Rafa warns players against over-confidence

Liverpool boss Rafael Benítez has been speaking about Saturday’s 2-1 win over Reading and looking ahead to the Champions League second-leg game against PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday.

Liverpool left it late to tie up victory over a Reading side pushing for a place in Europe. Liverpool have faced many teams looking to just hold on for a point this season, home and away, but Reading were looking to win from the off. This was what Rafa had expected: “In the first half we had a plan and it was clear we needed to play on the counter attack. Reading were going forward and pushing high and that gave us the chance to play on the break.”

To Rafa the half-time lead should have been greater than 1-0, but when Reading equalised early in the second half he had to take a different approach: “We maybe should have been 2-0 up at the break. We had some breaks and the final pass was very close to coming off, but then we conceded the goal and we needed to change our style of football, and we then had more control, more possession and more chances.”

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Hillsborough memorial service – details announced

Liverpool FC have confirmed that the annual Hillsborough memorial service will take place at Anfield again as it has done each year. It will be eighteen years since the disaster which claimed the lives of 96 of our supporters at the FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest in 1989.

The announcement from the club reads as follows:

As is the custom, Anfield will stage a memorial service to mark the 18th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster on Sunday, April 15.

It is organised annually by the Hillsborough Family Support Group to remember the 96 victims of the tragedy.

The service will be inter-denominational and will take place on the Kop at Anfield. It will commence at 2.45pm, include a minute's silence at 3.06pm and concludes at about 3.30pm with the singing of 'You'll Never Walk Alone'.

There will be readings from David Moores, Kenny Dalglish and Jamie Carragher. All are welcome to attend the service.

Tickets are not required and we extend an open invitation to you to join the families, the Directors, officials and players of LFC plus thousands of fellow football fans in our annual act of rememberance. This year is expected to be exceptionally well attended and we would ask that you allow adequate time and plan to be in your seats by about 2pm.

Phil Hammond, Chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group said: "We light a candle to remember each individual life that was extinguished prematurely and we rely upon the eternal flame of the Hillsborough Memorial to burn some light into the darkest night."

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Reading v Reds: Coppell excited, Rafa expects difficult game.

Liverpool travel to Reading today in the Premiership for the first time and Liverpool are looking to hold onto their current third-place position. With the Reds’ impressive 3-0 win over PSV Eindhoven in midweek Rafa can actually consider putting out a team full of players that he might otherwise have rested had they not been so far ahead in the tie. There’s still work to be done to ensure they do progress on Wednesday, but there’s no doubting Rafa can prepare in a different way to how he might have expected.

For the Reading boss Steve Coppell this is one of the fixtures he’s been looking forward to all season. He says that as a child he went to Anfield to watch the Reds, even though he eventually made his name as a player for one of the club’s enemies – Manchester United. He said: “I look on this as a really exciting celebration. For us to welcome Liverpool to our stadium is a fabulous occasion. It's one we should not be intimidated by, no matter what happens, and I am really looking forward to it.”

He’s aware that Liverpool will arrive at the Madjeski on the back of some good results – Tuesday’s win had followed a 4-1 defeat of fourth-placed Arsenal: “They're hitting a rich vein of form at the right time, and the performance in midweek was outstanding. First and foremost they're effective, but also attractive as well.” He does think that Rafa will change his team though: It will be a different team this weekend, but they've still got such depth. The prospect of many more millions in the summer means they look to be a club with a rich future – both immediate and long term. If they play well they'll beat us, so we've got to stop them from doing that. We've got to play well and have a plan.”

Liverpool’s boss Rafael Benítez is impressed with the work of the Reading boss and doesn’t expect an easy game against a side pushing for European qualification: “Steve Coppell has done a good job. They are well organised and at the beginning of the season they played with a high tempo, and now with the campaign coming to an end they are still playing with that same tempo. That means he has done a good job.”

Coppell is respected by many in the game and Rafa is no different: “Steve was the best manager in the Championship, now he has shown what a good manager he is in the Premiership. We have a good relationship, and we have played them twice and it has always been difficult. They go forward quickly, and they are playing as well now as they were six months ago. That is something that is hard to achieve.”

And Rafa won’t be assuming the game’s over even if they do take the lead: “They make life difficult. I recall seeing them being 3-0 down at home to Manchester United, but they came back to 2-3 and were pushing all the time at the end. That shows their mentality is good.”

Rafa is determined that whichever players he picks are aware of the importance of this match, and hinted that Tuesday’s result allows him to pick a stronger side than he might have done otherwise: “We can rotate our players, but I must impress upon them that finishing third is our objective. It is important and we must concentrate on the Reading game, because we are very close to a semi-final place now.”

Liverpool aren’t through to the semis yet, but barring a collapse they should be. They’ll go into Wednesday’s second leg already knowing who they would face in the semis, the winners of Tuesday’s tie between Rafa’s former club Valencia and 2005 semi-final losers Chelsea. Rafa couldn’t decide who he though was most likely to go through: “It is difficult to say who are the favourites, maybe playing in the Mestalla is a benefit for Valencia, but Chelsea have quality and like to play on the counter-attack. It will be a tough game for both clubs.”

Continue reading Reading v Reds: Coppell excited, Rafa expects difficult game.

Blair: No Knighthood for Paisley

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has looked at the thousands of signatures on the petition to grant Bob Paisley a posthumous knighthood – and turned it down.

In an email to those who signed the on-line campaign for “Sir” Bob to be honoured in a way he should have been when still alive, the Prime Minister even manages to spell Bill Shankly’s name wrong!

The reason given is the same one given last time a campaign was started for the most successful manager in English football history – knighthoods cannot be awarded posthumously. (Awards are usually given to those who have come to the attention of whichever political party is in power at the time, often in return for providing public support for that party's policies).

The petition was only open for UK citizens and so many Reds from overseas were unable to sign it. For those who didn’t sign it for any reason the contents of Tony Blair’s email follow:

E-Petition: response from the Prime Minister

The e-petition asking the Prime Minister to "Posthumously award Bob Paisley a knighthood" has now closed. This is a response from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Bob Paisley's achievements in football were remarkable. It is easy to see why so many people want to see his record formally recognised.

This has been underlined by the thousands of people who have signed the e-petition on the No 10 website calling for him to be granted a posthumous knighthood.
But this is simply not possible. A knighthood is an honour only given during someone's lifetime. Unlike bravery awards and medals, they have never been granted posthumously.

Formally, this is because the recipients of knighthoods are admitted into a particular Order when they attend an Investiture ceremony in person.
In practical terms, however, it would also be impossible to decide which of thousands of figures in our country's history, who were not knighted during their lifetimes, should retrospectively deserve such recognition.

For example, there are already similar e-petition campaigns for posthumous knighthoods for football managers Bill Shankley (sic), Brian Clough, Jock Stein and Bill Nicholson.

But strong cases could also be made for many other high-achieving sports figures as well as authors, scientists and others who were not knighted during their lifetimes. Charles Darwin, Captain Cook, RJ Mitchell, who created the Spitfire, John Lennon and even William Shakespeare are just a few of those who were not honoured in this way while they lived.

The fact they were not knighted, however, does not in any way detract from the contribution they made to this country. Their lives and achievements have each been celebrated and remembered in many other ways. But a knighthood is, however, not possible for someone, no matter how accomplished, who is no longer able to receive it.

Yours sincerely,
Tony Blair

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Reina wants to stay and be part of “massive” team

Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina has today confirmed he is “really happy” at Anfield and hopes to sign a new deal with the club soon.

According to the Spanish keeper, the club’s new owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are going to concentrate first of all on keeping the best players we already have, before moving onto bringing in new players this summer for other positions.

Reina was linked with a move back to Spain earlier this year, amidst rumours that his then-pregnant wife was homesick. All that seems unfounded now with Reina’s announcement he wants to stay:  “We will be speaking to the new owners over the next few days, but I’ve said many times now I’m really happy at Liverpool and I want to extend my contract.”

New regulations involving contracts for professional players mean that clubs need to ensure no player’s contract runs down too far; otherwise the player can buy himself out of the rest of that deal at a fraction of his true value. Reina says the new owners are aware of this: “The key for any growing team is not only to improve with new players, but also to make sure the key players and the spine of the side stays together. Then you can build an even stronger team around this. That spine is here at Liverpool.

“The new owners have said before they make transfers they first of all want to prepare new deals. Then I’m sure they will think about the summer. The project will be to build a team which is massive and can win many things. At this moment, the future looks brilliant.”

Although Rafa Benítez has now met the new owners, the majority of the players haven’t so far, but Pepe doesn’t think it will be long: “I’ve not met the owners yet, but I’m sure it will happen soon.”

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Eto’o praises Liverpool’s heart

Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o has spoken of his admiration for Liverpool FC and English football in general during an interview with Four Four Two magazine. Eto'o was involved in a public row with boss Frank Rijkaard just before they met Liverpool in the Champions League last-16 clash and was linked with a move away from Spain. This was denied by the player's representatives at the time but the rumours are now set to resurface.

Eto'o said: "I like Liverpool's courage. They have a big red heart. They showed that against us. We did not underestimate them. You have to recognise that in the two games, Liverpool played extremely well. They defend well and are organised."

The Cameroon international singled out Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in particular: "I like Gerrard. He runs a lot. He does everything well. Gerrard is the best English player. No, change that, at the moment he is the best player in England."

It's not just Liverpool he likes, he likes the difference in atmosphere here compared to Spain, but Anfield was probably the best example of it for him: "I watch English football. I like the crowd because it is always close to the pitch and the stadiums are always full. It's not always like that in Spain. We played at Anfield and it was very loud, with lots of different songs. I like that. Football is different in England. It has a place in English hearts. The atmosphere is great, they roar on their team. It's always like that."

He goes on: "The crowds get behind the team. It's not like that here. It's important that football should be played in grounds where the fans roar their teams. The fans in Spain love football in a different way – it's not a class thing, the fans are just different. What I love about England is that the fans have great respect for the players on and off the pitch."

As well as praising Gerrard, he also had praise for Arsenal striker Thierry Henry: "He is a great player. He is number one of the great players. Great players score goals and for me he is above everybody."

Despite his praise for the English game, Eto'o pointed out he's tied to Spain for three more years: "I have a contract here until 2010 and I am happy with that."

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Reaction: PSV 0 Liverpool 3

Liverpool’s delight at taking a huge step towards the Champions League semi-final was tempered by the news that Brazilian Fabio Aurelio is set to be out for the rest of the season.

Liverpool went into last night’s tie with PSV hoping for a win and an away goal to help them in the second leg. They got three away goals, without reply, and now would have to throw it away not to progress. But Liverpool and their fans know full-well that 3-0 halfway through a tie doesn’t mean game over at all.

Aurelio, signed in the summer, has struggled for much of the season with injury, but finally looked set to be making a claim for a regular starting place. His performance on Saturday against Arsenal was outstanding and he was one of many players performing almost perfectly last night for Liverpool. Then he got the sensation of being struck in the back of the leg when he had nobody near him – a sure sign of an Achilles tendon injury, an injury that takes a long time to get over for a footballer.

Rafa Benítez confirmed the early diagnosis: “It's an achilles tendon injury. Normally this injury is really serious,” said the boss. He went on: “Fabio has started to play really well; this is a very bad blow for him and us. There was nobody anywhere near him, he felt as if he had been hit by a stone. The pain was from behind and it struck him like he had been hit, it is a real tragedy for us.”

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Ground-sharing not fully ruled-out

Reports in this morning’s newspapers suggest that plans for Everton to be allowed to share Liverpool’s new stadium have not been fully dismissed by new owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Liverpool will go ahead with the building of their stadium regardless of whether our small neighbours decide to part-share a ground with us. And the ground will remain Liverpool’s property, Everton only being allowed to share our ground as tenants.

Everton have been pressing endlessly to share the new stadium so that they can demolish their own ground and raise some cash from developers. Although Barratt had shown strong interest in buying the land, it now seems Redrow are most interested, hoping to build a mixture of executive detached homes and larger apartments on the site which is on a major route into the city centre. Everton fans are expected to be up in arms at seeing builders’ signs starting with the word “Red” where their ground used to be, but that’s going to be the least of their worries. At least when the building work is finished the name of the actual site will not have any reference to LFC.

Everton’s hopes of having a ground built in Kirkby have been floundering after Tesco realised that Everton were expecting more out of the deal than intended. Tesco wanted the Goodison Park site to build a new superstore, but Everton wanted to sell that land to the builders – and still get a free ground in Kirkby courtesy of the supermarket chain.

Liverpool fans do not need to worry about the new ground having blue seats or space for an Everton trophy room – redundant or not. In fact in what will outrage Everton fans more than Liverpool fans the new ground will only host Everton for at most six games a season. Everton are to play their bigger games – for example the derby and matches against Manchester United – at the new Liverpool FC stadium. The remainder will be played at Wigan Athletic’s JJB stadium. Everton’s cup matches won’t be played at the new Anfield – Liverpool have made it clear that they want minimal impact on their pitch.

In fact the offer to allow Everton to play half a dozen matches at Anfield is all part of the wider commercial strategy by the new owners aimed at getting the new ground to pay for itself. Summer rock concerts are being considered if the price is right, as are showpiece FA Cup semi-finals, international games for countries wishing to play friendlies in Europe (similar to Brazil recently) and even cult conventions.

There is also a suggestion that Everton will be out of Goodison before Liverpool have finished building their stadium. Hicks and Gillett are said to be negotiating with Everton over the idea of buying the Goodison site to enable a multi-storey car-park to be built there. The 60,000 limit on capacity at the new ground is mainly due to limitations in the transport infrastructure in the area. Parking issues are only a small part of this problem, but important to address nevertheless.

A spokesman for Kop Football refused to deny the possibilities of this deal, and hinted at reasons why there would be only a few Everton games at the new Anfield. Lily Sporafoda said: “We are looking to maximise the revenue from the new ground as much as we can. If we sell naming rights and it buys a new striker for the club then surely it’s worthwhile. Likewise hiring the ground out for occasional events like rock concerts. As far as allowing other games to be played there, it would have to be a game attracting a large crowd otherwise the hire costs won’t be covered by the gate receipts.” So would Everton be allowed to hire the ground? “As long as it doesn’t impact on Liverpool FC’s plans, as long as they don’t ask for the pitch to be watered until it’s waterlogged, as long as they pay in advance, I’m sure it could be considered.”

A lot of supporters are expected to be outraged by this news, but most should be feeling better by lunchtime.

* Well it's now turned 12.00 noon in the UK so it's best we point out the date to you!

Continue reading Ground-sharing not fully ruled-out