given special permission to remain in South America for treatment.

Mascherano suffered a pelvis injury playing for Argentina in their 1-0 World Cup qualifying defeat against Paraguay midweek.

"He will be back here on Sunday)," said Benitez after his side recorded back-to-back Premier League victories for the first time this season.

"It's not serious. He has had some problems and he's been doing some tests over there.

"We gave him permission to stay there but he is coming back."

If Mascherano is fit to play on Wednesday then Benitez faces something of a selection dilemma after Benayoun's dazzling display.

Benayoun has impressed after coming on as a substitute this season although Benitez had been unconvinced that he was capable of making the same impact for the full 90 minutes.

Benayoun showed he has the ability to be as lethal from the start of the game as his hat-trick inspired a comfortable victory as Liverpool overcame a sluggish start.

"We know that Yossi is a quality player," Benitez said. "We have seen how good he is off the bench and we were talking whether he could do the same thing from the start of the match.

"He was fantastic. He is someone who has experience. He knows that the best way to fight for a place in the team is by doing something on the pitch."

Liverpool twice failed to win against newly promoted Hull and Stoke at Anfield last season, results which eventually cost them the title.

But they saw off Burnley, promoted via the Championship play-offs, in style, with Dirk Kuyt also scoring.

"The second goal was the key for me," added Benitez. "I was not happy with what I was seeing in the first few minutes because we didn't start very well."

Burnley manager Owen Coyle was left to bemoan his side's defending. "We didn't lose because we passed the ball, we lost because we gave away soft goals," said Coyle.

"At 0-0 there was nothing in it and we started well. The start was the pleasing aspect.

"We lost the second goal when it was our most pleasing aspect of the game, when we were controlling the game."

Benayoun broke the deadlock in the 27th minute.

He raced past Graham Alexander after cutting inside the area following a neat pass by Glen Johnson before firing low past Brian Jensen.

Kuyt doubled the lead with a simple tap-in - his second goal of the campaign - after Jensen had spilled Benayoun's 20-yard effort into the path of the Dutchman.

Man-of-the-match Benayoun made it 3-0 on the hour mark after great play by Gerrard and Torres had cut the Clarets defence to pieces.

Liverpool rammed home their superiority nine minutes from time when Benayoun completed his hat-trick. He finished from close range after good work by Kuyt in front of the Kop.

Amoo On Target As Reds Sink Tykes

Goals from David Amoo and substitute Tony Silva secured the points for Rodolfo Borrell's men as they brought a run of two straight defeats to an end with a hard-working display against the Yorkshire outfit.

Having conceded five goals without reply against both Nottingham Forest and Leicester City, confidence was low going into the clash with the Tykes and it was no surprise to see the Reds youngsters make a tentative start to the proceedings.

Barnsley looked the more likely early on and put the home side's rearguard to the test with a series of well worked set pieces. First, Chris Oldfield had to be alert to punch a fierce corner away from underneath his own crossbar while Andre Wisdom was on hand to make two vital interceptions to keep the visitors at bay.

Liverpool needed to get a foothold in the game and on 10 minutes they manufactured the first real opportunity when Amoo powered down the right flank before sending over a cross that Chris Buchtmann came within a whisker of touching home.

It seemed to give the Reds the lift they needed and on 14 minutes the roles reversed to see Amoo guide Buchtmann's pinpoint centre into the back of the net.

The former Millwall starlet has shown glimpses of his promise with the reserves this season and gave another example of his ability to beat defenders minutes later, when he side stepped Liam Reffin and sent in a devilish centre that Michael Ngoo almost guided in with an acrobatic attempt.

At this point the Reds were in total control but an injury to Alex Cooper on 25 minutes disrupted the hosts' flow. After a lengthy delay the midfielder was stretchered off and it took Borrell's men time to re-establish their dominance.

As the half came to an end Liverpool did find their rhythm again and could have easily doubled their advantage. Krisztian Adorjan blazed over from the edge of the box while Ngoo skewed wide when in on goal. Jevan Hodgson then produced heroics in the visitors' goal to touch Adorjan's header onto the bar after another piece of majestic wing play by Amoo.

It was developing into the type of morale-boosting performance the youngsters needed and Ngoo gave the away side a cameo of what was to follow in the second period when he beat two before forcing a smart save out of Hodgson from distance.

The front man was proving to be a real nuisance to the Barnsley defence and was unlucky not to mark a fine display with a goal on 60 minutes when he flashed Buchtmann's cut back inches past the near post.

As chance after chance continued to go begging, Borrell may have started to wonder if it was going to be one of those days for his team, but any fears he may have had were vanquished on 71 minutes when substitute Silva struck the Reds' second after more good approach play by Buchtmann.

Amoo then went close to extending the margin of victory late on as the hosts eased to a comfortable triumph.

Liverpool under-18s: Chris Oldfield, John Flanagan, Jack Robinson, Andre Wisdom, Matty McGiveron, Conor Coady, David Amoo, Alex Cooper (Michael Roberts 25), Michael Ngoo (Tony Silva 67), Krisztian Adorjan (Michael Ihiekwe 73), Chris Buchtmann. Unused subs: Stephen Sama, Deale Chamberlain.