31 March 2008
March 30, 2008 6:26 PM
For another year the Premier League's phoney war, or phoney drama, is over. Liverpool's run of five straight wins in February and March had hinted at a decisive yanking up of the rope-ladder that separates the current top four clubs from the below-stairs pretenders; the 1-0 defeat of Everton at Anfield this afternoon pretty much seals it. Liverpool are now five points clear and can look forward to the potentially season-defining Champions League quarter-final with Arsenal with a sense of having taken care of business.
It's hard to feel particularly surprised by any of this. The pretence that a club from outside the established big four has a realistic chance of barging its way under the velvet rope and into the Champions League VIP area is part of the habitual Premier League hoopla of recent years. Everton have had an excellent season until injuries and a dropping-off of form for a few key players contributed to a stodgy recent run. David Moyes is clearly a fine manager, who has built his team carefully and incrementally. In the Premier League, however, this simply isn't enough.
It's a budgetary thing. Fernando Torres, scorer of the decisive goal today, now has 21 Premier League goals (19 of them at Anfield). For the opening half hour he was irrepressible: constantly menacing in his movement, strong in possession, a centre forward dictating the pace of the game. It's tempting to draw a comparison with Everton's Yakubu Ayegbeni, also a record-signing centre forward in his first season. Twisting and turning like a budget Torres, the Nigerian did occasionally lure Sami Hyppia out of his comfort zone in the middle; twice he won free-kicks. Yakubu cost £11.25m, slightly less than Liverpool could afford to splurge on a hunch on Ryan Babel. Sometimes the market tells you all you need to know: £26m gets you Torres and a Champions League spot.
Blue riband Uefa competitions aside, this was also a Merseyside derby. And at least there was something reassuringly traditional in the fretful nature of much of the football. These games rarely provide much free-flowing entertainment. On this occasion there was a general absence of drama too. The physical contest was strangely muted. The first really heavy tackle came as late as the 56th minute, when Lee Carsley was booked for a mistimed lunge. Unable to dictate the tempo, Everton were out-muscled and out-passed by a Liverpool midfield in which Gerrard and Lucas were steady. Liverpool simply did enough.
Often on these occasions an early goal can provide impetus, forcing the visiting team to attack more readily than they might. Not so today. Everton did have spells of possession in the Liverpool half, but displayed the bluntest of cutting edges: they failed to create a chance of any note until a 66th-minute free-kick. This is hardly surprising: for this game their attacking options were severely limited. The squad is light for a team challenging for a Champions League spot. With injures to Andrew Johnson, Tim Cahill and Victor Anichebe, Everton's attack was emasculated. How frustrating for Moyes that Torres' early goal should come from a mistake by his own player. Yakubu dithered on the edge of the Everton box and was robbed; three touches later Liverpool had scored, Torres shooting low and powerfully past Howard.
Even more frustrating, Everton would have come here nursing hopes that a point could keep alive their hopes of taking it down to the last knockings. Liverpool's last six games looked less than straightforward: they play away four times, at Arsenal, Spurs, Fulham and Birmingham. Points will probably be dropped; but not enough, not now.
As the game wore on, Moyes appeared on the touchline in his funereal suit, gesturing towards his players in increasingly desperate fashion. There were moments of scrambled excitement in the Liverpool box. Yakubu had a couple of half chances, one of which ended with a laughable dive. But Everton never looked like drawing - never mind winning - this game, just as all season they never really looked like finishing in fourth place in May.
This is not to disparage their efforts. The Champions League, as we've seen in four of the last five Premier League seasons (including this one) has become a self-financing hegemony. It's a problem not just for Everton, but for anyone with an interest in the top tier of English football. March seems a little early for these kind of questions to be settled. Budgetary inequities, leagues-within-leagues: the Premier League has the resources - financial and tribal - to survive these kind of things. Can it really cope with becoming boring?
what's this? A sympathety articles for the below Big Four?
28 March 2008
The 178th Merseyside league derby is also a head-to-head clash for fourth place in the Premier League and the final Champions League qualifying spot. Liverpool currently hold fourth, Everton are fifth two points behind, and both have seven to play.
Liverpool have only finished outside the top five in one of the last 13 seasons, and outside the top four once in four years; Everton have never had successive top-half finishes in the Premier League era, and are 10 points better off at this stage than last season.
The Toffees have won one more league game than the Reds this term (17 to 16), yet are one place below them.
Liverpool had won seven games on the trot (all competitions) going into last Sunday's fixture. They then dropped points for the first time in six outings when losing 3-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford, but have won their last five at Anfield.
Liverpool need to score once to total 100 goals in all competitions this season.
Everton have won only two of the last 16 Merseyside derbies against Liverpool, and have not taken away three points from Anfield since their 0-1 victory on 27 September 1999, when Kevin Campbell got the winner.
This Merseyside derby precedes three successive clashes with Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-finals and Premier League for Liverpool, starting with the European tie at the Emirates on Wednesday.
(all statistics are ahead of this weekend's round of Premier League fixtures, and refer to stats and sequences in the Premier League only, unless stated otherwise)
1. Lost one of eight (all competitions).
2. Picked up 19 points from a last available 24.
3. Lost four times; only Arsenal (twice) and Chelsea (three times) have been beaten less frequently.
4. Drawn 11 - only Fulham match that.
5. Conceded 24 goals; only Manchester United (15) and Chelsea (23) have shipped fewer. Also, allowed the opposition to score first in eight games; only Manchester United can better that (five times).
6. Registered five goalless draws. Only Portsmouth have also been involved in as many as that.
7. Won only one of the last five against North-West clubs; 1-3 against Bolton at the Reebok on 2 March.
8. Won the last five at home against Sunderland, Middlesbrough, West Ham, Newcastle and Reading. Aston Villa were the last club to leave Anfield with a point (2-2 on 21 January); Manchester United are the only club this season to take all three points away (0-1, 16 December).
9. Lost one of 20 at Anfield in over a year, and scored 15 goals in the last five there.
10. The league run-in is:-
Arsenal (a) Blackburn (h) Fulham (a) Birmingham (a) Manchester City (h) Tottenham (a)
1. Won seven and drawn three of their 11 matches in 2008.
2. Conceded a total of four goals in 11 outings, keeping seven clean sheets.
3. Completed 11 matches since conceding more than a single goal in a game; it is the longest current such sequence in this league.
4. The current tally of 57 points after 31 games is six points more than the previous highest at this stage in the 2004-05 season, when they finished fourth.
5. Opened the scoring in 20 matches; only Manchester United have scored the first goal more often (25 times).
6. Picked up fewer cards than any other club from matches in this league; 33 (three red, 30 yellow).
7. Unbeaten in five against clubs from the North-West (four wins, one draw); lost one of eight away against clubs from the region (2-1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford on 23 December 2007).
8. Picked up 27 away points; only Chelsea (33) and Manchester United (30) have picked up more.
9. Kept seven clean sheets on their travels; only Chelsea have achieved more (eight).
10. The run-in is:-
Derby (h) Birmingham (a) Chelsea (h) Aston Villa (h) Arsenal (a) Newcastle (h)
Fernando TORRES is Liverpool's top scorer with 27 goals, and their leading marksman in the Premier League with 20.
TORRES and GERRARD have scored a total of 30 league goals between them.
Javier MASCHERANO was the first Liverpool player to be sent off in a Premier League game in 70 matches in almost two years, when dismissed against Manchester United last Sunday. Luis Garcia was the previous Liverpool player to see red, against West Ham on 26 April 2006.
Goalkeeper Jose REINA is the only remaining player to have been on the field for every minute of every one of Liverpool's Premier League matches this season.
REINA leads the race for the Barclays Golden Glove, going into this round of Premier League fixtures, having kept 14 clean sheets.
REINA will be making his 100th Premier League appearance - all in goal for Liverpool.
Alvaro ARBELOA and Fabio AURELIO will be making their 50th appearances for Liverpool.
Javier MASCHERANO (one match)
YAKUBU is Everton's top scorer with 19 goals.
YAKUBU is also the clubs' top Premier League marksman with 13.
Andy JOHNSON is one short of 100 career league goals (Birmingham, Crystal Palace and Everton).
JOHNSON was the last Everton player to score in a Merseyside derby. He sealed a 3-0 home win with a 90th minute goal, his second of the match, on 9 September 2006. (Everton's goal in this season's reverse fixture was an own goal from Sami Hyypia).
Tony HIBBERT will be making his 150th Premier League start in an Everton shirt.
Liverpool are hoping to do the double over their local rivals for the third time in the Premier League, and first since 2005-06.
More red cards have been issued in Premier League matches between Liverpool and Everton than any other match-up; 16 (Liverpool six, Everton 10). The last two came in the reverse fixture in October when the Toffees ended with nine men.
Home and away League (inc PL): Liverpool 66 wins, Everton 56, Draws 55
at Liverpool only League (inc PL): Liverpool 37 wins, Everton 23, Draws 28
Liverpool 0-0 Everton 3 February 2007 - Ref: Alan Wiley
Everton 1-2 Liverpool 20 December 2007 - Ref: Mark Clattenburg
27 March 2008
Mar 27 2008
DAVID MOYES is relishing the chance to pit his wits against Rafael Benitez once again this weekend and hopes that derbies where Liverpool and Everton are at the top end of the table become the norm.
Everton have closed the gap on Liverpool since Moyes took charge in March 2002 but he is still seeking a first victory on enemy territory and knows his side will once again be underdogs, even though they have only lost three times in the Premier League since last October.
“I am in a privileged position to be manager of Everton,” said Moyes. “We have always had an uphill task because Liverpool Football Club are very strong but (being involved in these games) is something I will always remember.
“You tend not to look at it just now awfully clearly because you are in it but maybe in years to come by I will look back at it. I enjoy it and coming from a city like Glasgow where you have Celtic and Rangers I understand the same with Everton and Liverpool.
“It plays a big part like all derbies in major cities but that is what attracts you to the real football cities where they tend to have good old fashioned derbies.
“For many years Everton haven’t really been able to compete as closely as we would like but we are now on the shoulders of Liverpool and a couple of other teams and we have got to try and stay there.”
Last weekend's defeat at Old Trafford ensured that Liverpool's wafer-slim hopes of being involved in the title race are at an end, so this weekend is now a crucial one for their more realistic hopes of salvaging something from another disappointing league campaign. In many ways it is also the best possible fixture for them to put their frustrations behind them and get their season back on track in time for the resumption of Champions League football.
Of course, their opponents are neighbours Everton, who also happen to be their closest rivals for the fourth Champions League slot, with just two points between the Merseyside clubs and a big drop of seven points before sixth-placed Portsmouth. That means that it is almost certainly between these two to decide who will finish in fourth place, and this clash at Anfield will go a long way to deciding which of them comes out in top.
In 2005, Everton pipped Liverpool to it, though their achievement was rather overshadowed a week or so later when the Reds won the Champions League, while qualification did the Toffees little good as they crashed out almost before the following season started, and it took them the best part of a year to fully recover. They are back and challenging again now though and will fancy their chances of winning at Anfield for the first time since September 1999.
They have only won twice in 16 derby matches since that day, while they have had a frustrating time in recent weeks, with a UEFA Cup exit followed by a defeat and a draw in the league. However, with Liverpool's own impressive form coming unstuck at Old Trafford, neither team will be high on confidence going into the derby, while Everton will be burning with resentment and a desire for vengence after the manner of their home defeat to the Reds back in October.
Leading at half-time to a Sami Hyypia own goal, things fell apart for Everton after Tony Hibbert was sent off for a foul on Steven Gerrard, which led to a penalty that was converted by Dirk Kuyt, who should have been shown a red card himself for a wild lunge before scoring another spot kick in the last minute after a handball by Phil Neville (also sent off). With Everton feeling that they should have had two penalties of their own, it was a hugely controversial win for Liverpool, and that is bound to be on the minds of the Toffees players.
For Liverpool, bouncing back from their flat and uninspired performance against Man United will be at the forefront of their minds, particularly as they went into that match with every expectation of finally ending their miserable run against their rivals. Having not only failed to achieve that, but also putting in one of their worst recent performances against them, there will have been a lot of private soul-searching away from the public protests about Javier Mascherano's sending-off.
Their complaints about the 'rough treatment' dished out to Fernando Torres were also a convenient way of deflecting criticism of the Spaniard's inability to cause any real problems for the United defence, so he will be eager to get his form back against Everton, particularly as he was left out for the previous derby at Goodison Park. Steven Gerrard will be equally fired up after underwhelming displays for club and country this week, as well as losing out on the England captaincy to Rio Ferdinand for the game against France.
Both Merseyside clubs have plenty of motivation for this derby, beyond the usual local pride and emnity between the players and fans. Hopefully that will lead to a match that is very competitive and fiery but not too tense or nervy, and while the October game was rather marred by awful refereeing decisions, it was certainly all the more entertaining because of them. Given what is at stake here, you can bet that any repeat of those kind controversies will linger long in the memories of whoever comes out on the receiving end of them...
Phil Neville has insisted Everton must meet the challenge head on to beat Liverpool to fourth spot in the Barclays Premier League.
Five points dropped from their last two games leaves Everton going into Sunday's 207th Mersey derby at Anfield two points behind neighbours Liverpool.
If they lose there, Everton will have a mountain to climb in the race for Champions League football next season.
But if they can take advantage of Liverpool's distraction and dismay following last Sunday's defeat at Manchester United, it will be very different.
'When you play consistently well as we have done all season, you automatically raise the bar of expectation,' said captain Neville.
'That is a challenge we need to meet head on. Just doing enough now is no longer acceptable at Everton, and we must start to achieve now.
'For us to finish fourth in the best league in Europe would represent a wonderful achievement.'
Everton go into the derby with injury doubts over Tim Cahill, Steven Pienaar and Joseph Yobo - but striker Andrew Johnson should have recovered from his groin injury.
Neville knows Everton's objectives will be tough to achieve, but his rallying cry is clear - with an apparent dig at the under-achievements of opponents such as Liverpool.
He said: 'Certain clubs set out at the start of each season with the aim of winning the Premier League - so for them to finish third or fourth would be a disappointment.
'It will mean they have under-achieved. But not us. We know we are unlikely to be crowned champions, but for us to qualify for the Champions League would be great.
'I feel there will be a few thrills and spills along the way between now and May. There are too many big games for all the clubs involved for the position not to keep changing.
'We have just got to make sure we capitalise on any slip-ups that other teams make. We are not favourites for fourth place, but we are going to give it our best shot.'
After the derby, Everton face strugglers Derby and then Birmingham.
Liverpool run into arguably tougher games with Arsenal and Blackburn, so there are plenty of chances for those slips Neville is predicting.
Even with Premier League title contenders Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea all in action this week, much of the attention will temporarily switch to the battle for fourth place.
Liverpool versus Everton.
The fierce city rivals are separated by just one place and two points in the fight for England's final Champions League qualifying berth, with Everton able to leap above its more illustrious neighbor into fourth if it wins at Anfield on Sunday.
But Everton has beaten the record 18-time English champion just twice in 16 meetings, and is without an away win against its biggest rival since 1999.
"For many years, Everton haven't really been able to compete as closely as we'd like. But we are now on the shoulders of Liverpool and a couple of other teams and we have got to try and stay there," Everton manager David Moyes said.
Working on a fraction of the budget of his Liverpool counterpart Rafa Benitez, Moyes has been at Everton for six years and has led the club away from the relegation zone to make it a realistic contender for silverware.
The Toffees reached the semifinals of this year's League Cup - its first last-four appearance in any competition for 13 years - and was unlucky to exit the UEFA Cup last month by losing a penalty shootout to Fiorentina.
The disparity in resources is amply demonstrated by the strikers likely to go head-to-head this weekend.
While Everton will be relying on its 11.25 million-pound record signing Yakubu Ayegbeni to add to his season tally of 19 goals, Liverpool should have Fernando Torres up front.
The Spain striker, who cost more than twice as much when he joined in the offseason, should be fit after injuring his ankle and ribs in last week's 3-0 loss at Manchester United to try to add to his 27 goals for the Reds.
"We saw that every time he went for the ball on Sunday he was put under a lot of pressure, but at this moment I think he will be fit for Sunday," Benitez said.
Torres missed Liverpool's 2-1 win at Everton in October.
Moyes has already guided Everton to a fourth-place finish ahead of Liverpool, in 2005, but both clubs qualified for the Champions League on that occasion because the Reds won the trophy to go in as defending champions.
The rules have since been changed, throwing up the possibility that Everton could finish fourth at Liverpool's expense and still miss out on a Champions League place to its rival. After 2005, UEFA ruled that a country can provide a maximum four teams and that defending champions qualified by right.
"We have always had an uphill task because of Liverpool," Moyes said.
By Mitch Phillips
Liverpool occupy the vital fourth place - worth a slot in the Champions League qualifiers - on 59 points, two ahead of Everton with a superior goal difference of nine.
With only six games remaining after this weekend, the Blues can ill-afford to slip up.
However, while Everton's attention is focused on the league run-in, Liverpool will be diverted by the Champions League, where they face Arsenal twice either side of another meeting with them in the league in the first eight days of April.
If Liverpool do go on to reach a third final in four seasons, Everton fans will have a bigger incentive than usual to will them to lose if their side finish fourth in May. A Liverpool win would guarantee them a Champions League return at Everton's expense.
Liverpool won the Champions League in 2005 but were pipped by Everton for fourth spot in the league and needed a UEFA rule change to allow them to enter the following season's competition in the qualifying rounds.
UEFA then amended the regulations to ensure there was no repeat of a country having five clubs in the group stage.
This will probably not be necessary if Liverpool repeat their controversial victory at Goodison Park in October, when Dirk Kuyt scored two penalties in a 2-1 win that has left Everton fans seething ever since.
The Dutchman had been lucky to escape a red card for an earlier wild lunge at Phil Neville, while Everton, who finished with nine men, were furious that their own clear claim for a late penalty was turned down.
"It's an important game, there's no doubt about that," Kuyt told Liverpoolfc.tv. "The derby is always big but this one is going to be really big. Everton deserve to be where they are at the moment but fifth will be okay for them this season."
Both sides dropped points last week as Liverpool lost 3-0 to Manchester United and Everton were held to a 1-1 home draw by West Ham United having lost at Fulham in their previous game.
Everton, who have a seven-point cushion over sixth-placed Portsmouth, are aiming higher than another crack at the UEFA Cup, which they exited on penalties to Fiorentina two weeks ago.
"It shows how far we have come that we are looking up at Liverpool in fourth rather than down," goalkeeper Tim Howard told http://www.evertonfc.com/.
By Francisco Acedo
Highly-rated Getafe midfielder Ruben De la Red insists he will not decide on his future until the summer, despite interest from Liverpool.
De la Red has impressed for Getafe after joining from Primera Liga rivals Real Madrid in August 2007 and the 22-year-old earned a call-up to the Spain squad for their 1-0 friendly win over Italy on Wednesday.
And De la Red is believed to have caught the eye of Rafa Benitez as the Liverpool manager is rumoured to be lining up a replacement for Xabi Alonso, who has fallen out of favour at Anfield at times this season.
However, De la Red insists he has yet to be contacted by any English clubs regarding a possible summer move. "I have not spoken with any directors of any English clubs," De la Red told Skysports.com when asked about interest from Liverpool.
De la Red remains cautious over his future and has hinted that he could return to Real after an option was inserted in his transfer which gives the Spanish champions the option to re-buy within two years for 4.5million euros (£3.5m).
"In the last summer I had contact with Real Madrid but was rejected and I am in Getafe and happy with my work," De la Red added.
"I do not want to decide directly because Real have the option until the end of season for the re-purchase.
"I am satisfied with how things are at Getafe. This subject (a transfer) is on standby until June."
De la Red's agent, Manuel Garcia Quilon, has also suggested that the player could leave Getafe at the end of the season.
"The deal corresponding to Real Madrid says that if they pay 4.5m euros then the player could return to Real," said Quilon - who is also the agent of Benitez. "But we could also enter into another operation."
Meanwhile, Alonso - who could be offered in a possible part exchange deal by Liverpool - insists he is not looking to leave Merseyside.
"I am signed to a deal with Liverpool and I am used to rumours in the press about my possible return to Spain," said Alonso.
The Norwegian defender has been a regular for the Reds since his switch from Monaco in 2001, but has found his opportunities restricted during the current campaign.
He has made just 26 starts in all competitions this season and has fallen behind fellow full-back Fabio Aurelio in the pecking order of late.
He is due for showdown talks with manager Rafa Benitez in the near future, but is prepared to leave the club at the end of the season if he does not get the guarantees he requires.
"I am not happy with the situation," he told the Norwegian media.
"I am used to playing in 80 per cent of all the games, but if I don't get to play as much as I want to I have to make a choice this summer as to whether I should stay or not.
"I just have to wait and see what will happen.
"Maybe he (Benitez) will offer me a new contract, maybe not.
"It's frustrating not knowing if you are going to play the next game or not."
Last Updated: 9:31am GMT 27/03/2008
Barcelona lead a trio of Spanish clubs interested in luring Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez back to La Liga.
Benitez's future at Anfield is still under threat with uncertainty over Dubai Investment Capital's plans for the club should they complete their £400 million takeover in the coming weeks.
The Spaniard remains committed to Liverpool and his priority would be to stay on Merseyside but a host of clubs have already noted their interest in the coach should he become available in the summer.
Barcelona are monitoring Benitez's situation and could make a move for the coach in the summer with Frank Rijkaard's own position at the Nou Camp in the balance.
Barca are one of three clubs thought to have sounded out Benitez's agent, Manuel Garcia Quillon, with former club Valencia and Atletico Madrid also interested in bring Benitez back to Spain.
Benitez has endured a tumultuous campaign at Anfield with off-the-field disputes between coach and American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks proving one of the reasons behind Liverpool's Premier League title-charge hitting the buffers.
While Benitez's relationship with Hicks imparticular has improved in recent weeks - having guided Liverpool to the Champions League quarter-finals - the drawn-out saga of DIC's takeover bid, has not quashed fears that the Spaniard will be out of a job come May.
Benitez does still have two years left to run on his contract at Anfield, and should he be given reassurances regarding his future, will ask for financial backing in the summer to build a squad which will be able to sustain their charge to win the league title.
Blackburn's David Bentley is one player thought to be on Benitez's wishlist, but the Spaniard may have to offload some members of his squad before he is able to add further players to what is already a large assembly.
Harry Kewell is expected to leave when his contract expires in June, while John Arne Riise and Xabi Alonso could also be sold to make way for the new recruits.
FERNANDO TORRES has shaken off any fears that he could be a doubt for the Merseyside derby by coming through a friendly run-out for Spain.
Liverpool’s top scorer was taken off after 49 minutes of the Spanish national team’s 1-0 win over Italy but, despite some rough treatment from Marco Materazzi, he emerged unscathed and was today returning to Merseyside to join up with the Reds squad ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Everton.
Torres’ early substitution caused some fears that he might have sustained an injury but the ECHO understands Rafa Benitez had an agreement with Spain boss Luis Aragones that his star striker would be taken off shortly after the start of the second half.
Benitez was today assessing the fitness of his international contingent ahead of naming his squad for the derby.
Yossi Benayoun staked his claim for a first team recall with the goal in Israel’s 1-0 win over Chile and he will come into contention for a starting role with Javier Mascherano ruled out through suspension.
Benitez is considering the claims of Benayoun, Jermaine Pennant, Lucas and Peter Crouch before settling on his line-up.
Sami Hyypia, expected to put pen to paper on a new one-year deal at the weekend, and Steve Finnan also comes back into the reckoning after missing out at Manchester United. last Sunday.
One player who definitely will not be involved is Harry Kewel, who is returning from international duty with a groin strain.
Benitez has already admitted it will be difficult for Kewell to win a new contract at Anfield when his current deal expires.
Meanwhile, Alvaro Arbeloa believes Everton will pose Liverpool a stiff test when they meet at Anfield on Sunday.
He said: “They have great players like Arteta and Yakubu, and Cahill and Lescott are playing really well.
“They have a lot of players who have done well this season but the most important thing will be our players.
“I think the winner would be strong favourites to finish fourth. It is a really important game and if we beat them then I think it will make the difference.”
26 March 2008
Let the agony of last week passed. It has been an exhausted Monday for me and probably all of you. Those Manure fans had a go. Those who has no idea how the ball is kicked also had a go... Well, that's the name of the game. Sometime you win, sometime you lose. 3-0 is actually a big number to hide away... errr...
However, come this Sunday there will be an opportunity for us to redeem our misrable week. In fact, we will beat the small team from across the road. Torres will reemerged and terrorised Everton to its bone. Then may be, the No.4 slot is confirmed to us until we meet Arse-nal the other week. This is actually a rather rough ride.
REAL MADRID are ready to offer midfield star Ruben de la Red PLUS £8million for Liverpool’s Xabi Alonso.
Kop boss Rafa Benitez wanted to nab De La Red last season but Madrid decided to do a deal with Getafe instead.
De La Red, 22, was sold for £2m but Real inserted a clause allowing them to buy him back this summer for £3.5m.
And now the Madrid giants are planning to use De La Red as bait to land Spanish international midfielder Alonso, 26.
A Real insider told SunSport: “It is a case of the club deciding whether to keep De La Red or to try and get Alonso. The Liverpool player is the one they have wanted to sign for a long time.”
De La Red has impressed this term and earned his first call-up to the Spain squad for today’s friendly with Italy.
Liverpool left-back John Arne Riise will consider quitting Anfield this summer if he keeps warming the bench.
Riise, 27, has struggled to force his way into the team this season as Benitez continues to pick Fabio Aurelio.
The Norwegian said: “I am not happy. I’m used to playing 80 per cent of games. If I don’t play as much as I want, I must decide if I should stay.”
24 March 2008
23 March 2008
Last Updated: 1:14am GMT 22/03/2008
When Alex Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford in the autumn of 1986, his task, he said at the time, was to "knock Liverpool off their bloody perch" (except he didn't use the word "bloody").
Even if it were intemperately made, it was hard to argue with the validity of his analysis. The Anfield club were in the midst of the most glittering period of trophy accumulation in English football history. They were winning everything with a polished ease, rebuilding teams without disturbance, dominating all they surveyed. They were the team to beat.
The odd thing is - as a keen football historian like Ferguson must have known even as he made those remarks - beating Liverpool was never a problem for Manchester United in the era he took over. Bournemouth, Oxford United, Notts County: United could lose to all of them on a regular basis. Liverpool, however, was a different story. Even in times of league penury, there was usually a point or three on offer against the Football League and European champions. And it has been much like that ever since.
It is something that sticks in the craw of every Liverpool follower that their most hateful rivals double up as their bogey team. The statistics over the past few decades reveal that England's version of the Real Madrid against Barcelona superclasico is not only the most bitter inter-city rivalry in our sporting life, it is also among the most one-sided fixtures in the football calendar.
In the 1980s, when Anfield was filled with silverware and Old Trafford echoed merely to a grandiose self-delusion, United had the better of almost every encounter. The decade's statistics reveal that the Mancunian reds won 11, drew 11 and lost only four of their games against their Merseyside counterparts. Clearly, United players relished the idea of being plucky no-hopers, of rising to the occasion and proving themselves the equal - if only for 90 minutes - of the best around. Players like Norman Whiteside made their name by stamping their authority over Liverpool and - in the case of Steve McMahon - their toes. In 1985, United's then-manager, Ron Atkinson, cheekily went so far as to suggest he had discovered an infallible, if unconventional, tactical approach to beating the champions: man-mark their centre-back, Alan Hansen.
The depressing story continued on for Liverpudlians even as the balance of power shifted. For some reason, as football's epicentre relocated 35 miles down the road and United rose to the ascendant, Liverpool could not reverse the trend. Maybe their players could not come to terms with the idea that they were now the underdog. Maybe their natural hauteur could not accommodate the idea of slumming it. Whatever the cause, in the Nineties United won 10, drew seven and lost five against Liverpool. And the wins included an FA Cup final in 1996 and a fourth round in 1999 when the Liverpool team came within an ace of destroying their enemy's tilt at the Treble in the way that United had fouled up theirs in 1977, only for two goals in the last five minutes to cancel out all dreams of revenge.
Even more galling for the Anfield regulars is that United's heroes in many of these games have been replacements and substitutes, bit-part performers in most other fixtures, players whose careers have been largely defined by their one-off contribution against Liverpool. Russell Beardsmore, Diego Forlan and John O'Shea: none of them would expect entry in any United hall of fame, yet all three have been match winners in the virulent battle for north-western supremacy. A battle which always seems to go one way. If Liverpool play well, United win. If Liverpool play badly, United win. If Liverpool need to win to stifle United's trophy ambitions, United win. Only once, in 1992, when the Kop chanted "Leeds, Leeds" to show they wanted anybody but United to take the League title, did Liverpool manage to knock their rivals off their perch. Latterly, that has been a job they have been obliged to leave to Arsenal and Chelsea.
Unlike those who employ him, Rafael Benitez is more than aware of the details of his club's illustrious heritage. He will know of the statistical gap in his record book. Sticking a list of match results on the wall of the visitors' dressing room could provide no greater motivation to proud Liverpudlians like Steven Gerrard, who endeared himself to everyone on the Kop and beyond with his assertion in his autobiography that "during 90 minutes of football, I want United to die". Surely, he will say to them, now is the time to break the sequence. Equally, Sir Alex will be assisted by the Liverpool-loathing Gary Neville, when he reminds his team of the weight of history insisting they don't yield.
Not that Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo, Javier Mascherano and Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher and Nemanja Vidic exactly need much in the way of verbal encouragement to get their competitive juices flowing. Indeed with such tension, such anticipation, such meaning washing around tomorrow's game, the statistician would suggest it all adds up to one certain outcome: a dull goalless draw.
all those silly romantics about Man.U will be changed tonight when LFC beat them at Odd Trafford...
With players of the calibre of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney in your midst, you know your team will score goals and it's up to their colleagues to ensure they really count.
With that in mind, Sir Alex Ferguson will hammer home the absolute importance of keeping a clean sheet to his side, despite his obvious appreciation of football's finer, attacking points. The message will be clear: give nothing away because winning games 1-0 here and there will be the key to winning the title. That is the key to the consistency that he craves.
It might not be pretty, ladies and gentlemen, but if it yields victories in a decisive phase of the season then no one will complain. Ferguson certainly won't want his sides to have to chase games with a Champions League campaign still ongoing.
So, first and foremost, his team will be ordered to defend as a tight-knit group and when forays forward break down everyone - including Rooney and Ronaldo - will be expected to work back when they've lost the ball.
Discipline will be called for and, initially at least, there will be no gung-ho attacking.
Instead, the United players will be told to break down Liverpool in a systematic manner knowing that the likes of the wonderful Jamie Carragher will ensure they give nothing away.
The speculative, glory-hunting 30-yarders from Nani that left Ferguson exasperated against Bolton will be cut out.
In keeping Liverpool under pressure, Ferguson will know that free-kicks are bound to be conceded and that will pave the way for Ronaldo to take centre-stage at dead-ball situations which is bound to send shivers down Jose Reina's spine.
But it certainly won't be easy for United because Liverpool have really tightened up at the back and in Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso they have a formidable midfield duo while, of course, in attack Fernando Torres has belatedly, but only partially, vindicated his manager's rotation policies.
Key Clash: Vidic v Gerrard
Everyone knows about Steven Gerrard's tremendous shooting ability outside the penalty area, but his running off the ball is highly potent as well.
From a deep-lying role, Gerrard regularly bursts into the box to link up with the more advanced Fernando Torres and it will be up to Nemanja Vidic to spot the danger even when he's otherwise occupied with the Spaniard.
Both Gerrard and Torres are playing out of this world and Vidic will have his hands full keeping them at bay if Rio Ferdinand is absent through injury.
Rafael Benitez should follow the example of the late, great Joe Fagan to bolster his chances of prevailing over Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time.
Ahead of the European Cup final victory over Roma in 1984, the then Liverpool manager ripped up his opposition dossier in front of his players.
Benitez should do something similar because I sense that over-elaborate planning, paying too much attention to United players in past meetings has inhibited Liverpool.
Set them free, Rafa.
In Giggs’s autobiography, there is a photograph of him and Paul Ince sporting jacket-and-tie combos, both of which bring to mind the old BBC colour Test Card. Now he is muted, except for small, vivid splashes of silver hair at his temples. He is now 34, which would be considered young in other jobs. “I still feel 21, me,” Giggs says with a sigh. “Even though I’m not. I used to look at Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson and think, ‘they’re old’. Do the young lads look at me and think that? Surely not. Because I still feel 21. It’s what makes team spirit, the different age groups and the banter you have because of that.”
It’s also what makes teams. There is too much of a pursuit of excellence at Manchester United for anyone to be a mascot, even a player who, having made 746 senior appearances, can equal Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 759 in the Champions League final if United get there and he plays every game. Sir Alex Ferguson does not keep Giggs around out of sentiment, but because of what he still offers on the pitch and – to Ronaldo and the tyros – off it.
The former has changed down the years. Passing and positioning in tight forward areas are a more crucial part of his weaponry now than high-speed dribbles, though he can still waft past a defender if required. The latter involves wisdom and advice. Ferguson said on Friday that title run-ins come down to a “mental thing” and believes the experience of Giggs and Scholes, and soon-to-return Gary Neville, give United distinct advantages over their rivals.
Giggs has played just once in a month because of a strained calf muscle, but Liverpool will not be surprised if he is involved today. Ferguson likes him to be involved in the big fixtures, especially the northwest derby. No one in United’s history comes close to Giggs’s 34 appearances against Liverpool. His first meeting with the Merseysiders was as a 17-year-old. “I don’t remember it,” croaks the old boy. “I used to remember every game I’ve played.” He’ll never forget his second. It was Anfield, April 1992, and United lost 2-0, thereby surrendering the championship to Leeds United. Leaving the stadium, a young Scouser asked for Giggs’s signature and when Giggs obliged, he tore it up in his face.
“That was a shock,” Giggs recalls. “I mean, when someone asks you for your autograph. For the first couple of years of my career it was the biggest disappointment. I’d had such a rise into the first team and everything had gone well and that was my first real slap. You grow up quickly in football and the important thing is how you react.”
It’s to Giggs’s credit that the incident never coloured him. He became one of the few United footballers not entirely hated by Liverpool fans, who see him differently from how they view, for example, Gary Neville. “That’s just football clubs in general when it comes to Gazza.” Giggs says, deadpan. “No, seriously, I think I’ve always shown the right respect to Liverpool and the history they have and great team they are. But I also know that it’s the team I get the most pleasure out of beating.
“There’s been controversy over the years because the rivalry on and off the pitch is massive but getting involved in that has never been part of my make-up. I try and just stay out of it, leave it to the likes of Keaney and Gaz.”
Typifying the yo-yo of emotion major sporting contests provide, one of Giggs’s highest highs against Liverpool was accompanied by one of his lowest lows. His chip over Bruce Grobelaar in 1994 was one of the best goals he has ever scored but Liverpool came back from 3-0 down on the day to get a 3-3 draw. “The game had a bit of everything, good strikes, comeback, tackles flying in: a typical Man United v Liverpool affair with more goals than usual. Thinking about it now, it was a great match to be involved in, but to give away a three-goal lead, especially at Anfield – I was gutted at the time.”
The title situation and fact that Chelsea meet Arsenal later in the afternoon add extra pepper to today’s encounter. However, says Giggs, “no matter how the teams are doing, no matter what kind of side we’ve got and they’ve got, this fixture’s the test – mentally and physically, especially, as a United player, at Anfield.
“We have big games all the time these days with the Champions League, but this is the local rivalry, the test. Even when Salford Boys played Liverpool teams the games were huge and growing up when I did, supporting United, Liverpool was the fixture you dreamed of playing in. Liverpool were the team to beat. They won leagues and won in Europe. They were the team you wanted to play against and wanted to beat the most. I remember their great 1980s side; great players, great movement, and Ian Rush. He was a big hero of mine but I never wanted him to score for Liverpool, only Wales.”
Has the influx of foreign players diluted enmity? “I think the fixture’s as intense as it ever was. The foreigners who come to United soon realise this is a big game, in many people’s eyes the biggest of the season.” It’s something Giggs tries to convey. “There’s a responsibility among the older players at United to let the younger players, particularly foreign ones, know what it is to beat Liverpool, to perform at the top level.”
What other advice is he passing on? What has the player with more English championships – nine – than any in history been telling colleagues amid the title chase? “I think you’re most needed when we suffer a defeat, or a young lad’s had a bad performance. It’s about helping them over it. You do it in different ways. Gaz is probably a bit more vocal than me, Scholesy’s more similar, for us it’s about what you do on the pitch. It’s about being a calming influence. The message you give is that there’s games to come and we’re going to need you.
“With any run-in it’s about momentum and focus. Once you get into single figures – I think we’ve got eight games left – you say to yourself, ‘Right, I’ve got to put it in these eight times’. When you’ve 30 games to go, you get knackered thinking about it. With eight left you say, ‘Right, every game we need to prepare right, you need to be focused and you will get the benefits’.”
There is not much he can tell Ronaldo about dealing with the current adulation. “Ronny’s temperament and the way he handles himself have always been good,” says Giggs. “If I have advice, it’s more about the wide role we both play, where to position yourself and tactical things.”
Giggs’s growing interest in the latter will see him study for his coaching A licence this summer. “I did my B badge with the academy players three or four years ago,” he says. “A lot of them are in our reserves now, the likes of Danny Welbeck and Sam Hewson, people who are coming through. If they train with us and I see something then I think it’s my duty to help them along, even if it’s the smallest thing, because I remember that when I was a young lad I had a lot of help from the likes of Brucey and Robbo. They stick in your mind, the things that the older players said to you.”
He signs a pair of boots and talks about a cause dear to him. The PFA are auctioning the footwear and other items via a charity website, hoping to raise £1m to provide a specialist rehab unit for the new Manchester Children’s Hospital. “My mum’s worked there for 15 years and this is something close to my heart,” Giggs says. “The new hospital is needed, not just by Manchester but the whole of the northwest.”
Signed matchday boots worn by Ryan Giggs are being auctioned as part of the PFA’s “One Goal, One Million” appeal, via a new charity website in partnership with eBay. Other items include the chance to watch England train and meet the players, donated by Fabio Capello, and signed Cristiano Ronaldo memorabilia. Visit www.givemefootball.com or the “eBay for Charity ” website.
Liverpool enemy No1
- Ryan Giggs has played 34 times for Manchester United against Liverpool, more than any other player
- Giggs scored his ﬁ rst goal against United’s biggest rivals in January 1994 - a 3-3 draw at Anﬁ eld. United were cruising after building up a 3-0 lead before Liverpool rallied to earn a point. The match is still the highest-scoring Premier League clash between the teams
- The Welshman also scored in the 4-0 rout of Liverpool in April 2003 on his way to securing his eighth Premier League winner’s medal. In November the same year Giggs bagged two goals in a 2-1 win at Anﬁeld
22 March 2008
MARTIN SKRTEL is relishing the chance of silencing the deadliest gun in the Premier League — two months after getting the runaround from part-timers.
The Slovakian centre-back arrived at Liverpool as the club’s costliest defender and heralded as the no- nonsense stopper who would add a touch of steel to the Anfield rearguard.
Yet after Havant and Waterlooville’s rag-tag outfit gave him such a torrid debut, even the most one-eyed fan would have questioned his ability to tackle a good meal, let alone all England’s top clubs could offer.
Baptism of fire for Skrtel
In hindsight, Skrtel reckons that baptism of fire was just what he needed to give him an alarm call to the demands ahead.
The £6million January signing from Zenit St Petersburg has made such a recovery that he is now becoming a regular in the side. But he faces his toughest test against Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo on Sunday.
Liverpool travel to Old Trafford trailing the leaders by 11 points and still seeking their first league goal against United in four years of Rafa Benitez’s stewardship.
Skrtel, 23, is licking his lips at the prospect — especially now the memories of his debut disaster are fading fast. He admitted: “In some respects, I think that game helped me. When I look back, it was a non-league team and I could analyse my mistakes and work on them.
“I have tried not to make the same ones again. I have learnt from that experience and taken bits from that game.
“I am my biggest critic. We conceded two goals to a non-league team — one because of my mistake. So I was not happy with myself.
“I did worry at first what the fans would think of me.
“But at the end of the day, I knew I’d get another opportunity to prove I’m a better player than that first full game.”
Benitez never had any doubts about Skrtel’s ability to adapt and has kept faith with him throughout.
Two weeks after that Havant horror show, the raw-boned Slovak justified his manager’s faith with an awesome display in a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge.
It earned comparisons with United’s Serbian cruncher Nemanja Vidic — another man who relishes the more physical side to the English game.
Skrtel added: “Yes, I know that I am a physical player and I know the game in England is very physical — so I think it suits me in that respect.
“At the beginning, immediately after the transfer, I found things hard but now I feel I have settled in. I don’t really have problems now.
“As far as comparisons are concerned, you would have to ask the manager or the specialists. I cannot say who I am like myself.
“I wouldn’t really wish to compare myself with anyone because I want to be a unique player. I want to be known for being me.”
As a youngster, Skrtel was also a hugely promising ice hockey player and had to decide which sport to pursue as a professional.
In the end it was no contest as he followed in the footsteps of his father, Roman, in joining FC Prievidza.
From there he moved to AS Trencin before moving to Russia with Zenit St Petersburg. His dad still plays a key role in his decisions even from 10,000 miles away.
Skrtel added: “Without a doubt my biggest influences are my parents.
“My father was a footballer but had to end his career early when I was very little because of a knee injury.
“That makes you realise your career is precious. He was a huge influence and the first person to take me to a football pitch.
“He was my first coach although he never forced me to do anything. I chose football because I enjoyed it the most.”
Skrtel had such an impact in his 115 games and five goals for Zenit that he helped them end a 23-year wait for the title last season.
Now he is convinced he can prove a similar good luck charm to Liverpool, whose last league triumph came 18 years ago.
He added: “We have the players to win the league here, definitely.”
Yet for the moment he is simply concerned with shackling 33-goal Ronaldo and Co in a game many fans of both clubs view as bigger than their local derbies.
Skrtel admitted: “We know Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez are players of immense quality. But we are working really hard to prove we are the better players — we will see.
“I haven’t played in a derby game yet but I know that United and Everton are Liverpool’s biggest rivals.”
And if he manages to help pull off a famous Old Trafford victory, Skrtel can expect an end to the quiet life as one of the less recognisable Liverpool faces on the street.
As a certain fading Newcastle manager might say, he would just love it. Skrtel added: “I am getting noticed more and more when I am out in Liverpool, although this is at Manchester which is better.
“I don’t get recognised there but maybe after Sunday I will. I hope so.”
In fact it is true Skrtel first performance in the Havant game shocked me as lousy and easily outrunned. Then he slowly emerging at the back as a solid and most importantly, reliable one.... to replace Hyppia or Finnan. The old soldiers are reaching the twilight of their career where alse Skrtel is hardly 25 years old. A long way to go. I hope he can stop the bastards from Man. U tomoro.
So here is another alternate reality for supporters of Liverpool and Manchester United to ponder: Fernando Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo lining up on opposing sides at Old Trafford tomorrow lunchtime, but with Torres in the red shirt of United and Ronaldo in the white change strip of Liverpool.
It could very easily have happened. United’s interest in Torres was well documented during the years before his £20.5 million move from Atlético Madrid to Liverpool, with Ferguson holding what were believed at the time to be productive talks with the player’s advisers in Paris during the summer of 2006.
Less well known is just how close Ronaldo came to moving to Anfield three years earlier, when Gérard Houllier was offered the winger, 18 at the time, for a fee of £4 million. It seemed exorbitant for a raw teenager, but within months, Ronaldo was on his way to Old Trafford for three times that sum and, almost five years on, he is valued by United at more than £50 million — and, more pertinently, as irreplaceable.
The story is recounted by a typically candid Phil Thompson, then Houllier’s assistant manager, in his recent autobiography, Stand Up Pinocchio, and, although the title might sound like a work of fiction, Liverpool supporters should be warned that every depressing word is true. “Yes, he was good,” Thompson wrote. “Portugal had two starlets, [Ricardo] Quaresma and Ronaldo, who played right and left wing for their under-21s. I watched them play and both were very good. It was a toss-up as to who was the best.
“I was invited to watch Sporting play Porto in the last game of their season. Tony Henry, the former Manchester City player and an agent with Paul Stretford’s ProActive agency, was on the phone on a regular basis to see if we would take Ronaldo and asking if he could take us to watch him. I met Tony at the airport and travelled to Oporto. I met the player’s Portuguese agent before watching the game.
“Ronaldo was quite good, but not as impressive as the first time I saw him. Tony was pushing the boy and saying he was a talent. He was saying, ‘He’ll only cost £4 million. It can be paid over the course of his contract at
£1 million a year.’ He also said the player wanted £1 million [a year] tax free. I said, ‘The boy is only 18. That is a massive problem.’ We would have had anarchy if the other players had found out how much we were considering paying for an 18-year-old kid in Ronaldo.”
Yet Liverpool were giving serious consideration to the idea when they heard shortly afterwards that Ronaldo was on his way to Old Trafford, having run United’s defenders ragged while playing for Sporting in a friendly match that week. Contrary to popular myth, United had already agreed a deal to sign him before Gary Neville and others urged Ferguson to do so that night, but Ronaldo’s performance — and their heightened determination to seal the deal before they left Lisbon — drove up the fee to a mouthwatering £12.24 million.
It is a fee that Thompson describes as “astonishing” and it is worth recalling that John Magnier and J. P. McManus, then the club’s two largest shareholders, asked the United board some serious questions at the time about that and various other transfers. However inflated it might have seemed at the time when United were desperate to find a player to replace the departed David Beckham, it is a deal of which they are justifiably proud.
And so the question raises itself: how would Ronaldo have developed at Liverpool, as opposed to United? There is a strong case for saying that a player of his technical ability was always destined to be a success, but think back to the player he was at the time: hugely talented, yes, but erratic, selfish and at times absurdly misguided.
Think also of the Liverpool of 2003-04. Could Houllier, in what transpired to be a difficult final season in charge, have afforded to indulge such a raw teenager, however talented?
The chastening experiences of Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama Pongolle, the French protégés whom he signed that summer, suggest not. At the time, having excelled in numerous youth tournaments, Le Tallec and Sinama Pongolle were rated, alongside Ronaldo, among the most promising talents in the world, but now they play for Le Mans and Recreativo Huelva respectively. Would Ronaldo have gone the same way? Probably not, because he appears to be made of stronger stuff than Le Tallec, in particular, but it is feasible.
Another purely hypothetical question: if Ronaldo had developed as successfully at Anfield as he has at United, could Liverpool have kept hold of him? Could the team have satisfied his ambitions and could the club, in their precarious financial state of recent years, have resisted the money on offer from Real Madrid? Could they have persuaded him, as they did Steven Gerrard after some difficulty, that playing for Liverpool has a value far beyond that of competing at the top end of the Premier League? Or would the arrival — and development — of Ronaldo have turned Liverpool into champions? Questions, questions.
What is certain is that, finally, Liverpool have signed a player to rival the box-office appeal and match-winning quality of Ronaldo. Torres has been little short of phenomenal in his first season at Anfield, scoring 27 goals in all competitions and giving Rafael Benítez’s team the kind of cutting edge that had been sorely lacking.
It is tempting to wonder what Ferguson makes of the Torres phenomenon. He had a longstanding interest when the forward was at Atlético Madrid and, after a couple of near-misses, finally came close to signing him during the summer of 2006.
After the aforementioned meeting in Paris, United made a firm inquiry to Atlético, but, having previously been encouraged, were told that the forward wanted to stay in Madrid and would not be sold for less than the £40 million fee stipulated in his contract. United dropped their interest, deciding to focus instead on their midfield, and, to the surprise of just about everyone, went on to win the Premier League title that season.
United had the opportunity to renew their interest in Torres last summer, but by this stage their fervour had faded, partly because they had concluded that he would never come to England and partly because Ferguson and his staff believed that he lacked composure in front of goal.
That is a verdict that now seems laughable, given the sublime finishing Torres has shown in recent weeks, but even those close to the forward admit to being pleasantly surprised by his transformation into a natural goalscorer since his move to England, where prolific strikers from La Liga or Serie A have usually endured the opposite experience.
Carlos Queiroz, the United assistant manager, recently said that he was “very impressed” by Torres’s form at Anfield. “He sees spaces that others can’t and he has the ability to penetrate these areas with or without the ball,” Queiroz said. In other words, he is the type of centre forward that United, for all the qualities of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tévez, do not have. Ferguson was less gushing on the matter yesterday, but then it is not his style to wax lyrical about opposition players. “I don’t think he came here with any great doubts,” the United manager said. “The boy had a great record in Spain. But, to be honest, I haven’t paid that much attention to how he was going to settle in because he’s not my player. Having said that, when we play a team, any team, we have to prepare properly, looking at the assets of our opponents and trying to prepare ourselves the best we can.”
For Ferguson, that means formulating a game plan to neutralise the threat of Torres. For Benítez, it means trying to find a way to stop Ronaldo. Somewhere in a parallel universe, they are faced with the opposite problems. But it says everything about the tribal loyalties of football folk that neither Liverpool nor United would swap their man for the other now, even if, in quieter moments, they do privately rue the one they allowed to get away.
21 March 2008
Gerard Pique may continue in place of Ferdinand while striker Louis Saha is expected to shake off a knock.
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has no new injury worries so he could field the same side that beat Reading.
However, he could opt to use the experienced John Arne Riise in midfield ahead of Ryan Babel.
Man Utd (from): Van der Sar, Hargreaves, Pique, Vidic, O'Shea, Ronaldo, Fletcher, Anderson, Nani, Saha, Tevez, Brown, Scholes, Rooney, Giggs, Park, Carrick, Evra, Ferdinand, Kuszczak, Foster.
Liverpool (from): Reina, Arbeloa, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Skrtel, Aurelio, Riise, Babel, Benayoun, Alonso, Gerrard, Mascherano, Lucas, Kuyt, Torres, Voronin, Crouch, Pennant, Itandje.
Arch enemies Manchester United and Liverpool clash at the Theatre of Dreams, with the Red Devils seeking a fifth league victory on the bounce and the Merseysiders, a sixth.
United have 11 more points than Liverpool, and have forged a three-point cushion between themselves at the summit, and Arsenal courtesy of Wednesday's 2-0 home win over Bolton. With eight to play, they're now in pole position to win a 10th Premier League title.
It's crunch time for Liverpool, with the Merseyside derby home to Everton, following hot on the heels of this. Both clubs vying for that fourth Champions League qualifying berth. Then Liverpool face Arsenal in three successive matches in the league and the Champions League quarter-finals.
Liverpool are looking for their 50th league victory over Manchester United in the 150th clash between the two; all but the first four were in the top-flight.
(all statistics are ahead of this weekend's round of Premier League fixtures, and refer to stats and sequences in the Premier League only, unless stated otherwise)
1. The loss to Portsmouth in the FA Cup was their first defeat in eight (all competitions).
2. Won eight of the last 10, including the last four against Newcastle (a), Fulham (a), Derby (a) and Bolton (h).
3. Secured 22 victories, dropped 20 points, scored 61 goals, at one every 44 minutes on average, and conceded 15, at one every 180 minutes (three hours), or every two games on average; the best in all four categories.
4. Registered the joint fewest draws, alongside Reading; four each.
5. Exceeded last season's total of clean sheets by two to 18; only Chelsea have also managed 17 this term.
6. Opened the scoring in an unmatched 24 games (won 21, and lost just one of them); and allowed the opposition to score first in five matches - that's fewer occasions than any other club.
7. Second to Liverpool in the "Last Six Current Form" table with 16 points. Liverpool have 16.
8. Scored 15 goals in the last 10 minutes, 10 of which were in the last five minutes, seven of those being in stoppage time; no club can beat those, although Arsenal and Reading can match their stoppage time return.
9. Lost two of 31 home league games.
10. This is the second of three successive home fixtures. Aston Villa visit Old Trafford next, before the Champions League quarter-final away leg to AS Roma, and a league trip to Middlesbrough.
(all statistics are ahead of this weekend's round of Premier League fixtures, and refer to stats and sequences in the Premier League only, unless stated otherwise)
1. Won all seven games since being knocked out of the FA Cup by Barnsley on 16 February - their only defeat in 10 (all competitions).
2. Unbeaten in seven; won six and drew one since defeat at West Ham on 30 January - their only loss in 14.
3. Lost three times; only Arsenal have been beaten less frequently (just once).
4. Drawn 11 - only Fulham match that.
5. Conceded 21 goals; only Manchester United (15) have shipped fewer. Also, allowed the opposition to score first in seven games; only Manchester United can better that (five times).
6. One of two clubs not have picked up a red card from matches in this league this season; Bolton is the other. Also, shown 37 cards; only Everton have a better disciplinary record with 33 cards (30 yellow, three red).
7. Registered five goalless draws. Only Portsmouth have also been involved in as many as that.
8. Won 111 and lost 111 away from home in this league, and two shy of scoring 400 goals on their Premier League travels.
9. Won one of the last five away from home (1-3 against Bolton at the Reebok on 2 March) and not lost on the road to a North-West club the season, nor in six since a 1-0 reverse to Blackburn on Boxing Day 2006.
10. This is the first of a series of gripping fixtures. Next Sunday, near neighbours Everton are entertained. Three days later its to the Emirates Stadium for the first of two fixtures with Arsenal in four days, before the Gunners come to Anfield on the following Tuesday. There after Blackburn are hosted in another North-West league derby.
Cristiano RONALDO is Manchester United's top scorer with 33 goals; the highest ever in one season by a winger in the clubs' history.
RONALDO is also their leading Premier League marksman with 24 from 24 starts, and is leading the race for the Barclays Golden Boot.
Wayne ROONEY needs one goal to total 50 in the Premier League for Manchester United.
If on the field from the outset:-
ROONEY will make his 150th career league start (Everton and Manchester United).
Chris EAGLES will be making his 50th club league start (Manchester United, Watford and Sheffield Wednesday).
Long term injury, Gary NEVILLE will be making his 350th Premier League start for Manchester United.
Fernando TORRES is Liverpool's top scorer with 27 goals, and their leading marksman in the Premier League with 20.
TORRES has become only the second player to score at least 20 Premier League goals for Liverpool in a season. Robbie Fowler scored 25 in 1994-95, and 28 in 1995-96.
Goalkeeper Jose REINA is the only remaining player to have been on the field for every minute of every one of Liverpool's Premier League matches this season.
REINA leads the race for the Barclays Golden Glove going into this batch of Premier League fixtures, having kept 14 clean sheets.
Manchester United are looking for a fifth straight Premier League victory over Liverpool.
Liverpool have failed to score in their last seven Premier League and FA Cup matches with United. The only goal accredited to them against the Red Devils under Rafa Benitez was an own goal from John O'Shea, in the 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford on 20 September 2004.
Victory for Sir Alex Ferguson's side will complete a fifth Premier League double over the Merseysiders and second in as many seasons.
Home and awayLeague (inc PL): Man United 57 wins, Liverpool 49, Draws 43Prem: Man United 17 wins, Liverpool 7, Draws 7
at Man Utd onlyLeague (inc PL): Man United 35 wins, Liverpool 14, Draws 25Prem: Man United 8 wins, Liverpool 3, Draws 4
Manchester United 2-0 Liverpool22 October 2006 - Ref: Graham PollMan United scorers: Scholes 39, Ferdinand 66
Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United16 December 2007 - Ref: Mark Halsey Man Utd scorer: Tevez 43
Last Updated: 9:33am GMT 21/03/2008
The Marseille striker was sold by Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez to the French side two seasons ago, but the 26-year-old does not bear grudges against his former manager.
"I'm not unhappy with Rafa," Cisse said in the Sun. "I just respect his choice and it was his decision and I have to respect that."
Cisse was linked with a move back to the Premier League during January's transfer window with Manchester City and West Ham noting an interest in the French striker.
Although the former Auxerre frontman is committed to Marseille, he could be tempted to a return to England and even possibly a switch back to Anfield.
"You never know," Cisse said. "Things happen so fast and football is so unpredictable.
"Of course I would like to come back to the Premier League. For the moment I play for Marseille and I have to give 100 per cent."
Cisse feels he has unfinished business in the English game having seen his time at Liverpool marred by injury having broken his leg 19 matches into his Anfield career.
"Unfortunately I broke my leg when I was there and did not have a chance to prove myself."
Cisse managed 13 goals in 48 appearances for Liverpool before completing a £6 million switch to Marseille two years ago.
By PHIL THOMAS
RAFA BENITEZ believes Old Trafford is about to witness the toughest job in football.
And he does not mean stopping Cristiano Ronaldo!
The Manchester United superstar’s midweek double edged him past George Best to a club record 33 goals in a season from a winger.
Yet down the M62, Liverpool have their own golden boy in Fernando Torres, who is in the form of his life at the moment.
And Kop boss Benitez reckons United face as huge a task in shackling the Spaniard as his own side do in keeping Ronaldo quiet.
He insisted: “The key to stopping Ronaldo? Maybe the key is stopping Torres.
“Of course we know that Ronaldo is in form but Fernando is too.
“The understanding between players, especially those up front, is always important.
“Fernando and Steven Gerrard are playing well, scoring goals and the team is getting the benefit. So the difficulty for teams is stopping both.”
Torres, a club record £21.5million summer buy from Atletico Madrid, has so far blasted 27 goals in all competitions.
Yet his manager is convinced the Anfield hitman, 24 yesterday, will be even deadlier over the coming years.
Benitez added: “Fernando is already a very good player and only young. So though he is playing really well, he can also do better in the future.”
Before Wednesday’s win over Bolton, United boss Alex Ferguson demanded more protection from officials for the likes of Ronaldo.
Steve Bennett is the referee with the job of keeping tabs on Sunday on what is traditionally a tinder-box clash between the two deadly rivals.
Yet Benitez has no fears about Bennett proving up to the task.
He added: “Ferguson was talking about protecting Ronaldo. But it’s just as important to protect the likes of Torres, Gerrard and all the top players.”
Last updated at 21:04pm on 20th March 2008
Fernando Torres will be the usual study of concentration when he steps out against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.
A fixed look will suggest nothing matters beyond adding to his 20 Barclays Premier League goals and taking Liverpool a step nearer fourth place and another Champions League mission.
Last summer, before Torres received his first call from Rafa Benitez while out walking his dogs in Madrid, United and Chelsea were both in dialogue with intermediaries about meeting Atletico Madrid's asking price.
Atletico chief Miguel Angel Gil wanted 24 million euros up front, rising to 30 million, ideally with a player thrown in. Tempted though they were, Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho both arrived at the same conclusion. 'El Nino' had lots of attributes, but finishing wasn't one of them.
He was too erratic with the posts in his sights, and would not score enough goals, especially against Premier League defences who were not only tight but tough as teak. Both managers thought long and hard but came back with the same answer. Not interested. Not at that price.
Nine months on, both would surely conclude that for once their judgment may have been flawed after one of the most spectacular debut seasons by an overseas signing. El Nino is Spanish for The Kid, and Liverpool's £21million record buy has made scoring look child's play, even in a league reputed to be the best in the world.
The Spain striker, 24 yesterday, goes into Sunday's showdown as Liverpool's first 20-goal marksman in the League since Robbie Fowler 12 years ago. He is a genuine contender for the Golden Boot after moving into fourth place behind Ajax's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (28 League goals), United's Cristiano Ronaldo (27) and Sevilla's Luis Fabiano (22).
He is in his element at Anfield, thriving on the service from midfield and the flanks and revelling in Rafa Benitez's recent decision to move Steven Gerrard forward into a new, advanced role. If Benitez deserves credit for his perception, though, Torres can be as thankful for his persistence.
Torres recalled how the Liverpool manager stepped in while others held back and revealed how he almost jeopardised his dream move by ignoring his fellow Spaniard's initial call. The striker also provided an insight into his recent prolific form by admitting it was down to escaping the shackles of carrying his home club on his own.
"We had been among the European places all last season but lost out on the final day," he said. "I was so wrapped up in what had happened, I almost missed the chance to speak to Rafa. I just wanted to get away from it all and I remember taking my dogs for a long walk near home.
"While we were out my mobile rang and I saw it was a foreign number. I was still lost in my thoughts and had no interest in finding out who it was. It rang again the next day and I answered this time. When I heard Rafa's voice and what he was saying, I froze. I had no inkling he wanted to speak to me and it turned out it was his call I had ignored.
"He wasted no time explaining his plans and ideas. I listened intently and quickly decided it was not just any offer. It was an opportunity to join a great club with a great tradition and it was too good to miss. I told him he should speak to Miguel Angel Gil but added that if it was fine by the clubs it was fine by me.
"Atleti had always been my life, but the time was right. Joining Liverpool was not just a privilege, it was a relief. The last few years at Atleti were difficult. I might not have felt it at the time because I was so preoccupied with trying to drive them on to better things but there was pressure. Plenty, when I think back.
"At Liverpool the pressure is shared by a lot of players, not heaped on one. We have lost so few games, too. Here you grow used to winning. It becomes second nature and I had forgotten what that felt like."
Ferguson may have had his doubts but Torres could claim he has always had an eye for an opening, after hurling his parents' savings through one at just two years old.
Looking back on his childhood days in a working-class suburb of Madrid and reflecting on how they helped shape his future, he said: "For some reason, I had a habit of throwing things out of the window at home," he said. "It was just unfortunate that one day I grabbed hold of a model truck my parents had been using as a money box. It was full of cash but out it went. No-one realised until much later and by then it had gone. They weren't too pleased at the time but it has become one of their favourite anecdotes.
"I was six when I first started kicking a ball around. My brother used to take me out on to the street and I would always be in goal. One day, a shot smacked me in the mouth and knocked a couple of teeth out. It was a great save but as I looked at them on the ground, I thought: 'That's it'. From then on I was only interested in scoring goals rather than stopping them.
"My grandad talked about nothing but Atleti and playing for them was always the ultimate aim. I grew up as a fan, so I lived the dream there. But all my attention is on Liverpool now. I have already met Kenny Dalglish and Robbie Fowler and heard them explain what the club means to everyone here. Trying to follow in their footsteps is a beautiful and emotional challenge for me."