CL Teams, Besiktas v Reds. Two changes from Rafa.

Liverpool’s team for tonight’s Champions League tie with Besiktas sees Rafa Benitez make just two changes from the side that beat Everton on Saturday.

Momo Sissoko and Yossi Benayoun are on the bench, with Jermaine Pennant and Ryan Babel getting the nod to start on the wings. Gerrard will play alongside Javier Mascherano in the centre of midfield.

Double-penalty hero Dirk Kuyt partners Andriy Voronin upfront again, meaning Peter Crouch again misses out on starting for the Reds. The bench includes the welcome site of Xabi Alonso, back in the squad after his metatarsal injury. Continue reading CL Teams, Besiktas v Reds. Two changes from Rafa.

Rafa passion comments misunderstood

After Liverpool’s 2-1 derby win at Goodison on Saturday there were two main talking points. The first, as with any Everton defeat in a derby, was the referee. The second was Rafa’s decision to replace Steven Gerrard with a substantial part of the game remaining.

Pundits and fans have listened to what Rafa said and typically started to mix his quotes up. Rafa spoke to both Sky and the BBC immediately after the game, and was asked about why he took Gerrard off to be replaced by Lucas.

He told Sky: “Because this game sometimes you need to play with the brain and we were playing with the heart and we needed to keep the ball. We were playing with one more player and we needed to keep the ball and pass the ball.” Continue reading Rafa passion comments misunderstood

Kuyt explains spot-kick feeling. Moyes moans.

Dirk Kuyt scored Liverpool’s two goals this lunchtime from the penalty spot to allow the Red half of the city to enjoy their nights out tonight. It takes enormous courage to take a penalty in any big game, but Dirk had to take two, including the one in stoppage time that turned out to be the winner. He was unbelievably cool about it.

After the game he was asked by BBC Sport what it felt like: “It’s an unbelievable feeling and the more special thing was after you score the goals, that’s the important thing. If you’re playing in Goodison Park, the supporters were all against you – you just have to focus yourself on the ball and just score. That’s all you have to do.

“Sounds easy but it was a bit difficult today.” Continue reading Kuyt explains spot-kick feeling. Moyes moans.

Result: Everton 1 Liverpool 2 – Reds win derby

Barclays Premier League – 19th October 2007. Result.

Everton 1 Liverpool 2

Liverpool’s 2-1 win in today’s derby didn’t come about without a lot of controversy, in the way that derbies often do.

Everton gave away two penalties, one for a professional foul on Steven Gerrard, the other for Phil Neville’s cheating deliberate handball stopping a certain goal. Neville joined Hibbert in going down the tunnel early with a . Dirk Kuyt scored both spot-kicks.

Although Everton fans will find it difficult to accept otherwise, a last-minute penalty claim by Everton was certainly not cut-and-dried. Replays did not show any meaningful contact by Jamie Carragher on Lescott, and it did look to some extent like the blues defender had gone down a little easily. Continue reading Result: Everton 1 Liverpool 2 – Reds win derby

Torres out: Confirmed team v Everton

Fernando Torres’s efforts to get into the team for today’s Merseyside derby weren’t enough, and the Spanish striker wasn’t even available for a place on the bench. Rafa has gone for Kuyt and Voronin up-front.

Mascherano has made it into the eleven, despite having played in sapping temperatures in midweek for Argentina – but Liverpool need him with Xabi Alonso also finding this game came too soon.

The manager has picked Sissoko, Mascherano and Gerrard, which means Gerrard looks likely to start on the right and Yossi Benayoun on the left.

Liverpool: Reina, Riise, Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Benayoun, Mascherano, Gerrard, Sissoko, Voronin, Kuyt.

Subs: Itandje, Crouch, Pennant, Babel, Lucas.

Torres set to miss out on derby debut

Although it’s still big news in the city of Liverpool, what might turn out to be one of the last true Liverpool derbies isn’t very high up in the running order for most sports bulletins in Britain today.

England’s Rugby Union players are dominating the headlines, with their World Cup Final due to take place in Paris this evening, and then there’s British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton who is bidding to become World Champion in his first season, a feat he can achieve in Brazil tomorrow.

All that positive attention is deflecting attention away from the derby. Also, during the week, the English football players more or less knocked themselves out of Euro 2008, and the aftermath of that has taken up most of the space that was left after the rugby and motor sport had been spoken about. Continue reading Torres set to miss out on derby debut

International stars have mixed fortunes

Rafael Benitez will be waiting anxiously at Melwood today as his international players start to return from duty, but it so far seems that the only damage to his players will be to their pride rather than their muscles or bones.

Steven Gerrard and Peter Crouch were part of the England team that lost 2-1 to Russia last night. Gerrard captained the side who let slip a 1-0 lead. This means the English press will be looking for blood, because now England are in a situation where they are relying on other teams slipping up to go through. Gerrard missed a chance to make it 2-0 and that is enough to blame Liverpool’s captain for the defeat in some people’s eyes, but Steve McLaren will probably be top of the list at the moment. Peter Crouch only came on for the last 10 minutes, by which time England were already behind. Continue reading International stars have mixed fortunes

Rafa’s squad starts to return

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has had more players than normal to work with during international week, although most of that has probably been off the training pitch rather than on it. Record signing Fernando Torres came home early from his international duty with Spain, after suffering an injury to an adductor muscle. The £18m man has since been undergoing intensive treatment and could be fit for the derby this weekend.

Not only are players returning from injury, but already some of his squad are returning from international duties.

Rafa wouldn’t say whether he thought Torres would actually play against the team from across Stanley Park when asked yesterday: “He is much better and improving, at the moment though it is too early to say anything about the weekend. It’s always a risk when a player has an injury and we have to be careful. He is back with us now and working with the physios.”

Fellow striker Dirk Kuyt also left his country’s squad early through injury, but the Dutch star took part in the warm-up yesterday. Also taking part in the warm-up was a player who has had an Anfield career blighted by injury – Harry Kewell. Rafa thinks Dirk could make the derby, but suggested it may be too early for Harry: “Dirk did the warm-up this morning with us and hopefully he’ll be okay for the Everton game. The news with Harry is very positive as he did the warm up as well. For him, though, it’s too early to talk about the weekend.”

Xabi Alonso and Daniel Agger are both making good progress with their metatarsal injuries, and although Agger has still not managed any work outside of the gym, Alonso has been able to do some running outside. Xabi told the official LFC website: “I am progressing. In the last few days I have started running on the pitch, which is good news because I’ve been spending a lot of time in the gym. It’s always a relief to get back exercising on the pitch and at the moment it’s looking good, but I don’t know if I will be fit enough to be ready for the derby.”

Asked if the prospect of playing in the derby was giving him an extra incentive he said that as much as he wants to be back playing as soon as he can, he doesn’t want to take any unnecessary risks: “The fact it’s the derby doesn’t make me more determined – I’m always determined to recover as quickly as possible. I want to be back as soon as possible but I have to respect my foot. I have to see how it feels.”

One boost for Rafa Benitez came in the shape of Israel captain Yossi Benayoun. Yossi has been on duty with his country, but they were only training this week as they had no international fixture. Their chances of qualifying for Euro 2008 came to an end at the weekend when they were beaten by Croatia, and his national boss allowed him to return early to Merseyside to prepare for the game at the weekend.

Captain Steven Gerrard looks likely to captain England tonight in a game they must win to be sure of qualification for Euro 2008.

Another player now free to make his way home is Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano,  who played in stifling heat in the early hours of this morning UK time as Argentina beat Venezuela 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier. Mascherano said the players tried to conserve their energy: “We tried to not wear ourselves out too much, we were clever. It was very difficult because the pitch was in an awful state and the heat was unbearable, but not all teams have Messi, Juan Roman Riquelme and Carlos Tevez. They make the difference.”

Sami impressed with Torres

Finnish defender Sami Hyypia will be relieved in some ways that Liverpool team-mate Fernando Torres was injured on duty for Spain last week, because that means he won’t have to face him in tomorrow night’s friendly between the two nations. Torres is aiming to be back again for Liverpool in this weekend’s derby, where Sami will be hoping Everton see what he sees in training every week.

Speaking to the club’s official website, Sami said: “He is a very good player, and everyday he does amazingly on the training pitch. He is very hard to play against. When he gets the ball he is very direct, he goes straight towards the goal. I’d rather play with him than against him!”

Sami may not be playing in the derby himself if Danish defender Daniel Agger has recovered sufficiently from a broken metatarsal, but he says Torres’s presence at Melwood has helped improve the game of the defenders: “It’s good to have a challenge in training. If you play against one of the best strikers in the Premier League almost every day, it can only help you when the game comes around each weekend.” Continue reading Sami impressed with Torres

Reds finally confirm Pako’s departure

Liverpool FC have finally made official the departure from Anfield of assistant manager Pako Ayesteran. Ayesteran, 44, was manager Rafael Benitez’s close friend for many years, and came with him from Valencia to continue their successful partnership.

Unfortunately the pair disagreed on certain points and Pako stopped working at Melwood or sitting alongside Rafa on the bench. The club made no statement on the matter, amidst rumours of interest in Pako from other English clubs. Rather than risk that happening, Pako is being forced to see out his contract, although he’ll be on gardening leave until that happens at the end of June next year.

Liverpool have struggled in their games since Pako stepped aside, and although Rafa Benitez says this isn’t a factor it seems clear that his absence has had an impact. Rafa’s job now is to ensure that impact is minimised.

A statement on the official website read:

Pako Ayestaran is to step down from his position as assistant manager at Liverpool FC, although he will be contracted to the club through to June 30, 2008.

Chief executive Rick Parry commented: “Following discussions between Rafael Benitez and Pako Ayestaran, it has been agreed that it would be in the best interests of all parties if Pako leaves his post as assistant manager. Pako, however, will remain under contract to us until next summer.

“The club want to thank Pako for his hard work and contribution to our success over the past three years.”