Sunday, November 08, 2009

Ngog Eyeing More Goals

Liverpool striker David Ngog wants to score more goals for Rafa Benitez to repay the Spaniard for improving his game.

The 20-year-old has netted twice in the Premier League this term - against Stoke City and Manchester United - in four substitute appearances.

The France Under-21 international has also scored in the Carling Cup against Leeds and for the reserves.

But Ngog, who signed from Paris St Germain in July 2008, is hungry for more.

He told "Rafa has improved me.

"I've learnt a lot at this club and the manager has given me a lot of confidence. I thank him for that and now I have to give my best for him.

"I just want to score and do my best for the team, and I know I have the qualities to do these things.

"Every player has to improve some things and I know with time and experience I will be better.

"I have to be patient, work every day in training and do my best when I get a chance."

Ngog received a big boost with his goal against United in Liverpool's 2-0 success at Anfield.

"I will keep this moment with me for the rest of my career," he said. "The goal went really fast - I didn't have time to think.

"Of course it's made me hungry for more. I know I can give a lot to this club and it's given me confidence."

Ngog believes Benitez is the right man to turn things around at Anfield after a difficult start to the campaign.

"He is a really good coach with experience," said the French striker.

"He knows what to do in these kinds of situations. He is a good person for the club and he's helped this club be one of the best in Europe again. We continue to trust and believe in him.

"I don't really read the papers. We know people like to talk but we have to stay focused, stay together and work together. We believe we have a good team.

"We know we can do better and win games."

Barcelona Planning Winter Raid For Liverpool Midfielder Javier Mascherano

Barcelona are reportedly preparing a bid for Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, who the Merseyside club are preparing to offload during the winter transfer window according to Spanish publication El Mundo Deportivo.

The Argentine central midfielder, who holds an Italian passport, was a summer target for the Blaugrana and had showed signs of a desire to make the switch before Reds boss Rafael Benitez insisted he would not be leaving.

Now however the Merseyside club are understood to be ready to cash in on Mascherano and use the cash to strengthen their attacking options and put an end to their over reliance on Fernando Torres for goals.

Barca are reportedly waiting to see how the market plays out during the winter window before making a bid but should another club declare their interest in signing the 25-year-old the Catalan giants are ready to show their hand.

The report also suggests that any approach for Mascherano would have no effect on Barca's intention to add a forward to their ranks with Robinho and Luis Suarez topping the list of possible signings.

Should Mascherano make the switch, he will join Dmytro Chygrynskiy on the cup-tied list for the UEFA Champions League.

Fabio Aurelio Winning Injury Battle Ahead Of Liverpool FC's Clash With Birmingham

Fabio Aurelio is winning his battle to be fit to return to action on Monday – and to take his place in the Brazil squad for the first time.

Aurelio, who is in the last year of his current contract, has missed Liverpool’s last two games against Fulham and Lyon with a calf problem.

His form before that, though, had been good enough to catch the eye of Brazil coach Dunga, who will take Aurelio and Reds midfielder Lucas to Qatar for next Saturday’s friendly with England.

Benitez is thrilled Aurelio’s consistency has been recognised and has confirmed talks are planned with the 30-year-old about extending his stay at Anfield.

First, however, the Liverpool boss wants to see Aurelio up and running again and hopes the Anfield clash against Birmingham will provide an ideal opportunity.

“We are really happy for Fabio to have received the call up because he it is a fantastic opportunity for him,” said Benitez.

“We are not so happy that the game is in Qatar but there you go! I think he is a very good player, a really nice person to have around the club and very professional.

“He is someone that we are continuing to analyse how he is playing and how he is doing; we offered him an extension before but his agents did not accept it.

“Then he had the problem with his knee, so we have to analyse again because he has had so many injuries and we know things might have to be done in a different way.

“But we still have it in our minds to talk with him again because of what we know he can do and what he adds to the squad.”

Talks had started during the summer with Aurelio’s agent about extending his stay on Merseyside beyond the end of this season, as he is a player Benitez knows and trusts from their time together with Valencia.

Provided he comes through the weekend training sessions, he will come into contention for a place on the left side against Alex McLeish’s men and Benitez hopes Aurelio has seen the back of the Melwood treatment room for some time.

“You can always count him to give his best,” said Benitez. “Fabio is a very good professional, top class in terms of quality.

“The only problem is that he has had some injuries and we have got to be careful.”

Torres To Defy Doc

Fernando Torres will defy doctor's orders to try to haul Liverpool out of their slump.

Groin-strain victim Torres wants to play against Birmingham on Monday despite being told not to play for THREE weeks.

It could spark a row with Spain who agreed not to pick Torres, 25, for their prestige date with Argentina.

The Reds striker was advised to rest when he flew to Valencia in the club's jet to consult Dr Ramon Cugat, who saw Torres last season on boss Rafa Benitez's recommendation.

Cugat appears to have assured Torres he would not need surgery if he paced himself properly.

He was back at the Liverpool training ground yesterday and all the signs are he will continue to play through the pain as the Reds seek to halt their disastrous eight-game run with just one win.

Kop skipper Steven Gerrard - another groin strain casualty - also managed light training yesterday after being given a pain-killing injection.

Gerrard's fitness will be closely monitored over the weekend and he too could be patched up and sent out to face Birmingham.

Central defender Daniel Agger, feeling his way back after back surgery, said: "We have just got to look forward to the Birmingham game to get going.

"If we keep playing with the effort we have shown we hope the situation will turn for us."

Carlo Ancelotti Writes Off Liverpool's Title Chances

Carlo Ancelotti claimed yesterday that Liverpool can no longer win the Barclays Premier League title, although such a dismissive attitude will not stop him seeking to follow their example when Chelsea face Manchester United on Sunday.

Chelsea can open a five-point gap at the top of table by beating United at Stamford Bridge and victory would put them 12 points clear of sixth-placed Liverpool, who host Birmingham City on Monday night.

Ancelotti insists that the battle for the title is not yet a two-horse race between Chelsea and United, claiming that Arsenal could win the trophy for the first time in six years, but he does not believe that Liverpool will stay the pace. Liverpool have won only one of their past eight matches in all competitions, a 2-0 victory over United a fortnight ago.

“It’s not just between us and United, I think Arsenal have good possibilities to arrive in first place,” the Chelsea manager said. “We can’t think about Liverpool because they are behind, but Arsenal have a very good team and a very good chance to win.”

For all his doubts about Liverpool’s pedigree, Ancelotti believes their victory over United two weeks ago has shown them the way to beat the champions. The Italian is convinced that United have a weakness in central midfield, which Liverpool exploited at Anfield, and will attempt to do the same by fielding a powerful trio of Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard tomorrow, with Deco in a more advanced role at the top of the diamond. José Bosingwa is Chelsea’s only injury concern, with Branislav Ivanovic likely to fill in at right back.

“Liverpool had a fantastic match, a strong match, and put a lot of pressure on the pitch,” Ancelotti said. “That’s why they won. They didn’t give United any possibility to play like they want to play. It was a good lesson for us because Manchester can suffer when there’s pressure on their midfielders. Every team has a weakness. But I don’t want to play against other teams’ weaknesses; we want to put our own qualities on the pitch.”

Ancelotti claimed that he had yet to decide whether to enter the transfer market in January after the Court of Arbitration for Sport confirmed yesterday that Fifa’s transfer ban for allegedly inducing Gaël Kakuta to sign from Lens, the French club, will be frozen pending their appeal.

The Times revealed in September that Chelsea would seek to delay their hearing to enable them to strengthen their squad in January and it is inconceivable that they will not recruit more players despite Ancelotti’s apparent ambivalence to the idea.

“I’m very happy with this squad,” he said. “I have enough experience not to have problems with old players. I’ve trained some players until they’re in their forties, so these players have a lot of time yet.”

Lucas Will Continue To Improve - Rafa Benitez

The shrill of Franck de Bleeckere’s final whistle had barely subsided when the phone-ins started, looking to apportion blame for Liverpool’s Champions League struggles.

Predictably, the names were the same. Angry of Anfield and Worried of Woolton all knew which players were culpable for stopping Liverpool securing a win in Lyon which would have kept them in control of their European destiny.

It was, of course, easy to see where many were coming from on certain individuals; yet that some felt Lucas should be included in the rogue’s gallery which was being assembled was a source of utter bewilderment to Rafa Benitez.

Though it is true to say Lucas missed a glorious chance to give Liverpool the lead midway through the second half in the Stade Gerland, it was the only blot on an otherwise spotless copybook.

Neat and tidy in possession, diligent in his work and desperate to help the Reds get back on course, Lucas played with a confidence that suggests he is now starting to get fully attuned to the Liverpool way of life.

While it is improbable he will ever enjoy mass popularity on the terraces, that is unlikely to ever cause Benitez to lose sleep, especially if the Brazilian’s form continues to move on upward trajectory, as has been the case for most of this season.

An impressive figure in the win over Manchester United last month – his efforts glossed when he put David Ngog through to score the crucial second – Lucas again showed he is coming of age in France earlier this week.

Lucas will be part of the side that faces Birmingham City at Anfield on Monday evening and Benitez is backing the man he signed from Gremio in 2007 to build on recent efforts with another solid performance.

“When we played Manchester United, some people came up to me and said Lucas was really good,” said Benitez, clearly shocked that some people were surprised his efforts.

“But when you analyse the situation, you will see that he is a young player who came to a big club like ours. It was different to anything he had ever known and he had no other option but to adapt.

“He has also had to get used to the language, the way of life and it was a problem for someone who had spent all their life initially in Brazil. Yet he shows character every single game and every single day when he is training.

“He works hard, he is always trying to improve. Now we are watching him and we can see he is playing well at this moment in time but we know he is going to keep getting better in the future.”

Given the way he trains and conducts himself, it is almost inevitable that Lucas – who is still only 22 yet a regular in Brazil’s national side – will continue to progress and Benitez believes the benefits will be two-fold.

“He is a very good professional and I think that a lot of our fans realise he is someone who gives everything on the pitch for them,” said Benitez.

“His confidence is growing, he’s trying to take responsibility and he is doing everything. I’m pleased for him and pleased for us because the club is the most important thing.”

The most important thing on Monday, clearly, is to get three points to restore a sense of calm again following one of the most difficult and demoralising spells the club has been through during the past decade.

Lisandro’s goal in the dying seconds of the Lyon game invoked the kind of feelings teams usually suffer after losing in cup finals and the flight home from France was, not surprisingly, a very subdued affair.

But having had two days to reflect on their efforts, it has registered with the squad that the performance was much better than anything they had produced in more than a month and maintain such standards will spark a transformation in results.

More than anything, however, Lucas – who next Saturday will play for Brazil against England in Qatar – recognises there is a need to take three points off Birmingham to relieve some of the pressure on Benitez.

“We are in a difficult moment, but we are the ones on the pitch and it is up to us to improve,” Lucas said. “Rafa is a really good manager and now we have to try to win for ourselves, but also for him because he has been really good for us and me in particular.

“He gave me opportunities and he gave me confidence, so now I want to pay him back by playing well, working really hard and performing as he expects me to. Maybe I was low last year when I got booed at Anfield.

“But that is in the past. The supporters, especially the Kop, have been really good with me this season. They are helping me all the time and giving me confidence. I have heard my name being sung and it made me feel really good. It is special when the Kop sings your name, and I appreciate that so much.

“I feel I’m growing in confidence this season. I’m a totally different player to the one who arrived at Liverpool. Now I have a good relationship with them, but the most important thing is about what is best for Liverpool – not what is best for me.”

Rafa Benitez Makes International Friendlies Plea Over Fernando Torres And Steven Gerrard

Rafa Benitez has urged the Spanish and English Football Associations to exercise commonsense when naming their squads for their international friendlies next week.

Spain will play Argentina at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon stadium next Saturday, while on the same evening England face Brazil in a glamour friendly in Qatar.

In normal circumstances, both Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard would figure prominently in those matches but they have both had well documented fitness problems.

That’s why Benitez has spoken with the Spanish FA to explain the situation surrounding Torres and hopes the English FA will be sympathetic with regards Gerrard.

“I have spoken with the Spanish technical director, the fitness coach and (head coach) Vicente Del Bosque about Fernando,” said the Liverpool manager today.

“I have explained the situation and they know he is not fit at this moment and he needs to work hard with the physios for a while. It’s a similar situation with Steven.

“When you have a player who has only been working with the physios and after there is an international break, it makes no sense to call these players when they are not fit.

“At this moment, I think both will be in a difficult situation (physically) for the next two weeks and the Spanish know this.”

Torres trained at Melwood this morning along with the rest of the squad ahead of Monday’s home clash with Birmingham following his whistle stop visit to Valencia.

The Reds sought a second opinion on his ‘sportsman’s hernia’ on Thursday and Benitez revealed that the injury which has troubled for a month has started to improve gradually.

“He is a little bit better than he was before but he still has some problems and is working with the physios,” said Benitez. “Can he play against Birmingham? We will see. We have to manage the situation.

“The experience I have with similar problems is to keep going and see how he reacts. Some players can keep going for the whole season, others need to stop and start again. Torres has a positive mentality and wants to play for the team.

“I was really surprised with a lot of the critics after some games, as you could see the player was not 100 per cent fit. When will we decide if we carry on or we have to stop? Again, it depends on the reaction of the players.

“At this moment he is playing and trying to do his best. He is improving. He was much better after Fulham than he was after Manchester United. And he was much better after Lyon than he was after Fulham.”

Gerrard, though, is not at Torres’ level and, having only played for 25 minutes in the last four weeks, is desperately short of match fitness.

“Stevie is different because he hasn’t trained with the team for 15 days,” said Benitez. “He is working with the physios but, clearly, he is not fully fit and needs time.”

Benitez, however, expects have some more bodies back for the Birmingham game and is hoping they will help secure three priceless points.

“They have got a good manager and they know what it means to play in the Premier League,” said Benitez. “They are a good team and they will have a good season but we hope that it is going to be after Monday night.”

Glen Johnson Hoping Liverpool FC's Luck Will Turn

Defender Glen Johnson may be struggling to be fit for Liverpool’s home clash with Birmingham on Monday but he is convinced he is part of a squad good enough to turn around recent disastrous form.

The England man is still a major doubt with a calf injury that kept him out of the midweek Champions League draw in Lyon, and he is not expected to be fit to face the midlanders.

But he maintains the current Liverpool squad can still win major honours despite an erratic start to the season.

Johnson said: “People keep talking about us losing the title, they were doing it after we lost the first game of the season.

“We have got a fantastic group of players here. Everyone has been disappointed with the performances and results because we’ve got enough about us to do a lot better.

“There has always been a belief that we are equipped to beat any team we face but a lot has gone against us, especially luck, and it has cost us games.”

Liverpool will play a waiting game with the fitness of a string of top stars, including Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, as they prepare for Monday’s match.

Striker Torres returned to the club’s Melwood training ground yesterday after his whistle-stop trip to Valencia.

The Spaniard had sought a second opinion on his groin injury from specialist Ramon Cugat, who he has worked with before, and is also favoured by manager Rafael Benitez from his time at Valencia.

Spanish sources suggest Torres has been told to rest for three weeks, but Liverpool’s top scorer is still being considered for Monday’s match.

Torres is believed not to want to take that course of action, and has been in light training and will have further careful sessions over the weekend before a decision is made about his availability to face Birmingham.

Gerrard, with a lesser groin problem than Torres, has had another pain killing injection this week and also done some light training. He will continue in the same vein this weekend, when Benitez will also consider his fitness levels.

Liverpool also have Albert Riera (hamstring), Fabio Aurelio (calf) and Martin Skrtel (virus) likely to be back in action.

It is a match Liverpool must win if they are to continue their fight for what realistically is a top-four finish, with the title seemingly out of reach.

Benitez will be without the suspended Jamie Carragher and Philipp Degen for the clash with Birmingham.