Sunday, November 29, 2009

Match Preview: Everton vs. LiverpooL

Everton will be aiming to make amends for Wednesday’s horror-show at Hull City when they play host to an equally out-of-sorts Liverpool in the latest edition of the Merseyside derby this weekend.

The Toffees came out on the wrong end of a five-goal thriller at the KC Stadium, where they allowed their relegation-threatened hosts to go three goals clear within the first half-hour before fighting back in the second period to make it 3-2.

That result, hot on the heels of last Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Manchester United, leaves David Moyes’ men languishing in the bottom half of the table. But while news of their faltering relocation plans has taken the focus off Everton's on-field form, their struggling arch-rivals have had nowhere to hide.

The Reds’ stuttering campaign took a turn for the worse on Tuesday despite their win at Debrecen, as Fiorentina’s victory over Olympique Lyonnais saw the Anfield giants bundled out of the Champions League in the group phase.

It is the first time in Rafael Benitez’s reign that Liverpool have failed to reach the last 16 on Europe’s elite stage. They will now have to settle for a run in the Europa League, where they may find themselves from the off next term if their domestic form doesn’t pick up soon.

Last weekend’s draw with Manchester City made it three Premier League games on the bounce without a win, leaving them seventh in the standings – some 13 points behind leaders Chelsea, and five behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

And yet, from all outward appearances, morale remains high at Melwood, and Sunday’s short trip to Goodison Park provides an ideal opportunity to jump straight back on the horse – or at least get a foot in the stirrups.



Nov 25 Hull City 3-2 Everton
Nov 21 Manchester United 3-0 Everton
Nov 8 West Ham United 1-2 Liverpool
Nov 5 Everton 0-2 Benfica (Europa League)
Oct 31 Everton 1-1 Aston Villa


Nov 24 Debrecen 0-1 Liverpool (Champions League)
Nov 21 Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City
Nov 9 Liverpool 2-2 Birmingham City
Nov 4 Olympique Lyonnais 1-1 Liverpool (Champions League)
Oct 31 Fulham 3-1 Liverpool



The home side will be boosted by the return of both Marouane Fellaini and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov from suspension – a big relief for the manager, given how many of his stars currently reside in the treatment room.

Leon Osman, Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta all remain sidelined, as do Phil Jagielka and the forward duo of Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan.

Young gun Jack Rodwell is the latest concern, after the England Under-21 star hobbled off in the second half against Hull.

Last starting XI (vs. Hull City): Howard, Neill, Yobo, Distin, Baines, Cahill, Rodwell, Heitinga, Pienaar, Saha, Yakubu.


Star striker Fernando Torres missed the midweek trip to Hungary and faces a race against time to get up to speed by Sunday, meaning the ever-improving David Ngog remains on standby.

Yossi Benayoun may be available to start as he nears full fitness after a hamstring problem, while Albert Riera is still out of action.

Alberto Aquilani has an outside chance of making his first Premier League start, but boss Benitez’s cautious handling of the Italian thus far suggests that another cameo from the bench is the best that can be hoped for.

Last starting XI (vs. Debrecen): Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Insua, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard, Aurelio, Ngog.


Everton – Louis Saha

The Frenchman has put his fitness problems behind him and is reminding everyone why Manchester United spent nearly £13 million on him back in 2004. A tally of eight goals in 12 outings puts the 31-year-old among the Premier League’s form forwards, and he would surely love to knock in another against an old enemy.

Liverpool – Steven Gerrard

It is in games like these that the Kop look to their ‘Captain Fantastic’ to shine. The lifelong Red has yet to recapture his usual verve since returning from injury, but what better time to step up than now?

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Taking Extra Caution With Alberto Aquilani

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is waiting patiently for the right moment until he gives summer signing Alberto Aquilani his full debut in Liverpool colours.

"The player is fit," declared Benitez to the Liverpool Daily Post.

"He is training. Match fitness is something you can improve by playing games, so why have I not been playing him? Because the games are so close that if you put a player on the pitch who is not physically ready [then] maybe he cannot settle down in time.

Benitez has limited Aquilani's contributions, even from the bench given the nature of Liverpool's recent encounters whereby the team has rarely enjoyed a comfortable winning margin.

"If it is 1-0 like it was the other day and they are attacking a bit more and you changed Lucas, Gerrard or Mascherano to play him, maybe you are making a mistake because you will lose the control.

"If we were winning 3-0 in the first half of every game he would be playing because it would be easier for him to settle down.

The ever-defiant Benitez maintains he would still sign the Italian even if he knew the player would take three months to fully recover from injury.

He added: "I’d still have signed him if I’d known that. We were bringing in a player with quality for five years. If he had been fully fit maybe he could have cost £25-30m.

Aquilani is available for selection for this week's Merseyside derby, but the Spanish tactician is insistent on wrapping his player in cotton wool; he isn't keen on the fragile Italian taking part in the tenacious Everton-Liverpool encounter just yet.

He continued: "The derby game is a physical one and everyone knows that when you are not fully fit they can be difficult to manage so you have to think about what’s best for the player and the best for the team.

"I was talking with Alberto and he understands. He is clever and he knows that he hasn’t played for months so he has to be ready and fully fit if he is to be able to play at the level that he can play in England. He knows that it is a matter of time."

Given Aquilani's rather slow start to life at Anfield, Rafa still feels the need to remind Kopites of his summer acquisition's qualities, and that he is the perfect player to fill Xabi Alonso's boots.

"He has quality, he is very clever, his touch is very good, he has mobility, he is dynamic and the final pass is very good," he said.

"We were looking for someone with these qualities.

He concluded: "He is a different kind of player to the ones that we have now because he can pass and move, pass and move, support and he can give the final pass."

Rafa Benitez: I'll Finish The Job At Liverpool FC

Rafa Benitez has come out fighting ahead of tomorrow’s Merseyside derby as he vowed to stay at Liverpool FC and help prove their doubters wrong.

And the Spaniard remains “100% convinced” the Anfield outfit will finish in the top four and regain their place among Europe’s elite.

Benitez made the impassioned speech ahead of the 212th Merseyside derby at Everton with Liverpool still coming to terms with their Champions League exit in midweek.

It increased the pressure on the beleaguered Anfield manager, with his team already out of the Carling Cup and a lowly seventh in the Premier League table, a massive 13 points behind leaders Chelsea.

With Steven Gerrard calling for unity, both Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina have since publicly backed their manager.

And Benitez has underlined his determination to continue in the role by revealing he turned down significant offers from other clubs – clearly intimating one was Real Madrid – before signing a five-year deal at Anfield earlier this year.

“When I decided to stay here, I knew that we could be facing a difficult season,” he said. “I was aware that a lot of things could happen and the competition stronger. But I decided to stay because I wanted to.

“When Real Madrid played Liverpool in the 1981 European Cup Final, I was a Real Madrid player, a fan. I decided to stay here after years of receiving offers, listening to big clubs, top sides, offering me more money, and I decided to stay here because I want the best for this club.

“I signed a five-year contract because of my commitment to the fans and the club, the staff and the players. I will keep working hard and I will keep winning games for this club and hopefully in five years’ time we can be talking about an extension to my contract.

“I understand the fans. I understand if some of them are disappointed because we want to win. I had massive offers from different clubs, but I decided to stay. I will fight and I will try to do my best every single game.

“When I signed my new contract I had offers from other clubs for more money, and a lot more money to spend in the transfer market. But I decided to stay because I felt we had a very good team. We will prove this during the rest of the season.”

Fernando Torres will have a fitness test today on his groin problem, with only Ryan Babel (ankle) definitely ruled out tomorrow.

And as the injury list starts to finally clear, Benitez believes his team can kick-start their campaign with a third successive league victory at Everton.

“We will win two or three games in a row and everything will be different,” said the Spaniard. “And I am 100% convinced that we will finish in the top four.

“We have plenty of room for improvement. Why? Because we are not playing with Gerrard, Torres, (Albert) Riera or Yossi (Benayoun).”

Peter Beardsley Knows Value Of Merseyside Derby Victory Having Played For Liverpool And Everton

Peter Beardsley is a rarity in Merseyside derby history.

As one of just two players alongside David Johnson to score the winner for Liverpool and Everton against the other, he is also one of a very select few still to be held in high esteem by both sets of fans.

If Beardsley was to be presented on the pitch at half-time on Sunday he would probably get a warm reception from all four corners of Goodison Park.

“I’m not sure about that,” he says. “I appreciate the thought but it would more likely be a minute’s silence!”

His four years with Liverpool compared to just two at Everton means he will be leaning toward a Red victory tomorrow.

“Simply because I won trophies with Liverpool,” he explains.

“But that’s not to take anything from Everton. Howard Kendall was one of the best managers I ever worked with.

“Although by the time I arrived Everton weren’t the team that they’d been under Howard in the mid-80s, he and Colin Harvey were absolutely sensational. Their knowledge of the game was second to none. When I left Liverpool people said it would be all downhill but Everton proved otherwise. The club and the fans were absolutely top class with me.”

They say form goes out the window in the derby. Fans of both a Red and Blue persuasion will be hoping that’s the case on Sunday.

Liverpool’s record of two wins from 11 games is marginally better than Everton’s one win in 10, while both teams have accrued just five league points each from the last possible 18.

Beardsley agrees there is more than just local bragging rights at stake this weekend.

“Both teams have struggled to find any form or consistency this season, but I still believe there are a good few teams that would swap places with Everton in the table right now.

“They’ve become much stronger under David Moyes.

“I also fully expect Liverpool to be in the top four come the end of the season. Alberto Aquilani is a top player. He showed flashes of what he is capable of in the Carling Cup against Arsenal. Once he’s match fit I think he will make a difference.

“Then there’s Fernando Torres. He can win games on his own and could be key to Liverpool’s chances on Sunday if he’s available.”

Injuries have been a major factor for both clubs this season.

While Rafael Benitez will hand a late fitness test to Torres ahead of the short trip to Goodison, Moyes has greater concerns.

Steven Pienaar returned for the 3-2 defeat at Hull in midweek but the Blues are still without key men Mikel Arteta, Phil Neville and Phil Jagielka, plus Louis Saha and Jack Rodwell could also be the subject of late fitness tests.

“It’s been a massive problem for both manager’s this season,” says Beardsley.

“When you lose players like that, or in Liverpool’s case Gerrard and Torres, you’re not going to be the same team.

“If Manchester United were to suddenly lose Wayne Rooney I doubt very much if they’d be the same side.

“A win for either will provide great confidence moving forward. Everton have lost too many games of late whereas Liverpool seem to take one step forward and two steps back. They appear to have broken the hoodoo of struggling against the smaller clubs though. Even the games they’ve lost have come against some good sides.

“They both need a win though and there is no better game than a derby to do that.”

With a Premier League record of 17 red cards in this fixture, the Merseyside derby is littered with villains.

It often throws up heroes too, a feeling Beardsley has experienced on both sides of Stanley Park.

“I managed to score the winner for both Liverpool and then later Everton at Goodison,” recalls Beardsley, who figured in 14 derbies for Liverpool, facing Everton more times for the Reds than any other club. “When I scored against Liverpool in a 2-1 win there (in 1992) it was at the same end where I’d got past Martin Keown to score two for Liverpool in a 3-2 win a few years earlier. It’s a great feeling to score in a derby. Looking back it’s those moments in your career that are so special.”

Javier Mascherano Is Desperate To Beat The Blues At Goodison

It’s often been said that the fizz and fervour of the Merseyside derby has been diluted in recent years due to the influx of so many foreign players.

The suggestion is that because they were brought up in places where the first question visitors get asked is not ‘are you Red or Blue?’ they will never fully appreciate what it means to win or lose one of these local squabbles.

Put that theory to Javier Mascherano, though, and it’s clear to see from the way he bristles that the opposite is true; he may be from Argentina but his desire for Liverpool to beat Everton tomorrow is as strong as those Reds who will congregate in the Bullens Road.

Smarting after an inglorious exit from the Champions League on Tuesday, Mascherano and his colleagues are in need of a boost, having lurched from one low to another during a ruinous autumn.

So what better way to beat the blues is there than beating the Blues?

“This is the perfect game for us to try and catch a bit more confidence,” said Liverpool’s midfield tiger, a player destined to thrive in the hurly-burly of contest.

“We know how important it is for us in terms of our position in the league and for our supporters.”

David Moyes and his players may revel in their role as the neighbours from hell, and they will be just as determined to put their own recent misery behind them with a repeat of the display that enabled them to knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup in February.

Mascherano, however, does not expect that game, which was settled by a solitary Dan Gosling goal in extra time, to have any bearing on the outcome of the latest instalment of a fixture that neither side can afford to lose.

He might have cut a dejected figure the last time he slipped out the Goodison Park exit door, but Mascherano has no intention of being on the receiving end of a similar scoreline this weekend.

Aware that Liverpool cannot afford to squander many more points if they are to keep tabs on the sides who are jostling for a Champions League spot, Mascherano – whose form has been outstanding in the last month – is ready to carry the fight to Everton.

Three points, of course, are only on offer to the winners, but the suspicion remains that whichever side is victorious will get the kind of boost money cannot buy, while the vanquished will be subjected to intense scrutiny. Given they have had every move dissected during a run of two wins in 11 games, Mascherano is tired of having to bat off questions about the state of Liverpool’s health and is determined to get people talking about Rafa Benitez’s men for the right reasons.

“If we could go to Goodison and win, it would give everyone such a massive lift,” said Mascherano.

“It’s so disappointing to have gone out of the Champions League, but there is still a lot to play for.

“We have the FA Cup, and we want to try and win the Europa League.

“We want to make sure we get back into the Champions League again, too.

“The last time we went to Goodison, was very disappointing, one of our worst games of last season. But this is a completely different story. We are absolutely desperate to win for our supporters.

“We only have to remember what we did to Everton when we played them in the league (and Fernando Torres scored twice).

“The FA Cup defeat is just a statistic now, it will have no bearing. We know how special it would be to win at Goodison Park.

“We all want that feeling again. We need to win to get three points and get back towards the top of the table again, where we expect to be.

“We know we haven’t played well so far. This is one of the most special games you can be involved in as a Liverpool player.

“Games against Everton and Manchester United are the ones you want to win most for the fans, you only have to see the way they celebrate. And we have to play with same passion and intensity.

“If we can play like we did against Manchester United, with the same control and same determination, I think it will be a very good afternoon for the supporters. We will be doing everything we can to win for them.”

There have been occasions in the past – notably at Old Trafford in March 2008 – when Mascherano’s emotions have got the better of him such has been his determination to impress, and Benitez has made a point of telling his squad to keep cool.

Bone-shuddering tackles are inevitable in the same way the opening pass of play is likely to resemble a pinball board, but Benitez is hoping a serene, composed approach – if that is possible – will enable his players and supporters to enjoy a “sunny Monday”.

“These games are similar every year,” the manager pointed out. “A lot of passion in the stands and also on the pitch. You have to play a physical game and you have to play well. It will be a high tempo with direct play and you will need to win second balls.

“Hopefully it’ll be good for the fans, especially our fans.

“It’s an important game for everyone in the city but, at the end of the day, it’s three points in a crucial time for everyone. We need this passion but we also need to do the right things.”

Lucas Faces Up To Detractors

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva believes he will never win over all of his detractors as he prepares himself for another daunting challenge in the 212th Merseyside derby.

Last season the Brazilian was sent off at Everton in an FA Cup replay defeat, a run of three league and cup games in 17 days between the two clubs in which Liverpool failed to achieve a victory.

It was not the best of times for the 22-year-old as he suffered abuse and criticism from all quarters.

But manager Rafael Benitez has stood by him, and in a season that has seen Liverpool lurch from one crisis to another, Lucas has established himself in the side and started to win grudging praise from his critics.

Lucas says: "I am trying to improve all the time and I am feeling good on the pitch. I have improved a lot since last season and hopefully I will keep going.

"But things might always be more difficult for me at Liverpool, to be honest, but I am trying to prove I can do well for myself and my team-mates. The real supporters of Liverpool know this and support me a lot."

Lucas has been linked with a possible move away from Anfield in the next transfer window, but Benitez has constantly praised the youngster's attitude and effort and intends to persevere with a player who is expected to be in Brazil's squad for the summer World Cup finals in South Africa.

That is a measure of his improvement, and the player adds: "When I came to Liverpool I came with a challenge of winning titles and making history for the club. Hopefully I can still do that.

"I am playing almost every game now. I have a good link with Javier Mascherano. I understand the way he plays and he helps me a lot. I think it's good for the team that we can keep the balance."

Liverpool find themselves facing their local rivals after plunging out of the Champions League despite the scrappy 1-0 group E victory in Hungary against Debrecen.

That leaves Lucas and co facing life - with Everton - in the Europa League.

He went on: "We have to move on. We did not do enough to get to the next stage of the Champions League, and so now we have to concentrate on the Europa League and getting into a better position domestically. "We will try to win the Europa League because it is still an important competition. Some good teams play in it but we will be trying to get a title for ourselves."

But first Liverpool need to re-assert themselves in the Premier League as the pressure to oust them from the big four grows.

Benitez said: "We know that three points is crucial for everyone considering the position both clubs find themselves in.

"I will try to send the players out with the right message, to be calm, to do our jobs properly and not to be overcome just by passion, we have to do the right things regardless of the opponents.

"But this derby will not be any more aggressive than before, it does not matter where the two teams are or what their form is, the derby is always played the same way.

"It is good for the city. Everyone has to defend and support their own team, but afterwards we all have great respect for our rivals.

"The game has more passion and more emotion than others in the Premier League. But that never changes."

He added: "But it is not just about winning the derby, our players want to prove they are good enough. To prove we can be in the top four.

"We have to start winning, then we will see a massive difference. Being in the top four is the main objective now.

"It will be high tempo, more physical with a lot of direct play. We know this and hopefully it will be good for the fans to experience, especially our fans."

Benitez Empathises With Res Fans

Rafael Benitez insists he understands the distress of Liverpool's fans at the club's current plight, while re-affirming his commitment to the club.

The Anfield manager faces a Merseyside derby at Everton on Sunday with the club's Champions League campaign over and their place in the Premier League top four under threat.

Benitez may have Fernando Torres fit for the Goodison Park showdown, with his top scorer facing a fitness test after training on Saturday.

With or without the £20million striker, Benitez knows Liverpool must change their fortunes quickly with Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City threatening their place in the top four.

He said: "You cannot be a fan and be happy when your team is not winning. There are reasons why, but I will not be making any excuses, we will improve.

"Everyone at this club is disappointed we are not winning. The only way to change things is to work hard.

"I had some contact with the (American) owners last week, and they were reassuring. This week we have not needed to speak, only that Christian Purslow (managing director) supportive and we speak every day."

And Benitez has made it clear he has no intention of leaving, despite big offers.

The Spaniard: "This situation for me is not new. After winning the league in Spain, then the UEFA Cup and then here winning the Champions League and the FA Cup, it meant I have had a lot of offers.

"Last season the offer was for massive money, but I signed for Liverpool and I have not had any regrets.

"I had given my word to the staff and the players. I love this city and I love the club and the fans.

"When I signed my new contract I had offers from other clubs for more money and a lot more money to spend in the transfer market. But I decided to stay because I felt we had a very good team.

"We will prove this during the rest of the season. We know we are not playing at the level we can but we will improve, we will be back in Europe."

Benitez signed a new five-year deal last season, and said: "When I decided to stay here, I knew that we could be facing a difficult season. I was aware that a lot of things could happen and the competition stronger. But I decided to stay because I wanted to.

"Look, I was a Real Madrid fan. I knew off by heart the names of the Real Madrid team that played Liverpool in the European Cup final of 1981.

"I was a fan, and also a Madrid player at that time. Now, considering that, I decided to stay in Liverpool because I liked the city, I liked the fans, I liked the life here and the passion in the Premier League.

"Why am I telling you this? Because when I decided to stay here, I wanted to fight for this club.

"We now need to win at Everton to get closer to the top four. if we win two or three more games we will be back amongst the clubs at the top of the table."