Friday, February 12, 2010

Gerrard Backs Reds To Beat City

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has set his sights on beating Manchester City in 10 days' time as the race for Champions League places heats up.

Wednesday night's 1-0 defeat at Arsenal - where the Reds have not won for a decade - along with a similar reverse for Tottenham at Wolves and Aston Villa's 1-1 draw with Manchester United handed the initiative to City.

They are level on points with fourth-placed Liverpool but have two matches in hand and the fixture list pitches the two together at Eastlands a week on Sunday.

With third place now seemingly a distant hope after the Gunners extended their advantage to eight points Gerrard has called for all efforts to be put into beating Roberto Mancini's side.

"We have got to use a lot of positives from the (Arsenal) match," he said.

"There are plenty of teams who go there and get played off the park. I certainly feel disappointed leaving with nothing.

"We played against a fantastic Arsenal team with quality players who can open up any team in the world, and they did not really create many chances.

"It was just one mistake in our defence and they scored from it.

"The way we played over the 90 minutes, we certainly deserved a point.

"The lads are gutted after putting in all that effort and getting nothing, but sometimes that happens and you just have to get on with it.

"There is nothing we can do about this result now. The lads will reflect on it and we have a very big game coming up against Manchester City.

"But if we play like we did at Arsenal, then I fancy us to beat them.

"I feel if we are on our game and playing well, we are a match for anyone."

An eighth defeat of the season - six more than last year when they ran champions Manchester United a close second - is one of the most damaging statistics for Liverpool.

Seven of those came in the first four months of the campaign. By contrast, Manchester City have lost four and none so far at Eastlands.

The Liverpool captain knows their early form has cost them dearly but held up their seven-match unbeaten league run which came to an end at the Emirates Stadium as a yardstick for the remainder of the season.

"We are where we are in the table because we were very inconsistent earlier in the season," said the England international.

"But look at Liverpool's performances over the last six or seven games - if we show that consistency, then we will challenge for the league."

Gerrard's form has, like the team's, been patchy this season with niggling injuries preventing him from putting in the kind of inspirational performances he has gained a reputation for.

He now feels he is close to getting back to his best but said it was little consolation if it was not benefiting the team.

"I am really happy with the way I played myself [at Arsenal] but I get nothing from that because we came away with nothing," added the 28-year-old.

"But my form is improving."

Off the field manager Rafael Benitez said a deal to sign Standard Liege forward Milan Jovanovic was still to be completed.

The Serbia international, out of contract in the summer, told a Belgian newspaper yesterday the two parties had reached an agreement and all he had to do was complete a medical.

"There are a lot of rumours in the press but we are working and we will say something if we finalise things," said the Liverpool boss.

"At this moment we are talking with people and we are working."

Liverpool's non-involvement in this week's FA Cup fifth round may come as a blessing in disguise as he currently has defensive worries.

With the in-form Sotirios Kyrgiakos still to serve two matches of a suspension, fellow defender Jamie Carragher was substituted with an injury last night.

Benitez is hopeful the extra few days' rest will allow his vice-captain to make a full recovery before the trip to Manchester City.

Rafa Predicts Tight Finish

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez believes the race for fourth place will go right down to the end of the season.

The Reds missed the chance to go clear in the battle to claim fourth spot after being beaten 1-0 at Arsenal on Wednesday night.

Liverpool currently hold the coveted fourth spot, but Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa are all battling to qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League.

Benitez was disappointed to see their recent unbeaten run come to an end at the Emirates and has called on his side to bounce back in their next league outing, which is a testing trip to City.

"When you lose after nine games without losing you have to be disappointed," said Benitez. "They (Arsenal) are a good team but now we think about the future.

"The race for the fourth position will be to the end and we have to be ready for the next game.

"It is difficult for anyone to win too many games in a row. The main thing is to be calm and to keep going."

Benitez is also waiting to find out the full extent of the injury picked up by Jamie Carragher against the Gunners.

Carragher was forced off in the second half with a groin problem and Benitez is hopeful the injury is not too serious.

"Carra has a problem with his adductor," added Benitez. "It seems like it is not serious but he could not carry on.

"We will see in one or two days and see how he feels."

Liverpool Target Flying Winger Milos Krasic Alongside Best Mate Jovanovic

A rreport in The Independent this morning claims Liverpool are favourites to sign highly-rated CSKA Moscow winger Milos Krasic along with his Serbian international team mate Milan Jovanovic .

Krasic is out of contract at the Russian giants and has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs alongside Liverpool, including Manchester City.

Milos Krasic, 25, is predominantly a right-sided attacking midfielder who has been compared to Pavel Nedved. The Serbian international starred for CSKA in 2009, scoring 13 goals and providing eight assists in 33 appearances.

Sam Wallace in the Independent reports that Liverpool believe they have the upper hand on signing Krasic because of his close friendship with Jovanovic. They are international team mates and lived together when the Standard Liege striker was at Lokomotiv Moscow.

Milan Jovanovic’s agent claimed earlier this week that the deal to join Liverpool was done and that the 28-year-old striker would be joining from Standard Liege on a free transfer in the summer.

However, Liverpool boss Benitez said at the Emirates last night: "I just want to talk about the game. There are a lot of rumours in the press but we are still working and we will say something if we finalise it."

Jovanovic Deal Not Done As Rafa Waits On Carragher

RAFA BENITEZ insists a deal for Standard Liege striker Milan Jovanovic is still not complete as the Liverpool boss faces an anxious wait over the fitness of Jamie Carragher.

The 28-year-old Serbia international has told Belgian newspaper Sporza he will be making the switch to Anfield on a free transfer this summer but Benitez says there is still work to be done before the switch is finalised.

Benitez said: “There have been lots of rumours but we will only say something if we finalise things. At this moment we are just talking with people and working.”

Jovanovic has claimed the deal is already done, saying: “We have reached an agreement for three years, with the option to extend for another season. I have yet to undergo a medical exam, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

“I opted to sign for Liverpool because they’re one of the biggest teams in Europe. I’m absolutely delighted.”

Carragher limped off with a groin injury early in the second half at the Emirates last night and he was sorely missed as Abou Diaby headed home the only goal of the game.

“Carra has a problem with his adductor,” Benitez revealed.

“It’s not serious, but we will have to see. He couldn’t play on and we will see in the next few days how he feels.”

The defeat ended the Reds’ seven-game unbeaten league run and dented their hopes of a top four finish. They remain in fourth place but are level on points with Manchester City who now have two games in hand.

Benitez insisted his side were harshly denied a late spot-kick when Steven Gerrard’s free-kick struck Cesc Fabregas on the arm.

“I’m really disappointed with the handball decision,” he said.

“It was clear and it has to be a penalty. I don’t know why he didn’t give it.

“During the game you don’t realise how clear the handball was, but the referee was there.

“We’ve had some decisions this year which we’re not happy about. Today was another one, but we cannot waste time talking about this.”

The Reds are without a game until they travel to Romania to face Unirea Urziceni in the Europa League next Thursday.

Benitez is confident there will be no hangover from their defeat in the capital.

“Always, when you lose, you’re disappointed, but the team was doing well,” he said.

“We defended well, had some chances, and could have scored, especially at the end when we had two or three situations.

“Their keeper was good.”

How Will New Boy Milan Jovanovic Fit In At Liverpool?

Rafael Benitez might not have gone all-out to strengthen Liverpool’s squad in the January transfer-window, but the Spaniard has wasted little time in securing his first signing for next season.

Serbian international forward Milan Jovanovic is poised to sign a three-year contract at Anfield – subject to a medical – which will commence when his current deal at Belgian champions Standard Liege expires in June. The former Shakhtar Donetsk man is said to be "delighted" by the prospect of joining "one of the top 10 clubs in Europe"

Jovanovic is a striker of some pedigree, as his record of 68 goals in 141 games for Liege suggests; and the 29-year-old has also scored nine goals in 23 appearances for his country. He was named Belgium's Footballer of the Year in 2008, and has two league winners’ medals to his name.

So what can Liverpool expect from their new Serbian star? UK asked Belgian football expert Gary Niblock what he made of the man Liege fans call ‘Jova’....

Firstly, Gary, what kind of player is Jovanovic? What are his strengths as a player?

Jovanovic is mainly a striker, although he was moved to the left (being a left footer) as punishment by his manager Boloni Laszlo because 'Jova' was making noises about wanting to leave the club.

He is a very good finisher; but his major strength for me is his technique. He is skilful and, whilst I would accept he is no flying machine, he makes up for it with his intelligence and he knows how to be in the right positions.

At Liverpool, he is likely to be either a foil for Fernando Torres, or a replacement. How do you think he will handle this? What is he like as a link-up player?

He likes to come deep and be involved in the play and as for linking up with others, I would say that if you look at his partners at Standard - Igor De Camargo and Dieumerci Mbokani - the three link up well but in particular Jovanovic with Mbokani, who is a direct, target man type striker.

Whilst Jova is tall and fairly strong, he likes to play with someone who will lead the line and put themselves about so to speak - a bit like Torres does. He is decent in the air but I wouldn't be too worried about him from that point of view if I were Nemanja Vidic, say, although as I say, that's not so much his role in the team.

What about his character, is he a likeable guy in the dressing room with his team-mates?

Jovanovic is charismatic and with a good sense of humour. He likes to joke with reporters and at the same time he is quite emotional - often he reminds me of the tennis player Goran Ivanisevic in the way he comes across.

With his fellow team-mates, I am of course not in the dressing room but he seems to be appreciated for his footballing ability, though I'd say that his ambition to leave did create tensions with the other, mostly younger, players at Standard. However I don't believe this affected his performances too much, every player has a dip now and then but he has been consistently a fine player for Standard.

In terms of the media, Jovanovic speaks good English, is he popular with the press in Belgium?

He is in the media a lot because of his media-friendly nature and he is not shy to get his viewpoint across, especially when he feels he has been harshly treated and hard-done by. Journalists enjoy interviewing him in English as he speaks very little French, and he is always happy to answer questions.

Standard Liege’s supporters were critical of Jovanovic earlier in the year when the team was struggling, why was this?

During some games earlier this season the Standard fans were chanting anti-Serbian slogans (pro-Kosovo chants) as a way of getting at Jovanovic. They blamed him for the team's underperformance this season when the reality is that the departure of Guchi Onyewu left a big hole in their defence.

As to why he was singled out, it's difficult to say, I was as much surprised by it as Milan was himself. He always used to remind the fans in interviews that he was the club’s top scorer. I think they felt he lacked commitment and that sometimes if it wasn't going for him in games, it was because his heart wasn't in it rather than the fact he was just not in top form or he just wasn't getting the rub of the green. It was very unfair and harsh on him; however, I don't believe this pushed him out the door.

At 29, Jovanovic is a fairly late arrival to the big-time, why has it taken him so long to join an elite European league?

He is a late developer and when Standard won the play-offs last season he did say that he was no spring chicken anymore and that he wanted one big move in his career - to make up for lost time in a way - but there is no doubt that a lot of the motivation was financial and he was looking for a monster pay-day before probably retiring back to Serbia and winding down his career that way.

Liverpool Fury After Howard Webb Turns Down Last-Gasp Handball Appeals

Liverpool have reacted with collective fury after Howard Webb, England’s World Cup referee, failed to award a last-minute penalty following a Cesc Fabregas handball.

With only seconds of the match remaining, Steven Gerrard attempted to bend a free kick around Arsenal’s wall, only for Fabregas to use his left arm to parry the ball to safety as Arsenal held out for a 1-0 win.

Led by Gerrard, the Liverpool players protested to Webb, but the appeals were waved away to add to the sense of injustice at Anfield following a string of controversial refereeing decisions this season.

“I’m really disappointed with the handball decision,” said Rafael Benítez, the Liverpool manager. “It is a handball and has to be a penalty. I don’t know [why he didn’t give it]. The referee was there. We’ve had some decisions this year which we’re not happy about.”

Fabregas had previously also been booked, meaning he could have been sent off if Webb had penalised the handball. Replays, however, indicated that the infringement had taken place just outside the penalty area.

Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, thought the initial free kick should not have been given, although it appeared that Webb had made the decision for a tackle by Fabregas on Dirk Kuyt rather than Abou Diaby’s challenge on Steven Gerrard.

“It was a controversial situation,” said Wenger. “I believe first that it was no free kick. First Steven Gerrard went for a free kick and got one, but it was a bit harsh. Then Cesc touched the ball with his hand.”

Fabregas admitted there may have been contact with his arm. “I maybe touched it a little bit with my hand, but I would have touched it with my head anyway,” he said. “There have been so many incidents that he [Webb] got wrong, that maybe one more isn’t anything more. I think we deserved the win – this was a test of character.”

Fabregas also denied claims by a Spanish radio station that he has reached a verbal agreement to join Barcelona at the end of the season. Barcelona issued a statement yesterday saying there had been no negotiations with Fabregas and the Arsenal captain added: “They denied it, I’ve denied it. I just want to focus on Arsenal – Arsenal FC is above every single player in their history.”

Arsenal’s win closes the gap on Chelsea to just six points and, crucially, they have also now played Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea twice.

“It was a massive result,” said Wenger. “It is a fantastic night for the club. Nobody realises how hard it is to play United, Chelsea and Liverpool on the trot, physically and mentally. We showed great strength and solidarity.

“I believe we will fight until the last second of the season. We believe in our chances. Chelsea again lost, United dropped points so it is open for everybody. I don’t see any mathematical reason why we shouldn’t believe.”

Andrei Arshavin, meanwhile, will have a scan today to determine the severity of a hamstring injury.

Liverpool Analysis: Lack Of Fire-Power Costs Rafael Benitez

It was Arsenal versus Liverpool alright, but not as we know it.

These two great institutions of English football have produced some memorable moments down the years - think back to the FA Cup Finals of 1971 and 2001, the last-day drama of 1989, or the 4-4 draw last April - but on Wednesday night they served up an instantly-forgettable encounter in front of a nervous Emirates crowd.

Rafael Benitez would have been pretty pleased had his side managed to hold firm for 19 more minutes, but Abou Diaby's header condemned the Reds to a first defeat in eight games, and gave vital resuscitation to an Arsenal title bid that was on a life-support machine prior to kick-off.

Wenger's side are under pressure following hefty defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea in recent weeks, and it showed from the first whistle. Liverpool were far from fluent, but they were in the home side's faces and dragging the game down to a tactical battle rather than a free-flowing spectacle. Benitez has never won at the Emirates, and knows that this Liverpool side were unlikely to do so with a gung-ho approach.

The reason for this is simple - the Reds have a lack of genuine attacking threat in games such as this. Benitez was correct to keep faith in young Frenchman David Ngog as his lone-front man, but the 20-year-old was a boy lost in a man's game against the immaculate William Gallas and Thomas Vermaelen.

His one chance came at the start of the second half, as he raced onto Steven Gerrard's inviting through-ball. He was astute to get himself across Vermaelen, but in doing so delayed his shot long enough for Gallas to nip in with a superbly-timed challenge. It may be a moot point, but one imagines that the injured Fernando Torres would have been wheeling away in celebration had he been presented with the same opening.

Behind him, it was a night to forget for both Maxi Rodriguez and the in-form Dirk Kuyt. Wenger sprung a surprise by naming Emmanuel Eboue ahead of Bacary Sagna at right-back, but the Ivorian handled Maxi with ease, and Kuyt looked distinctly off-colour despite his usual endeavour.

Which meant, predictably, that the creative spotlight fell once again on Gerrard. The Reds' captain is not enjoying a vintage season by his own high standards, and as such cannot be expected to shoulder the entire attacking burden for his side. Gerrard huffed and puffed here - and in truth looked the likeliest in Liverpool colours to create something - but if anything the visitors' threat waned as the game wore on.

Substitute Ryan Babel - impressive again after a promising half-hour in Saturday's win over Everton - did draw one fine save from the Spaniard, who tipped the Dutchman's 25-yarder onto the bar, but Manuel Almunia will reflect on a pretty quiet evening all told.

Not that Arsenal were much better. Wenger threw Nicklas Bendtner into the action from the start for the first time since November, but the Gunners still lacked the punch which so illuminated their early-season form. The manner in which Tomas Rosicky dallied when presented with a golden chance by Andrey Arshavin's slide-rule pass summed up the sense of nervousness around the stadium.

In fairness, Liverpool's defence - like Arsenal's - enjoyed a pretty solid evening, with both Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel excelling, and it was always likely to require a moment of artistry from either side to win the game. Rosicky's cross and Diaby's flying header did the trick.

For Wenger it brings an end to the storm-clouds which have gathered around North London of late, and eliminates the points dropped in defeat to Chelsea on Sunday. To do so, just like Liverpool previously, it required a performance of guts and desire, as opposed to flair and fluidity. The Frenchman can be satisfied on both counts.

For Benitez - who was left angry after referee Howard Webb refused to award a last-minute penalty for handball by Cesc Fabregas - it is the end of a run which has gone a long way to restoring the confidence shattered by the club's awful winter run, the disappointment etched on the Spaniard's face after the final whistle is testament to the Reds' improvement since a mind-numbing defeat to Portsmouth just before Christmas.

They were as good here as they have been in their past seven unbeaten games since then, the difference being that they were up against a team that can punish a lack of attacking conviction.

Next Sunday's trip to Manchester City now assumes even more importance in the race for a top-four finish - if that were possible.

Liverpool FC Deny Latest Takeover Rumours But Billionaire ‘Is Seriously Considering Bid’

Despite denials from Liverpool FC that Indian businessmen Mukesh Ambani and Subrata Roy are amongst the potential investors in negotiations with the club, sources in India insist that Roy is seriously considering a bid for the Anfield giants, which could emerge within the next ten days.

Roy, chairman of the Sahara Group conglomerate, has consistently supported Indian cricket and distanced himself from a move to buy a Premier League soccer club, but rumours linking him with a move to Liverpool have not gone away, and an increasing number of sources close to Sahara claim that Roy is seriously considering the move.

'It is believed Roy is examining the viability of buying a stake, which would dilute the shareholding of Liverpool's co-owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks,' notes the Daily Telegraph newspaper. 'Liverpool remains confident of completing an equity infusion, a stated "requirement" of their banks, RBS and Wachovia, if Hicks and Gillett are to refinance their £237 million loan this summer before the end of the season.'

Earlier this week Rafa Benitez, Liverpool's manager, added his voice to those calling for Hicks and Gillett, to sell a stake in the club to fresh investors.

"Everyone knows we need a new stadium and investors if we want to go forward so it would be good for the club," Benitez told ESPN. "Over the last two years everyone is talking about new investors and the new stadium and so all the fans are waiting for this good news - and me too."