Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why Rafa Benitez Is Confident Liverpool FC Will Win The League

Rafael Benitez is confident Liverpool can mount another Barclays Premier League title bid this season and remains calm despite his side's unconvincing start to the campaign.

Doubts have been raised over whether a sustained challenge can come from Anfield considering the team have already lost three times - one more than the whole of the previous campaign - to lie six points behind leaders Chelsea after eight games.

Benitez believes running champions and arch-rivals Manchester United close last term, finishing four points behind the Old Trafford club, has brought positives and negatives and he maintains the mounting criticism is unjustified.

"The most difficult thing this season is to manage expectation," the manager told

"Last season we finished with 86 points and everyone was talking about this being the year.

"It's a long race and if we make mistakes and give up too early it will be impossible.

"So the main thing for everyone here is to try to be calm and keep working hard."

Despite those three defeats - to Tottenham, Aston Villa and Chelsea - Liverpool are a more open side this season with 22 goals in eight league matches to make them the Premier League's second-highest scorers behind Arsenal.

They have the same number of points as United had at the same stage 12 months ago and have yet to hit top form.

Defensively they have looked shaky, with just two league clean sheets compared to four from eight games last season.

However, Benitez is hopeful the return of centre-back Daniel Agger, who has not played a first-team game since the end of May after a summer back operation, and the inclusion of £20million former Roma midfielder Alberto Aquilani, who is yet to make his debut after ankle surgery, will provide a boost to the squad.

"We have some players coming back from injury, so we have time," added the Spaniard.

"We need to keep the mentality, keep scoring goals and we will see."

Benitez is also confident the greater competition seen in the league this season - with the likes of Burnley beating United and Wigan defeating Chelsea - means more points will be dropped by all the leading title contenders.

"I think it will be tough at the top of the table," he added.

"Chelsea are a good team but don't forget they will lose some players at the Africa Cup of Nations (in January) so we will see.

"Everyone is talking about Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa, so I think it could be a very open race.

"That is why my message is the same - for us to keep doing our job properly."

Liverpool's Glen Johnson Places Club Over Country

Liverpool defender Glen Johnson is expected to play a part in tonight's fixture with Ukraine, but the 25-year-old insists that the 2010 World Cup sits at the back of his mind as he concentrates on securing silverware for the Merseysiders.

"It's every schoolboy's dream to play for their country at a World Cup," Johnson told the club's official website.

"I think with the players and the backroom staff we have, we can push on and do something in the tournament.

"But I am concentrating on Liverpool and we can think about the World Cup finals when they come around."

Johnson will line-up tonight alongside Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard admits it is an honour to play side-by-side the star midfielder.

"When Stevie wants to turn it on, he can make you think 'wow'," added Johnson.

"It's good for me to watch his quality close up in training with the brilliant touches he's got, his movement and the way you can see him thinking.

"Obviously there are a lot of great players here at Liverpool and to play with people like Stevie, Fernando and the other lads is just brilliant."

John Aldridge: Clean Sheets Key To Liverpool FC Closing In On Chelsea

It was nearly the most satisfying of afternoons at Stamford Bridge last Sunday – until Didier Drogba decided to intervene.

There has never been a debate about Drogba’s talent, the only question mark hanging over him, as we know, is his liking for acting the goat every now and again and there were signs of him doing the same again six days ago.

For some reason, though, he always seems to turn it on against Liverpool and by my estimation, Drogba has probably won six or seven games single-handedly during his time with Chelsea and Marseille.

The game, clearly, changed on one mistake from Javier Mascherano, which was so ironic as he had been the best player on the pitch up until that point but Drogba ruthlessly took advantage when he was eventually set free.

You have to say that his ball for Nicolas Anelka and the work he did to tee up Florent Malouda were two flashes of genius and it has left many people saying that a tilt at the Premier League title is now beyond the Reds.

I don’t, for one moment, think that is the case but there is no disputing we have left ourselves little margin for error now – at the very most, he can probably only afford to lose two more matches.

When you think we have got to play Everton, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City twice, that is going to be some ask but you have got to take into account that the title will probably be won with fewer points this season.

The Premier League is ultra-competitive and the race to be crowned champions is bound to go right down to the wire but if we are going to be involved in the thick of it, we must work on the positives from Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool’s defence has been criticised on several occasions this season but there were signs of things clicking back together and clean sheets will give us a platform to build on; the sooner we start keeping them, the better it will be for everyone.

Benitez Hails Insua Progress

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez feels Emiliano Insua has thoroughly deserved his first international call-up.

The Argentine full-back has become a first-team regular at Anfield this season, helping him to catch the eye of Diego Maradona.

A number of impressive performances have seen him selected by his country for the first time and he will be hoping to be involved in crucial World Cup qualifiers against Peru and Uruguay.

Insua's rapid progress this term has been welcomed by his domestic boss Benitez, who has eased the 20-year-old into the fold on Merseyside following his arrival from Boca Juniors in January 2007.

He was initially brought in by the Reds on a long-term loan basis, but saw that deal made permanent just eight months into an 18-month agreement.

The potential spotted by Liverpool at that early stage is now being fulfilled, with the youngster seemingly set for a distinguished career at the very top of the game.

"It is very good news for him and for us," said Benitez on Insua's inclusion in the Argentina squad.

"He is a young player who is doing well for us. When you talk about young players, the idea is to try to promote them.

"Emiliano was a very good signing by our scouting department - a young player with potential and quality - and it was very good business because the price was good."

Gerrard Eager To Get Back To Best

Along with his iPod and passport, Steven Gerrard packed one more essential item in his suitcase for England’s trip to Ukraine.

The pain of Liverpool’s defeat by Chelsea last weekend may still be raw, and the chance to focus on impressing Fabio Capello should have been a welcome diversion, but Gerrard still made sure he headed into the club’s Melwood training ground before joining up for international duty.

There he picked up a specially devised DVD displaying his good and bad points from the reverse at Stamford Bridge which he could mull over with England.

The material was prepared by Liverpool’s technical analyst Dave McDonough at the behest of Reds boss Rafa Benitez. But any benefits its use intends to bring to Liverpool will also be welcomed by England.

The episode underlines Gerrard’s insatiable appetite to continue hitting the heights, a desire Benitez has saluted.

“It is a DVD of his strong points and his weaknesses, of his qualities and his faults, so he can make use of these few days and watch it before playing with the national side,” said Benitez.

“He went straight to Melwood to get the DVD before leaving because he was very interested in the idea of analysing his match and trying to correct his mistakes.

“Gerrard is a player who is always asking how he can improve. He never stops wanting to learn.’’

Gerrard spoke with Benitez about the footage on Wednesday and will be anxious to put the plan into practice during England’s World Cup qualifier in Ukraine on Saturday night.

Rafa Benitez Reveals Perfectionist Steven Gerrard Is Never Happy

Rafa Benitez has offered a unique insight into the driven nature of his skipper Steven Gerrard, which he believes makes the midfielder one of the best in the world.

The Liverpool manager revealed that Gerrard, even after playing at the very top for the past decade, and is still desperate to learn and take his game to the next level, and analyses his performances in microscopic detail.

The England international is considered to be at the peak of his craft as he approaches his 30th birthday, and could be forgiven for believing that he has nothing left to take on board.

But Benitez has illustrated the depth of passion, and incredible desire that his captain has, with an example of how he continually strives to add more dimensions to his play.

"Gerrard is a player who is always asking how he can improve, and that is a fundamental part of him - which is a huge benefit as a manager," Benitez explained.

"Even at the level he has reached, he knows that it's never over, he never stops wanting to learn. It is a part of his personality that he wants to work so hard."

Benitez is a perfectionist who always believes that there is a way to improve, and he admires the drive within his captain that makes him the same way.

And the Liverpool boss offered an example of that incredibly driven nature, which saw Gerrard this week making a round trip from London to ensure that he received the full data from his last performance before heading off on England duty.

"Let me tell you something - he left this week with the English national side, but before heading off he picked up a DVD, prepared by the person in charge of match analysis at the club," Benitez explained.

"It's a DVD of his strong points and his weaknesses, of his qualities and his faults, so he can make use of these few days on international duty and watch it before playing with the national side.

"When he left the team base in London, he went straight to the Liverpool training ground to get the DVD before leaving because he was very interested in the idea of analysing his match and trying to correct his mistakes.

"Then he wanted to go over it with me. We actually spoke on the phone on Wednesday, because he was in a hurry for us to talk about what he saw on the DVD and how he could benefit from it. That shows you how the desire is a fundamental part of him."

Rafa Benitez On Collision Course Over Daniel Agger

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is on a collision course with Denmark over the fitness of Daniel Agger.

The Reds centre half has managed just 68 minutes for the reserves this season so far, as he slowly returns from a back problem, but looks set to play for his country in two games over the next four days.

Benitez though, has warned his Denmark counterpart Morten Olsen not to push the defender too hard in the games against Sweden and Hungary as he continues his rehabilitation.

"Daniel wasn't fit enough to play against Chelsea, and Denmark have to be careful with him. They have to be sensible and also the player knows it will be tough for him to play both games in a row," Benitez said.

"It's good for him because he needs to play, but we have to be careful and they have to be careful too."

Latvia captain Vitalijs Astafjevs will become a record breaker today - but has more important landmarks on his mind.

His country are locked in a four way battle with Greece, who the meet today, favourites Switzerland and Israel.

Astafjevs is one cap away from matching the record for a European player of 157 held by Estonia's Martin Reim, but the 38-year-old also has his focus on helping his side edge closer to a spot in next year's World Cup finals in South Africa.

Astafjevs said: "My goal is to be at the top of the list, and I hope I get there because I have no plans to retire just yet."

If he does equal Reim's record, Astafjevs still has a way to go to match the world top mark for number of international caps.

That is currently held by former Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Deayea, who has 181.

Astafjevs will be up against Giourkas Seitaridis who has been handed a surprise international recall by Greece boss Otto Rehhagel for the crucial qualifier even though he has not played a match this season.

The Swiss travel to Luxembourg as the form team despite a poor start which saw them open their campaign with a draw and a defeat, including a 2-1 loss at home to today's opponents Luxembourg.

George Gillett's Liverpool Statements Don't Stack Up

A fan can accept football illiteracy from its owners because they know the vast majority are only in it for kudos or profit.

They can also excuse a lack of cash, if, like Bill Kenwright, they're in it mostly for love. Fans can even live with pig-headedness, aloofness and a poor knowledge of the club. But they cannot accept having the truth distorted or hidden from them.

Which is what George Gillett, and his estranged partner in crime, have been doing for almost three years.

This week alone, thanks to a leaked exchange with the fans group Spirit of Shankly, the former owner of Montreal Canadians ice-hockey team, came out with four statements which do not hold up to scrutiny.

(1) "The club's debt situation is very sound." It was £44.8 million when Hicks and Gillett took over. It's now £245 million.

(2) "It wasn't me who said we'd start building a new stadium in 60 days, it was Hicks." Check You Tube. It's you.

(3) "We've spent £128 million on top of what's come in over the past 18 months to buy players." Rafa Benitez's net spend in that time has been £20 million.

(4) "Liverpool is in an extraordinarily good financial position." So how come the banks have told you to find new investment, sell-up or they'll re-possess the club?

This opportunistic, former bit-part player in a small-time North American sport has been found to be totally out of his depth in English football. His deceit merely adds insult to injury.

As they say in ice-hockey, it's time to get the puck out of here.