Crouch again shows England fans how wrong they were

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has said on numerous occasions just how good Peter Crouch is, regardless of whether he scores or not. Crouch went a long time without scoring, much to the delight of a large part of England. When he played for England he was booed by his own supporters, which made him loved all the more by his own true supporters, the Reds fans. Liverpool fans have seen a lot of quality over the years, and have always taken to their hearts any player that gives his all for the Red shirt. Crouch fitted into both categories, and once he started adding goals to everything else he was doing then Crouchamania really started to set in.

Rafa knew all along what he’d bought, and that it was only a matter of time before Crouch would start hitting the net. More and more “neutrals” are now seeing just how good Crouch is, they are looking beyond the height of the player and see just how much Liverpool have benefited from having him in their squad.

Continue reading Crouch again shows England fans how wrong they were

Defensive Baggies can’t stop Reds making it ten in a row

Peter Crouch’s scoring run continued today at Anfield and his second half header was enough to give the Reds a 1-0 win over West Brom.  Bryan Robson’s side arrived with one aim in mind – to stop Liverpool scoring and not much more, but they were unable to stop the European Champions from making it ten consecutive league victories. Crouch’s goal came from a Harry Kewell cross, just one of many excellent moments from the Aussie winger who is certainly getting back to his best, slowly but surely, as he gets over his injury nightmares. He could have had a hat-trick but for the work of the Baggies’ goalkeeper.

West Brom have one of Liverpool’s goalkeepers on loan from Anfield, but even if they had wanted to they weren’t allowed to use Chris Kirkland today under Premiership regulations. The ’keeper they did use, Tomasz Kuszczak, was forced into numerous excellent saves as he battled to keep his side in with a chance of a point until Crouch struck. As well as denying Kewell three times and keeping out a brilliant effort from Steven Gerrard, Kuszczak saved another Crouch header and saw a John Arne Riise shot hit the post, but he would only be beaten once. When he was unable to make a save himself his colleague Steve Watson came to his rescue, blocking out danger on numerous occasions.

Chris Kirkland will be wondering what he’s done to the nation of Poland after watching the display from Kuszczak today. After fighting for a first-team place at Anfield with Polish national goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, he’s now seen Jerzy’s compatriot perform out of his skin for West Brom. Chris will find it hard to get back between the sticks in time to earn himself a place in England’s World Cup squad. Strangely enough, Dudek wasn’t even selected as the substitute goalkeeper for the Reds today.

Rafa Benitez used arguably his strongest central midfield pairing, with Xabi Alonso alongside captain Steven Gerrard, and as expected the pair were highly influential. Xabi’s passing was at its sublime best, Stevie never stopped working and Liverpool never looked in any danger of seeing their winning run cut short. Rafa has said after Liverpool’s last two Christmas fixtures that he’d have been even happier with the wins had they finished the games off sooner. Today they couldn’t have done much more to kill this game off, but West Brom weren’t going to let another one in.

For Baggies manager Bryan Robson the result may have been what he hadn’t wanted, but he wasn’t going to complain about his team’s performance. Speaking after the game he said: "I’m pleased with the way we stuck at – I thought at one stage it was going to be our day and I was pleased with the character of my players. At this stage last season if we had gone a goal down we would have been beaten by three or four. Tomasz Kuszczak has put on a great performance, and I was just hoping to be able to put a couple of strikers on to try to get something from the game late on. Tomasz was outstanding and he kept us in the game, but we never really threatened up front enough. Chris Kirkland has come back from injury but Tomasz has done nothing wrong.”

The Liverpool boss was also full of praise for the Albion ’keeper. “The West Brom goalkeeper was the game’s man of the match. It must have been one of the best games of the keeper’s life, surely. He was outstanding. We did all the things we needed to win the game – passing, crossing, shooting – but the keeper had a great day and it was almost impossible to score,” said Rafa. Liverpool had 27 shots at goal in all, thirteen of which were on target, but as Benitez said, Kuszczak was practically unbeatable: “It was only the goalkeeper that stopped us. I cannot criticise what we were doing because the chances were made and the shots were going in. We knew beforehand that if they played five defenders it would be difficult, but we controlled the game and only failed to score more because the keeper was amazing.”

It’s actually another sign of Liverpool’s improvement that they managed to break down a team that were concentrating on damage limitation, although Rafa admitted it wasn’t easy: “We controlled the game, but they made it very difficult for us as they played deep and with many players in front of the ball.”

Continue reading Defensive Baggies can’t stop Reds making it ten in a row

Result – Liverpool 0 WBA 0

FA Barclays Premiership Result
Saturday December 31st 2005.

Liverpool 1 West Brom 0
Crouch 52

Half-time: 0 – 0.

Liverpool: J Reina, S Finnan, S Hyypia, J Carragher, J Riise, S Luis Garcia, S Gerrard, X Alonso, H Kewell (F Sinama Pongolle, 67) , D Cisse (D Traore, 89) , P Crouch (M Sissoko, 81)
Subs: S Carson, D Hamann, D Traore, M Sissoko, F Sinama Pongolle

West Brom: T Kuszczak, S Watson, C Davies, N Clement, P Robinson, R Chaplow (J Greening, 65) , R Wallwork (D Kamara, 76) , M Albrechtsen, D Carter, K Campbell (N Ellington, 80) , G Horsfield
Subs: R Hoult, D Moore, J Greening, D Kamara, N Ellington

Referee: A Wiley
Attendance: 44192
Continue reading Result – Liverpool 0 WBA 0

Half-time – Liverpool 0 WBA 0

FA Barclays Premiership
Saturday December 31st 2005.

Liverpool 0 West Brom 0


Liverpool: J Reina, S Finnan, S Hyypia, J Carragher, J Riise, S Luis Garcia, S Gerrard, X Alonso, H Kewell, D Cisse, P Crouch
Subs: S Carson, D Hamann, D Traore, M Sissoko, F Sinama Pongolle

West Brom: T Kuszczak, S Watson, C Davies, N Clement, P Robinson, R Chaplow, R Wallwork, M Albrechtsen, D Carter, K Campbell, G Horsfield
Subs: R Hoult, D Moore, J Greening, D Kamara, N Ellington

Ref: A Wiley
Continue reading Half-time – Liverpool 0 WBA 0

Kromkamp and Josemi have both agreed terms

Both Liverpool and Valencia have tonight issued statements revealing that they have agreed personal terms with Jan Kromkamp and Josemi respectively.

On the official Liverpool FC website is a simple statement from the club’s spokesma Ian Cotton, who says: “In principle we have reached an agreement and hope the transfer can be concluded next week.”

Valencia’s official website reveals a little more, in that Josemi has agreed to the terms of a four-and-a-half-year contract, and he will sign subject to him passing the medical.

Apart from both players passing their medicals and all sides ensuring no piece of small print has been missed, the only other obstacle is to wait for the New Year and the opening of the transfer window.

Continue reading Kromkamp and Josemi have both agreed terms

Rafa pleased but not surprised by improvement

When Liverpool won the European Cup in May it was a tremendous achievement from a side that had struggled in their domestic league. Rafael Benitez already knew how European football worked, but he admitted that his knowledge of the English game was nowhere near deep enough when he joined. In addition to that, he claimed that there was a need to improve the squad.  To see Liverpool going into their last game of the year after winning nine consecutive league games must have been much more of an improvement than he’d have expected this soon. Game by game, piece by piece, Liverpool seem to have got better and better. The new Liverpool are hard to beat, create a lot of chances, and put plenty of those chances away. The understanding from team members about where their colleagues are and what they are likely to do has been outstanding – even when players are rotated, the replacements seem to have no trouble slotting in. When Rafa changes the system slightly, the players again fit in with it.

For Rafa though there is still much more to be done before he would consider himself totally happy. In the last two games Liverpool have played well and won well, but would have pleased their boss more if they’d just got an extra goal early enough to kill the game off. Speaking today, Rafa said: “If you’re looking for an area where we must improve, it’s our ruthlessness. When we are 2-0 up and creating chances, we need to score more to make sure the game is finished.”

Rafa needs games finished early if possible so he can rotate those players on the field and conserve energy in what has already been a long season. There’s also the worry that not killing the game off gives the opposition a chink of light that they can get back into the game. Rafa says that for a short time on Wednesday Liverpool were giving Everton too much say in the game: “We controlled the game for a long time against Everton, but for 20 minutes we lost control. This is where we must improve. In the second half on Wednesday, our third goal made it impossible for the other team. Before then, we gave them some hope. There was a part of the game when they thought they could do something, and that shouldn’t have happened. In the end it was comfortable, but at times it could be more so.”

Everton got a goal back and a chance to maybe get something out of the game at a time when Liverpool had been obviously taking their foot off the gas. The goal came just before half-time which gave Rafa the chance to prove to his players just what happens if you relax too soon. Thankfully Liverpool got the chance to learn from this experience without any damage being done. For Benitez it’s experience that will help them to continue their improvement: “Sometimes experience is important in this situation. We have been playing well with our brain and our heart. In these situations, sometimes you need to use the brain even more. We need to finish the games. These are small details, but this is where we must work harder.”

Liverpool are being talked about as title-challengers again, but Rafa is not going to be drawn into a quote about the going for the title that he’ll later regret: “I don’t like thinking about positions, but I’m happy we’re so close to second for now After the next two games, it will be easier for me to say exactly what we’re fighting for. I don’t know if it’s so clear yet. The next two fixtures are very important to us.” Those fixtures include the visit to the Reebok to face the much-improved Bolton. Bolton have had one game less to play over Christmas because of the weather so it will be a tough game for Liverpool. Before that they play host to West Brom, and Rafa continued: “If we win, maybe we can say more about what we can achieve this season. Then we have Manchester United and Tottenham to come in the New Year, so things can change very quickly. I preferred not to talk too much about our ambitions when we were in the middle of the table, and it’s the same now. Our aim remains to finish as high as possible and we must still think finishing in the top four is our real target.”

Rafa is pleased most of all that the whole of his squad are doing what he asks of them whenever they are chosen: “I always thought this kind of run was possible, even after our start to the season. Nobody could see the real position of this team until now. Victories like Wednesday make me most happy. Not because it was a derby, but because playing two games so quickly at such a high level shows me how much better the squad is. We can make changes to the side and our level doesn’t drop. Whether we use Warnock, Sissoko or Cisse, the team is doing the same thing. That’s important and that’s why I have so much confidence for the rest of the seasons. Now we are consistent, no matter how many changes are made.”

Continue reading Rafa pleased but not surprised by improvement

Benitez confirms Coloccini and Cesar interest

Rafael Benitez today admitted his interest in signing Deportivo defenders Fabricio Coloccini and Cesar. A deal for Brondby centre-back Daniel Agger is was close to agreement, but Brondby are not budging on their valuation much to the disappointment of the player. Liverpool showed with the moves for Michael Owen and Simao that they will not be held to ransom for a player – they will pay the fee they feel is right and no more.

With full-back Jan Kromkamp already announced as needing to only agree personal terms, Rafa continues to seek cover for defence. Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia really only have Djimi Traore with lengthy first-team experience available as backup, and Rafa feels he’s more suited to left-back than the central role. If Brondby continue to drag their heels Agger’s hopes of joining the Champions of Europe may be dashed because Rafa is determined to get that cover in place in this transfer window: “I still need to strengthen in the centre of defence; we have four or five options we are considering. We had ideas in the summer and we’re thinking the same way now. We’ve looked at Coloccini and Cesar from Deportivo and we’re close to making something happen. We will have to wait and see.”

Rafa was speaking at today’s press conference about the difficulties of buying players mid-season: “It is always difficult in the transfer window, but in January more so. Teams are settled and playing and if you want someone who is doing well for his team it is very difficult to buy them. Good players are at big clubs and that is hard. You can only look for players at smaller clubs.”

The motivation for a player in choosing a new club to join isn’t always about money – as Chelsea have found – it’s also about what type of club they are likely to join. There’s never been any doubt about how big a club Liverpool are, no doubt about the club’s history and no doubt about the kind of support a player will get from the supporters. Now there’s the extra attraction – Liverpool are Champions of Europe and drawing admiring glances from around the world. Rafa says this will help them to bring players in: “I would think we’re an extremely attractive team for players to join. We’re the European champions and a team which expects to be in the top four for a long time. Liverpool has always been a big club. Now people can see Liverpool is a big club which is competing for the top prizes. Most players would want to come to Liverpool. I think it’s easy for us to bring the right players here.”

Continue reading Benitez confirms Coloccini and Cesar interest

Cisse and Rafa agree – the lord is staying

There was further confirmation today that Liverpool FC’s very own lord is going nowhere after the player himself told Sky Sports News that the speculation is nonsense. The Lord of the Manor of Frodsham, striker Djibril Cisse, told the satellite channel that he is completely happy with Anfield life, and bored of the talk of him going to Marseille.

The speculation increased when Cisse’s own brother told Marseille l’Hebdo that a move to Marseille was looking extremely likely. However Cisse, who got married in England this summer, says he’s annoyed with his brother: “I’m really disappointed of him to be honest and that’s all. I just want to make myself clear. I am in Liverpool and I’m going to stay in Liverpool.”

As far as Cisse is concerned there’s no reason for him to leave: “I don’t want to leave after two seasons. I don’t know why I’m going to leave. The Liverpool fans are amazing, the club is amazing. We have a good team, a good manager and everything is okay. I don’t know why I’m going to leave.”

As for the destination of his constantly rumoured move, that makes it all the more irritating: “I’m really fed up with all this speculation on me. I’m going to move to Marseille, it’s always Marseille, and it starts to be boring. Like I said before – I’m really disappointed with my brother.”

Reds boss Rafa Benitez confirmed that the talk regarding a move back to France for Djibril was nonsense. He says it seems to be a trend with Marseille: “They are always talking but they don’t talk with us. There is no news and we don’t want to sell Djib.”

Rafa says his goal and performance in the derby showed his value to Liverpool: “He is a very important player for us who has shown the kind of attitude I like in players. He’s a good finisher and against Everton I knew his pace would give us options.”

Cisse will get more opportunities in the first team over the next fortnight due to Spanish striker Fernando Morientes suffering a knee injury. The Spaniard suffered the injury on Wednesday in the derby match that saw Everton end the game with nine men.

Continue reading Cisse and Rafa agree – the lord is staying

Rafa confirms Kromkamp talks

Rafael Benitez has this morning confirmed last night’s breaking news that Liverpool were close to bringing Dutch international star Jan Kromkamp to Anfield in a swap deal for Spaniard Josemi. As was reported last night, the two clubs have agreed terms with each other, but now the two players need to be convinced that the move suits them.

Rafa revealed that both players are having trouble at their current clubs because of the language barrier.

Kromkamp cost Villareal €7million (approx £4.8million) when he move from Alkmaar in the summer, with Josemi costing Liverpool £2million 18 months ago. Despite this difference in perceived valuations, reports suggest that this will be a straight swap with no cash added on.

Speaking at today’s press conference, Benitez explained: “We have an agreement with Villarreal, and if we can get an agreement with both the players then we will swap them. Josemi is a right-back with some problems here with English, and Kromkamp has problems with Spanish at his new club.”

The policy at Anfield and Melwood is that all communication should be in English, and it seems Josemi has found it difficult. “Maybe this swap will be good for both of them. Josemi is happy here, he’s a good professional, but he sometimes prefers to talk in Spanish and to do that when he is with the Spanish players here.” No doubt Jamie Carragher will be pleased if the swap goes ahead, as the loudest voice on the field he expects his full-backs to understand the orders he’s dishing out to them.

Kromkamp has not been able to pick up the language in Spain and no doubt have faced similar troubles himself, as Rafa says: “Kromkamp has the same problem at Villarreal with the Spanish language. We still need to talk to both players, but in a few days maybe he will be here training with us. He is a strong full-back, aggressive and offensive. He can play as a full-back or a wing-back, but I would rather now wait to make sure the deal can be completed.”

If Kromkamp does become a Red, he’ll be despised even more by Manchester United supporters. When Villareal played United prior to their Champions League exit this season, Kromkamp was involved in the incident that saw Gabriel Heinze suffer an injury he’s yet to recover from.

Seville had also been looking at buying Josemi, but their valuation wasn’t close to Liverpool’s and they may now have missed their chance, as Rafa told reporters: “Josemi had interest from Seville, but Villarreal have now talked to us and we have a deal with them but still need to talk to Kromkamp. It is very difficult to play in another country and he has had trouble learning Spanish. He is maybe too offensive for a defender there because they need to strengthen at the back.”

Josemi has at least had some team-mates and coaching staff that are able to speak his language – not the case for Kromkamp: “Josemi has improved his English, but for him and his family it has been difficult. Kromkamp has the same problems because I think 100% of the team at Villarreal only talk Spanish, no English, and that has been really difficult for him.”

Continue reading Rafa confirms Kromkamp talks

No charges for Stevie, Bowyer stays banned

Despite attempts by the TV pundits to try and cause some trouble for Steven Gerrard after Liverpool’s defeat of Newcastle, the Liverpool captain will not be facing any charges for his part in the events following Lee Bowyer’s red-card tackle on Xabi Alonso. An official announcement is yet to be made, but the FA met to discuss the match yesterday and feel there are no charges for Stevie to answer.

Bowyer’s tackle on Xabi enraged the Liverpool players, and Peter Crouch pushed Bowyer over, earning himself a yellow card. Alan Shearer and Steven Gerrard, as the two captains, were also raising hands to each other, and when Gerrard admitted after the game he should have acted differently the TV pundits seized on the opportunity to find him guilty.

However the FA have reviewed the video footage of the game and feel that the action taken by the referee, Mark Halsey, was adequate. They also had a hearing to consider an appeal by Lee Bowyer against his sending off, but it was not overturned, as a statement released on the official FA site explained: "Lee Bowyer’s claim for wrongful dismissal was rejected at a Disciplinary Commission hearing on Thursday. He will therefore serve a three-match suspension with immediate effect. Bowyer was sent off for serious foul play during Newcastle United’s Premier League match against Liverpool on 26 December."

Crouch’s yellow card means he could not have been charged with anything more – despite attempts by some to say he should have had his punishment increased. FIFA regulations don’t allow changes to be made under those circumstances, and Mark Halsey clearly demonstrated that Crouch was getting a yellow because he touched Bowyer in the chest.

In the same game Michael Owen made his return to Anfield for the first time as a player since he left for Real Madrid 18 months ago. A small minority of "supporters" felt it necessary to boo the former hero. In the main most Liverpool fans felt the actions of this minority gave the rest of the fans a bad name. Owen will go down in history as an Anfield legend; he’s never had a bad word to say against the club and had always been honest over his desire to one day play abroad. He was delighted to see the club win the European Cup.

He told close friends after the Anfield game that he felt like crying. Even if he didn’t expect to be cheered onto the field, he did not expect to be booed.

Michael’s disillusionment with things at Anfield started when Gerard Houllier was still in charge. He was given an opportunity to realise what was then his dream of continuing his career on the continent. It didn’t work out, nor did his chance of getting back to Anfield in the summer, thanks to Newcastle actually following through on their promise to make a big-name signing. Owen is still free to join Liverpool in the summer if both sides want it – but the booing may have put a stop to that.

There’s a lot of “ifs” and “buts” to resolve over the next six months before Michael Owen’s future is mapped out. Newcastle under Graeme Souness are not the type of team Owen will want to be associated with long-term. As passionate as the fans are, the reputation of Newcastle at the moment is epitomised by the scenes we saw last season of Dyer and Bowyer scrapping on the field. Not enough has changed yet at Newcastle to change this image, and until it does Owen is not likely to be willing to stick around – despite what he says.

Liverpool aren’t the only club aware of Owen’s buy-out clause. Jamie Carragher will have to work hard now to convince the legend that there is still a place in the hearts of the supporters for him at Anfield next season. The fact remains though that the vast majority of Liverpool supporters would love to have him back in the squad – and maybe now it’s time for Owen to start planning how he’s going to get here.

Continue reading No charges for Stevie, Bowyer stays banned