Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gerrard Serves Torres Warning

Steven Gerrard today sent out an ominous warning to teams across the continent by declaring in-form Fernando Torres is only going to improve over the rest of the season.

With Liverpool chasing a top four Premier League finish and success in the Europa League, the return to form and fitness of the Spanish striker has come as a timely boost for the Reds, who travel to Manchester United at the weekend on the back of two morale boosting victories.

Despite enduring an injury ravaged campaign, Torres' double last night took his total for the season so far to 17 in 27 matches - and his skipper insists there is still more to come.

"There is lot more to come from Fernando in a Liverpool shirt, believe me," said Gerrard. "He had been out a long time so it was only natural that it was going to take him a few games to find his rhythm but he is closing in on that now and it is fantastic for the team.

"If we can keep him fit and firing, we'll have a really big chance of achieving what we want to and you could see against Lille that he is looking sharp. The goals will have done him the world of good.

"He is world class, it's as simple as that. When he is playing like that, it doesn't just give the crowd a lift. It lifts us and it causes the players he comes up against to think twice about how they deal with him. He's finding form at just the right time."

After successfully overturning a 1-0 first leg deficit to secure their place in today's quarter-final draw, Liverpool are now focusing their attentions on Sunday's Old Trafford showdown.

"We just wanted to carry on from Portsmouth and play some good football," added Gerrard. "Lille were a very good team but everyone has chipped in.

"Now we have to look at Manchester United. Every time you go to Old Trafford, you expect a tough game but we are going in on the back of two good performances.

"This will be a completely different game. They are the league leaders but we will give it a really good go."

Mascherano: Duo Can Stun United

Javier Mascherano has backed Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres to inspire another famous win at Old Trafford after the duo fired Liverpool into the Europa League last eight on Thursday.

Gerrard opened the scoring against Lille with an early penalty before Torres hit a brace to take his tally for an injury-hit season to 17.

The Reds have now recorded consecutive victories following a disappointing reverse at Wigan and the first leg loss in Lille.

Mascherano believes the return to form of Torres has been key to turning things around ahead of Sunday's trip to United.

"Not too much has changed," he told "Maybe we are more clinical than before and Fernando is back.

"Everyone knows his partnership with Stevie is really good for us and now we can look forward to a very important game on Sunday. We'll try to win for us, for the supporters and the club.

"We still have to improve and we can improve. The good thing against Lille was not conceding any goals, another clean sheet for Pepe."

Liverpool have won their last three games against Alex Ferguson's men, including an unforgettable 4-1 triumph in Manchester last season.

"1-0 would be enough this time!" said Mascherano. "We know we'll get a really difficult game because they're playing well, but it's a different game to the others because it's a derby.

"We'll need to show character and stay calm."

Rafael Benitez Wary Of Liverpool's 'Tough' Europa League Draw Against Benfica

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has warned his team that Benfica will be a tough team to beat, after the two sides were drawn together in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

The two teams last met each other in 2006, during the first knockout round of the Champions League, where the Portuguese side triumphed in both legs of a 3-0 aggregate victory.

Four years on, Benitez believes the Portuguese side will still pose a strong challenge.

"We know they are a good team and of course we have played them before in the Champions League," he told the club's website.

"They are a massive club with a lot of support from their fans and it will be a tough game.

"They are top of the table and playing really well at the moment. I know a number of their players well — [Pablo] Aimar, [Javier] Saviola, [Luis] Garcia — so we know they have a lot of quality."

If Liverpool beat Benfica, they will face either Atletico Madrid or Valencia in the semi-finals of the competition and Benitez believes that hosting the second leg at Anfield will increase the Reds' chances of going through to play either Spanish side.

"It's always important that the second leg is at home in front of our fans," he said.

"We know we have to perform away and then play well at home. We have the confidence to do that and are looking forward to the games."

Agger: We Can Beat Anyone

Liverpool defender Daniel Agger insists the players fully believe they can win the Europa League and go into their quarter-final against Benfica with no fear.

A 3-0 win over Lille at Anfield on Thursday night took the Reds through 3-1 on aggregate and set up a last-eight meeting with the Portuguese Liga leaders.

Manager Rafael Benitez's former club Valencia or Fernando Torres' previous employers Atletico Madrid await the winners in the semi-finals but Agger said they were not worried by any side.

"This is the last trophy we can win so we have to give everything we can to win it," said the Denmark international.

"We have to show it on the pitch and I think we did against Lille.

"If you have to win a tournament like this one you should beat them all."

Midfielder Javier Mascherano echoed Agger's comments, saying: "All the teams in there have showed why they are at this stage.

"Any team from now until the end will be difficult. If we want to be in the final we need to continue improving and try to take another step up."

Liverpool's match against Lille on Thursday night pulled in the biggest ratings for television channel Five in the last five years, with 4million tuning in at its peak.

Benitez will be pleased to be playing the first leg in Lisbon's Stadium of Light on April 1 as it means they have home advantage for the all-important second leg.

Midfielder Lucas Leiva believes the Anfield experience can play a big part in their European future, as it has done in the past and did do against Lille when the side turned around a 1-0 first-leg deficit.

"We know the competition is important and we have to keep going," said the Brazil international.

"Everyone knows Anfield is a difficult place to come and play but you can see the example of Fulham (who beat Juventus 4-1 to reverse a 3-1 first-leg scoreline) - each game is different and we just have to believe."

Aquilani Starting To Settle

Alberto Aquilani's agent feels his client is starting to feel more at home in the Premier League.

The Italian joined Liverpool in a big-money move from Roma last summer, charged with the task of filling the creative void created by Xabi Alonso's departure to Real Madrid.

An injury carried with him from his time in Serie A kept him on the sidelines for the opening stages of the season, allowing others to stake a claim for a regular starting berth.

He then struggled to force his way into Rafa Benitez's plans, with the Spaniard seemingly reluctant to throw the talented 25-year-old into action.

However, Aquilani has caught the eye of late and bagged his first Liverpool goal in Monday's 4-1 demolition of Portsmouth.

He missed the Europa League victory over Lille on Thursday with a virus, but his representative insists that is nothing to worry about and is backing Aquilani to be back to his best over the coming weeks.

"Alberto has had quite an ordeal with his ankle, and has had a series of injuries, but he is returning to the player we all know he is," Franco Zavaglia told tuttomercatoweb.

"It is clear that a player like him appeals to many clubs, but he is happy in England and I think Liverpool have no desire to get rid of him any time soon."

Albert Riera: I'm Not Looking For Trouble With Rafael Benitez

Liverpool winger Albert Riera has tried to underplay his harsh analysis of manager Rafael Benitez to the Spanish media.

The former Espanyol midfielder played a significant part in the Reds' rise in almost claiming the Premier League title last season, only to be pipped to the title by Manchester United.

In comparison to his exploits last term, the Spaniard has barely been given a run out on the pitch this time around. And his recent views on the club, branding the Reds as a "sinking ship" did not go down well with the Anfield faithful.

"I do not want to make trouble with the manager," Riera said, according to the Press Association.

"I am not interested in making Rafa my enemy in the slightest, quite the opposite, but ultimately it is about playing, and if I am not, we have to talk about why not.

"We have not had any talk about why it is.

"I played all of last year, and sometimes if I did not play so well in one game, I would still play the next week. But this season I have not played at all.

"I believe in these situations it is better to talk about it and try to fix it, or at least make sure everyone knows where they stand. I have no problem talking to people."

Despite previously hinting of an imminent departure, the 27-year-old maintains that he is willing to remain at the club if regular appearances are in the offing.

"I am delighted to play for Liverpool and if I was playing, I would love to stay, because it is a brilliant place to play football," added Riera.

"But if I am not playing I have no chance of going to the World Cup, so I am trying to solve the problem so I at least have a small chance."

The 27-year-old has reportedly been docked two weeks wages for his strong comments.

It is also believed that the player has been told not to return to training before Monday, which appears to be a pre-emptive measure to ensure that the blockbuster game against Manchester United on Sunday does not have any unwanted distractions.

"The timing was not the best for the team and we will deal with this internally," said Benitez, when quizzed regarding the fractured relationship with the player.

Rafael Benítez Banishes Vocal Albert Riera

Albert Riera has been suspended and put up for sale by Liverpool after his criticism of Rafael Benítez.

The winger was dropped from the Liverpool squad for Thursday night’s Europa League game at home to Lille and told not to return to training until Monday, meaning that he will also miss the Barclays Premier League match away to Manchester United on Sunday.

Riera could leave Anfield in weeks, with an immediate move to CSKA Moscow or Spartak Moscow, who are tracking the 27-year-old, a distinct possibility. The transfer window in Russia has been extended until April 8.

Riera, who joined Liverpool from Espanyol in September 2008 for £8 million, has had a fraught relationship with Benítez for several months and his frustrations came to a head on Wednesday.

He gave an interview to Radio Marca in which he accused the Liverpool manager of giving him the silent treatment, claimed that he was being left out of the team for personal reasons and stated that Benítez’s brand of football is not good enough to earn him the Real Madrid job.

The Spain winger’s withering attack on his manager has also earned him a club fine of two weeks’ wages, but, more significantly, it has signalled the imminent end of his Anfield career, especially if either of the Moscow clubs are willing to match Liverpool’s £8 million valuation.

Riera has been a bit-part figure in Benítez’s squad this season, with a combination of injury problems and poor form costing him a regular starting place. The fact that his outburst came on the eve of Thursday night’s crucial Europa League match meant that Benítez felt he had no choice but to omit him from his plans for the game.

It is not the first time that the pair have been at loggerheads, nor is it the first time that Riera has been fined for his behaviour.

This season he was reprimanded after a training-ground altercation with a promising reserve-team player in which Riera reacted violently to the teenager. The incident incensed Benítez and convinced him that he would have no choice but to sell the Majorca-born winger at the end of this campaign.

His departure date is now likely to have been brought forward and will be confirmed if either of the Moscow clubs are willing to match Liverpool’s £8 million valuation of a player who, until of late, has been a regular in the Spain squad.

Albert Riera Training Ground Bust-Up With Liverpool Youngster Meant Radio Outburst Was Final Straw

Albert Riera’s Liverpool career could be over within weeks after he was suspended by the club following his astonishing verbal attack on Rafa Benitez.

The Reds winger has been told to stay away from Melwood until Monday after giving an interview to Spanish radio station Marca, in which he criticised Benitez’s preferred style of play and the lack of chances he has been afforded this season.

That outburst was the final straw for an enraged Benitez, as Riera was recently involved in a training ground bust-up with an unnamed young member of Liverpool’s squad that appalled witnesses to the incident.

Riera is understood to have landed at least one blow on the youngster.

The Spain international’s attitude has been poor for weeks in training and he has hardly figured in the squad since a desperate personal performance in the 1-0 win over Unirea Urziceni last month.

Riera was not at Anfield on Thursday night, as Liverpool booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Lille.

He has also been heavily fined for his comments and it is now inevitable that he will be jettisoned from Anfield, the only question is when he will be gone.