Saturday, February 20, 2010

Benitez Weary Of Man City's Threat

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez admits he will be happy his team do not have to face striker Carlos Tevez at Eastlands on Sunday, but is still wary of Manchester City's quality.

The Argentina international, who Liverpool tried to sign in the summer, is currently in his homeland on compassionate leave after his wife gave birth prematurely.

And while he will not feature in a clash which could have a major bearing on who finishes fourth in the Premier League, Benitez is aware there are many other players who can hurt his side.

"Clearly he is a good player who is doing well," said the Spaniard of the 19-goal striker.

"But they have other good strikers, so I think they have enough quality in the squad and can replace Tevez with another good player.

"If Tevez is not there and they miss him we will be pleased, but I will say again, they have quality."

Tevez's international team-mate Javier Mascherano knows exactly what the striker offers but expects City to be able to cope without him.

"He is a really good player but Manchester City have a lot of really good players so if he doesn't play, they will use a player who will try to do the same as him," said the Argentina captain.

"They are a top side with some really good players. I think it will be a really important game and will be a good game to watch."

Benitez has tried to play down the significance of the match, with City currently occupying the final Champions League spot one point ahead of Liverpool and with a match in hand.

He believes there is plenty of time remaining in the season for things to change significantly - especially with Tottenham and Aston Villa also challenging.

"It will be an important game for both teams and we will try to win," he said.

"If you cannot, it is better not to lose, but the main thing for us is to try to win.

"We will try to attack and we know we will have to score goals if we want to win.

"They are an attacking team and we will have to attack too, so I think it will be open."

Mascherano also believes that one match will not decide the Champions League fate of either side.

"We are one point behind them and some teams are very close to us so it's important to get the three points," said the midfielder.

"I think it's an important game but if any team lost, nothing will happen.

"There are still a lot of games to play so it will be an important game but it will decide nothing."

The side will have been lifted by last night's 1-0 victory over Unirea Urziceni, having seen their seven-match unbeaten Barclays Premier League run ended by Arsenal last week.

Vice-captain Jamie Carragher singled out the impact of substitutes Ryan Babel and Daniel Pacheco, with the former crossing for his team-mate to head across goal for David Ngog to score with nine minutes to go.

"Ryan and Dani did very well when they came on and made a big contribution for the goal," said the defender.

"They gave us a bit of a lift and more energy and that's what we needed. They made the difference.

"It would have been nice to get a few more but hopefully we can get an away goal and finish the game off next week."

Highly-rated reserve team striker Pacheco was making only his third appearance for the senior side, but the young Spaniard hopes to be able to play a bigger part in the remainder of the season.

"I was very happy to get involved with the game and help the team out and I think everyone was quite happy at the end," said the 19-year-old.

"It is always a good thing when the manager is talking about you but I know I have to keep working, keep listening and doing my best for the reserves.

"I've got to keep my feet on the floor. I hope I will get more chances in the future and do the same again.

"We can now think about Manchester City. If I get a chance again, I hope I will take it but we will see what happens."

Mascherano Plays Down Importance Of City Clash

Javier Mascherano does not believe that Sunday's meeting of Manchester City and Liverpool will be a decisive game in the battle for fourth place in the Premier League.

Roberto Mancini's side currently occupy the final Champions League spot ahead of Sunday's game at Eastlands with Liverpool one point behind having played a game more than City.

Tottenham and Aston Villa are also within three points of City and Mascherano feels that Liverpool, who defeated Unirea Urziceni in the Europa League on Thursday night, cannot strike a decisive blow at the weekend.

"I think it's an important game but if any team lost, nothing will happen," Mascherano told the club's official website. "There are still a lot of games to play so it will be an important game but it will decide nothing."

Liverpool have endured a difficult season in the league under Rafael Benitez, losing eight games to slip well off the title pace. City, meanwhile, are unbeaten at Eastlands and Mascherano is expecting a difficult game for the Reds.

"We have a very important game on Sunday so we will try to keep focus from now until Sunday on the Premier League and then we will think about the Europa League," he said. "We are one point behind them and some teams are very close to us so it's important to get the three points.

"We have to win but we cannot lose our heads. We have to go there thinking about winning but we have to play a very good game from the beginning. Obviously when you want to win you have to go forward but you have to be careful about the counter attack because they have some very good players so we have to be clever.

"I think from the arrival of Roberto Mancini has improved them a lot. They won a lot of games in a row, then they lost some points but at the end (of the season), it is positive for them so maybe they will be more organised, more clinical and more direct so we will see."

Jovanovic Deal A Sign Of Things To Come For Liverpool

Anybody thinking that Liverpool will be spending big in this summer’s transfer window will have to think again. The signing of Milan Jovanovic from Standard Li├Ęge may be a worrying sign of how the summer is set to pan out for Liverpool, and an insight in to the group of players Benitez will be looking at.

Jovanovic is out of contract in the summer and has agreed to join the reds after being reassured that he will be given the chance to impress, despite the presence of Fernando Torres. The Serbian international has scored 12 goals in 23 games so far this season and had also been linked with Milan, Juventus and Valencia.

Of course, the fact that Liverpool have signed yet another unknown player will be food for thought for the Anfield faithful. However, not only will he provide back-up for Torres, but he could also prove to be a worthy strike partner. Jovanovic has had a good strike rate in his past 3 seasons. Ok, he may have been playing in the Belgian league, hardly one of Europe’s elite, but at 6ft tall, he will undoubtedly prove a menace in the Premier League as well. In fact, with his height and ability in the air, he could be a target for Torres to play off.

The worry for Liverpool would be that the club are already showing that they cannot compete with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City in the transfer market. Even Alex McLeish at Birmingham will have more financial power than Rafa Benitez this summer. If, as they claim, Liverpool wish to challenge for the title, it is not free transfer’s and bargain buys that they should be looking for. Their latest signing will hardly create optimism at Anfield like say, David Silva or Juan Mata might do.

Optimistic fans will see this as a step forward. David N’gog has had a number of opportunities but still lacks the quality to lead the line on his own. Benitez has shown a reluctance to look into the academy despite the big reputation of Daniel Pacheco, which suggests that Jovanovic will be given a substantial amount of playing time. Fans hoping for a title challenge next season may have to think otherwise. Unfortunately for Liverpool, they will need more than a few bargain signings to avoid yet another season of high hopes and disappointment.

Benitez Braced For Tough Campaign

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has warned the club's Europa League campaign may be something of a war of attrition.

The Reds ground out a 1-0 victory at home to Unirea Urziceni on Thursday night in a performance which will hardly set alarm bells ringing around the rest of Europe.

David Ngog scored the only goal against Unirea nine minutes from time - only Liverpool's sixth in seven European matches this season - after a host of half-chances had not been taken.

One of the best fell to Steven Gerrard after just 25 seconds but his effort was tipped over the crossbar by goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis.

Just 11 months ago his side were hammering Real Madrid 4-0 at Anfield in the Champions League but Benitez said times had changed.

"We started really well and I was really pleased for a while," said the Spaniard.

"We cannot play at the same level that we played against Real Madrid every game, especially when the away team is defending well.

"You have to take your chances and if we had taken the first one in the first minute it could have been totally different but we had to be patient and keep on attacking.

"We were trying, passing the ball and continuing to move the ball."

Ngog's goal at least provided some breathing space ahead of next week's return leg.

And although Benitez would have liked a bigger cushion he was happy to take a slender lead to Bucharest.

"I think we could have scored one or two more goals but that is football," he said.

"The team was doing well in defence, 1-0 and a clean sheet is not bad.

"Sometimes when the other team is defending well you have to be patient and keep more of the ball and then we scored at the end.

"It is always important to score, especially in this competition, and not concede so we were waiting for this goal and were really please when we scored.

"It is not the best result but it is good. If we score one [in Romania] they have to score three so a clean sheet was important so we have to be relieved.

"If you ask me if I would prefer 2-0 then 100% yes but you cannot change the score now.

"We knew they were well-organised and they were a good team so we were expecting more or less their style of play."

Unirea coach Roni Levy believes the tie is far from over.

"I am disappointed in the result. Of course, Liverpool had the ball for most of the game but one moment we didn't concentrate we conceded a goal," he said.

"My players came and did the best they could do. This is the first half of two legs and I am looking forward to next week.

"It is a good result to take back to Bucharest: there is still a lot of interest in the game and still we have a chance."

Carra: Duo Made The Difference

Jamie Carragher hailed the impact of Ryan Babel and Daniel Pacheco after the duo came off the bench to play a major role in Liverpool's 1-0 win over Unirea Urziceni.

With the Reds searching for a vital goal, Dutch international Babel provided the cross which Pacheco intelligently headed across to David Ngog to net at the Kop end.

"Ryan and Dani did very well when they came on and made a big contribution for the goal," the Reds No.23 told

"They gave us a bit of a lift and more energy and that's what we needed. They made the difference."

Pacheco is training regularly with the first team squad at Melwood and Carragher believes the Spaniard has the talent to enjoy a bright Anfield future.

"Pacheco came on tonight and did well again," he added.

"He's a good lad as well and all of the lads get on with him very well. We are delighted for him to get his first team chance which he deserves."

The Reds will carry a slender lead to Bucharest for next Thursday's second leg and the vice-captain insists the team are confident of completing the job and qualifying for the last 16.

"In Europe you never want to concede a goal so we have to be pleased with that," he said.

"We would have liked to have scored a few more goals and kill the tie off but it's still alive now and it will be a difficult game over there.

"They were very organised and we have to give them credit for that. It's up to us to try and break them down and in the end we did.

"It would have been nice to get a few more but hopefully we can get an away goal and finish the game off next week."

Rafael Benitez's side now head to Eastlands on Sunday for a top-four clash with rivals Manchester City and Carragher is hoping the team don't make it as hard work as last season's dramatic win, when the Reds came from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

"It was a good win for us in the end but we don't want to be in that situation again when we find ourselves 2-0 down at half-time," he added.

"Hopefully we can get the three points and we go there with confidence.

"It's a big game. They are looking to establish themselves in the top four and we want to get there as well so it's all to play for."

Unirea Urziceni Defender Bruno Fernandes Disappointed After Liverpool Loss

Romanian minnows Unirea Urziceni put in an impressive defensive display in Thursday's Europa League match against Liverpool, but the English side eventually picked up a 1-0 victory, much to the dismay of Unirea defender Bruno Fernandes.

"If you'd told me it would be only 1-0 here against Liverpool, I'd say it was a good result, but after what I saw and what our team produced in terms of defensive work and sacrifice, 0-0 would be a good result so I am disappointed," said Fernandes to

"In the beginning, when we came into the game, we saw how difficult it was but I guess overall we did pretty well. I was surprised by the rhythm we were able to sustain – I didn't expect us to be as good as we were physically.

"But the way we closed the spaces and didn't let Liverpool play inside as they like and forced them wide is normal for us. We worked very hard on that aspect.

"We have to go forward in the second leg, because we need to score to equalise and maybe Liverpool will wait a little bit and not go forward so much like they did here."