Thursday, October 22, 2009

Javier Mascherano Reveals Crisis Talks Ahead Of Manchester United Showdown As Under-Fire Rafa Benitez Fights To Save His Job

Javier Mascherano has revealed that Liverpool will hold crisis talks as Rafa Benitez attempts to save his job ahead of the crunch clash with arch rivals Manchester United.

The Reds boss is under intense pressure after four straight defeats threaten to extinguish their dream of winning the Champions League and Barclays Premier League.

Tuesday's 2-1 loss at home to Lyon leaves Benitez battling to avoid the axe and Mascherano insists they must reverse the damage before it is too late.

'Rafa didn't say anything after the game, he didn't want to talk because everyone is disappointed,' revealed Mascherano.

'But I think on Wednesday we will talk a lot. We need to talk and we need to see all the mistakes we have done and try not to repeat them against United.'

The match against United at Anfield on Sunday is expected to ultimately decide Benitez's future. Defeat against their old foes would leave the Spaniard facing the axe.

However, Mascherano has attempted to shift the spotlight away from his manager by claiming that the players are to blame for Liverpool's woes.

'It's not the manager's fault. It's the players' responsibility,' he added. 'The manager can say how to play but on the pitch it's down to us. We were not intelligent.

'We are very disappointed as it was important for us to win. We lost, so we know we are in a difficult situation.

'We are a team that was doing well last season but we have got to keep going, we have to keep working really hard and we have got to try to win the next game.

'United will be a massive test for us. It is all about confidence. When you have confidence you can do everything but we know the team is not playing well.

'Maybe a lot of players are not in the best form and it is difficult for the team and we are losing more confidence with these results.

'The supporters come to watch Liverpool win and it would be great for us if we could give them a victory on Sunday.

'In football, you never know what will happen but we can't afford to think about what has happened in the past. All we can think about is the future and we need to beat United.'

Liverpool could be without star duo Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard for the United showdown. Gerrard limped off after just 25 minutes against Lyon after aggravating his groin injury.

Johnson Confident Of Being Fit To Face Man Utd

Glen Johnson is confident of being fit for Liverpool's Sunday showdown with Manchester United despite missing their Champions League defeat to Lyon on Tuesday night.

The right back withdrew just hours before Rafa Benitez's side lost their fourth game in a row - their worst run since 1987. The Spaniard must now face the champions with disgruntled fans making noises about his future.

Having a fit Johnson at his disposal would be a major boost for the Liverpool boss, who fielded 20-year-old Martin Kelly at right back against Lyon.

And the England international is sure he can shake off his groin injury before United visit Anfield.

"It is a lot better today, I think I will be alright for Sunday," Johnson said. "We haven't tested it today, just soft tissue work and massage, but it seems a lot freer than it did yesterday."

The big-money signing from Portsmouth also thinks Fernando Torres has a chance of making the game, but he is less sure whether skipper Steven Gerrard will be fit after he was forced off after 25 minutes with a recurrence of an abductor problem. He said: "I think Nando might be alright for Sunday, but I am not too sure about Stevie."

Manchester United Will Face Liverpool FC Backlash, Says Jamie Carragher

Liverpool FC defender Jamie Carragher has warned champions Manchester United that they will be facing a wounded animal at Anfield on Sunday.

Liverpool FC host their biggest rivals fresh from a Champions League disaster against Lyon last night, their fourth defeat on the trot and sixth of the season.

Defender Carragher, who took over as captain when Steven Gerrard limped off in the 2-1 defeat against the French league leaders, said: "Beating Manchester United could be just the boost we need, we always bounce back because that us what we are about.

"We’ve got a lot of fight and character and will want to show that against United, particularly after what happened against Lyon.

"We’re going through a tough patch but we’ve been through them before and we’ll bounce back, there’s no doubt about that.

"It’s always a great game against United, and that could be what we need - if we win it will give everyone a massive lift."

Teenager Martin Kelly, who made his full debut against Lyon in Glen Johnson’s injury-absence, agrees.

"If we can beat United, it will give everybody a lift," he said.

"I was pleased with my debut, but everyone was disappointed about the result.

"It was a cruel way to lose like that right at the end, I was off injured by then and watching on the TV and I didn’t feel they were going to score again after their equaliser.

"I enjoyed the occasion even if I had to come off. But it was just one game for me, I want to be playing at this level every week. That’s the aim now.

"Now we just have to look forward to Sunday’s game with Manchester United and try to put things right.

"It is all about working hard as a team now to pull ourselves out of this."

He added: "It was not difficult coming into the side, even if they had not been doing too well. There were top players around me and they all helped me settle.

"I picked up an injury towards the bottom of my left leg. I could not sprint properly so I had to come off, the medical people have had a look at it and I hope I will be okay to be considered for Sunday."

Graeme Souness Launches Scathing Attack On Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez

Graeme Souness has launched a scathing attack on manager Rafael Benitez as Liverpool's season goes from bad to worse.

The Reds lost their fourth match in a row for the first time in 22 years after slipping to a 2-1 defeat to Lyon in the Champions League.

And club legend Souness has no doubt that the fault lies with Benitez.

"It's no good turning round and saying there wasn't enough money in the summer. What about the previous years?" Souness said on Sky Sports.

"If you have been there for five years you have had the chance to build your own club. It's no good pointing to being without your best two players."

Souness hailed the Anfield faithful for their unwavering support, but insisted that his beloved club were over-reliant on stars Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres.

"Out of the big clubs Liverpool is the best at home at a time like this. The supporters are understanding. They give you a chance far more than any other club in this country.

“They are a footballing crowd, but without their top two men the team looked a very ordinary side.

"There was no spark. It just wasn't there. It was plod, plod, plod. Without Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres there was no imagination.

"The criticism aimed at Rafa [Benitez] would be that he had signed 67 players and if you are missing two or three you don't look anything like a team that can win big games in the Champions League or the other Premier League contenders."

Anfield Legend: Get Behind The Manager And The Players

Liverpool legend Ian Rush has urged the club’s supporters to get behind Rafa Benitez and the team. The former prolific Anfield marksman claims it would be wrong to sack the Spaniard at this stage in the season, and instead urged the current squad to step up and drag the club out of its current crisis.

Defeats against Fiorentina, Chelsea, Sunderland, and Lyon leave the club in their worst run of form for 22-years, yet Rush suggests a victory against Manchester United on Sunday could change everything.

Rush told Sky Sports News: “The time is not right now,”

“You need to get behind the manager - and the players as well. I'm sure the supporters will do on Sunday.”

“It's up to the players to respond.”

“The manager can only pick a team and it's up to the players to respond on the pitch against Manchester United.”

“There will be a good atmosphere against Manchester United. Yeah, okay we lost against Lyon so maybe the atmosphere will not be quite what was expected, but we can still qualify for the second phase of the Champions League.”

“We've got to get behind everyone. For me that's what makes Liverpool such a special club.”

Rush suggested that players other than Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres need to stand up and be counted, and make the manager’s job of selecting the team harder.

He said: “The players that come in have got to do the job, it's as simple as that,”

“They've got to make the manager's job hard to pick the next team.”

“At the moment, when Torres, Gerrard and Johnson are fit they're straight in. That's because maybe the players that have come in haven't quite done the job to win games.”

“It would be lovely for Liverpool to have beaten Lyon, then come the game against Manchester United, the manager could say 'What team do I pick? Everyone's playing well.’”

“At the moment I think the team's picking itself.

How Rafa Benitez Lost The Trust Of Liverpool Fans For Good

The boos that echoed round Anfield tolled the knell of Rafa Benitez' rapidly parting Liverpool day.

It was not just the defeat by Lyons that raised the spectre, more the angry reaction of many Reds fans to the decision to replace Yossi Benayoun with Ukrainian flop Andriy Voronin.

With Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson now joining Fernando Torres as major doubts for Sunday's make or break home game with Manchester United, Benitez knows he is on the rack.

But while the Spaniard may believe that events outside his control are conspiring against him, the seeds of Benitez' downfall were sown by himself nine months ago - and given extra encouragement to grow by one catastrophically wrong transfer decision in the summer.

On January 9, Liverpool were in prime position to finally win back the crown that has been out of their grasp since 1990.

A Steven Gerrard-inspired 5-1 thumping of Newcastle meant Liverpool began 2009 two points clear of the rest despite a catalogue of dropped points on home soil against the likes of Stoke, Fulham, West Ham and Hull.

Benitez had been increasingly angered by the behaviour of arch-rival Sir Alex Ferguson, who had assume the role of his personal bete noir since Chelsea sacked Portuguese braggart Jose Mourinho and, believing himself in a position of strength, decided to go on the offensive.

It was, without question, the biggest mistake he could have made. What Benitez said was, in the main, not only justified but also accurate.

Fergie does get away with more than any other manager. Always has, always will. Referees, the Premier League, the FA - let alone the media - are terrified by him and he plays on those insecurities to ensure he gets what he wants by blast and bluster.

But saying it so publicly, calling it on with a man who would never be shy of fighting back, and who knew his own players would not wilt under the pressure of the title run-in, left Benitez' own players harbouring doubts.

If the manager could not keep calm from a position of strength, one or two of them ventured privately, how would he react when it started to get twitchy, as it always does?

What followed was almost inevitable, successive draws against Stoke, Everton and Wigan that saw Liverpool tumble to third, five more costly points dropped against Manchester City and doomed Middlesbrough the following month, the championship slipped from their grasp in the space of just seven games.

Even then, as Benitez and his players ruefully know, it might have changed after they thumped United at Old Trafford, only for the gods - and referees - to come to Fergie's aid: the extra minutes against Aston Villa which allowed Federico Macheda to emerge from nowhere and, most infamously, Howard Webb's shocker against Spurs that was the pivotal moment of the entire campaign.

For Liverpool and Benitez, just four points adrift in the final reckoning, it should have been the launchpad for the coming campaign, with all their rivals under clouds.

United had to cope with life after Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as the absence of Carlos Tevez; Chelsea, under new management again, with an ageing team; Arsenal having lost Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure.

All Benitez needed to do, surely, was hold things together, add a couple of new faces, keep a steady hand on the tiller. Instead, he sold Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid, taking the £30m and spending most of it in Alberto Aquilani, who may make his Liverpool debut for the successor to the man who bought him.

Alonso provided balance and security, the ability to win the ball and play an early pass. By contrast, Javier Mascherano appears to be pining for the move to Barcelona that did not materialise, while the manager's faith in Lucas Leiva seems increasingly unfathomable with every passing week.

So it comes to this. Twelve matches in the competitions that count. Six defeats.

Under the financial "masterplan" drafted by those footballing giants Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the Liverpool manager was only supposed to spend £20m per year for the next five seasons.

But that was predicated on a guarantee of Champions League football into the knockout stages, and the £30m that produces annually.

Suddenly, on the verge of group stage elimination, this year's income stream will be cut. Failure to make the top four - and if it becomes five defeats out of 10 in the league on Sunday, while City, Villa and Spurs keep on winning, that becomes a genuine possibility - and the drama does indeed become a crisis.

In Rafa we trust? Not any more, it seems. Those boos told the story and the truth.

Liverpool Must Win Remaining Games To Qualify - Benitez

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said his side must win their remaining three group games if the five-time European champions are to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League.

A 2-1 home defeat by Olympique Lyon on Tuesday left Liverpool third in Group E after three games, six points behind leaders Lyon and three behind second-placed Fiorentina.

Frustrated supporters turned on Benitez at Anfield after a fourth successive defeat in all competitions, Liverpool's worst run for 22 years.

On a bad night for the Premier League club, captain Steven Gerrard lasted just 24 minutes in his comeback game from injury before he limped off.

The England midfielder is now a major doubt for Sunday's home game with Premier League leaders Manchester United, a match Liverpool have to win if they are to maintain a realistic chance of challenging for the title.

"I think it is something we are going to have to do," said Benitez, when asked if Liverpool would have to win their remaining three group games to stay in the Champions League.

Benitez takes his side to Lyon on Nov. 4 before facing Hungarian side Debrecen away on Nov. 24. They round off the group campaign at home to Fiorentina on Dec. 9.

"I wanted to use some fresh legs," Benitez explained after his decision to replace goalscorer Yossi Benayoun with Andriy Voronin was met by a chorus of boos from supporters.

"The fans know Yossi is a good player but he was a little bit tired.

"It's a really disappointing outcome.

"We had too many problems before the game with injuries.

"But we still managed to take the lead and we still managed to create chances."

Benitez refused to rule out Gerrard for Sunday's game with United but Spanish striker Fernando Torres has missed the last two games and remains doubtful.

"We need to lift ourselves for Sunday, it's something we have to do," added Benitez.

"We have to push the players and have to keep going. Had we taken our chances against Lyon then things would have been different."

Rafa Benitez Stands By Steven Gerrard Selection

Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez insists he did not take an unwise gamble on Steven Gerrard's fitness in the 2-1 Champions League defeat at home to Lyon.

The Liverpool FC manager believes too that the Reds can still reach the last 16, despite having only three points from three Group E matches so far. The loss of Gerrard after just 25 minutes with a recurrence of his groin injury was a savage blow, with Fernando Torres and Glen Johnson both also sidelined.

Benitez said: "It was not a gamble to play Gerrard. He wanted to play and had trained normally for two games."

He added: "He was given the all-clear by the doctor, and what happened was just bad luck. He felt something wrong in his groin, and it was wise to come off."

Benitez will oversee a succession of scans for his injured stars before being able to start preparation for Sunday's visit of Premier League champions Manchester United.

Liverpool have staged miracle survivals in the group stages of Europe before - and will need another one now.

Benitez recalled: "We have come back before - and we can do it again.

"We now must be ready for the next match. I have confidence that we have the quality to overcome these problems.

"We have to push players now, to keep working and to maintain our confidence. We just had too many problems before and during the game. Losing Glen Johnson before the match, and then Gerrard and Martin Kelly during the match, was just too much to contend with.

"It was a difficult game with all our problems, and we had done well to be leading at the break. Then we had two or three chances soon after the interval."

Bitter-Sweet Debut For Kelly

Martin Kelly admitted his first Liverpool start in the defeat by Lyon left a sour taste in his mouth.

The former Academy talent was thrown into the starting line-up for Tuesday's UEFA Champions League clash following an injury to regular right-back Glen Johnson.

The England Under-20 international capped his full debut with an encouraging display until the 19-year-old picked up an injury in the second half and was substituted.

And Kelly confessed to mixed emotions on a night that saw his side slump to their second reverse in Group E and now face an uphill struggle to secure qualification to the last 16.

"I was happy to make my debut and the fans were fantastic with me but it was just disappointing with the final result," he told the club's official website.

"The lads were frustrated in the dressing room and it was tough to take losing right at the end.

"It was a cruel way to lose the game because I didn't think they looked like scoring in the second half to be honest.

"I thought we deserved to win and it was a frustrating night for us.

"Everyone is disappointed but we've got a game on Sunday against Manchester United and we need to put it right."

Kelly came close to opening his Liverpool account at the Kop end when he failed to connect with Fabio Aurelio's cross before Yossi Benayoun bailed him out with a composed finish.

And the teenage full-back is now intent on building from his first start in Reds colours.

"I was happy to see Yossi score because I would have probably got slated at half-time for missing the chance," he added.

"I will take a lot of confidence from starting my first game for Liverpool but in football you are only as good as your last game.

"I've just got to keep working hard and put performances in week in, week out, and not just for one game."

M'Bokani Attracts Interest

A host of Premier League clubs are said to be chasing Standard Liege striker Dieumerci M'Bokani, according to reports in Belgium.

The Congo international has been linked with a move to Manchester United in the past while Blackburn, Liverpool and Arsenal are all said to be monitoring his progress.

The 23-year-old has been prolific during his time at Standard with 32 goals in 62 league games but this season has seen M'Bokani struggle in front of goal.

The former Anderlecht front man admits to being unsettled in Belgium and has hinted at a January move away from Standard.

"I am not having a good start to the season," he told

"From 12 games I've only scored three goals so far. I am not happy. As for moving, why not? It depends on all parties so let's wait and see."

Aurelio - Blame Us Not Rafa

Fabio Aurelio believes the team and not Rafa Benitez should take the slack for Liverpool's worst run in 22 years.

The Reds are in the midst of a crisis following Tuesday's home defeat by Lyon in the UEFA Champions League which condemned them to their fourth successive defeat in all competitions.

Wednesday's aftermath has seen question marks raised over the future of Benitez and the Spanish tactician will have to mastermind another European fightback to keep the Reds' Champions League hopes alive.

And Aurelio insists the players are ready to do just that as he targets maximum points from the rest of their games in Group E.

"We must concentrate on winning our final three games in Europe, pressure is building on us," the defender said.

"But the players know that we are the only people who can change what is going wrong.

"We know what we have to do. We have to change the feeling that we are not a strong team now, especially after what we achieved last season."