Jose not upset with ref this time

Despite claiming Liverpool were not the best team in Europe last season, Jose Mourinho felt worried enough at Anfield last night to keep his team from actually trying to win the game.

Perhaps it was the site of Liverpool’s special Champions League kit, the one with five stars above the Liverpool badge, and arm patches with the number five and a Champions League trophy on one arm, on the other a patch signifying the Reds are the current Champions of Europe. Liverpool are the best team in Europe, based on the fact that they won the competition last season, but Jose has his own ideas.

Time-wasting towards the end by making a defensive substitution is not the tactic of a manager aiming for all three points. He got what he wanted, but afterwards tried to make out he wanted more: "I’m not 100% satisfied but it’s a point, so I’m not crazy with happiness but I’m not very sad. A point away is positive. Normally the team at home is not happy with a point but I think they are."

Whether or not Liverpool are pleased with a point is open to debate, but the Reds at least did make the effort to win. Mourinho’s side didn’t, but Jose likes to tell a story different to what the rest of the world sees: "We tried to play for more – but we didn’t lose and we are in a good situation in the group. In the last 15 minutes we tried to win the game and I think they played the same – they changed nothing."

The biggest effort being made in an attacking sense from a Chelsea player last night was from Frank Lampard. Not attacking as in trying to create chances, attacking as in trying create work for x-ray departments in Liverpool medical centres. The England midfielder broke Xabi Alonso’s ankle at Anfield last season, and looked to be trying to do at least that to Steven Gerrard in the first half. Throughout the game he continued in much the same way, and should have been booked much sooner than on the hour mark. Lucky to finish the game still on the pitch, Lampard may yet have helped deplete Liverpool’s squad for the next encounter on Sunday.

Mourinho of course was unconcerned about the over-the-top tackling from his players, saying, "It was a good game because it was competitive. It was very close, very tough. In midfield there was not a lot of space. There was a lot of power in both teams."

Last season Mourinho threw defender Robert Huth on as a centre-forward in a desperate attempt to try and prevent being dumped out of the game by Liverpool. Last night he threw him on in stoppage time, but said it wasn’t because he was happy with the draw: "In the last three or four minutes when there was a lot of long balls into the box I didn’t want to lose, so I put Robert Huth on because he can dominate and play the basketball game – so we go home with a point."

Ironic for Mourinho to talk about basketball after his own defender, William Gallas, got away with a volleyball shot during the match as Liverpool were denied a penalty. Jose said before the game that he was happy with the choice of referee, and after the game he’ll be even happier. As for modern technology being used to help official make difficult decisions? Mourinho won’t be asking for anyone to review any of last night’s refereeing decisions, and he’ll be glad that technology is still some way off being introduced.
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Jose is upset at claims he’s upset

When my young daughter has had a long day and time’s getting on, she might start to get a little frustrated with things. Point out to her that she might be tired and the reply is forceful: "I’m not tired". This is accompanied by tears, and shouting, maybe even stamped feet. And ten minutes later she’s fast asleep – she was tired after all. It’s quite cute really, and she’ll no doubt grow out of it soon.

All of this came to mind when I heard the remarks of a football manager claiming he’s not upset. Although there were no tears, the way of the denial was so similar. I think he’s upset.

Jose Mourinho enjoys talking to the press. His self-imposed ban on anyone from Chelsea speaking to the press came to an end at Liverpool Airport yesterday – although UEFA rules say that each club must attend a press conference, so he had little choice. Now he wants the world to believe that his club are hard-done-to.

He gets upset by what he reads in the papers, and what new Reds striker Peter Crouch had said wasn’t going to go by unmentioned: "I read Peter Crouch say that tonight and Sunday it will be England against Chelsea, but I think it is the world against Chelsea. It’s the Fulham Road, the Kings Road and my place in Portugal, only a small place of 50,000, and apart from that the world is against us. People want us to lose all the time."

If you have any mournful violin music to hand you might want to put it on before reading any more. The boss of the richest club in the league said: "When Manchester United dominated the Premiership, it was not boring, when Arsenal dominated the Premiership it was not boring. We don’t dominate, we’ve just won, er," (he had to ask for help here),"seven matches and it’s boring! This is just another match for us. It is the game of everybody else’s life but not our lives.”

In fact the man with the coat seemed to be a little too strong in his claims that this match was no more important than any other. Just another match? "For me it’s just another game, but if you want to talk about revenge, we’re winning 3-1. In five matches, we have beaten them three times, they beat us once and we drew once. The game in Anfield where everybody says they beat us was, I think, a zero-zero draw." In the history books, the record is clear. Last season the teams met five times. Two league games ended 1-0 to Chelsea. One Carling Cup game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes, 3-2 after extra time. In the Champions League, a 0-0 draw preceded a Liverpool 1-0 win.

Mourinho likes to claim that Liverpool didn’t win at Anfield though – the goal shouldn’t have stood: "Using simple technology we could put a stop to wrong decisions. The use of chip technology in the ball – which works through the transmission of a sound signal – would confirm if the ball crossed the line or not. It is so simple to resolve and yet these errors keep happening. It is not a case of blaming referees, it’s not about demanding 20/20 vision or supersonic reactions from the referees’ assistants. But in this multi-million pound business it is imperative that pivotal decisions stand up to scrutiny."

In fact since that night, a video taken by a spectator using a camera-phone came to light, which shows the ball over the line. Different bits of technology used to "prove" the ball didn’t cross the line have since been proven as flawed. Yet Jose likes to be selective with his memory. And his memory of that night really, really hurts him. He may deny it, but he is more bitter than an Evertonian about the defeat that night. He continued: "Liverpool didn’t score in the semi-final against us but I accept they beat us. They played in the final and we stayed at home, so of course I accept it. I was upset at that time but not any more. They beat us but they didn’t score. I will say that for all my life but it doesn’t mean I am sad. There are certain highlights in your career that you never forget and I won’t forget the goal nobody saw."

Chelsea’s silence in the build up to the game has been balanced by a lot of confident talk from Anfield. Not the talk of cocky arrogance, but the talk of a group of people who know they can win if they perform to their capabilities. A team not prepared, like many Chelsea opponents, to believe they have lost before they’ve even got onto the pitch. Mourinho referred to an interview given by the injured Reds striker Fernando Morientes, where he’d said that Liverpool and Betis could be the teams to go through. Jose again wasn’t happy: "I read somewhere that they know how to beat us, but as I say, it’s 3-1, so they also know how to lose. Morientes doesn’t upset me. Maybe he’s being nice to Betis, thinking about his future. When Liverpool don’t want him, it’s a good club for him to go back to." For someone not upset he sounds remarkably so.

Continuing in the same tone in his attempts at pretending he wasn’t upset, Jose tried to have a go at a player he spent most of last season trying to court. When Steven Gerrard announced after the Champions League final that he wanted to stay, the talk from Chelsea was that they didn’t want him anyway. When Liverpool announced Gerrard hadn’t signed a deal, it transpired Chelsea had now made a bid of around £32million to sign the player the didn’t want. Gerrard then turned them down – again – and is going to be playing for the Reds tonight. Jose’s not upset though remember: "Did you ask Steven Gerrard if he remembers the goal he scored for us in Cardiff. I think the boy will never forget that.”

The truth is that Gerrard’s disappointment in Cardiff was well and truly eclipsed by what happened in the Champions League. Chelsea have lost four away games in a row in that competition, and Mourinho has to accept that Rafa Benitez isn’t too bad a manager: "I think Rafa is special and I like him very much as a colleague, as a person,” Mourinho said. “He had success in Valencia, with Liverpool in Europe and won trophies. I won the Uefa Cup and Champions League in successive years, he did the same. We are lucky. I don’t believe Ferguson is under pressure. Because somebody booed? He’s not under pressure. The man under pressure will be the next Manchester United manager when he leaves one day. That’s the man under pressure."

Back to that goal at Anfield last season, and the linesman that night was happy with his decision, even now he has no problem with it. However Mourinho’s continued verbal assaults on officials means he doesn’t expect to be involved in any more games involving Chelsea. Roman Slysko was the man with the flag that night, he says: "I did not enjoy being the centre of attention. I never spoke to Mourinho or anyone from Chelsea about the goal, but I do not expect to do any of their games in Europe this season. I don’t think the UEFA referees committee would send us. It could be taken as a provocation and too controversial."

And Slysko says that Mourinho would have nothing to complain about had technology been available that night: "It would have saved a lot of arguments, but for me the decision I made was and still is correct. I am not sorry about it."

Maybe Mourinho would have found something else to complain about instead then though. Something else not to be upset about.

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Liverpool camp are full of confidence

Encouraging words from Anfield in the build-up to tomorrow night’s clash with Chelsea. Chelsea are sky-high on confidence after winning every game in the league so far this season, and already talk in the media is that they’ve won the league. They are certainly doing well, but as their opening fixture against Wigan almost proved, any team could beat them on their day. Wigan actually got as far as injury time before conceding a goal against them, and were unlucky for that to happen.

Chelsea are actually on a run of four straight away defeats in the Champions League, the last one was last season when Liverpool dumped them out of the trophy on their way to becoming the European Champions. First up from the Liverpool camp saying that Chelsea might not be as invincible as some make out is manager Rafa Benitez: "Chelsea are not unbeatable. We have beaten them before and we can beat them again. They are a better team than they were last year but we’re a better team as well. To beat them you need every player to be playing at 100 percent and you can’t afford to make any mistakes because they have good players who can punish you. You need to work hard and concentrate for the full game."

Liverpool themselves have yet to lose a game in the league yet this season, but with more draws than victories they aren’t doing as well. Rafa admits they are good team, but not unbeatable: "They are not easy to play against because they work very hard in defence and always have fine players going forward, but they can be beaten. We are confident, that’s for sure."

Another member of Liverpool’s Spanish contingent is confident too. Xabi Alonso was suspended for the Anfield leg of last year’s tie, but is looking forward to playing them tomorrow night, wearing the five stars on the shirt to represent those five European Cup wins: "We have a lot of respect for Chelsea but we are not afraid of them and I know we can beat them. They are going very well this season but no side are unbeatable. We know all about them and we know it will be a tough game but we’re confident. We want to have another good run in the Champions League this season and repeat what we achieved last year. It will be difficult but we’re going to take things step by step and game by game and then see how far we can go."

Home-grown defender Jamie Carragher is confident too, not least because of the home advantage of tomorrow night’s match. Chelsea players admitted last season that the atmosphere was the most intimidating they had ever played in, and Carra feels that this was part of the reason Liverpool went away victorious: "There was a big gap last year but it was bridged that night because of how much we wanted to win it and how much the crowd was on our side. I’m sure Chelsea did turn up believing they couldn’t lose but after hearing the crowd that night I knew we wouldn’t lose. Our supporters want to see Chelsea lose – and that brings out the animal in them as well."
Carra recalls the taunt made to Liverpool fans by Mourinho in Cardiff earlier that season. It went unpunished by the FA, but "the special one" was punished in a much better way by the Reds: "I knew before the game it was going to be special. We had the thing with Mourinho in the Carling Cup Final and the gesture he made to our fans and the Stevie Gerrard stuff. That all boiled up to wind our fans up and that helped to create a tremendous atmosphere. I think it will be difficult to surpass that feeling and the atmosphere of a semi-final in a group game."

As if to ensure an extra couple of notches on the Anfield volume controls, Carra continues: "There’s no love lost between our fans and the Chelsea fans and their club, particularly after what happened with Stevie again in the summer. I’m sure it will be another cauldron of an atmosphere."

Carra remembers other nights like that: "We’ve had a few nights like it before, Gerard Houllier’s comeback game against Roma and the Juventus match in the quarter-finals, games that you’ll never forget. We wanted to score early and that’s what we did but then they put us under a lot of pressure. You want to score early but it did affect us because from then on there was a little bit of fear of losing it."

Carra also recalls the dubious time-keeping: "One away goal would have made all the difference. We were hanging on and then suddenly we got to the end and there were six minutes of injury time. Six minutes? Where did that come from? But that was where the fans really played their part to carry us over the line."
Liverpool lost at home and away in the league last season, both games were tight and Chelsea were lucky to win the second game. In Cardiff it took an own goal to give them a chance to play extra time, and a tired Liverpool battled but eventually lost 3-2. At Stamford Bridge in last year’s first leg it was goalless, with the 1-0 win never to be forgotten in the return. As Carra recalls of last season: "Nobody has ever run away with the game. Last year we lost to a set-piece at Stamford Bridge and then in the home game we deserved to be in front and should have had a penalty before we lost to a deflection. In the away semi-final leg they only had one chance, which fell to Frank Lampard, but it was a tight game and a draw was a fair result and then we beat them at home. We’re a club built on nights like that so I wasn’t surprised by it."

Don’t expect any quotes from the Chelsea camp – Jose Mourinho has told his players not to speak to the media after getting in a sulk over something or other that was said (or not) last week.

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FA Premiership: Birmingham v Liverpool team news.

Team news for today’s clash between Liverpool and Birmingham at St Andrews:

Maik Taylor
Mario Melchiot
Kenny Cunningham
Matthew Upson
Jamie Clapham
Jermaine Pennant
Damien Johnson
Neil Kilkenny
Julian Gray
Mikael Forssell
Emile Heskey

Martin Taylor
Walter Pandiani
Stan Lazaridis
Nico Vaesen (GK)
Olivier Tebily

Jose Reina
Jamie Carragher
Sami Hyypia
Stephen Warnock
Florent Sinama Pongolle
Xabi Alonso
Dietmar Hamann
Steven Gerrard
Boudewijn Zenden
Peter Crouch

Steve Finnan
John Arne Riise
Djibril Cisse
Luis Garcia
Scott Carson (GK)
Referee: S Bennett

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Rafa responds to Real speculation

Rafa Benitez told Liverpool FC’s official website he’s no plans to leave Anfield, saying: "At this moment I am very happy here. I am focused on the games we have coming up and I want to win things with my club.  I don’t want to waste my time talking about other possibilities. I am focused on my team, winning matches and I am happy at Liverpool."

Short and sweet – but still leaves the door open for those that like to twist words. Especially the "at this moment" part.

In our view – he’s staying, unless something major makes him change his mind…

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Parry reassures Reds fans over Rafa

If Real Madrid are going to try and make an approach for Rafa Benitez, Reds chief executive Rick Parry says they’ll have a fight on their hands.

The prediction we made of speculation linking Real to Rafa has started to come true, enough for Parry to make a comment on the situation. Parry said earlier today: "It goes without saying that we are extremely happy with Rafa and want him to stay. We are working on a shared vision of sustained success on the pitch. Bringing trophies back to Anfield is all we are concerned with. Without underestimating the size of the challenge, we are very confident we can achieve that aim together. There’s a tremendous opportunity facing us and a great opportunity for Rafa to fulfil his burning ambitions here."

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We’re off – Rafa speculation begins

Mirror SportIn our story, yesterday, we predicted that speculation claiming that Rafa Benitez was wanted by Real Madrid would start any time soon. We thought it may take until the weekend for it to begin, with two clashes against Chelsea coming up after the Birmingham game, but it’s actually started already.

The Daily Mirror seems to be the first English paper to go with the story, claiming "EXCLUSIVE: REAL WANT RAFA" and "Desperate Madrid plot to Kop Benitez".

As we said yesterday, no need to panic at all about this. It’s always going to be Rafa’s decision ultimately, and if he announces in the wake of all the speculation that he wants to remain at Anfield then it will give the European Champions an even bigger boost than when Steven Gerrard announced his decision to sign a new contract.

Just don’t expect the newspapers to let the story go until Real appoint a new manager.

* The story in the Mirror is written by Chief Football Writer Martin Lipton. This is the journalist who claimed in July that the reason for the breakdown in the Gerrard talks over the summer was because of an argument between the coach and the captain. He reported – incorrectly – at the time: "The England midfielder’s relationship with Rafa Benitez broke down completely during an angry exchange at the club’s Melwood training ground."  Despite everything that did happen during those turbulent days, the bust-up at the training ground was one event that did not take place. Once again, don’t panic!

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Brucie taken ill prior to photo-shoot

Legendary former Reds goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar spent the weekend in hospital after suffering a serious attack of vomiting due to an ulcer on Thursday night.

According to the Reading Evening Post, Brucie was partway through an evening of photo opportunities and public appearances, in association with the National Football Museum. Relaxing in the bar of the hotel just prior to the next round of publicity, the hero of many a Reds trophy win was overcome by nerves which resulted in him being violently sick. Brucie was in a bad way, and even though his wife – herself a doctor – was called on the phone, the goaly couldn’t speak too clearly. Those with Bruce tried to get help from his wife on the phone – she’s a doctor – but Bruce’s condition was serious enough that they felt they needed to call an ambulance. He was taken by ambulance to Royal Berkshire Hospital.

One of the events sponsors were organisors of the event, Reading-based sports firm Sports Icons. Their founder, Andy Findlay, told the newspaper: “We got through the session at the Renaissance absolutely fine. We took them upstairs but I think the nerves got to him. He’s got an ulcer problem and I’m told that nerves can bring on the ulcer. He was sick in the toilet and we had to lay him out flat and get him some milk. He then phoned his wife who is a doctor, but he couldn’t speak very well. He wasn’t well enough for us to get him downstairs so we had to call an ambulance.”

When the paramedics arrived they supplied oxygen to Grobbelaar before taking him to hospital, where he remained for the weekend, in  a stable condition.

The next event of the day was for him to have photos taken in a sports bar in Reading, with former Everton keeper Neville
Southall and the FA Cup.  He was also hoping to see his former club Crewe take on Reading on the Saturday afternoon.

Jerzy Dudek was inspired by Brucie during the penalty shoot-out in Istanbul last May, inventing his own version of Brucie’s famous wobbly knees from Rome when Brucie himself won one of his many medals. According to Andy Findlay he’d have had a good reception had he not been taken ill: “It was a shame about Bruce because there were a few people there to see him, but we wish him all the best. He will be absolutely gutted but there wasn’t a lot he could do about it.”

Yesterday afternoon a spokeswoman for Royal Berkshire Hospital, Carol Deans, said Brucie was in a stable condition. She also had a message from the player: "He also wanted to pass on that he’s sorry to be missing Reading play his old club Crewe.”

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Expect more speculation to start

Any stories involving Liverpool during the latter days of the transfer window seemed to always refer to Real Madrid at some point, as Liverpool tried hard to find a way of negotiating a deal for Michael Owen to return to Anfield. When Michael eventually gave up waiting and signed for Newcastle we thought that might be the last we’d hear of them for a while. After all, the transfer window has now closed, so we can’t do any business with the Spanish side can we?

Unfortunately the transfer window only applies to playing staff, and so we expect stories linking Rafael Benitez with a move back to Spain to become Real’s next coach to start any day now.

Current Real Madrid coach, Wanderley Luxemburgo, was the only coach during Michael Owen’s season-long stay in Spain to actually make any real use of the player, during a run where Real actually seemed to be turning things round. Millions of Euros later the coach is having trouble – three defeats in a week is not something he can expect to keep him in his job.

On September 10th Celta Vigo won 3-2 at the Bernabeu. During the week it was Champions League action – and formers Reds boss Gerard Houllier guided his team to a 3-0 win. By the time they played Barcelona’s neighbours Espanyol the last thing Luxemburgo needed was the 1-0 defeat. Especially with Real’s own neighbours Atletico beating Barcelona the same day.

Next up is a home game against Athletic Bilbao, but with two players suspended he’ll have to make changes – Sergio Ramos and Julio Baptista were both sent off last night.

Thursday’s match may see a debut for Jonathon Woodgate, a year after he signed for Madrid. Anything other than a victory will see Real’s president looking for a new boss. And the most popular coach in Spain right now is Real’s former youth coach, Rafa Benitez.

It’s absolutely impossible to know what would happen if Real did come calling, but it won’t stop the media from claiming to "know" certain things. Expect stories of how Rafa was disappointed at having to keep Steven Gerrard, unhappy at having to try and bring Michael Owen back, unhappy at not having the parking space he’d asked for at Melwood and disappointed that there still hasn’t been an improvement in the weather.

If anything makes Rafa leave Anfield, it’s the lure of managing the club he’s always supported. To do so would mean leaving behind the freedom to be his own man that he has at Anfield. In our opinion he’ll not accept an offer from Real, preferring to stay at Anfield long enough to bring home that elusive league title.

Just don’t be too hasty to believe any stories about Rafa just yet. The cricket’s gone off, the transfer window’s closed and there’s a gap in England games. They need something to talk about, even if they do make a lot of it up!

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