Sunday, September 20, 2009

Benitez - Torres Will Get Better

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez believes Fernando Torres can get even better after watching his deadly striker score twice in a 3-2 win over West Ham.

A pulsating game in East London was decided by the Spaniard's second half header with just fifteen minutes left on the clock.

Torres opened the scoring in the 20th minute before West Ham's Alessandro Diamanti was fortunate to level from the penalty spot after slipping as he struck the ball.

Dirk Kuyt put Liverpool back in front four minutes before the break only for Carlton Cole to equalise for a second time on the stroke of half-time.

It was, though, Torres who had the final say and at the end of the game Benitez had nothing but praise for his compatriot.

"If he continues to play like he did today, he can be one of the best," said Benitez. "When you talk about the Premier League you talk about a lot of players with quality so it is not easy to pick just one, but he is among the best.

"He is a very good player and it is easy to see his qualities. If he is keen to learn, he will improve.

"He is a very good player and hopefully he will be better in the future.

"I was really pleased with him in the Champions League game in midweek. He didn't score but he created chances and space for his team-mates and worked very hard.

"Today he was a threat and that means the rest of the team can work in a different way.

"He is now fit and we are working hard with him to prevent injuries. If he cannot play one or two games, we have Kuyt or Ryan Babel who can score goals.

"Hopefully he won't be injured and he can score a lot of goals for us but we have different options.

"We were in control of the game and the reaction of the team was very positive. I could see that Kuyt was tired and Ryan was really good. His pace was crucial for us and the key at the end."

Liverpool Fans' Fury At Being Moved To Make Way For Sponsors' Guests

The curse of the prawn sandwich has struck again – and left Liverpool fans choking with anger.

Hundreds of Anfield season ticket holders turned up for the Champions League against Debreceni on Wednesday to find they had been moved to accommodate sponsors’ guests.

Former Manchester United skipper Roy Keane was so incensed with corporate guests on one occasion, he dubbed them the “Prawn Sandwich Brigade”.

Keith Ross, from Caernarvon, a season ticket holder in the Lower Centenary Stand, said: “I was given a seat in the corner at the Anfield Road end and couldn’t see a thing. Lots of us were moved and we were all unhappy.

“There were a few angry scenes with the stewards.

“It’s the first time I’ve been moved and I had no idea I’d end up there.

“It was a restricted view and just not good enough.

“What made it worse was that there were a lot of empty seats in the corporate area.

“They were obviously more interested in the hospitality than the football.

“I’ve been a season ticket holder for nine years.

“I have two tickets that cost me £1,400-a-season.

“I go to every match home and away and follow the club all around the world.

“If this is what it’s going to be like from now on, I won’t be going to any more home games in the Champions League. In fact, I’m thinking of cancelling my season ticket for next season.”

Liverpool, in common with all Champions League clubs, have to provide seating and hospitality lounges for sponsors and their guests.

This season their demands have increased, forcing Liverpool to move 2,000 fans from their regular seats.

A club spokesperson said: “It’s the first time Mr Ross has been allocated another seat because UEFA have extended the number of seats they require this season.

“It’s a requirement of all clubs participating in the Champions League, as set out in the UEFA charter.”

Liverpool officials admit they are unlikely to find a satisfactory solution until they have a new stadium.

Liverpool Pursue £240m Deal

Liverpool are pursuing a £240million naming rights deal to finally kickstart their troubled move to Stanley Park.

Carlsberg's 18-year shirt sponsorship with the Reds ends next year.

But the Danish beer brewers are prepared to match the £100m Arsenal received for a 15-year deal with Emirates.

Yet Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett want to smash existing records, asking far more than the Gunners got in 2004.

Hicks and Gillett see the numerous examples of US stadium sponsorship deals as the blueprint for the new Anfield.

The New York Mets baseball team and New Jersey Nets Basketball side currently claim the most lucrative naming rights deals.

They both secured a 20-year contract with Citi Group and Barclays worth £240m respectively.

Both Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants are negotiating similar returns for their new arenas. Liverpool are confident they can at least match the £12m-a-year which the top US franchises have secured, and will be looking to top them.

The club wants new partners on board well before completion of the arena, which is on hold due to the recession, but which the owners insist is merely delayed rather than cancelled.

New Reds managing director Christian Purslow sealed a record- breaking £80m shirt deal with Standard Chartered - and Hicks and Gillett know such lucrative deals are key to restoring stability at Liverpool.

The underfire Kop owners have launched a serious charm offensive over the last few days to try to win back the trust of the supporters.

Until the levels of debt at the club are reduced, they will continue to be perceived cynically for the broken promises of the past.

Match Report: West Ham United 2 - 3 Liverpool

Fernando Torres scored twice as Liverpool held off a brave fightback from West Ham to earn a deserved 3-2 victory in a five-goal thriller at Upton Park.

Torres put the Reds in front in the 19th minute with a fine solo goal but debutant Alessandro Diamanti levelled from the penalty spot.

Dirk Kuyt restored Liverpool's lead in the 40th minute but Carlton Cole levelled again a minute before the interval.

But the irrepressible Torres settled a pulsating contest when he headed home from close range in the 75th minute.

The victory, Liverpool's fourth successive win, lifted Rafael Benitez's side into third place in the Barclays Premier League and left West Ham in 14th.

The first half was full of incident and it was the home side who squandered a great chance to take the lead in the second minute.

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher dithered over Glen Johnson's pass and let Zavon Hines in.

The striker could not have asked for a simpler chance but although he beat Jose Reina, his shot hit the near post before the Spanish goalkeeper gratefully gathered the rebound.

Another Carragher mistake on the halfway line gave Cole room to run at the Liverpool goal but this time Martin Skrtel made a wonderful saving challenge.

In the 15th minute the home team had another chance, Cole bundling the ball to Hines from Julien Faubert's cross but the chance came too quickly and Hines' connection was minimal.

Torres, meanwhile, acrobatically volleyed wide after 17 minutes before opening the scoring three minutes later.

The Spaniard broke down the left flank, bamboozled James Tomkins and poked home at the near post.

Torres was proving to be a real thorn in West Ham's side and was confident enough to try his luck from 30 yards in the 26th minute but his shot was far too high and failed to trouble Green.

West Ham's woes continued moments later when Valon Behrami was forced out of the action through injury and replaced by Radoslav Kovac.

It was the second enforced change for Gianfranco Zola's side who lost Matthew Upson earlier in the opening half.

But the home side were back in the game in the 28th minute when referee Andre Marriner adjudged that Hines had been pushed by Carragher in the box.

Alessandro Diamanti stepped-up to take the penalty and even though he put the ball into the net, the striker appeared to slip as he connected with the ball and touched it twice.

Angry Liverpool players protested that the penalty should be ruled out as Diamanti had touched the ball more than once but Marriner rejected their protests.

But Liverpool went back in front five minutes before the end of an eventful opening 45 minutes.

An out-swinging corner from Yossi Benayoun was headed towards the far post by Steven Gerrard only for Kuyt to stick out a foot and poke the ball into the corner of the net in the 40th minute.

But a minute before the half-time whistle, England striker Cole rose highest in the six-yard box to meet Mark Noble's corner and head the Hammers level for the second time in the game.

Hines was giving Liverpool's defence a great deal of cause for concern.

Javier Mascherano could only bring the winger down in the 49th minute and his mistimed tackle earned the Liverpool player a yellow card.

A rare West Ham corner in the 59th minute almost caught out the Reds.

Debutant Diamanti sent an in-swinging corner into the Liverpool six-yard box and Reina had to tip the ball away for another flag-kick as it threatened to end up in the net.

Liverpool replaced goalscorer Kuyt with Ryan Babel on the hour as the Merseysiders searched for a winner.

A fabulous run into the West Ham penalty area by Benayoun almost brought Liverpool a third but the home defence cleared the ball at the last hurdle.

West Ham were suffering from the lack of a killer final ball. Kieron Dyer, on for Diamanti, made a superb run deep into the Liverpool half in the 68th minute but he could not supply the final ball to put Cole clear.

Liverpool's Babel tried his luck from 25 yards but his accuracy was found wanting as the ball went high over the bar and into the crowd.

But the Reds clinched the game in the 75th minute when Babel's cross was headed into the corner of the net by Torres from eight yards.

Kovac was then denied at the death by a brilliant Reina save.

Mascherano Should Show Some Loyalty, Claims Liverpool Boss Benitez

Liverpool's manager Rafa Benitez has bluntly warned his Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano to put any distractions to one side and recapture his best form for Liverpool, if he wants to extend his Anfield stay.

Benitez revealed yesterday there had been initial discussions about Mascherano's future but made it clear conditions were attached to any promise about renewing a contract that has just over two years to run.

The main one concerns snapping out of his downbeat mood over Argentina's faltering World Cup campaign and forgetting about Barcelona's ongoing campaign to entice him to the Nou Camp.

Mindful that the current European champions have yet to abandon a pursuit that began months ago, Benitez admitted he had personally warned one of their top officials to call off the hunt.

He sees Mascherano as a key presence in Liverpool's midfield but is ready to get tough with the Argentina skipper after sensing he is fretting almost as much as Diego Maradona about the threat to his country's qualification.

Lucas has increasingly been held up as a prime example of the commitment and dedication Benitez is looking for in midfield, and Mascherano will have to follow suit to convince Liverpool's demanding boss he is worth a new deal.

Benitez even suggested Liverpool are owed a debt of loyalty by Mascherano.

He said: 'He has to forget about everything else, like other clubs or the World Cup. It is not easy, but that is where his professionalism has to come through. He has to come back, focus his mind and start thinking about Liverpool.'

Supporters Will Be Wondering What Will Happen To Money From New Liverpool FC Shirt Sponsorship Deal

Liverpool’s new shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered is undoubtedly a major coup.

Few clubs could attract such a lucrative agreement, especially considering the recent economic downturn.

It highlights that after years of underachievement Liverpool now possess a commercial team capable of ensuring that off the pitch the club realises its potential.

However, supporters will rightly reserve their praise until they see where the bundles of cash end up.

Managing director Christian Purslow made all the right noises this week, insisting Rafa Benitez’s transfer kitty will be “hugely enhanced”.

But until that happens, the fear is that money will be swallowed up by paying off debts and servicing the massive interest repayments.

There is no reason to doubt the promise of lifelong fan Purslow, but after two and a half years of American ownership trust is in short supply.

Co-owner Tom Hicks joined the charm offensive this week as he praised the club’s financial strength.

Hicks’ declaration that everything is sweet at Anfield has fuelled criticism aimed at him from the other side of the Atlantic by angry fans of his baseball club Texas Rangars.

The Rangers have had to borrow $15million from Major League Baseball just to stay afloat and in the words of club president Nolan Ryan are “kind of hamstrung”.

They have missed out on big signings and there are major fears next season’s payroll will be slashed back.

Gerrard - Blips Inevitable

Steven Gerrard believes that Liverpool's title rivals will all endure difficult moments this season.

Rafa Benitez's Reds got off to a slow start this term, losing two of their opening three fixtures.

They have, however, bounced back in style and have won their last three in all competitions.

There is now a renewed air of optimism around Anfield that this could be the year their long wait for a top-flight title comes to an end.

Liverpool's cause will undoubtedly be helped by the fact that their strongest side contains no players set for African Cup of Nations duty in January, while a number of their Premier League counterparts will lose key men at a crucial stage of the season.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal will all see their numbers shorn in the New Year, with the tournament in Africa set to take place between January 10-31.

England international Gerrard feels that situation could play into Liverpool's hands, with the Reds having already got a domestic wobble out of the way.

"Everyone will have blips and some of the teams lose important players with the African Nations," he told the Reds' official website.

"It's a long season, there are a lot of games and a lot of football to be played yet.

"Chelsea, Tottenham and City have got off to good starts but there is a long way to go before you start predicting who will be up there at the end."

Liverpool: Lucas Leiva As Real Liverpool Player?

Lucas Leiva is a bit of an enigma really. He was brought to the club as "the best young Brazilian around" for a fee of £6m, which is quite a lot of money. He played a few times for the reserves, and did OK. He has always been on the fringes of the first team, much to most fans annoyance. His performances for The Reds up to February last season were not of Liverpool quality, and the fans had got on his back.

Roll on 7 months. Lucas, the former Brazilian U-21 captain, has been called up to the full Brazilian squad (something Aurelio cannot manage!). The last part of last season Lucas actually played quite well, but most put it down to luck. He went to the Olympics and came home with a Bronze medal. Then came pre-season. He was arguably our best player in pre-season. So far this season he has played extremely well, apart from one bad game against Villa.

So what do we make of this reformed player? He has come out in the press lately saying he would have left if it wasn’t for Rafa`s constant encouragement, and lets face it, you wouldn’t have blamed him! He is now saying he’s happy at Liverpool and glad that the fans are more appreciative. Now I will say this. I normally sit in the Kemlyn upper (sorry, it’s still Kemlyn to me!), and last season even up to the end, there was intense hatred of Lucas. This season however, things have changed, and changed in a big way.

Fans are now accepting him as a squad player. No longer are the pre-match talks about how Rafa is failing by picking that useless Lucas. It is accepted that he is doing a job for Liverpool, and doing it rather well. He’ll never be a Gerrard, but then why should we expect him to be. Gerrard is a phenomenon. He is up there with King Kenny as one of Liverpool's all time greats. You just don’t buy them for £6m.

I was in the Kop on Wednesday in Block 305, which has been the most vociferous in its attacks on Lucas. Not a whisper of discontent. Not one sarcastic comment. A few songs to praise him as well. It’s a whole new atmosphere when Lucas appears on our team sheet.

Long may it continue, and long may Lucas continue to improve at the rate he is doing at present.

Double Setback Was Hard To Take - Benitez

Rafael Benitez admits Liverpool were hit hard by the two early-season defeats which instantly halted all title talk on Merseyside.

Liverpool were beaten by Tottenham and Aston Villa in the opening three Barclays Premier League games, and Benitez said: "It was hard to take when we lost two games so quickly.

"But now if we can, say, win five in a row and other teams drop a few points then we will all be in the same position. Let's see how it all develops.

"There will be important games now for everyone, more difficult games maybe than before. We cannot influence that and there are four of the big teams playing each other this weekend."

Benitez has no new injury problems, and has defender Daniel Agger returning to training after a back operation.

The Spanish coach said: "Maybe the division is now shaping up to what we would have expected. We lost two games very early and everyone was saying we could not win the league.

"But this season will be different, it will be much more difficult for the usual top four to win so many games, all the big teams will drop points.

"Manchester City now are genuine contenders, Aston Villa and Spurs will be in the race too, along with the top four from last season.

He added: "Our players are starting to find their form, Dirk Kuyt is scoring, Yossi Benayoun is scoring, and we have started well in Europe.

"It is only a matter of time before Fernando Torres starts to score more regularly."

He added: "We have plenty of options now, most of our players are fit so the choice is good for me when you have more players available.

"It can be a headache, but a nice one with a variety of players to choose from.

"Maybe Fernando is not quite at his best, but we have plenty of others scoring goals.

"But when our top scorer starts scoring more regularly, then we will have a very strong side to put into any game.

"But I am not worried about Fernando. He was very positive in the Champions League match making space and chances for others, and if he can keep doing that will be fine for me."