Bellamy: BBC reports “complete garbage”

Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy has effectively accused BBC Wales reporter Malcolm Allen of being a liar.

Allen spoke on live TV in Wales about a conversation he claimed he’d had with Bellamy, where he told viewers that Bellamy had hated his year at Anfield and hardly spoke to boss Rafael Benítez.

Allen said, on the “Wales on Saturday” programme, “I spoke to him before the game here on the pitch and he told me it has been a very disappointing year for him, that he hasn’t got a working relationship with Rafa Benítez, that they hardly speak to each other at the moment and that the situation has become clear that for the sake of his own career he wants to play consistently, he wants to play in the first team week in week out and he hasn’t been getting those opportunities at Liverpool.”

Bellamy has refuted these claims, telling the official LFC website: “A journalist working for BBC Radio Wales has told people I have problems with Rafa and haven't even got a working relationship with him. That's complete garbage.”
According to the Welsh international he actually considers Rafa to be in many ways the best coach he’s worked for: “I have gone on record recently and I will say it again now that I have learnt more from Rafael Benitez than any other coach I have worked with. I am a much better player for the time I've spent working with him and if I do go on to manage at some point in the future he's the model I'll use in my career. I can't make my respect for him any clearer than that.”

As well as unhappiness about not playing in every game, Allen claimed Bellamy had been having a good moan about exactly how Rafa had chosen to use him on the pitch: “Many times this season the manager’s just told him to be ready to run. He doesn’t want to him link play up and come short for the ball and Craig’s got a lot more to his game than just running behind defenders. We know that’s a strength of his and he can always be a threat but he likes to come short for the ball and bring other players into the game and suck defenders onto him and then create the space behind to use his pace and he hasn’t been able to do that at Liverpool.”

The last time Bellamy got negative press was on the weekend prior to the first leg Champions League game against Barcelona, when the reports of the Portugal bust-up with John Arne Riise hit the headlines. The allegations made against Bellamy that weekend weren’t completely unfounded, but were greatly exaggerated. Bellamy accepted a huge fine from the club for his own part in the incidents – some of which was donated to Welsh side Wrexham to help their fight for survival – and actually scored one and set up the other of Liverpool’s two goals in the Nou Camp fixture.

It seemed Bellamy had done enough for fans to give him the benefit of the doubt, but now this latest story has once again come out at a vital time. Bellamy acknowledges this, saying: “I am even more disappointed that we are approaching a massive game on Tuesday against Chelsea and I am having to waste time responding to this nonsense.”

It’s highly unlikely that Craig Bellamy will be a Liverpool player next season, despite his efforts to try and smooth things out. Liverpool are looking to improve the quality of the squad and will be listening to offers for Bellamy, who will probably be glad to make another attempt to get his career back on track, even if it does mean leaving the club he supported as a boy. Allen said yesterday: “It’s going to be a sad day for Craig because he’s always been a Liverpool supporter but for the furthering of his own career I do feel he’s got to move on, and that’s the way he’s feeling as well.”

With two such conflicting stories it’s certainly the case that one party isn’t being honest. Bellamy’s reputation as a moaner suggests he was still feeling downhearted at the big hint he wouldn’t be starting on Tuesday and wanted to get that disappointment off his chest. Rafa had rested most of his squad for yesterday’s game against Portsmouth, a meaningless game for the Reds who had already guaranteed a place in the Champions League qualifiers. Crouch wasn’t included in the 16 and Kuyt was on the bench, a big hint towards Rafa’s plans for Tuesday. When the Welsh reporter had a chat to him Bellamy probably considered himself to be speaking off the record, but the Welsh reporter had different ideas. A two minute moan later and the reporter has a story, but no direct quotes.

Although he’s not likely to start, Bellamy will be on the bench on Tuesday night and could yet have an important part to play in Liverpool’s quest to overturn the 1-0 deficit from the first leg. He responded on the field in the best way after the Portugal incident, if he’s given the chance on Tuesday let’s hope he does the same again.

Until something changes, he’s still a Liverpool player and he should be supported on the field. If his last kick of the ball as a Liverpool player is to score the winner in Athens he’ll be long-remembered for the right reasons and these incidents will soon be forgotten.

Continue reading Bellamy: BBC reports “complete garbage”

BBC: Unhappy Bellamy wants out

Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy has told BBC Wales that he wants to leave the club at the end of the season.

Welsh international Bellamy was signed at a cut-price from Blackburn last summer after Liverpool took advantage of a release clause in his contract, and rumours have been strong that he is on his way back there when the season is over.

The BBC’s Malcolm Allen was covering the Liverpool game away to Portsmouth this afternoon and said he spoke to Bellamy before the game. Allen said Bellamy told him he was unhappy at the club and wanted to leave Liverpool at the end of the season, to play for a club where he could appear week-in week-out.

Allen said: “I spoke to him before the game here on the pitch and he told me it has been a very disappointing year for him, that he hasn’t got a working relationship with Rafa Benítez, that they hardly speak to each other at the moment and that the situation has become clear that for the sake of his own career he wants to play consistently, he wants to play in the first team week in week out and he hasn’t been getting those opportunities at Liverpool.”

Allen was asked if anything in particular had caused this situation, he replied: “No, because many times this season the manager’s just told him to be ready to run. He doesn’t want to him link play up and come short for the ball and Craig’s got a lot more to his game than just running behind defenders. We know that’s a strength of his and he can always be a threat but he likes to come short for the ball and bring other players into the game and suck defenders onto him and then create the space behind to use his pace and he hasn’t been able to do that at Liverpool. It’s going to be a sad day for Craig because he’s always been a Liverpool supporters but for the furthering of his own career I do feel he’s got to move on, and that’s the way he’s feeling as well.

The incident in Portugal prior to the Barcelona Champions League game pretty much sealed his fate but this is the first time anything like official confirmation has been forthcoming. Bellamy has been substituted early in recent games he’s started and was probably further disappointed today to find himself in the team, with Rafa planning to rest most of those players he wants to use on Tuesday against Chelsea. This outburst, if he agreed for it to be broadcast, will not help his reputation for being a moaner.

Robbie Fowler is predicted to also leave this summer, having been rarely used by Rafael Benítez this season. Striker Andriy Voronin will join the Reds on a free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer on a four-year deal. Peter Crouch is expected to stay at the club, along with Dirk Kuyt. If Bellamy and Fowler do leave, Rafa will be looking to sign at least one more striker this summer.

Continue reading BBC: Unhappy Bellamy wants out

Result: Portsmout 2 Liverpool 1

Barclays Premiership – Result

Portsmouth 2 Liverpool 1

Half-time: 2-0


Portsmouth: 1 James, 4 Johnson, 2 Primus, 3 Stefanovic, 6 Traore, 26 O'Neil, 10 Lauren, 22 Hughes, 14 Taylor (19 Kranjcar, 21), 27 Kanu (32 LuaLua, 71), 25 Mwaruwari (28 Davis, 90)
Unused subs: 15 Ashdown, 34 Mvuemba
Goals: Mwaruwari 27, Kranjcar 32
Booking: Hughes 44

Liverpool: 1 Dudek, 2 Arbeloa, 4 Hyypia, 29 Paletta, 48 Insua, 22 Sissoko (42 El Zhar, 83), 14 Alonso, 32 Zenden, 11 Gonzalez (16 Pennant, 67), 9 Fowler, 17 Bellamy
Unused subs: 30 Padelli, 18 Kuyt, 46 Hobbs
Goal: Hyypia 59
Booking: Alonso 45

Stats: (Portsmouth – Liverpool)
Possession: 48% – 52%
Shots on target: 7 – 4
Shots off target: 3 – 8
Corners: 8 – 7
Fouls: 12 – 7

Referee: P Walton

Attendance: 20,201

Continue reading Result: Portsmout 2 Liverpool 1

Red youngsters lift cup again

Liverpool’s youngsters have done the club proud for the second year in a row by once again lifting the FA Youth Cup. Congratulations to each of them, and of course to outgoing Academy director Steve Heighway.

Liverpool had lost the first leg 2-1 at Anfield and were being written off going into the second leg at Old Trafford. But the spirit of Liverpool’s youngsters is much like that of the first team – never say die. Away goals aren’t part of the rules in the Youth Cup, and when Robbie Threlfall scored what turned out to be the only goal in open play after 55 minutes Liverpool were level on aggregate. The game went to extra time and then penalties, Liverpool winning the shoot-out 4-3.

Threlfall couldn’t have picked a better way to banish the memories of his own goal in the first leg, and he scored one of the penalties too.

Almost 25,000 turned out to see the game, including George Gillet Jr. The Reds’ new co-owner will have been delighted with the result.

Liverpool collected the trophy for the third time in their history. Last season they beat United’s neighbours Manchester City in the final. The first time the club collected the trophy was in 1996, when Jamie Carragher picked up a winner’s medal.

Once again, congratulations to all involved in the success in any way.

Continue reading Red youngsters lift cup again

Reaction: Chelsea 1 Liverpool 0

José Mourinho was interviewed after the match, and despite the defeat his words will have raised a smile amongst many a Red. He started off in quite acceptable form, pointing out his view that a Chelsea goal at Anfield would see them through: “We normally score a goal and if we score a goal we have got a big chance of reaching the final.” Well one goal from Chelsea would require three in reply from Liverpool at Anfield, so there’s no real arguments there.

He went on “I’m happy with the players. I thought our performance was top class. We had so many chances and we finally scored with chance number six. I think Liverpool think they can overturn the result but we are winning 1-0 and have a good defensive team. The second half was different from the first, when we had so many chances. Liverpool attacked more and had a chance with a great shot from Steven Gerrard and great save by Petr Cech.”

TV replays showed an incident where Alvaro Arbeloa clearly handled the ball, clearly accidentally, clearly outside the box. A yard outside the box in fact. He hadn’t even been in the box, the whole passage of play took place outside the box. José was sulking: “I don’t understand how we don’t have penalties. When the penalties are so clear, I don’t understand. I go for the facts and it’s a fact. In the Champions League this season we have good referees and to be fair to Mr Merk he was comfortable. But the penalty is a big chance for us to be 2-0 and 2-0 is a completely different game and a different story. I feel it is not fair. They had their mistake but it was not a penalty. I hope after the second leg we are not crying and thinking again about a big decision. Two years ago we were. I hope we are not looking back on the penalty.”

It brightened up a disappointing evening to hear that kind of comment. It was a fact he says! The fact is he claimed the incident a yard outside the box had happened inside the box, and that it was a “fact”, and then compared that incident to his “fact” from two years ago that Luis Garcia’s goal had not crossed the line. The “fact” is that this comment makes him look a bit of an idiot really. He’ll no doubt find some way to put some spin on what he said, if the media bother to press him on the matter, but there’s no getting away from the fact that his mouth is running away with him. Is he under pressure more than he cares to admit? For all his boasting of being still in three competitions, there is of course no guarantee they’ll win any of those three. Roman Abramovich won’t be pleased if they end the season with “just” the Carling Cup. José mocked Rafa Benítez’s record as Liverpool boss by claiming he’d have been sacked by Chelsea if he’d had the same record. Rafa won a European Cup, an FA Cup, the European Super Cup and the Charity Shield in his first two seasons. Mourinho of course won two league titles, a League Cup and a Charity Shield in his first two seasons. He’s won the League Cup again this season, but that’s all so far. Has he been warned by his club’s owner? And has he realised his personal conduct in the past couple of seasons has made him very unattractive to fans of most clubs? He’s not unemployable, but Chelsea is probably the only place he’ll get a job with a decent transfer budget.

It was strange to hear those comments from a winning manager. Such bitterness (and inaccuracy) might be excused for a losing coach, but Mourinho had just won and could hardly have asked for a better result. The former translator likes to try and play mind games, but it looks like he’s lost his.

Rafa was excellent in his response to Mourinho’s comments: “If he says it was a penalty, I am sure it was a penalty.”

Mourinho had also said: “In two days’ time Liverpool play Portsmouth and it is not an important game for them.” Don’t worry, he did mean three days’ time, the game on the South coast isn’t on Friday. Again it came across as Mourinho getting his excuses in early just in case the second-leg on Tuesday doesn’t go his way. Rafa’s response: “ “We are playing against Portsmouth and someone says that is not important but we will try to win.” Of course it’s unlikely that Rafa will put out his strongest team for that game.

As for last night’s game, Rafa said: “The game was made up of two different parts. The first half wasn’t good for us; they had chances but it wasn’t because they were playing well, it was because we were giving the ball away. We needed to be a bit more compact and were doing foolish things in the first-half. The first-half we were not controlling it at all, but the second was a little bit better.”

Chelsea played on the counter last night and with a one-goal advantage going into next week’s game Rafa knows what to expect: “In the second leg we have to be mindful that Chelsea like to counterattack. We spoke before the game about being careful because we know they like to play on the counter-attack, but in that first half we were doing the wrong things and making the wrong decisions.”
Rafa brought Crouch on for Bellamy after five minutes of the restart: “In the second half we had a target man and we played better. We had much more control of the game and possibilities to score.  Now we look forward to Anfield and the chance to play in front of our own fans. We have confidence because we know we’re a good team, we know we can score goals and we know we can beat them. We’ll need to be careful because we know how dangerous they can be on the counter-attack.”

The media like to ask the managers of every club in games like this who they think is favourite. Rafa said: “I don’t know who’s favourite. I don’t know what each side’s chances are of going through now, I just know we can still do it. We need to win against a good team that likes to counter-attack. But we have the supporters there. We want to win and the last result between the teams gives us a good feeling.”
Rafa also felt that Mourinho’s pre-match moans about Didier Drogba being one card away from a suspension might have affected the referee’s decision making: “It’s difficult when decisions are going against you. Drogba is a good player and he had a good game, but usually decisions go against the striker in some of the situations we saw tonight.  When people talk before the game then maybe it puts some pressure on the referee.”

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt tried to be positive after the game: “It obviously isn’t the result that we wanted, but it’s still only half-time in the tie. We would have liked to have won or at least drawn the game but the result is what it is and we just have to make sure we score first at Anfield.”
Again the Anfield crowd, in particular the Kop, are being relied upon to lift the players to an important victory: “The supporters at Anfield are very special and they won’t need any encouraging to make the atmosphere incredible on Tuesday night. European nights at Anfield are like nothing else and we have to make sure we produce a special result. With the supporters behind us, we have a chance to change this result.”

Continue reading Reaction: Chelsea 1 Liverpool 0

Teams: Chelsea v Liverpool

The teams have been announced for Liverpool's Champions League semi-final first-leg against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tonight.

Rafa looks to have gone for a 4-4-2 formation, with Bellamy and Kuyt both starting. Zenden looks set to play on the left of midfield, Gerrard on the right, flanking Mascherano and Alonso. Arbeloa and Riise will play at full-back with Carragher and Agger in the middle. Pepe Reina is of course in goal. Rafa doesn't seem to be planning a defensive approach.

Despite protestations from Jose Mourinho, his team is hardly a reserve one, but now it's time for the talking to be put on hold – at least until after this first leg.

Chelsea: 1 Cech, 20 Ferreira, 6 Carvalho, 26 Terry, 3 Cole, 4 Makelele, 10 Cole, 12 Mikel, 8 Lampard, 7 Shevchenko, 11 Drogba
Subs: 23 Cudicini, 9 Boulahrouz, 14 Geremi, 18 Bridge, 19 Diarra, 21 Kalou, 24 Wright-Phillips

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 2 Arbeloa, 23 Carragher, 5 Agger, 6 Riise, 8 Gerrard, 14 Alonso, 20 Mascherano, 32 Zenden, 18 Kuyt, 17 Bellamy
Subs: 1 Dudek, 4 Hyypia, 11 Gonzalez, 15 Crouch, 16 Pennant, 22 Sissoko, 29 Paletta

Referee: Markus Merk

Kick-off: 7.45pm BST

Continue reading Teams: Chelsea v Liverpool

Mourinho wants sympathy for Chelsea’s plight

It makes most Liverpool fans shudder to think that Jose Mourinho was one of the names linked with the coach’s job at Anfield two years ago after Gerard Houllier left the post. To put it bluntly, he’s just not the type of person who would fit in at Anfield. Liverpool fans would not stand for the arrogance he shows. There’s a method to what seems to be his madness, but it’s a method that would be unacceptable to most Reds.

For the third season in a row Liverpool face Chelsea in a major semi-final. And once again Jose Mourinho is using the media in an attempt to get some kind of advantage. Although this time it seems to be about more than just trying to unsettle the Reds – it’s almost as if he’s getting his excuses in early. Does Jose really fear the Liverpool team of 2007 as much as it sounds like he does?

First of all he claims Liverpool have had it easy for the past few weeks, meaning they are fresh and ready for the tie. He claims Chelsea have had it tough this past few weeks, with them being in the hunt – supposedly – for the league and also still being in the FA Cup. He says: “We are in a very similar situation to when we played Liverpool two years ago. Liverpool then were just playing for Champions League and this season they are playing only for Champions League. Two seasons ago when we played them, we were fighting to be Premiership champions and this season we are fighting to be champions again. The first season we had a lot of injuries and now we have a lot of injuries and a suspension.”

So Jose wants sympathy? Two seasons ago, like this season, Liverpool were still playing for a top-four finish. It may not be as attractive as aiming for the title, but nevertheless it’s an important target to aim for. The Reds missed out on that two years ago, but even this season they only reached that target on Saturday. The fact Rafa has been able to field changing line-ups in recent weeks is not down to a lack of importance of those games, it’s down to the fact that he has planned his squad to have as much quality in depth as he can afford. Liverpool have injuries too – Mourinho’s 2005 nightmare Luis Garcia for example – but Rafa’s planning has ensured that he has cover. Mourinho’s money has all gone on big names and has created a much smaller squad. As for suspensions – well that’s something we’ll come back to.

If his performance at Anfield in the league tie was anything to go by, Chelsea should be pleased that Michael Ballack has been ruled out for tonight’s match. Mourinho also claimed that Ricardo Carvalho was still doubtful although he did train yesterday. Michael Essien is suspended for tonight, but after being arrested at the weekend for alleged drink-driving there’s no guarantee he’d have been playing anyway.

One player missing through injury is Arjen Robben, who is renowned for play-acting and got Pepe Reina sent off and suspended for three games last season after his embarrassing theatrical dive to the ground at Stamford Bridge. Another player missing from past meetings is Eidur Gudjohnsen, another player who feigned injury to get a Liverpool player suspended. He’s now at Barcelona, but his dive in the first leg in 2005 ensured Xabi Alonso would miss the return leg. At the time Liverpool’s squad was smaller than today and that was an important player to lose. Gudjohnsen taunted Alonso after he’d seen he’d been successful in getting him booked, but of course Xabi had the last laugh that season.

Did Mourinho ask his players to get Xabi booked that season? Well it’s the kind of thing that crosses his mind, as he laughingly said yesterday: “It wouldn't surprise me if tomorrow they chase Drogba for 90 minutes, trying to get him suspended for the second game. So even on this they have different conditions than us.” Of course that kind of comment gives the referee a problem ahead of the game, although referee Marcus Merk should be strong enough not to let such comments cloud his judgement.

Two years ago these kinds of comments might have riled Liverpool’s staff, players and supporters. Like his infamous “shushing” gesture towards Liverpool fans did at Cardiff in 2005. These days it causes a certain amount of laughter. Jose likes to hear people laugh with him, but this kind of things makes people laugh at him.

Mourinho went on (and on) about his the awful situation his side have found themselves in of late: “We can say that our opponent has been preparing this game for a long, long time and we are preparing since yesterday. So we are as well equipped as we were two years ago but in football, you never know. Two years ago we couldn't reach the Final.”

As well as including a large squad as part of his plans, Rafa also trains his players in a way that will see them through the season. In fact this has been considered a possible reason for some why the Reds were so lacklustre earlier on in the season – they were being overtrained! Whether that’s true or not as an excuse for those defeats is uncertain, but tiredness does not seem to be showing in any of the performances put in of late. Not the case at Chelsea though, where Jose seems to be having troubles: “It is obvious that tiredness is important. In this moment of the season, legs and power are absolutely crucial. In this moment, many, many things are decided by that and not by the qualities players have shown during the season.”

Jose’s comments are also designed to try and belittle Liverpool. Chelsea have won the Carling Cup, and are in the final of the FA Cup. They do seem to have thrown away their chances of winning the league but there’s no argument that at this moment in time they’ve had a very successful season. So Jose tries a double-blast at Liverpool by claiming that they’ve now become favourites for the tie, because Chelsea have just too much on: “Chelsea and Man United are the two teams in Europe living on the one side, a happy moment because we are in every competition. On the other side, we are living a very difficult moment to face all we have to face. So if you ask me about the favourites tomorrow, I don't like very much the word, but if you push me, at this moment, I would say Liverpool should be the favourite.”

Mourinho went into more detail about why Chelsea have had it so tough: “In the year of 2007, we have played 27 matches when mentally every game is high responsibility. Of course Liverpool have also played 21, 22 matches but they rest players. Gerrard didn't play the last game. Do you think Gerrard and Lampard have the same conditions to compete one against one against each other tomorrow? I don't think it will be a fair fight because the conditions are different.” Many Reds would argue that a fight between Lampard and Gerrard could never be fair, because Gerrard is by far the better player.

Rafa himself has admitted that his squad are perfect for knockout football, and has told the club’s new owners as much in the hope they will help him to turn the club into title contenders once again. Mourinho has spotted this too: “Liverpool are a great team in knockout competitions, we have to praise them for that. But if you only play one competition for half of the season, you arrive into this crucial part of the season in a great situation for this.” So is Jose now trying to say Liverpool got themselves knocked out of the two domestic trophies on purpose, after also deliberately performing badly in the first half of the league season, just to save themselves for the Champions League? He probably doesn’t know what he’s saying himself!
There was even a dig at Rafa’s record since arriving at Anfield. He was asked if he thought he’d still be Chelsea boss if he’d had the same record at Chelsea as Rafa had at Anfield: “I think you should ask Mr. Buck (Chelsea chairman), but three years without a Premiership, I don't think so!”

And then it was back to how easy Liverpool have had it: “The game before they played Barcelona, Liverpool was one week in Portugal, preparing the game. In that week we played three matches. We have had two cup games against Tottenham, extra-time against Blackburn and two tough games against Valencia – we didn't play against PSV.”

It is comical, and it made me laugh, but perhaps that’s the idea. There is no way that either manager can claim this will be an easy tie to win. On their day either side are capable of winning with quite a large margin, especially if one side has to start chasing the game. Jose finally admitted this: “It is a completely different power to fight, but if you ask me can we win, I say yes. We think we can win.”

And despite all of his claims about being underdogs and too tired to compete, that is the truth about how Jose feels tonight's match will go.

Continue reading Mourinho wants sympathy for Chelsea’s plight

Balague: Fans’ singing helped Rafa stay

Spanish journalist Guillem Balague has written about how Rafael Benítez was convinced to stay on at Anfield thanks to two factors – finally being able to tell the new owners just how far Liverpool were away from winning a league title, and the unreserved support shown to him by the singing fans at the Anfield Champions League quarter final against PSV Eindhoven.

Liverpool fans were singing the Rafa Benítez song, sung to the tune of La Bamba. And they kept on and on singing it, making sure the boss knew how highly-thought of he was by the majority of fans. Balague timed it at 13 minutes in all, and although he says Rafa didn’t realise how long it was sung for he knew it was being sung: “He was aware that the fans were trying to establish a rapport by continuously repeating their revised version of La Bamba,” writes Balague, in the Times newspaper.

This singing came in the wake of another rumour linking Real Madrid with a move for Rafa, their former youth coach and a lifelong fan. Real later denied ever making an official approach, but with Rafa’s contacts and friends in the Spanish game there’s no need for an official approach.

Balague writes: “They are sending a message, he must have thought. That could be the only explanation because the lack of intensity in the match did not deserve such a homage. Rumours about Real Madrid’s interest in the Liverpool manager had forced the Kop to establish a new declaration of love and faith towards Benítez, which was rewarded soon after by the Spaniard.”

Balague also writes about how when Benítez finally met knew owners  George Gillett Jr and Tom Hicks after the Arsenal game, and again a few days later, the talks “stopped a mini-crisis”.

Continue reading Balague: Fans’ singing helped Rafa stay

Xabi: semi-final will be difficult

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso says Liverpool are cautiously confident about their chances of progressing to the final of the Champions League at the expense of Chelsea. The first leg of the semi-final is at Stamford Bridge tomorrow, the latest battle in the long series of meetings between the two sides since Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benítez took up their posts at each club. Liverpool’s last two seasons have featured semi-finals against Chelsea – last season in the FA Cup and the previous season in the Champions League – and Liverpool have won both times before lifting the trophy in the final. Xabi says: “Let’s hope that history will repeat itself and we will claim another semi-final win over Chelsea. This is our strong intention and we believe we can do it over two legs. Chelsea will be very difficult opponents in the two games, but facing them gives us a special kind of motivation.”

Liverpool’s Chief Executive Rick Parry claims that Liverpool’s absolute minimum requirement out of a season is to qualify for the Champions League and on Saturday Liverpool achieved that with their win over Manchester City assuring them of a top-four finish. However that requirement really is the absolute minimum, because Liverpool want to win things: “Our maximum priority this year is to win the Champions League. Our objective is to try to win one competition, at least, every season and this is our last chance,” says Xabi. With new owners that minimum requirement may change: “Some people are suggesting we are under extra pressure now because of the takeover, but we can live with that pressure,” says the Spanish midfielder.

Xabi was asked if he felt that the current squad was better than the one that lifted the trophy for the fifth time in the club’s history in 2005: “I think that the present Liverpool team is better than the 2005 side because it has more options. On top of that, two years ago was the first season at the club for several players and for Rafa Benitez too, and we are more settled now. We have grown together and improved, but that improvement is still not a guarantee that we will be champions again this year.”

Continue reading Xabi: semi-final will be difficult

Result and reaction: Liverpool 2 Wigan 0

Barclays Premiership, Saturday 22nd April 2007

Liverpool 2 Wigan 0

Half-time: 1-0


Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher (Agger, 73), Hyypia, Riise, Pennant, Alonso, Zenden (Gerrard, 70), Gonzalez, Kuyt, Crouch (Bellamy, 63)
Unused subs: Dudek, Mascherano
Bookings: Carragher 11, Alonso 63
Goals: Kuyt 30, 68

Wigan: Filan, Boyce, Jackson, De Zeeuw, Baines, Scharner, Taylor (Camara, 46), Skoko, Landzaat (Aghahowa, 70), Kilbane, Heskey (Folan, 64)
Unused subs: Pollitt, Granqvist
Bookings: Scharner 72, De Zeeuw 74


Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez was delighted that he’d achieved the target for the season of a top-four finish and a place in the qualifiers for the Champions League next season. And he’d done it without risking too many players ahead of the semi-final first leg of this season’s Champions League on Wednesday: “This was the ideal situation. We wanted a good game, a good result, to score a few and control the game. We wanted to rest some players like Steven Gerrard and we didn’t want any injuries. In the end it was an almost perfect day for us because we have no injuries.

“It was important with three games still to play to be sure of qualifying for the Champions League next season, and we have done that. we can now concentrate on the Champions League semi-final We have been in the Champions League for the last three seasons and we want to make sure of it again.

“It was hard against a team playing that way, but the key was to keep possession, keep passing the ball at pace and find the gaps. We had to be patient but we controlled the game and I am pleased for Kuyt. He always works hard for the team and he is a very good finisher as he showed with his two goals.”
Wigan manager Paul Jewell’s concerns are all about avoiding relegation, but he admitted that he never expected to get a win the game, but he was fairly pleased with the outcome all things considered: “Liverpool strolled through the game, they were on top from start to finish so let’s not try to kid ourselves. We can’t come here and compete with Liverpool on a player-by-player basis, we have to play exceptionally well on the day and they have to play badly, but today we didn’t play well enough with the ball.”

“They cruised it when they had the ball. It’s 16 times we have played a top-four side since we got promotion and we still haven’t had a win. They are not really in our league even though we are in the same division.

“We came with a game plan to try and frustrate Liverpool and quieten the crowd and it probably wasn’t very petty to watch. It was a poor game and we never looked like scoring although we then gave a bad goal away and we then had to come out of our shells a bit. But we are playing for big stakes, and goal difference might come into it, and even when we were 2-0 down I did not want to open up too much because if we ended up getting four or five past us, it might prove vital.

“We never had a shot first half, and I do not like playing that way to be perfectly honest, but I didn’t think we could come here and attack Liverpool with the quality they have at this stage of the season. It was always going to be difficult coming to Anfield.”

Stats: (Liverpool – Wigan)

Possession: 62% – 38%
Shots on target: 12 – 3
Shots off target: 12 – 1
Corners: 13 – 3
Fouls: 10 – 10

Attendance: 44,003.

Referee: Mike Riley (West Yorkshire)

Continue reading Result and reaction: Liverpool 2 Wigan 0