Friday, December 04, 2009

Gerrard Staying Realistic

Steven Gerrard has admitted Liverpool must focus on finishing in the top four rather than trying to win the Premier League.

The Reds have made a dismal start to the season, dropping more points than would have been expected of them and crashing out of the UEFA Champions League as well.

Gerrard is refusing to give up hope but accepts that his side have a lot of work to do to get back into the title race.

Liverpool are currently fifth in the table, two points adrift of Arsenal having played a game more, and Gerrard concedes the priority is to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Chelsea would appear to be out of Liverpool's reach at the summit, while the immediate threat to Liverpool may come from the likes of Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa in the hunt for fourth place.

"I think we have to be realistic," Gerrard told talkSPORT. "At the moment we're out of the title race, but we will keep trying to get back in it.

"There is still a lot of football to be played and it is possible to turn it around, but I think Chelsea are looking really strong at the moment.

"But our main target is to get back into the top four. We're coming off the back of a fantastic win at Everton and we want to continue that against Blackburn and try and go on a run of games where we can get closer to the teams above us."

Gerrard, 29, is due to make his 500th appearance for the Anfield club in Saturday's encounter with Blackburn.

He said: "It means everything to me personally. I'm a local boy and my dream when I was young was always just to play one game for Liverpool. So to reach this milestone is a really proud moment for my family and myself."

The only major medal missing from Gerrard's collection after an outstanding career with Liverpool is a league title and he has no plans to rest until he achieves it.

"It's been too long without a league title and because it is missing from my collection it is one that I'm most desperate for going forward," he added.

Liverpool Hopeful As Fernando Torres Resumes Training After Four Weeks

Rafael Benítez's conviction that Liverpool are over the worst of a turbulent season gained further credence today when Fernando Torres returned to full training for the first time in four weeks. The club are confident their leading goalscorer will be available for Saturday's visit to Blackburn Rovers.

Torres last appeared for Liverpool in the damaging Champions League draw in Lyon on 4 November, in an 87-minute display that was his longest outing since suffering what was eventually diagnosed as a hernia with Spain a month earlier. After the game, and with Liverpool reluctant to resort to surgery, the 25-year-old sought a second opinion from a trusted specialist in Valencia, Dr Ramón Cugat, who ordered the striker to rest and receive physiotherapy for three weeks.

The Spain international had only taken part in the occasional light training session before tomorrow's full work-out, and aimed to return for Sunday's Merseyside derby win at Everton only to complain of discomfort on the morning of the game. Liverpool will continue to handle his recovery carefully, with the temptation to rush his comeback arguably eased by an unbeaten sequence of four matches in his absence, but his availability is a major lift to Benítez as he targets a sustained push towards the Champions League places.

The Liverpool manager and several of his players have spoken of Sunday's 2-0 win at Goodison Park as a possible turning point in their season and, with the captain, Steven Gerrard, slowly regaining match fitness plus Alberto Aquilani finally available for selection following ankle surgery, Benítez could have a full squad available for Saturday's game at Ewood Park.

Liverpool's co-owner George Gillett, meanwhile, has banked a $300m [£180m] profit from the sale of his Montreal Canadiens ice hockey franchise, which has now been approved by the National Hockey League. Gillett's windfall, however, is not expected to see him gain majority control of Liverpool or improve Benítez's budget for the January transfer window.

The businessman decided to sell his ice hockey franchise last year to ease pressure on his diverse range of interests and, despite enduring a fractured relationship with his Anfield co-owner Tom Hicks, the pair are under instruction from the Royal Bank of Scotland to attract third-party investors to Liverpool and reduce the club's debt.

Hicks and Gillett are continuing to search for new investors willing to meet their asking price of £100m for a 25% stake in Liverpool, with the former also seeking investors in his Dallas Stars NHL franchise.

Liverpool Special: 500 Not Out For Steven Gerrard

"When the bus arrived back in Liverpool, I didn't want to get out. I thought it wouldn't be long until I was out permanently, sent back to the Under-19s with a note marked 'not good enough'."

It was December 1998 when Steven Gerrard felt this way. He was 18, and had just seen his first senior start for Liverpool ruined. Ruined by David Ginola and a 2-1 defeat. He had Paul Ince on his back, and crippling self-doubt in his head. "I was out of position and out of my depth," he would later reveal.

Fast forward eleven years, and Gerrard is preparing for a trip to Blackburn Rovers this weekend which will mark his 500th appearance in the red of Liverpool. It is a remarkable achievement, especially for someone still six months shy of his 30th birthday.
He may not be having the best run of form this season - mirroring the team's troubles - but Gerrard remains integral to Liverpool, and has been ever since that chastening lesson from Ginola in North London.

He was deployed as a right wing-back that day, a pawn in Gerard Houllier's experimental 3-5-2 formation, and he would feature at right full-back and right-midfield throughout the 1998/99 season, impressing with his ferocious tackling and long-range passing.

But he was a central midfielder at heart, and once he was switched infield - aided by the exit of his captain and tormentor Ince - he began to really shine. His first goal came in 1999 at Anfield against Sheffield Wednesday - it will be ten years exactly since that strike when Gerrard lines up at Ewood Park on Saturday.

Despite a series of growth-related injury problems, Gerrard was a key figure under Houllier, as Liverpool ended the 2000/2001 season with an unprecedented treble of cups, scoring in the UEFA Cup final against Alaves. England recognition had already arrived, and the skinny kid from Huyton was growing into a man, and fast.

His goals tally began to improve - including a League Cup final strike in 2003 - as did his discipline. Early indiscretions - a derby day stamp on Everton's Kevin Campbell, a horror-challenge of Aston Villa's George Boateng - were replaced by maturity on the pitch, prompting Houllier to award Gerrard the Liverpool club captaincy in late 2003. It was, he says, "an unbelievable honour".

Houllier's reign was ultimately doomed, and when the Frenchman departed Anfield in May 2004, it seemed his captain may be set to follow him out of the door. Liverpool were in decline, and a cash-laden Chelsea were waiting outside Gerrard's door.

But, just like he would do the following year, Gerrard resisted the overtures from West London, opting to stay and spearhead the Rafa Benitez revolution on Merseyside.

And how glad he was that he did. Benitez's first season may have been below-par domestically - Gerrard even scored an own-goal against Chelsea in the 2005 League Cup final - but in Europe they embarked upon an unforgettable journey to the Champions League final in Istanbul.

The final itself looked like it would become very forgettable, however. AC Milan were three-up and cruising by half-time and Gerrard was back in Ginola territory ("out of position and out of my depth").

However, the captain inspired the greatest comeback in modern times, scoring the first and winning the penalty for the third as Liverpool fought back to 3-3, before securing a historic fifth European Cup in a shoot-out. It was the defining moment of Gerrard's career, and cemented his place among the pantheon of Liverpool legends forever.

As did his performance in the FA Cup final a year later. Liverpool made hard work of a mid-table West Ham side at Cardiff's Milennium Stadium, but Gerrard again turned things around. He created one goal and scored two of his own, before netting his penalty as the Reds secured another spot-kick success. The match would go down in history as "The Gerrard Final".

Liverpool have not won a major trophy since that 2006 triumph in Cardiff, and Gerrard is more vocal than most in his desire for a Premier League title, but the influence of their skipper remains huge. He is Liverpool's most-capped player of all time - no mean feat considering the legends to have represented the club - and the records continue to tumble.

Last season saw him blast past the 100-goal mark for the club, as well as secure the Football Writers' Player of the Year award. His reputation is such that he was named second only to Kenny Dalglish in the official website's "100 Players who shook the Kop".

He may have to wait another year at least for that much-coveted Premier League medal, but one thing is certain: when people of any age talk of Liverpool legends, Steven Gerrard's name is one of the first that springs to mind.

Liverpool FC Refuse To Release Javier Mascherano For Argentina’s Friendly Against Catalunya

Liverpool have refused to release Javier Mascherano for Argentina’s friendly against Catalunya later this month.

The midfielder, who is skipper of his country, was named by Diego Maradona in the squad for the showpiece match, which takes place on December 22.

But with Catalunya, who are coached by Johan Cruyff, an autonomous Spanish region and not a country, the fixture is not recognised by FIFA.

And that has prompted Liverpool to withdraw Mascherano, given the fixture comes between the Premier League visit to Portsmouth on December 19 and the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers on Boxing Day.

Mascherano has been replaced in the squad by Esteban Cambiasso of Inter Milan, with Argentina expecting further withdrawals.

Jurgen Klinsmann Silent Over Liverpool Rumours

Jurgen Klinsmann insists that reports linking him with the manager's job at Liverpool are simply rumours, though he also maintains that he will have a new job after the World Cup and that his new post might not be in the Bundesliga.

Reds co-owner Tom Hicks has admitted talking to the former Germany and Bayern Munich coach in the past after previous rumours linking the ex-Tottenham Hotspur striker with an Anfield switch.

Current Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez signed a new five-year contract at the beginning of the current campaign, but many feel that his tenure may be reaching an end after the Reds' unconvincing form this season, including a premature exit from the Champions League.

Klinnsman though was non-committal when asked about the reports.

"There are always rumours," he told Bild.

"For us it is relatively clear. We will not embark on another adventure in the Bundesliga.

"After the World Cup, I will possibly be somewhere else."

Ex-England Boss Slams Liverpool Over Benitez Contract

Former England and Tottenham Hotspurs manager Terry Venables has described Liverpool’s decision to offer Rafael Benitez a five-year contract last season as “madness”.

In what is surely one of his biggest opinions to date, Venables wrote in his column for The Sun: “Even though the beleaguered Spaniard may not have had the rub of the green on occasions, he still enjoyed one of the biggest slices of footballing good fortune this year.

“When Rafa signed a new five-year contract in March, he not only won the Lottery, he won the Boat Race and Grand National as well.

“We have a situation now where the club probably cannot get rid of their manager even if they want to. Liverpool are in a straitjacket - and they cannot get out.” would like to commend Venables for quite clearly swatting up on his English lit. His recent columns – which contain opinions so large that they have to be kept in a hermetic tank next to Kelvin MacKenzie’s ego – have displayed a mastery of the written word which flies in the face of previous utterances such as: "If you can't stand the heat in the dressing-room, get out of the kitchen".

However, we would also like to take issue with the following assertion, also lifted from Venables’ latest tome: “You have to question the Liverpool board's decision to give a five-year contract to a manager who has failed to deliver a league title and, arguably, blew his club's chances of landing that elusive crown last season with his infamous 'That's a fact' rant.”

Liverpool FC's Season Filled With False Dawns Continues

For some weeks now we’ve been reading about how this or that game will be a ‘turning point’ in our season, only to find that the change of direction has been just a sharper decline.

The Manchester United game was chief amongst these pretenders, while encouraging performances against Lyon and Birmingham City have also been hailed as heralding an improvement in fortunes.

Now a scrappy win at Goodison, achieved with no little luck (though heaven knows it’s about time we are able to say that), and the sun is apparently peeking back over the horizon and we’re all set for a barnstorming assault on... fourth place.

Or maybe third now the Great Pretenders of Arsenal have been put firmly back in their very pretty but underachieving box.

Although it’s encouraging that we went through November unbeaten, it’s becoming clear there’s going to be no sudden clearing of the skies, no abrupt return to the swashbuckling form of September, no exultant release of pent-up frustration at the expense of some struggling minnow.

What we’re in for is a slow, grinding return to some sort of form, as confidence and fitness returns to what looks a pretty sorry bunch of footballers at present.

The performances against Debrecen and Everton were sluggish in the extreme, though marked by notable differences in the capacity to keep hold of the ball.

Against Debrecen we had so much possession and did so little with it that you could have nipped out for a cup of tea and just picked up where you left off on your return.

At Goodison it seemed we couldn’t wait to give the ball to a blue shirt or knock it into touch or back to Pepe Reina, sometimes from initially promising positions which went horribly wrong somewhere in midfield.

But credit where it’s due; we managed to carve out a much-needed victory over the self-appointed ‘People’s Club’ through strength of will and, at times, sheer bloody-mindedness on the part of Reina, Carragher and Mascherano.

While others struggled to throw off the torpor of disappointment from the midweek exit from the Champions League, or pined for horse placenta in their plastic Lucozade bottles, these three literally threw their bodies into the breach, showing resilience that others need to find from within their aching limbs and souls.

Meanwhile, just when you thought you could no longer be appalled by any fresh revelations of the financial unreality of modern football, the Premier League has declared the amounts paid to agents by each club over the last 12 months.

As I prepared to chortle at the mugs of Manchester City being ripped off by Del Boys of all colours and creeds, I choked instead on my Latte Macchiato as Liverpool were pronounced third in this table of treachery, with these parasites having pocketed £6.7m of our cash. For what?

Bringing the likes of Dossena and Degen to my door?

If players want to pay these vipers for negotiating good deals on their behalf, that’s up to them.

But don’t give my season ticket money to leeches who just make a couple of phone calls.

Ian Rush: Jamie Carragher Was Key For Liverpool Against Everton

Liverpool would not have managed to beat Everton had it not been for a superb display from Jamie Carragher, according to former Reds striker Ian Rush.

Liverpool managed to come away from Goodison Park with a 2-0 win that was in no small part due to the defensive resilience they showed against a determined Toffees side.

And Rush feels that 'Carra' has answered the critics who had questioned whether the England international was still performing at high enough level for the Premier League.

"Jamie Carragher was outstanding in Sunday’s derby," Rush told The Liverpool Echo.
"He epitomised the attitude and commitment in the Liverpool side and you could see how desperate he was to get the three points.

"He put his head in when it hurts and was everywhere, fighting for possession, determined to ensure Everton didn’t get back in the game.

"He took some stick earlier in the season but Sunday proved he’s back to his best."