Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Snore-draw Not The Answer To Rafa’s Current Problems

The match of the day producers didn’t fancy it, but with the DVD of this match they may have just stumbled across a best-selling cure for insomnia.

The fact that Liverpool were relegated to the final slot on Saturday night’s highlights programme will have come as no surprise to anyone who had the misfortune to be at Ewood Park.

In fact it was shocking they decided to give it any air time at all.

After the high of their triumph at Goodison Park, this was a reality check.

What’s clear is that it’s going to take a lot more than a solitary derby victory to truly kick-start a hugely disappointing campaign.

Confidence and belief are still in desperately short supply. Too many players are stuck in a rut and Rafael Benitez doesn’t have the strength in depth at his disposal to be able to ring the changes.

Skipper Steven Gerrard did his best to rally the troops on his 500th appearance for the club and looks to be regaining his sharpness. Right-back Glen Johnson also impressed but there were few positives.

The return of striker Fernando Torres can’t come soon enough.

The Spaniard was sorely missed on Saturday as Liverpool’s lack of firepower was exposed for all to see.

Benitez insisted afterwards this was another step in the right direction for his side following the troubles of recent months.

Their unbeaten run stands at six matches and for all their defensive woes this season Liverpool have now gone nearly five hours of football without conceding a goal.

Of course a point at Ewood Park is hardly a disaster.

After all Blackburn haven’t lost at home since Manchester City visited on the opening day of the season. And Rovers have only tasted defeat twice in 23 home games since Sam Allardyce took over nearly a year ago.

However, there is no escaping the fact that this was another in a long list of missed opportunities.

The emphasis was placed firmly on keeping things tight, but the problem was Blackburn were more than happy to settle for a share of the spoils.

When Liverpool finally began to force the issue in the second half they couldn’t make their pressure pay and in a frantic finish they could easily have ended up with nothing.

Blackburn are well-organised but their deficiencies have been routinely exposed by title contenders this season. Arsenal stuck six past them, Chelsea helped themselves to five and Manchester United cruised to a 2-0 victory.

But Liverpool didn’t have the guile or the quality to unlock them and for long periods of the afternoon goalkeeper Paul Robinson was merely a spectator.

One man who may have been able to make the difference spent the afternoon warming the substitutes’ bench and jogging up and down the touchline.

Benitez said Saturday wasn’t the right kind of game for Alberto Aquilani.

In such a tight, physical contest he insisted it would have been unfair to introduce a player with so little football under his belt this season.

The manager is desperate to keep his big money signing wrapped in cotton wool, but how else can Aquilani get match-fit unless he plays? Surely the £18m man has been brought in to turn the tables in tight games like this?

His continued absence is a source of much frustration among fans who will finally see the Italian start a game in a red shirt when he lines up against Fiorentina on Wednesday night.

But a meaningless European game will hardly help him get accustomed to the hustle and bustle of Premier League football.

Benitez recalled Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun on Saturday at the expense of David Ngog and Fabio Aurelio with Dirk Kuyt pushed up front as the lone striker.

It didn’t work with Kuyt isolated and out-muscled by Ryan Nelsen and the outstanding Chris Samba.

Riera was a major disappointment on the left flank and the only surprise was that Benitez left him on until early in the second half.

Blackburn were on a high following their Carling Cup victory over Chelsea and they welcomed back Allardyce following heart surgery.

It was the perfect contest for the boss to ease his way back in with excitement painfully thin on the ground.

Gerrard had a shot deflected behind early on but it was 36 minutes before either keeper had a save to make.

Robinson’s long punt downfield was met by Samba but his header was straight at Pepe Reina.

Liverpool defended stoutly amid an aerial bombardment from the hosts who grabbed every opportunity they got to pump the ball into the visitors’ penalty box.

But going forward there was little invention and Benitez’s side ran out of ideas in the final third.

Before the break Lucas’ pass set Gerrard clear on the left side of the penalty box but Samba was across quickly to deny the captain.

The game improved after the break but in truth it could hardly have got any worse.

Liverpool enjoyed a major let-off when Steven Nzonzi put Franco Di Santo through. The striker, who is on loan from Chelsea, dallied and allowed Javier Mascherano time to get back and dispossess him.

It took the introduction of rookie frontman Ngog to finally get Liverpool going. Robinson had to keep out Gerrard’s 25-yarder and he also had another effort deflected over.

The skipper was at the heart of everything and just before the hour mark he had pleas for a spot-kick waved away after he tumbled over Nzonzi’s challenge in the box following good work from Lucas.

With the tempo finally raised, the game opened up and with 20 minutes to go Liverpool were just inches away from breaking the deadlock.

Johnson embarked on one of his lung-bursting forward runs and raced into the box before picking out Ngog.

The Frenchman looked destined to score but a cruel bobble meant he miscued his shot which cannoned back off the bar.

The rebound kindly dropped into the path of Kuyt but his goal-bound effort was forced behind by Samba.

However, this was no hard luck story with Blackburn giving as good as they got in the closing stages.

Benni McCarthy fired wastefully wide when well-placed and Vince Grella also went close as the home side hit Liverpool on the counter-attack.

Daniel Agger stung Robinson’s palms from long range and Kuyt’s blistering strike just cleared the bar, but it was Rovers who looked the more likely to steal the points.

Substitute Nikola Kalinic blazed one chance over and in stoppage time David Hoilett’s pass left Kalinic with just Reina to beat.

The Liverpool keeper raced out to meet him and the Croatian international’s composure deserted him.

Lucas Tips Aquilani To Shine

Lucas Leiva is confident Alberto Aquilani will be a hit at Liverpool once he settles into life at Anfield.

The Italian has endured a frustrating opening to his Reds career, with a long-standing injury carried over from his time at Roma hindering his early opportunities to make an impression.

However, with Rafa Benitez having spent big over the summer in order to acquire his services, the Liverpool faithful are expecting great things from the £17million man.

He has been charged with filling the void created by Xabi Alonso's sale to Real Madrid, but has been limited to just 21 minutes of action so far.

Aquilani will, however, be awarded his first start against Fiorentina in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday and his fellow midfielder Lucas is backing him to prove his worth and silence the doubters.

"It is exciting that Alberto is going to get his first chance and we are all looking forward to it - we will give him all the support and respect he needs," Lucas declared in the Liverpool Echo.

"Hopefully he will do a really good job for us. When you have been out for a long time injured, it takes a while for you to get your rhythm back.

"But it is easy to see in training that he has got quality on the ball and we hope he is going to help us.

"People will make comparisons but he is a different player to Xabi; he is more attacking and we can all see that he is going to play in a more advanced role.

"Obviously he came to replace Xabi but he is going to need some time to settle and we will do everything to make that happen quickly."

Rafa Benitez Challenges Javier Mascherano To Score More Goals For Liverpool

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez wants Javier Mascherano to start finding the net more often after his deflected effort at Everton.

That strike is set to go before the dubious goals panel to determine if it can be credited to the midfielder.

Benitez is giving the goal to Mascherano though and now wants to see more from the holding midfielder.

"Since the first day when we signed Javier we've talked about goals because he's not bad at shooting from outside the box," the manager told the Reds' official website.

"He can do well on this, so he has to keep trying. If he does, he'll score more goals.

"He tries in training. He doesn't score too many when you compare it to Gerrard but still it's a good and a different option for us.

"For everyone, if you're at the edge of the box you have to try. It doesn't matter what position you play - if you're a centre-back or left-back or midfielder, you must try.

"The main thing is to try. You might get a deflection. For me, Mascherano's goal [against Everton] was a deflection, not an own goal."

Benitez also revealed that Mascherano would not be travelling with the Argentina squad for their unofficial friendly with Catalunya later this month.

"It's a friendly game that comes during Christmas time, and we have a game on the 26th and 28th. It's too much for us, so the best thing for us is if he doesn't go and doesn't play," the Spaniard added.

"He is coming back to the level we know. He had some problems at the beginning of the season but he's now playing really well.

"We're really pleased because we have the Mascherano we signed."

Reina Set For New Liverpool Deal

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is hoping negotiations over a new contract for goalkeeper Pepe Reina can be wrapped up over the coming months.

The Reds boss revealed over the weekend that the club had begun talks over a new contract for Javier Mascherano, with Benitez also keen to tie down the Spanish stopper.

"We are very happy with him," Benitez said. "He has been improving every single year and he will improve more because goalkeepers have more time in their career.

"He's always positive and he's one of the best in the training sessions because his attitude is always good.

"It depends on the agent and what the player wants but Pepe is very happy here in Liverpool so I don't see a big problem.

"The team-mates love him because he's a very good example."

Samba Adds To Reds Criticism

Chris Samba claims Liverpool's fall from grace this season has been so substantial that Blackburn were disappointed they did not collect all three points on Saturday.

In years gone by this Millennium the Ewood Park outfit would likely have accepted a 0-0 home draw with the perennially labelled title-challenging Reds.

However, this campaign sees Rafa Benitez's side well off the leading pack in the Premier League as the Merseysiders sit 12 points behind table-topping Chelsea.

After Saturday's stalemate Liverpool also trail second-placed Manchester United by 10 points and Samba is annoyed Blackburn did not pile more pressure on Benitez.

The centre-back said: "It's easier defending against Liverpool this season than in previous ones.

"They didn't impress me as much as Chelsea and Manchester United especially. I don't think they are as good as them now.

"In a way it's a good point but we're a bit disappointed not to get all three because we should have won."

Rafa Benitez Says Liverpool FC Are Heading Down The Right Road

Manager Rafael Benitez insists Saturday’s point at Blackburn was another step in the right direction for Liverpool.

Chances were at a minimum during a frustrating afternoon at Ewood Park, but the Spaniard was delighted with a third successive clean sheet which extended his side’s unbeaten run in all competitions to six games.

“It was a difficult game against a team that is very physical and direct,” Benitez said.

“They were pushing in the first half with a lot of long balls and free-kicks deep into our box.

“To defend this style of football is not easy but I thought we did well and the clean sheet is the positive thing against this kind of team.

“The second half was much better. We were attacking with (David) Ngog and Nabil (El Zhar).

“We were creating more chances, had better possession, and the other positive thing about today is that we played better than we did against Everton.

“We’re disappointed because we were pushing very hard and we had chances to win. But at least we are improving and playing a little bit better.

“It’s another clean sheet, and you saw that we are reacting and trying to do things well.”

After a poor first half Liverpool improved after the break but Benitez was cursing his luck when David Ngog’s effort came back off the bar.

“I was convinced it was a goal,” Benitez said.

“And after that Kuyt had the rebound but it was well blocked.

“We could have won the game because we had the chances in the second-half and we were pushing and attacking all the time. But we could have lost because they had one or two chances on the counter-attack.

“If you analyse, the game was too open near the end but we had plenty of possession. The team played much better in the second-half.”

Benitez defended his decision not to bring on Alberto Aquilani and revealed he expects the Italian to make his first start for the club against Fiorentina on Wednesday night.

“We were thinking about giving him some minutes but the problem was which player to take off,” he said.

“We had balance in midfield and we were concerned we might lose control.

“It was a difficult and tough game and when a player doesn’t have match fitness to put him on the pitch in that situation is a risk.

“I know he can only get match-fitness from playing. He was ready to play with the reserves the other day but the game was postponed.

“He will have his chance against Fiorentina. At home with our fans it will be easier for him.”

Stan Collymore: Why Steven Gerrard Must Quit Liverpool FC

Former Liverpool FC striker Stan Collymore is calling on Steven Gerrard to leave Anfield "in search of the Premier League".

Collymore believes the Reds ace will never win the ultimate goal while with Liverpool and he says many players in the current squad are not good enough to play alongside Gerrard.

"It's time for Steven Gerrard to put his loyalty to Liverpool to one side and go in search of the one honour that has eluded him - the Premier League," he writes in his latest column for MirrorFootball.co.uk.

"He's not going to see that day while he's wearing a red shirt and as sad as it is for me to say this as a former Liverpool player, I think it is time for him to leave Anfield.

"I was at Blackburn on Saturday and players like Lucas, Rieira and Kuyt don't deserve to play with him to be honest."

Collymore thinks Gerrard has more chance of winning a domestic title with Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

He said: "I've seen him lift the European Cup and I'd love to see him lift the Premier League trophy, but it won't be as a Rafa Benitez player and I'm not sure it will ever happen for him as a Liverpool player.

"I'm not saying this to try and wind up Liverpool fans. I just think it would be a tragedy if after seeing inferior players to him like Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick win the title, he didn't.

"I know he says he wants to stay at Liverpool, but the only thing that is keeping him there is the fact that he's a Scouser and that he has the club in his blood.

"Ultimately, he owes Liverpool b***er all. He's done more than any other player over the last decade to bring success to Liverpool.

"It's time for someone else, like Alberto Aquilani, to take on that pressure and free him to go.

"He shouldn't feel that he has to stay to pacify the fans and they should let him go and win the title he deserves before it's too late."

Steven Gerrard Gets Ferocious Guard Dog To Protect Home

Stevie Gerrard cautiously admires his latest home security device – a ferocious-looking guard dog.

The Liverpool and England footie hero has enlisted the help of Quinn, a fearsome four-year-old German

Shepherd, to patrol the grounds of his family’s £3million mansion while he is away over Christmas.

And the security-conscious midfielder, 29, is said to be delighted with his new No1 fang.

Quinn and his handler, ex-prison officer Alan Sedley, will guard the star’s house in Formby, Merseyside.

The Anfield skipper first introduced round the clock security after a terrifying break-in two years ago. His wife Alex, 27, was confronted by four masked raiders as the couple’s two young daughters slept.

They ransacked the place and stole jewellery worth thousands of pounds.

In the past three years 15 Premiership stars have been targeted.

Security chief Frank Firth said: “Steven and Alex have both met the dog and are very happy with him.”

Babel Denies Benitez Criticism

Ryan Babel has denied giving a disparaging interview to The Sun on the day of the Champions League game against Debrecen.

The Dutchman was quoted by the tabloid criticising Rafa Benitez' management, suggesting cliques exist at the club and claiming he will leave the club in January.

He has now set the record straight via the club's official website, saying: "I was very disappointed when it came out because I never gave an interview here in England - I never gave an interview to The Sun.

"I did give an interview in Holland a month ago when I was with the national team, and I think they took some bits out of it and added some of their own opinions.

"They wrote that I'd talked about other players - and I would never talk about players like that.

"The funniest thing was them publishing that I'm not friends with Dirk Kuyt. Come on! Dirk will tell you how our relationship is.

"It has to be made clear. Who published this? The Sun - I wouldn't talk to The Sun.

"I am very happy that the boss made it clear straight away that he had confidence in me and believed that I didn't do the interview.

"I hope people understand. It is easy to read papers and believe it's true, and so I was disappointed with the situation and the fact it was published on the day of a very important game.

"I have spoken to a few of my teammates and they were clear that it was The Sun and so it was nothing."

Babel claims he still sees his future at Liverpool, saying: "I have given a lot of interviews about my feelings and how I am but the situation is the same for every player who likes to play games and thinks he is good enough to start.

"I feel confident that I'm good enough to play a lot of games for Liverpool. I keep saying this. Hopefully I'll get chances to show this."