Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Liverpool Boss Rafa Benitez Receives Support From Wigan's Roberto Martinez

Arsenal inflicted a sixth Premier League defeat on Liverpool at the weekend. The Gunners overcame a half-time 1-0 deficit to win 2-1, and despite the mounting criticism levelled at Rafa Benitez, Wigan Athletic boss Roberto Martinez insists his compatriot will "provide the answers".

Wigan travel to Anfield on Wednesday evening, and Martinez will be hoping for a further upset. However, the Latics manager predicts a top-four finish for the under-performing Reds.

"Rafael Benitez has huge experience," Martinez told Sky Sports. "He has been in this situation many times before and he will find the answers. It is just a matter of time.

"What tends to happen in these situations is that you get a little bit of a snowball effect because, before the start of the season, expectations were really high, but any squad would be damaged by the number of injuries they have suffered to key players.
"The quality is there," added Martinez. "They showed that in the first half against Arsenal yesterday. They have world-class players and they will turn the corner. I have no doubts about it."

Regarding the club's chances of qualifying for the Champions League - they face stiff competition from Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City - Martinez said: "I still feel Liverpool will finish in the top four. Look at their players. They have huge experience.

"You are not talking about young players or a young team. You are talking about Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, and Jamie Carragher.

"It is probably the most experienced group of players in world football. What is happening at the moment will not affect them."

Rafael Benitez Feels One Half Of Football Is Not Enough

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez was left short of words after watching his side slump to another defeat, this time at the hands of Arsenal at Anfield.

The Spaniard had been encouraged by the start his charges had made to the game, but felt the game was transformed when defender Glen Johnson was unfortunate to turn the ball into his own net as the Reds were beaten 2-1.

"The first half was really really good," Benitez told Sky Sports.

"We were very pleased and we thought it could have been even better.

"I thought the own goal changed everything. We started making mistakes. The second half was totally different."

Liverpool could have been two goals to the good going into the break had they been awarded a penalty after William Gallas challenged Steven Gerrard in the penalty area, but appeals were waved away by referee Howard Webb, leaving Benitez to bemoan the decision.

He added: "It was a penalty. If you foul somebody in the box it's a penalty."

Besides the penalty which referee Howard Webb turned away, Benitez took responsibility for his side's defeat. "When you lose you have to be disappointed, especially if it is at home."

Looking forward, Benitez said that the game had not changed his overall goal for the season.

He continued: "It's the same target: top four. It's a long way so we have to keep going, and keep winning games."

Liverpool Striker Dirk Kuyt Looks For A Reds Fightback

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt says the Reds must pick themselves up quickly after the 2-1 home defeat by Arsenal.

Although the Premier League title race looks out of reach (they trail leaders Chelsea by 13 points), the Reds are still targeting a top-four finish.

And, going into Wednesday night's home clash with Wigan, a five-point gap has opened behind Aston Villa in fourth.

"We want a top four finish so we must change things as quickly as possible," Kuyt told BBC Radio Merseyside.

"That's our target. If you play for Liverpool Football Club you always have to focus on the next game and there is a lot to play for."

Liverpool have now won just three times in 15 matches in all competitions following Sunday's luckless defeat.

Coming on top of their early exit from the Champions League, the Reds' continued poor run of results in the league has seen the pressure rise on manager Rafa Benitez and his players.

And Kuyt, who hit his sixth goal of the season on Sunday, is urging the rest of the squad that finished runners-up to Manchester United last season to keep their chins up.

"This is my fourth season here," said 29-year-old Kuyt. "And the first few seasons we were quite close to big trophies.

"Last season we were second and we were almost there.

"This season we all wanted to go for the league trophy.

"We are far away from that now. And we are really disappointed.

"But from tomorrow we have to focus on the next game and that's Wigan."

Kuyt scored twice in last season's corresponding game against Wigan, a 3-2 home win.

And he also bagged a brace against the Latics in a 2-0 win at Anfield in April 2007.

Wigan were beaten 3-0 on their first league visit to Liverpool in December 2005.

And they have only once taken points off Benitez's side at Anfield - two seasons ago in a 1-1 draw.

Napoli Want Andrea Dossena, But It Depends On Liverpool

Napoli are keen to land Liverpool defender Andrea Dossena, but agent Roberto La Florio has warned a financial strait-jacket could scupper negotiations.

Dossena is said to be willing to return to Italy and the Partenopei have shown an interest. But they want the player on a loan deal, rather than a permanent contract as president Aurelio De Laurentiis docks transfer allowances, according to reports in Italy.

"The deal is on hold at the moment as the Reds will not let Dossena go unless they receive a good offer," La Florio told Pianetaazurro.it.

"We have to have patience because the situation may change. Napoli and Liverpool have to speak and reach a consensus.

"Napoli want the player, but we have to see what Liverpool say. Rafa Benitez could change his mind and agree to send Dossena on loan which is what De Laurentiis wants."

Rafa Benitez Wants Players To Show Backbone

Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez has pleaded with his players to show backbone as the Reds' crisis worsens.

The Anfield chief witnessed another distressing display as his side lost 2-1 at home to Arsenal, having been ahead at the break on Sunday after a vibrant first-half display.

Benitez was clearly shocked by the Liverpool FC capitulation when a Glen Johnson own goal wiped out Dirk Kuyt’s early goal before Andrey Arshavin cracked a stunning winner and the Anfield men crumbled under the pressure.

It is an increasingly worrying situation for Benitez, whose side have won just three of their last 15 matches in all competitions.

With Wednesday’s home clash with Wigan now taking the significance of a must-win match, Benitez called for unity and character from his shattered players.

The Spaniard said: "We were in control in the first-half and on top of them all the time.

"But after we conceded the own goal everything changed, it was their time then and every minute they had more confidence and we were more nervous.

"The main thing now is that we have to show confidence, we have to show character.

"They play for Liverpool. We have to improve, we have to show character when we have problems and we must keep our confidence high.

"The only way to change things is to keep working hard and in this situation, when you are making mistakes, you have to be strong and try to do things properly in the future.

"We kept giving the ball away against Arsenal, it is something we have to improve on.

"Now we play Wigan on Wednesday here and we know we have to do better.

"We were not bad against Arsenal, we just made a big mistake that changed everything. The only way to change things is to stick together.

"We cannot be complaining, we cannot be arguing about anything. We must keep going and try to discover why we were so bad in the second half in terms of confidence."

He added: "We must discover why we couldn’t do the same things in the second-half that we did so well in the first period.

"Everyone was expecting us to be higher in the table after the Arsenal game and a victory would have taken us to fifth place.

"It is difficult to explain what went wrong in the second-half, we were very poor and we have to improve on this.

"The target is just to be in the top four and to start winning matches we should be winning."

Anfield Legend Ian St John Says 'Shocking' Liverpool Not Good Enough For Top Four

Liverpool legend Ian St John has described the team's current form as "shocking" and called on manager Rafael Benitez to arrest the slide.

St John, now 71, said: "It is disappointing because we have been watching this for a number of weeks.

"We have won three in 15 and that is shocking for Liverpool, shocking.

"It is hard to argue a case. Rafa said the season starts today, so OK we have started the season again and we are bottom.

"It is just not good enough and that is our best team. There was no-one on the bench you'd say should be playing."

He added: "We have seen (Aston) Villa, Tottenham and Man City and they look better than us. I think one of them will pinch that fourth spot.

You look at the team at the moment and you say they are not good enough for the top four.

"It's really sad the way things are going at the moment.

"Rafa has got to turn it around before the end of the season. He has got to let the fans see that something is going to happen, that we are not just going to drip points away and end up being also-rans."

Rafael Benitez - You Are Lucky To Have Won More Than Graeme Souness At Liverpool

Graeme Souness, as Rafael Benitez pointed out, did not have a great record as Liverpool manager. There was one season when Liverpool looked potential title winners, but that challenge quickly fizzled out and, for the most part, he filled the squad with ordinary players, and won the FA Cup.

Notice any similarities? Take away an incredible first year culminating in Istanbul in arguably the greatest comeback in the history of club football and Benitez’s record is not really all that different over the last four years.

These are altered times and the wealth gap generated by the Champions League has largely cemented an elite four in place, but the circumstances are broadly alike. There was an FA Cup win, a procession of mediocre signings and, right now, Liverpool lie seventh, a position all too familiar to those who remember the Souness years (he came sixth in his two full seasons at the club).

A team who have won three matches in 15 can no longer be said to be experiencing a blip. The 2-0 win over Manchester United in October: that was the blip. That was the result that is still hard to explain. Liverpool have lost more matches in the Premier League than Stoke City this season and have the same number of points as Birmingham City.

So statistically, there was nothing in the least surprising in defeat by a weakened Arsenal team yesterday. Liverpool are living off a name, a reputation for invincibility, particularly in the big games at Anfield. They surrendered that in the Champions League this season, and now in the domestic championship, too.

Indeed, in the present climate, the less Benitez seeks comparison with the Souness era, the better. The period from April 1991 to January 1994 is not recalled with fondness at Anfield, and understandably so, but Souness did not work for Liverpool at a time when losers could enter the European Cup. And that is a big difference.

Failure was a lot easier to come by under the old rules of engagement. There was no thrilling battle for fourth place, as is being played out now. No popping of champagne corks at trawling in 21 points behind the league leaders, as Benitez did in 2006-07. Benitez finished 37 points off the pace in his first year, but won the European Cup. That route was not open to Souness.

Back then, the Champions’ Cup lived up to its name. In Souness’s first season — he only took over in April, mind you — Liverpool came second in the old First Division, but qualified for the UEFA Cup, a tricky tournament, full of ambitious, thrusting wannabes, not the moribund Thursday-night snore fest it became. Liverpool were removed by Genoa at the quarter-final stage.

So Souness had his chance and did not take it. Benitez got his with an inferior Liverpool team in the 2004-05 Champions League campaign, defeated AC Milan against all odds, and greatness was assured. Yet Liverpool only finished fourth under Gerard Houllier the previous season and in Souness’s day that would not necessarily have guaranteed European qualification, at any level. And no Champions League final, no Rafa the genius.

Benitez is sensitive right now. He sees Souness as his inferior, in coaching terms rightly so, and resents his criticism. Yet bristling defensively at every remark smacks of a man who knows his problems are mounting. Earlier this month he had a dig at Jamie Redknapp, claiming he was looking to undermine Liverpool for the benefit of his father, Harry, the manager of Tottenham Hotspur. Redknapp, like Souness, gave an honest opinion, which is what he was required to do.

And face it, Liverpool are not losing because of what is being said in television studios. They are losing because they sold Xabi Alonso and five years of frantic transfer traffic has left a pedestrian squad, emboldened by a sprinkling of exceptional individuals.

Souness assembled an ordinary group, too, but at least he left Liverpool with Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler on the horizon. What is there to look forward to currently? A summer of speculation around Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres unless circumstances improve.

For all his faults as a manager, Souness still won three league championships and seven national cups across three countries. He was not a fool. More importantly, he was a wonderful midfield player for Liverpool and if they had more like him now, they wouldn’t have taken fewer points from eight home league games than Blackburn Rovers. In short, he is entitled to his view, just as Benitez is to his spiky response.

Always providing, of course, that in more reflective moments, he acknowledges that a lot of successful modern coaches would find the plaudits less forthcoming if they had been working at a time when first was first and second was nowhere; let alone fourth.

Carragher Calls For Character

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has called on the side to show some character to bounce back from their latest setback.

The Reds slumped to their sixth defeat in the Premier League after going down 2-1 against Arsenal at Anfield on Sunday.

The latest loss leaves Liverpool in seventh spot, five points behind fourth-placed Aston Villa in the race to finish in the top four.

Carragher admits the Arsenal defeat was hard to take and concedes the Reds should be doing better than they are at present.

"We started off well in the first half and should have had a penalty but you have to give credit to Arsenal, they're a top side," Carragher told the club's official website.

"The manner of the goals we conceded were unfortunate but other than them scoring, I can't remember them having too much else, which is why it is so hard to take.

"We've just got to dust ourselves down now and move to Wednesday. For the quality of the players and the stature of the club, we should be doing better.

"Statistics can change quickly and we have got to do that. It's tough at the moment but part of playing for Liverpool is having big character.

"That's what we need now. Between now and May it is going to be a grind at times but we have got to stick together, get through it and, as I'm doing, pray to God that at the end of the season there will be something worthwhile for what we've gone through."

Carragher admits Wednesday's game at home to Wigan is a must-win encounter if they are to get their campaign back on track and he knows the team need to start improving quickly.

"We can't look for excuses," added Carragher. "That's the way it is at top-level football - we know that any little thing can get pounced upon and that's happening at the moment.

"Wigan is a massive game for us. I've tried too many times down the years trying to work things out, so there's no point looking further ahead than that.

"We'll just try and get three points on Wednesday and then move on to Portsmouth. We've got to look at ourselves and realise that we've got to do much better.

"There's still some lads who aren't 100 per cent fit yet, so there'll be improvement to come but we need to get this team playing regularly."