Rafa roasts Reds

Rafael Benitez was extremely unhappy with his team after they dropped two more points in the league – this time at home to Middlesborough.

Benitez had made five changes to the team that played against Chelsea in midweek, with one eye on Tuesday’s return. Where Wednesday 0-0 draw was a good result in a two-legged European tie, Liverpool needed all three today. They’d have been just a point from fourth place if they had managed a victory – Fulham beat Everton 2-0.

Rafa’s comments were strong:  "It is similar to last Saturday against Crystal Palace and I am very unhappy with a lot of things about my team. The result is not good and we only played for 20 minutes in the second half." Liverpool’s inability to be putting in the effort and concentration for 90 minutes is perhaps one of the main reasons they are so far behind first-placed Chelsea. Liverpool have players with skill, but it seems the determination is lacking.

Benitez tried to look on the bright side: "If you think positive we have one more point but it’s one less game. "

Rafa’s frustration was there for all to see, as he pointed out: "This is three times now we have failed to close the gap after Everton losing."

What was unbelievable today was that Benitez had players who couldn’t lift themselves for a game that was so important – and with summer looming some of these players could find the exit door is waiting for them.  It’s not been lost on Rafa that Liverpool struggle after Champions League games. He wants this to stop: "I don’t know why we are struggling after playing a Champions League game midweek but we need to change things for the future. We can’t this season and we just have to get on with it." Expect the axe to fall behind the scenes – hopefully Rafa will be brave enough to stand up to those players whose attitude is wrong.

Liverpool have now got just two days off before the return leg in the Champions League, Benitez obviously wants better from his men: "I hope we will see a different Liverpool on Tuesday night against Chelsea and I hope to see a lot more good things."

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Where they stand – 7.30pm Saturday 30th April.

7.30pm, Saturday April 30th. That’s nearly it now for this season’s Premiership. There’s new champions – Chelsea have become holders of the title for the first time in fifty years after beating Bolton 2-0. The good news about that result was that it meant Bolton picked up no points from the day. In fact only Liverpool picked up any points out of those teams in positions 4 to 6. Everton lost at Fulham 2-0, Liverpool only managed a draw at home to Middlesborough. 

Everton are on 58 points and can get a maximum of 67. Liverpool are on 55 and can get at most 61 points and Bolton stay on 54 points, with a maximum of 60 available to them.

One more win for Everton means that Liverpool could then only overtake them on goal difference – currently Liverpool’s is superior at +12 to Everton’s +5.

Bolton are now relying on slip-ups to get higher in the league than Liverpool. Bolton and Everton meet on the last day of the season.

The other impact of Chelsea taking the title tonight is that Arsenal’s priorities may now change. Arsenal are still playing for an automatic qualifying place in the Champions League – second place guarantees that – but they now have lost that slim chance of winning the league. Arsenal play West Brom tomorrow, then they have two home games in succession – against Liverpool and Everton.

Next weekend’s games see Everton and Bolton both playing on Saturday. Bolton play against Portsmouth – now safe from relegation. If Everton win – at home to Graham Souness’s Newcastle – they’ll be in a position where one more point out of their last two games guarantees them fourth place. That might be enough psychologically for Liverpool to consider it’s all over when they travel to Highbury on Sunday. Of course by then Liverpool will know if they’ve made it to this year’s Champions League final.

Remaining fixtures:

07 May
Everton v Newcastle, Portsmouth v Bolton

08 May

Arsenal v Liverpool

11 May

Arsenal v Everton

15 May

Bolton v EvertonLiverpool v Aston Villa

Continue reading Where they stand – 7.30pm Saturday 30th April.

Where they stand – 5pm Saturday 30th April.

5pm, Saturday April 30th. That’s nearly it now for this season’s Premiership. Liverpool and Everton both dropped points today – Everton losing at Fulham 2-0, Liverpool only managing a draw at home to Middlesborough. Bolton play this evening against Chelsea.

Everton are on 58 points and can get a maximum of 67. Liverpool are on 55 and can get at most 61 points and Bolton go into their Chelsea fixture on 54 points, with a maximum of 63 available to them.

One more win for Everton means that Liverpool could then only overtake them on goal difference – currently Liverpool’s is superior at +12 to Everton’s +5.

Bolton and Everton meet on the last day of the season. If Bolton win against Champions-elect Chelsea later tonight they will move ahead of Liverpool by 2 points and would be one point behind Everton. For Bolton to then ensure they stay above Liverpool at the end of the season they would need to take six points from both their remaining games. A win and a draw could leave them level on points with Liverpool (assuming Liverpool manage to win their last two games) – Bolton’s goal difference is currently +6 to Liverpool’s +12.

Remaining fixtures:

30 April
Bolton v Chelsea

07 May

Everton v Newcastle, Portsmouth v Bolton

08 May

Arsenal v Liverpool

11 May

Arsenal v Everton

15 May

Bolton v EvertonLiverpool v Aston Villa

Continue reading Where they stand – 5pm Saturday 30th April.

Kewell thanks the boss for his recovery

Kewell calls a truce with Rafa.

Harry Kewell has struggled with injuries all season. His last appearance before Wednesday had been in the Carling Cup Final at Cardiff in February, but he’d not played too regularly prior to that.

Unfortunately for Kewell the injuries caused him trouble off the field as well as on – from the critics and even his boss. People point to his outstanding performances when he was a Leeds player and wonder why he’s just not done that for the Reds. According to Kewell the injuries he’s been suffering have played a large part in his performances not being as good as he’d like.

Benitez questioned wether Kewell really was injured or not, comments which Kewell was unhappy about at the time. There was no sign of this though when Kewell spoke about how his Spanish manager has actually helped Kewell to return to action much sooner than he’d hoped for: "I’ve gone through a rough season, but there’s a guy out in Spain who has got me back, so all credit to him. He’s a physio with a local team in Cadiz that the manager knew. We’ve worked with Liverpool and also out there. I’ve been away for about a month – two weeks here and two weeks there. If you had told me a month ago that I had a chance of even being substitute for the semi-final of the Champions League at Chelsea last Wednesday I would have taken it. I would even have signed a piece of paper."

Now Kewell seems to be much happier than he has all season: "It’s just nice to be out there and running with no pain. I’ve done a lot of massaging, stretching and strength work. It’s been all work – I’ve got no tan! I feel about 80 per cent fit now, but the difference is that I am now 80 per cent with no pain. It’s a big step forward for me. I’ve gone through the whole season with pain and it is something you have to deal with as a footballer. But it got to the stage where I had to pull the plug. I had to bite the bullet. I have a debt of gratitude to Liverpool. The boss has worked really hard to get me back fit. All I want to do is play football."

Kewell can pay back some of that gratitude today – Rafa Benitez has picked him to start in the Premiership match against Middlesborough.
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McClaren: We are difficult to beat

It’s not just Liverpool who are looking for success today in the league in their quest for playing in Europe next season. For Liverpool the ambition is to get into fourth place and then into the Champions League qualifiers, but opponents Middlesborough are trying to get themselves back into the UEFA Cup.

Boro are currently in seventh place and so as things stand would qualify for the UEFA Cup next season. Eighth isn’t good enought though and with Spurs breathing down their necks Steve McClaren’s side are looking for victory today to hold onto their place.

Liverpool have only lost three league games at home this season, against Chelsea, Manchester United and Birmingham. In all three cases these teams did a league double over Liverpool this season, and McClaren wants to see his team become the fourth.

McClaren said, "There are a lot of permutations for the final games but we are in pole position. We need to win one of our away games against Liverpool or Manchester City. A point or a win at Liverpool is important. Liverpool will have one eye on the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea next week, but their home record is immaculate. I think they have a big enough squad to cope. Liverpool need to win if they are to finish fourth in the table."

McClaren is hoping that the problems he saw his own team face by playing in Europe and the league will have a similar impact on Liverpool today. Liverpool are facing three games in six days, all of which are big and important. McClaren continued: "Playing in Europe can take its toll with the travelling and recovery periods. It is a struggle to compete on three fronts. You never get a game where you can coast."

Gareth Southgate is hoping to make his 400th Premiership appearance this afternoon. Southgate is doubtful though after his dramatic-looking injury in midweek against Newcastle. Whilst the eye of most of the world were on Liverpool’s game at Stamford Bridge, the former Villa and Palace defender suffered a head wound needing seven stitches. Boss McClaren says he’ll name his team late to give him and George Boateng a chance of playing: "Southgate and Boateng both took knocks against Newcastle. I would rate their prospects of playing at 50-50. We will leave a decision until as late as possible.

Liverpool need to be up for today’s game if the words of McClaren are true: "There is great determination on the part of both players to play, with us being so close to the prize of Europe. Southgate stayed on at Newcastle to finish the job rather than leave the field to have stitches when he cut his head."

Liverpool’s injury crisis this season has led to them using three different keepers in the league and Champions League, Boro have also now got an injury with ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer ruled out. His fellow Australian Brad Jones deputised against Arsenal, West Brom and Newcastle and impressed his manager: "Jones has shown terrific maturity and composure. The progress of Jones has not surprised me. We always knew he had talent and potential. He is now gaining experience. Paul Barron, our goalkeeping coach, always said Jones would soon be breathing down the neck of Schwarzer, who is our number one." McClaren continued: "One of the things that has pleased me is that we have conceded only two goals in the last five games. Clean sheets are important at this stage of the season. We are always capable of scoring goals."

McClaren sounded a warning to Liverpool to be ready for a big game: "We have eight points from our last five games and are third top scorers in the Premier League. We are on a good run and are difficult to beat."

Continue reading McClaren: We are difficult to beat

Gerrard: Boss says keep fighting

Steven Gerrard wants to remind anyone that might have forgotten that Liverpool have an important game to play today. All the talk for Liverpool this has been about what happened in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, and of what might happen in the second leg on Tuesday. Added to all of this has been a long list of interpretations over what the rules are for qualification next season. Today Liverpool play host to Middlesbrough at Anfield as they do what they can to try and finish in fourth place in the premiership.

Many have now written Liverpool off, and Everton only need to win two of their remaining games to give Liverpool no chance of fourth. The fact remains though that for Liverpool to have any chance, they need to win two games more than Everton do. With just three games left it doesn’t leave any room for any slip-ups.

The Liverpool captain has been quiet off the field in recent weeks, but today he warned Everton that the Reds do intend to fight. Said Gerrard: "It is a mountain to climb definitely but we won’t give it up. The manager has drummed it into us to keep fighting and none of the players here will be giving it up. Everton only need two more wins from their last four games and they do look clear favourites at the moment. But if we can get three points against Boro today and Everton slip-up then the table will take on a whole new look."

Stevie continues: "Everyone is talking about Tuesday night but we’ve got a game today and we need to get a result because getting into the top four is just as important. There are still nine points to play for and we want all nine. Until it’s mathematically impossible we’ll keep up the fight."

Stevie has had a difficult season – all the talk about his desire to win things, and to leave Liverpool to do that if necessary, has left him under scrutiny. He’s not allowed any off-days, if he misses penalties or scores own goals some "fans" even accuse him of doing it deliberately. In the midst of all this negativity a future Reds captain has emerged.

Jamie Carragher has always been a good defender – although as a full-back his attacking abilities weren’t as good as those of some other full-backs. Defending is what he’s good at, and he’s excellent at it. When the PFA awards nominations were announced recently, Reds boss Rafael Benitez expressed disappointment that Carragher’s name wasn’t in there. Stevie says it’s about time that Jamie got some recognition: "Carra has come on in leaps and bounds this season, and for me the praise he has been getting is long overdue. He has been a fantastic player for Liverpool for years. He has stood out for us this season because his game has improved so much. He can now be considered a truly world class defender, and there’s no doubt about it – he’s a massive influence for us. The manager said recently he’s as good as any defender in the country. I’m not sure everyone believed him but they should now. Carra doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He is underestimated and has been for years. That has never been the case in our dressing room or among the fans. To us, he is a hero."

Stevie seemed to enjoy comparing Carragher to the eventual winner of the PFA award, England’s third-choice centre back, captain of Chelsea, John Terry. "Now others will surely start accepting that he is definitely at the same level as John Terry and England’s other outstanding central defenders. He was always a good defender, but he’s added a lot to his game this season. There’s a confidence, experience and maturity about how he plays now. As well as defending so well, he looks to bring the ball out and set up attacks. That’s the confidence you get from maintaining high standards. You can move up from the back and try things that maybe you wouldn’t have attempted before. You are seeing that from Carra, and he has won our player of the year hands down."

Once today’s game against Middlesborough has ended, it will be time to prepare for the Champions League again. The Anfield Road stadium will hear the Champions League theme tune played for the last time this season – assuming it can be heard over the noise of the Reds’ fans. European nights at Anfield always seem to bring out the best of the noise and passion that Anfield has always been able to produce.

Gerrard wants to win things. On Tuesday he can get one step closer to doing it in a red shirt and he said, "We need brave men on Tuesday. We need everyone to stand up. We need 11 gladiators out there to beat Chelsea, and the fans have to be ready for an incredible night."

As a hint to the Stamford Bridge faithful about how quiet they were on Wednesday, Gerrard pointed out which stadium he feels is the place to be playing European football in: "Anfield is the best place for big European night by a mile. It is an incredible atmosphere, and we need that – we know exactly what role the fans can play, and we know how the team must play. The confidence running through us on these type of nights is incredible. European nights at Anfield are something special, and the fans will be up for it. It could be awesome. It is going to be a great spectacle for everyone, I just hope come the final whistle we will be celebrating. This season, we have had incredible nights at Anfield against Olympiakos and Juventus, just unbelievable occasions, but this will surpass that. During your career not many chances come along to get to the European Cup final like this. The important thing before Tuesday’s game was to stay in it and give ourselves a chance. We’ve done that, and while the job is only half-done, if we can produce a night similar to that against Juventus, then we can go through."

Continue reading Gerrard: Boss says keep fighting

Gerrard played in pain

All the bad-mouthing of Steven Gerrard by a certain minority of Reds fans started again after last night game against Chelsea. Ever since the player gave his infamous summer press conference he’s been getting criticism. This minority want him to leave because they didn’t like his honesty, feeling that to play for Liverpool you’ve got to love Liverpool above all else. Gerrard is proud to play for Liverpool, the team he grew up supporting. The trouble is though is that after years of under-achievement under Gerard Houllier, he saw the possibility that there was some greener grass elsewhere.

Gerrard played OK last night. If John Welsh had played as well as that last night he’d be rightly getting praise for an assured if not outstanding performance. He did nothing wrong and worked hard throughout. Makalele was his opposite number last night and they basically kept each other occupied.

Still, all the usual criticisms were being aired against him last night and this morning. Phone-ins and forums were full of the experts telling us how Stevie was just not committed enough and that Liverpool should cash in.

Then rumours started to float around that Stevie had a reason to have not even played if he’d wanted to "bottle out". The rumour went round that he’d been forced to go to a dental hospital for some urgent work. That the Liverpool team hotel had been asked to prepare special food for him as he had a problem with his mouth.

Now the story’s been confirmed, by the Liverpool Echo. The journalist that reported it, Chris Bascombe, is well-respected by the staff at Anfield and is often privy to stories that other publications don’t hear about. It was Bascombe that had the exclusive interview with Gerrard where he rubbished the stories saying he’d already signed for Chelsea.

According to the Echo, Gerrard had been awake all night with a mouth abscess. This had been troubling him for days and was getting worse and worse. In the end Liverpool’s medical staff felt it necessary to take him to a dental hospital local to the hotel. He had the abscess lanced under local anaesthetic. He was also given antibiotics.

The Echo also quote Geoff Brown, who’s the dental advisor for primary care trusts in Merseyside. He said that the abscess would have been "very painful. The purpose of the surgery will be to ease the pain but he would have felt very groggy after the anaesthetic. The antibiotics would also have taken their toll."

If Liverpool are to get continued success they not only need to attract more world-class players, they need to keep them. The criticism handed out to Gerrard – and to Owen before him – is unneccessary. Any player that receives so much criticism can easily justify leaving for a club where they’ll not only get success, but where they’ll be appreciated.

Liverpool have so few games left now this season it’s important to get behind the captain. We don’t know what’s going on in his mind, but he’s certainly doing his best for the Reds. If anything he’s trying too hard. Without Gerrard’s goal in the last group game in the Champion’s League, Liverpool might not have even been playing in the UEFA Cup by now.
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Chelsea: We’ll win this tie

Where does self-confidence become cockiness or arrogance? Certainly anyone who listened to Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho after last night’s goalless draw at Stamford Bridge will have made their minds up about which category the Chelsea boss fits into. Was what he said last night carefully thought out or was it off-the-cuff? It was certainly the kind of talk to wind opponents up. If he’d carefully thought about what he was saying, perhaps he was trying to wind Liverpool up to the point where they’ll lose their discipline. If it’s not carefully thought out it could backfire. Mourinho is, "very, very, very confident we will get to the final. 99.9% of Liverpool fans will be thinking at the moment they have one foot in the final – but they aren’t. It is very difficult for them."

The cockiness/confidence question can also be pointed at on of the Chelsea players that were saved from relegation with West Ham. Joe Cole always comes across as a player full of confidence in himself. To hear him talk, it sounds like he’s already booked hotel rooms and plane tickets to Istanbul for his family. He said: "There’s no way that Liverpool are favourites and we’re every bit as much in this game as them. It’s going to be a cracking game."

The London boy glossed over Chelsea’s away record in the Champions League recently. The team from Stamford Bridge have lost their last three away Champions League fixtures. Not drawn, not won. Lost. Cole said, "The onus is on us and if we play like we can we’ll win this tie. We’re very confident and our away results this season have been fantastic."

So Chelsea losing 3-2 to Bayern Munich, 2-1 to Barcelona and 2-1 to Porto are "fantastic results". Bring on another one of those "fantastic results" on Tuesday.

We know what he means though – Chelsea will be dangerous next week. Joe Cole is probably just repeating what his boss has told him – he’s the type of player who’ll believe the Jose hype.

Liverpool weren’t particularly looking for goals last night, but the spin has now moved the emphasis on how good Chelsea were not to concede at home. Cole said, "It’s not exactly what we wanted but it’s a decent result and we’re happy. They’ve not come here and scored and we all know how important away goals are in Europe. We passed the ball well, particularly in the first half, but didn’t stick the ball in the back of the net."

As an afterthough Cole finally decided he’d better calm his confidence down a touch: "We weren’t surprised by Liverpool as they’re an excellent side and we’ve got a lot of respect for them. They’ve played very well against us in every game." He then had a message for Sam Allardyce’s Bolton team, who play Chelsea on Saturday: "Bolton’s not a distraction and it’s a fantastic opportunity to make history for Chelsea."

Eidur Gudjohnsen thinks that the Anfield atmosphere will help Chelsea. A full house of singing and flag-waving Liverpool fans at Anfield is going to put Liverpool under pressure according to the striker. Continuing the party-political line of the Chelsea party, Gudjohnsen said, "We’re not going to panic and will go to Anfield full of confidence. It’ll be a difficult game but they have to come at us as they’re playing at home. That could work in our favour as they’re under pressure but we’ll go out to win the game as we normally do."

Liverpool had Chelsea worried in the end last night – the way that Petr Cech was getting congratulations from his team-mates after the game showed that to be the case, and the Chelsea keepers said, "It was a tough game and we expected that. We came into half-time having missed a couple of good chances and felt we could have been in the lead. However, they also had two good chances in the first half and they didn’t take them. In the end I think we deserved to win. But Liverpool are well organised, and they kept passing and passing, and so it was difficult. We didn’t concede a goal and we can go there to Liverpool and get a result."

All of the Liverpool-Chelsea games have been close this season – both league games were 1-0 victories for Chelsea, the Carling Cup Final was all square after 90 minutes, Chelsea going on to win by a one-goal margin in extra time. Last night goalless draw further underlines that Liverpool on their day are capable of being a match for most teams. They need to be on their day next week – if they are, they’ll be in the final.
Continue reading Chelsea: We’ll win this tie