More to come from Morientes

Fernando Morientes was delighted to hit the back of the net in Tuesday night’s Champions League win over Anderlecht, bringing to an end an unhappy period in the current season. Fernando hadn’t scored since August, meaning pundits were having a great time asking what had become of the Spaniard. The fact he’d spent time out injured since scoring in August was glossed over. Morientes was still starting to feel the pressure though, and he told Sky of his relief at scoring again: "I needed a goal like that. I am happy with how the game went but now I need to get a run of five consecutive goals to get my sharpness in the area back. I can’t understand my bad fortune in The Premiership – what with injuries and the goal drought people have not seen the real Morientes yet. It has hurt me."

Morientes was clearly struggling for fitness last season after joining Liverpool in January. Real Madrid had rarely used him in the first half of that season and he’d not got the match fitness he’d have liked. Reds boss Rafael Benitez has not lost patience with his compatriate though, always feeling that once Morientes got the service he needed he’d start banging them in. As Morientes says: "Benitez has always given me his total confidence and I want to pay that back with goals. I am a striker and I was bought by Liverpool to score goals."

The goal he scored on Tuesday was excellent, taken with all of the confidence of a striker in form. That Morientes had been feeling the pressure so much makes it an even more special goal. Special or not, Morientes is determined to get more goals now this season: "I don’t have a set target, but I want to get at least 12 or 15 goals in all competitions."

This weekend Liverpool face Aston Villa, and fitness permitting will be up against their own former striker Milan Baros. Baros played some excellent football during his time at Anfield, but he seemed to be unwilling to accept the rotation policy put in place by Benitez. In the end it seemed one quote too many had been made in the press by the Czech striker and Benitez let him go. The combination of a former striker with something to prove and the fact that Liverpool’s domestic form has been poor could make for a difficult game this weekend. In terms of that domestic form Morientes can’t see what makes them struggle so much: "The difference between Liverpool in Europe and domestically is abysmal. I don’t know what causes it, but in The Premiership we are playing very nervously and have problems scoring goals."

Rafa Benitez has been getting some stick this season, mainly from the phone-in brigade, but Morientes feels this is unfair: "People should not question Benitez, he is one of the best coaches in the world and I would ask for people to have a little patience with him. I am convinced that results will come and he will achieve his objectives. Our aim is to take things game by game, things are going well in Europe but the next game against Real Betis will not be easy."

Meanwhile Ferndando’s team-mate Jamie Carragher had some more encouraging words for the Spanish striker if he needed them. Carra is a player that studies the game as well as playing it, spending most Sundays with the house to himself to watch every game he can find on the tv, English, Spanish, Italian – whatever he can find. He already knew a lot about Morientes before he signed for the Reds, and says that training and playing alongside the Spaniard only confirms how great a player he thought he was. Carra says: "There are some players who sign for top clubs and you watch them and wonder if they’re good enough to make it, but that’s never been the case with Morientes at Liverpool. He’s a class act and you can see what skill and quality he has. We see how good his touch is in training every day and it’s just been a case of him taking it into the games."

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Carra said that the biggest problem the player has faced is injuries rather than the physical nature of the English game: "The big question has been whether he can adapt to English football, but the real reason it’s not happened sooner is really down to bad luck with injuries, as far as I’m concerned. I think a lot of the things which have been said about Morientes have been unfair because his biggest problem has been those injuries."

Carra is intelligent enough to see through the superficial views of the pundits, and points out more positives for Fernando: "It’s not true to say he hasn’t done anything. Last season he scored some cracking goals, including one against Charlton, and his first half performance in the Merseyside derby helped us win the game. The signs have been there before he can adapt to English football, but every time he’s looked sharp he’s picked up a knock. The key for him is to get a run of games under his belt and then he’d make a massive difference."

Carragher knows too that one of the frustrations for Liverpool fans is that in Fowler and OWen, Liverpool themselves produced two of the best strikers the modern game has seen. Liverpool fans want to see replacements for that type of player, but Carra says Morientes is a different type of striker: "His record at the top level is exceptional, but he’s never been what you’d call an out-and-out goalscorer like Michael Owen or Robbie Fowler. He’s a more all-round player who likes to play off defenders, so expecting him to tumble in lot of goals every week wasn’t realistic."

Carra feels the key now for Morientes is to avoid injury long enough to increase his confidence levels: "If he can get a run of games going I’m sure he’ll score plenty and the goal he scored will do his confidence the world of good. He’s probably put the most difficult chance of all away, but now he’s got one, hopefully a few more aren’t far away."
Continue reading More to come from Morientes

Jestrovic denies racist comments

When Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen showed a red card to Anderlecht substitute Nenad Jestrovic it seemed as though he’d been a little harsh. Nobody in the ground seemed to see what had happened, and Jestrovic’s team-mates surrounded the referee demanding to know why he’d been told to walk.

With the referee well-known in England for his red cards for the then-Manchester United midfielder David Beckham for England and more recently for Wayne Rooney for his sarcastic applause, it seemed that the Dane would be adding another “debatable” red card to his repertoire. However this all changed after the game when the official revealed the reason for the dismissal – the Serbian player had allegedly made a racist comment towards Momo Sissoko.

Liverpool were already in control of the game before the player – who’d only been on the field five minutes – was sent off. Afterwards Jestrovic was claiming innocence and that he had been abusive, but not in a racist way. Jestrovic said: “I can’t understand why I was sent off. I approached the referee after the game and he said it was for an obscenity.” Pressed further to explain his side of the story, Jestrovic said: “He called me a son of a bitch so I told him to f*** off. The ref showed me a red for that.”

It’s unlikely that an experienced referee like Nielson would send a player off merely for swearing, and after the game he confirmed that in his view the obscenities were racist and aimed at Sissoko – although he didn’t actually go into detail over the actual wording. TV replays show that Jestrovic clearly said more than the two words he’d claimed to make, and according to today’s Daily Mirror newspaper, sources are claiming that he actually said, “F*** off, you black *******.”

Attempts within the English game to stamp out racism in football are certainly ahead of the rest of the continent, but the emphasis tends to be on abuse from the crowd rather than players on the pitch. UEFA may yet decide that Jestrovic will receive further punishment.

Jestrovic’s boss, Anderlecht manager Frank Vercauteren said that he believed it could well have been a racist comment: “Yes, it is possible it was racist abuse. I don’t like it but it happens a lot in games.” Vercauteren also did not elaborate on what was said, but tried to give his player the benefit of the doubt – for now at least: “I do not want to explain it in detail, but I can say that the words and language used you do hear 50 times in an average game. Sissoko insulted Jestrovic and he replied in kind and the referee said he heard Jestrovic and sent him off.”

Vercauteren continued: “It is something you hear often. We will wait and see what the referee’s report says. Maybe what is written may not be correct and I want to see what is supposed to have been said. I will wait to see what is written in the report. I have to believe my player but I still say what was said is something that is heard a lot on the pitch. If it was racial abuse it is something I cannot condone.”

Vercauteren said that Sissoko should have joined Jestrovic for an early bath: “The other player should also have been sent off as well. He said something similar. Okay, these things should not be said, but I do not intend to punish my player further. He has been punished enough and anything I do will only punish the team.”

Rafa Benitez was interviewed before he’d had time to find out his own player’s side of the story, he said: “I have not spoken to Sissoko about what happened, so I do not know what was said.”

Continue reading Jestrovic denies racist comments

Sami considers ending Finland career

Reds defender Sami Hyypia is thinking about quitting international football to concentrate entirely on his Anfield career.

Sami is now 32 and after Finland failed to qualify for the World Cup he’s no more competitive internationals this season. Many players have found retiring from international football has helped increase their careers at a top level in club football. With so many international dates over the course of a season it would allow Sami to be travelling and playing less.

Sami says: “The next qualifiers don’t start until August so I have plenty of time to think about it. I will take a little break from the international scene and see how I feel. When you have fewer international games it can help at club level, so it will be good for me and the team that I will feel fresher for Liverpool.”

Rafa Benitez has already made it clear he wants another quality centre-back to allow him to rest Sami and team-mate Jamie Carragher more often.

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CL Result: Liverpool 3 Anderlecht 0

UEFA Champions League Group G Result:

Liverpool 3 – 0 Anderlecht
Morientes 34,
Garcia 61,
Cisse 89

(Half-time: 1 – 0)
Liverpool: J Reina, S Finnan, J Carragher, S Hyypia, J Riise, S Gerrard (H Kewell, 78) , X Alonso, M Sissoko, Luis Garcia, F Morientes (B Zenden, 52) , P Crouch (D Cisse, 72)
Other Subs: J Dudek, D Hamann, Josemi, S Warnock
Bookings: M Sissoko 21

S Proto, M Zewlakow, R Juhasz, H Tihinen, C Wilhelmsson, Y Vanderhaeghe (G Pujol, 70) , M Deman, B Goor, S Akin (N Jestrovic, 70) , P Zetterberg, M Mpenza (W Baseggio, 82)
Other Subs: D Zitka, O Deschacht, B Hasi, L Traore
Sent off: N Jestrovic 75

Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)

Other Group G result: Real Betis 1 Chelsea 0

Continue reading CL Result: Liverpool 3 Anderlecht 0

Champions League team news: Liverpool v Anderlecht

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Gerrard, Alonso, Sissoko, Luis Garcia, Morientes, Crouch.
Subs: Dudek, Kewell, Cisse, Hamann, Josemi, Warnock, Zenden.

Anderlecht: Proto, Zewlakow, Juhasz, Tihinen, Wilhelmsson, Vanderhaeghe, Deman, Goor, Akin, Zetterberg, Mpenza. Subs: Zitka, Deschacht, Jestrovic, Baseggio, Pujol, Hasi, Traore. Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)
Continue reading Champions League team news: Liverpool v Anderlecht

Benitez: Win in Europe to help League game

After all of the recent coverage of Liverpool’s performances in domestic competition, tonight sees the team back in action in Europe. In making comparisons between the two levels and styles of the game, a lot was said about how good Liverpool are in Europe. As European Champions that goes without saying, but Rafael Benitez knows he must be careful not to let his players go into tonight’s match thinking that victory is a foregone conclusion. Rafa wants victory though – if both Liverpool and Chelsea win tonight then Liverpool are guaranteed progress into the last 16 and the knockout phase. That, says Rafa, means he can put more emphasis on the Premiership: “The important thing is to win and then concentrate on other things.”

Rafa was asked what the difference was between the two levels: “The Premiership is physical, while you have to use your brain and muscle together in the Champions League.” It’s certainly true that some of the tactics used in the Premiership would never be tolerated on the continent, but unless FIFA and UEFA decide to step in and demand consistency that’s not likely to change. Liverpool need to get used to that, and if they perform as they did on Saturday they’ve every chance of getting used to it. Rafa says that the reason Liverpool are doing better in Europe is very simple – they are hitting the back of the net more: “We are playing better in the Champions League because we are scoring goals and winning games. We try to play good football in the Premiership as well as in Europe, but the results are what matter.”

The scoring of goals by the Liverpool strikers – or lack of it – is the other main topic on the media agenda right now. One of those strikers is Fernando Morientes, who has actually played on five league games this season, starting four, and yet to score. He started off doing well, when Liverpool were playing in qualifiers for the Champions League. He had scored two goals and had earned a recall to the Spanish squad. An injury whilst with Spain meant he missed games and in turn the sharpness he was starting to show. According to Rafa the sharpness will be back soon, and Moro is trying hard to get onto the score-sheet: “He is an intelligent player and, when he is fit, Fernando can play to a very good level. Sometimes it is difficult to see the confidence in a player, but I know that he is trying to impress. During his time at Madrid, he scored a lot of goals, but he was playing alongside Raul and that is another thing that helps when you are a striker because he always scored and took the pressure off the other forwards.”

Morientes was left in the wilderness at Real last season, and by the time he came to Anfield in the January transfer window he had lost his fitness after having not been used by Madrid. Madrid wanted to sell him, but with a lot of clubs in for him they were trying to persuade him to join other clubs than Liverpool for a higher transfer fee. Morientes stood his ground, and his salary at Anfield is less than it could have been elsewhere, which says a lot about the player, as Rafa explained: “When Morientes joined Liverpool he had a choice of clubs who were prepared to pay him more money. He could have joined Lyon or Monaco, but he wanted to come to Liverpool. He took a pay cut and said he would only be paid in full if he won trophies and scored goals and was given bonuses. That shows everyone the hunger he has to succeed.”

Morientes is suffering from the reputation he brought with him. Expectations are high, but he’s only now getting a real chance to play at full fitness for any length of time. Rafa says that he’s working hard to live up to his reputation: “He has a big reputation and maybe he is trying to start again at Liverpool, but everyone was happy with him on Saturday. He worked very hard and was very unlucky not to score. If you talk to Morientes, there is no doubt how much he wants to succeed at Liverpool.”

Morientes is a hero-in-waiting at Anfield – he’s waiting for more service, but with Kewell getting back to fitness and Zenden showing good form he’s more chance of service from the left. On the right there’s the option of Steven Gerrard, and so the Spaniard could be knocking them in for fun soon. Rafa was delighted to see that the Reds supporters knew how much his countryman had tried on Saturday: “The fans responded to his performance on Saturday when they applauded him off the pitch. They could see he worked hard and that will help his confidence.”

Another compatriot of Rafa’s is Luis Garcia, and he was also lined up for praise from his boss: “A lot of people say Luis gives the ball away too much, but no-one could say that on Saturday. He had a very good game and used the ball in the right way.”

Continue reading Benitez: Win in Europe to help League game