Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Liverpool Must Continue Winning Run, Starting At Arsenal - Steven Gerrard

Since the goal-less draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool have beaten Bolton Wanderers and Everton and captain Steven Gerrard has called on his Reds to extend that form on the road, as the club take on Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday evening.

And the spirit shown in the 1-0 derby win over Everton on Saturday had Gerrard smiling.

He told the Liverpool Echo: "You always enjoy beating your local rivals but it was the way we did it that was really satisfying, particularly after losing a man after half an hour.

"I thought we showed fantastic character, a great attitude and I also thought we played some decent stuff at times. I thought it was a fully deserved win.

"You could see what it meant to everyone on the pitch at the end and it was the same again in the dressing room afterwards; everybody is still on a high.

"Now we have got to take that high into the next game," the Englishman said.

"It's a tough one, Arsenal away always is. But we have used beating Everton as a platform in the past and we've got to do it again. We want to extend our run and go on to better things."

The successful shut-out against Everton ensured that Pepe Reina has kept his sheet clean since Robert Huth's last gasp equalising goal for Stoke City in mid-January.

Gerrard, while urging for a win against a deflated Arsenal side who suffered a second successive loss at the weekend to Chelsea, warned his own side against complacency, indicating that their top four finish is not yet complete.

"We know there is a long way to go and we want to make sure we are in the top four at the end of the season," he added.

"It's performances like this that will get you in there. We have got to try and keep this run going, as we can't afford any slip-ups.

"There is pressure coming from Tottenham, Manchester City and Aston Villa

"There are a couple of very tough games coming up but if we can show what we have done in the last six games, I don't see why we can't maintain it."

Marouane Chamakh Set To Snub Liverpool FC For Arsenal Switch

Bordeaux striker Marouane Chamakh has revealed that he wants to join Arsenal when his contract expires this summer - effectively ending Liverpool's interest in him.

The Reds were one of the frontrunners for the Morocco international's signature but a move to North London with the Gunners appears to be too strong to resist for the 26-year-old, who admitted that he favoured a switch to the capital with Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger believed to be a keen admirer of his abilities.

He said: "I have no reason to be under pressure but, every day passing by, I am a little less a Bordeaux player.

"My choice is to join a Premier League club and, if I could choose, I will go to Arsenal. Bordeaux have brought me so much.

"I will soon clearly state things so the club can prepare to find my replacement peacefully.'

Despite his impending departure from the Stade Chaban Delmas Chamakh, who has scored 69 goals during his eight-year spell with les Girondins, was full of praise for manager Laurent Blanc after the World Cup-winning defender instilled a winning mentality in the Ligue 1 outfit.

He added: "Laurent Blanc has brought us a winning state of mind, he has taught us how to hate defeat.

"Both on mental and physical levels, I am at my best. Three years ago, I was still a little crazy. Now I can manage my efforts, which allows me to be more clear-sighted at the end of the match.

"I have improved, but I can still improve. I am not only happy to play anymore. I have become someone who wants to win.

"I am more a scorer, but not enough yet. There are too many situations where I still do a pass for a player in a better position."

Liverpool, meanwhile, are still hoping to secure Milan Jovanovic's services this summer on a Bosman transfer after he declined the opportunity to extend his time with Standard Liege.

The Serbian hitman has attracted significant interest with several of the continent's most illustrious clubs expressing interest. The Reds are expected to face a battle with Italian giants AC Milan and Juventus to bring the 29-year-old to Merseyside.

Standard Liege's vice-president Luciano D'Onofrio paid tribute to the departing striker and revealed: "Jovanovic has always given everything for our club.

"Milan, Juventus and Liverpool want him. The choice is his. I have no role in this decision "

Speaking on Friday, Rafael Benitez insisted that there had been no progress in luring Jovanovic to Anfield but that the club were monitoring developments surrounding player.

He said: "He is a player that is finishing his contract and we are monitoring the situation."

Everton FC Were Too Easy, Says Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez admitted Everton FC made it easy for Liverpool FC to win the 213th Merseyside derby.

Dirk Kuyt’s 55th minute header was the difference between the two teams, but Benitez believes Everton failed to take advantage of Sotirios Kyrgiakos’ first half sending off.

The Greek defender received a straight red card for a two-footed tackle on Marouane Fellaini, who was stretchered off before being carried down the tunnel and taken to hospital for an x-ray.

Despite the introduction of the ball-playing Mikel Arteta, however, the visitors resorted to hitting long balls forward instead of trying to play through Liverpool.

That, says Benitez, played into the Reds’ hands, making for a more comfortable win than he expected.

“I was surprised,” said the Spaniard.

“I was expecting more penetrating passes and also for them to try and play on the floor.

“They had Arteta on but they played direct. That made it easier for us. It was easier to control and we continued to do our job in defence.

“When you are losing with 11 players against 10, but you have to win, sometimes you are a little bit more nervous and play more direct. That made it easier for us to control the situation.

“It suited us.”

Benitez was clearly unhappy with the decision to send off Kyrgiakos, particularly as Fellaini went unpunished in an incident that presented a case for both players being reprimanded.

Having impressed in recent weeks, the centre-half will now miss Liverpool’s next three games against Arsenal, Manchester City and Blackburn.

Referee Martin Atkinson struggled to control a typically physical encounter between the fierce Mersey rivals, but Benitez stopped short of publicly criticising the official.

“There are too many tackles that we can analyse carefully but we won’t all agree,” he said.

“I prefer not to say anything about it rather than comment on the referee.

“But, yes, everybody was surprised with the sending off.”

Kuyt grabbed his 50th goal for Liverpool to hand the Anfield club maximum points and move them up to fourth in the table, a point ahead of Tottenham who drew with Aston Villa on Saturday.

“I think everyone knows now what Kuyt can do for us,” said Benitez.

“He’s not a player that is very skilful; not in the way we would normally understand of a skilful player with that kind of ability.

“Fifty goals for any player is a good achievement, especially in the Premier League. He has played as a right and left winger, striker and second striker. He is very important.”

The typically composed Benitez turned towards the Main Stand to celebrate at the final whistle.

He refuted claims he was making a gesture to the director’s box, however.

“To play with 10 players in a derby like this one, that was so emotional, you have to say thank you to the fans,” he added.

“My celebration was spontaneous. It was to the fans, nothing more. For me the fans were pushing and helping the team.

“That is the way, to get behind us, and help us win games.”

Javier Mascherano: Liverpool FC And Everton FC Made Life Difficult For The Ref During The Derby

Javier Mascherano believes both Liverpool and Everton players made life tough for derby referee Martin Atkinson.

The official was kept busy at Anfield on Saturday as the most volatile fixture in Premier League history produced two more red cards.

The dismissals of Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Steven Pienaar means there have now been 19 red cards in 36 Premier League derby showdowns.

"It was a very hard job for the referee because the players did not help him," he said.

"It was a hard game with a lot of tackles but this is the way it is in derby matches, they don’t want to lose and we don’t want to lose. Sometimes you can see some hard tackles because of this.

"Soto (Kyrgiakos) said to us that he went for the ball, maybe he went in the wrong way but he went for the ball."

The red card for Kyrgiakos saw Mascherano pressed into service as a makeshift right-back.

And the Argentine said: "Last season I played right-back against Sunderland. This time, it would have been difficult for the manager to make a sub at that time so maybe he preferred to move me into right-back and I tried to do my best.

"The way that we won made it even better. To be a man down for so long and to have to play with 10 men for almost 60 minutes was really difficult but the result shows how hard we worked.

"The most important thing is that the team continued to work hard and because of this we were able to win with 10 players.

"Maybe it wasn’t our best performance but the only thing that mattered was the win. Now we have to keep going."

Dirk Kuyt's Big-Match Mentality Makes Him Just As Important As Fernando Torres For Rafa Benitez

To the casual football observer, Dirk Kuyt can appear something of a mystery. He might be a seasoned professional, with more than 50 caps for the Netherlands, and have 200 career goals to his name, but the most famous son from the tiny Dutch fishing village of Katwijk aan Zee is not your average modern-day footballer.

On the pitch, the 29-year-old can appear sluggish, ungainly even. His first touch can have supporters apoplectic with rage, and his lack of genuine pace - on and off the ball - can make his right-wing position seem absurd.

But, as already noted, Kuyt is not your typical footballer. Just ask the Nepalese and Brazilian children helped out by the incredibly selfless charity foundation he runs with his wife, Gertrude. Failing that, just ask Rafa Benitez and the Liverpool supporters.

Saturday's 1-0 victory over Merseyside rivals Everton saw Benitez's Liverpool side stretch their unbeaten league run to seven matches, leapfrogging Tottenham Hotspur into the coveted fourth Champions League spot in the process. But lost amid the passion and aggression of a powderkeg Anfield atmosphere was a rather significant landmark for their Dutch destroyer.

Kuyt's winning goal was his 50th for Liverpool. And whilst a half-century scored in 177 games may not set the pulses racing, it is worth remembering that Kuyt has spent the bulk of his time at Anfield as a wide midfielder, and it is testament to his big-game mentality (and scoring record) that there is plenty of debate as to whether Saturday's strike was his most important.

The Dutchman is not the first Liverpool player to reach a milestone at Anfield this season, of course. Fernando Torres tore up the record books when he reached his 50th Premier League goal in just 72 games, and whilst Kuyt lacks the X-Factor and the marketability of his Spanish counterpart, there can be little doubting either man's importance to the Reds' cause.

Ironically, Torres' signing in 2007 could well have spelt the end of Kuyt's stay on Merseyside. The Dutchman had been brought in from Eredivisie giants Feyenoord a year previously for a healthy £10 million fee, and had the then-Spurs-manager Martin Jol declaring that Liverpool's new signing was a "20-20" player (20 goals and 20 assists a season).

It didn't quite work out like that in truth; Kuyt netted 14 times in his debut season in England, but Liverpool finished in a distant third place, and Benitez identified Torres as a more dynamic, prolific solution for the Reds' attack.

Lesser players - lesser characters - may have withered following the arrival of a new darling to Anfield. Not Kuyt. Benitez's decision to redeploy the former FC Utrecht man on the right of midfield raised more than a few eyebrows - pace is perhaps Kuyt's greatest weakness, after all - but the Spaniard sees through the aesthetic shortcomings, past the sensational headlines, and sees a man devoted to Liverpool.

In truth his second season at Anfield was easily his worst to date. He laboured through autumn and winter, dazzled in the glare of Torres, who was en route to a phenomenal debut-season total of 33 goals in all competitions.

But the knock-out stages of the Champions League brought Kuyt to life. Whilst even the best players are often accused of shirking their big-game duties, with Kuyt there is never an issue.

The opening goal against Inter at Anfield in the last-16, a critical equaliser at Arsenal in the quarter-finals, and the opener against Chelsea in the semis all followed. Kuyt's diligence in defence ensured his right-back was rarely exposed, his striker's instinct enabled him to pop up in the right place at the right time, just when Liverpool needed him.

There are still those who need convincing. Every summer Liverpool supporters implore Benitez to add some flair, some craft to the Reds' flanks. Kuyt's functional nature is all well and good, they say, but what about some guile, some mesmeric dribbling? They see Torres, the embodiement of the perfect modern-day centre forward - tall, strong, quick, prolific - and want that replicated all over the pitch.

Yet whilst every team would love a Torres (or 10 of them), the argument can be made that every team needs a Kuyt or two. Someone who gives you everything, every single week. Someone who leads by example, no matter the circumstances. It is no surprise that when Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were absent this season, Benitez handed the captaincy to Kuyt.

Of course this season has not been the best - for Liverpool or for Kuyt. The disappointment of a title-challenge which ended in October has hurt the club, as has their ludicrously-early exit from the Champions League. Injuries to key players has only exacerbated the sense of crisis which has - perhaps prematurely - gathered around Anfield.

Yet out of the ashes has risen a seven-game unbeaten run. And at the forefront of it has been guess who? Kuyt netted twice against Tottenham when the Reds were seemingly at rock-bottom, having been ushered out of the FA Cup by Reading; he grabbed the nerve-settling opener against Bolton; and on Saturday he continued his impressive goalscoring record against Everton with another critical strike. He now has four goals against the enemy - only Gerrard and Robbie Fowler have more in the Premier League era.

If Benitez were to listen to those demanding a new winger, he would have 50 clubs knocking on his door for his no. 18. The Kop may adore Torres for his goals and his grace, but they are well aware that in Kuyt they possess another very special footballer.

Not that the down-to-earth Dutchman would ever admit it, of course.

Glen Johnson Will Not Face Action Over Allegation Of Assault Outside A London Nightclub

Liverpool FC footballer Glen Johnson will face no action following an allegation of assault outside a London nightclub.

The defender was accused of attacking a man in the West End near the Movida club at around 4am on a December night out after the Reds' defeat to Portsmouth.

The victim claimed he was punched and suffered minor arm, chest and facial injuries.

The Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said: "No further action will be taken in this case."

Detectives are understood not to have spoken to Johnson about the incident.

Merseyside MPs Call For Tough Regulation On Premier Football Clubs’ Finances

Merseyside MPs have appealed to the government to take greed out of the beautiful game.

They want better regulation of Liverpool and other premier football clubs so that they are no longer at the mercy of millionaire takeover barons.

And regulation should include a cap on players’ wages, better management of debts run up by struggling clubs, improved fair trading rules and a better deal for fans.

Their move followed a series of complaints and demonstrations by Reds fans and the recent Green and Gold campaign at Manchester United.

Liverpool-city region MPs have now sponsored a Commons motion tabled by Manchester MP Tony Lloyd, chairman of the committee of all Labour backbench MPs.

The motion “recognises that professional football has become a major part of the modern way of life for millions.

“The state of the premier league and the professional game is causing concern, but self-regulation by the football authorities has often meant no regulation.”

The motion called on ministers to work with the football authorities to “create a binding framework which will regulate club debt, guarantee the protection of the consumer with rules for fair trading and protect the wider public interest by putting the supporter at the heart of the national game.”

Motion sponsor George Howarth, MP for Knowsley North and Sefton East, said: “Most supporters are horrified at the way the game is financed, particularly the way in which rich investors are able to dominate football across the country.

“It is high time we looked at other financing methods, beef up regulation and put the fans first. That may mean a cap on wages and greater financial involvement by supporters.”

He stressed that they were not singling out Liverpool – or Everton – but felt that all top-class clubs need to be overhauled.

Halton MP Derek Twigg said: “There is widespread concern amongst supporters, financial commentators and football journalists that the controlling interests in the clubs do not obviously demonstrate long-term commitment to the clubs involved and to the health of football in general.”

And Peter Kilfoyle, whose Walton constituency includes both city clubs, said: “The time has come for football fans to be given a tangible stake in the clubs they have helped to build and still support.”

Two Jailed Over Hand Grenade Plot

Two men were jailed on Monday over a planned arson attack in which a military hand grenade was left outside football hero Kenny Dalglish's home.

The army bomb squad had to be called to the former Liverpool and Blackburn manager's house last July when undercover police scotched an attack on one of his neighbours.

Dalglish, 58, now Liverpool FC's academy director, and his wife Marina, 55, who runs a cancer charity, were not at the property in Birkdale, near Southport, at the time.

A gang of thugs were planning to launch the British military grenade - which explodes into 1,800 lethal fragments - through the living room window of businessman John Ball.

Mr Ball was at home with his children aged nine and 17 months at the time.

The attack, which was abandoned when a security guard reported the men, would have been one of many intimidatory attacks on Mr. Ball's properties and businesses.

On Monday, Liverpool Crown Court heard Mr. Ball and his business partner Terry Riley were the victims of more than 20 attacks because of a venture involving a Liverpool garage.

Three men were said to have arranged the intended bombing of Mr. Ball's home on 26 July in a bid to pressure him away from giving evidence in an impending court case against them.

The trio allegedly used Mark Johnston, 21, to orchestrate the planned bombing from his Liverpool jail cell - where he was serving a nine-year sentence for robbery.

Johnston, of MacQueen Street, Liverpool, texted convicted drug dealer Carl Higgins, 29, to find another man to throw the grenade for "a monkey" - £500.

When police traced the texts back to Johnston and searched his cell they discovered the mobile phone hidden up his bottom.

Messages from Johnston to Higgins included: "Fits in ur hand", "Lad, he's gota smash window an throw into house otherwise they wont pay gota be done rite lad", "gota pull pin lad", and "Make sure window smashed first an throw gota do the job as they want it doin lad".

Higgins, who the court heard has a very low IQ after being attacked in April 2008 by a gang wielding an axe and sword, recruited unemployed criminal Simon Ignacio, 28.

When Ignacio and Higgins were rumbled outside their intended victim's house they fled but Ignacio - who has convictions for battery and harassment - left the grenade in a shrubbery outside Mr. Dalglish's home.

His barrister, Nigel Power, said he had no idea he was carrying a British military grenade and thought he was only carrying "an onion bomb" made from fireworks.

He also said Ignacio, of Lee Park Avenue, Liverpool, was only involved in the conspiracy for half an hour before the police were called and would not have thrown it if people were inside the house.

Higgins, of Helston Green, Huyton, Liverpool, was jailed for five years and Ignacio sentenced to four-and-a-half years.

Both men admitted conspiring to cause damage and being reckless to whether life would be endangered.

The judge, Mr. Justice Edwards-Stuart, said: "It was a real Army grenade which is absolutely a lethal weapon.

"Had there been anyone in the room and the grenade landed and exploded death would have been immediate. The explosion would have caused massive damage to the house."

"It was an utterly reckless act," he added.

Johnston will be sentenced on February 26.