Rafa and Pepe looking for home form to bring top spot

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez wants his team to win tonight and in turn take top spot in their Champions League group. In theory top place earns a better draw as first-placed teams will be drawn against second-placed teams in the next round. In reality though even the second-placed teams are strong, and could be even stronger by the time those last-16 matches are played: “I want to finish first but you never know what to expect. Teams could be poor now but then buy in January and be much better when the last 16 comes around in a few months. Their form, money and players can change so it is hard to predict, but we need to finish top for our own confidence.”

Liverpool’s assurance of being in the next phase means they’ve guaranteed themselves some more money, although if the much-speculated investment is forthcoming after meetings tomorrow that will be dwarfed. What the success does bring is recognition says Rafa: “The Champions League is important for two reasons. People recognise you all around the world if you play well in that competition. They see you as a great team and a big club and that is important, but also, it earns you a lot of money. And you know you can continue winning if you can bring in that money. That way you can be thinking about the future.” Rafa is no doubt hoping that investors can step in and give him the transfer budget he needs to buy his first-choice targets.

Only a win tonight can guarantee the Reds first place. A defeat hands it to PSV. If it ends all-square then the last games in the group make the difference, and for Liverpool that’s a trip to Turkey to face Galatasaray in an Ataturk stadium that will have a totally different atmosphere to 2005. Rafa’s hoping that Liverpool’s excellent home form continues tonight so that the trip to Turkey is just a formality: “In front of our supporters we win, we score plenty of goals and we are happier. We need to show confidence and show people we are good enough.”

One first-choice target Rafa was successful with was Spanish keeper Pepe Reina. Reina has had some stick this season, as all Liverpool goalkeepers do, some but not all of it deserved. He’s now feeling that he’s over his bad spell though and has publicly thanked the boss and his team-mates for sticking by him through it: “I know I did my job on Saturday in the same way I was doing it last season, I've been trying my best to reproduce this form, and I've always had confidence in myself. The boss and my team-mates have shown the same confidence in me which has been a big help.”

Reina also wanted to thank those fans who’ve stuck by him too: “The manager has stood by me, and so have the supporters. Despite what's been said about me this year, I've never felt under pressure and have been able to remain strong.”
A confident keeper is important to any side, and Saturday’s clean sheet meant Liverpool had at last a point to bring home from their travels. Like all of us though, Reina would have preferred the other two points, which was difficult with Middlesbrough playing like they were the away side: “It's always really important to get a clean sheet, but it was more significant we didn't manage to get the result at the weekend. We know a draw was not enough for us, but at least we can say we played much better. Against Middlesbrough it seemed nearly all the play was in the opponent's half, but we're not interested in draws, we need wins.”
Reina says that Saturday’s draw reminded him of the season’s opener, a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United: “I don't know what the problem has been. Saturday was like against Sheffield, where we showed we were better but couldn't win. The other five away stadiums where we lost are not easy places to win, and you know defeats can happen there, but other games we expect to win.”
It was also revealed today by Chris Bascombe of the Liverpool Echo that the Reds are set to sign an Argentinean left-back for around £1m. According to the report, 17-year-old Emiliano Insua is on Merseyside to sign a deal to become a part of the Reds young reserve set-up. The deal will be a loan initially with an agreement in place for it to be permanent at the end of the season.

Rafa is often rumoured to be frustrated at the lack of control he has over the academy, which it seems is intent on only signing up local players, so now has his scouts tasked with finding the best youngster from both this country and overseas. The report says that Insua turned down approaches from Manchester United and Chelsea. It also says that more youngsters look set to be taken on in the New Year.

One thing different about Insua to the other young recruits taken on by Rafa is that he’s actually believed to be good enough that he could be in contention for first team football this season, and will definitely be part of the first-team squad next season. That’s quite some claim and after what happened with the massively-hyped French pair of Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Anthony Le Tallec, Liverpool fans will be forgiven for not falling for the hype this time.

Insua will be at the ground to watch tonight’s match, which should feature fit-again Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia in the Reds side.

Continue reading Rafa and Pepe looking for home form to bring top spot

All to play for at Anfield in group decider

Liverpool’s stars are looking to put the disappointments of numerous dropped away league points behind them tomorrow night by clinching first place in their Champions League group.

Defender Jamie Carragher says that ensuring qualification to the knockout phase was only the first part of what the Reds set out to do in this European campaign: “Getting through to the next stage was our first objective but the aim now is to finish top of the group. We have a decent defensive record in the Champions League and hopefully we can keep that going.”

Carra knows that PSV won’t be an easy side to bear, but is hopeful that the fact the game is at home will bring a victory and see the Reds finish top: “It is important to take advantage of playing PSV at home. It will be very difficult as they have great experience in the Champions League and they are doing very well in the Dutch league.”

Carra’s team-mate Dirk Kuyt is looking forward to match that takes on extra significance for him given that it’s against his compatriots: “It's a really big game for me, especially to play against my Dutch friends. It is also a very important match and a match where we can score goals, but we know it will be difficult.”
Like Carra, Kuyt wants the group to be won tomorrow night: “It would be great to finish the group at Anfield. The crowd is always perfect there for us, especially during Champions League matches. It's a good opportunity to show the crowd that we can score goals.”

Kuyt knows that Liverpool’s home form has been good, but can’t work out why the away results haven’t gone our way: “It's been lots of games away from home now without a goal but we have to back ourselves because we have top quality players. Mentally we are very strong but we just have to keep making the chances and we will soon start scoring the goals. We've played really well at home this season and if we play like we did at Middlesbrough I'm sure it won't be long before we get our first away win. It's taking too long, though."

Dirk says that one positive to draw from the game is that at least the Reds didn’t concede this time, which was a welcome change from what happened at Old Trafford, Goodison and The Emirates: “We can go on from this because a clean sheet is not so bad. We only had one moment when we had any problems. Apart from that we controlled the game. We can only focus on our own games and if we keep winning our home games we will keep moving up the league. I think firstly we have to make sure we get in the top four. Then, with the players we have got, try to develop it from there."

Liverpool’s other Dutchman, Bolo Zenden, also wants a victory tomorrow in the Champions League, against his former club: “Our first game of the group was at PSV and we had a good result there and I think we can do the job at home and finish first in the group. More than likely we can then get a better draw for the knockout stages.”

Zenden says he got a great welcome in that tie: “It had been nine years since I'd played there for PSV and I had a good reception. People were pleased to see me, and there were a lot of people still working there from when I was there. A lot of players I have played with at PSV or elsewhere have come back to PSV, and it will be good to see them again. I always enjoy playing against my old teams, it's always special.”

One person who may not get a great welcome is former Liverpool full-back Jan Kromkamp. Kromkamp never really hit it off at Anfield, and finally left in the summer transfer window after just half a season at the club. That half-season was reportedly filled with the defender pining for home, and he never did turn out to be someone that Rafa could use to ease the burden on Steve Finnan. Still, he’d have been guaranteed at least a small cheer on his return, had he not been quoted having a dig at the club over the weekend. According to Jan, Liverpool will be easy pickings “We know how to get at Liverpool, they have plenty of weaknesses. They often revert to kicking long ugly balls up to Peter Crouch.”

He continued: “The manager's tactics change as soon as you frustrate his players and that is what we will be aiming to do on Wednesday. They have weaknesses in several places, especially in the gap between defence and midfield, and also at centre back. In one-on-ones, the two in the middle of defence are very good, but they cannot contribute to Liverpool's build-up play. So we will focus on that.”

Now that Kromkamp has given Liverpool’s players extra motivation for tomorrow night, Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez needs to ensure that his side don’t do what Kromkamp has predicted. Kromkamp thinks it will be easy to stop the Reds: “If you block them from deep they soon lose their rhythm and start playing those long balls up to Crouch.”

Continue reading All to play for at Anfield in group decider

Prem Result and Reaction: Middlesbrough 0 Liverpool 0

November 18th 2006.

Barclays Premiership
– Result.







1 Schwarzer
24 Davies (Huth, 45)
8 Woodgate
12 Pogatetz
33 Taylor
25 Morrison (Maccarone,
7 Boateng (Cattermole,
10 Rochemback
16 Euell
3 Arca
20 Yakubu


25 Reina
3 Finnan
23 Carragher
5 Agger
6 Riise
16 Pennant
8 Gerrard
14 Alonso
11 Gonzalez (Zenden, 84)
18 Kuyt (Crouch, 79)
17 Bellamy
22 Jones
6 Mendieta

14 Huth

23 Maccarone

27 Cattermole


1 Dudek
4 Hyypia
15 Crouch
29 Paletta
32 Zenden

Manager Gareth Southgate: "I am not going to sit here again and say we played well, but I have got to admire the resilience we showed and the character we showed.

"We were up against a top-class side. I do not care what people say about the way they are playing and the form they have shown. The games they have lost have been at Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. I saw the game they lost at Bolton and they had about 20 shots and Bolton had about three.

"They are a top quality team and on the day, I have got to be happy with a point, and another clean sheet is important to us. The way the second half went, in particular, we had to soak up a lot of pressure. We had some outstanding defending and magnificent goalkeeping. We didn't play as well as we would have liked but I can't fault the attitude and character of the lads as they have given me everything."

"He (Southgate) was immense. I do not think anybody is in any doubt that he is good enough for that (the England squad). It is just a case of getting a run of games and keeping him on the field, which we are having a fair amount of joy with at the minute."


Manager Rafael Benitez: "I have explained many times, when you are not winning away but you are playing well, you need to analyse why you do not score goals, but you cannot look at the table every day or every weekend.
"The team was playing really well and creating a lot of chances. I think we deserved to win. We created enough to win. It's clear we had control and we had a lot of crosses and shots but, at the end of the day, you need to score to win.
"If we play like that then out of 100 games we will win 99. You cannot blame the players when they play like that. When you play well and you create a lot of chances and have crosses and corners, you cannot be happy if you do not win. But trying to find positive things, it is a clean sheet for us away, it is not a defeat and we deserved to win.

"We created chances and went forward, and that is all you can do, try to keep going. If you play well and create chances, your time will come and you will start winning.
"It is important because you have to score if you want to win. But it is clear we are creating chances and going forward. We started the game playing on the counter-attack, but afterwards, we were attacking, attacking, attacking all the time and we only had one problem with Yakubu."

Ref: L Mason

Att: 31424


Continue reading Prem Result and Reaction: Middlesbrough 0 Liverpool 0

Prem Teams: Middlesbrough v Liverpool

Confirmed teams, Middlesbrough v Liverpool, FA Barclays Premiership.

1 Schwarzer, 24 Davies, 8 Woodgate, 12 Pogatetz, 33 Taylor, 25 Morrison, 7 Boateng, 10 Rochemback, 16 Euell, 3 Arca, 20 Yakubu
Subs: 22 Jones, 6 Mendieta, 14 Huth, 23 Maccarone, 27 Cattermole

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 3 Finnan, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 6 Riise, 16 Pennant, 8 Gerrard, 14 Alonso, 11 Gonzalez, 18 Kuyt, 17 Bellamy
Subs: 1 Dudek, 4 Hyypia, 15 Crouch, 29 Paletta, 32 Zenden

Referee: L Mason

Kick-off: 17:15 GMT

Continue reading Prem Teams: Middlesbrough v Liverpool

Rafa: Gerrard plays in the middle if I need him to

Earlier this week Steven Gerrard told reporters that he about to start playing more games in the middle for Liverpool, and now his boss has confirmed that. The media no doubt feel they can take all the credit for Gerrard getting played in his “preferred” role in the centre.

Rafa Benítez said today: “When Momo was injured, I told Steven it was our idea to play him on the right against Arsenal, but he didn't need to worry because he would play more games in the middle in the future. Now suddenly I read how Rafa is changing his mind about where Steven should play.”

Believe it or not, Rafa says there might actually be a good reason why he keeps his tactics a secret from the media before a match: “I'm not going to say before games where Steven will be playing, because it's never a good idea to talk about your team and give the opposition information.”

So where will he play Gerrard against Middlesbrough this weekend? “The situation is clear. Steven could play on the right as he did against Arsenal, or he could play in the centre as he did against Reading a week earlier. We have one more training session today. I will check on the condition of all the players and then decide.”

Rafa also explained that despite the attention this issue is given in the media, it really isn’t that big a deal within the club: “I think maybe this is more a situation for journalists and commentators to talk about and isn't really an important issue at the club. I don't need to justify my decisions about team selection in every press conference.”

Rafa’s comments came after Gerrard had spoken in the wake of the England game on Wednesday that he was to play more games in the centre. Gerrard had said: “I spoke to Rafael Benítez and he said I will get a lot more time in the middle now with Momo Sissoko's injury.”

Momo’s surgery was a success and now Liverpool wait to see how long he’ll actually be absent for as a result. Rafa said after the op: “The doctors said the operation was very successful. We know we will be without Momo for some time, but we'll know more in a few days exactly how long it will be.”

Gerrard himself is hoping that he can start adding goals to his game again, and soon, but says nothing major is stopping him from scoring: “I think I am lacking a bit of composure in front of goal because the goals haven't been flowing in for me this season. I've done everything right except the finish but I was pleased against Holland that I was getting into those forward positions. The manager wanted me to break from the middle and I had two great chances to score.”

He went on: “I've got every confidence the goals will come. This season I've been getting in the positions to score and it has not quite happened for me. Last season mis-hits and deflections were going in for me. The goals will come and that is all that is missing at the present time.”

Still talking about his England role, Gerrard said that he enjoys playing centrally: “I always enjoy it there in the middle. That's where I feel I can get the best out of myself. The formation worked and the positive thing is we know we can use another formation now with 4-3-3 as well as 4-4-2. We need to build on this performance for the next qualifier.”

Liverpool fans are more concerned about how the team perform against Middlesbrough, and won’t be too bothered where Gerrard has played as long as he’s played a part in earning three points.

Continue reading Rafa: Gerrard plays in the middle if I need him to

Big business ahead for counterfeiters

Another rip-off is on the way for Liverpool supporters with kids, and
for that matter the parents of any child who supports a top-flight
Liverpool FC’s website carried the news that as from next season the
names and numbers used by Premier League clubs will be changing.
There’s already been talk of the FA Premier […]
Read more at: http://voice.anfieldroad.co.uk/voices/1037.

Continue reading Big business ahead for counterfeiters

Prem Resultt: Arsenal 3 Liverpool

FA Barclays Premiership: RESULT.


 3 – 0


Flamini 41
Toure 56
Gallas 79

24 Almunia
27 Eboue
5 Toure
10 Gallas
22 Clichy
13 Hleb
19 Silva
4 Fabregas
16 Flamini
11 Van Persie (25 Adebayor, 85)
14 Henry

25 Reina
3 Finnan
4 Hyypia (5 Agger, 82)
23 Carragher
6 Riise
8 Gerrard
14 Alonso
32 Zenden
11 Gonzalez (16 Pennant, 61)
15 Crouch (17 Bellamy, 71)
18 Kuyt

21 Poom
6 Senderos

25 Adebayor

31 Hoyte
32 Walcott

1 Dudek

5 Agger

16 Pennant

17 Bellamy

28 Warnock

Van Persie, 2
Flamini, 41
Carragher, 33
Alonso, 68
Pennant, 77

Ref: M Clattenburg
Kick-off: 16:00 GMT
Attendance: 60,110

Continue reading Prem Resultt: Arsenal 3 Liverpool

Bolo and Gilberto: Clash is important

Liverpool’s clash with Arsenal tomorrow is still being spoken about in terms of its impact on both sides’ chances of winning the league, even though both sides have been written off more than once this season. It’s the way the modern game works – every game that’s played, especially when on live TV, has to be made out to be the most important game of the season. If a TV pundit says that this is the last chance for one of the teams they rarely actually mean it. Especially when that team gets another chance every week for the next three months.

In reality Liverpool and Arsenal have little hope of winning the title as things stand, they are relying on Manchester United and Chelsea to start slipping up before they can think of that. In the meantime though they need to keep their own form at as high a level as possible so that the gaps don’t get any bigger. Liverpool are eleven points off the top, further behind than Arsenal who are ten points behind United with a game in hand.

Liverpool midfielder Bolo Zenden is in with more of a chance than he’d expected of getting a start at the Emirate’s stadium tomorrow for Liverpool’s first ever visit. He says that Liverpool have to build on their recent home successes and the away win midweek in the Carling Cup and start picking up some away points: “It will be a very important game for us on Sunday. We are aware where we are in the league. We know our away form hasn't been the best but lately we have stepped it up a gear and done better than we did at the beginning of the season. One of our aims is to get the Anfield form into the away games as well and we are working hard at it.”

Liverpool have played good football in many of the games they’ve dropped points in this season but, as Zenden says, that isn’t enough:  “It is one thing playing well but it is also important to get the wins under your belt. If you look at the Birmingham game, it wasn't the prettiest but we did keep a clean sheet and we did win. That is something we definitely have to work for. We had a few good results lately away from home in the Champions League so we are fairly confident we can do the job on Sunday but it will definitely be a tough game.”
From what Bolo is saying, Liverpool are going to try and stick to basics now: “We have to do better in away games but sometimes it can't always be pretty. I am sure the away results will come. It's nice to play well but if you lose at the end it is not very enjoyable.”

It’s never easy trying to guess what kind of formation Rafa Benítez might choose, and a 3-5-2 wouldn’t be totally unexpected tomorrow. If that’s the case then Bolo may get a chance to start, likewise if Rafa goes 4-4-2 with Gerrard on the right. Jermaine Pennant may get the nod in that position, against his old club, meaning that Bolo would find himself less likely to start. The main reason that Bolo is being considered is because of the freak injury to Momo Sissoko in midweek that sees him missing now for the next three months. Whilst obviously glad to get more chances to play himself, Bolo knows that Momo’s absence is a massive frustration for the Reds: “It is a big blow losing Sissoko. We all know how important he is to us. We hope he is back as soon as possible. He is a fantastic player with a lot of energy and always ready for a challenge. We will definitely miss him but we have got a big squad with quality players that can do a job.” Bolo is well aware of how it feels to be out long term, having been in a similar situation a year ago: “Last November I did my cruciate ligaments. With a big injury you need a bit of time but I am just pleased to get all the minutes under my belt and am trying to do better and am fighting for my place now.”

Meanwhile, in the Arsenal camp, there’s still a hope there that they can get back into contention for the title by beating Liverpool. Gunners midfielder Gilberto says this is a must-win game for the former Highbury residents:  “If we want to fight for the title then we must win this game. This season we have dropped many points already, that is why we are so far from the leaders, but we know we want to fight for the title and that is why this is a crucial moment for us.”

Gilberto is hoping that Liverpool will arrive looking for all three points and not play with a negative attitude in the hope of a draw. This, he says, is better for Arsenal: “I think it is much better – not easier – but better when we play against a team like Liverpool because they will not sit back just to defend. They will come out and want to play – they want to win – but at the same time, we are confident for this game.”

Arsenal drew 1-1 against Liverpool’s bitter neighbours Everton two weeks ago then lost against their own neighbours West Ham last week, which had come on the back of a winning streak of six games across all competitions. Liverpool are currently on a run of five successive wins in all competitions, four of those at home.  Gilberto is hopeful for a win today to bring back the confidence for his team: “This is the kind of match that, if you win, gives you a lot of confidence because we are going to play against a great team with good players. We need to concentrate from the start because if you make a big mistake against a team like that they kill you. That is why we cannot afford to miss so many chances when we get an opportunity to score.”

Scoring is something Gilberto feels is an issue for Arsenal at the moment, but again something that is related to confidence: “We just need to put the ball in the back of the net to get more confidence. Many times we can create a chance, but sometimes we do not finish. Even if you do not get a good shot sometimes it deflects off somebody else and goes into the back of the net. And once we start to score, the goals will keep coming.”

Continue reading Bolo and Gilberto: Clash is important

Momo to miss three months

Liverpool's worse fears over midfielder Momo Sissoko were realised this afternoon when it was confirmed that he will be out now for three months. A club spokesman told the official Liverpool website that the Malian player would need an operation.

The spokesman said: "Unfortunately Momo will require surgery which is scheduled to take place next week. It is anticipated he will be out of action for three months."

Momo dislocated his shoulder in the Carling Cup win at Birmingham last night and he will be badly missed by the Reds.

Earlier in the day and before the full extent of Momo's condition was known, Xabi Alonso had spoken of how much his teammate would be missed, but he did vow that the team would manage. Xabi said: "We'll have to wait and see how long he's out, but it doesn't look very good. If he's out, it's clear we'll have to change something in the team. There are times when we've played without him before and we've still managed to get good results, but now we will have to think of a new system and I'm sure Rafa will do something."
This opens up the chance for Steven Gerrard to play in his preferred role, although it may also allow more chances for Bolo Zenden to get some starts for the club in the centre. Xabi admits that he and Gerrard haven't always managed to work as well together as they'd like: "Stevie and I have played together in the middle a lot. Sometimes it's worked really well and other times we've had some problems. We know we need to work together to find the balance which is important for the team. Stevie has massive qualities. He has an ability to get into the box and we have to make sure he's still able to do that because that's where he works so well."

Xabi is hopeful that the players can minimise the impact of Momo's absence: "If the team is compact and we work as hard and show the same form we did last season, I'm sure the identity of the players in the position isn't important. It will be harder without Momo, but we can make it work."

Continue reading Momo to miss three months

Rafa: Momo injury spoils good night

Liverpool earned a place in the quarter finals of the Carling Cup last night thanks to a goal from Daniel Agger, but there was a big price to pay for that success. Malian midfielder Momo Sissoko was stretchered off with a dislocated shoulder and may be out for the rest of this year as a result. Speaking after the game manager Rafael Benítez confirmed the news: “It is good news because we are in the next round – but a shame because of Momo Sissoko’s injury. We don’t know for how long he will be out but it may be for quite some time – maybe. He has dislocated his shoulder. It will be maybe more than one month – I hope not but I think it will be serious.”

Last season Momo suffered a serious eye injury during a Champions League match against Benfica and his absence was felt in the games that followed. Rafa knew something was wrong when the player stayed down and he thinks Momo has had some bad luck with injuries: “He is unlucky with injuries, especially with the kind of injuries he has sustained, his eye last season and now the shoulder. They are not very common injuries. It was an accident but it was clear something was wrong. Momo is a player who doesn’t like to stay on the ground.”

We’ll now see how well Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard can combine in the centre, unless Rafa decides to stick with Xabi and Bolo Zenden in midfield. Jermaine Pennant sent the corner in that resulted in the winner last night so his chance to show why Rafa paid so much for him may come in the following weeks. Rafa said: “Now we have to manage with the players we have until January and I am happy with the squad but when you lose a player that is playing every game like Momo, it is a problem.”

Liverpool won in the end, a rare success away from home this season, but Rafa would have liked them to have made sure of the win rather than be left worrying for the rest of the game: “When you have chances you need to score and finish the game. At 1-0 we had the penalty and a lot of clear chances. They had one chance but we didn’t concede a goal and it was a great save from Jerzy Dudek. I felt the players worked really hard. I changed some players, there were some young boys out there but we were good against a difficult team.”

Birmingham manager Steve Bruce was angry after the game, but pleased with the efforts his players had put in: “I just thought if we had a bit more belief about us, we could have got something. We had two or three good opportunities – you have to take them but Maik Taylor kept us in it with the penalty save. We are young and naive at times but I thought there was nothing in it, especially in the first half. In the second half the goal they got just before the break gave them extra confidence but overall it was a decent cup tie.”

His anger though was aimed at referee Howard Webb who Bruce believes ruined his team’s chances by not allowing them to be as physical as Bruce wanted: “They are never going to be real cup-ties anymore if we keep on seeing performances from referees like that. If we are not careful we will be playing in high heels and skirts and playing netball. It is so frustrating but there you go.”

He added a little more but stopped short in fear of being fined, making references to the division he was relegated from last season: “I thought his overall decision-making was poor. I don’t want to say much because I don’t want to get fined again because the Premier League are very good at that. Every little decision went Liverpool’s way – the big Premier League team against the not so big team.”

Birmingham’s Mehdi Nafti kicked an advertising hoarding when he had been substituted, angering his boss, who said: “He was disappointed but we’ll deal with him over the next 24 hours.”

Continue reading Rafa: Momo injury spoils good night