Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Youngsters Key As Benitez Plans Prosperous Liverpool Future

Rafa Benitez is planning for the Reds’ future, despite doubts over his Anfield future and says that youth development will be key to success.

Benitez has secured the future of important players such as Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard and hopes to tie up deals with Pepe Reina and Javier Mascherano next month.

Liverpool boss Benitez said, "It was the idea last year to extend contracts,

"It is the same this year to guarantee the spine of the team is there and, afterwards, try to bring in some good players to hopefully improve.

"With some players we are looking two or three years ahead, you have to be ready and prepare more or less the squad.

"In terms of the first team, to guarantee the extension of some players is enough to bring in the right players.

"We are always planning for the future. You can make mistakes but at least you have a plan.

"So if we don't make mistakes in the transfer window or if the [new] players settle down with this group of players we have at the moment we will improve."

As part of the contract that Benitez signed last summer to keep him at Anfield, he will also oversee the entire youth development of the club. It is a critical part of Liverpool’s future success in the eyes of the Spaniard.

Benitez continued, "This is the first year I am in charge of the academy and we are trying to improve and bring players from the academy," he added.

"We need some time. The reserve team are doing well so these players will be the future of the club."

Return Of Injured Stars Gives Benitez Confidence Of European Success

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was upbeat about the Reds’ chances going into Thursday’s Europa League clash with Benfica having seen the successful return from injury of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson.

The Europa League represents Liverpool’s only remaining chance of silverware this season. They go into the quarter-final clash with Portuguese giants Benfica having beaten Sunderland 3-0 with goals from Torres and Johnson who have only recently returned from a spell on the sidelines.

With captain Steven Gerrard also coming back to form after a spell out, Benitez is happy with his options.

The Spanish boss said, "If they can stay fit I think it will be very important because you have more options,

"When you have two games a week it is important to have different players available so you can change the system and you can keep the tempo.

"It is really important to have Fernando, Gerrard and Maxi available.”

Focusing in particular on Liverpool's scorers against Sunderland, Benitez continued, "I can see Fernando is focused and he wants to do well. We are surprised sometimes by what he can do but my idea is that he can improve.

"He knows how to get better. Two goals and a great performance again against Sunderland is what the team needed.

"Johnson is an attacking defender and sometimes when you have the team playing well at home and everyone is going forward he can be a real threat.

"He had one or two chances against Sunderland and he was very dangerous down the right side."

Liverpool Line Up Summer Bid For Spanish Star

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has stepped up the chase for Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez.

Martinez, 21, has been on Liverpool's radar for the past two seasons but Benitez is putting together his hit-list for next season.

Liverpool sent a scout to watch Martinez at Atletico Madrid last Thursday and Bilbao are well aware of Benitez's interest.

Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros said: "Javier is a monster of a player and can go very far."

Alberto Aquilani: I Love Everything About Liverpool & England Except The Weather

Liverpool midfielder Alberto Aquilani is settling quickly on Merseyside and is very happy playing his football in England, but has one major gripe: the weather.

But that hasn't put him off his new life in England, after switching from the sunny Italian capital last summer.

"I like everything in England, I just don't like the weather," he told LFC Magazine.

"I like the people, the supporters, the city and playing here. And I want to play well here."

The Italian is also hoping that he continues to make progress with his improving English.

"But I don't speak English very well. Now I understand more than I did before but I have to improve," he explained.

"At first I had regular English lessons but it has been difficult more recently and my English teacher is angry about this!

"It has been difficult because at one time my family were here so I couldn't do the lesson, another time we had too many games."

Benitez Ser To Utilize All His Weapons

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is looking forward to utilizing all his attacking options for their crucial Barclays Premier League run-in.

The team rightly received plaudits for their performance, particularly in the first half, against Sunderland at the weekend when they played a brand of football which had been missing for most of the season.

Deploying Steven Gerrard in a more orthodox central midfield position but with license to roam forward allowed Benitez to field Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel and Fernando Torres in front of the Reds captain.

And with full-backs Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua providing more width down the flanks the Black Cats were torn apart with a high-tempo passing game which could have produced half a dozen goals.

It is unlikely Benitez will be so bold in all six of their remaining league matches - particularly at Birmingham on Sunday and at home to Chelsea on the penultimate weekend of the season - but the Reds boss feels having plenty of choices could be key to them securing fourth place.

"If they can stay fit I think it will be very important because you have more options," said Benitez, whose side travel to Lisbon on Wednesday for the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Benfica on Thursday.

"When you have two games a week it is important to have different players available so you can change the system and you can keep the tempo.

"It is really important to have Fernando, Gerrard and Maxi available.

"I can see Fernando is focused and he wants to do well. We are surprised sometimes by what he can do but my idea is that he can improve.

"He knows how to get better. Two goals and a great performance again against Sunderland is what the team needed.

"Johnson is an attacking defender and sometimes when you have the team playing well at home and everyone is going forward he can be a real threat.

"He had one or two chances against Sunderland and he was very dangerous down the right side."

Liverpool have the easiest-looking run-in of all the Champions League-chasing sides but they are still four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham having played more matches than their rivals.

Benitez knows Liverpool's fate is currently out of their hands but he expects that to change, especially with Spurs having to play Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United in a 10-day spell and City still to face the Gunners, United, Spurs and Aston Villa.

"At this moment we have to concentrate on what we can change now - to play well on the pitch and try to be as close as possible to the top four and progress in the Europa League and the other things will come," said the Spaniard.

"I think it depends on us. If we keep winning our games - there are difficult games - we will be closer and every week will be different.

"Sunday at Birmingham will be tough but if we can win our games I think they (Tottenham, City and Villa) will lose some points and I think we can be there."

The Liverpool manager has complete belief in the players which struggled earlier this season on the way to 10 Barclays Premier League defeats - eight more than in the previous campaign.

"Always you can have a bad season but you can see from the reaction of the players they are fighting and trying," he said.

"The players are focused and training well and the preparation was similar so it is just trying to get the confidence higher.

"The players knew before the Sunderland victory (that their remaining games would be crucial) but when you are trying to play well and trying to win and cannot then the confidence is a little bit low.

"But we didn't change too many things [against Sunderland]. It was because everyone was doing well and at the end that was positive because it was contagious.

"It is very important the players are playing well together and a clean sheet meant everything was positive.

"We have had some good games in the past but maybe this one, when you put together the first half and part of the second half, it was maybe one of the best performances this season."

Glen Johnson: I'm Getting Back To My Best

Liverpool defender Glen Johnson believes he is getting back to his best after his goal-scoring display in Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over Sunderland.

The England right-back missed two-and-a-half months of the season with a knee injury and has taken time to rediscover his form since returning to action in the defeat at Wigan earlier this month.

However, Johnson starred against the Black Cats as he scored for the first time in front of the Kop and created the Reds’ third for Fernando Torres.

“It was a fantastic feeling to score my first goal in front of the Kop,” he said, according to the Liverpool Echo.

“I cut inside and wanted to get a clean strike at goal and it was nice to see it go in with my left foot.

“I’m feeling good again. It’s not easy to come back when you’ve been out for so long but with every game my fitness is getting better.”

Victory kept Liverpool’s hopes of Champions League qualification alive and with six games to play they are four points adrift of fourth placed Tottenham, who have a game in hand.

Dirk: Fitness Key To Success

Dirk Kuyt believes a fit and firing squad can propel Liverpool to a successful conclusion to 2009-10.

Sunday's 3-0 dismantling of Sunderland was arguably one of Reds' most fluent performances of the season so far.

And Kuyt feels the return of key players from injury has been instrumental in helping Rafa Benitez's side produce the kind of attacking verve that has seen 10 goals scored in their last three Anfield matches.

"It's hard to explain why we can't play like we did against Sunderland every week, but now more or less everyone is fit," said the Holland forward.

"There are no injuries. Fernando is back, Stevie is over his injuries and that makes a lot of difference. For any top side it would be very difficult without these top players in your side.

"They are coming back and scoring very important goals and that helps the team as well."

Liverpool are currently sixth in the Barclays Premier League table, four points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur having played a game more.

The Reds have just six league fixtures remaining in the race for Champions League football, and Kuyt reckons their current form gives them a good chance of securing a top four finish.

"We have to try and push to finish fourth. We are behind and we know it will be hard but what we have to do is win our own games and keep going from there," he said.

"The most important thing is last season around this time the team was playing very well, the results were good and this season everyone knows what has happened.

"Every player in this team has had bad moments and we are all trying to leave these moments behind us and keep going. We struggled a bit during the season, but we don't have time to look back on these things - we have to look forward."

Kuyt added: "These are six very important games now. Hopefully we can win those and at the end of the day it will be enough.

"I think the whole team has shown character. You cannot blame the team for not showing that. We have shown it many, many times."

For the moment, attentions will now turn to the Europa League and Thursday's quarter-final, first leg clash with Benfica in Portugal.

"All the games between now and the end of the season will be very important. We want to win something but we also want to play Champions League football next season," said Kuyt.

"Benfica are a very good team, they are top of league in Portugal. They have good forwards. Hopefully we can finish fourth and win a trophy this season."

Boss Hails Stopper

John McMahon hailed the performance of goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi after the Hungarian made a number of crucial saves during the Reserves' 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers on Monday night.

Both the goals came in the second half through substitute David Ngog and an OG from Bolton skipper Rhys Bennett, but Gulacsi made several important stops when the scoreline was still 0-0.

"Peter is fantastic to have in the team," McMahon told

"He is very reliable and he made some great saves for us. I felt for him at the end when we conceded a late goal because he prides himself on clean sheets and to be honest he deserved one.

"We had to work very hard for the three points. We kept going and showed a good attitude. We tried to do the right things but Bolton made it tough for us. Full credit to them, they were competitive and worked really hard.

"Dani Pacheco was man marked throughout the game and it was a good learning curve for him how to cope in different situations."

The Reds extended their unbeaten run to 16 games and moved to within three points of leaders Manchester United at the top of the Barclays Premier Reserve League North with the win.

"We had a better mentality and desire than we showed against Wigan so that was pleasing, but some of our play still needs to improve," added McMahon.

"We are on a really good run so full credit to the lads but we need to keep it going."

McMahon also had words of encouragement for Academy starlet Alex Cooper who made a great impact when he came off the bench to set up the opening goal for Ngog.

"Alex came on and was strong," he said. "He used the ball intelligently and full credit to him because he did really well for the goal."

Ngog Downs Trotters

Liverpool Reserves moved to within three points of leaders Manchester United at the top of the Barclays Premier Reserve League North after a 2-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers at the County Ground on Monday evening.

First-team striker David Ngog, on as a half-time substitute, netted with 18 minutes remaining to break the deadlock in a tense contest in Lancashire.

And the Reds' advantage was doubled soon after as Bolton captain Rhys Bennett deflected Gerardo Bruna's free-kick beyond his own goalkeeper.

Zoltan Harsanyi reduced the arrears in stoppage time, but John McMahon's men held out to cut the gap on pacesetters United at the top of the table - and the Reds still have two games in hand.

Liverpool kicked off in Leyland looking to extend their incredible 15-game unbeaten run and complete a hat-trick of victories over the Trotters this season, having already beaten them in the league and the Lancashire Senior Cup.

And the team selection reflected this as Nabil El Zhar was included in the starting XI alongside the likes of Dani Pacheco, Daniel Ayala and fit-again David Amoo, with a place on the bench for Ngog.

But Bolton made a lively start and had an early penalty appeal waved away after Michael O'Halloran went down under the challenge of Chris Mavinga inside the area.

The pacey winger brought a stop out of Liverpool goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi soon after, driving towards goal from a tight angle.

However, the visitors fired a warning shot on 10 minutes when a crisp move involving Pacheco, Amoo and Lauri Dalla Valle resulted in El Zhar drilling a low effort narrowly wide of the far post.

The Reds went closer still as Amoo powered a header goalwards from Pacheco's corner, with McMahon's charges beginning to assert themselves after a bright opening from the home side.

But Gulacsi was called into action once more on 21 minutes, the Hungarian having to dive at full stretch to thwart Aaron Mooy's long-range free-kick before Bennett blazed over the rebound.

Play quickly swung to the other end of the pitch, and Dalla Valle clipped over on the spin after good approach play by Amoo down the right.

As the half hour mark approached, Sam Sheridan's low cross picked out Mooy in space inside the box, but his side-footed effort from 15 yards was collected by Gulacsi to further frustrate the Bolton midfielder.

There was a real open feel to proceedings as the rain pelted down in Lancashire, though a congested midfield battle ensured neither side had much time to dictate play.

Amoo's powerful raids down the right wing appeared to be Liverpool's best chance of breaking down the Trotters' rearguard and the 18-year-old warmed the palms of Bolton stopper Adam Bogdan with a run and shot.

McMahon opted to introduce Ngog into the action at the start of the second half at the expense of El Zhar and the Frenchman looped a header well over soon after the restart.

But the Reds' attacking options suffered a blow nine minutes into the second period when Dalla Valle was forced from the field after failing to recover from a challenge. Dutchman Jordy Brouwer was his replacement.

And the visitors could have fallen behind moments later as Sheridan's stinging effort was palmed away by Gulacsi. Three Bolton attackers lurked ready to pounce on the loose ball, but Steven Irwin was thankfully on hand to avert the danger.

Just after the hour mark, Ngog collected Amoo's flick and powered a strike into the hoardings from the edge of the area with 'keeper Bogdan never worried, before Damien Plessis flashed over from distance.

Liverpool had enjoyed the lions' share of possession in the second period and they finally made the breakthrough on 72 minutes.

Substitute Alex Cooper claimed an impressive assist, with the Academy youngster's inviting low ball across the face of goal from the left leaving Ngog with the simple task of tapping over the line from point blank range.

And the Reds doubled their advantage moments later as Bennett inadvertently diverted Bruna's wicked free-kick from the right wing into his own net on 78 minutes.

The quick-fire brace left Bolton stunned, and Liverpool pressed in search of a third in the dying moments with Ngog, Amoo and Bruna all trying their luck.

Slovakian youngster Harsanyi netted a stoppage-time consolation for Bolton, but the home side were unable to muster an equaliser as the Reds stretched their unbeaten run to 16 matches with a hard-fought win.

Ian Rush: We Should Attack Teams More Often

Liverpool's legendary goal-scorer Ian Rush knows a thing or two about attacking, so was pleased to see his beloved Reds offensive mindset in the 3-0 victory against Sunderland on Sunday.

The Kop idol also believes Liverpool should take the game to their opposition more, especially when playing at Anfield.

"It was a fantastic to watch Liverpool make such light work of Sunderland. We did everything right from start to finish," he told the Liverpool Echo.

"I was pleased to see us playing 20 yards further up the pitch.

"It made a difference to the way we played, helping the players close the opposition down quicker and get the ball moving well.

"That was all a consequence of deploying just one holding midfielder and bringing Steven Gerrard further back but with a license to roam.

"Previously, when we’ve been winning games, we’ve had a tendency to drop off and invite teams on to us. But on Sunday we just kept attacking.

"The 3-0 scoreline actually flattered Sunderland. It could have been much more with Daniel Agger, Gerrard and Fernando Torres all going close.

"I’d like to see us play like this more often."

Playing in such an offensive way against the strongest sides in the league is difficult, but against the weaker sides at home it is an approach that pays off, Rush reckons.

"Of course, you won’t get away with it against some of the stronger sides like Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal," he added.

"But I see no reason why we shouldn’t be playing like this against the teams we’re expected to beat, especially at Anfield where we should be taking the game to the opposition.

"It’s entertaining and we know it’s certainly effective." he concluded.