Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lee Praise For Tireless Torres

Sammy Lee paid tribute to the tireless determination of Fernando Torres to regain fitness and insisted the Spain star's return has given everyone connected with the club a timely boost.

After spending five weeks on the sidelines due to a knee injury, Torres made his first-team comeback as a late substitute in the goalless draw with Manchester City on Sunday.

Though it's likely El Nino will have to settle for a place on the bench against Unirea Urziceni this evening, Lee believes the 25-year-old deserves recognition for the hard work he's put in at Melwood in recent weeks.

"It was nice to see him on the bench against Man City," the Reds assistant manager told

"It gave us a lift, gave all of the supporters a lift and I know for a fact it certainly took Man City by surprise.

"His recovery has been excellent and it's down to him and the medical staff. He's been working very hard.

"He's worked tirelessly coming in very early in the morning and staying very, very long hours. He has had good people working with him.

Gerrard Revels In Surpassing Newcastle United Legend's European Record

Liverpool FC talisman Steven Gerrard admitted he was extremely proud to surpass Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers legend Alan Shearer’s European scoring record during Liverpool FC’s 3-1 win in Unirea on Thursday night.

The Liverpool FC star scored the 33rd European goal of his career in the second half against Unirea Urziceni in Budapest last night, to better Newcastle United hero Alan Shearer’s tally and in doing become England’s all-time leading scorer in European competitions.

Gerrard suggested the feat, which helped Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool FC side to a 4-1 aggregate win in the Europa League, was all the more special because of the respect he retains for the once prolific Newcastle United striker, Alan Shearer.

The Liverpool FC captain told the club’s official television channel: “I wasn't aware before the game about a record and it's always nice to break them, especially someone like Shearer's, who I have a lot of respect for, so I'm really pleased.”

“It's always nice to break records but the main thing is to get into the next round - and the most pleasing thing is to do that.”

Liverpool Confirm Martin Skrtel Has Broken Metatarsal

Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez has suffered another injury blow after it was confirmed defender Martin Skrtel has broken his foot.

The Slovakian centre-back was injured in last night’s 3-1 victory over Romanians Unirea Urziceni, which helped Liverpool FC reach the last 16 of the Europa League.

Benitez feared the worst last night and x-rays at the club’s Melwood training ground on Friday have confirmed he has fractured a metatarsal in his right foot.

"We were really disappointed after the game because it was a good result but then we had the bad news about Martin," said the Liverpool FC manager.

"He’s had x-rays today and they confirmed he has a broken metatarsal.

"We have to check over the next couple of days how long it will take to recover."

Skrtel's absence, however long or short it turns out to be, comes just as Benitez thought he finally had a full-strength squad with which to tackle their remaining 11 matches as they bid to secure Champions League football next season.

Striker Fernando Torres and midfielder Yossi Benayoun, both so important to Liverpool FC’s attacking options, have both returned in the last week after more than a month on the sidelines with injury.

Even £17million summer signing Glen Johnson is nearing a comeback, having not played since late December because of a knee injury.

"He’s doing well. He was training today with the team - a light training session," said Benitez.

"I was watching him and he was quite sharp but Sunday will be too soon."

Jamie Carragher has been filling the England international’s spot on the right of defence in the interim but with Skrtel now ruled out of Sunday’s Barclays Premier League clash at home to Blackburn and Sotirios Kyrgiakos suspended, Liverpool’s vice-captain is likely to switch back to the centre.

That leaves an opening which could be filled by Philipp Degen, Martin Kelly or Stephen Darby.

Gerrard Demands 'Bottle' From Reds

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has called on the side to show "a bit of bottle" when it comes to attacking.

Despite improving what was a poor defensive record by their standards over recent weeks, critics still complain the Reds do not have enough going forward to really hurt sides.

The 3-1 victory over Europa League last 32 opponents Unirea Urziceni in Bucharest on Thursday night was the first time since the 6-1 win over Hull on September 26 they had scored more than twice in a match.

Gerrard hopes the players can draw some inspiration from that in their bid to secure Champions League football next season, starting against Blackburn at Anfield on Sunday.

"It was slightly worrying that we were not creating enough," said the England international.

"To win football matches you have got to create a lot of chances and we did that.

"That's what made Thursday night so pleasing. Now we've got to get the balance right between now and the end of the season.

"We haven't been good enough going forward and we haven't been creating enough, so it was nice to get three goals.

"It does play on your mind. The most important thing is to defend well and keep clean sheets but it is also important that you do well going forward.

"I think we have shown over the last few games that we are back to defending well and are more solid and are working harder and results have improved.

"We've still got to be good defensively but have a bit of bottle and be a bit risky in the final third as well. You have got to keep making chances."

Gerrard scored the third goal against the Romanian champions at the Steaua Stadium to set a new record.

He has now struck 33 times in European competition, taking him past Alan Shearer as the leading British scorer.

"From a personal point of view, it's always great to break records," added Gerrard, who scored his first goal since January 2.

"Some of my goals have come against easy opposition, so I don't think it's fair to put me above the likes of Alan Shearer.

"To be mentioned in the same breath as that great man is always a pleasure.

"But what is more pleasing is to progress into the next round (to face Lille)."

Despite struggling at times against Unirea the Reds captain believes Liverpool have what it takes to reach the Europa League final in Hamburg in May.

"Every competition is very important to this football club, especially when you've gone out of other tournaments," he said.

"This is our last hope of silverware, and it would be terrific if we could go all the way to the final for the fans that have supported us this season.

"There is a long way to go but we want to go all the way to Hamburg but we need to keep improving and working hard."

Ryan Babel Shines As Reds Find Their Shooting Boots

For eleven first-half minutes, Rafael Benitez must have feared the worst. Thankfully the Spaniard's attack-minded approach paid off and Liverpool move on to the Europa League's last 16 with relative comfort, after a 3-1 win over Unirea Urziceni in rain-soaked Bucharest.

It had looked worrying for Benitez and his side when Ricardo Gomes was allowed to rise unchallenged to meet an 18th-minute corner and draw Unirea level in the tie, but Liverpool's response was as clinical as it has been all season. Javier Mascherano, Ryan Babel and Steven Gerrard struck the decisive blows as the Reds set up a clash with Lille in the last 16.

Benitez sprung a few surprises in his starting XI. Both Babel and David Ngog were deployed from the outset, with Dirk Kuyt joining Fernando Torres and Alberto Aquilani on a strong-looking bench. But Liverpool looked as cohesive an attacking threat as they have for some time, even minus their two top scorers and their £17 million midfielder. That Benitez was not forced to throw his big guns into the fray is testament to those who started the game.

Babel in particular seemed to revel in the Bucharest rain. The Dutchman has been lurking dangerously close to the Anfield exit door since a promising debut campaign in 2007/08, but has enjoyed an upsurge in form over the past few weeks, and here he got his reward.

He was involved in the equaliser, his presence at the front post forcing a rushed clearance from Marius Onofras which Mascherano smashed into the net from 25 yards, and put his side ahead before half-time with the type of clinical finish which adds weight to the belief that the former Ajax man deserves a prolonged run in the starting line-up.

Gerrard's right-wing free kick was not an especially good one, yet when it flashed off the head of Sorin Paraschiv, it was Babel who reacted instantly to control and finish on the half-volley, all in one movement. It was a superbly taken goal, and effectively killed the tie as a contest, just 20 minutes after it looked like Unirea were ready to cause an upset.

For many, the main criticism of Babel is a perceived lack of effort. Certainly the Dutchman can give the impression he is drifting through games with minimum fuss, promising plenty but delivering little. Tonight though, he was very much in the mood. On a pitch more suited to rugby, the 23-year-old was a constant menace with his direct running power. Having created the only goal at Anfield last week, here he was the Reds' star performer.

Fittingly it was Gerrard, on his 515th appearance for the club - equalling Kenny Dalglish - who finished matters. His 33rd European goal - a record for an English club side - was hardly his most important, or spectacular, but it capped a vastly-improved display from the Liverpool captain, as he inspired a more attacking approach from his side.

There will be a few points of note for Benitez, a renowned perfectionist. The marking for Gomes' opener was, in a word, shambolic, with the 6ft 2in defender given the freedom of Bucharest to head past Pepe Reina. Liverpool's improvements in defending set-pieces have been plain for all to see, but of the six goals conceded by the club since Christmas, five have come from crosses into the penalty area that have not been defended well enough.

Thursday night was the first time Benitez's side had scored three times in a game since a 6-1 rout of Hull City in September, and the first time they had scored more than a single goal in Europe all season. The standard of opposition will be highlighted, but Unirea were unbeaten at home in a Champions League group containing Sevilla, Rangers and Stuttgart earlier this season.

Nothing ever seems to be perfect with Liverpool this season - there is always room for improvement - but having witnessed the colourless first leg of this tie, Benitez must be pleased that his side is making progress as they approach a tense finale to the season.

Rafa Praises Character After Euro Win

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez hailed the character shown by his side in their 3-1 victory over Unirea Urziceni in Romania, which sealed a 4-1 aggregate win and a place in the last 16 of the Europa League.

Shaky defending from set-pieces in the first half saw them fall behind to Bruno Fernandes' header in the 19th minute, and for a while they looked rattled.

However, goals from Javier Mascherano from long range, and Ryan Babel from close in, turned things around before the interval and Steven Gerrard's 33rd European goal after the break ensured any potential Liverpool embarrassment was avoided.

"We showed character. It was a difficult game because of the pitch. We needed to be calm and do the job properly," Benitez said.

"To play better we needed to score our goal as they were dangerous at set-pieces.

"I think once we scored a goal everything was easier and the second and third goals made things better.

"Still we had some problems but the main thing was to score; we did it and we had more control of the game."

Meanwhile, Gerrard's goal took him past Alan Shearer (with 30 goals for Newcastle and two for Blackburn) as Britain's leading scorer in Europe.

Benitez felt it was an honour well deserved.

"It is really positive for him and the club - it also means we are playing a lot of games in Europe so hopefully we can play a lot more and he can score more goals," said the Spaniard.

"It is very good news for the club. This is a historic club with a lot of records so to have a new record is massive for him and very important to the club.

Unirea coach Roni Levy admitted even when his side opened the scoring he did not consider there could be a potential upset.

"I knew it was an early goal and we had a long time until the end of the game," he said.

"The equaliser came very early so I did not have much time to think about what our goal meant.

"What was important was that we were organised and looked like a serious team - irrespective of the result.

"From my opinion we deserved a better result."

David Prentice: Liverpool Have Made The Liver Bird Their Own

Mersey football fans are used to rows about football. But when it’s a row over a bird, well things can get messy. In case you missed it, a passionate, enthusiastic and well meaning Evertonian is urging his club to start using the city’s Liver Bird symbol on club merchandise and memorabilia again.

And before Red fans cry fowl (sorry!), he points to a clutch of pre-War medals awarded to Everton footballers which all clearly carry a Liver Bird at its heart. There’s no doubt that the Liver Bird belongs to the City, not the football club of Liverpool. It’s a civic rather than a footballing crest.

But you ask any number of individuals chosen at random worldwide what that strange looking creature with the seaweed in its beak conjures up, and I’ll wager you’ll get Liverpool Football Club in reply. The reasons are clear. Liverpool’s achievements throughout three decades of remarkable football dominance seared that image into a worldwide public consciousness.

It might not belong to the Reds, but they have made it their own. Any Everton attempt to reclaim it will surely be doomed to failure. Besides, I rather like Prince Rupert’s Tower with the laurel wreaths.

That club crest has a history all of its own. Created by Theo Kelly in 1938 to be included on a club neck-tie, he explained: “I was puzzling over it for four months, then I thought of a reproduction of the ‘Beacon’ which stands in the heart of Everton” – a Beacon which has stood on Everton Brow since 1787.

The Liver Bird has undoubtedly brought good luck to Liverpool – Wikipedia claims the club first started using it in 1901, the year of their first title success. But Everton’s new crest – accompanied by the motto Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum, was worn by Kelly and chairman Mr. E. Green on the first day of the 1938/39 season. Everton won 2-0 at Blackpool with goals by Lawton and Stevenson.

That was on the 27th August, 1938 – and four days later the ties and the crest made their first appearance at Goodison. Everton triumphed again … 3-0 over Grimsby Town. Indeed, the ties and the crest were proclaimed lucky, as Everton raced to six consecutive wins in their opening games … and in May, the League title!

Both club crests have their own heritage and history. Perhaps it’s best to let sleeping dogs, and birds, lie.

Yossi Benayoun Incident Shows Players Must Dive Or Pay The Penalty

Yossi Benayoun won praise if not a spot-kick for his decision to stay on his feet after being fouled by Vincent Kompany in Manchester City's penalty area on Sunday.

However, the outcome only served to demonstrate why so many footballers choose to dive.

Under the laws of the game if an attacking player is illegally impeded in the box – as Benayoun was when knocked out of his stride by Kompany's clumsy challenge – a penalty should be awarded.

When I suggested in this column last November that David Ngog was right to dive to win a spot-kick against Birmingham at Anfield it prompted scores of angry e-mails and letters from Birmingham fans and moral guardians, with one reader even suggesting I should stick to reporting on netball.

The theme of their complaints was that Ngog's actions set a poor example for young players.

But referee Peter Walton's decision not to grant a penalty for the infringement on Benayoun only served to enforce the opinion that you are punished for not tumbling.