Liverpool’s win over West Ham at Anfield yesterday was achieved with a performance more in keeping with that of European Champions. Liverpool created chances and fought to keep possession, showing great endeavour in all areas of the field. In their last two games Liverpool have been beaten in matches where they were guilty of underperforming for enough of the game to give their opponents the upper-hand. Against Fulham in the league last weekend Liverpool had to fight for an equaliser in the second-half, and were kept out thanks to good work from ex-Red Tony Warner. It was the fact they had underperformed so much in the first-half that meant Liverpool were behind, and that led to Rafa Benitez laying down the law. On Tuesday night the team included some of the squad’s fringe players and went out of the Carling Cup. The performance was poor enough for Reds skipper Steven Gerrard to tell the world it wasn’t good enough.
Barclays Premiership Result.
|2 – 0
S Luis Garcia
D Cisse (B Zenden, 73)
Other subs: P Crouch
Bookings: Morientes 50, Finnan 71
| S Hislop
T Repka (J Collins, 81)
M Etherington (T Sheringham, 67)
D Bellion (J Aliadiere, 60)
Other subs: S Bywater
Rafa Benitez chose to rest Jamie Carragher in midweek with one eye on the number of upcoming fixtures for Liverpool. In the end the number of potential fixtures was reduced with Liverpool dumped out of the Carling Cup. Perhaps Rafa was wishing he’d got that centre-half he’d promised us all summer (along with a right-winger). Central defence is traditionally a position for older players, and Zak Whitbread still has time to mature into a first-choice centre-back, but Rafa won’t want to use him for Premiership games yet unless injuries force his hand.
In fact Rafa feels short of quality in depth in a number of places on the field and now says he wants to address that in the January transfer window. Speaking yesterday, Rafa said: "In some positions, we don’t have enough players. You can’t change things that happened in the summer now, but we can put it right in January. We know we need to think about the future. When you’ve missed a player you need in the summer, you must make sure you fill the position in January. Our scout department is working hard to find at least the two players we need, a right midfielder and centre-back."
Once again, the right-winger and centre-back are mentioned. Liverpool were close with a number of signings, but it seems were used by some players to engineer better deals with either their own clubs or other clubs that had shown interest. Rafa still thinks that he’ll be successful with his new year dealings: "I’m confident we will sign the players we want in January because Liverpool are an attractive club to top players. If it’s possible to sign more than two players, I will. I still hope Mark Gonzalez will be able to join us in January. The four players we signed in the summer give us more quality. We have done some good things, but we know we needed to do more. We’ve made two mistakes by not signing a right midfielder and a centre-back, but we got four things right with the players we brought in."
Rafa may also be regretting letting some of Liverpool players of last season move on. Vladimir Smicer made a significant impact in his last game in the Red shirt – scoring the second goal as Liverpool turned the European Cup final round into their favour. After the last home game of last season, a reflective-looking Vladi took a last walk around the perimeter of the Anfield pitch as he said his own goodbyes to the club that he had been part of for so many years. If Rafa had realised how much trouble he’d have with his signings, he could have got Vladi to stay another year, and probably for very little money. Vladi was always willing to work hard on either wing or in the centre. Unfortunately though Rafa had no crystal ball and so no way of knowing how things would turn out. Maybe Antonio Nunez, the right-winger that joined as part of the Michael Owen deal, would have been given another year to try his luck. Rafa still thinks the squad has improved on last year though: "We have a better squad than last year, but I think recent results show we don’t have the balance. In some positions we know we need to do something for the future. We are preparing now for the transfer window. We tried hard to sign players for the right side and centre-backs, but when you try for one month for one player and then he says no, as in the case of Luis Figo, you have less time to go for the next name on your list. If that player isn’t sure if he wants to join you either, you move to the next. You have a responsibility not to spend more than the player is worth."
Luis Figo was a signing that would have excited a lot of Reds fans had he signed. With the Portugeuse start coming to the end of his career though was the worry for many that he may have been only coming to Anfield for the money. As the saga dragged on and on, his comments that Anfield was "a dream move" were seeming to be shallow words. Ultimately it was clear that he had his mind made up: he passed up the chance of playing for the European Champions and some of the most passionate fans in Europe to play for the team that were knocked out of the European Cup by their local rivals and who had seen their supporters banned from home games for actions in that game. Rather than being part of a European night in front of forty-odd thousand passionate Reds watching their side defend their Champions League title, he chose to play in an empty stadium. Liverpool need players willing to fight for their place in the side, and now it’s clear that Figo perhaps would not have been the right type of player to wear that Red shirt.
As for Rafa, he’s not revealing any names, but maybe the delays just meant Liverpool ran out of time. There’s nothing to stop negotiations continuing behind the scenes, and it seems Liverpool might just have some deals lined up for the new year: "We had a lot of names in the summer, but they all proved difficult. I’m confident it will be different in January."
Continue reading Rafa has his new-year window-shopping planned
After showing some great glimpses of his true abilities on Tuesday night, Harry Kewell is not going to be risked for tomorrow’s Premiership clash with West Ham.
Kewell has often been criticised for poor performances since arriving at Anfield, often unfairly. However the Aussie star has gone on record himself as feeling as though he’s never really been fully fit during his whole Liverpool career. Some fingers were pointed at former boss Gerard Houllier for playing Kewell when far short of full fitness, but Rafael Benitez does not want to do this himself.
Speaking today the Spanish manager said: "We have to be careful with Harry. He can play games for sure, but at the moment not a game every three days. He has been out for a long time and so we don’t want to take any risks. He is feeling a bit tired at the moment so we will rest him this weekend."
Steven Finnan is set for a return tomorrow after his recent injury, along with Jamie Carragher who was rested in midweek.
Continue reading Kewell rested as Rafa eases him back
Liverpool’s Chris Kirkland will be out of action for up to four weeks after suffering bruising to one of his kidneys.
Kirkland is currently impressing on a season-long loan at West Brom, and was clattered on Sunday during the first-half of their 2-0 loss at Bolton. After the collision the player had lengthy treatment and continued for the rest of the game.
According to Bryan Robson, WBA manager, Kirkland is unlikely to be available for England selection for the forthcoming internationals. Robson explained the situation to the official WBA website today: "Chris suffered a really bad knock against Bolton on Sunday. We thought he’d got away with it but the severity of the knock has caused him to suffer bruising on one of his kidneys.
"It’s nothing serious but he’s been advised by doctors to rest for between two and four weeks. Both Chris and the club have got to take that medical advice on board. He will miss the Newcastle and West Ham games but we’re hoping he will be back after the international break."
Chris has been extremely unlucky with injuries, and that’s one of the main reasons that he finds himself on loan at West Brom. Last season he wasn’t able to play enough matches to show Rafa Benitez how good he was. When Benitez bought Pepe Reina in the summer he made it clear to Chris that he’d not be first choice, and so when the offer of the loan deal came up Chris thought it was best for him. During his time on loan he’s earned a lot of credit and a recall to the England squad.
Once again though this injury is unrelated to the others, and Chris should make a full recovery.
Continue reading Kirlkand out for up to four weeks
Liverpool’s reserve keeper Scott Carson says he’s disappointed that Tuesday night’s Carling Cup defeat means he’ll be forced to wait longer for his next first team appearance. Carson did make some early Champions League appearances in the qualifying stages, but he’s unlikely to appear again in that competition except through injury or suspension for Jose Reina. Carson also needs to look over his shoulder again after the return to reserve action for Istanbul legend Jerzy Dudek.
Speaking about the defeat on Tuesday, Carson says: "It’s disappointing for the younger players, because we have been given a chance and we will not be able to get any more chances in this competition now. We knew it would be difficult, but we have had a few chances and it was just unfortunate that they have put there two chances away. In the first half, we passed the ball superbly, got it wide and got in a few crosses – but we could only put one of them in."
Scott is confident that this phase is not as bad as it seems to be on the face of it, and that the side’s fortunes will change: "We won the Champions League last year and that is always going to be a heavy burden to carry on our shoulders, but we will keep working hard and I think things will change around very soon. The mood is still very positive – a couple of bad results are not going to let it drop and I think we will soon be back up there."
Confidence is certainly something that Liverpool seem to be short on at the moment. A side going into a match with confidence always has a good chance of getting a result, but Liverpool just seem to be playing without any. Peter Crouch seems like a player that will get a hat-trick once he’s got that first Liverpool goal out of the way, and Morientes seems to lack any belief in himself finding the back of the net since his most recent injury. Harry Kewell has been plagued by injuries since his signing for Liverpool, on Tuesday night he looked set to start producing some of the form that made him sought after by many other clubs when Liverpool got him. Unfortunately it was a bad pass of his that gave possession away and led to the first Palace goal. One mistake, pounced upon by many who say they support Liverpool but are too quick to get on the phone-ins and forums to rip into players at the first sign of trouble.
Last night saw the exits of local rivals Everton and also Chelsea. Mourinho said after the game that his team didn’t deserve to lose, and that in fact they didn’t lose, because it wasn’t decided after 90 minutes. He’s trying to keep the confidence of his players flowing, because a confident player will try things that a less confident player would avoid. Confidence brings success, and success brings confidence.
Some Liverpool players are playing without passion or desire, going through the motions and picking up their wages. It’s up to Rafa to work out which ones they are and do whatever he needs to get them out of Anfield. For the others it’s a case of accentuating the positives. A former Liverpool reserve, Wigan manager Paul Jewell spoke about confidence during a TV appearance at the weekend. Jewell – recently named manager of the month – was a Liverpool fan growing up and was disappointed to never quite get into Liverpool’s first team, which at the time was winning pretty much everything in site. What he said at the weekend was about how self-belief brings so much to a team. If Jewell had got his wish and made an appearance for the first team he’d have played in front of a different type of crowd to that which attends the match now. If he’d made a couple of dodgy passes or missed a chance on goal he’d have been applauded for trying. Nowaday’s he’d be more likely to hear groans for any mistake, and if he made enough mistakes, groans on every mention of his name or every time the ball went near him.
Where’s the confidence going to come from if a player’s own fans let everyone know they don’t rate him?
West Ham are Liverpool’s next opponents and again are a London club. If you think that statistics can make a difference to a game then Liverpool will do well to get a point. They never do well against London clubs these days do they? But why should that matter. For away trips you could argue that Liverpool should review their travel arrangements. Maybe swap the flights for a coach trip. Change hotels. Travel at a different time of day. Other than that their is no significance to their poor form against London teams, just a lot of coincidences. For Saturday’s game none of this matters anyway – West Ham are playing at Anfield.
Anfield used to be a "fortress", and it’s a long time since it has been. On European nights (when fans don’t necessarily get their "normal" seat) Anfield in many ways still is a fortress – certainly an intimidating arena. For league games though the season ticket holders sit in the same seats they have done for five or six years or more. The fact they are still sitting with the lads they were good mates with as students or apprentices – but who they no longer have much in common with – means they are less likely to join in the singing and the shouting. In Jewell’s day it would have been a standing Kop, and as people got new friends they could stand with new friends, keeping the atmosphere strong. Not just for "big" matches, like the Merseyside derby or the North West derby – for all games.
So for those who have been lucky enough to get tickets for Liverpool’s next game make sure you get behind the lads. A bit of extra self-belief for Crouch could see him get that hat-trick, which could be started off after a cross from a reborn Harry Kewell.
Continue reading Confident Reds can get back to winning
Reds captain Steven Gerrard has refused to go along with his manager’s view of the Liverpool performance last night. Liverpool were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Crystal Palace just three days after being beaten in the league by Fulham. Liverpool are going to have their work cut out to reach the top four in the league, and are out of the Carling Cup. They’ve still got a couple of months to go before the FA Cup kicks off for them, but after being knocked straight out last season by Burnley the Reds domestic performances are still leaving a lot to be desired.
Outside of the domestic front Liverpool of course are European Champions and holders of the Super Cup, and are set to travel to Japan for the World Cup for clubs in December. Is Liverpool’s problem trying to convince a largely overseas-based squad just how important the domestic competitions are?
After Saturday’s defeat Rafa roasted his players, called them in for extra training and questioned their attitude and work-rate. Last night he was kinder to his players, saying: "You can’t accuse the players of not working this evening. I cannot fault them for that. I won’t criticise my players if they work hard but we have made some mistakes in defence and that is the reason that we lost. I was disappointed that we did not take the opportunities we had." Liverpool did indeed look good for a victory at stages last night – Palace went ahead against the run of play, but in the second half Palace had the upper hand. Benitez played two-up-front as so many have been demanding, and with it being the least important competition they are involved in this season he included some younger names. The inclusion of recently injured players added to Liverpool’s difficulties too.
However these kinds of excuses don’t wash with the skipper. It was his first game back for the Reds after being injured on England duty, and he scored his fiftieth goal. Celebrations were short-lived for Stevie though, and he thinks that some of his team-mates let themselves, the club and the supporters down. Speaking today to the Liverpool Echo, Stevie says: "That kind of performance is just not acceptable for Liverpool Football Club. A lot of our fans have paid a lot of money to see that and what they saw just wasn’t good enough. We’ve got to say sorry to them for that. People can go on about the first half chances all they like, but that’s not enough for us. We’ve got to perform for 90 minutes."
It’s no secret that one mistake in football can be enough to lose a game – so it’s important to stay alert throughout and to work as a team. Concentration is important, as is communication, and without those two assets all the skill in the world is not going to win you anything. More importantly though for Gerrard is the attitude of the players. As a boyhood Red Gerrard feels hurt when the Reds lose as both a player and a supporter. He wants to play with team-mates who want to win for the pride of Liverpool FC. Last night’s performance upset him, and he wants it to now be the kick up the backside these players have needed for some time: "There’s got to be a big reaction to this now. We’ve all got to play for the shirt and start showing how much it means to be playing for this club."
As for Rafa, Gerrard says he’s not at fault – he’s done all he could to motivate the team and give them their orders: "I don’t see why anyone should have a go at the boss. He’s been saying the right things to us and doing the right things. It’s the players who have to accept responsibility in this situation. We have to take the blame."
Now it’s down to Liverpool’s stars to show that actions speak louder than words.
Continue reading Gerrard: Play for the shirt
Rafael Benitez after Liverpool were knocked out of the Carling Cup: "I cannot say much. You can’t accuse the players of not working this evening. I cannot fault them for that. I won’t criticise my players if they work hard but we have made some mistakes in defence and that is the reason that we lost. And I was disappointed that we did not take the opportunities we had. If we had scored one or two more goals in the first half then it would have been different. We needed to score but to be fair their keeper had a good game. Palace continued to work hard in the second half and we tried to but it was not easy."
Benitez comparing the game to defeat days earlier at Fulham: "It was not the same as the other day – we had a better intensity and we started the game well and worked hard until the end. But we cannot change the result now. Saturday is a Premiership game and we must now start thinking about that one."
Benitez on squad rotation and the yet-to-score new signing Peter Crouch: "I have a squad and I try to use my squad. Things will change from Crouch when he starts scoring goals. He worked hard tonight and played okay but does need to score. Harry Kewell and Fernando Morientes have both been out injured for a while and they still need to keep playing games to improve their level. The strikers have quality and are working hard and they will eventually score goals."
Opposite number Iain Dowie: "Our display was very good overall. It was definitely our best home performance of the season. Some of our football was outstanding. I felt we got it down and passed it. Everyone from the full-backs to the wide men looked creative and full of energy. Ben Watson and Tom Soares were excellent in midfield, as were Michael Hughes and Marco Reich. You cannot shut up shop against Liverpool, and they had the maestro back in Gerrard."
Dowie had some encouraging words for his victims: "In a few weeks’ time when they get everybody back fit I wouldn’t be surprised if they go on a run. They have Gerrard back now, who is a big player for them. We rode a 20-minute period in the first half where they were on top but in the second half we were much more creative. European football is more ponderous and slower and it gives players more time, and that’s why Liverpool have done better in that, but I would be amazed if they are not in the top four come the end of the season."
Continue reading After-match reaction – Crystal Palace 2 Liverpool 1
Carling Cup – Crystal Palace v Liverpool
Rafael Benitez looks set to rest Jamie Carragher tonight in recognition of all the work the stand-in captain has done since Rafa arrived at Anfield, but doesn’t want Crystal Palace to think that they have no respect for them. Taking the captain’s armband back again for tonight’s televised fixture will be Steven Gerrard, fit again after suffering a shin injury on England duty.
Scott Carson is likely to start in goal tonight, but this won’t be his first appearance for the first team this season. In front of him the back-four is likely to include reserve players and recent academy graduates Zak Whitbread and David Raven.
Twenty-year-old Raven is looking forward to taking his chance in the first team again. He played last season in League Cup games as Liverpool’s youngsters showed some class in getting Liverpool well on the way to the final. Unfortunately an embarrassing defeat at Turf Moor in the FA Cup left Liverpool red-faced, and it’s that match he’s hoping to exorcise tonight.
Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Raven said: "It was a steep learning curve for a lot of us last season – we had a lot of nice things said about us after we beat Millwall and Spurs, but that all changed after the Burnley game. We knew we’d get criticised after that, and some of it was fair because we should have been good enough to win that game. I think there were also some unfair comments made too. I remember we were all looking at each other in the dressing room at Turf Moor and telling each other to get ready because the stick would fly. We weren’t wrong."
Raven recalls how the decision to play some of those players may have been a mistake in hindsight: "It wasn’t easy for us to all go straight back into such a tough game that night because we hadn’t played for six weeks, due to the Christmas break and a lack of reserve football. That was a definite factor in our defeat and we know we didn’t do ourselves justice. But that’s in the past now and I’m looking to the future and another opportunity."
And if Rafa is looking for commitment from his players, he’s no need to worry about getting that from Raven, who says, "We’ll be giving it everything we can to make sure we get through."
As for the captain and his deputy, manager Benitez said: "Steven Gerrard is better now, but we need to rest Jamie Carragher. We have a lot of games so Carra won’t be involved this time." Carra needs his rest with Liverpool likely to play so many games this season, and Rafa wants a good showing in all of them: "All competitions we want to win and we will have a strong team out at Crystal Palace. We had some bad away games last year and we lost at Palace. As always we go there looking to win the game and get through to the next round."
It’s unfortunate for Benitez that the team they face tonight is Palace – there’s not really any room for experimentation in a fixture Liverpool must win to try and get some confidence back.
Continue reading Carra gets a rest as Stevie takes his armband back
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has questioned the attitude of his players after the weekend defeat at Fulham. The Spaniard was so unhappy that he had all the players in for a full training session at Melwood the next day. The players were also shown the coverage of their poor first-half performances on Saturday and were told that this was unacceptable.
Benitez spoke today about the Melwood dressing down for his players, although he hinted that the players had got the first hint of the trouble they would face in the half-time team-talk. The team-talk produced better displays from the players, but this came too late. Said Rafa: “We had more determination in the second half, but the first half was the same kind of performance away from home as last year. Everyone must understand these kinds of games are important. It’s acceptable to play at the same level as Chelsea and lose, but it’s not acceptable to play Fulham, whom we know we are better than, and come away with nothing.”
Benitez meant no disrespect to Fulham with his comments, but Liverpool should be beating Fulham and won’t win the league until they learn how to win these games. Rafa feels the players had the wrong attitude in the first half: “It was as though we didn’t understand the importance of the game in the first half. Only in the second was there a response, and then I felt it was a question of time whether we would score, but their keeper made a lot of saves. Last season we made a lot of mistakes and I thought we were learning from them. We’ve started strongly in other away games and I didn’t expect to see us play like this again after last year. This is our first defeat away this year and we can’t afford to make the same mistakes in future. It’s important the players under-stand we can’t approach games in this way.”
Rafa wasn’t letting anyone off the hook in his criticism of the Reds – even his own staff: “It’s not just the players who need to improve, but all of us. I include the staff, the players, everyone. We all know we need to change the attitude, particularly after European games. Yesterday we all spoke and watched the match again. The performance of the team was bad in terms of the aggressiveness of the players. We had a lot of the ball, and controlled the play, but didn’t show enough until the second half. We’ve had these problems before after a Champions League game. We’ve all seen the big mistake we made with our first half performance and now we need to correct it.”
He also had a word for his expensive but under-achieving forwards: “In attack there were bad moments and there was not enough movement.” Rafa has spent a lot of time defending his charges lately, but now they know they can’t relax.
With tomorrow night’s visit to Selhurst Park in the League comes a chance from Benitez for some of the fringe players to make their mark. Rafa has included David Raven, Zak Whitbread and Darren Potter in his squad and there’s a good chance all three will make an appearance – along with young keeper Scott Carson.
Twenty-year-old Raven is Liverpool’s reserve captain this season, and has been highly rated by Liverpool’s reserve managers according to Rafa: “I have been talking with Paco Herrera and Hughie McAuley about Raven and they told me he is playing well at right back. I want to see him now at another level. We have a lot of confidence in Raven and he plays well every game for the Reserve team.”
Raven’s attitude is exactly what Rafa wants to see in his first-choice players. A good performance from David tomorrow night could see Josemi moved down the pecking order for the right-back role, a move that would be popular amongst most Liverpool fans, who’ve yet to be impressed by the Spaniard.
As for the game itself, Rafa is under no illusions about how tough the game could be – Liverpool lost there last season in the Premiership and are now expecting a battle: “Palace is a similar place to Fulham, it’s a difficult stadium and we expect a physical game.”
Another problem facing Liverpool is that Palace are full of confidence and up for the visit of the Reds – no more so that Clinton Morrison, the Palace striker. Morrison has scored four goals in previous games against Liverpool, for both Palace and Birmingham and now wants to increase his tally. “Maybe I could be Liverpool’s bogeyman, because I’ve a good record against them. I’ve scored four times against them, and knowing that gives me a big lift going into the match. When you do well against a team, it fills you with confidence and you think you have a great chance of scoring against them in the future.”