Sunday, May 02, 2010

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Chelsea

Title chasing Chelsea, fresh from their seven-goal thumping of Stoke City last weekend, visit Liverpool, looking for three points that will keep them top of the table going into the final day and, if results go their way elsewhere, could even secure the championship with a game to spare.

For Liverpool a season which promised so much after last season’s second place finish has become only more disappointing the longer it has gone on and after the Europa League semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid on Thursday, the club are left with only the slightest of hopes of a top-four finish, and realistically only a Europa League place to play for.

After their extra-time defeat to a Diego Forlan goal, the side still without Fernando Torres are likely to be both physically and emotionally drained. And with uncertainty continuing to surround the future of the clubs owners, manager Rafael Benitez, who continues to be linked with the exit door and a move to Juventus, attentions on and off the pitch could easily be elsewhere.

Indeed the only positives for the Reds are that they are unbeaten in their last five games, and they have won nine of their last 10 Premier League games on home soil.

For Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti, his side are looking for a domestic double, with the FA Cup final against Portsmouth to come, and surely they can’t be taking on Liverpool at a better time.

With Frank Lampard in terrific form and having reached 20 goals for the season once again, and with the return to fitness of Ashley Cole, largely considered to be the world’s best left-back, they travel to Anfield on the back of 23 goals in their last six games, which has seen five wins including a victory at Old Trafford.

And Carlo Ancelotti will know that a victory, coupled with a defeat for Manchester United when they travel to the Stadium of Light to take on Sunderland later in the day, will ensure the title returns to west London for the first time since 2006.



April 29 - Liverpool 2-1 Atletico Madrid (Europa League)
April 25 - Burnley 0–4 Liverpool (Premier League)
April 22 - Atletico Madrid 1-0 Liverpool (Europa League)
April 19 – Liverpool 3-0 West Ham United (Premier League)
April 11 – Liverpool 0-0 Fulham (Premier League)


April 25 – Chelsea 7-0 Stoke City (Premier League)
April 17 – Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Chelsea (Premier League)
April 13 – Chelsea 1-0 Bolton Wanderers (Premier League)
April 10 - Chelsea 3-0 Aston Villa (FA Cup)
April 3 – Manchester United 1-2 Chelsea (Premier League)



Liverpool will once again be without Spanish international striker Fernando Torres, who this week underwent knee surgery.

Emiliano Insua will also miss out due to a thigh complaint.

Manager Rafael Benitez will have to decide whether to stick with Javier Mascherano at right-back or revert Glen Johnson back across from left-back to his natural position.

Last starting XI (vs Atletico Madrid): Reina; Johnson, Agger, Carragher, Mascherano; Lucas, Aquilani, Gerrard, Benayoun; Babel, Kuyt.


The Blues will be without long term absentees Jose Bosingwa and Michael Essien, who isn’t quite ready to return after a knee injury.

Ricardo Carvalho is doubtful after an ankle injury, whilst Jon Obi Mikel isn’t expected to be fit.

However, club captain John Terry is available once again after suspension.

Last starting XI (vs Stoke City): Cech; Ferreira, Alex, Ivanovic, A Cole; Lampard, Ballack, Malouda; Kalou, Drogba, Anelka.


Liverpool – Jose Manuel Reina
The Liverpool No.1 has been faultless this season whilst others around him haven’t met the high standards set by the clubs supporters.

Although the Spanish keeper plays second fiddle at international level, he is largely seen as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League.

The former Villarreal stopper will have to be at his best this weekend to keep the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka at bay.

Chelsea – Frank Lampard

Two more goals last weekend in the 7-0 rout of Stoke City took Lampard to 20 goals in a Premier League campaign once again.

After a slow start to the season by his own very high standards, Lampard has been in red-hot form lately and has, along with the vastly improved Florent Malouda, been crucial in Chelsea’s title tilt.

If Lampard scores at Anfield, you wouldn’t back against Chelsea leaving with all three points.

Rafael Benitez May Already Have Exit Strategy At Liverpool

When referee Alan Wiley blows his whistle to signal full time at 3.30pm at Anfield on Sunday, the Premier League will have its answer. So, too, will the Kop. The questions they are asking, though, are rather different.

While hundreds of lenses and millions of viewers will judge the closing chapters in a nerve-shredding title race by the looks of despair or of joy on the faces of Chelsea’s players, Liverpool’s minds will turn exclusively to Rafael Benítez.

His every movement will be tracked, every action monitored, as the game’s most famous ancient gallery tries to decipher whether, after six years, this really is the end.

The Spaniard has dallied with departing Liverpool before; he was saved by the defiant support of thousands of fans when Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the club’s owners, discussed his position with Jürgen Klinsmann; he was tempted by the riches of Real Madrid when his elaborate plans for the club were put at risk by the penury forced upon him by the same duo.

Never before, though, have the noises emanating from his supposed suitors been so strong, so insistent.

Last Monday, sources at Juventus suggested that the Spaniard’s arrival was “90 per cent” certain. By the time Andrea Agnelli was ratified as the Italian club’s new president on Thursday, the message had changed. The Old Lady is convinced she has got her man.

A four-year contract, worth £3.5 million a season after tax, awaits him in Turin. Transfer spending will be to the tune of around £60 million a year for the next three years.

The engagement is not yet announced, but Juventus’s proprietor John Elkann has already spotted his first wedding present. A Juve delegation flew to São Paulo this week to finalise a £12 million deal for Hernanes, the Brazil international, a player Benítez is known to admire.

It is not hard to see why such a project would tempt the Liverpool manager.

Ever since he arrived, he has faced a struggle to build the empire he desires, hamstrung first by an inability to land his primary targets — Simão Sabrosa and Daniel Alves both slipped from his grasp at the last — and later by the empty wallet and unfulfilled promises brought to Merseyside by Hicks and Gillett.

Benítez freely admits his responsibility in recent years has been to run a “company,” rather than a football club, balancing Anfield’s books rather than its squad.

Though RBS has brought in Martin Broughton as chairman and Barclays Capital to sell the club, which will end the tenure of Hicks and Gillett, there is no guarantee that the situation will change in the future. Juventus, in comparison, are offering him spending that is all but limitless. It is hardly Sophie’s Choice.

It would not be a choice at all, Benítez admits, were it not for the debt of gratitude he feels towards those fans who stood by him when the question was not whether Liverpool were good enough for the Spaniard, but whether he was of sufficient calibre for them.

“If I am here it is because of them,” he said. “I have had massive offers over the last year and I decided to stay because of them. I gave my word last year because of the fans. The fans are the main thing, the best thing, the club has. I decided to stay last year because of the fans and for one year I have been trying to do my best, and we will see what happens in the future.”

For all that loyalty, though, Benítez has steadfastly refused to quash the increasingly frenzied speculation suggesting he is on the verge of opting out of his £20 million, four-year contract and moving to Juve.

He has singularly failed to offer his supporters the same assurances over his future that he has made clear he would like from his employers, insisting only that he “cannot talk about the long-term future”.

Is that because he does not know what his future holds? “I know the future, and it is Chelsea.” Where does he want to be next season? “I want to win against Chelsea.” Juventus, though, are adamant he is their next coach. “I am here now, and I hope to be here against Chelsea.”

Perhaps, then, the answer the Kop seek is clear. So desperate a land has Anfield become that there are many who will welcome it, many who feel he has run his course, his successes, domestic and European, written out of history as the doctrine of Benítez as failure becomes orthodoxy.

Yet even if this is the end for Benítez, if Sunday is the final act on the Anfield stage where once they worshipped him, there is no closure for Liverpool.

Fans and board members alike may talk of attracting Jose Mourinho or Fabio Capello as Benítez’s replacement, a manager of the utmost quality, but with Anfield’s coffers empty and its ownership uncertain, such ambitions appear almost delusional. The end of the Benítez saga may come Sunday. Liverpool’s is doomed to continue.

Reina Focused On Victory

Pepe Reina insists that Liverpool will be giving their all to secure victory against Chelsea at Anfield on Sunday.

The Reds will be eager to end on a high as they play in front of their home fans for the last time this season.

But the Liverpool faithful will also be aware that a win could set arch-rivals Manchester United up to win the Premier League title.

Sir Alex Ferguson's side, who are searching for a fourth consecutive championship, would then be able to move clear of the Reds on 19 total titles if they were to successfully close the season out.

But Reina remains unconcerned by the potential implications of a Chelsea defeat and insists the squad is firmly focused on victory.

"They can think about what they want," said the Spanish goalkeeper.

"If you are a professional, you will never play to lose or draw in any game. It's just not us.

"We need a win at home for our supporters. I don't care about Manchester United. All I care about is us and making sure we get three points."

Liverpool just missed out on a Europa League final spot after losing out to Atletico Madrid on away goals on Thursday night.

Reina accepts that the players will find it tough to pick themselves back up after such a devastating result, but is adamant the players will be ready on Sunday.

"It's down to our own pride," the 27-year-old added.

"We will try to win, and if we don't, it will be because we're playing Chelsea, a tough team fighting for the championship.

"We're going into the game after a disappointing night playing 120 minutes. It won't be easy but we will try.

"I want to make sure we can fight for fourth place by getting those three points. We never play to lose."

Liverpool Planning Double Raid On Real Madrid’s Midfield

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is not looking at joining another club or walking out of Liverpool, in fact he is looking at strengthening the team for next season and has targeted the Real Madrid duo of Guti and Royston Drenthe as possible acquisitions for the Anfield outfit.

Guti would be available on a free come the end of the season and even at the age of 33 is still wanted by quite a few clubs including Tottenham and now Liverpool, Benitez knows what Guti is capable of and would not hesitate in offering Guti a rolling contract at Liverpool.

Drenthe on the other hand at 23 is seen as a more long term option, he is equally good with both feet and can play either defence or midfield and he would bring the sort of versatility that Benitez is looking for. Drenthe is returning from injury and in terms of timing it could not be better for Benitez.

Drenthe would not come too cheap but neither would he come at a premium, he is unhappy at Real Madrid and still effected by the booing he has received, his best friend is Ryan Babel and it would not be a huge surprise to see Drenthe end up a Liverpool player next season.

Rafael Benitez Unsure Whether Liverpool Will Sign The 'Four Or Five' Players They Need This Summer

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has revealed that there is still much uncertainty at Anfield over what form the Reds' summer rebuilding may take after a disappointing campaign.

Benitez's team were knocked out of the Europa League by Atletico Madrid on Thursday evening amidst continuing speculation that Benitez is set to depart the club for Serie A giants Juventus.

With the club also up for sale, it looks there will be a difficult summer to follow a difficult season for the Reds.

"I do not know whether I will have any funds. We will find out in the summer," Benitez told reporters after the game against Ateltico.

"Liverpool is a massive club but there has been a change in the last two or three years. We have had to balance the books and manage in this way.

"Someone said we needed four or five players.

I would more or less agree with that. That is what we have to do."

Benitez also bemoaned his team's luck this season, especially when it came to injuries.

"Everything seems to have been against them this season," he said.

"It is clear that we had some problems. We had too many injuries and were lacking forward options. But the players worked so hard and I am very proud of them."

Rafa - Fans Made Me Stay

Rafa Benitez admits he has only remained with the club because of the fans, amid renewed speculation he is ready to leave Anfield.

A barrage of media reports are claiming that Juventus are again stepping up their efforts to land the Spanish tactician and he will now accept the chance to take charge in Turin.

With the club up for sale, Benitez is far from sure of his future and, following Liverpool's Europa League semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid, Benitez refuses to talk about anything beyond this weekend's game with Chelsea on Sunday.

"At the moment I can't talk about the future long-term," he said.

"I decided to stay last year because of the fans and for one year I have been working very hard, trying to do my best and we will see what happens in the future, because Sunday's game against Chelsea is the future now."

Benitez admitted he had previously turned down 'massive offers' in order to remain at Anfield.

"The fans are the main thing, the best thing that the club has. I gave my word because of them," he said.

"I have had massive offers over the last year and I decided to stay because of them.

"It's been a very disappointing season because we couldn't achieve what we were expected to, and still I'm here and I will do my best until the end."

Liverpool's Alberto Aquilani Will Not Join Juventus

Alberto Aquilani's agent Franco Zavaglia has announced the midfielder will not leave Liverpool for Juventus in the summer.

Despite reports claiming the Bianconeri would sign the Italian if they landed Rafael Benitez, Zavaglia insists his client is not going anywhere.

"Alberto to Juve? It's just talk," Zavaglia told

"I don't understand how people can speak about his future being away from England.

"He is fine at Liverpool and he is not thinking about a return to Italy.

"There was also talk about a fight with Benitez, but this is absolutely false.

"In any case, Aquilani is staying at Liverpool. I have never heard from Juventus or other clubs."

Borrell Unhappy With Academy

Liverpool youth coach Rodolfo Borrell has criticised the "unacceptable" standard of the club's academy.

Borrell's assessment is that it will take two years before the set-up is close to the right level.

"The reality of what we found here was unacceptable," said Borrell, who joined nearly a year ago having previously worked with Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi in the Barcelona's youth system.

"The under-18s had no centre-forward, no balance, no tactical level, no understanding of the game.

"We are working hard, but you can't change things overnight.

"I think we have made a lot of progress over eight months, but we need to improve a lot more to get more players into the first team.

"I think if we keep working hard maybe in two years somebody can appear in the first team."

Borrell's brief from Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is to develop more English players.

This week the club signed England youth international Jonjo Shelvey from Charlton, who will go straight into the reserve squad, as they try to seek to redress the balance having previously brought in a number of foreign hopefuls.

"I agree - the best players to defend the Barca shirt are Catalan players, the best players to defend the Liverpool shirt are English players," Borrell told BBC Sport.

"We have to fight to make English players arrive.

"The rest of the players who are not English must be massive quality."

Liverpool Chairman A Chelsea Fan

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton has confirmed he will not be at Anfield on Sunday, because of his loyalties to Chelsea.

Broughton, a life-long Chelsea fan, was appointed Liverpool chairman last month by the club's owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

The British Airways boss has been brought in to oversee the sale of the club and he admits he cannot simply forget about his Chelsea passion.

"Any true fan who has supported a club for 55 years - like I have - can't be expected to suddenly move against them overnight," he said.

"When you have followed a team for as long as I have then it's in the blood. It's a very emotional thing and all fans who have supported Liverpool for a long time will know what I mean.

"I can't come to the match on Sunday and show any of that emotion because that would be very disrespectful to the Liverpool faithful. Liverpool have terrific fans and I wouldn't want to do that, so the only sensible thing is for me to stay at home and watch it on the television.

"I suppose the perfect scenario would be for Liverpool to win this weekend and go on to secure Champions League qualification and then for Chelsea to go on and win the title. That would be great if it were to happen."