Teams: LFC v Barca. Pepe fit, Eto’o starts

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has picked the same eleven that won in the Nou Camp for tonight’s second leg of the Round of 16 in the Champions League.

Pepe Reina is in goal (after rumours he’d been suffering with injury) and there’s an Anfield debut for Alvaro Arbeloa.
Barcelona see Samuel Eto’o return to the side as they go for the the two goals they need to progress to the next phase.
Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Riise, Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko, Kuyt, Bellamy.
Subs: Dudek, Hyypia, Crouch, Pennant, Aurelio, Mascherano, Zenden.

Barcelona: Valdés, Márquez, Puyol, Xavi, Eto’o, Ronaldinho, Messi, Deco, Thuram, Oleguer, Iniesta
Subs: Jorquera, Godjohnsen, Giuly, Zambrotta, Emilson, Sylvinho, Saviola

Referee: Herbert Fandel (Germany)
Assistant Refs: Carsten Kadach (Germany), Volker Wezel (Germany)
Fourth Official: Peter Sippel (Germany)

Continue reading Teams: LFC v Barca. Pepe fit, Eto’o starts

Liverpool team v Barca: Reina fit, same 11 as Nou Camp

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has picked the same eleven that won in the Nou Camp for tonight’s second leg of the Round of 16 in the Champions League.

Pepe Reina is in goal (after rumours he’d been suffering with injury) and there’s an Anfield debut for Alvaro Arbeloa.
Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Arbeloa, Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko, Riise, Kuyt, Bellamy.
Subs: Dudek, Hyypia, Crouch, Pennant, Aurelio, Mascherano, Zenden.
Continue reading Liverpool team v Barca: Reina fit, same 11 as Nou Camp

Rafa going for win, Rijkaard says Barca are underdogs

Liverpool coach Rafael Benítez has been stressing to his players that they must not treat the game tonight as though they’ve only got to avoid defeat. A draw, or even a 1-0 defeat, would see Liverpool go through tonight, but Rafa wants his players to try and win on the night. He says that had Liverpool managed a draw in Barcelona they’d have been pleased with the result and would be looking for a win tonight. He feels that they have to approach the game as if that had happened: “I told the players if we’d drawn in Barcelona, people would have been happy and saying what a good result it was because we could then come back to Anfield, with a fantastic atmosphere, and with a chance to win the game. Okay, we know we have an advantage now, but we must think in the same way and approach the game to win it.”

Rafa hates teams who play for a draw, as he made clear with his comments about “small club” Everton after the last derby. The difference tonight though is that a draw is as good as a win due to the first leg score, but he seems set to play for a win: “We can’t say because we won the first leg we should play in a different way. The question for us is how to go about winning it. Tactically we know we must be clever, but our aim is exactly the same now as it was when the draw was made: to win the home game.”

Another reason Rafa may have to not play for the draw is because of Barcelona’s attacking power: “We know they have a lot of good attacking players, but they can also play a counter attacking style of game.” Barcelona were beaten 2-1 by Sevilla on Saturday evening and Rafa was keeping a close eye on that game: “Their goal against Sevilla came from a long ball, so there are different ways they can play. We must focus on how we play.”

As always, Rafa was keen to make sure the Anfield faithful were praised for their support. He knows they’ll be a huge help tonight, and wanted to thank them for the way they didn’t turn on the team after the last-minute defeat to Manchester United o Saturday: “We know we have the advantage of being in front of our supporters, who are always fantastic on nights such as this. I feel our fans deserved a lot of credit for the way they applauded the players at he end of the game on Saturday. They could see how hard they worked and know we didn’t deserve to lose the game. They stayed behind to show their respect. We will be hoping for their special support to make this a very different game.”

Continue reading Rafa going for win, Rijkaard says Barca are underdogs

Gerrard: Over-confidence would be “suicidal”

Steven Gerrard says Liverpool have to show Barcelona respect and must not allow complacency to creep into their game tonight. The five-times Champions of Europe face the current holders Barcelona in the second leg of their last-16 tie at Anfield. Liverpool got two unexpected and vital away goals in their 2-1 first leg win and know that they now face a team determined to meet the challenge they’ve been set. The Reds captain said: “We have got to be very careful, and show Barcelona every respect. They are a fantastic team and they are capable of going anywhere in Europe and playing people off the park. We must make sure we match, if not better, our first-leg performance. They are maybe more dangerous now because they are behind.”

Barca were firm favourites to win the first leg in the Nou Camp, and Liverpool’s 2-1 win was unexpected by most, including Barca themselves. Gerrard says the tactics Liverpool used were unexpected too: “The fact that we won in the Nou Camp has shocked them, they were not expecting us to be so attack-minded. We went 4-4-2 and were very positive. Our game plan worked. This will be a different game but the team is focused and prepared.”

Rafa’s tactics for tonight remain to be seen, but whatever he goes for the game is far from over, as Gerrard says: “Barcelona over the last couple of seasons have proved they are the best side in Europe, that’s how difficult it is going to be for us. We have a slight advantage, but only slight. We have to get the job done and we are confident we can do that.”

Continue reading Gerrard: Over-confidence would be “suicidal”

Puyol: We are used to noise

Barcelona captain Carlos Puyol says that his side are going to have work hard if they want to progress from tonight’s last-16 second leg Champions League tie with Liverpool. The holders are 2-1 down from the first leg against the 2005 winners and so need to score at least twice to cancel out those away goals. Puyol is confident they can do it, but doesn’t underestimate the task: “We are going to have to play almost a perfect game to come away with the right result. I am always motivated by a situation like this.”
Liverpool are hoping the fans tonight are as inspirational as they were in 2005 when Chelsea’s players were memorably shocked at the atmosphere they faced. The Reclaim the Kop campaign have put out a call for fans to skip that last pint in the pub to get into the ground that bit earlier, to get the atmosphere building more quickly than normal. Puyol thinks his team-mates will be able to overcome the noise, saying it will be something they’ve faced elsewhere in the past:  “When you are playing in front of such an inspirational crowd, it is going to give some sort of strength to the home side. However, as players we are used to playing in big games in big stadiums. We are focussed and looking forward to it.”

Pepe Reina needs to be on top form tonight to keep out the threat of Barcelona who look likely to have Reds target Samuel Eto’o playing for this leg. He was injured in the first game but is just one of the threats facing Rafa’s team. “We have a team full of dangerous forwards that can hopefully do some damage,” says Puyol, “We are all keen to win the competition for the second time and confident of putting on a good show.”

Asked what Barca need to do to overcome the five-times holders of the trophy the 28-year-old said: “First of all we have got to play in our own style. We have got to concentrate hard and must remain patient if things are not going our way. The earlier we can get a goal the better it is for us, but we cannot forget about defence as Liverpool are dangerous on the counter-attack.”

Both sides are looking to bounce back from weekend league defeats tonight. Liverpool’s injury time defeat to Manchester United may have hit confidence, but so will Barca’s 2-1 defeat against Sevilla. Barca coach Frank Rijkaard rested his side’s first leg scorer Deco and also defender Lilian Thuram in readiness for tonight’s match.

Continue reading Puyol: We are used to noise

Gerrard: Barca tie still not over

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is full of confidence that Liverpool can go all the way to Greece and pick up a sixth European Cup. The win in Barcelona in the first leg of the last-16 means the Reds have a strong chance of progressing to the quarter finals, and if they do manage that then Gerrard thinks the Reds are capable of doing what they did in Istanbul in 2005 and prove the doubters wrong: “We’ve shocked the football world once – and we can do it again in Athens. We proved two years ago that we can win this competition, and on our performance in Spain I think people will take note around Europe that we can go and do the same again this season.”

Liverpool were written off by many as soon as the draw for the last sixteen was announced pairing the Reds with the Catalan side, but Gerrard recalls that they were written off in much the same way throughout the 2005 campaign: “We surprised a lot of people in 2005 because we weren’t favourites to win it. I think our performance in Barcelona sent a message around Europe because people were probably expecting Barcelona to walk all over us, but we know we are a fantastic team in Europe and that anything is possible for us.”

Speaking to the Sunday People, Gerrard was keen to point out that he was far from complacent about this next leg, progress hasn’t been taken for granted: “The tie’s still not over, not by a long way. They showed in the first half-hour in the Nou Camp what a good side they are, but we got our game plan and tactics spot on frustrated Barcelona. People were expecting us to be camped on our 18-yard box but the manager in his team talks and preparation told us to be positive.”

Continue reading Gerrard: Barca tie still not over

Manager reaction: Liverpool v Man United

Alex Ferguson was – surprisingly – willing to admit Liverpool were “unlucky” and his own team were “lucky” as Manchester United snatched an unlikely win against Liverpool. Having spent the majority of the game clearly looking happy to settle for a draw, an injury time free kick resulted in the ball falling to childhood Liverpool fan John O’Shea who scored against his boyhood heroes, at the Kop end.

Speaking after the game to Sky TV, Ferguson said: “It was a fantastic result. We had a lot of narrow escapes and Liverpool upset our rhythm. They will feel very unlucky and they deserve to. It is a massive result for us. We broke away late on against Fulham and scored and now we’ve done it here. We’ve had that bit of luck in the last two weeks but you need luck if you are to win titles.”

Paul Scholes was sent off in the game for aiming a swipe and Ferguson had no problems with that decision after seeing the incident. Speaking on MUTV Ferguson said – again surprisingly – that the referee was correct: “I’ve seen it, he’s lifted his hand and you can’t do that. I think the referee got one right in terms of intent.”

Rafael Benitez was shocked at how Liverpool lost the points: “It’s unbelievable how we lost this match because we controlled the game and deserved to win it. We controlled the attacking side of the game and had many corners and free-kicks, but in football you sometimes have luck and sometimes have bad luck.”
Luck is certainly on Manchester United’s side this season, especially in recent games, but the manager accepts that this can’t be used as an excuse: “We made a mistake for the goal but when you create as many chances as we did then you need to score against a team like Manchester United.”
Liverpool wanted to win today, the strength of the side Rafa put out shows that, but the next game is more important than this one was. The defeat makes Liverpool job of hanging onto a Champions League place harder, but defeat by more than two goals on Tuesday would see them go out of the Champions League itself this season. Now Rafa has to prepare his team for that clash: “We must stay positive now and look forward to the Barcelona game and maybe we will have better luck on Tuesday.”

Continue reading Manager reaction: Liverpool v Man United

Teams: Liverpool v Man United

Barclays Premiership

3rd March 2007, Kick-off 12.45pm

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has picked as strong a line-up as anyone can expect for today’s clash with Manchester United. Any thoughts anyone had that Rafa would put out a weaker team ahead of the crucial Champions League tie with Barcelona can be dismissed.

Kuyt and Bellamy start upfront. Sissoko and Alonso start in the centre of midfield meaning Steven Gerrard plays in his infamous right-side of midfield role. Gonzalez has the job on the other side of midfield.

Agger’s pace has been preferred to Hyypia’s experience in the centre-back positions, and Reina is back in the side again after his paternity leave last weekend.
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 3 Finnan, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 6 Riise, 8 Gerrard, 14 Alonso, 22 Sissoko, 11 Gonzalez, 18 Kuyt, 17 Bellamy
Subs: 1 Dudek, 4 Hyypia, 12 Aurelio, 15 Crouch, 16 Pennant

Man Utd: 1 Van der Sar, 2 Neville, 5 Ferdinand, 15 Vidic, 3 Evra, 7 Ronaldo, 16 Carrick, 18 Scholes, 11 Giggs, 8 Rooney, 17 Larsson
Subs: 29 Kuszczak, 6 Brown, 9 Saha, 22 O’Shea, 27 Silvestre

Referee: Martin Atkinson
Continue reading Teams: Liverpool v Man United

Owen: It took two months to want out of Real

Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen has been reflecting on the biggest decision of his career, a decision that saw him miss out on a Champions League winners’ medal, and now sees him playing for a club who seem destined to remain mid-table underachievers. When he went to Real Madrid, before he’d played a competitive game for new boss Rafael Benítez, the impression he gave was that he had to move to Real if he wanted to win the bigger prizes in the game. Liverpool had underachieved under Houllier, leaving Owen reluctant to sign a new deal (despite claims he would be doing so soon) and when Madrid came in he couldn’t resist the temptation.

In the end he lasted just one season in Madrid, a season where he rarely played and where Real didn’t win a thing. No matter how you dress it up, it wasn’t what he expected. Then at the end of that first season he had another big decision to make. Liverpool were willing to spend around £12m to bring him back home, a deal that would see them having to pay £4m more than they’d received for him 12 months earlier. Then Newcastle came in too, with an offer much higher, seeing Owen as the key to finally getting some silverware. Owen was worried that if he didn’t leave Madrid there and then, he’d miss too much football and would lose out on an England place. The 2006 World Cup was looming. Liverpool wanted him to force Madrid’s hand – if he refused to move to Newcastle they either had to let Liverpool have him or had to continue paying him his wages for the next six months at least, not to mention being without the money from the transfer fee to help them in their pursuit of more Galacticos. He chatted to Rafa Benítez and Rick Parry, but in the end was too worried about what might happen to his England career and decided to reject Rafa for a second time.

Even at that stage there was still a glimmer of hope for his fans that he might yet get back to Anfield. He reportedly had a £12m buy-out clause in his Newcastle contract which would let him leave at a cut-price should the Geordies not succeed on the pitch in the way Alan Shearer and Freddie Shepherd promised Owen they would. Ironically, Owen missed a large part of his first season at Newcastle due to injury, and was far from fit by the time the World Cup began. He was certainly far from fit by the time it ended, and after being stretchered off within a minute of the start of England’s group game against Sweden his dreams were shattered and his World Cup was over. He’d damaged an anterior ligament in his knee and any chance there might have been of him coming back to Anfield under the buy-out clause were lost. He’s not played since, and although he’s now finally started to do some running, he’s a long way from knowing if he’ll get to play at all this season. Newcastle are upset at losing the services of their expensive signing, and have been offered a fraction of his value in compensation.

Owen tries to keep a brave face on it, but he must be devastated. In fact in his column for The Times, he admits how much he hated his time in the Spanish league. He says of Real: “The club are a law unto themselves, as I discovered in my difficult year there. They are a club like no other, for better and worse. Even in the brief time I was there, I had three managers. You lose a game and it’s a crisis. You arrive back at the airport and it is a media scrum. Then you wake up the next day and find 20 pages devoted to one defeat.”
Continue reading Owen: It took two months to want out of Real

Finnan: “We’re full of confidence”

Liverpool defender Steve Finnan says that his side’s faint hopes of getting into contention for the league are now over and today’s game for Liverpool is all about ensuring they stay in those Champions League positions. Liverpool have two major home games in succession, starting today with Manchester United, but the game is big mainly because of the rivalry between the two clubs. It’s the midweek game with Barcelona that is the bigger of the two games. Finnan says that a win today would give the Reds a boost ahead of the visit of the Spanish giants: “We know we have two more massive home games back-to-back, starting with United. It would make it even better for us going into the Barcelona game if we can win that one. It’s definitely an all or nothing situation in terms of trying to close the gap on them this season. We know we have to win. They’ve been in a really good run, and keep on getting the wins, so they’ll be confident coming here.”

Liverpool dropped points against Newcastle and Everton, meaning that faint hopes of catching United disappeared: “A few weeks ago we were thinking we had a slight chance of pushing them, but fair play to them. You’ve got to give them credit for the way they’ve pushed on and kept winning. Even though we’ve been on a good run ourselves, that’s put us a long way behind. I think we’re realistic and know that keeping going in the Champions League and qualifying for it again is the main aim for the rest of the season, but that won’t stop us being desperate to get a result tomorrow.”

So could victory put Liverpool back into contention? “Who knows? We’ll be looking to put together another winning run, but it’s a big gap now.” In other words, Finnan rightly does not write off the chances of winning the league until the maths say it can’t be done, but the Irish international knows it’s not very likely.

The gap between Liverpool and Manchester United this season is down in a large part to the Reds’ poor form away from home earlier this season, and that included the fact that all games against the “big” sides came away from home. Liverpool have beaten the one “big” side they’ve now faced at home in the second half of the season, as well as that win in the Champions league against Barcelona, so Finnan says that Liverpool are confident they are capable of handling United today: “Having beaten Chelsea at home and Barcelona we’ve a lot of confidence. Obviously we’ve had some bother against the bigger sides in the league, particularly when we played United and Arsenal earlier in the season. They have both still to come here and we could still make a big difference to our position by winning those games. Aside from Europe our aim is to make sure we establish ourselves even more in the top four of the Premiership.”

Continue reading Finnan: “We’re full of confidence”