Monster fee maybe,
Mascherano is worth it
Comment by Nick Peet - Liverpool Echo
When any club splashes out £20 million on
one player the expectation in the stands is only exceeded by
that in the boardroom and dugout.
And while Fernando Torres had already lived up to his price
tag even before he became the first striker since Robbie
Fowler to score 20 league goals for the Reds on Saturday,
the club's other big signing was adding a silver lining to
his first full season too.
Javier Mascherano has simply been a revelation since his
high profile and turbid switch to Anfield little more than
12 months ago.
The Argentinian battle-axe was saved from his nightmare at
West Ham by Rafa Benitez last February and one year on he
finally put pen to paper on a permanent four-year deal with
the Reds just two weeks ago.
In just one year the 23-year-old from San Lorenzo has become
as popular at Anfield as superstar hitman Torres or even
home-grown idols Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
While Saturday's equaliser against Reading may only have
been his second goal in over four years and 112 club
matches, the 'Little Chief' – as he is known in his homeland
– was already worth every penny in the eyes of supporters.
That's probably why no questions were asked on the Kop when
the bill from sporting group MSI arrived at Anfield.
Liverpool fans knew that they had one of the best anchor men
in the world, desperate to prove himself in a red shirt.
Every successful team in the modern game requires a
defensive midfielder and in Mascherano Liverpool have a true
master of the art.
AC Milan have Gennaro Gattuso, Barcelona can choose from
Yaya Toure and Xavi while Chelsea have Michael Essien,
Arsenal Martin Flamini and United Owen Hargreaves.
But there isn't a Liverpool fan on the planet who would
willingly swop any one of those for the Reds' diminutive
Just last week Benitez described Mascherano as "the best
defensive midfielder in the world" – and few could argue
with that sentiment, especially when you tear through his
statistics for the season.
Mascherano has played 1,861 minutes of Premier League
football so far in this campaign and gone into 308 tackles,
winning 198 of them to afford him a 64% success rate.
Now, compare that with Essien who has won 108 of 191
tackles, giving him a success rate of 56.5%, or even Flamini
who has spent almost every second of Arsenal's league
campaign on the field (2,406 minutes) but has won only 147
tackles from 272, leaving him at 54.0% for the season.
And you can even compare Mascherano's numbers with the cream
of the continent.
At Barcelona Xavi, after spending 2,224 minutes on the pitch
in La Liga, has gone into 264 tackles, winning just 99 at a
rate of 37.5%, while team-mate Yaya Toure has played a lot
less (just 1,495 mins) and is more accustomed to that role
but still only hits 63.5% after winning 125 tackles in 197.
It really is no wonder then that statistics also so show
Pepe Reina to be the most inactive goalkeeper in the Premier
Mascherano marshals the space in front of the Reds back line
He must cover a marathon of miles during the 90 minutes,
while his tackling is assured and his composure on the ball
He's also enjoying a notable improvement in his passing
also, not to mention his forays forward.
And now – dare I suggest it after one solitary strike – he's
adding goals to his game also.
He's a big game player at a big game club, as his man of the
match performance in Athens last May proved best.
Plus he's in love with the club, the city and especially the
Liverpool may have splashed out £20m for a defensive
midfielder. But already that looks like money well spent.
Mascherano: I just went crazy
By Tony Barrett - Liverpool Echo
Javier Mascherano today told of his joy at
scoring his first Liverpool goal – but pledged to continue
putting the needs of the team before personal glory.
Mascherano capped another magnificent personal performance
for the Reds against Reading on Saturday when he scored a
brilliant equaliser and went wild with delight.
He admitted getting carried away when the ball hit the back
of the net in front of the Kop.
“It was an incredible moment,” he said.
“I have not scored a goal since I was at River Plate, so to
score one for Liverpool – and in front of the Kop as well –
was really special.
“I can’t really describe the feeling but I know I celebrated
like I had gone crazy.
“Some of the lads in the dressing room said I was like
Inzaghi in the Champions League final.
“It just meant so much to me and it was important also for
the team because we had just gone a goal behind.”
After Liverpool’s 2-1 win over the Royals, which puts them
three points ahead of Everton in the battle for fourth, Rafa
Benitez challenged Mascherano to hit the target more
regularly, saying he has the talent to score more goals.
But the Argentinian is content with his current role in the
team and happy to see others score the lion’s share of
“I think the manager was joking,” he laughed.
“It would be nice to score more goals but I don’t think
there are many holding midfielders who score lots of goals.
“In this position you have to play deep and try to keep the
balance of the team and that is the most important thing for
“I will try to score more goals but I know that I have to do
my own job first.”
Fabio Aurelio, who scored his own first goal for Liverpool
away at Bolton earlier this month, said everyone at Anfield
was delighted for the popular Mascherano when he broke his
“Javier has been having a great season, working really well
for the team and I think he deserved to have a great moment
like the one on Saturday.”
“Everyone was happy for him,” he said.
Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher has
backed Fernando Torres to be the difference in their crucial
run of fixtures.
The Reds face Manchester United this weekend before taking
on Everton and then Arsenal in three games that could define
Torres helped Liverpool to record their seventh win on the
spin on Saturday with the winner in the 2-1 victory over
The Spaniard is in a rich-vein of form and his goal against
Reading saw him become the first Liverpool player to net 20
league goals since Robbie Fowler in 1995-96.
Carragher is relishing Liverpool's testing fixture schedule
and he believes Torres can help them overcome their rivals.
"Their top defenders will relish showing him what they can
do but, let's face it, he's on fire at the moment and he can
turn our season," Carragher told The Mirror.
"It can go two ways for us now. If we win the majority of
our big games coming up, then we go on and have a fantastic
season. If we don't then it is all doom and gloom again.
"We have five games against our three biggest rivals and
they are going to be absolutely massive. But I relish those
games, and if you are going to win trophies you have to win
them. Nando can do that for us.
"Against United we didn't really make the most of him, he
didn't play against Everton and came off injured at
half-time against Arsenal. He hasn't really played against
Seven up for Liverpool,
but the big test comes next
Comment by Nick Smith - Liverpool Daily Post
And to think the last time Liverpool went
into a fixture with Reading they were unbeaten in the
Imagine if you’d offered their supporters a glimpse into the
future back then and told them that, a little more than
three months later, they would be going into their next
meeting looking for a seventh successive win.
They could have been forgiven thinking such a run would
merely re-affirm their title credentials. Telling them it
would have had that effect on their claims for fourth place
would have soon wiped the smiles off the faces.
An indication, since that first defeat at the Madejski, of
just how much devastation the most turbulent of winters has
left in its wake.
Of course, keep this form up and fourth might yet not be the
extent of the ambitions.
But the fact remains that Liverpool still need to take a
reality check before anyone gets too excited.
Because in the aforementioned victories, all Liverpool have
done is win games you would expect them to.
Even Inter Milan, given the fact that Rafael Benitez’s
aptitude on the continent is such that he can probably walk
on water over to it by now.
But in the league? Five wins during a helpful schedule of
four at home against opposition that any self-respecting
Liverpool side should dispatch.
All of which, like a Tom Hicks statement, leaves so many
questions unanswered. A situation that will be emphatically
sorted out in the next three weeks.
Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal – the true tests of
exactly how faultless this winning formula Benitez has
majestically hit on really is.
The Gunners trilogy is massive. Make no mistake, Arsene
Wenger will be far more miffed with his deal in the
Champions League quarter- final draw than Benitez. The
Frenchman knows full well the Spaniard has all the weapons
to destroy his European destiny once again.
But while he’s at it, Benitez should take aim at Wenger’s
domestic dreams. It might be too late to impact on the title
race directly now but breaking the cycle of failure that has
plagued his meetings with fellow ‘big four’ opposition can’t
do any harm.
Liverpool simply can’t resist the great European Cup
occasions, which is fair enough. But having to rely on them
in the face of more shortcomings on the home front isn’t
The fact that supporters complain about £34 to watch a
“training session” (actually quite reasonable to study
Fernando Torres’s finishing practice) after a 3-0 victory
over Newcastle proves how mundane this ‘we must finish
fourth’ existence has become.
Reading never allowed it to become so routine on Saturday,
proving they at least give two s___ts about their battle to
stay up if not the FA Cup – although at least this year
their defeatist theory on that competition has been
mercifully exposed as the misplaced cynicism it always was.
Marius Matejovksy’s stunning strike hinted at a more
competitive occasion, if not one that was ever going to end
with Liverpool taking anything other than three points.
So what would be so wrong with them going all out to
increase their tally by the same amount at Old Trafford on
Sunday? Or at the Emirates on April 4, even if it is only
the third most important game against Arsenal of that week.
It would finally be a tick in an empty box marked ‘success
away to top four rivals’ on Benitez’s CV. It would tell us
something about Liverpool that we didn’t previously know.
Success in Europe, however glorious, just wouldn’t. Of
course Liverpool have to go for it, but now is the time to
lay demons to rest – not just English opposition in the
And it might just give us some pleasant surprises in a game
of very few.
Incidentally, the top four is so now entrenched that they’re
leaving the rest of Europe behind as well as – with the
exception of Everton once again – the Premier League.
Taking up half the slots in the last eight of the Champions
League is good for few except Richard Scudamore and the
clubs involved, who couldn’t care less if they were the sole
representatives from their country anyway.
It only strengthens their monopoly at home, while abroad it
would be more bearable if it was any kind of an omen for
Euro 2008 but the end of the domestic season is the end of
this country’s involvement in Europe for the year.
So it was “a great week for English football” – how exactly?
delighted with perfect week
By Paul Hassall - LFC Official Website
Xabi Alonso reflected on a perfect week
after he celebrated the birth of his first child by helping
the Reds maintain their hopes of a fourth place finish with
victory over Reading.
The Spanish playmaker missed the famous midweek win over
Inter Milan at the San Siro to witness the arrival of his
new-born son, but capped a memorable seven days by returning
to play an important role in the win over Steve Coppell's
"It's been a great week, for the club of course and for me
personally," said Alonso.
"It's really exciting and I am happy with everything at the
With tough fixtures on the horizon it was important that
Liverpool picked up three points against Reading and Alonso
admits they made it difficult for themselves after conceding
an early opener to Marek Matejovsky.
"It was a very tough game," he said.
"They did very well scoring from that set piece at the start
of the game. It left us with a hard task but we were lucky
enough to score two goals.
"At the end they pushed hard and we had to defend but we
were good enough to claim the three points that we needed to
remain in fourth place."
Alonso also expressed his delight for teammate Javier
Mascherano who finally broke his duck for the Reds with a
rasping 23-yard strike.
"I am pleased for Javier, he has finally got his goal," he
"I enjoy working with him, he has great defensive qualities,
and has been trying to score, but it wasn't happening.
"He is a typical Argentinian player who sits in front of the
defence and breaks up the play.
"He holds his position there and does that job really well.
You cannot ask for much more, but he is getting forward now
and has much more to his game."
Rafa: Masch goal first of many
By Jimmy Rice - LFC Official Website
Rafa Benitez claims Javier Mascherano can
become a regular scorer for Liverpool after his first club
strike against Reading.
The Anfield manager revealed he's been working with his
midfield dynamo on shot accuracy, a statement backed up by
the precision of Mascherano's 19th minute equaliser on
The 25-yard strike helped secure a seventh successive win
for the Reds, with Fernando Torres bagging the other goal in
a 2-1 victory.
Benitez said: "We have seen before that Mascherano is not
bad on the edge of the box. He just needs to improve his
accuracy and then he could score more goals. If other teams
play deeper then he might have space and he can score.
"We have talked about this with him and he knows he can
score from the edge of the box. But it's not normal because
he is a holding midfielder and plays deeper than Gerrard and
Torres. He can do it though because he has ability and
"It was a fantastic goal for him and an important one for
The Argentine's strike was his first in 44 appearances on
Merseyside and comes just weeks after his big-money move to
Liverpool was made permanent.
Benitez knows he's already starting to get his money's
"When you have a player for a year and you know how good he
is, sometimes you just have to pay the money," he said. "You
see sides who've spent £20million on two or three
midfielders. We knew this player was good and we needed to
spend the money.
"The balance is the key. To have people who can work hard
but who also have quality."
The Reading victory also saw new dad Xabi Alonso recalled to
the starting XI, and Benitez claims that his performance,
alongside that of Mascherano, was the key to another three
The Anfield boss said: "The holding midfielders against a
team as physical as Reading need to work hard, and if the
team plays well it is thanks to the holding midfielders.
"It was really, really important for us to get three points
today. There was a little anxiety in the last few minutes
but I think we deserved to win today.
"At the end we had a few problems with set pieces but
throughout the game we created enough chances to score more
than two goals.
"It was difficult because they were well organised and
sometimes we gave the ball away. But sometimes we were
playing really well. When Mascherano scored his goal you
could see the difference."
The game witnessed several debatable refereeing decisions
from man-in-the-middle Andre Marriner.
Reading felt aggrieved not to get a penalty following a late
Steven Gerrard handball, though replays showed there was no
Benitez, meanwhile, was furious in the first half when the
referee failed to see an elbow to the face of Alvaro
The Spaniard said: "I prefer not to say anything about the
referee, but we were not happy and they were not happy.
That's enough of an explanation.
"It was clear Arbeloa was hit with an elbow. Everyone could
see it but the referee said no. Afterwards the player was
bleeding and that was the proof."
On the Gerrard handball, Benitez added: "I could see a foul
on Xabi Alonso before that anyway, but Gerrard told me what
he did and for me that's not handball."
Coppell bemoans Anfield loss
Reading boss Steve Coppell was unhappy
with the officials after his side's narrow 2-1 defeat to
Coppell felt his side were unfortunate not to get anything
from their clash at Liverpool, blaming a lapse in
concentration for Liverpool's winner.
Marek Matejovsky gave Reading the dream start with a superb
opener after just five minutes only for Javier Mascherano to
draw Liverpool level on 19 minutes with a terrific effort.
Fernando Torres grabbed the winner for Liverpool early in
the second half but Coppell felt his side had strong claims
for a penalty when Dave Kitson saw his effort charged down
by Steven Gerrard.
"We scored a nice goal early on and they came back at us and
scored a terrific strike," Coppell told Sky Sports.
"1-1 at half-time and i thought it was all to play for, but
a lapse of concentration and they get in front.
"At the end in the closing minutes thought we had a great
shout for a penalty. Steven Gerrard I don't think got one
hand it was two. We could have got something from the game,
it was close enough to be that way.
"Like many disgruntled managers against the big clubs it is
hard to get an even sway of the decisions.
"I don't want to moan about the referee we contributed fully
to the game, we could have got something from it and that
had got to give us some hope."
Coppell believes the defeat will not have major impact on
his side's fight against relegation and he remains confident
they can ensure their safety by reaching the 40-point mark.
He added: "The result was never going to break our season
but it could have made it if we had got a real postive
result could have made a hell of a difference.
"We are still in the thick of things, but still very much in
charge of our own future. It is up to us to try and and get
sufficient points and I am still confident we can get 40
points and that has not changed after today's result.
Coppell also played down Shane Long's reaction to being
substituted on after 63 minutes with the Irishman hurling
his shirt to the ground.
Coppell insists the shirt-throwing tantrum was not because
of Long was being substituted but because of his frustration
at being penalised by the officials throughout the game.
"I think he was more frustrated with the decisions," added
Coppell. "He was up against a big centre-half who was
uncompromising but every time there contact between them the
linesman's flag was on a spring and it was a Liverpool ball.
"He just felt frustrated that he did not get one of the
"I dont want to see the shirt throwing and it won't happen
sees off Royals
Liverpool consolidated their place in fourth
spot with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Reading at Anfield.
The Reds came from behind to take all three points after
Marek Matejovsky gave Reading an early lead with a
Liverpool levelled matters on 19 minutes with Javier
Mascherano netting his first goal for the club with a superb
Fernando Torres grabbed the winner for Liverpool three
minutes into the second half when he headed home Steven
Gerrard's free-kick for his 20th Premier League goal of the
The win moves Liverpool three points clear of local rivals
Everton in the race for fourth, while Reading find
themselves back in trouble at the wrong end of the table
Reading stunned their hosts with an exceptional goal after a
free-kick wide on the left for Arbeloa's foul on Stephen
John Oster guided the ball across the edge of the penalty
area and the unmarked Matejovsky smashed a swerving volley
into the top corner off the crossbar with Jose Reina
Liverpool's response was a fine ball from Gerrard that sent
Torres away but Hahnemann rushed from his line to make a
fine block on the edge of the box.
It was going to take something special to match Matejovsky's
effort and it came from Mascherano, only the second goal of
his first-team career with Corinthians, River Plate, West
Ham and now Liverpool.
The Argentina international gained possession 40 yards out
and surged forward to lash the ball high past Hahnemann into
the top right-hand corner.
Liverpool almost scored again when Mascherano's sweeping
ball out to Babel set the Dutch youngster moving and he cut
in before lashing an angled drive that Hahnemann beat away.
Babel's diving header from Gerrard's cross a minute later
was rightly ruled out for offside before Dirk Kuyt hooked
over Arbeloa's cross on the turn.
Alonso, from 30 yards, almost put Liverpool ahead a minute
from the break but the hosts struck soon after half-time.
Torres was brought down out on the left after 48 minutes and
when Gerrard lifted the free-kick into the box the Spain
striker rose unchallenged to head down and wide of
Kuyt headed just over from Fabio Aurelio's cross before
Hunt, not surprisingly, got himself booked for yet another
foul on Arbeloa.
Torres' crossfield ball sent Babel away on the left and the
winger side-stepped three defenders before blasting his shot
over the top.
Reading then took off Long, sending on Dave Kitson after 63
minutes. The Irish striker was far from impressed, hurling
his shirt onto the track before being reprimanded by a
clearly angry Reading boss Steve Coppell for his action.
Hahnemann then saved well to beat out an Aurelio drive with
Torres heading the rebound just wide.
Andre Bikey was next into the book for a foul on Gerrard and
the Cameroon international became involved in a heated
exchange with the Liverpool captain and referee Andre
Marriner before the yellow card was shown.
Reading threw everything forward and there was loud appeals
for a penalty when Gerrard charged down a Kitson shot in
injury-time but Liverpool held on.