Thursday, November 12, 2009

Five Ways For Rafael Benítez To Fix Liverpool

The international break means that Rafael Benítez has ten days to work out what is going wrong for his underperforming team.

Eleven points behind Chelsea in the Barclays Premier League and facing elimination from the Champions League, the Liverpool manager has a lot on his plate. The Times has identified five things he must do to get their season back on track.

Perform a balancing act
Last summer, Louis van Gaal, the Bayern Munich coach, was musing on the Premier League managers whom he admires most. “Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafael Benítez have their own style and implement their ideas on the pitch,” the Dutchman said. “You can see the influence of the coach in the way their teams play.

“It’s not easy to get top players to play the way you want them to. I’m not very entertained by his defensive style, but I admire how Benítez makes his mark on the club. You can see the team play as he thinks they should.”

What Van Gaal makes of Liverpool now is anyone’s guess.

The conservatism that once characterised Benítez’s teams has been sacrificed. Liverpool carry a much greater attacking threat thanks to the thrusts of Glen Johnson, in particular, but the number of goals they have conceded in 18 games this season — 25 — indicates that the team’s balance is not what it should be.

Hold a summit meeting with the club’s medical staff
Yossi Benayoun and Albert Riera are the latest players to suffer muscle injuries. Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Fábio Aurélio, Andrea Dossena, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres have had similar problems this season.

Unless the injuries are brought under control, the chances of Liverpool being able to close the gap on the league leaders will be minimised. One of the most telling statistics of the campaign is that, approaching mid-November, Benítez has yet to be in a position to field his strongest team.

Injuries are part and parcel of the game and every team has to cope with them, but that Liverpool are suffering from so many different muscle strains has to be a concern. A solution needs to be found.

Get the players’ heads right (part 1)
After Monday’s draw with Birmingham City, Riera admitted that there could be a psychological element to Liverpool’s travails. “Our problem could be mental,” the Spain winger said. “Because we — I don’t like saying this — are untidy. I don’t like to use this word, but it’s true we are not used to being in this position.”

There is undoubtedly a pressure that comes with being a Liverpool player. After 19 years without a league title, a couple of defeats is all it takes for crisis talk to emerge and at times in recent seasons such anxiety has been all too evident, particularly when they play at Anfield.

Benítez has often spoken of the need to manage such expectations, but it is questionable whether some, if not all, of his players have the mentality to be able to do this. A sports psychiatrist could be the pressure valve that the Liverpool manager requires.

Get the players’ heads right (part 2)
The furore about the zonal marking system has not helped Liverpool’s biggest problem when it comes to set-pieces: in defence and attack, they simply are not good in the air.

Having lost Sami Hyypia, Peter Crouch and Mohamed Sissoko, three towering presences, in recent seasons, they have become much more susceptible to crosses. Birmingham’s equaliser on Monday was a case in point, with Liverpool losing three headers before the ball ended up in their net.

Liverpool’s players are found wanting when it comes to attacking the ball and this weakness is costing them at both ends of the pitch. Benítez may not be able to make his squad any taller, but training-ground drills could help them to become more aggressive in the air.

Consider dropping the previously undroppable
Having been converted to a right-sided midfield player, Dirk Kuyt has earned his place as a regular starter thanks to a series of consistently diligent displays, not to mention a knack of coming up with crucial goals.

Last season he created more goals than any other out-and-out wide player in the country and finished joint sixth in the Premier League goalscoring charts. This time around, though, the Dutchman is struggling for form and far too many of Liverpool’s attacks are breaking down at his feet.

The 29-year-old’s days as an automatic starter may be numbered. Kuyt still has a role to play owing to his faultless attitude and commitment to the cause, but should he continue to struggle, it may be that he will have to become more of a squad player.

Liverpool Defender Emiliano Insua Dreaming Of World Cup Glory With Argentina

Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua is eyeing a place in the Argentina squad for next summer's World Cup.

The 20-year-old won his first cap in the recent last-gasp victory over Peru. He is keen to hang on to his place in the team after enjoying a lengthy run in his club side.

"It was very special to play because it was a crucial time for my country," he told BBC Merseyside.

"I will never forget that I helped them to qualify for the World Cup, but I know I have to keep working hard for Liverpool first, then my country.

"It's been a very good season for me, I've played 16 games already, but I want to play more.

"I always want more, but the only thing I can do is keep working hard and look to the future.

"For every player, to play for your country is really special and I want to play in South Africa next year, but Liverpool comes first and if I play well for my club, then I hope that more games for Argentina will follow."

Meanwhile, the youngster feels that bad luck is partly to blame for Liverpool's current poor form.

"We haven't had much luck in recent games," he added.

"In the Champions League we conceded two late goals against Lyon, and in the Premier League we've conceded too many goals from set-pieces despite controlling most games.

"I think we have enough time to change things around and finish the season as high as possible.

"We just have to keep working hard and I'm sure that everything will change."

Ian Rush: Liverpool FC’s Champions League Destiny Will Be Shaped By Fiorentina Showdown

Many are expecting Liverpool’s Champions League fate to be decided a fortnight today but I’m convinced it will boil down to the last game against Fiorentina.

I can see Lyon getting a result in Florence and the Reds seeing off Debrecen to set things up for a Match Day Six showdown at Anfield.

When you think how composed and controlled Liverpool was in Lyon, it is hard to comprehend that they are on the verge of elimination.

If they do go out, though, they will look back with great frustration about the performances at home to Lyon and in Florence.

Lisandro’s last minute goal for the French side summed up how this tournament has gone for us this year and could ultimately end our ambitions.

Should that be the case, Rafa Benitez and his players will have to focus on the job of making sure they are in the Champions League once again next season.

Liverpool: That's Why We Signed Him

When Liverpool paid Portsmouth £18m for Glen Johnson more than a few eyebrows were raised and plenty of those raised were from us Reds fans. The more Johnson plays for Liverpool though the more you can see that he is becoming worth every penny that we paid for him as he adds a whole new dimension to the Reds side.

The England internationals inclusion in Fabio Capello's squad for the match against Brazil seemed strange given the fact that Johnson was injured and had missed our recent matches so returning against Birmingham seemed unlikely. The defender did return though and he showed exactly what we'd been missing in his absence as just about everything that was good about Liverpool against Birmingham came down the right side, with most of this coming through Johnson who tormented the Birmingham defence. Phillip Degen had done fairly well filling in for him but he's not the player that Johnson is really is he.

Plenty of Portsmouth fans came on onto VL when we were rumoured to be chasing their star player saying how good he was, with a number of us not seeming to appreciate this. After we signed him they returned again to VL saying how much they'd miss him and how well they thought he'd do for us and I think they are being proven right. I knew he was good from seeing him on television playing for Portsmouth and England but he's certainly better than I was expecting. He's a defender first and an attacking force second but his defending is fairly good as well, certainly better than I remembered seeing.

Keep up the good work Glen, even though the MOTM poll is saying David Ngog was the Man of the Match against Birmingham it was quite obviously you (again).

Rafa To Move In For Cole

Rafa Benitez will try to solve his Liverpool striker crisis with a £12m move for Carlton Cole.

West Ham may be forced to sell their leading target man in the January transfer window due to a cash crisis at Upton Park.

So Benitez is looking to take advantage with a move for the 26-year-old.

Cole has seen his profile soar after forcing his way into Fabio Capello’s England squad.

Kop boss Benitez is desperate to turn his club’s season around. Liverpool has won only one of their last nine games in all competitions as their season has disintegrated.

They are currently 11 points behind leaders Chelsea after their draw with Birmingham, and face an early exit from the Champions League.

Fernando Torres is out for another three weeks at least with his groin problem. Liverpool has struggled without their main striker as David Ngog and Ryan Babel has proved disappointing back-up.

Forced Hammers boss Gianfranco Zola will do everything he can to stop the move. But he might be forced to let Cole go as the club’s Icelandic owners aim to raise funds in January.

Liverpool are not exactly flush themselves as owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks plan to raise extra investment to help service loans.

They could raise some cash through the sale of Javier Mascherano. The Argentine midfielder is believed to have agreed terms with Spanish and European champions Barcelona, but Liverpool would want a massive £36m.

Liverpool FC Have Psychological Problem, Says Albert Riera

Albert Riera admits Liverpool FC are suffering from a mental block as they struggle to overcome their poor run of form and a crippling injury list.

The 2-2 draw with Birmingham City on Monday means the Anfield outfit has won only one of their last nine games to fall 11 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea.

Rafael Benitez’s side is also three points off the Champions League qualification places behind Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and Manchester City.

While Steven Gerrard marked his return to fitness with the equaliser against Birmingham, Liverpool entered this week’s international break grappling another injury crisis.

Riera and Yossi Benayoun hobbled off with hamstring problems and are today expected to discover the extent of the damage, with Liverpool fearing the midfield pair could be out for up to a month.

Daniel Agger aggravated a back problem that has forced him to withdraw from Denmark’s forthcoming friendlies against South Korea and the United States.

And Fernando Torres missed the game after beginning a three-week course of rehabilitation aimed at ensuring he does not require an operation on a niggling groin injury.

It means the striker is already a major doubt for the visit of Manchester City on Saturday week, the Champions League clash in Hungary against Debrecen four days later and the Goodison derby on November 29.

And Riera said: “We need everybody, not just on the pitch but off it, too, helping each other to be stronger because now our problem could be mental, because we – I don’t like saying this – are untidy,”

“I don’t like to use this word, but it’s true we are not used to being in this position.

“We are in a difficult moment but I think we still have plenty of time and we have to be calm. The first thing is that we want to win every single game, every set of three points and be at the top of the table but at the moment we have to stick together.

“In games like against Birmingham you could see we were trying to do everything, playing wide, between the lines, always going forward, defending with two centre-backs only, full-backs going forward, and we were trying to do all we could to win the game.

“But the other team, with one free-kick and one shot from a long way out, it’s really unlucky because we had a lot of opportunities to kill the game before as well.

“This year, we are really unlucky. I don’t like saying that either, because it’s not only bad luck in football, but it’s true we are trying to change this position and whatever we do is not working.”

Of his injury, the winger said: “It is the same as before, the same feeling, so we will see in the scan but if it’s like the other one it will be three or four weeks.”

Daniel Agger's Back Injury Still Giving Liverpool Manager Rafa Benitez Cause For Concern

Liverpool will work feverishly during the international break to find a solution to Daniel Agger's on-going back problem.

The Denmark international played in last week's Champions League 1-1 draw in Lyon, and also in Monday's stalemate with Birmingham.

But boss Rafa Benitez revealed his concerns about the player's injury problem that has dogged him all season and needed an operation during the summer.

After the 2-2 draw with Birmingham, Benitez talked of the persistent problems facing Fernando Torres and new hamstring injuries for Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun, but it was the worrying performance of Agger that seemed to concern him most.

He said: 'Daniel has more problems with his back, it is a concern for us.'

So much so that Agger has withdrawn from Denmark's friendlies during the international break against South Korea and the USA - his country having already qualified for the World Cup finals.

Benitez's concerns for Agger are explained because he is desperately needed for the next two Barclays Premier League matches against Manchester City and Everton.

Fellow defender Jamie Carragher will be completing his three-match suspension and misses both of those key matches.

If Agger is not fit, Benitez has only a fledgling partnership of Martin Skrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos in central defence for those two vital games.

The pairing looked anything but secure in their one game together, the Carling Cup defeat at Arsenal.

Benitez said: 'We thought that Agger would be OK to play against Birmingham, but you could see he was not right, his back was giving him problems again.'

Liverpool will spend the international break nursing Torres and Steven Gerrard back to fitness as they struggle with groin problems.

Benitez would not speculate on whether Torres will be fit to face Manchester City on November 21, suggesting: 'He is having treatment that could keep him out for two or three weeks. Gerrard seems OK, we will be careful with him.'

Both players were omitted from the Spain and England national squads, respectively, for weekend internationals.

Glen Johnson will also look to recover fitness after he pulled out of England's squad to face Brazil.

That will aid Benitez's cause with summer signing Alberto Aquilani finally looking set for an extended run in the side after making his Anfield debut as a second-half substitute against the Blues.

Benitez said: 'The plus points are that Johnson was back and playing well, while Aquilani finally got a chance to play at Anfield.

'It was a difficult time for him to come on, with us battling for the third goal against a packed defence.

'There were negatives with new injuries, but the positives are that we had two players making an impact.'

Javier Mascherano has been called up for Argentina's friendly with Spain on Saturday, but there is no place in Diego Maradona's squad for Emiliano Insua.

Dossena Edging Closer To Exit

Andrea Dossena appears to be edging closer to a move to Napoli after his agent suggested that Liverpool should sell in January.

The Italy defender was close to a switch to Stadio San Paolo in the summer, but the deal broke down amidst suggestions that personal terms could not be agreed.

Dossena's representative, Federico Pastorello, claims wages were not the only stumbling block and that Liverpool did not want to take a substantial financial loss.

The Reds paid Udinese £7million for the left-back in July 2008 and are thought to be keen to regain as much of that fee as possible.

But, with former Treviso player Dossena failing to earn a place in Rafa Benitez's first team, Pastorello believes it is only fair to sell.

Pastorello told Radio Kiss Kiss: "The negotiations in August were real, but the problem was not only the salary.

"Liverpool, in fact, didn't give us the green light to deal with Napoli. The two clubs were not finally agreed.

"What about January? He has played less this year and it is clear that Liverpool have to move him. If Napoli want Dossena, they know how."

Napoli sports director Riccardo Bigon told Radio Marte on Tuesday: "I like Andrea Dossena since he played in Treviso."

He added: "It's early to say names and we do not yet have a problem on the left side thanks to (Jesus) Datolo and (Salvatore) Aronica."

Liverpool's Injured Glen Johnson Pulls Out Of England Squad

Glen Johnson has pulled out of the England squad to face Brazil on Saturday in Doha after picking up a slight injury in Liverpool's 2-2 draw against Birmingham City at Anfield on Monday night.

The 25-year-old played the full 90 minutes of the Premier League game before joining up with his England team-mates, where he underwent a routine recovery session while the rest of the squad trained at London Colney.

It was during this session that his knock became apparent and he will now return to his club for treatment, with the manager, Fabio Capello, at this stage not planning to call up another player for the trip to Qatar to face Dunga's team.

It leaves Wes Brown as the only right-back remaining, although James Milner or Shaun Wright-Phillips could drop back from midfield.

David Beckham is unavailable due to Major League Soccer commitments in the US but Capello's other 22 players from his original squad all trained ahead of the friendly against the South Americans in Doha.

England's fitness coach, Massimo Neri, led the warm-up for the players, then Robert Green, Ben Foster and Joe Hart trained separately with the goalkeeper coach, Franco Tancredi.

With Portsmouth's David James not in the squad due to injury, Green could be in line for a return to the starting XI after starting six consecutive matches before his dismissal against Ukraine, which led to Foster's introduction for the Belarus qualifier.

Reds Help Launch Premier League 4 Sport

Emiliano Insua lent his support as Liverpool and Everton launched the Premier League 4 Sport initiative in the city on Tuesday afternoon.

The Argentina international was joined by Blues defender Sylvain Distin at the event at the Greenbank Sports Academy.

The Premier League 4 Sport scheme aims to introduce four different Olympic sports to youngsters in the region - volleyball, judo, table tennis and badminton.

The initiative hopes to curb the drop-off in young people's participation in sports after leaving secondary school, as well as offering five hours of activities to youngsters as part of the government's 2012 legacy plans.

And Insua and Distin were both quick to get into the spirit of the event, trying their hands at each of the four sports - including judo.

"I think it's important for young people to try different sports when they can," the Reds' No.22 told us.

"When I was younger I used to play in a lot of different sports, and I liked volleyball a lot.

"I'm always keen to try different sports and I enjoy playing table tennis at Melwood after training sometimes.

"It's been good to come along today and play against the kids in some of the sports. It's really important for them to get involved and it's special for me to be able to help out."

Liverpool FC Community Sports Officer Stephen Park added: "Today's event is a good opportunity for the kids to try their hand at the different sports and also help raise the profile of the Premier League's 4 Sport programme. Having the players come along helps us to do that.

"Getting kids to play sports such as football, basketball and cricket might not be too difficult, but badminton, judo, volleyball and table tennis are sports they may tend not to play, so it's good to give them an opportunity to sample them.

"There's a huge drop-off rate in kids joining sports clubs outside of school, so we want to utilise the power of Liverpool and Everton to try and get the kids in and address this.

"But it's also an opportunity to give the kids something to do and be part of something to do with Liverpool and Everton."

With the programme, the Premier League hope to establish a new, vibrant and modern network of young people focused sports clubs which are attractive to, and accessible for, a wide audience of young people.

These 'satellite' clubs will help more young people progress into community sport. The Premier League 4 Sport model will define how schools can reach out to local community sports clubs, and will enable community sports clubs to reach out more effectively towards schools.

Reds PR manager Brian Hall said: "In a city like ours, football is, without any shadow of a doubt, the dominant sport.

"But not everybody is into football or interested in playing it, so why not encourage young people to take an active part in other sports?

"You don't have to play the sport seriously, it just has to be enjoyable. There are also social aspects to this and it promotes a healthier lifestyle.

"By using the brand names and bringing along first-team players, it really does help promote the whole concept of Premier League 4 Sports."

Liverpool FC Head of Community Bill Bygroves admits he has been delighted to work alongside on the pitch rivals Everton in helping to launch the initiative.

"It's vitally important for Liverpool Football Club to be involved in initiatives such as this," he said.

"In our city, where it is very competitive between the two clubs, it's good to remind people that we want to keep the passion, but lose the poison.

"We want to work together in community activities where we can, to encourage young people to get involved in all sorts of different activities."

Everton's Jackie Twort added: "It's really important for kids to have the opportunity to try something different, particularly in Liverpool where the dominant sport is football. This programme is definitely the way forward."