Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rafael Benitez: Liverpool Have To Keep Going In Race For Fourth

Liverpool could only manage a draw with Manchester City this afternoon at the City of Manchester Stadium and Rafael Benitez said he thought it was a fair result.

“Both teams were working hard in defence trying to beat the team in attack and we couldn't so I think in the end it was fair,” he told Sky Sports.

The Reds boss admitted the race for fourth will be long and difficult but said he believes Liverpool will come out on top.

“They are a good team, they had good players before, they had [sic] good players now and I think that we knew that it would be difficult and we know that it will be a long race so we have to keep going,” he explained.

“We have to believe, no? If the manager doesn't have confidence it will be difficult for the players.

“We have enough quality and now Yossi [Benayoun] is coming back, [Fernando] Torres is coming back, hopefully [Glen] Johnson will come back in the next week.

“We are now bringing players back, the competition will be better for us and hopefully we can improve.”

On the fitness of his star striker Fernando Torres, Benitez said it was a matter of wait and see.

He added: “We will see how he trains during the week, we have a game in the Europa League on Thursday so we have to decide but I think it's still the same, he needs to keep working with the fitness coach.”

Assessing the game, the Liverpool manager thought his side could have nicked it at the end and were unlucky to be denied a penalty.

Benitez continued: “At the end we were more in control, passing the ball with Aquilani – we have plenty of possession. They could be a threat in counter attack but we have more control and also the situation with Yossi maybe could be a penalty so I think we were close at the end to win the game."

Benitez said he hadn't seen the incident but Benayoun had told him he was fouled.

He concluded: “I ask him because I couldn't see the replay, he told me that he thought it was a penalty so at the end you know it's good to see a player trying to not take advantage of this.

“You have to understand his decision and that's it.”

Yossi Benayoun Feels He And Fernando Torres Can Get Liverpool Scoring

Liverpool's midfielder Yossi Benayoun feels that his side's current failings are in attack but believes his own return and that of Fernando Torres can help to change things.

The Merseysiders have scored just once in their past three games and looked particularly lacklustre in front of goal during yesterday's goalless draw with Manchester City, when Benayoun and Torres both returned from five-week injury spells.

"For any player the worst thing that can happen to you is to be injured, so I'm just happy to be back," said Benayoun. "It was difficult but hopefully now I can keep working hard in training, try to improve and try to help the team.

"We know where we need to improve. We need to create more and do more up front. One point [against City] was not good enough but it wasn't bad either. We are still in the race for fourth place and that is the most important thing. Hopefully the defence will keep playing well. We have got the best defence in the league," he claimed, "now we need to create more and then the goals will come."

Torres is still Liverpool's leading scorer in the league, with 12 goals, despite his spell out after a knee operation and being troubled by a groin problem prior to that.

"Both players have been important in the past and hopefully both will be important in the future," said Rafael Benítez, the manager. "Fernando needs to improve his match fitness and Yossi has to do the same, but at least we have better competition and we can manage in a different way."

The draw with City saw Liverpool drop to sixth in the league, although they are only one point of Spurs in fourth spot.

Ibrahim Afellay: Dazzling £10M Dutchman Opens Door To Liverpool Summer Move

Press reports suggest a number of Serie A’s biggest clubs are vying for the signature of PSV’s attacking midfielder Ibrahim Afellay alongside Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool. The Dutchman’s agent Rob Jansen has suggested that the player’s future is uncertain which will only increase speculation that the player will be on his way to Anfield at the end of the season.

Jansen told Sportweek: “The contract between Ibrahim and PSV expires in June 2011, so we are not in a hurry to renew.

“We decided to take it easy and think carefully before signing any renewal.

“Ibrahim is very happy with what he is doing at PSV and so it is possible that he will stay in Eindhoven.

“But he could also decide to move abroad. At the moment I cannot say anything else. We will see how the situation develops.”

The talented 23-year-old has also been linked to a number of Premier League clubs in the past with Arsenal thought to be very keen prior to the arrival of Andrey Arshavin which ended that interest. Liverpool are certainly looking to add more width and quality to their squad although failure to qualify for the Champions League will scupper their hopes as Afellay is in high demand despite a relatively low-key season for PSV.

The PSV star was born in Utrecht but is of Moroccan descent and came through the ranks at his present club. Afellay made his PSV debut in the 2003/04 season as a 17-year-old but has since become one of the stars of the Dutch giants. In fact, the young star played his part in 4 successive Dutch title wins but hopes of a 5th ended when AZ finished top last season. PSV are once again top this season but are only a point clear of Steve McClaren’s FC Twente.

Last season the club languished in 4th place, a staggering 15 points behind champions AZ. However, although PSV struggled, Afellay certainly didn’t. Last season he enjoyed his most productive season yet with an impressive 13 goals in 28 league appearances (27 starts). This season he has scored just 3 goals in 22 league starts but has been one of the stars of the side prompting interest from Serie A and Liverpool. Benitez has signed Maxi Rodriguez which provides more width to the Reds side but Afellay can play on both flanks as well as being adept at playing as the 2nd striker. He is also more of a dribbler than Rodriguez, Albert Riera or Dirk Kuyt so would give Liverpool a different threat. The future of his compatriot Ryan Babel is less than certain so a proposed swap deal could be on the cards as Babel’s reputation in Holland is still very good.

Despite his age, Afellay has now made 133 League appearances for the club and scored 28 goals. However, PSV’s lack of European football this season has prompted unrest from the winger which could lead to a move to Anfield.

The PSV midfielder demonstrated his quality in the 2007/08 season when he played a starring role in his side’s 1-0 Uefa Cup 1st leg win over Spurs at White Hart Lane. His ability to beat his marker on the outside or inside was perfectly illustrated in this match as the Spurs former right-back Pascal Chimbonda a torrid time.

Afellay has also won 19 caps for his country which is impressive in itself when you consider the amount of midfield talent the Dutch boast. He was given the opportunity of playing for either Holland or Morocco but opted for his resident country. He won his first cap under Marco Van Basten in against Slovenia in March 2007 and has since become a permanent fixture in the squad including 3 appearances at Euro 2008. He is widely expected to be part of the Dutch squad at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. Benitez will be looking to tie up a deal for the player before the finals as his price-tag could rise rapidly if he performs well at the tournament.

Benitez likes his players to show versatility and the fact that Afellay can play on either flank or as a 2nd striker makes him the perfect addition for Liverpool if they can qualify for the Champions League and raise the necessary £10m to sign him perhaps through the sale or a swap deal involving Babel.

Stevie: I Learn From Zidane

Steven Gerrard has named Zinedine Zidane as his all-time favourite footballer - claiming he could learn much from the French 'genius'.

The Real Madrid and Juventus legend last year hailed our skipper as the world's best player, and in an interview with FIFA.com Gerrard revealed the feeling was mutual.

"My favourite player of all time is Zinedine Zidane," said the Scouser. "Just to see him play - the way he moves, the way he controls the ball, the way he passes - is an absolute privilege and there's so much you can learn from that guy, he's a genius with the ball.

"From an England point of view, there is Gazza. I like watching gifted players who are skilful, and Gazza is probably one of the most skilful English players there's even been, so I would pick those two."

Meanwhile, Gerrard is ready to take a crucial penalty if required at this summer's World Cup despite missing in the shoot-out with Portugal in 2006.

He said: "I think, having missed the penalty, I'll probably be a bit more composed next time and take my time a bit more.

"I'll work that little bit harder in training to make sure I know what I'm going to be doing. It all happened really fast in 2006 and I felt after the penalties that I should have taken my time more.

"It is massive pressure, but that's what we've got to do, we've got to try and handle that pressure. I didn't handle it in 2006, so if I'm put in that situation again I will try and deal with the pressure a lot better.

"But it's difficult, it's not like taking a normal penalty in practice - you've got so much responsibility. You know all the fans back home are watching and when you're tired, when you're under so much pressure, that's when mistakes happen and that's what happened to me in 2006."

Gerrard believes England will head to South Africa mentally prepared for victory thanks to Italian boss Fabio Capello.

"He'll bring many qualities to the team," said our No.8. "He's a winner; he's got an unbelievable amount of experience and has enjoyed a remarkable amount of success. He's transmitting a winning mentality to the team, so fingers crossed that will stand us in good stead for the tournament."

Despite the team's newfound resilience, Gerrard knows it will be difficult for England to live up to the often bloated expectations back home.

For the 29-year-old, blocking out the media hype will be crucial to his dream of lifting the World Cup.

He explained: "As players, we have to deal with the expectations and the pressure of playing for England. The supporters and media are very passionate about the country and a lot is expected of us. It's important that we, as players, cope with that in the best way we can."

Rafael Benitez Hopeful Glen Johnson Could Return For Liverpool Within A Week

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is optimistic that right-back Glen Johnson could soon follow Yossi Benayoun and Fernando Torres back into action for the Reds.

The England full-back has been sidelined since December 29 with a medial ligament injury in his right knee, but his club boss thinks that he could return within the next few days.

"I think we have enough quality, Yossi Benayoun is coming back, Fernando Torres is coming back, hopefully Glen Johnson will come back in the next week," Benitez told the Reds' official website.

"So we are now bringing players back and the competition will be better for us and hopefully we can improve."

Meanwhile, Sunday's dismal 0-0 draw with Manchester City was marked late on by a Vincent Kompany challenge on Benayoun that could have led to a penalty.

Benayoun did not go to ground but stayed on his feet and attempted to cross the ball. Benitez praised the player's spirit of fair play, though hinted that he might have advised the Israeli to do differently next time.

"Yossi thought it was a penalty but was trying to play on," he added.

"Sometimes it is good in terms of fair play and sometimes it is bad for the result. He was trying to play on, you can't blame the player, he was trying to score and go forward."

Jamie Carragher Amazed By Liverpool Fans' Criticism Of Him And Steven Gerrard

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher feels that he and his team-mates have reacted well to the criticism that came their way earlier on in the season.

The centre-back believes that he worked hard to get his form back after the Reds' well-documented early-season woe.

But he is still surprised by the intensity of some of the criticism that came his and Steven Gerrard's way, with fans' expectations of local stars much higher than for other players.

"I'm pleased by how I reacted to it, especially in some of the big games we've played recently," the former England international told the Reds' official website.

"When you get to my age you're taking it a year at a time so I get pride out of every good performance.

"It may sound strange because of the year we've had, but I'm proud of a lot of this season too.

"I fought to get my form back. I could have hidden or taken myself out of the firing line as I know a lot of players do. I wanted to be out there and now I feel I've come out the other side.

"I think when me and Stevie aren't around in five years' time, people will look back at the last few years and recognise how much we gave for the club.

"It's unbelievable some of the criticism Stevie gets sometimes, given his influence on the trophies we've won.

"In football, generally people remember you more fondly when you're not there any more.

"Loyalty is taken for granted in the local lads, not just at Liverpool but at all clubs. We're the ones people want to sort things out because we know what it means to the supporters. You're not seen as a big star. You're part of the furniture so people don't get as excited by the fact you're here."

Carragher also feels that Liverpool fans tend to have selective memories about players who have left the club. Supporters often seem to remember Reds players as being better than they actually were, according to the 32-year-old.

"Plenty of players I've worked with have developed better reputations as Liverpool players after they've left," he added.

"Fans tend to remember the good times. Lads who have left us get talked up, but they didn't always set the place alight when they were here.

"I don't think it helps to dwell on those who have left.

"You can't keep looking back like that. I wish Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush were still in the team too so you might as well be arguing we'd win the league if we still had them."

Bradford City Sign Liverpool Defender Threlfall On Loan

League Two Bradford City have signed Robbie Threlfall from Premier League side Liverpool on loan.

The 21-year-old former England Under-19 left-back, who can play in midfield, moves on an initial one-month deal.

The youngster already has League Two experience after previous loan spells at both Hereford and Northampton.

Threlfall, Peter Taylor's first signing as Bradford's new manager, goes straight into City's squad for Tuesday's night trip to Rochdale.

Liverpool-born Threlfall, who has had loan spells at Hereford in both the last two campaigns, made four appearances at Northampton earlier this season.

He also had a loan spell with Stockport County last season.

Barry - Too Much At Stake

Gareth Barry admits Manchester City's 0-0 draw at home to Liverpool was a game neither of the UEFA Champions League hopefuls wanted to lose.

Sunday's showdown at the City of Manchester Stadium was a wretched affair, with the only notable highlight being Pepe Reina's full-stretch save from Emmanuel Adebayor in the second half.

The stalemate allowed Tottenham Hotspur to move into fourth position after their victory at Wigan Athletic, but only one point separates the four contenders for the final Champions League place.

Barry concedes City were disappointed not to win the game, but appeared satisfied to take a point from the encounter given what was at stake.

"It was one of those games with no real chances," the midfielder told the club's official website. "There was a lot at stake and you could tell. We are slightly disappointed not to win as the home team.

"But anyone watching the game would sense that neither team wanted to lose. There was so much to lose if the other team got three points. It was very tactical out there.

"Shay Given only had one shot to save, and Pepe Reina only had the one shot from Emmanuel Adebayor. It was just so tight, because nobody on that pitch wanted to lose the game.

"You have to show Liverpool respect. They are not having as good a season as they would like, but they are still a hard team to beat. We will hopefully be able to build on a solid point."

Barry also confirmed that he is feeling fine after taking a late kick on the ankle from Javier Mascherano, who was fortunate not to receive a second yellow card after referee Peter Walton failed to award a free-kick.

Barry added: "I was facing the other way, so I didn't even see who it was. It was just a kick, it's nothing. I'm fine."

Craig Bellamy appeared as a second-half substitute against his former club and Barry was quick to play down reports the winger had fallen out with manager Roberto Mancini in the build-up to the game.

"We've had headlines all season," said the England international. "We're a club that's in transition and have spent a lot of money to reach the top, so we are going to be news. Headlines come with the territory.

"There was a slight difference in opinion, not a row. The manager and Craig Bellamy are both winners, and they both have strong opinions. That's got to be good for the club."