Thursday, April 08, 2010

Europa League Preview: Liverpool vs. Benfica

One goal down and with a place in the Europa League semi-finals at stake, Liverpool will be desperate to reverse the damage done in Portugal last week as they play host to Benfica.

A pair of second-half penalties from Oscar Cardozo gave the Eagles the first-leg spoils, but Daniel Agger's back-heeled opener in Lisbon means the Reds remain well and truly in this tie.

The Anfield giants' form is not all that encouraging, and nor was captain Steven Gerrard's much-publicised reaction to the surprise substitution of Fernando Torres at St Andrews.

With a top-four finish in the Premier League now looking only a remote possibility, Rafael Benitez and his men will be all the more determined to progress in Europe - but they face an opponent which has the smell of silverware in its nostrils.

Benfica already have the Taca da Liga under their belts and are closing on their first league title since 2005, and wouldn't they love to emphasise their return to the top by clinching a treble with a win in the inaugural Europa League?

That is but a dream for now, but Portugal's greatest club can take one step closer by reminding everyone that they know how to close out a tie against English opposition - for it was they who ended Liverpool's Champions League defence in 2006, after all.



Apr 4: Birmingham City 1-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
Apr 1: Benfica 2-1 Liverpool (Europa League)
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)


Apr 5: Naval 2-4 Benfica (Portuguese Liga)
Apr 1: Benfica 2-1 Liverpool (Europa League)
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)



Ryan Babel is unavailable after the Dutch winger received a highly controversial red card for his 'confrontation' with Luisao in the first leg. Left-back Emiliano Insua is also out of the tie after receiving a yellow card in the first leg.

Maxi Rodriguez is ineligible for the competition, while Alberto Aquilani (ankle), Martin Skrtel (foot), Fabio Aurelio (thigh) and Martin Kelly (knee) are injured.

Last starting XI (vs. Birmingham City): Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Insua, Lucas, Gerrard, Maxi, Kuyt, Benayoun, Torres.


Javier Saviola missed last week's clash at the Estadio da Luz through injury, and it has been confirmed that the Argentine forward will take no part in the return date at Anfield.

Strikers Weldon - who scored twice on Monday night - and Mantorras have also remained in Lisbon.

Last starting XI (vs. Naval): Quim, Pereira, Luisao, Luiz, Coentrao, Javi Garcia, Amorim, Aimar, Di Maria, Cardozo, Weldon.


Liverpool - Fernando Torres

The Reds need goals to go through, and this is the man most likely to provide them. The Spaniard has been left frustrated on his last two outings, and he will want to show his gaffer that he can be a danger every minute he's on the pitch.

Benfica - Angel di Maria

Cardozo may have put the ball in the net, but it was Di Maria who caused all the problems in the first leg. His pace, sharp turn and wicked left foot were all in evidence, and they will have to be once more if the Argentine is to help his side into the final four.

Liverpool Boss Rafael Benitez Looking To Avenge European Defeats To Benfica

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is confident his side can avenge the 2006 Champions League elimination to Benfica when they take on the Portuguese giants in the Europa League quarter-final on Thursday.

The Reds lost 2-1 at the Estadio da Luz in the first leg last week, and must overturn the deficit at Anfield to progress to the semi-final stage.

When quizzed on Liverpool's previous elimination at the hands of Benfica in the Champions League, Benitez was keen to point out that his side are in a much better position than four years ago, when a 1-0 loss in Portugal was followed by a 2-0 reversal at Anfield.

"The situation is totally different," Benitez told reporters.

"We've scored an away goal and we've got a much better squad now, so hopefully we can manage in a better way.

"They have balance. They can attack and defend well and they have confidence, so it'll be tough for us.

"But we are doing well at home, especially in the last games. So we know Benfica are a good team but we have confidence we can beat them.

"It's an opportunity we have to win silverware. It'll be important for all the people here, the fans and the club. So we'll try to do our best."

Benitez is anticipating a trademark European night atmosphere at Anfield.

"I hope so," he said.

"The fans know backing the team is the biggest way to get a result, so they will be behind the players."

Rafa Assesses Left-Back Slot

Rafa Benitez has hinted that Liverpool could swap formations against Benfica on Thursday in the absence of an established left-back.

With Emiliano Insua suspended and Fabio Aurelio injured, Benitez could shift to three at the back in the Europa League quarter-final decider.

Alternatively, the likes of Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher have all operated on the left side of a back four in the past.

Benitez told his pre-match press conference: "We were practising on Wednesday with three defenders and with different players in different positions, so we will see how we'll manage on Thursday."

The boss was also quizzed on the fitness of his players, including Fernando Torres after he was seen with a precautionary ice-pack on his knee after being substituted against Birmingham on Sunday.

"He has to take care of his knee but he's okay, he's fine," said Benitez. "Insua is injured but he was suspended anyway. Fabio Aurelio, Skrtel and Kelly are still injured."

Reina Targets Europa Success

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina admits they need to win the Europa League to make up for a disappointing season.

The Reds have endured a miserable Premier League campaign this term, failing to mount a title bid and are facing a real uphill battle to finish in the top four.

Reina, who has been one of Liverpool's top performers this season, is keen to end a four-year drought without silverware by lifting the Europa League in May.

"This is the only trophy we can lift this season," said Reina

"It is massively important. All the players here want to lift silverware and this is our last chance to do that.

"To win a trophy is always good. We, the players, are the first ones who know that the season hasn't been great. It hasn't been good enough. We should have done better.

"But as long as we have that opportunity to lift a trophy, it is always important for a club and it is for the players. Now it is up to us to lift it up and we have to be persistent."

To win the Europa League, Liverpool need to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Benfica in the second leg of their quarter-final on Thursday and Reina has called on the home fans at Anfield to roar the side to victory.

"We know it is going to be tough but there have been many times in the past when it has been tough and we have been able to manage," added Reina.

"With Anfield behind us and the supporters ready from the beginning, showing desire, passion and commitment, the effort will be 100 per cent. There is absolutely no doubt about that."

Reds Eye French Starlet

Liverpool have emerged as favourites to sign French starlet Moussa Kouyate.

The Reds are one of a host of clubs chasing the highly-rated 15-year-old, who is currently with Paris FC.

But now Liverpool have offered Kouyate a trial and understands the young defender will link-up with the club later this week.

Both Manchester City and Fulham have also shown an interest in Kouyate, but Liverpool look to be heading the chase for his signature.

French champions Bordeaux, Paris Saint Germain and Lens are also believed to be keen.

Rafael Benitez Admits To Making Mistakes At Liverpool

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has admitted making "regrettable mistakes" during his six-year tenure at Anfield.

The Spaniard has come under pressure this season as the Reds struggle to finish in the Premier League's top four and secure a Champions League place.

When asked if he had made mistakes, without specifying, he replied: "Every manager makes mistakes," before adding he had "sometimes" made "big mistakes".

The Reds trail Benfica 2-1 going into Thursday's Europa League quarter-final.

At the start of the year Benitez had promised to deliver Champions League football, despite the Merseysiders finding themselves adrift of Manchester City and Tottenham in the race for fourth place in the Premier League.

With his side struggling to reach the highs of last year when they lost only two games as they finished runners-up to champions Manchester United, Benitez has found his decisions in games and in the transfer market questioned.

"The manager plays every game," he reflected.

"You lose, you win or you draw every game and some players play, some don't, but the manager is always there."

The former Valencia boss was most recently criticised for his decision to substitute Fernando Torres in the 1-1 draw with Birmingham last Saturday.

The draw left Liverpool in sixth place, four points behind fourth-place Manchester City having played one game more than both Roberto Mancini's men and Tottenham, who are three points clear in fifth place.

Meanwhile this season, the Reds failed to reach the Champions League's lucrative group stages for the first time in Benitez's reign and suffered a shock 2-1 FA Cup third-round replay defeat to Reading at Anfield.

The sale of midfielder Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid for £30m has also been widely criticised as Liverpool's difficult campaign has unfolded, with his £20m replacement Alberto Aquilani struggling for fitness all season to the frustration of Benitez.

Spain defender Alvaro Arbeloa also moved to the Bernabeu, while the experienced Sami Hyypia was allowed to join German side Bayer Leverkusen.

"If you can manage as a club with the mistakes you are ok," said Benitez, before admitting: "We signed one player that has had a problem for the whole season and we cannot manage."

Italian Report: Juventus Want Deal Closed For Liverpool Boss Benitez This Month

Italian daily Tuttosport claims that Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is still Juventus' number one target and that they want to conclude contract negotiations with him this month.

Benitez has been rumoured for some time to be a prime target to take charge of the Turin giants, who are planning a summer overhaul following a desperately disappointing season. Benitez’s Liverpool future has been under scrutiny for several months as the Reds have also endured a difficult season and the Anfield club is also experiencing financial difficulties.

Tuttosport claims that Benitez remains the preferred choice of Juventus chief Roberto Bettega with Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc next in line. Apparently, Benitez's greater experience is the major factor in Juventus' pursuit of the Anfield boss.

Tuttosport also speculates that Juventus officials are eager to finalize a deal for Benitez this month, as early as 15 April. The Turin club wants their man in place as soon as possible, in order to plan for next season.

Steven Gerrard Tips Pepe Reina To Captain Liverpool In The Future

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard believes that his successor to the Reds captain's armband should be goalkeeper Pepe Reina.

The England international feels that the 27-year-old Spaniard possesses all the qualities needed to be a good leader at Anfield.

Gerrard is also sure that time is on Reina's side as he is yet to reach his peak in goalkeeping terms.

"Pepe has proved this year that he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world," the midfielder told LFC Weekly.

"He's got a massive future here. He's a character and someone who is great to have around the dressing room.

"In training and on the pitch he's fantastic. He's always positive and helping his teammates. I can see a captain in him.

"As far as goalkeepers are concerned, he's still young. So I can see him captaining this club in the future.

"I certainly hope he does because he deserves it."

Fernando Torres: Liverpool FC Summer Eits 'Mssed Eerything U'

Fernando Torres admitted a spate of summer departures "messed everything up" for Liverpool FC.

The sale of midfielder Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid for a reported £30million has been widely criticised as Liverpool FC's difficult campaign has unfolded, with his £20million replacement Alberto Aquilani struggling for fitness all season to the frustration of manager Rafa Benitez.

Versatile Spain defender Alvaro Arbeloa joined Alonso in moving to the Bernabeu, while the experienced Sami Hyypia was allowed to join German side Bayer Leverkusen.

Liverpool FC were eliminated in the Champions League group stages for the first time in Benitez’s tenure and face an uphill task to return to the competition at all next season, lying as they do four points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City having played a game more.

And a shock 2-1 FA Cup third-round replay defeat to Reading at Anfield left the Europa League - a consolation after their Champions League exit - their only remaining chance of a trophy. However, to progress in that they must overturn a 2-1 deficit to Benfica in Thursday’s quarter-final second leg.

Liverpool FC striker Torres said: "There have been various important factors, like being so far behind the top teams so quickly. That killed us psychologically.

"After that, injuries hit us hard and we have suffered a lot because of them.

"But after a good season last year, we needed certain reinforcements and we needed to keep the squad we had together. But circumstances dictated that we had to sell players and so everything got messed up.

"The sales of Arbeloa, Hyypia and Alonso were important losses.

"Alvaro always did a vital job for us, always played to a high level, and his flexibility was a huge bonus.

"Sami did not play every week but he was a 10 out of 10 on and off the pitch.

"And Xabi? Players like him are very rare. He was the team’s engine, and you know that when you change an engine, it takes time to work again."

Benitez Echoes Torres Concerns

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has called on the club's hierarchy to find some investment for new players after agreeing with Fernando Torres on the failings at Anfield.

Torres has let it be known that allowing the likes of Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and Sami Hyypia leave last summer has proved costly in the Reds' miserable campaign.

Having begun among the favourites for the Premier League title, Liverpool are looking increasingly unlikely to even finish fourth and will have to overcome a first leg defeat to Benfica in the Europa League quarter-finals.

A league draw at Birmingham on Sunday has left Liverpool sixth, four points adrift of that all-important UEFA Champions League-qualifying position, having played a game more than both Manchester City in fourth and Tottenham in fifth.

Benitez believes Torres was correct in his assessment of the club's disappointing performance, with the Reds boss saying: "I agree with Fernando about a lot of things.

"He talks about it being a pity we finished with 86 points last year and we couldn't progress.

"We need to sign some players, we need to bring in some money. We need an investor and then we can challenge in a better way.

"The players are working so hard and they feel they can do more.

"Fernando the other day (at Birmingham), he was feeling really tired. He was trying and the other players were trying but while we don't have the investor it will be difficult to go one step forward."

Benitez was speaking ahead of Thursday's second leg against Benfica at Anfield, with his side trailing 2-1 on aggregate.

"We will try to do our best on Thursday to win," he said. "Hopefully we can balance the books this year.

"We need now to perform on the pitch and create a better situation for the new investors."

Liverpool Co-Owners Tom Hicks And George Gillett In London To Discuss Refinancing

As Liverpool prepare to try and stay in the Europa League this week the club’s owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have been in London discussing their next financial move, and considering the implications should Rafael Benitez fail to deliver on his promise to steer the club into next season’s Champions League.

I understand that the American owners, enjoying a rare joint visit to the UK, spent yesterday afternoon at the London client offices of leading City lawyers Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. By co-incidence Freshfields partner Mark Rawlinson is one of the ‘Red Knights’ plotting the purchase of Manchester United from the Glazers.

Hicks and Gillett have faced similar supporter disquiet over their ownership of Liverpool and are attempting to re-finance the club’s £237m debts. RBS, their principle lender, has requested that they reduce the debt by £100m ahead of a refinancing deadline in the summer.

Rothschilds and Merryl Lynch, the advisors retained by Gillett and Hicks respectively, and club managing director Christian Purslow have been engaged in a global search for third-party investment for months but a deal is yet to be struck. The deadline for a £105m offer from New York-based investors the Rhone Group, who were hoping to secure a 40% stake in the club, passed on Monday.

Sources close to the owners say that yesterday’s talks were a general discussion of the owners’ options rather than focused on a specific deal. “There’s nothing imminent,” said one.

Purslow has previously said that five or six interested parties are still in play but it appears that all are some distance from meeting the Americans’ valuation. Hicks and Gillett have previously maintained that any third-party investor would have to pay a price that reflects the club’s potential increase in value after the new Anfield, which is yet to leave the drawing board, is built.

With the credit markets still depressed and the RBS deadline looming it may be harder for the owners to meet their valuation, but that does not mean refinancing will fail.

While RBS would like to see the debt come down it is still highly likely that the bank would offer the Americans a fresh deal. The downside for Hicks and Gillett, as they seek yet another short-term fix to their problems at Anfield, is that such a deal would cost significantly more in fees and interest.

If they succeed it will be the third time in as many years that they have had to strike a new deal with the banks, racking up fees every time. The need for a long-term solution that allows work on the new stadium to begin remains.