Friday 13th May 2005


MILAN BAROS has criticised Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez for continually substituting him as the fight between the Czech star and Djibril Cisse to lead Liverpool's attack in the Champions League final intensifies.

Fit-again Cisse is now a genuine candidate to play from the start in the May 25 clash with AC Milan in Istanbul.

Baros and Cisse - back from a broken leg - played a half each in Liverpool's defeat at Arsenal on Sunday, with the Frenchman figuring prominently in a vastly-improved second-half display by the Anfield men.

Now it is likely that Cisse will start his first Premier-ship game on Sunday - at home to Aston Villa - since breaking his leg at Blackburn in October.

The match will give the Kop the chance to give their heroes a send-off for Istanbul in their last league match of the season.

Benitez will then have to make a choice between the strikers for the European final.

Baros - who has been substituted 22 times in 43 appearance this season, and has not scored in nine games - will have done his cause no good by attacking Benitez's selection policy in an interview with Czech newspaper Pravo.

Baros said: "It is not true that I had or have had disputes with Benitez, but I am annoyed that when I'm fit I only warm the bench. Or when Benitez takes me off during a game even if I haven't used up all my energy on the pitch. I need to play. Only then will I be better than I am now."

This is the second time this season Baros has gone into print to criticise Benitez. It happened after the Carling Cup final when Baros was left out of the starting line-up, coming on as a late substitute for Fernando Morientes.

Baros was rumoured to have been furious with that decision at the team hotel in Cardiff - something he denied - but Benitez pointedly told him after the match to do his talking on the pitch.

The 23 year-old could well be sold in the summer but says: "I have not said I am going to leave Liverpool. I have some offers, but this is my agent Pavel Paska's job.

"If I leave the Reds I would like to play in a team which would be at least at the same level as Liverpool in regard to playing in European competitions. And I would like to play there constantly."

It is believed Valencia and Fiorentina are interested and there is even speculation in the Czech Republic that Everton are also watching the situation.

On that speculation, Baros says: "No comment. Speculation is good for nothing. This question will be answered at the end of the season. Then we will deal with it with my agent.

"Of course it would be much better to speak about offers with a Champions League medal."

Cisse is just delighted to even be in with a chance of playing in the biggest game of his life.

His injury was initially considered so bad that he was ruled out for the entire season, and even admitted later that he feared his leg was going to be amputated.

Now he says: "It feels fantastic just to be involved in the big games we have at the moment.

"I came to Liverpool for the kind of excitement we are experiencing. I just wish the season wouldn't end because I am really enjoying myself.

"It was tough being in the dressing room and watching the lads prepare for the Carling Cup final and the other big games this season but I just had to get on with it. Working hard in the gym was great for getting rid of my frustrations.

"My fitness is coming back slowly and I am trying to find the level I had before."

He added: "My speed is not totally back yet either but that is natural because I have been out for so long.

It is just a matter of time, and I wish I had a bit more of that."

Liverpool Echo

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News report filed by The Editor