Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mark Lawrenson: Liverpool FC’s Fernando Torres Scores Goals That Nobody Else Could

A week ago I said that Rafael Benitez will have been looking for more of his side other that Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres to join Yossi Benayoun as match-winners but the Liverpool manager will still be delighted with his star striker’s two-goal blast at West Ham.

It’s not like the Spanish international has been struggling in front of goal so far this season – he netted in three consecutive Premier League games against Stoke, Aston Villa and Bolton last month – but his brace at Upton Park signalled a return to the kind of devastating form he is capable of.

Like so many of the great strikers, you can seemingly keep Torres quiet for long periods of the game only for him to hit you with a sucker punch.

I don’t know how anybody else could have scored that first goal like he did on Saturday.

The way he slowed down James Tomkins before finishing was sensational.

His second goal was also a tough one to score but if you give Torres a mere half a yard he will absolutely kill you.

Again it was a topsy-turvy affair away from home before Liverpool again came out on top but Upton Park was always going to be a tough place to go to.

You never get any space down there and the way Gianfranco Zola has got West Ham playing I bet there are a few ‘top sides’ who go there this season and don’t come away with a win.

On a positive note for Ryan Babel, he came off the bench to set up Torres’s winner.

However, if the Dutchman thinks that playing one ball through has saved his Anfield career then he better think again because he must start to do much more.

After being brought on for the last half an hour, Babel spent most of the time giving the ball away and he needs to realise that without hard work he will not be a Liverpool player for much longer.

He’s just not justified his fee or fulfilled his potential since his move from Ajax and instead of moaning and then going on about how he’s been misquoted he needs to put up or shut up and show Benitez that he’s worth his place in the side.

Benayoun has been playing well and Albert Riera has done okay so Babel will remain down the pecking order unless he can improve on his consistency dramatically. Who knows, he may well get another chance on Tuesday night when Liverpool travel to Leeds for their Carling Cup tie.

Not too long ago, this match-up was a top Premier League fixture but even though the Yorkshire side has fallen on hard times in recent years, they’re bound to be backed by a large and passionate home crowd.

Chelsea Plan To Rest Didier Drogba Until Critical Liverpool Test

Didier Drogba is facing a spell on the sidelines regardless of the results of a scan on the Chelsea striker’s right calf last night.

Carlo Ancelotti hopes that Drogba is merely suffering from severe cramp after being carried off on a stretcher during the second half of Sunday’s 3-0 win at home to Tottenham Hotspur, but the manager was planning on resting him for the next three matches in any case.

The Ivory Coast forward will take no part in tomorrow’s Carling Cup tie against Queens Park Rangers, is unlikely to be involved in Saturday’s Barclays Premier League match away to Wigan Athletic and is suspended from next week’s Champions League game against Apoel Nicosia. Ancelotti is focusing on getting him fit for Liverpool’s visit to Stamford Bridge in a fortnight instead, although Chelsea insist the scan was precautionary.

Drogba’s absence against Liverpool, in what promises to be Chelsea’s biggest test of the season to date, would be a huge blow to Ancelotti, but the Italian has a more than capable striker in Nicolas Anelka. The France player acknowledged yesterday that Chelsea are a better side when Drogba is involved, but expressed his confidence that they can continue to win matches without him.

Liverpool Owner Hicks Promises To Better Chelsea, Manchester United & Arsenal

Tom Hicks, the co-owner of English Premier League soccer club Liverpool, has vowed to reduce the club's debt, created when he bought the team with his co-owner George Gillett, and insists the club will have less debt than any of its rivals in England's 'big four' - Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

There were worries this summer that the banks RBS and Wachovia would refuse to refinance the club's loans, while the club's accountants issued a public warning about its finances despite record revenues. However, Hicks has dismissed those concerns.

"You have to look cash flow rather than accounting," insisted Hicks in an interview with Associated Press, "and we intend to operate Liverpool where it has a very strong positive cash flow so we have the resources to be as competitive as possible on the pitch - that's our commitment.

"We had strong, positive cash flows last year. Our debts levels are at a very comfortable level and we are going to continue bringing it down. Our goal is to have less debt than any of the top clubs and that's a commitment we have made and will continue to make."

Earlier this month the club secured a world record shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered worth more than US$130 million over the next four years.

Rafa Benitez Challenges Liverpool FC Fringe Players To Fight For The Shirt

Rafa Benitez has challenged his fringe players to show their “fight” in Tuesday night’s Carling Cup third round tie at Leeds United.

The Liverpool boss is set to make wholesale changes for the clash with the high-flying League One club.

And the Spaniard insists it is a golden opportunity for those who have been out of favour to impress him.

“In these kind of games you can manage with different players and we are considering making some changes,” he admitted.

“We say to the players ‘Listen, you have an opportunity. If we progress in the Carling Cup you will have more chances’.

“This is an important competition for us and everyone can be involved.

“Some players don’t have too many chances in the Premier League, but they can fight for their position here. It makes it easier for me and the staff to analyse if they are ready or not.”

The Reds have won the trophy a record seven times but since losing the 2005 final to Chelsea they haven’t got beyond the last eight.

The last four seasons have seen weakened Liverpool sides meekly bow out to Crystal Palace, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham.

This time Benitez wants to go all the way and secure the club’s first trip to the new Wembley.

“In my first year here I was really disappointed because we were 10 minutes away from winning the final – losing that was difficult to take,” he said.

“I would like to go to the final again and make amends for that.

“We want to win silverware and this is an option. We will try to do our best in the Carling Cup.

“Sometimes motivation is harder if a player is playing a lot of games. Maybe they won’t consider the Carling Cup as being important.

“But it is important and for the players who aren’t playing at the moment maybe it is the most important competition.

“The main thing is mentality – not just of the team but of the squad.

“If we can have a winning mentality in the cup competitions it will be good because it will make it harder for me to pick the team.”

Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Glen Johnson are among those expected to be rested on Tuesday night.

Diego Cavalieri is set to replace Pepe Reina in goal, while Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Fabio Aurelio, Philipp Degen, Andrea Dossena, Ryan Babel, Jay Spearing, Andriy Voronin and David Ngog are all vying for a starting spot.

It’s a 38,000 sell-out at Elland Road and Benitez is wary of the fallen giants who are top of League One.

“We have a lot of respect for Leeds and we know it will be tough,” Benitez said. “They are a massive club and it’s a surprise to see them in the division they are in now.

“Their fans are passionate and really get behind the players.”

Ian Rush: Chance For Ryan Babel To Stake His Claim

Tuesday night’s Carling Cup tie at Leeds United represents a great opportunity for some of Liverpool’s fringe players to make a point to Rafa Benitez.

I’m sure there will be a number of changes from the weekend win at West Ham.

That was a tough test and with the quick turnaround Liverpool will be in need of some fresh legs.

With the game against Hull at Anfield on Saturday and then the European clash away to Fiorentina next Tuesday, it’s a chance to give key players a night off and see what others can do.

One player I expect to start is Ryan Babel after his impressive substitute appearances at Upton Park.

The Dutchman’s pace caused the Hammers problems and produced a great cross for Fernando Torres to head home the winner.

Babel deserves a start and this is the ideal match for him to stake a claim for a more regular place.

When a chance comes along you have to take it because you only get so many at Liverpool before you have to start looking for another club.

There are a number of players in that category and we will see what they are made of on that night.

It’s vital these players produce the goods against Leeds and their aim has to be to give the manager a headache ahead of the game against Hull.

It’s got the makings of a cracking tie.

Leeds may be two divisions below but they are flying at the moment and manager Simon Grayson is doing a very good job.

They have a great home record and this will be the first full house they have had at Elland Road for a long time.

There will be 38,000 fans packed in and I know from my playing days there that Elland Road can be a real cauldron.

Leeds are a big club who fell on hard times due to their well documented financial problems but it looks like they are on the way back up.

Their confidence will be high after an unbeaten start to the season and their fans will really get behind them.

Leeds will be fired up but it’s the kind of game every Liverpool player should relish being involved in.

It’s a game we should win but only if the attitude is spot on.

Returning Liverpool FC Star Fabio Aurelio hHoping Injury Hell Is Over

The Carling Cup may lie a distant fourth in Liverpool’s list of priorities but as far as Fabio Aurelio is concerned all that glitters is gold.

The Brazilian is set to make his first start of the season when the Reds face Leeds United in a mouth-watering third-round clash at Elland Road on Tuesday night.

Aurelio missed all of pre-season and the opening five matches of the campaign after injuring his knee while back home in South America this summer.

But the 29-year-old has battled his way back to fitness and after brief substitute appearances against Debrecen and West Ham he is relishing the chance to get 90 minutes under his belt.

Aurelio knows the Carling Cup offers an opportunity for those currently on the fringes to stake a claim for a place in Rafa Benitez’s first choice line up.

And the left-back is determined to ensure the Reds enjoy an extended run in this season’s competition.

“I’m really happy to be back playing and to be part of the squad for matches again is great,” he said.

“I hope to start at Leeds and I’m sure there will be opportunities in this game for players who haven’t been used in Premier League games much recently.

“Every opportunity you get you need to show something to the boss and I have to take this chance. Hopefully I can do my job and help us get through.

“We want to progress in every competition we’re involved in. The Carling Cup offers a possibility for us to win a trophy and we can’t allow that chance to pass easily.

“It might not be the most prestigious competition but it’s still very important to us and we want to go all the way.”

Aurelio has been playing catch-up since he underwent surgery in Brazil during the close season.

He damaged cartilage in his left knee while playing football with his family on holiday and it’s been a long road to recovery.

“It has been a tough few months for me but at least I haven’t missed many games,” he said.

“I’ve been training hard at Melwood and to finally get back out there on the pitch was a moment of happiness for me.

“My knee is fine now and I just need to build up my match fitness.

“I’m not yet back to the level I was at last season but the game against Leeds is a chance to get some more minutes under my belt.”

In Aurelio’s absence, Argentine youngster Emiliano Insua has made the left-back slot his own this season.

Insua is likely to be rested tonight but Aurelio knows he faces a real battle over the coming months to regain his number one billing.

“Emiliano has been doing really well,” he said.

“Everyone knows his ability and since the start of the season he has done a very good job for the team.

“It will be a hard fight for that place this season but the fact we have more options now helps the team to be stronger.

“If we all keep working hard then it will be a difficult decision for the manager.”

Benitez Wants Cup Of Joy

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez already has his sights set on the Carling Cup final as his team prepare for their opening test against Leeds.

Benitez is eyeing the showpiece at Wembley on February 28, considering it is a competition he has not won and this is his sixth tilt at the trophy.

Liverpool's team for the clash at Elland Road, which has been the stage for several memorable clashes between the teams down the years, is likely to show many changes as Benitez gives his fringe players a chance to impress against the League One leaders.

The former Valencia coach, whose Reds team went close to winning the competition in 2005 when they lost 3-2 to Chelsea, said: "We will try to manage the squad for the match and use some different players.

"But we want to win and get to the final. In my first season we got to the Carling Cup final and were winning with 10 minutes to go before we conceded an own goal.

"I would like to go to the final again and make amends for that defeat."

Even though he is looking beyond Tuesday night's match, Benitez believes his team will have to work hard in West Yorkshire.

Leeds have won 15 home games in succession and Benitez said: "Their striker Jermaine Beckford has impressed a lot of people, and there is a view that he is the best striker in the Football League.

"He has pace and ability. He scores a lot of goals and will be a danger.

"It is a real surprise to me that they have fallen so far. I recall one of the first games I saw in England was between Leeds and Manchester United with Harry Kewell playing against Jaap Stam, which was not so long ago."

The Spaniard explained: "I have no doubts that this will be a very difficult match. They have quality and they are a big club with great traditions.

"They will want to win this one because of the situation they find themselves in.

"They have passion, quality and the fans are always really behind their team."

Liverpool are likely to include second-choice goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri, new Greece defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Swiss defender Philipp Degen, Italian full-back Andreas Dossena and Holland winger Ryan Babel.

Ukrainian striker Andriy Voronin and French youngster David Ngog, who scored the winner for the reserves last week against Manchester United, could also start the game.

Benitez may also take the chance to give full-back Fabio Aurelio his first start of the season following a knee injury while centre-back Daniel Agger is also being considered after a back operation.

But Liverpool could have the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres and Dirk Kuyt on the bench in case they are needed.