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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Blues quintet on FIFA gong shortlist

Blues quintet on FIFA gong shortlist
Chelsea are the best represented club on the shortlist for the FIFA World Player of the Year award, with five Blues named among the candidates.

The English duo of Frank Lampard and John Terry are joined on the list, which was released on Wednesday, by team-mates Michael Ballack, Deco, Didier Drogba.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard is the only other Englishman nominated but Premier League-based players account for 10 of the 23 nominees chosen by FIFA, who will reveal the top three at the start of December before the overall winner is announced on January 12 next year

Manchester United are represented by Cristiano Ronaldo, who is one of the favourites to land the title after his 42 goals for the European and English champions last season, while Emmanuel Adebayor flies the flag for Arsenal.

Six Spaniards are included in the list, giving the Euro 2008 champions a great chance of providing a winner for the first time since the award's introduction in 1991.

Last year's winner Kaka is also on the shortlist, as is Barcelona forward Lionel Messi who finished second in 2007, ahead of Ronaldo in third.

As well as the trio of Englishmen and six Spaniards, there are two Portuguese, two Argentinians and one each from Italy, France, Germany, Holland, Russia, Sweden, Brazil, Togo, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.

Shortlist for FIFA World Player award:

Chelsea(5) - John Terry (England), Frank Lampard (England), Michael Ballack (Germany)Deco (Portugal), Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)

Barcelona(4) - Andres Iniesta (Spain), Xavi (Spain)), Lionel Messi (Argentina)Samuel Eto'o (Cameroon)

Real Madrid(2) - Iker Casillas (Spain), Ruud van Nistelrooy (Netherlands)

Liverpool(2) - Fernando Torres (Spain), Steven Gerrard (England)

Arsenal(2) - Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo), Cesc Fabregas (Spain)

Atletico Madrid(1) - Sergio Aguero (Argentina)

Juventus(1) - Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)

Inter Milan(1) - Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

AC Milan(1) - Kaka (Brazil)

Bayern Munich(1) - Franck Ribery (France)

Valencia(1) - David Villa (Spain)

Zenit St Petersburg(1) - Andrei Arshavin (Russia)

Man U(1) - Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cristiano Ronaldo voted FIFPro World Player of the Year

Spain provides 5 players in FIFPro World XI 2007-2008

FIFPro, the world players’ union have announced today their FIFPro World XI 2007-2008. European Champions Spain provided five players. The FIFPro World Player of the Year will be announced later today.

FIFPro’s (Fédération Internationale des Footballeurs Professionels) 57,500 members around the globe cast their votes and five players came out on top for the first time: Spain’s Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xavi and Fernando Torres and England’s Rio Ferdinand are new in the FIFPro World XI.

Puyol, Torres, Gerrard, Kaká, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were also voted by their own peers in the team of last year.

John Terry is the only player who was elected in the World XI in all four editions since FIFPro members started voting in 2005.

Cristiano Ronaldo voted FIFPro World Player of the Year

FIFPro, the world players’ union have announced their World Player of the Year and World XI. Man United’s brilliant Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo has lifted the 2007-2008 title. The award was made to a delighted Ronaldo today in Manchester.

FIFPro’s (Fédération Internationale des FootballeursProfessionels) 57,500 members around the globe cast their votes and Champion’s League winner Cristiano Ronaldo came out on top. He takes over from Milan’s Kaká who has held the title for the last year.

Cristiano Ronaldo commented: “To be recognized by my fellow professional players worldwide coming from over 50,000 players is amazing. I would like to thank my teammates and coaches and everyone involved at Man United and the national team, as well as my family and friends for their support. Thank you also to FIFPro for this award and for your work in protecting the interests and welfare of players around the world.“ ‘

FIFPro members also voted for their team of the year. The side was comprised of a goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards.

The FIFPro World XI is:

Goalkeeper – Iker Casillas (Spain/ Real Madrid)

Defenders – Sergio Ramos (Spain/ Real Madrid), John Terry (England/ Chelsea), Carles Puyol (Spain/ Barcelona) and Rio Ferdinand (England/ Manchester United)

Midfielders - Steven Gerrard (England/ Liverpool), Xavi (Spain/ Barcelona) and Ricardo Kaká (Brazil/AC Milan).

Forwards – Lionel Messi (Argentina/ Barcelona), Fernando Torres (Spain/ Liverpool), and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/ Manchester United).

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Top players will quit if manager is forced out

ONE OUT, ALL OUT - Martin Skrtel, Javier Mascherano, Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt and Albert Riera are all likely to quit Anfield if Rafa Benitez goes

RAFA BENITEZ will have three millions reasons to cast an envious glance across the ten yards of no-man's land at Stamford Bridge this afternoon.
Sitting there will be Luiz Felipe Scolari, a coach with two months of Premier League experience but who earns almost double Rafa's wage.

But the rumblings generated by the Benitez contract situation are not just about a rich man wanting to get richer.

They are threatening the stability of a team that finally looks capable of mounting a serious title challenge.

Sport of the World understands that unless the Spaniard's long-term future is secured soon, Liverpool run the risk of losing up to SIX of their frontline stars - including the irreplaceable Fernando Torres.

An Anfield insider told us: "The manager wants to stay for a long, long time and has made that clear. But there has been no movement on a new contract despite one of the owners saying it was a priority earlier this year.

"That has set the alarm bells ringing with Rafa. At this stage of his career, he wants to plan for the future. There has already been massive interest in him from Spain and Italy.

"But the crucial thing for Liverpool is that around half a dozen players see their future as being tied in with Rafa's. There would be a rebellion if Benitez had to leave."

Leading that rebellion would be fellow Spaniards Torres and Pepe Reina - backed up by Dirk Kuyt, Javier Mascherano, Martin Skrtel and new boy Albert Riera.

With progress in the Champions League relatively smooth and the Premier League top spot beckoning if they can upset Chelsea today, another conflict behind the scenes is the last thing Liverpool need.

But that is what they are heading for.

Benitez insists that his desire for an extended deal is borne out of a need to lay plans that will see the team flourish well into the next decade.

But his freefall down the manager's pay table cannot have escaped his attention.

As Liverpool cement their place amongst the Big Four, Benitez is now treading water in the financial mid-division alongside the likes of David Moyes, Harry Redknapp, Mark Hughes and Roy Keane.

Even Kevin Keegan - before his stomp away from St James Park - was collecting more than the man who has a Champions League success on his considerable CV.

Benitez earns a flat-rate of £3.5million a year. Hardly on the breadline but at least three million below Scolari's annual remuneration.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger both boast a seven-figure advantage over their rival while Hughes, Keane and Redknapp are in the same ballpark.

And across Stanley Park, Moyes has just put his signature to a £65,000-a-week package that leaves him only a round of drinks below his Merseyside foe.

Benitez can fatten his wage packet by winning trophies - £1million for Champions League glory, £750,000 if he can end Liverpool's 19-year wait for domestic bragging rights.

But he has now fallen out of the elite bracket ... in economic terms.

I understand Benitez has already snubbed the chance to join any one of three Spanish clubs and three Italian clubs.

One of the La Liga suitors were Real Madrid, whose current manager Bernd Schuster has not yet been offered an extension to a contract that expires next summer.

Juventus are believed to be leading the Serie A interest.

And having seen his old enemy Jose Mourinho secure a staggering £7million-a-year agreement with Inter, Benitez will be well aware of the earning opportunities in Italy.

Which is why the hesitancy of the Anfield board to offer him a revised contract has mystified many at the club.

Chief executive Rick Parry - a close ally of co-owner George Gillett - has brushed aside questions on the subject.

But Tom Hicks, who called for Parry to quit towards the end of last season, said several months ago that the long-term future of Benitez should be tied up as a matter of urgency.

With Parry and Gillet still in position, that seems to be easier said than done.

And with the credit crunch squeezing the American owners - the new stadium on hold and looking an increasingly endangered venture - there is increasing pressure on Liverpool's finances.


There were claims last week that the profits from Liverpool's on-pitch success were all being used to pay off interest on the huge loans taken out by Gillett and Hicks.

The club may even be forced to have a freeze on signing players in the next couple of transfer windows.

But the ramifications of stalling over the Benitez deal are serious.

Benitez has developed strong relationships with key players and his departure would prompt a mutiny.

Among those who would question their own futures at the club would be key senior players such as Reina, Kuyt and Mascherano.

But most signinficant of all would be Torres who is positioning himself alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as the most sought-after player in world football.

Torres has over four years to run on his contract so there appears to be no need for urgency in getting him to the negotiating table.

But he wants those four years to be under his countryman and any hint of that arrangement being unsettled and the 23-year-old's head might well be turned by the interest that is bound to erupt in next summer's transfer window.

And every big club knows how difficult it is to keep an unhappy player.

Liverpool, of course, could play a game of brinksmanship with Benitez.

His contract does not expire until June 2010 and, with money ultra-tight, the likes of Parry and Gillett might be loathe to almost double his deal more than 18 months before the current one expires.

But that would have the Spanish and Italian vultures circling ... and Benitez would not be their only big-name target.

Chelsea Vs Liverpool Preview - Scolari and Rafa Optimistic

Rafa Preview

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez is confident his side can end Chelsea's 86-game unbeaten run in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

He said: "We have new players, a very good mentality and a lot of confidence, so I think we have enough to beat a very good side like Chelsea.

"We played very well in the first half against Atletico Madrid and we have quality in our squad.

"They are a very good team, and it is clear they are more attacking now."

Liverpool's previous clashes with Chelsea have occasionally been marked by verbal spats between Benitez and former Stamford Bridge coach Jose Mourinho.

Benitez said: "It is always difficult to prepare for a game against Chelsea because they have a lot of good players, but at least you can just think about the game and not about what other people are saying.

"They are a good team. I wouldn't say better than they were before because I don't want to get into a war of words, but they are a more attacking team than before."

Scolari Preview

Chelsea boss Scolari was lavish in his praise of Liverpool, who have won several games late on, and captain Steven Gerrard in particular.

He said: " "These two clubs have the same spirit.They fight until the last minute to win.

"They've won more games in the last minute than us. They have a very good team and it'll be a fantastic game on Sunday. We'll try to win, for sure.

"They are dangerous because they have a good team with good players. They are very organised. They haven't lost a game this season when, sometimes, they were losing in the last five or 10 minutes, they still managed to change those results.

"That's the best thing about Liverpool for me. They changed the results because they played as a team. That's what I want from my team. The respect is mutual. They don't have one magical player. They have a good team.

"I've never played against Rafa Benitez before, but I've watched many games in England when I was with Portugal. I think this is Benitez's best team - competitive, quality, players in good positions and with the idea not to lose going into the last few minutes.

"Steven Gerrard is as important for them as Lampard is for us. Both are very important."

Chelsea hope to have defender Ashley Cole back from the hamstring injury he picked up on England duty.

But Didier Drogba (knee), Michael Ballack (foot), Joe Cole (foot) and Michael Essien (knee) are all out.

Liverpool have been boosted by the news that Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso have recovered from injuries sustained against Atletico Madrid in midweek.

Striker Robbie Keane (pelvis) is still a doubt while Spaniard Fernando Torres (hamstring) is definitely out.

Ref - Howard Webb (Yorkshire)

Wenger left fuming at Gallas smoking picture

Wenger left fuming at Gallas smoking picture

There was neither smoke, nor fire, when William Gallas was caught on camera leaving a nightclub in the early hours of Thursday morning with an unlit cigarette in his mouth, but Arsène Wenger was nevertheless unimpressed.

The Arsenal manager yesterday censured his captain describing his behaviour as "unacceptable". Wenger added: "I don't like that. He has a bigger responsibility as captain. It is a public job with a public responsibility."

Wenger said he was unhappy both for moral reasons and because smoking is damages a player's health. By way of mitigation he conceded that smoking is still widespread in France though he had never smoked when a player, and only briefly, and occasionally, after becoming a coach.

Gallas, whose leadership has been criticised, recently said his performances had been below par and Wenger praised his honesty in doing so.

"I believe that William has a very fair assessment of his performances," said Wenger. "He has learned a lot. He has taken a lot of criticism but I think he took it in a positive way. He has come out and said, 'I made a mistake last year and I will change and re-address my attitude'."

Gallas is in line to return from an thigh injury at West Ham tomorrow. "William has worked very hard to and looks very sharp," said Wenger. "What you can never fault with William is the motivation."

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Rafael Benitez has today revealed that both Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso will be fit to face Chelsea on Sunday - but Robbie Keane remains a doubt for the clash at Stamford Bridge.

The midfield duo were both involved in training at Melwood this morning and now look set to retain their place in the side for the top-of-the-table match with Luiz Felipe Scolari's men.

It was a major boost for Benitez, who will make a late decision on Keane, after the Ireland international missed training with the pelvis injury sustained against Atletico Madrid.

Benitez also revealed that Fernando Torres will definitely not feature against the Blues and remains on course to make his comeback from the hamstring injury he picked up on international duty, against Portsmouth on Wednesday.

"Xabi and Steven both trained today and should be okay," confirmed the manager. "It wasn't a hard session but I am confident they can play at Chelsea.

"We're still not sure about Robbie. He didn't train today and we will have to see how he is tomorrow. We will make a late decision.

"Fernando won't be involved. He is recovering well and should be fit again soon, but we have to be careful with the player."


Xabi Alonso believes Liverpool can be the team to finally end Chelsea's unbeaten home record on Sunday.
The Blues have not lost a league match at Stamford Bridge since Arsenal took away a 2-1 victory in February 2004.

However, Liverpool are defending their own impressive stat - 16 games without defeat in all competitions.

That run includes Rafa Benitez's first league victory over Manchester United, and Alonso is confident he and his teammates can now break a similar hoodoo in an arena where the Reds have not prevailed since January 2004.

"Beating United in our first big test of the season was very important for our confidence and this is another big test for us," said the midfielder.

"We know Chelsea have a great record at home in the Premier League - they haven't been beaten for four seasons. It is going to be really tough but we honestly feel we are ready to get a good result there.

"We won't be going to Stamford Bridge with any fear. We respect them as a very good side but we are confident in our own ability and we believe we can win.

"They have shown great form in recent weeks and we expect a tough game, but we go into every game expecting to win now and Sunday will be no different.

"Hopefully we can be the team to end their unbeaten home record."

If Liverpool do gain maximum points on Sunday, it would put them three points clear of Chelsea at the summit of the Barclays Premier League.

"Being the first team to beat Chelsea at home in the league after all this time would put us in a great position and it would send out an important statement," added Alonso. "But we have to beat them first before we can think about things like this.

"Winning at Stamford Bridge could spur us on for the rest of the season but even if we win it would still be too early in the season to say too much about winning the title. There is still a long way to go."

Alonso and co go into this weekend's fixture having won from behind five times this season - Middlesbrough, Man Utd, Marseille, Man City and Wigan.

However, the Spanish ace knows Liverpool would have a tough task repeating the trick against Phil Scolari's men.

"What we cannot afford to do against Chelsea is start as slowly as we have done in some games," he said. "We need to concentrate fully for 90 minutes because the quality of their players means they can punish you at any time.

"Fernando Torres will be a big loss against Chelsea but we know we can manage the situation - we have to. We have more strength in depth and more confidence now than we have had before.

"After the results we have had this season we are right to be confident."

Sunday's trip to south-west London is the first since the Champions League semi-final defeat in April.

The memories may be relatively fresh, but Alonso insists this is no revenge mission.

"What happened against Chelsea last season won't have an influence on this game, I am sure of that," said the 26-year-old.

"This is a different season, there are different players on both sides, a different manager at Chelsea and we can only focus on what happens during this game.

"We won't prepare for this game thinking about the Champions League semi-final or by using that for extra motivation.

"I don't think you can compare this game with what happened at Stamford Bridge last season. This is a new season, both teams have new targets to concentrate on and, because of that, anything can happen on Sunday."


Rafa Benitez today told his players that nothing less than a 'perfect 90 minutes' will suffice if Liverpool are to end Chelsea's astonishing home record.

The Spaniard accepts that too often this season his side have failed to perform in the first half, meaning they've had to come from behind five times.

This was reversed against Atletico on Wednesday when the Reds led at the break only to leave Spain with a point.

Benitez knows this won't be good enough on Sunday against a side unbeaten at home in the league for nearly five years.

"In Madrid we played well in the first half and then it was surprising to see us lose some control after the break," said the boss.

"Every manager is looking for the perfect 90 minutes and so this weekend I want to see us start as we did in Spain but then keep the same level throughout the game.

"If they score first it will be really difficult for us so we have to do everything perfectly from the first whistle. When we get a chance we have to take it because we know they will have chances as well.

"They have a lot of good players playing good football. They're passing the ball really well and scoring lots of goals. But we're going there with confidence, looking to work hard, play well and produce some nice football."

Liverpool go into the game without the hamstrung Fernando Torres, while Robbie Keane is a doubt with a pelvis injury.

Benitez insists his team is capable of winning without their Ballon D'Or contender.

Arsenal and United are very strong teams. When you talk about the favourites you have to talk about them, and hopefully you will also talk about us at the end of the season.

"I think we can beat Chelsea without Torres," said the Spaniard. "I think we have enough quality. We have new players with a very good mentality and a lot of confidence, so I think we have enough to beat a very good team like Chelsea.

"We will go to Stamford Bridge to try to win and if we do, perfect. If not, we'll try not to lose and that will still be positive because we'll still be unbeaten."

Benitez has faced Chelsea 20 times since arriving in England in 2004 - more than any other team.

Phil Scolari is the third Blues manager he has faced in this time, a man he believes has brought a more attacking impetus to SW6.

"He is improving the squad and the team. They have more or less the same ideas but they're maybe more offensive now," said Benitez.

"I think they are a good team. I will not say they are better now because I don't want to start a war of words! But they are a good team and it's clear they are more offensive."

Both sides go into the game unbeaten on 20 points, four above Arsenal in fourth and six clear of champions Manchester United.

Not that Benitez is putting money on a two horse race.

"Clearly everyone is talking about us this year, and Chelsea too. But we know there's a long way to go," he said.

"Arsenal and United are very strong teams. When you talk about the favourites you have to talk about them, and hopefully you will also talk about us at the end of the season.

"Arsenal have quality and young players, and I think they can improve throughout the season. They will be there for sure."

Meanwhile, Benitez has backed countryman Juande Ramos to steer Spurs out of the relegation zone despite the Londoners gaining just two points from a possible 24.

"They won the Carling Cup and the team was good, and the team is still good, so I am sure they'll be higher in the league," said the gaffer.

"People talk about relegation - I don't think so. They have enough quality."

Friday, October 24, 2008

FIFPro World XI and FIFPro Player of the Year and BALLON D’OR

55 players shortlisted for FIFPro World XI Player Awards

FIFPro (Fédération Internationale des Associations de Footballers Professionnels), the worldwide representative organisation for all professional footballers, today announced the 55 players shortlisted for the 4th FIFPro World XI Player Awards.

In August and September this year the 45,000 professional footballers belonging to the 42 professional organisations across the world that form FIFPro received voting forms in a secret ballot to nominate their peers for inclusion in their “World XI” - choosing the four defenders, three midfielders, three forwards and goalkeeper they most admire.

It is striking that, out of the 55 nominees, the majority were playing in England and Spain last season. The English Premiership attracted the most nominees with 21, followed by the Spanish Primera Division with 18. Italy’s Serie A attracted 8 nominees, the Bundesliga in Germany 4, the Premier League in Russia 2, and the Premier League in Scotland and Portugal provided 1 each.

Barcelona heads the list for the most nominations with 9. Chelsea follows with 8, Manchester United have 7, Real Madrid 6, AC Milan 5, Bayern Munich 4, Arsenal 3, Liverpool and Inter 2 and there is 1 each from Juventus, Internazionale, Sevilla, Valencia, Villareal, Tottenham Hotspur, Olympique Lyon, Celtic, FC Porto, CSKA Moscow and Zenit St Petersburg.

The Premier League has 11 players short-listed for the Ballon d’Or, more than any other league.

The Premier League leads the way in terms of player representation at this years Ballon d’Or with 11 players in the mix. Spain’s La Liga comes a close second with 10 players selected from the condensed list of 30 by France Football Magazine.

Disappointingly, just three England Internationals are selected - Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard - for the Golden Ball Award.

Manchester United and Portugal star Ronaldo is the favourite to win the award which will be announced on the 2nd December 2008.Whilst England have the three nominee’s, Champions of Europe Spain have seven players in the list - Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa, Sergio Ramos, Marcos Senna, Iker Casillas and Xavi.

The Serie A players has three players nominated - Kaka, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gianluigi Buffon.

List of 30 Nominees:

Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal), Togo.
Sergio Agüero (Atletico Madrid), Argentine.
Andreï Archavine (Zénith Saint-Pétersbourg), Russia.
Michael Ballack (Chelsea), Germany.
Karim Benzema (Lyon), France.
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus Turin), Italy.
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Spain.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Portugal.
Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Ivory Coast.
Samuel Eto’o (FC Barcelone), Cameroon.
Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Spain.
Fernando Torres (Liverpool FC), Spain.
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool FC), England.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Inter Milan), Sweden.
Kaka (Milan AC), Brazil.
Frank Lampard (Chelsea), England.
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelone), Argentina.
Pepe (Real Madrid), Portugal.
Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich), France.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), England.
Marcos Senna (Villarreal), Spain.
Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Spain.
Luca Toni (Bayern Munich), Italy.
Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United), Netherlands.
Rafael van der Vaart (Hamburg SV puis Real Madrid), Netherlands.
Ruud van Nistelrooy (Real Madrid), Netherlands.
Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United), Serbia.
David Villa (Valence CF), Spain.
Xavi (FC Barcelone), Spain.
Youri Zhirkov (CSKA Moscou), Russia.

Injured Liverpool trio Gerrard, Alonso and Keane could all miss weekend clash with Chelsea

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez is hopeful key trio Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Robbie Keane will be available for Sunday's crunch showdown at Chelsea.

None of them finished last night's 1-1 Champions League draw at Atletico Madrid, with striker Keane and midfielder Alonso both struggling with knocks, and captain Gerrard suffering from fatigue.

It will not be known until later today how serious the problems are but Benitez is keeping his fingers crossed there is nothing too serious to worry about.
'The three players have had some problems,' said Benitez, whose side are locked at the top of the Barclays Premier League with Chelsea on 20 points.

'It was a little bit of a muscle problem for Robbie. Gerrard is okay. He was really tired and Alonso has a knock on his knee.'
Keane, who had given Liverpool a 14th-minute lead at the Vicente Calderon before Simao Sabrosa earned Atletico a point with a late equaliser, was the first to be taken off when he was replaced by Dirk Kuyt just after half-time.

'We need to check with Keane. I don't think it will be serious, but anyway we need to take care of him. He will see the doctor,' Benitez said.

'We are trying to keep players with fresh legs and 100 per cent fit, so we were trying
to protect all of them.'
When asked if he had any fitness concerns for the clash with Chelsea, Benitez answered: "I don't know now, we will have to wait for tomorrow.'
Gerrard was the next to make way, being replaced by Ryan Babel in the 61st minute, before Alonso left the action with 15 minutes to go, Lucas taking his place.

Eight minutes after Alonso's departure, Atletico managed to equalise, but when asked if the change had played a part in the goal, Benitez insisted he had no choice but to replace the Spain international.
'I explained the reason already, he was injured and he was asking for the substitution,' he said.

Liverpool were without the services of star striker Fernando Torres for the match, with the former Atletico hero remaining in England to continue his recovery from a hamstring injury.
Benitez admits things might have turned out differently if the prolific forward had played, but preferred not to dwell on the subject.
'Obviously he's a special player and it could have been a different match. But he was unavailable so it doesn't matter. He couldn't play,' he said.

Liverpool had been good value for their half-time lead at the Vicente Calderon after limiting Atletico to just a couple of half-chances in the opening period.
However, the Rojiblancos looked a much better side after the break following the arrival of star striker Sergio Aguero, who had started the game on the bench due to concerns about his fitness.
Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina admitted the young Argentinian helped turn the game around for the Spanish side.
'He is a tricky player who you notice when he is on the pitch because he causes a lot of problems and is difficult to stop,' said Reina.

'What is really important now is to get to 10 points and not slip up at home.

Calling in his reserves? Rafa Benitez

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mourinho angling for return to England and Big Four

Jose Mourinho has fuelled the fires of speculation by saying he has unfinished business in England and revealed he expects to return to England when his time comes to an end at Internazionale.

Mourinho spent three years at Chelsea but unexpectedly left the post in September 2007 after a row with owner Roman Abramovich. Relations with the Russian are said to cordial again, especially after Abramovich bought Mourinho a £2 million limited edition Ferrari 612 Scaglietti in May.

Mourinho may well be interested in a job at Manchester United when Sir Alex Ferguson finally quits Old Trafford. The 45-year-old Portugese coach returned to management when he signed a three-year contract with Inter in June.

"I have a contract with Inter but when it ends I will probably return to the Premier League, a league I really like," he revealed.

Mourinho has made a solid start to life in Italy, and guided the Nerazzurri to the Serie A summit with Sunday's thumping 4-0 win at Roma

Liverpool character pleases Carra
Centre-back Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool are demonstrating the type of character needed to win the Premier League title.

The defender was a part of the side which came from behind to defeat Wigan 3-2 at Anfield on Saturday to maintain an unbeaten record this season.

Carragher was also involved as the Reds recorded turn-around wins against Middlesbrough, Manchester United and Manchester City this campaign, and the 30-year-old believes the successes are positive signs.

The games could be viewed as contests Liverpool - who have not lifted a league title in 18 years - would not have won in seasons past, and Carragher believes the improvement is down to the mental strength of his colleagues.

"We were always confident about turning things around against Wigan because we've done it a few times this season now," he told Liverpool's official website.

"There's a really good team spirit at the moment and that makes a big difference. You're going to need a lot of character to challenge for the league title over the next few months.

"We know we're a good side but only time will tell if we're good enough to go on and win the title. At this stage we're just happy that we're up there and challenging.

"The most important thing is to get the points on the board as soon as possible and that's what we're trying to do at the moment."

Carragher, though, is wary that Liverpool cannot afford to keep giving opponents a head start.

"It's not something you want to be doing in every game of the season because eventually you're going to come unstuck," added Carragher.

Winger Albert Riera - who moved to England from Espanyol in the summer - has echoed Carragher's sentiments.

"We just don't know when we are beaten, and that is a quality that was apparent to me the moment I arrived here," said Riera.

"It really is unbelievable. You get confidence from winning games. It demonstrates how good we are at reacting to adversity. That is so important and is the message that comes across loud and clear."

We can't take foot off pedal - Lamps
Frank Lampard has urged Premier League leaders Chelsea not to take their foot off the pedal following their unbeaten start to the season.

Chelsea have enjoyed a tremendous run under new boss Luiz Felipe Scolari and produced another eye-catching performance in the 5-0 triumph at Middlesbrough on Saturday.

The Blues are now odds-on to reclaim the Premier League title from Manchester United, with Lampard admitting they have a great chance of being champions again.

However, the experienced midfielder has sounded a note of caution by insisting Chelsea can not afford to let their standards drop in the coming weeks.

"Boro weren't at their best, they would probably admit that, and it is a bit strong to say we could beat any team if we played the way we did," said Lampard told Sky Sports.

"But if we are playing as well as we did, and we keep that up for the season, then we have a great chance. We can't take our foot off the pedal, because the moment you do that, things can change.

"At the moment we are full of confidence, we have such a strong squad that we are coping with the injuries we have got, who are all top players, and the attitude we came to Middlesbrough with after the international break was fantastic.

"'People might have expected us to have a dodgy start on the Saturday morning, but we came out of the blocks and we played fantastically."

Chelsea have already produced several notable performances this season, but Lampard ranks Saturday's at the Riverside as the best to date.

He added: "The way we set about the game right from the starting moment was brilliant with our movement and our passing.

"That is the best we have played for a long time. I have said that a couple of times already this season, but it's been true."

I was right to miss England - Terry
John Terry was 'gutted' to miss England's World Cup qualifiers, but says it was the right decision after he returned for Chelsea on Saturday.

England skipper Terry sat out the wins over Kazakhstan and Belarus earlier this month with a back injury, leaving Rio Ferdinand to captain the team in his absence.

But Terry was fit to play in Chelsea's 5-0 win over Middlesbrough on Saturday and he was happy to make a winning return to action after a frustrating week.

"Honestly, I was so gutted watching the England game on Wednesday. Especially being captain - it really hurt me," said Terry.

"I wanted to stay with the squad, but knew by Monday I wasn't right. When I was watching, my back was still hurting, so I knew it was the right decision.

"It was hard to sit it out, but this was a nice way to come back. We know it is never easy to come to a place like Middlesbrough and over the years they have made it very difficult for us. It was one of the best displays I have ever seen us put in, though.

"The manager is eager. He wants us to play from the back. One thing he has stressed right from the start is that we must work hard for each other.

"There are going to be games when we don't play well, but if we are fighting, working and moving for each other we have all the chance in the world."

The Chelsea captain also revealed that the players are enjoying the more attacking mentality adopted by manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.

He added: "In the first two years after Jose Mourinho took over we had a strong mentality where we would go to places and shut up shop to get the three points.

"But now we are ready to really push on and get that second goal and kill teams off. That is the difference between then and now."

Gunners have right mentality - RvP
Robin van Persie maintains Arsenal have the right "mental aspect" to last the distance in the race for the Premier League title

The Gunners showed plenty of the battling spirit they will need over the next seven months as they came from behind to beat Everton 3-1 at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

After conceding an early goal to Leon Osman, Arsene Wenger's men found some urgency when England winger Theo Walcott was introduced at the break and a makeshift backline was rebalanced.

Samir Nasri equalised with a low effort from 20 yards before van Persie - who had already missed two gilt-edged chances - nodded them in front and Walcott wrapped things up with a well-taken goal in stoppage time.

Dutch international van Persie accepts there are more "big tests" ahead for the Gunners.

However, the 25-year-old maintains Wenger's squad have learned harsh lessons from the last campaign, when they swept to the top of the table only to fade in the run-in.

"You are playing at home with 60,000 people behind you and it is a bit disappointing when you go 1-0 down, but you have to think positive," he said.

"I missed a few chances and was not happy about that, but you have to keep going and that is one of the reasons why you play at the top."

Van Persie maintained: "At this time in football, the mental aspect is really important, maybe more than 30 or 40 per cent.

"If you look at the games we have played, like against Bolton and Blackburn, the mental aspect is more important than the way we want to play.

"I do not think it is a real big problem for us, but every single time we have to prove it again.

"Last season we played fantastic for three-quarters of the season and then suddenly everything fell down.

"I do not know if the reason is mentally, maybe it was a bit of everything, but we learned a lot from last year as well.

"The season is long, we lost some points, but we won some as well so we just have to stay positive.

"The whole squad realise that because we still have to play against the big teams and lots of big tests for us are on the way."

Reds ace Kuyt happy to front up
Dutch frontman Dirk Kuyt has vowed to continue scoring for Liverpool as Fernando Torres' stand-in whenever he is needed.

The hard-working striker scored twice to sink Wigan 3-2 in a thrilling encounter at Anfield.

Torres was watching from the directors' box as he nursed the hamstring injury that will keep him out of the club's next two away matches, the Champions League trip to Atletico Madrid and next weekend's clash at Chelsea.

A few weeks ago Kuyt was being reminded constantly that he had not scored in the league since last November and had managed only one this campaign.

Since then he has scored in three successive matches for the first time in his Liverpool career, including three crucial Premier League goals.

Being asked to step into Torres' scoring boots has not bothered him one bit and there is every chance that Kuyt will be asked to lead the line in Madrid and at Stamford Bridge.

He said: "Fernando is very important for us and it was a big blow that he wasn't on the pitch. But I tried to do my job when the boss put me up front, I just intended on scoring goals for the team.

"It does not concern me what position I play, I have enjoyed being played on the right, and I just want to be important for the team.

"I just hope Fernando is back quickly, but whenever the boss wants me up front, I will be ready.

"I do not think of where I play when Fernando is back. I feel I have been important on the right, scoring goals and with a few assists.

"The most joy for me is that we are winning more games and are at the top of the table."

Kuyt's double maintained Liverpool's unbeaten home league record this year - indeed they have lost just two of their last 58 home Premier League games - and this is their best start to a league campaign for 18 years.

But they had to overcome a tremendous display from Wigan, with Egyptian striker Amr Zaki scoring twice in the first period, his second a memorable scissor-kick into the Kop end.

Kuyt's first had kept Liverpool in the hunt, and only after Antonio Valencia's two yellow cards reduced Wigan to 10 men, did Albert Riera equalise and Kuyt grab the winner.

Kuyt added: "I was delighted with my two. But for me the most important thing is that we win games. Even if we did make it hard for ourselves.

"We did struggle a bit, but Fernando was not playing and several players were not 100 per cent fit.

"The most important thing after being away on international duty, is that you win your next club match because they are always more difficult.

"In these kind of games you have to show character. And that is the massive improvement from last season because in similar circumstances then we may have drawn or even lost this one.

"We took another step along the road, a test really. We won while not being at our best."

Kuyt, 28, said: "We knew that Chelsea were a few goals up when we started, so we knew we had to win to stay top with them. But it is really more important to concentrate on ourselves and win our own games, regardless, and then we will see where we are.

"Chelsea winning so emphatically does not put more pressure on us. We know we have to win every game to keep in touch with them, Arsenal are there and Manchester United too.

"The most important thing is to look at ourselves and what we do. But we know we cannot allow anyone to get half a dozen points away from us.

"We saw that situation last season. We lost too many points at the beginning of the season and that cost us dearly in the end.

"Now you can see that we are collecting the points all the time, that is vital."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Seven reasons why Chelsea are going to WIN the Champions League!

The captain - John Terry looks fitter and fresher than ever. You can't help but think that those scenes from Moscow of Terry sat on the floor, head in hands, followed by a walk through the entire Manchester United squad trying their hardest not to grin, will only act as the most stubborn determination for not just the skipper but the entire squad. If ever there was a leader ideally fit to guide his side to the biggest prize in European football then here he is.

The manager - Mr. Scolari looks to have once again embodied everything that Chelsea stand for. Watching the West Londoners, the only other time the side has maybe looked more impressive was in the Jose Mourinho era. Scolari has come in and clearly defined the role of each player in his side. Not only does he command massive respect, but the gaffer that once got banned for breaking the nose of an opposition coach, carries just as big a presence but without the arrogance of Mourinho, winning him more fans with the neutrals. He also happens top have won the biggest prize in football, the World Cup and doesn't run down the touch line telling opposition fans to be quiet.

The new men - Chelsea's signings during the summer were both clever and important. In Jose Bosingwa, Chelsea now have the right back equivalent of Ashley Cole, a full back that can bomb forward but also has the handy knack of being able to defend. Important because in a lot of big European games sides are reluctant to send waves of players forward to create a sporting equivalent of D-Day, hence the full backs getting forward is crucial. What more can be said about Deco? The signing of the Portuguese maestro was branded by some as a waste, those who said that his best days at Barca were long gone clearly haven't been watching the opening days of this season. Deco is just as influential in the side as Claude Makelele was, the difference is he is arguably the best creative midfielder currently in the Premiership.

The old men - Hanging on to Frank Lampard was a master stroke on the part of whoever decided to give him the terms he desired in his extended contract. The loss of Lampard's mother last season seems to have spurned the East Londoner on. The way that Deco and Lampard so easily switch between roles in the Chelsea midfield is a pleasure to watch, when one goes zig the other goes zag. There are few other teams in Europe that can boast a midfield pairing as impressive. John Terry's central defensive partner also has a big part to play, the beauty of having Carvalho next to Terry in the middle of defence is that you have effectively two loud and big individuals at the back of the team, I think most would agree that when you watch Chelsea this year they don't look like they'll ever leak a goal.

The keeper - Petr Cech is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. All is well and good if you have the best 10 players at your exposal in front of the keeper but it's the man between the sticks that more than often decides whether a team wins or loses a game. Cech embodies all the skills a keeper should possess; presence, skill, agility and reliability among others. The rest of the team know they can rely on him if they have a rare defensive lapse, furthermore the defence knows that if they hear a shout of ‘keeper' from behind them then they know some 6 foot plus Czech bloke is about to batter them in the back of the head.

The coaches - The loss of Steve Clarke to West Ham was a massive blow for the West London outfit, Clarke was a massive person at the club, of that there is no doubt. His replacement, former skipper Ray Wilkins, is another Chelsea master stroke. Wilkins is one of the most intelligent people in the game, although a pundit for a long time, anyone that watched him on Sky Sports or any other channel couldn't help but nod in agreement when he would decipher a situation that the other pundits would make look like the Davinci Code. He is no stranger to the big game, he also played in other European leagues, hence Wilkins has an under standing of the way other European teams are likely to set up and play, something money can't physically buy.

The fans and stadium - I'm not sure what it is but there must be some sort of magical spell over Stamford Bridge. There is no reason why the fortress like atmosphere of 80 something unbeaten games in the Premiership can't transfer itself to European occasions. Only the likes of Barcelona have entered the territory of Chelsea and come away with any pluses in recent years. Furthermore the same gritty determination that John Terry will be displaying this year will be evident on the part of the fans. There were a lot of Chelsea fans in Russia who saw their team lose, this will only spur them on to get right behind the side whoever they meet on their European adventure this season. I'm fairly sure that ‘Blue is the colour' will be sung louder than ever before.

Blues star set for Villa return

Blues midfielder Joe Cole is hoping to recover from injury in time to make his return against Aston Villa on Sunday

Cole was forced to miss last week's comfortable 4-0 Carling Cup victory at Portsmouth with a thigh injury which also ruled him out of the 2-0 win at Stoke last weekend.

The England star failed to overcome the problem for Chelsea's Champions League clash against CLR Cluj in Romania in midweek but is reportedly making good progress and hopeful of being back in the squad for the visit of Villa to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

His midfield colleague Deco looks unlikely to feature again though as he continues his recovery from a similar injury while his Portugal teammate Ricardo Carvalho is still at least a fortnight away from returning from a knee injury.

There is some good news for boss Luiz Felipe Scolari though, with striker Salomon Kalou back in the squad for the European clash against Cluj after shaking off the ankle problem that forced him to be substituted at half-time at Stoke