Sat, Sep 19, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Liverpool look to recover lost ground against Hammers

YEAR IN CHARGE West Ham will be anxious to mark the first anniversary of Gianfranco Zola’s arrival at Upton Park with a victory against the Reds

AFP , LONDON

Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool side travel to West Ham United today hoping this will be the weekend when they recover some of the ground they have lost in the Premier League title race.

Two defeats in their opening three games undermined the Reds’ early claims to be genuine contenders, although three successive victories — including the mid-week Champions League win over Debrecen — have helped restore confidence at Anfield.

Championships are never won or lost in September, but Benitez and his players know they can ill afford another defeat so early in the campaign and they already sit six points behind leaders Chelsea, who have so far enjoyed a 100 percent record in their opening five games.

Striker Dirk Kuyt, who claimed the match-winner against Debrecen, believes normal service is slowly being resumed.

“Everyone knows we had a bad start, losing against Spurs and Villa, so we had to try and get the confidence back, try to change things,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done by winning three games in a row, and now we’re looking forward to Saturday.”

“Every game is difficult — everyone knows the Premier League is a very hard league. But we have the quality to win these kinds of games on Saturday. At this stage we just have to look at ourselves, win our games and then in a couple of months see where we are,” he said.

Jamie Carragher echoed his teammate’s view but warned it is too early to claim Liverpool are back to the form that took them to second place last season.

“We have to keep going and if we go 15 games unbeaten then we can say we’re on a great run,” the defender said.

That target will be immediately tested by an improving West Ham side anxious to mark the first anniversary of Gianfranco Zola’s reign with a win.

Zola has made an outstanding start to his managerial career after succeeding Alan Curbishley, transforming a side that looked in serious danger this time last year into one that fully expects to be challenging for a top-six finish this season.

The former Italy international has achieved this by a combination of intelligent man-management and a shrewd eye for a player.

Under Zola, Carlton Cole has gone from a frustrating example of unfulfilled potential to an England international while the manager’s willingness to blood youngsters from the club’s excellent youth set-up has helped strengthen the squad from within.

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