Why PSV can’t beat the new Liverpool

ALFRED Hitchcock said actors are cattle.

But, as far as I know, Rafa Benitez has never said that footballers are cattle.

All he’s said was : I didn’t come here to win the Carling Cup. He also said : I’ll play Gerrard where I want.

PSV Eindhoven v Liverpool is on ITV1 at 7.30 tonight.

Crouch is on form and Farfan is on form but Kone hasn’t played since he was injured by Fabregas at the Emirates.

As we saw in the Round of 16, these games are very tight. Arsenal lost to a goal scored by Alex in 83. Milan beat Celtic with a fantastic slalom-into-the-box goal by Kaka in 91. Manchester United beat Lille 2-0 on aggregate but Henrik Larsson’s goal at Old Trafford didn’t come till 73 minutes.

PSV boss Ronald Koeman, like Benitez, is a tactical manager who can deploy limited resources very cleverly. He is without Alex, his best player, at the back, and in the absence of Kone he may use Patrick Kluivert, who is well over the hill. Ajax beat them 5-1 about ten days ago.

Kluivert used to wear leather trousers and own a nightclub in Barcelona. He grew up at Ajax and from the age of nine was part of an elite group.That can give you a certain mindset and a certain complacency.

Ball-winner Sissoko is suspended but Rafa accepts that. If a player makes as many tackles as Sissoko, he is bound to miss a few balls and kick a few people and collect yellow cards. It goes with the territory. It’s an occupational hazard and there’s no way round it : Sissoko, a valuable warrior, will always miss games.

Up till now, Rafa has always  had big men in central midfield : Gerrard, Hamann, Alonso and Sissoko.

But hiring a small man has already made a big difference to their balance, their passing rhythm : Javier Mascherano is a gem. I remember trying to write about him during the World Cup, trying to describe what he does. Since Argentina play with a back three, his zonal discipline is absolutely crucial – he is a kingpin in their system because the other midfielders are creative and like to interchange and attack. That is fun to watch but it can be very dodgy when you lose the ball.

So if Mascherano is five yards out of position, or a yard late on an interception, Argentina can get killed. He plays the Makelele role, but in a different way. He’s not a judo assassin whose fouls are all tiny movements, invisible to the naked eye of the referee. Like Makelele, Mascherano is cerebral, compact, able to sustain concentration. He is a specialist. If you were hiring seven samurai to protect your village, those two would be the first on your list.

Where Mascherano is different is the way he picks his moments to zip forward for a key tackle or interception. The way he reads the game, and chooses his moments, and times his interventions, is absolutely brilliant. That is what I will be looking for tonight.

ON SUNDAY NIGHT I was impressed by Dave Needham’s interview with new Liverpool owner George Gillett Jnr.

He started by asking him his feelings and the Yank’s replies were so perfect that that they made me laugh out loud. Gillett sounds OK to me.

What were your emotions when you took your seat in the director’s box as co-chairman of Liverpool Football Club for the first time on Saturday?
“It was like an out-of-body experience. It was surreal, amazing – a moment you can’t even dream about. It was everything I expected and a lot more. “
And what did you make of the match itself?
“It was outstanding, absolutely wonderful. The team played very well and Peter Crouch was superb, wasn’t he? It was very exciting. The whole day was just beautiful. The sun was shining and the atmosphere was great.”
How much are you looking forward to meeting again with Rafa Benitez?
“I’m very much looking forward to meeting with Rafa. He’s a very special man. He’s obviously a great coach and a brilliant manager. A lot of people have been asking what are we going to tell him but that’s not what we’re here to do. We are anxious to hear from him and hear what he’d like to do, what his thoughts and ideas are, what his plans would be to build this wonderful, wonderful club up even more than it already is.”

Gillett went on to say the he was here with his son and they were going on the PSV trip and really looking forward to it.

He also said, “We met with the fans as soon as we landed. We were going through customs at the airport and some of the staff were joking that they wouldn’t let us through unless we promised not to ground share ! “

So new owners do not have to be scary. As I said, Gillett sounds OK. He sounds enthusiastic, balanced and open. He admits it’s all new to him. He wants to tweak the design of their new stadium so that the Kop will remain as the heart of Liverpool FC. He’s saying : I love this, it’s fun, we don’t know as much about the game as you guys, we’re here to listen.

TODAY’S PAPERS say Rafa Benitez  will get £40 million to spend in the summer, although The Independent says it will be £30 million.

I think Rafa will go for Carlos Tevez..

With a Spanish-speaking coach, Mascherano and Tevez can take Liverpool to another level.

Next season could be tough for Arsenal. Even if Chelsea sack Jose and implode.

PS : When I was about sixteen my dad took me to see a black-and-white Hitchcock film called Dial M For Murder, starring Grace Kelly, one of those luminous blondes that Hitchcock liked so much. When an assailant was strangling her, she picked up a pair of scissors and stabbed him in the back.