Thursday, April 01, 2010

Europa League Preview: Benfica vs. Liverpool

Liverpool will be hoping for a repeat of their latest outing as they travel to Iberia this Thursday to take on Benfica in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-finals.

The Reds answered their many critics as they blitzed a shell-shocked Sunderland on their way to an easy 3-0 win on Sunday which keeps them in the hunt for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

Much of the talk surrounding Anfield since then has centred on whether or not Rafael Benitez will adopt similar tactics for the trip to Portugal, with fans howling for more of the high-octane football which humiliated a normally stubborn Black Cats side.

However, it would be no surprise if the Spanish tactician were more conservative at the Estadio da Luz - especially when you consider his last encounter with the Aguilas.

It was Benfica who ruined Liverpool's Champions League defence in 2005-06, ousting the five-time winners in the first knockout round - and the Portuguese side are a far more impressive unit now than they were then.

The Lisbon giants have already conquered Merseyside this season, beating Everton 2-0 at Goodison Park before thrashing them 5-0 at home, and are easing their way to domestic honours in some style.

And with a reputation as one of Europe's most forward-thinking teams to uphold, Jorge Jesus and his charges will be determined to put on a show against one of England's traditional powerhouses.



Mar 27: Benfica 1-0 Braga (Portuguese Liga)
Mar 18: Olympique Marseille 1-2 Benfica (Europa League)
Mar 14: Nacional 0-1 Benfica (Portuguese Liga)
Mar 11: Benfica 1-1 Olympique Marseille (Europa League)
Mar 7: Benfica 3-1 Pacos de Ferreira (Portuguese Liga)


Mar 28: Liverpool 3-0 Sunderland (Premier League)
Mar 21: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Mar 18: Liverpool 3-0 Lille (Europa League)
Mar 15: Liverpool 4-1 Portsmouth (Premier League)
Mar 11: Lille 1-0 Liverpool (Europa League)



There is little to report from Lisbon, except that playmaker Pablo Aimar - one of Reds boss Benitez's former favourites at Valencia - is in line to start after a couple of games on the substitutes bench.

Last starting XI (vs. Sporting Braga): Julio Cesar, Pereira, Luiz, Falcao, Coentrao, Garcia, Ramires, Martins, Di Maria, Cardozo, Saviola.


Alberto Aquilani joins defenders Martin Skrtel (foot), Fabio Aurelio (thigh) and Martin Kelly (knee) on sidelines after injuring his ankle in training, while midfielder Maxi Rodriguez is ineligible.

Last starting XI (vs. Sunderland): Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Insua, Mascherano, Gerrard, Maxi, Kuyt, Babel, Torres.



Where to begin? Angel di Maria is one of the most sought-after young wingers in Europe; Oscar Cardozo has been netting goals for a laugh; and the experienced Argentine duo of Javier Saviola and Pablo Aimar have rediscovered themselves since crossing the border from Spain. Throw in Brazilian international Ramires, and that's plenty for the visitors to think about.


Fernando Torres' form since returning from injury has been irresistible, with his two remarkable finishes at the weekend underlining just why he is considered one of the world's greatest strikers. Steven Gerrard also starred in that game, and many will be curious to see whether the skipper stays in central midfield or is pushed up to partner 'El Nino'.

Liverpool Midfielder Alberto Aquilani Out Of Europa League Clash With Benfica

After being plagued with injuries for the most part of his career in England Alberto Aquilani will now miss Liverpool's Europa League quarter-final against Benfica with an another injury.

The Italian midfielder will not fly to Portugal with the rest of the squad for Thursday's game due to an ankle problem, although manager Rafa Benitez does not believe the 25-year-old has a long-term injury.

"He will not be available for this game," Benitez told the press on Wednesday.

"He had a problem with his ankle this morning and we have to fix it.

"It doesn't seem too serious but it's the same ankle as before and so we'll have to analyse the situation carefully."

Aquilani has endured an injury-ravaged time at Anfield since joining the club from Roma in the summer, making just eight starts in all competitions for the Reds.

Liverpool To Launch Bid For Real Madrid Legend Raul

Premier League side Liverpool are willing to sign Spain legend Raul from Real Madrid at the end of the 2009-10 season, according to latest reports.

The Mirror speculates that Reds manager Rafael Benitez will attempt to convince the three-time Champions League winner to leave the Spanish capital and move to Merseyside, where he would partner Spain international striker Fernando Torres in attack. The Daily Mail adds that Liverpool will offer Raul a two-year contract.

Raul is thought to have expressed a desire to play in the English top flight, and with him falling in the pecking order under coach Manuel Pellegrini this season, there has been speculation that he could leave Madrid in the summer.

The 32-year-old has also been linked with a move to the MLS. Raul has started just eight times in the Spanish Primera Division so far this season and has scored four times. He featured in seven Champions League games and was on the scoresheet twice.

Liverpool Line Up Transfer Bid For Danny

Liverpool are lining up a £3million summer swoop for Rangers kid Danny Wilson.

SunSport can reveal the Kop giants have been monitoring the brilliant 18-year-old defender's progress this season.

Now they have decided they will wade in with a bid for the centre-back, who is in the frame to be Scotland's Young Player of the Year.

That will rock reigning champs Gers, who were desperate to tie Wilson up on a long-term deal this week.

The youngster - also being tracked by Spurs, Manchester City and Aston Villa - has just 15 months to run on his current deal.

The Gers hierarchy tied up his team-mate John Fleck until 2013 earlier this week.

Wilson's contract, though, remains unsigned and Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez is ready to test Rangers' resolve in the summer.

If the hot property has not put pen to paper on a new deal by then it seems certain the champs will elect to cash in on a talent developed at Murray Park rather than watch him quit for buttons.

Wilson suffered a setback earlier this month with a red card in the Co-operative Insurance Cup Final triumph over St Mirren but he has been in sparkling form for Gers as crocked Madjid Bougherra's stand-in.

Now the Kop interest throws those crunch contract talks into focus as Rangers gear up for the run-in to two-in-a-row.

Liverpool's Riera In Talks With Spartak Moscow

Liverpool's Spanish winger Albert Riera considering a possible transfer to Spartak Moscow, the Premier League club said on Wednesday.

"He is talking with Spartak and we have to wait and see," Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez told the club website (

Riera, 27, who signed from Espanyol in 2008, has been frozen out at the club since criticising Benitez in an interview with Spanish radio before Liverpool's second leg Europa League clash with Lille on March 18.

Liverpool's Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani will miss Thursday's Europa League quarter-final first leg clash at Benfica after injuring his ankle in training.

Steven Gerrard Mustn't Get Used To Centre Midfield Says Rafa Benitez

Liverpool FC boss Rafa Benitez has welcomed the return to form of Steven Gerrard but told his captain not to get too comfortable in his favoured central midfield role.

The Liverpool FC captain was dropped back to a more orthodox position against Sunderland on Sunday and responded with an improved personal display in the Reds' 3-0 win.

For a long time critics have been urging Benitez to deploy Gerrard in what they feel is his best position but the Liverpool FC manager said what was more important was the overall game plan.

"I remember discussions with England about Gerrard and Frank Lampard not being able to play in the middle but they can," said the Reds boss ahead of Liverpool FC's Europa League quarter-final trip to play Benfica in Lisbon.

"He can play everywhere because he knows what to do in every position.

"He was keen to do the best for the team and the best for the team the other day was for him to play in this role with Javier Mascherano.

"For me it is not the player and the system but altogether.

"In the last year with the same system we were quite offensive and this year we have scored a lot of goals, especially at Anfield, with the same system.

"It has been Lucas-Mascherano, Lucas-Aquilani, Lucas-Gerrard, Mascherano-Aquilani - we can mix and match.

"It gives us more options."

Liverpool The Only Top Club To Fall Short Says Jamie Carragher

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher reckons the Reds are the only top seven Barclays Premier League side to have underachieved this season.

Early exits from the title race, Champions League and FA Cup have left Liverpool FC looking for consolation in the form of securing fourth place and winning the Europa League.

Their problems this season have partly been due to injuries to key Liverpool FC players like Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, Yossi Benayoun and Glen Johnson but Carragher said they could not use that as an excuse.

"I think the other teams have probably done what you’d expect, I just think we haven’t done what we expected to do," said the 32-year-old.

"People presumed the likes of Aston Villa and Tottenham could mount a top four challenge but I think people thought we would already be in there challenging for the league.

"We’ve disappointed ourselves a little. I don’t put it down to bad luck - that’s football.

"We all have injuries here and there and that’s just part of football and you deal with it.

"I just think at the start of the season we didn’t do particularly well and then we realised we weren’t going to be in the title race, which was what we had all built ourselves up for.

"It was a disappointment at that early stage, whereas the other teams were excited about the prospect of getting into the top four.

"Maybe it took us a while to get our heads around the fact that we wouldn’t be playing for the title, but a top-four finish is vitally important now for next season and that’s something we’re certainly capable of."

Carragher also hopes Liverpool FC can still lift some silverware in the Europa League.

Liverpool FC face Benfica in Lisbon on Thursday in the first leg of their quarter-final tie and should Carragher play he will make his 621st appearance for the club, lifting him above Alan Hansen to eighth on the all-time list.

"We’re still in the Europa League and we’re desperate to get our hands on some silverware - we haven’t done that for a few years," the Liverpool FC vice-captain said.

"That’s vitally important and success in that competition could change how the season has been looked upon - in the next few weeks it could all turn around."

Rafael Benitez Expects Liverpool Defender Daniel Agger To Get Even Better

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has been impressed with the recent displays from Daniel Agger at the heart of the Reds' defence, and has challenged the Dane to improve further.

Benitez believes that Agger can go on to establish himself as one of Anfield's great names if he continues to show application and effort.

"Daniel is a player who will be even better in the future because he is eager to learn and working hard in training all the time," said Benitez, according to The Liverpool Echo.

"You saw the other day that he is a defender who likes to play the ball and he is going to become a very important player for us in the future.

"When you want to play well as a team, it is important you start with the defenders, and to do that, you need someone who can defend but also you need to rely on them in possession.

"For this club to progress, we need important players like him. He can pass it short, he can play it long, he can switch play and can score goals. His form is very good.

"We will have to keep working with him with his fitness. He has had some problems this year and also had a virus. It has been difficult in the last month as he played too many games."

Meanwhile, Benitez is hopeful that a good end to the season can help introduce a more positive mentality into matters at Anfield.

The Reds face Benfica in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday evening, and the Spaniard is hoping that his side can go all the way in the competition.

“Everybody wants to see attacking football – even the manager," he quipped.

"If we can keep progressing in the Europa League and finish well in the Premier League, it will be easy to talk about the future.

"Liverpool is a massive club and there are lots of players thinking about coming here. That’s why it is important for the future that we perform now.

"The effort has been good but we need to keep pushing. We know we have not done well this season and that has had an impact on our confidence.

"But you cannot change what has happened in the past. The only thing we can do is keep moving forward and try our best until the end of the season – that is the message."

Young Guns Triumph In Greece

Liverpool's Academy added another trophy to their growing collection after the under-12s claimed victory at a tournament in Greece on Wednesday morning.

The youngsters held off the challenge of Olympiakos, PAOK, Panathinaikos and AEK Athens to emerge triumphant and leave the Academy's Head of U12-U16 age groups, Steve Cooper, delighted.

He said: "We haven't played many tournaments in Greece over the years, but because of 'Pep' Segura's previous involvement with Olympiakos, we were offered this opportunity and decided to take it.

"It's always good to win any competition and it's great for the young lads to experience playing in different countries, against a different style of football.

"We are really pleased for everyone."