Blackburn v Reds – confirmed teams

Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has made three changes to his team for today's clash with Blackburn compared to the side that beat Watford on Saturday.

It's hard at this stage to tell what kind of formation he has in mind, with three centre-backs and two full-backs selected. Left-winger Mark Gonzalez is back in the starting line-up too as is striker Peter Crouch. Luis Garcia, Jermaine Pennant and Dirk Kuyt all drop to the bench.

Friedel, Emerton, Todd, Ooijer, Neill, Bentley, Savage, Kerimoglu, Pedersen, Nonda, McCarthy
Subs: Brown, Mokoena, Henchoz, Derbyshire, Gray

Reina, Finnan, Hyypia, Agger, Carragher, Riise, Gerrard, Gonzalez, Alonso, Crouch, Bellamy.
Subs: Dudek, Garcia, Aurelio, Pennant, Kuyt.

Continue reading Blackburn v Reds – confirmed teams

Preview: Blackburn v Reds

Liverpool travel to Ewood Park this afternoon for a Boxing Day clash with Blackburn but if past encounters are anything to go by Rovers won't be showing any festive spirit to the Reds.

The Blackburn defender Lucas Neill has been particularly disliked by Reds fans in past encounters, but could actually be making his final appearance at Ewood before joining the Reds in the January transfer window. Liverpool tried right up to the end of the August window to sign the player, but after losing Craig Bellamy for a low price thanks to a release clause in his contract Mark Hughes didn't want to see any player go at a cut-price. That looks set to be out of his control soon though – Neill can negotiate directly with the Reds from Monday for a summer move, and it seems Rovers have decided they'll let him go in January to enable them to at least get a nominal fee.

Liverpool have got long-term midfield casualties still missing in Momo Sissoko, Bolo Zenden and Harry Kewell, but otherwise have a very strong squad available. They reported minor leg injuries for both captain Steven Gerrard and scorer Craig Bellamy after Saturday's win over Watford, but in both cases they are expected to be fit for selection. Gerrard is unlikely to miss out today, but Rafa's rotation policy could see Bellamy or his strike partner Dirk Kuyt rested in place of Peter Crouch.

Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy will be available again after his suspension. His fellow striker Shabani Nonda has a hip problem but isn't expected to miss out, and defender Zurab Khizanishvili could return from a groin injury.

Blackburn have three former Reds available to face their old club – goalkeeper Brad Friedel and defenders Stephane Henchoz and Dominic Matteo.

There's also a milestone for one of Liverpool most unsung heroes, full-back Steve Finnan. The Irish international will make his 100th League start for the Reds assuming he's selected.

Liverpool won the same fixture last season, with Robbie Fowler getting the only goal of the game. The reverse fixture this season saw the two sides share the points, with Craig Bellamy scoring the Liverpool goal against his old club, back in October.

This will be the thirteenth time that the two sides have met in the Premiership at Blackburn, and so far the honours are shared equally – four Blackburn wins, four Liverpool wins, four draws. In the league itself the spread is 24-14-20.

The gap between the two sides going into today's game is 15 points, Liverpool in 3rd place on 34 points and Blackburn down in 17th on 19 points. Liverpool need to be wary of Blackburn's desire to put their 6-2 hammering to Arsenal on Saturday behind them.

Rafa Benitez is aware of that and predicts a difficult game: "This will be a tough game against a good team with a good manager in Mark Hughes." He thinks that Blackburn's current league position isn't really and indication of where they should be, and feels the UEFA Cup run they've been on has caused them some league problems: "It is difficult when a team is playing in the Premier League and the cups. I have some experience of this. When we are playing Champions League and then you have to play the league it is not easy for the players. I remember when we were 11th in the table people thought we were struggling in the league, but if they win two games in a row they will be in the middle or the top half of the table."
Rafa always follows up any comments on other teams with a reminder that he's only really bothered about the Reds, and that was different looking forward to today's game: "My only concern though is Liverpool and I am happy with my team's form and we have gone many games without conceding now and that shows the whole team is playing well. We have balance and we do not give opponents many chances."
Rafa hinted that Craig Bellamy is unlikely to be the one to make way if he does decide to rotate this afternoon, hoping he's going to score the winner against his old club: "Bellamy is playing really well for us now and if he plays I hope he can score the winning goal for us, enthused the Reds boss."

Bellamy's former boss Mark Hughes is as much a fan of Bellamy as Rafa is, and was sorry to see him leave. He feels Bellamy can join the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush as a legend at Anfield: "He can become a Liverpool legend, he can do that. If he went to a Barcelona, a Milan or a Madrid he would have an impact because of what he has – a great work ethic as well as great ability. Sometimes his personality grates on some people but as a professional, as someone who comes in to try to better himself every day, you can't fault Craig."

Bellamy's "moaning" attitude does upset some, but it shows he cares about winning. Mark Hughes says this is hard for some to understand, and that people who don't know him criticise him unnecessarily: "If you don't know him you don't understand the desire he has to be the best player he can be. I don't think he should ever be knocked for that. He did an excellent job for us at Blackburn. We embraced him and he embraced us and what we were about, that's why it worked. Captaining his country was also important to Craig. He likes to be recognised as one of the more important, senior players."

Kick-off is at 3pm and because it's not a Saturday TV coverage is allowed – although Sky have opted to make this one pay-per-view in the UK.

Continue reading Preview: Blackburn v Reds

Result and reaction: Liverpool 2 Watford 0

Barclays Premiership Result.

Saturday December 23rd 2006

Liverpool 2 Watford 0

Half-time: 0-0

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise, Pennant (Gonzalez, 65), Gerrard, Alonso, Luis Garcia, Bellamy (Crouch, 82), Kuyt (Aurelio, 90).
Unused subs: Dudek, Hyypia.
Goals: Bellamy 47, Alonso 88.

Watford: Foster, Mariappa, DeMerit, Shittu, Stewart, Smith, Mahon, Bouazza, Bangura (Francis, 82), Young, Henderson (McNamee, 60).
Unused subs: Lee, Doyley, Priskin.

Attendance: 42,807
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).


Reds boss Rafa Benítez: “We deserved to win the game but they were really physical and worked really hard and it was difficult at times to find space. In the first half we created some chances but I told the players at half-time to play on the ground a lot more and it would just take one pass to get a goal. That is what happened for us when Bellamy scored.
“We know Bellamy has a lot of quality and he is playing well now for us. He is showing the sort of quality we bought him for. He has such pace and can get behind defences, while setting up chances for colleagues. When I signed him it was the idea to have him running behind defenders and creating chances for others. He has a good understanding with Kuyt, their partnership is starting to get better and he is scoring goals. Strikers take confidence from goal and that is what we are now seeing from Craig.

 “It is nice to keep winning and keep another clean sheet. The players like playing at Anfield in front of our supporters and it's nice to be unbeaten at home in 2006.

“We deserved to win the game, but it was a difficult game. We desperately needed that second goal to clinch the points, and it took a long time to get it. Watford were physical, we expected that, and they were dangerous from set pieces, always a problem.  I told the players at half-time to play on the ground a lot more and it would just take one pass to get a goal. That is what happened for us when Bellamy scored.

Watford manager Adie Boothroyd: “We competed well, but we are not taking our chances. We are resilient and we could have come away from the game with something.

“It would be easy to say this was a killer result. But it's only a killer if you allow it to knock you down. We competed well and created chances but didn't take them. The first goal we conceded was a real kick in the teeth for us as it came from our mistake. I just felt we could have come away from this game with something but in the end we have nothing to show for our efforts.”

* Apologies for this being added to the site so late – we hope you all had a great Christmas!

Continue reading Result and reaction: Liverpool 2 Watford 0

Carling Cup SF Draw

The Semi-final draw for the Carling Cup has just been made at Sky TV's headquarters – Liverpool will face Tottenham if they make it past Arsenal in the rearranged quarter final.

Full Draw:

Wycombe Wanderers v Chelsea (Wycombe home for first leg. Ties to be played weeks commencing 8th and 22nd of January).

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool or Arsenal (Tottenham home for first leg. Ties to be played weeks commencing 15th and 22nd of January).

Continue reading Carling Cup SF Draw

Cisse gets first Marseille goal

Djibril Cisse scored his first goal for Marseille last night as they beat a team who are a big part of Liverpool's history, St Etienne.

With coach Albert Emon's job the subject of speculation as being about to go to Sven Goran Ericksson, despite reassurances from  Jose Anigo, Cisse has to perform well to make sure the planned deal set up between Marseille and Liverpool goes ahead. Cisse is on loan at Marseille, with Marseille agreeing to buy him on a permanent deal if all goes well. He'd have already joined on a permanent deal had he not broken his leg in the summer and his ninth-minute goal should be of help in getting the permanent deal rubber-stamped.

St Etienne levelled at half-time but Marseille's Mickael Pagis got what turned out to be winner on 64 minutes.

Also out on loan but without a permanent deal already lined up is Cisse's fellow striker Florent Sinama-Pongolle. Flo made a big mistake last season when on loan at Blackburn by claiming that the city of Liverpool was populated mainly by Everton fans. These comments were made at a time when Flo had been linked with Everton, and with that statement being not only wrong but also a big part of Everton's "People's Club" propaganda (despite being unable to even come close to filling their stadium) his popularity took a huge dive amongst Reds fans. No matter how well he does on his travels now he'll find it hard to play in a Liverpool shirt again.

This is a pity really, Flo is doing ok in Spain, scoring his sixth goal on Wednesday night when Recreativo beat giant Real Madrid 3-0 in Madrid. Rafa said that he and his backroom staff are keeping an eye on all the loan players, to ensure that they get the right price in any permanent deals, or to see if the players should come back to Anfield at the end of the loan.

"We have scouts watching all our loan players and we know Sinama is playing very well in Spain," said Rafa on Thursday. "We are analysing every game our loan players are involved in and know exactly what each is doing. Djibril Cisse is also back playing again, and we are monitoring all of them closely because we realise they are still our players."

He says that he can't really predict yet where Flo's future lies: "It's far too early to say what's going to happen in the future. We have a loan deal which keeps Sinama at Recreativo for the season. After this, they will either use an option to sign the player or he will come back."

And it seems that funding may be an issue for Recreativo: "It's not clear at this moment whether they would have enough money to be able to buy the player."

Continue reading Cisse gets first Marseille goal

Managers unhappy with postponement

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez and his opposite number Arsene Wenger both voiced their displeasure at the decision to postpone tonight's Carling Cup clash at Anfield.

Liverpool and Arsenal were set to play the first of their two cup fixtures at Anfield tonight but with the game being called off they'll not be unlikely to play it until after their FA Cup 3rd round clash also at Anfield next month.

Rafa says that he and Wenger felt the fog wasn't bad enough to warrant a postponement: "In the opinions of myself and Arsene, it was possible to play this game. We must respect the referee's decision but we don't agree with it. In these conditions we could have played. The referee said to us that he had difficulty seeing both corners of the pitch and that it could be difficult for his assistants."

Rafa pointed out that this postponement is going to cause a bit of a fixture pile-up, but has a suggestion on how to reduce the number of games: "We have a problem now because if we draw against Arsenal in the FA Cup then when are we going to play this game? Maybe we can play for both Cups in one game!"

The Liverpool boss also acknowledged how disappointed the fans would be at the cancellation: "A lot of people were looking forward to this game and it's really difficult to explain why it was called off."

Wenger said that the two bosses had tried to persuade the referee to reconsider, but their pleas had fallen on deaf ears: "I'm disappointed because we wanted to play and so did Liverpool. Unfortunately we weren't able to influence the decision of the referee, even though we tried."

The heavy fog had also caused travel disruption though, meaning many fans wouldn't have been able to attend the game. Those due to arrive by plane had seen their flights cancelled, others arriving by road had been caught up in heavy traffic and would have been struggling to arrive on time for kick-off.

Continue reading Managers unhappy with postponement

Postponed: Liverpool v Arsenal off due to fog

Thick fog at Anfield has caused the Liverpool v Arsenal Carling Cup tie due to be played tonight to be called off by officials.

This will come as a relief to Irish Reds who had seen their flights into Liverpool cancelled, because they'd have struggled to get a refund on their match tickets. At the same time though it will come as a huge frustration to those supporters who did travel to try and see the game – the decision to call it off was only made one hour before kick-off.

Referee Martin Atkinson had said at 18.15 (an hour-and-a-half before kick-off) that unless the fog got worse the game would go ahead. Half an hour later and he declared the fog too thick for the game to go ahead.

The club have announced that the tickets for tonight's match will still be valid for the tie when a new date is arranged.

Continue reading Postponed: Liverpool v Arsenal off due to fog

Luis working hard to please fans

Liverpool’s Spanish midfielder Luis Garcia, hero of many a game and occasional villain too, says he’s well aware of the jeers he gets from the crowd when a pass doesn’t work out as it he intended and possession is lost. He wants Liverpool fans to know that he is always trying his best; always trying what he thinks instinctively will be the best ball to play at that split second. And because it’s instinctive, it’s not likely to be something that he’s able to stop happening: “It’s not that I’m going to change. I hear everything the fans shout. I don’t like it when they blame or boo me, but it’s something I have to live with. I understand they get frustrated when my pass doesn’t go through.”

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Luis says he’s just as unhappy with the outcome as the fans are: “I get frustrated myself; I hate it when there’s a back-heel which doesn’t work or a pass which is cut out. But I can’t stay frustrated long. This is the way I play and I have to get on with the game.”

He made a plea to the supporters: “I want the fans to understand I am trying, that if something I do doesn’t work, if I give the ball away, it’s not because I don’t care.” Luis says it’s down to his own gut feeling: “Every play I do is because it’s the best thing I can think of at that moment, and, as a player, you’ve normally got to follow it – it’s not because I want to show off.”

Despite asking for understanding that his errors come about in this way, he’s not going to rely on that excuse – he’s working on improving his game: “I’m trying to close that big gap between the best of me and the worst. If I’m playing it’s because the boss thinks my best is greater than my worst, that the best things I do can change something and the worst is not so bad he cannot have it on the pitch. But sometimes people make me feel it is.”

Garcia also points out that perhaps people are expecting a little too much from him, saying that it’s very rare for players to be able to do both the fancy stuff and the simple stuff: “People like a player who doesn’t lose the ball and also like a player who does something that’s nice to see, but how many players do both? Zidane? Not many others. That’s why you need different players, someone like Xabi who can keep the ball, and someone like me who sometimes loses it because I’m trying the more difficult pass.” He is working on those instincts though, and feels he’s getting better at knowing when a simple ball is better than a flashy piece of skill: “I’m trying to learn when to do it and I think I’m much better than in my first season.”

He also says that his reputation for losing possession by trying a trick at an inappropriate time means that the media can be quick to jump on any mistakes he makes, ignoring his positive contributions: “I have a past in my bag – that’s why if I do a brilliant game but I lose one ball, one stupid ball, I know the next day that some newspapers I read will be talking about the ball I lost. So I’ve got something in my bag I’ll never get rid of.”

He’s loving life in England now and feels extremely settled. His young son – the reason for his trademark thumb-sucking goal celebration – is already speaking English more than he speaks Spanish: “My two-year-old son is going to nursery and learning English. He doesn’t even know one word in Spanish, because I speak English with him. I love hearing him talk.” He says it took some time to settle, but any pangs of homesickness are now gone: “For the first two years our family missed the Spanish weather and food, but now I never feel the desire to go back to Spain. This part of the year is the worst in England – you don’t see the sun for days and miss Spanish Christmas.”

Then there are the holidays, or lack of them; Garcia finds it odd that he’ll be playing on December 30th and on New Years’ Day: “In Spain you also get 7-10 days off football. Here, we’re playing on Saturday and again on Monday. I don’t think I’ve done that ever! But I’m happy here.”

He also explained where stories linking him to a move back to Spain and Atletico Madrid may have come from: “That’s because I was speaking with one of my friends in the national team and he said, ‘How long have you got on your contract?’ I said, ‘Three years’ and he said, ‘What are you going to do in three years?’ I said, ‘I don’t even know what I’m going to do tomorrow!’ He said, ‘Would you like to come back to Spain’ and I said, ‘Why not? It would be nice to come back one day and play for Atletico.’ So I think the story came from there and got changed a bit.”

As we move towards the January transfer window opening two weeks today we can dismiss any tales of Garcia being homesick or unwanted, he’s staying: “I never said I want to leave here this year or next year. I don’t see myself going anywhere for the next two years. I’d be 30 then and it might be time to go back, but football can change in two months so I’m not thinking too far ahead.”

Continue reading Luis working hard to please fans

CL Draw: Reds get Barca

Liverpool have been handed arguably the toughest draw possible for the knockout phase of the Champions League. They will face current holders Barcelona when the tournament gets back underway again next February.

And despite the difficulty of the tie, being in the last 16 of the Champions League doesn't really throw up any easy games.

Phil Thompson says that Liverpool are capable of beating Barca over two legs: "It's a fantastic tie. I've played there and beaten them in the Nou Camp. We've also been there and got credible draws a few times. I also remember Gary McAllister scored a goal against them to take us to the UEFA Cup final. It's probably the best tie of the round." The tie sees the 2006 holders take on the 2005 holders.
"I don't think the game will be decided in Spain," continued Thommo, "Barcelona won't win the tie easily. It'll still be alive when the second leg takes place at Anfield and Barca won't be relishing that trip."
One thing that is in Liverpool's favour of course is the local knowledge that Rafa and some of his backroom staff and also players have of the Spanish giants. 

That last meeting spoken about by Thommo was in April 2001 in the second leg of the UEFA Cup semis. After a scoreless draw in the first leg at the Nou Camp the Reds beat Barca at Anfield by a single goal, Gary McAllister's penalty.

Of the players involved back then only four remain at Anfield: Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Fowler.
Draw in full:

Porto v Chelsea
Celtic v AC Milan
PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal
Lille v Man United
Roma v Lyon
Barcelona v Liverpool
Real Madrid v Bayern Munich
Inter Milan v Valencia

First team listed in each tie will be at home for the first leg. First legs – 20/21 February 2007. Second legs – 6/7 March 2007.

Continue reading CL Draw: Reds get Barca

Conflicting Reds investment stories continue to be heard

Conflicting stories about Liverpool’s potential investment were common prior to the news that Dubai International Capital (DIC) were taking an official look at the books, and it seems the conflicts will continue until any deal is completed.

Stories that the deal is actually much closer to completion than most people believe are tempered by stories that the details of the deal are far from settled. According to the Norwegian-based Liverpool FC fansite there is still an issue over how many of David Moore’s shares DIC are expecting to buy – and how much they want to pay for them. The Norwegian site is usually very much on the ball when it comes to news from inside the club. It does seem highly unlikely that so much of a fanfare would have been made unless the various sides in the deal weren’t happy that they were close to an agreement.

The agreement is close enough for the potential new owners to meet with the man who’ll be charged with bringing them the success on the field that is so important to a club like Liverpool. The DIC chief executive Sameer Al Ansari met Rafael Benítez after the Fulham win, but with the formalities still being worked through there were no revelations to Rafa about how the deal will work. Or at least he wasn’t letting on about anything; he was no doubt sworn to secrecy about anything he was told.

Rafa said that although he didn’t get details, he got a good feeling about the possible new bosses: “I have spoken to the people. It was a very nice meeting, but we didn't talk about the details of the takeover. They've made it clear they want to do the right things for Liverpool in the future and this will not be a short term deal. Their idea is to make Liverpool a success in the long-term.”

It’s not likely that the deal will be finalised before January, meaning that Rafa’s not likely to be buying star names that were previously out of reach in this particular transfer window. Come the summer though and it’s hoped by all that the new money will include a significant lump added to the transfer budget.

Liverpool have the rare luxury of no midweek game this week, their next game being against Charlton in the league this weekend before facing Arsenal in the League Cup next week. And the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been talking of his fears about how Arsenal could be left behind if the big clubs keep being bought by people with big money. Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich is having great fun spending his wealth on buying silverware for Chelsea and now Wenger is worried that the Reds will be next.

Arsenal’s move to their new 60,000-seater stadium was made possible thanks to investment and should ultimately lead to more money for the club to compete with. However Wenger fears that the kind of investment Chelsea have got and Liverpool look set to get could mean money being spent on transfers that doesn’t meet the financial return any success brings. He said: “Once the financial potential of the club goes above their natural resources by far, we (Arsenal) will be in trouble because we don't have that. At the moment the income is basically the gates, television and sponsorship.” He is worried that other clubs are going to get other income: “If their income is gates, television, sponsorship plus private gifts then we cannot compete. At the moment we can do it because only one club has those resources. But once three or four have that, are you dead?”
It seems that Wenger hasn’t paid much attention to how the new Liverpool deal is perceived as working. If Liverpool are going to get cash in the early days of the deal the hope is that this will ultimately be paid back by the success it brings. There will obviously be a length of time that the investors are prepared to wait before seeing a return, but as investors and not sugar daddies they won’t wait forever.

Wenger went on: “The pressure on the salaries will be too big. Today the player says: 'OK, I earn less than at Chelsea but it's only one club.' But once that becomes the price of the market then you are in trouble because you cannot compete.” Arsenal aren’t exactly poor, (although their fans are now after seeing ticket prices raise sharply) but Wenger has decided that it’s time now to get the excuses in: “If you have a club where every year they say: 'It costs £100m more? OK, I'll put that in,' then you cannot compete.”

Liverpool fans don’t expect to be in that position though – and Rafael Benítez isn’t likely to court player who want ridiculous wages either, he wants players who have the desire to play for the club. One reason Liverpool need to be able to consider this potential offer from DIC is that there aren’t that many people willing to invest patiently in a club like Liverpool. Wenger senses this, and worries about Arsenal having missed the boat: “If today you go into football and think: 'I have £100m available to put into Arsenal Football Club and want to make £200m,' it looks to me very dangerous, both for football and for the club. If you say: 'I have £100m and I want to enjoy it and be inside the club and help the club to develop' it's OK. But to find people who put £100m, £200m, £800m into a club and are prepared to lose their money, you must be lucky.”

Wenger also spoke of a worry that there will be no patience from big-money owners with their managers. He thinks that they will all have no sporting knowledge whatsoever and will assume that big investment brings big results, quickly. He took the opportunity to have a dig at Chelsea as he explained his theory: “You can buy a super player and he can look disastrous for three, four, five months. If you buy a super machine, if you buy a Ferrari, from the first day it goes well – unless it's a Russian who buys it and it breaks in two. But with a player, it's not the same. Sometimes you need to be patient.”

From listening to comments from people like Kenny Dalglish on how David Moores and Rick Parry would have been evaluating bids, it seems unlikely that Liverpool’s new owners will be impatient with their manager.

Also yesterday came an announcement from Tranmere Rovers dismissing the talk that they were set to be bought by DIC also as a feeder club for the Reds. They issued a statement pointing out some problems with that idea: "It is essential that the club has its own identity. Furthermore, feeder clubs are not permitted under Football League rules. We would welcome new investment from a credible interested party and therefore would always be prepared to enter into discussions. The club has received inquiries from time to time and will continue to welcome talks with interested parties."

Continue reading Conflicting Reds investment stories continue to be heard